Trying to Exit LAX-it

Uber, Lyft and taxi pickups were banned from the curb at the infamously congested airport. Photo credit: Rennett Stowe

The new “efficiency” move at LAX to clear up curbside congestion is to make passengers arriving from longass flights wait for a shuttle to take them to a lot to then wait for a rideshare vehicle to take them home.

This has been such an unmitigated disaster in its first week that when the LA Times tried it, for a video, it took a full 52 minutes to get a ride home. And this is AFTER winding your way off the plane and out of terminal in the first place.

In these destabilizing times, the exhaustive effort it must have taken to make an already not-great situation substantially worse sums up my feelings about the global economy, internet commerce, telling my kids to stop yelling, and so much more.

Tonight someone died by stabbing when an argument broke out in a line for the much-hyped Popeye’s spicy chicken sandwich. Felt related somehow.

I Don’t Know Who Needs To Hear This, But

Sylvia Plath’s 1956 program “to win friends and influence people.”

I really needed the last line in there: “Write — you have seen a lot, felt deeply and your problems are universal enought to be made meaningful — WRITE —” (How perfect that it ends with an em dash, pregnant with promise…)

Memory Boosting A Difficult Day

We had the wind at our backs in early August, when my scrappy team of video producers convened to shoot this Future You episode on memory. It just came out this morning…

Things changed by the time we flew home.

The night after my head was stimulated with tiny bursts of electricity (for the video), I awoke in a sleep lab to find out that our photographer and friend, Kara, had been laid off over the phone while getting her gear ready, in the parking lot. My other lead producer, Beck, got a call with the same news while she was with her parents, on vacation.

In ABQ with Kara, before the troubles.

Their layoffs were part of a handful that included the cancelation of my series when the run is finished, the end of original video out of the news department, and executed at the direction of our new news chief. We got no rationale except that she’s “prioritizing other things.”

Suffice to say, I’d been blessed that nothing like that has ever happened in my professional life. This felt even worse and more harsh because of the way it went down, mid-stride on a Tuesday morning during a difficult shoot.

Kara didn’t even have time to properly process before we went straight back into finish the final interview of the shoot. She was so, so professional and demonstrated the kind of grace under pressure that I can only strive for. Because Kara moved onto her next job before getting to finish the edit, our New York-based colleague Nickolai finished the edit so that we could put it out today. Big thanks to everyone involved for not losing heart and seeing it through.

As for me, I’m not sure what’s next. The end of original news video also means the end of my role, though we haven’t finalized how that is going to look. Change is a constant, I certainly know well enough not to resist it.

Gifts I Received In Austin, An Incomplete List

These are the things my Austin friends gave me when I went back this week:

Never boring.

— Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller-branded bandanas (red and pink)
— 12 oz of green chile queso, HOT
— Two Longhorn candies
— Campaign button: “Consent to sex is not consent to pregnancy”

“I thought this was perfect for you,” said Friend Blake.

— One Topo Chico
— One P. Terry’s Veggie Burger and fries
— Two zines: “The Teeth of The Great British Bake-off,” featuring illustrations of every participant’s teeth, and “Sexy Patents,” a compilation of actual patents for crotchless underwear and such

Part of a zine by Chris Chang

Went back to ATX at the invitation of UT’s Moody School of Communications and the Annette Strauss Institute, which hosted press critic Jay Rosen and me for its annual Denius Symposium on News Integrity. Jay’s really good on the historical context of the industry and talking things out helped me sort through some of the thornier questions about the role of the press in these challenging times.

Austin. You were so gridlocked but still so … Austin. Toddy got a cocktail at an old firehouse-turned-bar-and-hostel, which releases 12 bees for every drink you order. I think that’s what the deal was?

