Tag Archives: DC

New York State of Mind

Sometimes in life one feels compelled to do things that are so extravagant they are absurd.

In November, with only six weeks to plan, Mike and I decided to surprise some of our best friends in New York City at Christmastime.  It was Sarah’s 29th birthday, and we thought it would be brilliant to go over-the-top on the birthday before her 30th, because she wouldn’t be expecting anything.  We wanted to surprise Amy for no reason other than to show her we love her with a Christmas surprise she would never forget.  See above: extravagant.

Obviously we couldn’t have planned this without the integral help of their significant others.  I use “significant” very purposefully here.  We literally could not have done this without Casey and Brian, nor would we have wanted to.  Their company was as crucial as their planning.

We schemed over email for weeks, finally choosing where each surprise would take place.  Due to logistics and complications, we didn’t nail down each location until the day of each surprise.

Mike and I flew into NYC on Thursday, Dec 8, checked into our hotel and walked straight to the Empire State Building.  On our way we were furiously texting instructions to Casey, who was driving Siri into the city from D.C.

We had all purchased tickets in advance, so there was no line to get to the Observation Deck on the 86th floor.  Mike and I scoped the scene, knowing we needed good lighting to catch the moment on video.  Once we found the perfect spot, we texted Casey and told him how to get there.

Mike and I hid behind a pillar until we saw them exit the correct door, and then sprinted after them.  I tapped Sarah on the shoulder and said, “Excuse me, miss, you dropped something,” so that she would turn around.

Her reaction was priceless:  http://youtu.be/qE4gb-cuceY.

As was the view.


And the company.

After the great surprise, we went to dinner at an upscale Irish restaurant named Brendan’s.  Afterward, we were so overwhelmed with bar options that we naturally chose…karaoke.

Mike and Casey sang “Don’t Stop Believin'” and Sarah and I sang “Man in the Mirror.”  The former kind of made sense for our trip.  The latter made no sense at all.

Shall we discuss the Charlie Chaplin statue?  Let’s not.

A huge part of the reason for us coming to NYC in the first place was that I hadn’t been since I was 12, and Mike hadn’t been since he was 22.  We’d always wanted to visit for the magic of Christmas in New York, so it was a major bucket list item.

We were not disappointed.

From the minute we arrived, we began a long parade of “I can’t believe this” that didn’t really end until we left four days later.  Stepping out of Grand Central Terminal after taking the train from Newark through Penn Station, we both gasped at the immediacy of our awe.  I stared at the Chrysler Building like I had flown in from another planet, rather than from across the country.

To my delight, I was mistaken for a local almost immediately.  A woman walked up to me and asked where Penn Station was.  I couldn’t believe my luck that the one person who asked me for directions was looking for the one place in the city I could actually point her to.

On second thought, the luggage I was dragging down the street may have been her reason for approaching me.  But I digress.

The next day was a smorgasbord of tourist activity that fulfilled my inner need to traverse an entire city in hours.  We brunched, we went to Central Park, we went to the Upper West Side, the Upper East Side, the Shake Shack, the Guggenheim, the Belvedere Castle…until we couldn’t take anymore.

Then we went to dinner at a French bistro called Rue 57, which is the kind of place that makes you glad to be alive just so you can eat there.

I mean, we’re seated in a wine cellar decorated for Christmas in New York City.  Please slap me across the face.

The rest of the evening is burned into my brain as one of the highlights of my year: we windowshopped on 5th Avenue at Christmastime.  There are no words.

I didn’t even notice when Mike took this picture, but it is exactly my expression for six blocks of eye candy.  I don’t think I held a conversation with any of my three companions.  Why would I, when my new friends Tiffany, Bergdorf, Bloomingdale and Van Cleef were waiting to greet me?

It was spectacular.

We went to The Plaza and Rockefeller to see the tree, and made a drive-by at Serendipity and Dylan’s Candy, but really, after the day we’d had, it was all beginning to feel like saying yes to your fourth dessert.

The next morning we were refreshed by the excitement of surprise number two — the Amy reveal!  We went to SoHo to shop until Brian and Amy arrived into the city from Philadelphia.  We agreed to meet at Katz’s Delicatessen, of “When Harry Met Sally” fame.  It was providential because the previous day Amy had mentioned how excited she was that Katz’s was going to start shipping their meat to Philly.  We couldn’t believe our luck.

