Me: I feel like that was probably a good photo.
Mr Coates: Well, we’ll find out in two months. Or whenever you actually get the film developed.
In a now annual tradition, Friend Harper gives me a disposable film camera (this time with flash!) that I use for about a month. Half the film is wasted with the camera swishing in my purse, since movement winds it and takes accidental snapshots.
Two things I really enjoy about this exercise: The unknown — without a digital screen, I have no idea how these photos are gonna turn out. And the wait — the passage of time between the time the image was snapped, and when it’s finally developed, can change the photo’s interpretation.
January feels like last week … and a lifetime ago. No filter, obviously:
The joke goes that for the New York Times to consider something a trend, all it takes is three instances. I don’t know how many times it takes to make a tradition but after Friend Matt dropped down to Costa Rica for one night for my 30th, and I went to Las Vegas for one night for his 29th, I suppose it became a fun trend/tradition/trendition(?) to skip town for a night for one of our birthdays. This time we’re all older, as Young Matt’s already 35.
Popping up to a SF party from LA was a snap compared to the time Eva was 10-weeks old and I’d leak milk if I wasn’t near enough to feed her but Friend Liz and I still spontaneously flew across the country for for the Vegas shindig. There was a moment at the club at 2am when I yelled over the music to Liz, “WE HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE OR ELSE I WILL HAVE TO PUMP IN THE BATHROOM OF TAO.”
Matt has collected an eclectic bunch of high-achieving friends in his 35 years. Being San Francisco, a lot of them work in fields like venture capital or tech or finance. A few of his friends are actors. So there’s a certain amount of posturing at these parties, but the posturing is more merry and less irritating than it is in DC. (If I never go to another book party where everyone I talk to is looking over my shoulder to find someone cooler to talk to, I will be just fine.)
For Friend Erin and me, the crowded soiree became an experiment in trying to learn interesting things about a string of strangers as quickly as possible because there were a lot of awesome people to squeeze in. An incomplete list of them, by the shorthand names we gave them:
The scuba-diving neuroscientist
The “lesbian” who’s actually not a lesbian
Something about robot waiters
(Not) Tom from MySpace
Lawyer who rode a horse that was on The Bachelor
97.9 percent back-in-the investment guy
Dude who runs a high tech circus: “It’s a micro-amusement park”
My high point was probably when we started talking to a guy with a British accent and I wasn’t sure if he was faking it, so I decided to fake a British accent in case he WAS trying to mess with me. This went on, an absurd conversation in a British accent, until he proved he was actually British and I had to give up. He was impressed I used the term “lorry” though.
Anyway. San Francisco is special because I got to squeeze in one-on-one time with people who have known me for 20+ years. Not one but BOTH high school besties — Erin and Wade — now work and live there with their respective husbands. So does my old Plano Senior High School golf teammate, Chris, who I later became closer with, in college. “I’m playing the best golf of my life these days,” he reports. “I could join the tour. I think it’s because I stopped giving a damn.”
Erin and I partying together again marked maybe the thousandth-or-so party we attended together since we first met in 9th grade. Being from Texas, those parties involved a lot Taco Cabana, Aaliyah music and dark fields with kegs in the backs of pickup trucks. And for some reason we saw Sister Hazel live three times in high school, even though they really only had that one hit song.
“Finally I figured out, but it took a long long tiiiiiime….”
Attempting to come out of a jet lag blur to say that I spent an incredible week in the Western hemisphere, which included a lot of time on planes and briefly, a train to New York. (After getting used to the bullet trains of Asia, the Amtrak feels like a damned stagecoach, not gonna lie.)
The notable thing about this trip was the lack of group activities; it was a lot of one-on-one dinners and breakfasts and coffee meetings with friends for whom I care deeply. And it all included a lot of freaking out about what is next for us in America and the world.
Things that common-law work spouse Matt Thompson said to me over burgers will stay with me, about how we need to lean more heavily into our archives and history, in general, to better understand what’s going at the dawn of Trump. And the work advice from people like Kate (who used to work with me) and Chuck (who is about to not work at NPR anymore) will make me feel better about the state of things in my career. Ultimately, the time in DC was so compressed that I had to fit in time with my BFF Sudeep by straight-up scheduling a walk together to the Triple A office, get a coffee to-go, walk to Treasury to get something back from an official, and then walk partially back to his office. That was the sum total of our reunion. For my other BFF, Sara, we scheduled a Chik-Fil-A dinner followed by a trip to Target. No joke. There was just no time.
On the flip side, the days lingered and melted into each when there were fewer people to see — in London, for a weekend with Friend Matt (seems everyone is named Matt, it’s all very confusing, but at least I can’t trip things up this way). He wanted to get to a top-ranked restaurant he hadn’t been to yet, and to go to an all-night barn party/jazz jam session out in the country, and since I was going to spend my final time in America just gorging on the fast food I’ve missed (Whataburger, where have you been all my life), it wasn’t too much of a burden to join Matt on his more classy trip to London, instead.