Jimmy made us all eat endlessly at a new upscale Shanghai-style Chinese place on West Sixth. Melissa and I perused a badass new consignment boutique on South Lamar called Rags. I put down nearly a pound of brisket, the moist kind, and sausage, plus a bunch of Friend AmZam’s hearty sides when she showed up to dress a baked potato with … more brisket. The thought of running Town Lake’s hike and bike trail, like the good ol’ days, crossed my mind but I did not.

As usual, the first stop after leaving the airport

I ate P. Terry’s two days in a row. The second time it was on the house, thanks to Friend Todd (different from the aforementioned Todd) who has somehow gotten to lead the trifecta of iconic Texas fast food brands — Whataburger, Taco Cabana and now is CEO of P Terry’s. (What!? Crazy, right?!) I introduced him to my goddaughter Marion Cass, who picked up from school as a surprise, and Todd  introduced me to the actual Patrick Terry, who started my fave Austin burger chain in 2005.

Stopped by my NPR member station, KUT-Austin.

A great trip. I’m so grateful.

 

Adventures in Age Reversal

Man, this summer was rough. Not only did my arm fall out of its socket, altering my shoulder ever since, but my video producers on the Future You team were unceremoniously laid off WHILE WE WERE IN THE MIDDLE OF AN OVERNIGHT SHOOT. The fallout isn’t quite over yet.

All the while, I was starving and super tired! I had to eat right and exercise more, for work. An actual exchange at Harvard Med:

Me: Will I have to stop eating McFlurry’s for breakfast?

Researcher: You eat McFlurry’s for breakfast? How old are you!?

For the Future You episode on life extension, the oncologist and longevity doctor Peter Attia worked with Harvard geneticist David Sinclair to give me a longevity regimen to reverse my inner, or biological age. They were trying to help me make my cells read as if they were young again.

Sinclair’s research in recent years has isolated the molecule thats help repair cellular damage from aging to give mice better blood flow, stronger muscles — the general benefits of exercise and eating right — in pill form. Now it’s being tested on humans. And I tried testing it for myself, along with the other age-reversing techniques we know of like diet changes, for the back half of the summer.

The end result? Catch it in the latest Future You (thank god we finished shooting this before my producers got the axe).

Seoul Much Fun, Seoul Little Time

Quiet Tuesday night Insadong

I am back in Seoul to speak at a conference on North Korea and not only is it a short visit, I’m losing a bunch of time from jet lag, so everything’s happening in hyper-speed.

Loose Notes:

— While delight is my overwhelming feeling, a sense of emotional constipation has returned, because I can’t properly communicate. There’s so much I want to know and understand and say and I just … can’t. I have really taken for granted how easy my life has become in California because I speak English in an English-speaking place.

— The trend food item right now is a twist on milk tea: “Black sugar pearl milk tea.” The “creme brûlée iced milk tea” is a second. They have existed before, I think, but are currently riding the Seoul trend wave. This means when I showed up at a coffee shop at 1pm trying to get one, the place was sold out. Incidentally, a black sugar milk tea has been my personal go-to drink back home in LA. The ones in Korea are not shaken before they’re served, so they look marbly. The creme brulée iced milk tea has a layer of creme brulée foam at the top of the drinks, which I didn’t try but they looked pretty sugary, rich and delicious.

— This happened, of course:

— I am struck by how quickly I felt unattractive from the abundant messages about how to improve my appearance. Including but not limited to: The ads for the same doe-eyed, V-line jawed women everywhere, the endless, looming multi-story cosmetic surgery centers, one of which unabashedly emblazoned itself with an English sign for “Cosmetic Laser Vaginal Surgery.” Racks and racks of products to make you sit straighter (posture corrector), your toes straighter (toe aligner), your breasts bigger (waterproof chicken cutlet-looking bras), your “problem areas” smoothed out (flesh-colored sticker patches). It goes on. I stopped in a great Garosugil clothing store and as it is with all those Gangnam boutiques, the clothes come in “free size” which means, “one size.” Free size isn’t free, it’s limiting.

Check yourself before you wreck yourself.

