July 2009


Last night I went to Screen on the Green, the outdoor movie on the National Mall, for the first time. It was everything I hoped it would be.

I got down there around 6ish I believe, I set out my blanket, kicked off my shoes, pulled out some reading material and enjoyed the sunsetty glow coming from behind the Washington monument. I took this picture from the comfort of my pre-nap stance, which is why it features people’s backs.

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I’m glad that everyone who loved SOTG for the last nine years worked so hard to get it back this year, because it’s a little piece of DC heaven. Because you’re nestled on the Mall with hundreds of other people, you’re somewhat sheltered from the hustle of other areas of DC. As you wait for the sun to set and the movie to start (around 9), the playlist of tunes and the people-watching are endlessly entertaining. I also enjoyed spying on neighboring picnics for ideas for next week.

Also entertaining last night was the “Guess whether the storm’s gonna hit us” game. Weather.com was calling for about 30% chance of isolated thunderstorms. I’m not even sure what that means anymore. As I sat on my blanket realizing I was hearing thunder not planes taking off from National, I began to understand what 30% meant.

It meant that 30% of the sky I was under would be covered with dark, ominous clouds. And coincidentally, that 30% of sky was just over the screen and the Capitol. Behind me the sun was setting near the Washington monument among white wispy clouds. No storm threats to speak of back there. But this is what we were staring at as it got darker and movie time approached:

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I will be cliche and call this the calm after the storm, because this was when the real threat of storms began to dissipate. It did look questionable for a few minutes as we were pelted with monstrous rain drops and the dark cloud sat over top of us thundering.

But I’m glad we stuck it out because it was the most fun I could have had on a Monday (nerd alert), and the movie Dog Day Afternoon lived up to its hype. And next time I’ll participate in the HBO dance.

If I’m lucky (and if you are too) I’ll be posting video evidence of the storm chasing. Yes, it was that amusing.

I have often spoken of the fine gentleman who gives me my daily Express at the Dupont metro stop. He is wonderful. I cannot applaud him enough for his morning attitude and our brief conversations about the day’s news, weather, metro delays, etc.

I also enjoy the green windbreaker-material track suit he dons on rainy days. There is also a poncho. Man is he stellar.

And then there was a crash on the red line and it’s only recently “recovered.” For about a month I’ve been skipping the transfer to red line and simply walking the mile from Farragut West (I figure even if the delays aren’t so bad, at least I’m above ground breathing real air). When it was too hot and sticky humid and I was too tired from vacation recooperation last week to make the long walk, I revisited the red line in the mornings.

Perhaps even better than the shorter walk was seeing my main Express man again. He’s the apple of my morning’s eye.

Heyyyy long time no see miss! Have a great day! So good to see you!

It broke my heart. I missed him so. But I didn’t stick around long to explain where I’d been because the truth is that I wouldn’t be entirely honest with him.

You see, when I wasn’t visiting him every day I had to get my Express somehow. Well I didn’t really need to, because I still don’t actually read it most days. But West Falls Church metro got a new distributor. And he’s precious. So sweet. He’s a young’n and I can’t avoid him like I used to avoid the older one (who’s still there, and still shouting his annoying “Double double, Express and Examiner double double”).

The young’n looks up at me from his stack of papers with a sly little smile and a sparkle in his eye and says, “Would you like an Express ma’am?”

Certainly I don’t condone the use of ma’am in reference to young people like myself, but he reminds me of a younger, more innocent Lil Bow Wow — before he dropped the ‘Lil’.

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I can’t really explain what I find so endearing about Lil Bow Wow and his Express distributor look-alike.

I also have a hard time explaining why I put two copies of the exact same newspaper in my recycle bin every day.

A recent poll I conducted of my working friends determined that 99% of people have a case of the Mondays at least every Monday. Some have been known to have severe cases that don’t clear up until Wednesday afternoons.

Okay I lied. There was no poll, but I can guarantee the accuracy of that Monday information. No one likes ’em.

