Columbia, Missouri is vintage shops and cheese-laden appetizers and the state’s flagship university columns at dusk. It’s downtown streets no wider than a driveway. It’s ice cream shops with so many yarn dolls as decor that the ones that aren’t on display are “sleeping” in an extra fridge. It’s hair stylists from Utica.
I called Columbia home for only a blink of time, so few semesters that I really only remember the final one, and the summer that followed it which my tribe refers to as “the lost summer.” It was wedged in between a time of school responsibility and work responsibility. For that summer, there was neither. I never have spent a summer like that since.
You do get to go home again, and ideally it’s under the circumstances I went back this weekend, as a sage advice-giver type. The new dean, David Kurpius, asked me to be the commencement speaker for the Missouri School of Journalism’s May graduating Class of 2019.
My remarks focused on things I’ve learned in the 15 years since leaving Columbia. The main thrust of anything I talk about regarding my adult life is how accidentally lucky I’ve been; how timing and circumstance have collided to go right, without much planning at all.
Being back after so much time away meant a nostalgia tour of the things that I loved eating and doing, so, to review:
Toasted ravioli (many times) ✔️
Lakota coffee ✔️
Tiger Stripe ice cream ✔️
Chokes ‘n cheese at Flatbranch ✔️
ΠΒΦ house ✔️
Drunkenly leaving wallet at Harpo’s ✔️
(Country Kitchen is closed, so, sadly, that couldn’t happen. Never did get drunk enough for Gumby’s Pokey Sticks, but thought about it.)
Friend Liz, who has a history of gamely going on random weekend trips, is also a Mizzou alum and a former Pi Phi, so she joined me in the trek to the middle of Missouri (and the arduous journey back home, which required extra nights in sad hotels and a lot of time sitting idly on tarmacs).
I can’t express how meaningful it was to be back in Missouri, and have Liz there to enjoy the old haunts together, to marvel at the newness of the student center and rec center (which is basically a five-star resort now), and to share the memories of yesteryear.
I wouldn’t go back in time if you offered, because I did as I said in the speech and inhabited those moments fully when I lived them. But it’s nice to drop in on the past when you can, especially if it involves toasted ravioli.
This October I’m spending three weekends in a row in bucolic, woodsy communities where few people live and fewer cell phone signals exist. At night the roads are pitch black. If you were to get lost, you’d have to attempt the horror movie trope of pulling over and going to some stranger’s house to ask for directions or ask to use their phone. No one wants to do that in real life.
I am back from Murdery Woods Weekend One: CJ and Kat’s Wedding in the Catskills. The most frightening part of the whole trip ended up being when I just landed a few hours ago and due to the remnants of a cold, couldn’t equalize my ears, giving me that “OMG MY HEAD IS GOING TO EXPLODE” fear.
The wedding venue was in Mount Tremper, outside Kingston, New York. I rode an Amtrak up from the city, right along the Hudson, to get to Albany, which is the closest major city to the venue. Kingston, which was one of the first American settlements by the Dutch, is today blossoming with bearded Brooklynites who have moved in, lots of new artists and music festivals and cool murals on its buildings all over town. I tried the best tamales I’ve eaten in years at the Kingston Farmer’s Market downtown on Saturday, er, yesterday. The horchata was not bad, either. Old Friend Reeve, who conveniently moved to Upstate New York LAST WEEK, came through as both a dependable driver/wedding date (since Justin was unavailable). I enjoyed spending our car time together hearing his strong, highly specific opinions again, like the good ol days when we set out to run three miles but accidentally ran six because we were too busy making wisecracks the whole time.
Anyway. We got sublimely photo-bombed by a New York Assemblyman who was so expert at photobombing that by the time we noticed it happened, he was gone. Poof!
Kat is the little sister I never had, or my fourth daughter who I’d be biologically incapable of having, depending on who is making the reference. That she is marrying/married her love of many years, CJ, who makes her feel so supported and encouraged all the time, made all of us cry happy tears during the whole ceremony. The ceremony you will not see in photos (see above).