— A lot of our old friends have moved because they, too, were foreign correspondents or diplomats on three-year postings. But my Korean native friends still here have been taking me on a nonstop eating bonanza. For breakfast I’m making bulgogi and scrambled eggs, a twist on steak and eggs. Grandma Jin Ok’s #1 chicken cauldron soup? First stop after getting off the plane. Shabu shabu that you roll into Vietnamese wraps? Yes please!

The calm before.
Midway through the chop chop

— Reunited with Ju Hee, my Seoul hair stylist, and had her chop off 12 centimeters (we need to get on the metric system, people). Ivanka did it, so did Shiv Roy on Succession, and both those ladies are such great role models, amirite? JK I really just cut off my hair because September is the hottest month in LA, we live in a neighborhood close to the beach so we have no central AC, and my neck was hot. I do think Shiv Roy’s hair looks amazing

Moon Festivals

There are so many Chinese-Americans in Los Angeles that this weekend, there were COMPETING Moon Festivals on the east side of town, over there in communities like Monterrey Park and Arcadia, where a ton of Taiwanese folks live. I only know this because Eva has joined a Chinese Children’s Chorus and had to perform at two of these festivals, back to back.

While it’s about 14 degrees hotter on that side of LA, the boba teas and other Taiwanese street foods are also about 14 times better. So I left Eva with her choir teacher and went off exploring the street food vendors. I got the moon cakes, natch, plus dim sum standards of xiao long bao and char siu bao because, low hanging fruit.

But then I wandered into the world of vegan meat pies (which are cooked on a griddle and flattened, so, the Chinese equivalent of quesadillas), and the crazier milk tea creations, like “dirty milk tea” (not sure what makes it dirty), the Hokkaido Taro slush (Eva tried this and liked it) and the big mystery item that I was too full to consume was KOREAN-TAIWANESE FUSION NOODLES. I felt seen.

 

 

Ghost Month

Chinese folk legend holds that in the seventh month of the Lunar Calendar, the gates of hell open up and the ghosts come out to torment the living. There are all kinds of rituals you can perform to try and keep the darkness at bay, or preventative measures like not letting your kids go out at night and being very careful. I didn’t even realize there was such a thing until my mom and dad, who were in town this summer, said, “Of course you’re having a run of bad luck, it’s ghost month!”

August actually started triumphantly, with an affirming trip to Atlanta where I saw old friends from AAJA and got to talk a little about my dad. Since then, my producers were laid off while we were in the middle of a field shoot, the minivan’s door was ripped off by a Santa Monica Big Blue bus and my spouse narrowly escaped injury and last week I learned a skunk has made a home in the crawlspace under my house! Dealing with him is very tricky since you don’t want him to spray under your house and leave a stink there … FOREVER.

The good news is, we’re almost at the end of the month, and things are supposed to improve once the ghosts go back to their lair. Here’s hoping.

 

In The End, It’s Up To The Mother

Ever since that time A Cup of Jo published the photo of me eating a cheeseburger while giving birth to Isa, I’ve been asked by folks about giving birth without pain meds.

Look, I don’t think any woman should feel pressured to give birth a certain way. You do you — a feminist birth is more important than an unmedicated, vaginal one. If you are interested, however, and want to prepare, I spoke with the New York Times’ Parenting section briefly for its guide to unmedicated birth.

Bus vs Minivan

“You were out of town and we almost lost our father. And then we’d be stuck forever with just you, mom.” [grimaces]

—Eva, 6, about Matty losing the minivan door to a Santa Monica city bus, and somehow not getting hurt by the chin of his chinny chin chin

I was on a shoot in Albuquerque at the time and since Stiles never calls me, really, ever, I picked up the phone and said, “Are you okay?” and immediately he goes, “NO! I just got hit by a bus!”

It’s been a crazy and difficult week. If I wasn’t so committed to an upcoming Future You episode on longevity which requires me to adopt healthy lifestyle habits, I’d be drinking myself to sleep tonight.