Going to work on Mondays is difficult because we’re forced to rebound from the weekend. Maybe you stayed up too late Sunday night watching Entourage, or maybe you slept all day Sunday because of Saturday’s activities and barely went to sleep before your Monday alarm sounded. Maybe you forgot Saturday happened and thought Monday was Sunday and failed to set alarms.

None of these things has ever happened to me.

In any case, going to work on Monday is generally a bummer. Especially going to work Monday after a long weekend (which I’ve had every other week all summer, thank you compressed work-week schedule).

With all these verified statistics in mind last week as my seven-day Outer Banks vacation with friends came to a close, I lay on the beach deciding my attitude for my Monday morning return to work.

You’ll have no reason not to be refreshed on Monday morning, I told myself.

Positive attitude, smile on your face, up and out early — it’s all doable.

Even if you’re not refreshed, if you act like you are Monday will be more enjoyable.

You’ve had six days off from work — that’s 10 whole days away from the metro, the office, the computer, the people. You win.

Of course it helped that upon my return to my apartment Sunday evening, I immediately unpacked my cooler, plopped the rest of my stuff in the middle of my bedroom, and got in bed.

At 7 p.m.

I have no shame.

Monday morning came, I woke up early for a change, and left the apartment before 7 (it’s been difficult for me to do since I moved closer to work).

I moved through the metro station at my beach pace, not rushing around like usual, sauntered onto the train, grabbed a seat, took out my book, and resumed my normal routine.

I was only about two stops into my ride when I almost had a nervous breakdown.

How did it become Monday already? Where did the beach trip go? WHY am I up so early? I never walked to the beach this early. Should I have brought a boogie board with me? I won’t know until I get over the dunes whether there are waves or not. Is anyone bringing Kubb? Are there enough eggs left to make breakfast? I’m craving ketchup. Why are there so many people around me? Do I really have to go to work?

I eventually calmed down (without giving into the urge to cry hysterically) and made it to work in one piece.

The first day back to work after vacation is very interesting in the office. I caught up on what work had been done for me, what was left for me to handle, what’s new. I learned to respond to the awkward, “Wow, you’re tan,” with the slightly irreverent, “Yes, that’s because I spent six straight days on the beach, but I’m ecstatic to be back.”

When I sat down to my computer and began to tackle my workload I had another flood of panic. I missed my friends, even though we were in such close proximity for seven days, I missed having them around. I’m sure we’d all rather be cooped up with our friends for long periods of time than our coworkers.

I missed walking barefoot on the disgustingly sandy, wet, crumb-filled floor of the beach house. I missed the spray of sunscreen, the ice cold water, and watching people wipe out on boogie boards. I missed making new friends on the beach and even tip-toeing through the painfully hot sand.

And here I was at work. In front of my computer. Back to the grind, with not much more than a few pictures and a tan to remind myself that I’d ever left.

Before I slumped into a mild depression, I submitted my leave request for our September trip to New Orleans. And then I got back to work.

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I stole this picture from Jessie because I haven't uploaded my pictures yet. If you look closely you can see Kubb. Sigh.


For the last 2 minutes of my orange line ride this morning, I grabbed a seat next to a large older man with gray hair, a red tie, and the scent of banana about him. As is my normal practice, I shoved my nose further into my book to avoid conversation — he looked like a talker. As we approached Metro Center where I was about to get off, he turned toward me, but kept turning until his lips met the cheek of the woman behind us, who was facing the opposite direction. I heard several smooches and must have looked as uncomfortable as I felt because when he came up for air he leaned toward me and said:

I kiss all the women on the train goodbye before I get off. Every morning.

I faked a pity laugh at what I’m hoping was a joke and willed the train to stop so I could stand up and run away. Of course, he was a talker, so he continued:

At least I kiss as many women as she let’s me.

As he said this he gestured toward his … wife? Ladyfriend? Mistress? They exchanged awkwardly suggestive glances. I forced another pity laugh and then sprinted for the door.

That was easily the most awkward conversation I have ever had on the metro. I would even prefer having to talk to a coworker the whole way. Or the claustrophobic woman. Oy.