Of course, the line outside of Katz’s was half a block, so our timing was way off on this surprise.  Brian was texting us that they were practically done eating so we needed to get inside pronto.  We rushed to order and then walked back to their table for the reveal: http://youtu.be/liZMRcRzA54.

Her reaction is classic Amy — no visible shock, just a huge smile and a question: “How did you get here?”  We filled her in on all the details and then watched her relieved face as she realized that yes, we had an agenda for the weekend.  Brian’s face was equally relieved, since he had been sweating bullets for 45 minutes.

First we walked to Greenwich via Washington Square Park.

I wasn’t at all embarrassed to insist on a “Sex and the City” walk-by.

After catching up over a couple of pints at a 150 year-old pub…

…we went to 50 Commerce for a grown-up New York drink.  It had the kindest bartender and the lighting of dreams.

We did a quick change for dinner at 10 Downing (yes, apparently all NY restaurants decline choosing a name and instead just name their address) which was perfect for a 29th birthday feast.

Amy blew our minds by having a friend in the city celebrating her birthday at a fabulous underground club, so we bypassed the velvet rope and walked right in.  I have to admit it felt impossibly cooler than entering any bar in the greater Seattle area.

We decided to check out 230 Fifth, a rooftop bar that I’d read good things about.  On our way there, we saw this fantastic sight.

It never gets old.

After a brief wait we made it to the top and took in the fabulous views and astronomical drink prices to match.

We found a seat, but it was brief because we were informed that in order to sit anywhere, we had to buy a bottle.  This does not happen in Seattle, and I was equally indignant and mortified.  Since the cheapest bottle was $225, we chose to leave.

In the words of Carrie Bradshaw: I couldn’t help but wonder…how often does one have three redheads in one’s establishment?  Why wouldn’t one welcome such a rare occurrence?

Oh well.

We finished the evening at a much lower-key bar, happy to have a place to sit and drinks that didn’t need to be mortgaged.

Our final day together was spent at the Central Park ice rink, Times Square, Magnolia Bakery, and the Village.  It was perfect.

After our friends left Sunday evening, Mike and I had a final date night at the World Trade Center Memorial.

It was a sobering end to the weekend, and it made us more emotional than we expected.  We didn’t realize that going at night would be so impactful; the glow from the fountain surrounded by the lights of the city was overwhelming.  Couple that with the roar of the water drowning out all other sound, and the effect was intense.  The memorial reminded us of the horror of that day, but also made us appreciate the freedom we enjoy to visit the stellar city in which it’s housed.

To recover, we had a quiet dinner at Mercer Kitchen in SoHo, where we talked about the weekend and relished a date night like no other.

As I flew back to Seattle, the phrase Amy and Sarah said all weekend wouldn’t leave my thoughts, “Is this really happening?”

Yes, ladies, it happened.  And I couldn’t be happier.

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As the World Turns…Around the East Coast

I am one of many long-suffering West Coast residents who has to deal with the inconvenient and at times infuriating East Coast bias that plagues our great nation.

Usually I handle this with a calm demeanor befitting a Victorian socialite attending afternoon tea.  This week, however, I am handling it with the anger and bitterness of a scorned lover who just found out her ex won the lottery.

What brought this fury to the surface?  The Olympics, of course.

Instead of watching the Opening Ceremonies in real time, in my time zone where they’re taking place, I have to be on nytimes.com getting the play-by-play from commentators watching it in New York.  Yes, the ceremony is actually occurring 141 miles north of my city, yet I’m forced to wait three hours so people 3,000 miles away can watch it first.

Here is a helpful visual to explain the situation:

Of course, many would say that in the age of DVRs these issues are irrelevant.  To those scoffers, I offer this: DVRs were invented to record something that was on earlier that you want to watch later.  A DVR isn’t going to help much when the show doesn’t come on for three more hours.

When it suits them, the media moguls curse us with the opposite problem.  Consider the awards ceremonies: the Oscars, Emmy’s and Golden Globes all take place in L.A., yet start at 5PM PST — so that the East Coast can watch at the more appropriate 8PM hour.  While we’re racing to get through Sunday dinner or afternoon plans, East Coasters are settled in on their couches with popcorn ready to take in the show.