Serendipity and luck were in our favor all along: We almost missed our flight but didn’t, no belongings were left or lost, and little things happened to time out just as needed. We stayed at a flat* in Covent Garden near the theater district, and while walking home from a late night dinner we saw signs for a show featuring Sir Ian McKellen(!) and Patrick Stewart. When Matt checked about getting tickets the next day, he learned it was closing night, snagged two tickets and we got in to saw the dense and (obviously) well-acted show. I joked that it was about the frailty of existence for rich white men, and then we read a review, in which the reviewer explained that essentially the play was about the existential ennui of rich white men.
There was also delicious food, libation I so longed for and trips out into the English countryside, one night for the most random, bohemian jazz jam session-cum-birthday party filming. I can’t quite describe it except to say there were some ballerinas and lots of soldier costumes, plus a gong bath. My first gong bath!
* I try to code switch to British terms like flat and queue and crisps where appropriate.
Most of my favorite collisions with people come with less than an hour’s notice. That kept happening in San Francisco — a mark of my similarly last-minute friends, and maybe the ethos of the Bay area. I shall award my trip various arbitrary points, below:
+500This view (from previous post) will never get old.
+50 When I landed at SFO on Wednesday, I saw on Foursquare that fellow Texas Tribune original gangsta H.O. Maycotte was in San Fran, too. Thank you, Foursquare, for the “people nearby” filter. We met for lunch 30 minutes later in the Ferry Building, right on the water.
+ 20 Gal pal Raina and I ran into each other in the lobby of the Jazz Center where the conference was happening. She’s a new mom of a seven-week-old, and her darling, delicious baby was with her. I got to babysit so she had a minute to go to the bathroom. I mainly just stared at him and took pictures.
+75 Impromptu lunch with another gal pal from the Knight Foundation super-friends circuit, Kara Oehler! My producer on the communal living story, Cindy, happened to be Kara’s mentor from more than a decade ago. Kara also used to babysit Cindy’s kids. We three were able to do a delicious lunch at a french cafe in Lower Haight. Love those gals.
+35 Sneaking in some real bonding time with my digital news coworker Dana, who I’ve worked with for years but never spent any social time with. She invited me to join her at TED Women in the first place. We had a swell time getting beers together on opening night.
+ 10 I met interior designer Elizabeth “Beth” Martin while she was freshening up all the fresh flowers in Friend Matt’s condo. She offered a flower arranging tip since I asked — Don’t be too matchy. Soft flowers like peonies and roses should absolutely be paired with woodsy choices.
+1,600 Japanese toilets. Thank you, Mr. Toto, wherever you are, for your seat warming, automatic lid-raising technology.
-400 I was too scared to try any of the rear or front washes, and don’t even know what it is that oscillates or pulsates, but I dig having all the options.
+100 I dropped in on Twitter HQ with 30 minutes notice and didn’t text my brother-from-another-mother Dave to tell him I was in his building until I was actually sititng in “The Perch,” er, Twitter’s cafeteria. That resulted in a quick lunch room gab fest until we met up again for happy hour, during which Dave introduced me and my pal and colleague, host Guy Raz to The Hot Spot, a divey dive dive bar that serves a smooth shot and a beer with a scratch-off ticket. Guy actually won another ticket, only to lose on his second try. Maybe it’s a trap?
-25 Due to too many shot-beer-scratcher combos, we ended up drinking and eating at a random bowling place in the Mission (after first attempting and bailing on a sketchy food place that smelled of urine) and stayed out too late for me to watch Scandal on Matt’s new 4K TV.
+5 The television is now updated.
No points, just saying: There were white dudes everywhere. The ratio of men to women seemed to really favor women, at least everywhere I was at. I felt outnumbered by groups of men at breakfast, at bars, everywhere except the TED conference for women.
+500 Reunion with my bestie best best friend from high school, Erin Baudo, four weeks before her due date. I’m so psyched for her little bruiser.
+30 Erin let me nurse my hangover with breakfast at the Zynga cafeteria, where she works.
+50 The three-man NPR tech reporting team — Steve Henn, Laura Sydell and myself — got together in person in one place for the first time. We hung out at member station KQED and got some delicious coffee.
+30 A nice afternoon walk with Code for America’s Catherine Bracy.
A post in Mashable today about a new pop-up store in SoHo reminded me I hadn’t blogged about my trip to New York two weeks ago. It was the first of three weeks in a row of short work trips: New York, then Houston, then Eden.
Following a late dinner with some NPR colleagues and supporters, Friend Matt and I opted to walk back from the meal through his SoHo neighborhood. It had rained — monsooned, really — in New York that afternoon, so the streets seemed strangely fresh and clean. And at midnight on a Thursday, it felt like we were the only ones wandering that ultra-glam New York neighborhood, winding up and down streets lined with gorgeous display windows of designer stores.