Warning: Some content may be inappropriate for certain audiences.

A few summers ago — actually, three to be exact — I had surgery and spent several weeks devoted to my trusty old recliner, my TV and a stack of easy-to-read books. My reading collection was so generously enhanced by Julia who loaned me Something Borrowed and  Something Blue (which are not nearly as cheesy as they sound and were on the really good end of the chick-lit spectrum), My Sister’s Keeper which I only recently got around to reading and crying over (and I haven’t been able to bring myself to see the movie yet), The Nanny Diaries which was as mediocre as the movie adaptation (haven’t seen it, just guessing), and one book that broke the pattern.

The book was I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell by Tucker Max. If you think by the name of it that it is a light-hearted account of some especially ridiculous college stories and a love of booze, you are underestimating this crazy work of R-rated non(ish)-fiction.

tuckermaxTucker Max is a glorified frat guy who, according to his website, “gets excessively drunk at inappropriate times, disregards social norms, indulges every whim…” and something about experiences with women — make that heavy emphasis on a multitude of experiences with women.

Of course, this is where he started — sharing his stories, “The Tucker Max Stories,” online and calling it his contribution to humanity. Then his stories were made into a book, about which I had the wrong expectations when I first picked it up.  It had a similar feel to The Washingtonienne (the infamous blog-turned-book of a Capitol Hill intern and her personal exploits on and off the job), in which the story is mildly interesting, but the graphic detail I could do without. In both cases, I remained strong and finished the book but it was difficult and I am not a better person for it.

Tucker Max’s work of so-called “Fratire” is now being made into a movie set to release in September. I’ll pause for gasps of horror.

Alas, I’ll move on to the real reason I bring up this book.

Yesterday I saw a young gentleman (to use the term loosely) reading Max’s book on the metro. The young man was on the shorter side, slight in build, swimming in his oversized purple dress shirt, stepping on the hems of his too-long dress pants. He was leaning against the side of the car, book in one hand, unnecessarily large briefcase in the other (the bigger the briefcase, the more important you look), and he was smirking sometimes laughing audibly at the treasure trove of Tucker Max stories.thepickupartist

I smirked at him while I was guffawing inside because this is the kind of reader who would idolize Tucker Max like the contestants on the VH1 show “The Pickup Artist” bow to their almighty professor Mystery. I could see the lessons  of Tucker Max digesting in this young student’s head as he let out a grin that said, “So that’s how it’s done? Nice…” while bobbing his head in the “heck yeah” way guys do.

I returned my focus to my book, eventually nabbed a seat and settled in to rest my weary legs. The next time I looked up, the young student of pickup artistry was exercising his newly acquired skills on the young lady sitting in front of me. He was leaning down to speak to her, because she was speaking softly, and rummaging in his “I’m important” briefcase for something. I was on the edge of my seat wondering what sort of impressive item he would produce.

Keep rummaging…

What is it??

Here it comes…

Ah, yes. A business card for the lady. As he hands it to her from his half-bent rear-out clutching-the-railing stance, he says, “Here… I’ll just give you this. Here you go. Okay. Well. See ya later…”

I can’t imagine that was as smooth as he intended it to be, but I’ll give points for the attempt. I heard no response from the girl, but as he turned around to walk off the train, with his back safely to her, she examined the business card momentarily. When the doors opened and he moved to get off the train, she stood up slowly, let several people in front of her, then exited with a safe distance between her and TuckerMaxWannabe.

I don’t think he’s getting a call.

The student has not yet become the master. But perhaps the movie version will help him out?

Okay so in the time since I last updated my Metro Reads category I’ve read two books that I don’t care to rave about.