Another illustrative slide:

I can’t place all of the blame on the the men at NBC, CBS and ABC.  I’m happy to bring ESPN into the conversation.  How about a little coverage of our teams, gentlemen?  Does the word “Mariner” or “Seahawk” ring any bells with you?  The only reason anyone in Pittsburgh has heard of Seattle is because they remember paying refs to throw our Superbowl game.  And while East Coasters may bemoan Angels games starting at their 10PM, at least they aren’t sitting in church while the Yankee games start at 10AM.

This bias is pervasive enough to be found outside of programming.  My brother-in-law’s former clients are all in Alabama, and they used to insist he be available from the moment they arrive in the office.  So he would show up every day for work at 6AM and leave at 3PM to accommodate them.  My company headquarters is located in New Jersey, and while not required, I feel the same pressure.

To be fair, the population comparison isn’t even close.  There are approximately 111 million people in the states lining the Atlantic, and only about 46 million on the three states lining the Pacific.  But still.

A less obvious bias occurs in the collegiate arena.  The Ivy League is clustered in the Northeast, and it would seem anywhere outside of that region is irrelevant.  I went to the University of Washington, and I can imagine the laughs I would get applying for jobs in Boston.  Despite my school being ranked 16th in the world, it’s as if we don’t exist.

Speaking of schools, consider this bone-chilling encounter from junior high.  In 8th grade, when I found out I was moving from Pennsylvania to Seattle (the “other” Washington, according to East Coasters), a student in my class came up to me and said, “Seattle.  Hmm.  That’s just west of Chicago, right?”

Maintain composure.  Channel the Victorian tea lady.

“Yes, tech…ni…cal…ly, it is west of Chicago,” I replied, attempting to be kind.  “About 2,000 miles west,” I added under my breath.

In case you’re tempted to blame that tiny error on youth, consider the exchange I had with a fellow junior in college I met in Washington, D.C. while I was in town for a leadership conference.  In what I can only assume was a mild attempt at flirting with me, he said, “Oh, I meant to tell you I’ll be in San Francisco in a couple of months!”

“Great!” I replied, not understanding why he was sharing this information.

“We could do lunch!” he exclaimed.  “I’d love to get together again, and you live in Seattle so we could meet up for a meal.”

I stood there debating which would be more painful — taking a cheese grater to my face or explaining to this person that San Francisco and Seattle are not one but TWO states apart, separated by more than 800 miles.  I wanted to scream, “Would you tell a friend in Philadelphia to meet you for lunch in Jacksonville?!”  Instead I stared at him blankly until a friend listening in (thank you, Annie!) yanked me out of the conversation.

Is it obvious yet that I’m a former East Coaster?  Friends tell me I’m like a child who’s been spoiled; having lived in the center of the US universe, I’m sour now about orbiting my former planet.  Any armchair psychologist can see that all of my sputtering really means that I miss it.  I miss being in the eye of the hurricane, I miss feeling like I could pop into NYC at a moment’s notice (even if I rarely did).  I miss the what-does-your-daddy do elitism, the four-generations-and-we’ve-never-left-town families.  While living in Lancaster, Pennsylvania or Washington, D.C. I loved knowing I was in the historical heart of our country.

Now, 12.5 years into living in Seattle, I can say that I was blind to how good I had it — but I wouldn’t trade where I am for where I was.

Please don’t mistake my missing the East Coast as preferring to live there.  What that coast has in history, numbers of people, and bustling cities, this coast has in geographic splendor.  It’s no mystery why the Winter Olympics weren’t held on that side of North America: where would they find respectable mountains?  Skiing in the Appalachians?  Please.  New Hampshire? Those aren’t mountains;  they’re hillsWhistler and Blackcomb belly laugh and high five each other when they make jokes about the slopes in Maine.

So this week as you West Coasters nestle into the couch to watch the women’s slalom, and you look at your watch and it’s 12:30AM, you’ll know exactly which region of the country to blame.

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A Letter to the Non-South Dakotan

I am proud to debut WBO’s first guest blogger, Sarah Bueller.  Sarah and I met in 2004 while surviving as interns in Washington, DC.  She works as an attorney in non-profit law, is happily married to her husband Casey, and generally makes the redheaded population proud to call her one of our own — see photo at bottom of article.   (Not to be confused with Tom Cruise’s tiny tot, Suri.  Believe me, that’s a mix-up you only make once.)