Saturday afternoon, Reeve and I took the Clinton “Peg Leg” Bates Memorial Highway out to the mountain house where all this was going down. “Bet he never thought he’d have a highway named after him,” Reeve said.
Besides all the love in the air, the occasion also allowed for my favorite thing about weddings, which is reuniting with old friends and meeting new, interesting people. (My next favorite thing is messing with strangers by pretending to have a totally different identity.) My bestie Matt Thompson and his bear beau Bryan drove up from DC, we made inappropriate jokes the entire time we were together and ate a lot of food. “We are very food oriented people,” Reeve had to explain to someone in CJ’s family who couldn’t understand all my strategic positioning for the doughnuts.
By the time I was halfway home today from the other coast (I do enjoy the East coast, just not living there), I had a message from Matty saying, “I am going to murder the children. They are demons.” So it turns out the closest thing anyone came murder this weekend was not in the woods, but back in LA in my own home.
Two shipments of hundreds of boxes were involved: one from DC, which was from the storage unit I hadn’t seen since early 2015, and another from the shipping container that came over from Korea. Now both are finally, finally here in Los Angeles.
(Have you noticed that Los Angeles is pronounced frighteningly incorrectly? How do native Spanish speakers deal with this? As a running joke my colleague at NPR West and I keep over-pronouncing it Lohs Anhuhlays just to amuse ourselves.)
The Korea stuff was packed in matching boxes but the boxes have a real stench to them and I want them out of my house but that would require me going through the remaining boxes that the movers didn’t unpack. And I can barely keep my eyes open long enough to write this post.
Some things that happened:
I went to DC to oversee the storage unit move but got lost inside the rows and rows of storage units. Things got so desperate I even picked up one of those emergency phones to alert someone for help but NO ONE WAS ON THE OTHER END. Eventually I figured things out but then I couldn’t unlock the combo lock I put on there so I had to get the lock axed off. Finally inside the unit, I found some pure gold, like the ad from that time I advertised juniors clothes for the PX circular (the equivalent of the Target or Walmart on American military bases around the world) wearing a DISCMAN, yes a discman.
Sitting around at bars in DC I overheard conversations about:
How sound bites are rigged against the speaker because of the way their words are cut
Note: No one here in West LA seems to know what NPR is and I kind of like it.
My children are going through a lot of transition and I’m so proud of them. The oldest one and the middle one are both in school now, and both are awesome schools but they each have so many events and social activities that I feel it’s really cramping my social activity flexibility. Thank goodness I have ride-or-die pals here in the area for the following emergencies so far:
Low blood sugar, weepy and longing for a home-cooked Indian meal on my move day, which Raina brought over in the middle of her work day
Needing to drink and ponder life’s great mysteries on short notice
Last-minute tonkotsu ramen fixes
I didn’t notice these were all food/bev emergencies until I jotted them down just now.
My days are being dominated by school drop offs and pick ups that require driving, finding street parking, parking and then walking a child onto campus before being able to say goodbye (as opposed to our door-to-door bus service we had in Korea in which the girls were just carried off and dropped off from the high rise).
We can’t find anything. Half of my conversations with Matt Stiles are “Have you seen my X” and trying to maintain some semblance of civility with one another but really wanting to knife each other since there are box cutters everywhere but not really but kind of really because moving sucks.
It’s the final day of the Winter Games in Pyeongchang and Gangneung. Covering these games was crazy intense, the whole way through. I can’t reflect really well without hindsight, so instead, here’s a round of cheers and jeers.
The sports. What I love about the Winter Olympics is how utterly death-defying all of the events are, maybe with the exception of curling. But for basically every other event (skeleton, anyone?), a mere mortal would DIE trying it. I am exactly the kind of person who cannot maintain my cool when watching things like figure skating jumps. I cringe and audibly react with an “OH OWWWWW” when someone falls on the ice.
