Monday, September 27, 2010

Hitting the Ground Walking in D.C.

Well, I've arrived.  I now live in the District of Columbia.

Actually, I arrived almost a month ago, and from the looks of things, I will be consolidating this Danydgram and catching you up on what's happened in the last thirty days. 

You'd think after living in this amazing, fast-paced, and happy-hour-friendly city for nearly a month, I'd have my shit together, but think again!  As soon as I arrived, I was ignited with energy: something I thought I had left behind with the sleep I finally started to get once I was in Indiana.  The surge of energy, however, put me on a full-force, flip-flop-walking spree around the entire District with my dad and stepmom (Linda)--from Adams Morgan to the National Mall, the Glenn Beck Rally to the crazy rush-hour-filled lanes of Whole Foods.  We even trekked it out to Mount Vernon, but we made that trek in our rental.  Still, we didn't take a jeep tour on the grounds . . . just saying.

My first weekend here, 30 days ago exactly, was incredible.  It was probably one of the best so far.  I managed to get into great shape after my month-long lethargy of highway driving; meanwhile, I got a chance to discover some sights, sounds, food, and speakeasies before the rest of my UCDC cohorts arrived.  Needless to say when they finally did, I was bushwacked, but I prevailed, rallied, and pushed through to show the west-coasters from UC a real treat for their first week/weekend in DC.

Before I go much further, I need to pause and recognize what truly great parents I have, the places we went while they were here, and for driving my firecracker ass all the way from Indianapolis, IN.

Thank you Dad and Linda.  I love you both.

George Washington's swanky home and resting place.  Mount Vernon, Alexandria, VA

Yup, I was there--so were about 400k tea-baggers.

So was she.  Sexy teabagher.

From Thailand to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, with love.  I think this lizard shows why our mothers say "do not make that face because it will stick."

Mind trick.

It's safe to say I work here part-time . . . in lobbies. 

Like a good friend of mine would say, "So sick!"

Another mind trick--Jedi style.

Self explanatory: a pose.

Just your typical ginger's presidential monument.

 Bronze ginger.  Name: T.J.

Not bad from the BlackBerry.

Thanks Dad because you did.

From the GW Monument, we can clearly see that a few tax dollars should be used for better grass.  Seriously.

We saw POTUS smoking a cigarette on the roof with some of the Secret Service guys via binoculars.  (Almost) a true story.

Lincoln passed on grass for water--my man.

TJ got a lake--ante up Lincoln.

Ford Theatre looks just like I remembered from 1993.

As you can see, we were very busy: early mornings, late nights, and loads of walking.  We only had the rental car our first day, and that was the day we went to Mount Vernon--totally worth the trip, expense, hassle, and before-8am-wake-up.

I checked into my new residence that following Monday (frame of reference: this was August 30), and a few hours later, good ole buddy ole pal o' mine, Mr. Ruben Chavez, showed up just in time for dinner.  I let him hang out in the room long enough to unzip his bags, but I eventually lured him out with the words: "free dinner if we meet my parents in Adams Morgan."  He quickly obliged.

We met at a nice place for dinner, but it wasn't Lauriol Plaza (one of my all-time favorite restaurants in this city and a place my Dad and stepmom took me to during the weekend).  Anyway, it was a very pleasant, tasty and free dinner; mostly, I was happy to have a companion now in DC to run amuck with--Rat Pack style.  Although the Rat Pack grew by one rat that night, the others weren't far behind . . .

(L-R: Sean Miller, Ruben Chavez, me, and Kevin Miller, guest and friend)

It was something of an extraordinary week once our other suite-mates--Waiswa (not pictured above) and Sean--checked in because due to some poor planning or whatever, we didn't start our internships or attend any of our classes until the Tuesday after Labor Day, so we literally had 8 days to run amuck in Washington, D.C.  Largely contributing to this running amuck was the fact that my old friend from the US Air Force, Rich Jones, came into DC from Delaware for the weekend and took me to his family's (Chesapeake) Bay house for Labor Day and then the following weekend, mine and Ruben's friend Kevin stopped in for about a week on his way to study in London for a year.  Here's the photo re-cap:

First night out with a big (and growing) group.

Just your typical Air Force One shoeshine.  He's a buddy of mine, Eddie Varley, and we think he looks a lot like Peyton Manning.

Homemade sangria for the 'Double Decker Booze Cruise" tour, but it fell through, so we used it for Sangria Pong instead.

The Guys in 608 were handed down the legendary UCDC beer pong table.  It's been getting a lot of use!

One night out, we met Mr. Belding--the principal from Saved By the Bell.