Anything Considered – Peter Mayle

I picked up Anything Considered from a list of good summer reads, which I thought would translate to good metro reads. It was certainly interesting, not my normal inspirational story or thrilling plot. The story follows a young, unemployed British bachelor who places a personal ad for employment. The last line of his ad reads, “Anything considered except marriage.” He quickly lands a sketchy job covertly assuming a luxurious life impersonating a millionaire, the nature of whose fortune is not known or questioned. After one misstep on the job (caused by a valiant attempt to land a pretty girl) he finds himself in one pickle after the other. Some of it may have been taken directly from The Sopranos. (From what I’ve heard, at least, I’ve never actually seen The Sopranos…)

My favorite character in this book was the setting: France. The French countryside, the city, Paris, the south of France — it was all there. I think any story could take place in France and it would capture my attention. I also really loved that parts of the book were written in French, and not just in the dialogue. Sometimes it was a word or two, a sentence, a paragraph. The knowledge I was able to conjure from my high school French class days was very surprising and made the book much more dynamic.

The plot was evocative of a Bond movie with a little less suave maneuvering and a little more romantic comedy. It was entertaining and increasingly suspenseful toward the end. I must make a disclaimer: this was suspense that I can handle, which means a 10-year-old girl could probably also handle it. There were some gory depictions of mob-ish activity, but other than that it was pure suspense. Good, clean suspense.

The verdict: Anything Considered is definitely a metro read — it’s easy to pick up or put down mid-paragraph and not have to re-read a couple pages to catch up. I would also recommend it for the beach. For intellectual enlightenment… not so much.

The Stone Diaries – Carol Shields

I’m not sure how I happened upon this gem, but it wasn’t so much a gem. The whole concept behind this novel, which follows the life of a Canadian woman from birth through death, is where does this person fit into the world? The main character, Daisy Goodwill, witnesses her life through her own first person vision, first-hand accounts from friends, family and acquaintances, through her own imagination, and the study of those people who come into and leave her life story.

I found the plot dry and devoid of much emotional pull to the reader, but the literary work of it is to be admired. The narration switches tones and storytellers, which is a literary technique I fully appreciate when pulled off well (see: Light in August, or any Faulkner). The story’s point of view also throws curve balls with an entire section of the plot told through a series of letters to, from and about the main character. There are scenes in which the reader can only assume that we are being told a story from inside Daisy’s imagination — without the author telling you, “Daisy imagined…”

It is also the study of the progression of women from 1905 to the mid-90’s, with perspectives from Canada, England, various parts of the U.S., and various levels of empowerment. Kind of heavy for the metro.

I’ll admit that this book took me much longer to read than it should have. I blame this partly on the metro’s current condition: crowded, slow, inconvenient, and hot. But I can’t say I’d recommend it for the metro under normal circumstances — perhaps only if you have a 30-minute+ ride during non-rush hour times and can secure a seat on a quiet car.

Next Up: Desolation Angels – Jack Kerouac

(To be introduced in an upcoming post)

And I’m back. Sorry for the hiatus, my July resolution is to get better at frequent posting.

I know I don’t need to tell you that the metro has been a charlie foxtrot since the red line crash on June 22. But let me tell you — it has been nuts.

Because metro’s automation feature seems to be at fault, all trains in the system have been running manually ever since the crash. This means stopping abruptly, maintaining a maximum speed of 35 mph, and keeping a space of several extra minutes in between each train. At some times, red line trains are only running every 10 to 15 minutes. This is unheard of in the realm of mass transit. It is inconvenient to say the least.

The combination of these speed bumps and the hot, sticky weather that translates to hotter, stickier metro stations, is having a profound effect on my commute to and from work. My primary gripe is that the people around me are forgetting their manners, thinking How dare metro inconvenience me, don’t they know how important I am, while failing to realize that everyone else is in the same boat.

There is more shoving, more shouting, more sweat, more disregard for common courtesies like covering your mouth when you cough and offering the seat from under your 25-year-old healthy bum to the feeble old man clinging to life in front of you. Every car is more and more like a can of sardines.

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Throw some tourists into the mix and things get interesting.

On Tuesday I wasn’t feeling so hot when I left work, so I decided to brave the red line and transfer to orange at Metro Center. Since the crash last week, I’ve been getting on and off at Farragut West and walking the mile-ish to and from my office, just to avoid the red line’s neverending issues. But Tuesday was hot, and I wasn’t feeling well, so I sucked it up and took the red line. It was not fun.