Curling. There’s something so magical about the perfect stones and the special shoes (one glides, the other doesn’t) and the terminology like “hog line” and “hammer.” I have come to really enjoy going to see curling more than anything else. The best night of curling happened with WSJ’s curling aficionado and sportswriter Jim Chairsumi happened to come have dinner with us and came with me to catch some curling. He gave the play-by-play and context, making the whole experience that much better. Thanks, Jim!
The Garlic Girls, aka Team Kim. The breakout sensation of these Games are four girls from the sticks, a garlic-producing town called Uiseong, which charmed the nation with their improbable victories in curling over the world’s best. Friend Jon (from the WSJ) and I accidentally stumbled on these women when we went to curling with the aforementioned Jim. They were mesmerizing to watch, and interesting off the ice, too. They have nicknames based on their favorite foods (“Steak” is my fave), a skip who is stone-faced, which inspired hella memes, and an excellent curling strategist. That they made it to the gold medal game at all was in the face of 50-1 odds. Rock stars, pun intended.
USA Women’s Hockey Team Beating Archrival Canada was the most exciting hockey game I’ve ever attended and maybe the greatest Olympics hockey game ever, according to veteran sportswriter Christine Brennan. It was sort of a fluke that I wound up covering it, meaning not only did I get to enjoy it, I got to file my first (and probably only) hockey results piece ever.
Reunions. The last time I was in the same place as Nigel Robertson I was 24 years old and he bought me a Wonder Woman shirt for my birthday that year. We have celebrated one another’s successes from afar for years and his energy is infectious. NIGEL is at the Olympics. So is Friend Juliet, who I haven’t seen since we moved away from Washington, Friend Alex, who I haven’t seen since the Nieman thing in Boston in 2013, and so many coworkers who I really never even worked with before, like our sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Getting to laugh with these folks makes the Olympics really special.
Overheated buses. We constantly go from standing in subzero temperatures in a fierce (sometimes as fast as 50mph winds) to buses heated like they’re in the inside of a Korean sauna. One time my colleague Bill got into a bus that was actually heated just the right temperature and he decided to ride it to wherever it took him just to stay on the bus and not get stuck on a different one.
Wind. Wind gusts reached Cat3 hurricane speeds, destroying pop-up food stalls, security screening posts and wreaking havoc on the alpine schedule. For those of us who had to walk around in the wind, the big problem was trying not to be picked up by a strong gust. Also debris. I ended up having to irrigate my eyes numerous times after specks of gravel flew up into my peepers.
Food that tastes like despair. I feel it’s a travesty that the food in the concessions and tents here is so bad, given that there are such culinary delights across the rest of the country. Breakfast is sad, concessions which consist of “nachos without cheese” or “sandwich” (no details about what’s in it) taste of despair. Even things you can’t screw up, like fried mandu, aren’t served with condiments, so you can’t adjust anything. No hot sauce or soy sauce for you! Outrage.
The schedule. It is nonstop grinding-it-out, around the clock, since we work our daytime, and then by nighttime we begin working America’s daytime. The result is my alter ego comes out. Her name is Denise and she is a bitch. Denise has been making regular appearances in recent days, being all sorts of grumpy, uncompromising and picking fights. My mom thinks I’ve gone temporarily insane and told me I should not make any decisions right now, to which I responded by hanging up on her. Blame Denise, she’s horrendous.
Media Village Housekeeping. The apartments didn’t have do not disturb doorhangers so I’d often be awakened by or disturbed by the loud electronic voice of the teched-out apartment bell, which yelled, “YOU HAVE A CALL. YOU HAVE A CALL.” The other issue is that they bring you fresh towels every day, but never put them in the bathroom. So you’d come out of the shower or finish handwashing and have to trudge over to the bed to dry off. Because of language barriers, this situation could not change. I end my Olympics tenure supremely annoyed by this. Or is it Denise being annoyed? Hard to tell.