Here she offers us a fresh perspective on life on the East Coast…after transplanting from the Midwest.

Dear Coastal Reader,

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who was obsessed with the Presidents.  She had an insatiable need to learn all she could about them from her Encyclopedia set (because this “once upon a time” was the ’80s).  Her new-found knowledge naturally led to a fascination with the city in which each of them had lived.  She determined that she too would live there someday and be surrounded by the monuments honoring these exceptional men.  However, for her this would be quite a feat, considering her surroundings were far more Little House on the Prairie than Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (literally: Laura Ingalls Wilder once lived 90 miles from where she grew up).

Allow me to introduce myself as that half-pint South Dakotan.  Last year, one of my life goals was achieved when my brilliant husband began his graduate studies in Washington, DC.  We packed our belongings in our Sioux Falls, SD apartment to move across the country into one that is half its size and three times as expensive.  Our financially conservative parents were proud, but very confused.  We soon found, though, that this was only the tip of the confusion iceberg.

You see, I did not realize my foreign status – within my own country – until I stepped out of the “foreign” land.  And while we in the Midwest see your coastal cities on-screen thousands of times before actually reaching them, there are only so many times those of you on the coasts have seen Dances with Wolves.  Hence your bewilderment with my Great Plains roots.

I didn’t expect the shock and awe, however, that I provoke on a regular basis simply by explaining that I grew up in a location lacking a direct flight to anywhere.  (Incidentally, right now I am facing a $600 ticket home for Christmas.  Mail cash instead of purchasing gifts this year, sweet family.)

I have answered the customary “Where are you from?” countless times over the course of the last year.  And once I have answered, the defining reaction has been this: “I honestly was telling a friend just last week that if I ever met someone from the Dakotas I would laugh in their face!”  This statement really needs no commentary –  the offensive nature is self-explanatory.

Aside: it is just as strange to us that you group “the Dakotas” together as it is to you that we refer to soda as “pop.”  And if we have been friends for a year and you still introduce me as a North Dakota native, I should warn you that my Midwestern courtesy is about to expire.

Other classics:  WTH is the Corn Palace?  So, is everyone required to get married at 15?  Red . . . right?  What is a mega-church like?  I’m confused, you’re married, but you don’t have a gaggle of kids?  And the ever-charming:  WHY and HOW are you HERE?

And then there is “My wife and I were watching Children of the Corn yesterday and I asked her, ’Do you think this is what it’s like where Sarah’s from?’”  The truth is that I lived it, considering one of my favorite childhood pastimes.  My sister and I would pack a picnic and then traipse into the cornfield, i.e., our backyard, to dine amongst stalks twice our height.  You really couldn’t call us anything BUT Children of the Corn.  But I’m not about to admit this to the inquirer.

Another favorite response is, “Oh my gosh, you must think this winter weather is tropical!”  This is a classic comment we South Dakotans hear just about everywhere we go outside of the upper Midwest.  Yes, it’s true, the Dakotan tundra is notorious for reaching wind chills of 50+ degrees below zero.  But a DC winter is hardly mild.  You have to wear the same goose down here that you do there, people.  I just realized that you may not even understand the term “wind chill” and I have completely defeated my point.  Maybe I shouldn’t go into how our house used to become so engulfed in a snowdrift that we could walk right up to the roof.

I cannot fully blame the Midwest-illiterate for their misconceptions, however.  This is evident especially when I consider the striking difference between my current and former local news.  For example, recently the Washington Post described an event hosted by the First Lady to encourage children to become more active, complete with a photo of Mrs. Obama twirling a hula-hoop.  In contrast, today’s Argus Leader explains that a Colton, SD man recently won his age division of the National Cornhusking Championships by hand-husking 382 pounds of corn.  In case you’re wondering, this amounts to about 30 ears per minute.

So, while I understand the occasional stereotypical reference to my people as corn-fed child-brides, please consider that regional discrimination is a serious problem.  The more we recognize how much we actually share in common, the better off we are.  I mean, at a minimum we have all visited Mt. Rushmore, right?  Wait, now that I think about it, if you haven’t been to my state’s and this country’s crown jewel, I’m afraid we have nothing to say to each other.

Exasperatedly,

Sarah Bueller

Former and Forever South Dakotan

DC 09 -- Rephs 055

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