I only snapped two photos during our walk: Freedom Tower as we crossed the still-wet, shockingly still street, and the breakdown of the SoHo space used for pop-up shops. This is the space now occupied by Baublebar, as featured in the Mashable post inspiring this post. Delta had been its most recent occupier, but as you can see above, the countdown to its big launch had passed.
The single best thing about living in DC is that people I love come into town frequently for one reason or another. Since presidential inaugurations only come around every four years, MANY people I love came into town at the same time. I had been training my liver for this weekend for awhile.
My only other DC inauguration experience was when I covered Bush’s first inauguration in 2001 as an intern for WFAA-TV. Attending that swearing-in ceremony was the coldest I’ve ever been. I remember getting dressed up for the Texas State Society’s Black Tie and Boots ball in the public bathroom of Belo’s DC bureau building at 13th and G. I remember anchor Gloria Campos being in DC to anchor the coverage and wanting her scripts printed in bigger type, and how I had to help rush reporter Jim Fry into a cab so he could go do a post-parade live shot.
I remain on maternity leave, so I got to take part in this inauguration as a straight-up spectator. I skipped the weekend balls but was looking forward to the Common/T-Pain/John Legend concert since, as many of you know, Stiles loves loves LOVES Common. (BTW: Where WASN’T John Legend this weekend? Anyway.) We waited until the day before to respond to the ticket email and it was too late. Instead, we went to a delicious Indian restaurant for our 2nd anniversary dinner, seven months late. (Hey, 2012 was a little busy, okay?)
The guys from HBO’s Entourage would often just drop into Vegas for an evening, so when Friend Matt said to come on out for his birthday weekend, I called Friend Liz, she said “I love this” and on Saturday, we hopped on a flight.
Knowing we would meet many folks for the first time, I joked on our flight out that I wanted to be called “Kenneth.” It cracks me up when people are named one thing but then go by something totally random.
So during introductions, I said, “I’m Elise. But you can call me Kenneth.” Our new pal, Owen, got the joke right away and made up some name he, too, would go by. The gals next to us also seemed to catch on, laughing gamely. It was amusing for about two minutes before the conversation shifted and the ol’ Kenneth gag was history.
To communicate with his dozen friends in the desert, Matt used a group texting service in which the sender’s name precedes his or her message. I participated in the texting, as did the others, through 24 hours of eating and drinking and dancing and confetti and brunch.
When it was time to head home, we shared a cab to the airport with a gal who sat next to us at dinner the night before. We were discussing the group text system and this is what followed:
Her: Who’s Elise Hu? She seemed pretty talkative on the texting but I can’t remember who that was. She must have been quiet in person.
Me: I’m Elise.
Her: But I thought you were Kenneth.
My friend Patrick Terpstra wrote this of his year: “2011 was like riding a tilt-a-hurl after eating seven corn dogs. But it sure beats watching from the ground.”
I can’t disagree. I did plenty of plane riding, which is the most consistent memory of this year, besides saying goodbye and hello to a lot of people I really love. To rewind:
The Year I Flew Around the World, Twice:After saying goodbye to Texas and The Texas Tribune, I spent 99 days this year away from home, logging 78,931 miles in the air to 29 locations including places like Warsaw, Poland (for fun) and Boise, Idaho (for work). Not proud of the carbon footprint but I can now glide through security like Ryan Bingham.
Don’t Look Back in Anger (I Heard You Say): It felt like a pretty angry and destructive year, didn’t it? My second favorite emotion*, outrage, seemed to abound. I write this as tens of thousands of Russians protest in the streets, Egypt, Tunisia and Libya take their shaky steps toward self-rule, and socioeconomic dissatisfaction continues at home. We said goodbye to Osama bin Laden, Amy Winehouse and Steve Jobs (none of whom were picks in my clearly talentless celebrity death pool), an earthquake-tsunami combo led to radiation disaster in Japan, and we experienced a rare earthquake in my new hometown of Washington, D.C.
Favorite Video of The Year Is Also My Favorite Song: “Ching Chong (It Means I Love You)”
After a UCLA student went on a crazy rant about Asian people in the library, she faced a backlash so large she had to quit college. But Jimmy Wong turned his rant response into art — one of the catchiest songs of the year, and an instant viral video. It will get stuck in your head, so if you haven’t seen this, you’ve been warned.
Speaking of Asians, My Most Memorable Welcome to Washington: The Crazy Guy in Starbucks There was one morning after the devastating Japanese earthquake when I went into Starbucks in Chinatown, natch, when a random guy off the street wandered in, started yelling at people in line, stopped at me, and said this, to me: “Fuck you, go home. You deserved the earthquake.” Then he told the rest of the line we were all going to die. Yep.