Thursday, January 10, 2008

For Old Time's Sake...

“Everything changes, but everything stays the same”

I went back to my old stomping ground last night. As I headed into DC, it didn’t feel as though 6 months had passed since I’d last been there, the great big city where I’d spent nearly 2 years of my life—the place where I’d first discovered what it really was to be a part of the real-world, the place where I chose not to become an adult quite yet.

Despite my absence, everything in DC was the same. Our nation’s capital was just as I’d left it, kept in place by politicians, taxpayer dollars, talking heads, government programs, convoluted 6 lane highways and off-ramps, and a mess of trains, planes and automobiles.

However, one thing was different: Me.

I parked my car where I knew I could always find parking: Pentagon City. Then I hopped the Metro to go downtown to meet up with my old roommate, Emily, for happy hour. I was happy, feeling young, alive, excited for a night out sharing new stories with old friends. But as I looked around me, everywhere on the Metro, I saw my old self. Tired, pale faces worn with the look of too many hours staring at a computer screen, sitting in a chair, churning out project after project—relieved to be heading home.

Walking out into the city from the Farragut West Metro stop was not a thing like stepping out into New York City on New Years Eve. At 5:00 on a random Wednesday in January, DC was all business. A rush of no-frills black suits and cardigans with trouser pants filed past me into the Metro station. Standing outside of my old office building, I was hit with many old feelings, which, more than anything made me rejoice in my newfound irresponsible freedom, fleeting as it may be. I was glad not to be part of the daily office-place exodus.

Despite all that, it was great to catch up over beers with friends, just like old times. Not much had changed, which was reassuring and unsettling all at once. It was nice to just slide right back into the life I used to lead as if I’d never left it, but strange to think that the longer I stay away, the more distant that life will become.

Meeting my friends for happy hour gave me a touch of nostalgia. I missed the taste of blue-moon from the tap with an orange slice after a particularly pain-staking day in the office, runs across the key bridge, weekends of window shopping in Georgetown, driving home at night with the Washington monument lit up across the Potomac river as my backdrop.

In any case, the DC parking police had not yet forgotten about me. I crashed at Emily’s new place right outside of Georgetown (all the girls I used to live with in our lovely upper-Georgetown shithole had since abandoned ship and moved on to bigger and better—and cleaner, nicer apartments). After many-a-parking ticket from my former DC days, running from the law, hiding my car wherever I could hide it, moving my car at odd hours of the night, fighting over access to our tiny driveway, and despite it all, refusing to actually register my car with DC tags…I think it absolutely appropriate that this morning, when I woke up, those bastards left me with my fondest memory of all from DC…

…Another parking ticket…for old time’s sake…

Sunday, January 6, 2008


My final moments of 2007 were spent at a small Manhattan apartment party drinking peppermint martinis and watching the ball drop on TV, Times Square itself, in all its madness, less than a few miles away.

Ah, New York City. I breathed in its energy as soon as I emerged from Penn Station on New Years Eve. This great big homage to the American dream, millions of American dreams, in fact—flashing, shimmering, honking, shouting: “Hot dogs—one dolla!” and “Spare change?”—was the perfect reintegration into the good old U.S. of A. How could anyone not love this place? It was spectacular.

Being home for the holidays, of course, came with a lot of new and different feelings this year. Our usual excesses have never been so apparent to me. For the first time, the great-big grandness of everything we do impressed and ashamed me all at once, in a paradoxical land where everything is easy and yet nothing is quite so easy.

I’d learned to live the simple life down at the ends of the earth, and quickly discovered that life had gone on without me, fast-paced as usual, back at home. Upon my arrival to her uptown apartment, my young-professional New-Yorker friend suggested without directly saying (merely curled her lip and gave me a slightly pained and pitying look) that the shoes I was going to wear that night were out of style.

But they were just black heels? In Chile, I had gotten used to wearing the same 3 pairs of pants day-in and day-out, and no one cared that I had only two going-out shirts for 5 entire months, or that it’s probably a little cheesy, or cliché, and as Chileans would see it, “Gringo” to wear a Patagonia fleece every day in Patagonia, when most of the locals themselves could never afford the overpriced outdoor-wear. People simply did not have the same luxuries we have here at home.

Whatever the case, here in the center of…everything, pointy-toed heels were out, and round-toed platforms were the fad for the next few months—so I borrowed an over-sized pair from my friend and stuffed them with tissue so they would fit a little better. The hell if I was going to stand out like some kind of country-bumpkin around a bunch of New Yorkers.

Forget the fact that I had not blended in at all, in any way, during the past 5 months in South America…the blonde hair, blue eyes and fair skin a dead giveaway that I was in no way Chilean. And I had survived…even gotten used to being totally different.

So what was it about New York that made me unlearn 5 months of simplicity in less than 5 hours? Was it the mesmerizing window displays in Bloomingdales, or the 7 stories of designer goods at Macy’s, or simply the vibe of the city that makes a person want to be a part of its greatness in whatever way possible, even if just for a night?

Whatever it was, I felt myself completely drawn to the consumerism that we all, as Americans, hate to love. In a land of constant change and endless choices—small, medium, large, with toppings, without sugar, 4-doors, two floors, first class, smaller ass, wrinkle reducing, curl enhancing, farm-raised, fat free, non-GE—on and on—I was able to examine my complicated relationship with our own national identity.

Our culture can be a lot of things. Greedy, demanding, self-righteous—far too choosy. And we have so many opportunities to choose what we want, it’s getting harder and harder to know exactly what it is we really want anymore. I guess that makes me typically American—coming home to our over-stocked fridge and pantry brimming with enough condiments to satisfy an army of five-star chefs— I’ve spent the last two weeks having everything I want, wondering, after-the-fact, if I actually had really wanted it. Like a kid in a candy store, a rehab patient on a field trip to a liquor store, the paparazzi at a Hollywood wedding, I was going crazy over all these choices… and instead of deciding on one thing, I’d have a little of this, a little of that, a lot of those, and even more of these, more, more, more, ending each day feeling sick to my stomach and ten pounds heavier.

But while our range of choices may be overwhelming, frustrating, maddening at times, I think what I can appreciate, and perhaps the most outstanding thing is that we have choices to make at all.

So this new year, In appreciation for my freedom of choice, I choose to do the usual… get in shape, think about the future, read more books, update the blog, reconnect with friends, write thank-you notes, etc etc. But the most exciting of all is that I’ve got to decide which plane I’m going to hop on next to which continent and when?

Can't wait to see what 2008 has in store.
Happy New Year!