The Friday night before Rich came in from Delaware, I made last-minute plans and took a bus up to see my cousin Lindsey in NYC.  She lives in a beautiful flat in Williamsburg/Brooklyn, and above is a shot from her roof of Manhattan.

(L-R: Rich, Ruben, me)  Boys being boys.  He kicked my ass.

Beautiful Sunday at the Bay house with Rich's family.

Only the greatest chips around and choice care-package item.

Boise State v. Virginia Tech.  86,500 people attended this game.  Insane!

This is what happens when it gets too late and people just need to go to bed.  LMAO.  Sorry Kevin--I had to.

Singing loud and proud to who-remembers-what 80s song it was.

Great view of the GW Monument from W Hotel.

For the best breakfast in DC, I suggest the chilaquiles at Lauriol Plaza.

Live reggae band at Eighteenth Street Lounge has consistently pared for a good night for the past four Wednesdays.

Just a few in the UCDC crew after a small gathering in 608.  We did not, however, manage to fit in one elevator.

Aaaand casual Friday last week.

Well, there you have it.  The month of September is almost over, and things are continually getting better and better each week.  I'll be writing more frequently now and providing much shorter, quick reads to keep you entertained, full of random moments backed with laugh-out-louds.  


Sunday, September 19, 2010

California to D.C. in 30 Days . . . or BUST!

Last month, my return trip from Bangkok was quite an experience.  It wasn't because of the flight or the plane or my seat.  Instead, it was because of the flight attendants!

I'm totally kidding.  It was an experience because I left Bangkok on a Monday (August 3) at 4pm, and after just a short two-hour layover in Taipei, Taiwan, I was back on a plane to then arrive in San Francisco at 9pm that same Monday night. Talk about making up some time!  You know, I could really afford to do that more often--especially on days before finals.

I made it back safely to San Francisco, but I was completely phone-less until the following day (since I somehow lost my BlackBerry during my trip despite never once using it).  Fortunately, I secured plans with a few close friends to meet me at my favorite spot for some long-awaited IPAs in the heart of downtown Berkeley.  They came--thankfully--because I was homeless and in dire straights for a place to crash the next two nights in Berkeley.

Walking out of the Downtown Berkeley Bart station, I was immediately hit with the accompanying smells, sights, and sounds of Shattuck Avenue.  This felt quite similar to the culture shock I had experienced when I arrived into Bangkok because in many ways, I had been conditioned to numerous aspects of Thai lifestyle--growing accustomed to the smells and sounds of Bangkok after ten weeks.  This feeling soon subsided when I found my friends waiting for me at Jupiter with beers in hand.  We got to drinking our tasty IPAs (very good beer at Jupiter, I might add), and it wasn't long before I shared stories to catch them up from my time in abroad.  Thank you to everyone for coming out--both nights!

With only one full day (and another night) in Berkeley, I had a laundry list of tasks I needed to get accomplished in preparation for my month-long journey across the United States (as well as four months in DC and a month-long Christmas vacation to Europe).  

Waking up early the next morning (but not yet jet-lagged . . . ), I was immediately too busy to think: I needed a new phone; I needed to pick up my car that was parked three hours away; I needed to get a storage unit; I needed to sort through the things I owned into a car's worth of things I'd need for DC; I needed, still, to visit a bunch of people in Berkeley; I needed to pick up my mail; and finally, I needed to plan all my stops for my cross-country trip.  Oh yeah, I also needed to fit in a few meals, a shower, and call my parents.  

Thanks to a good recommendation for breakfast from Mike Lorek for breakfast at Meal Ticket in Berkeley, we were able to quickly fill our stomachs with a trout and scrambled egg breakfast--my first meal stateside.  I think I did it right:

I (somehow and miraculously) managed to get everything on my to-do list accomplished, and not only that, my car started right up after sitting unattended for ten weeks.  Looking back now, I don't think I could have completed all of the tasks I had on my plate in that single day had I encountered even the slightest hiccup/setback.  

Later that evening, I mapped out a serious agenda for my road trip.  Here's how it looked:

Berkeley, CA (3 days) -- Sacramento, CA (1 day) -- Los Angeles, CA (2 days) -- Phoenix, AZ (4 days) -- Albuquerque, NM (1 day) -- Roswell, NM (1/2 day) -- San Antonio, TX (2 days) -- New Orleans, LA (1 day) -- Tallahassee, FL (1 day) -- Atlanta, GA (2 days) -- Asheville, NC (2 days) -- Knoxville, TN (1 day) -- Lexington, KY (1 day) -- South Bend, IN (1 day) -- Indianapolis, IN (4 days) -- Washington, DC (4 months!).