I got to Metro Center only to find that there were delays on orange and blue also. Apparently the whole system has gone to crap. When an orange line train finally came about 15 minutes later, there was a large crowd behind me and a packed car in front of me. As I tried to step onto the train, I saw a frantic middle-aged woman launching herself toward me, pushing herself through the brick wall of people, shouting hysterically:

I’M GETTING OFF THIS TRAIN!

I HAVE to get off this train! I can’t TAKE this anymore!!! Get me out of heeerrreeee!!

Meanwhile, a younger woman about my age was screaming at her from further into the train in a high-pitched, nasal whine:

MOM don’t do this! MOMMMM! Get back on the train Mom!!!!

Fine then give me your keys!! AND MY TICKET MOM YOU HAVE MY TICKET!!!

The woman was now straddling the doorway of the train, one foot in the car and one on the platform. The mass of sardines inside the car all had the same thought behind their death stares: Make a decision lady, the sooner we move the sooner this is over.

With some coaxing from a kind stranger, the woman was reassured that it is better to stay on the train now than wait for a less crowded one or take a cab all the way out to Vienna. The daughter was thankful.

Somehow the woman freaked out again at the next stop and pulled the same stunt. At this point people were angry, especially because we got lucky enough to be on a car with no AC. A large man grabbed her by the arm, yanked her back onto the train and held her firmly in his grasp until the doors were closed. We were only at McPherson Square and the daughter was getting increasingly more annoying than the frazzled lady.

I was in the very back of the car, where there are only four sets of seats and very little to hold on to. Because of this, very few people choose to crowd the area. I noticed Ms. Frazzle’s key chain, asked her if she was a Hokie, and convinced her to come stand out of the [larger] crowd with me, and focus on the one corner of the car that was unoccupied by people.

As we discussed our shared love of our alma mater, the things that have come and gone in the years between our stints there, and what we do now (she’s a high school tennis coach, I’m a… commuter), her daughter continued to whine. I learned that the girl graduated from college (not VT) last month and couldn’t help wondering whether she’d learned any social grace while she was there — every time the doors opened she complained (louder than I’ve ever heard someone speak on the metro) to the people waiting on the platform to get onto the train

Sorry guyyyyss there’s no more room on here. Noooo don’t try to get on there’s no more rooom. Ugghhhh

Oh no she did not…

1. There is always more room on the metro.

2. Don’t tell angry, sweaty, tired, commuting people what to do. Especially not when you’re so clearly a tourist. They will get angry with you.

3. Every time you speak you add more unnecessary hot air to the already unbearably hot train. So shut it.

I continued to talk to Ms. Frazzle to keep her calm. She was very intently focused on me, her eyes fixed on mine, her white knuckles grasping the top of a seat, her feet shoulder-width apart and her body assuming an athlete’s ‘ready stance’. We talked about Blacksburg restaurants, Tech’s newest dining halls, the beautiful campus. She asked me the inevitable questions about April 16, which I still can’t believe strangers ask with such candor. She told me she was a DG and a little sister of some fraternity (Do people still care about this when they’re grown? Because I never have and continue not to care in the least bit). She asked what, if I wasn’t Greek, did I even do all those four years. She asked if I do this “metro thing” every day. I said yes, but only to… hey, look at that we’re at my stop (thank goodness).

As I shuffled off the train I wished her luck on the rest of her ride to Vienna and in her attempts to metro the next day. She thanked me profusely for helping her out, the daughter thanked me for talking to her saying, “Sometimes she’s so crazy. She thinks she has claustrophobia.”

I said you’re welcome, good luck, have a good evening, okay great, yup thanks, sure of course, I said you’re welcome…alright, uh huh …

Bless their frazzled, whiny little hearts. I hope they survived Wednesday and didn’t drive in to the National Mall like Ms. Frazzle was threatening to do. I have had my fair share of claustrophobic moments but man did she ever show me up. Somehow I’m not envious of her win.