Wow.  As I read back over this, I am exhausted--even overwhelmed--by my aspirations, but I am quickly reminded of my ability to reunite with many distant friends from my days in the Air Force as well as my chance to visit family on their home turfs. 

Below is a brief photo recap of my stops along the way.  Unfortunately, I didn't take a picture with every person I saw or every place I visited, but the photos should provide a good account of the adventure and unique opportunity to drive across our beautiful nation. (Disclaimer: The photos were taken with my BlackBerry, so I apologize for poor quality).

In Sacramento, CA visiting Air Force and Sac City friends.  (L-R) Hudson, Justin, Kelli, me, Ian, and Mindy).

In Los Angeles about to eat jerk chicken enchiladas at Santa Monica Beach with my cousin Rachel, her boo Nate, and their pup Ooshki.

Santa Monica Beach, Los Angeles, CA

A reunion! These three  (L-R: Brady, Nate, and Rachel) put me up in Chiang Rai, Thailand, and again here in Santa Monica.  Thanks Rachie and Nate--I miss you both, Brady, and Ooshki too.

Obviously, 10 weeks without driving did a number on my parallel parking skills.

Second day in Los Angeles--on my way to see Mr. Justin Granath.

Me and old friend, Chris Hart, from USAF.  I hadn't seen him in over 6 years.  Coincidentally, he happened to be in Los Angeles visiting his family while on a mid-tour from Seoul, Korea.  Great seeing you brother.

Mr. Sparks and Mr. Granath doing it big at Beso.

Arriving into the great state of Arizona to see my momma and my favorite picture from my road trip.

Just your typical Phoenix sunset later that night.  Second favorite picture.

Big party weekend in Scottsdale, AZ, for Miss Celia's birthday. (L-R: Kevin, Amanda Cocciotti, Celia Cocciotti, shme)

Poolside with Kevin in Scottsdale, AZ.

Me and Mr. Dave Lopez in his hometown, Albuquerque, NM.  We partied (and worked) together in the Air Force and did it big in Cyprus for four months in the summer of 2004.  That was about the last time I saw him.  We look much sexier now.

The real deal: the UFO Museum in Roswell, NM.  

Aliens.  No joke.

Me my beautiful and only sister, Erin Elizabeth, outside her home in San Antonio, TX.  I love you sis.

Southern cooking done right: Creole and Dixie beer on Bourbon Street, New Orleans, LA.

Real jazz at Preservation Hall in the French Quarter, New Orleans, LA.

A Saturday night on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, LA.  Insane.
Swimming with Makenzie Ann, my cousin's daughter in Asheville, NC (think: the place where the Obamas had a vacation).  For the record, she has the largest Silly Bandz collection I have ever seen, and she didn't share a single one.  Stinker.

The matriarch of the Sparks' family, Mrs. Marie Grace Sparks.  An angel on Earth and my gramma.

I now realize I didn't take enough pictures, but I really want to thank everyone during my trip who accommodated me, took me out, fed me, baked for me, hugged me, kissed me, set me straight, shared music with me, and laughed with me.  So, thank you: Ruben Chavez, Mike Lorek, Kevin Miller, Christa Hall, Arjun Ghosh, Elliott Garcia, Michael Cooper, Blanche Levy, Sunchai Duday Muy, Melanie Haller, Justin Turner, Kelli Hanniford, Hudson Brower, Ian "Skian" Brown, Rachel Sparks-Graeser, Nate Graeser, Ooshki, Brady McGowan, Justin Granath, Chris Hart, Aunt Amy and Uncle Phil, Momma and Jim, Celia Cocciotti, Shelby Stark, Amanda Cocciotti, Jessica Hughes, Dave Lopez, Sis, Jeff Montgomery, Ally Niemier, Damion Leimbach, Shawn and Andrea Ondeck, Leslie and Makenzie Cunningham, The Mann Group, Nicholas Gross, Emily and Jeff Presley, Dad and Linda, Granny and Bob, Grandma and Grandpa, Carly Niemier, and Desmond and Patricia Hunt.  If you are reading this, thank you and know I want to return the favor while I live in DC--please come!

Now that I have been settled in D.C. for just over three weeks already, it's high time I get to blogging about all the craziness that is D.C. with updates on my internship, my residential building, my new friends, cooking, and our crazy nights out.  Needless to say, there is a lot to share, but for now, I need sleep.  Goodnight.

Next up on The Dandygram: Hitting the Ground Walking in D.C.