A Guide To My Washington D.C. Places, As I Depart

Private karaoke room goodbye at Wok 'n Roll. Yes, it's called Wok 'n Roll.

Private karaoke room goodbye at Wok ‘n Roll. Yes, it’s called Wok ‘n Roll.

While my memories of my last hometown, Austin, are vivid, my memories of DC are sort of soft focus. I think this is because I didn’t spend as much time just existing in DC — I originally took a job here that required nearly 50 percent travel — and I drank a lot, and, the nature of covering national news means you’re less a part of the community in the way you are when you’re coverage is “of and for” a more localized area.

But D.C. grew on me. Our daughter was born here, I worked among some of the smartest and most creative people I’ve ever met and feel this is the place I “grew up” and stopped feeling like a child that was just flitting about life. I enjoyed checking off some D.C. bucket list items like attending the Correspondent’s Dinner a couple of times, hosting a book party where people looked for their names in the index and spending summer nights at Nats games.

If there’s one common thread about DC no matter what your friend group, it’s that we’re always saying goodbye. D.C., as it’s well known, is full of people who aren’t from here and don’t stay here, so even in the short four years I’ve been here I’ve said goodbye again and again and again such that it’s reluctantly become muscle memory. I suppose it’s not so strange for me to leave, too, and I fully expect the place to be unrecognizable when I return.

Some places I’ll remember…

Favorite Place For A Stiff Post-Work Cocktail (Plus chicken wings!): Stan’s on Vermont Ave near 15th Street.

I said cocktail but they actually serve you a full tumbler of a hard liquor of your choice and it’s so full that your requested mixer comes in a separate glass. This will get you drunk in a hurry, and the basement location, the delightful hostess who remembers you and all your friends AND their famous chicken wings make this a great night, every time.

Favorite Lunch or Dinner Restaurant: Sushi Taro. Located conveniently need the Kazakstan Embassy, Sushi Taro became a go-to in my waning days of DC because I frankly prefer Japanese cuisine above the rest. Except for some Chinese dishes, of course. Like roasted duck.

Favorite Breakfast: District Taco, cause you can take a gal out of Austin but not the breakfast taco cravings out of the girl.

Favorite Happy Hour That No Longer Exists: Kushi. The service was meh and the food was only above mediocre but damn, we drank there so much. For a couple of years a group of us reliably met every Tuesday night with rotating hosts for the Tuesday Night Drinking Club and Matt Thompson almost always picked Kushi when it was his turn to host. It closed last fall because the owner hadn’t been paying rent. Oops.

Favorite Drinking Spot Before It Was Overrun By Millennials: The Passenger. It was like The Max for NPR, back in the old building. I remember so many summer nights spent sweating in that front booth cause the air circulation in there is horrid. But the craft cocktails were divine.

Best ‘Stuff White People Like’ Market: Union Market. This venue also hosts Crafty Bastards, which is also quite white.

Need A Random Weekend Walk? Meridian Hill Park has lots of space for picnicking and often has a drum circle going so you can enjoy that while on your walk. For more nature, my family and I like the National Arboretum. (The Arboretum is also excellent for Christmas card photos.)

Overhyped: Why do people love Sweetgreen? Why does everyone eagerly pay $12 for a salad and a drink?

Cheap Lunch: Harris Teeter will put a giant slice of pizza in their oven for you and sell it to you for $2.99. So I get two slices and it’s still cheaper than half a salad at Sweetgreen.

The Only Good Chinese In DC Proper: Panda Gourmet, which is the restaurant inside a Days Inn on an otherwise shady stretch of New York Avenue. It serves Szechuan and Shanxi cuisine (they are very different from one another), and we love anything on the menu that starts with ‘twice-cooked’. Also a big fan of their eggplant in garlic sauce and Shanxi noodles.

My Hair Guy: Carlos Perina of Corte Salon. Carlos is excellent with color, gives Eva free bang trims every three weeks and became one of my close friends over the last few years. He cut Clinton in the nineties and also gave Johnny Wright a station at his salon before Wright became Michelle Obama’s traveling hair guy.

Reliable Vietnamese Nail Ladies: Soleil 21 on Capitol Hill

Reliable Local Chains: Matchbox, Beau Thai, We The Pizza

Reliable Dim Sum: You have to drive a bit to Rockville but Far East knows what its doing. And it’s right next to a Wendy’s so if you are hungry for dessert afterward (which let’s face it sometimes I am) you can get a frosty.

Airports: Just don’t fly out of Dulles. People from DC would rather spend a night in Prince Georges County jail than fly out of Dulles.

Bar Trivia Options: Argonaut, if you like drilling down on subject specific questions. Nellie’s, for sports and just random fun questions plus cheap drinks (great for teams).

A Good DC Gift For A Friend: A bottle of Greenhat Gin. Or something kitschy from a local artist at Monroe Street Market.

Things to be Avoided: Driving on Rhode Island Avenue (anytime). Any carry-out that serves Chinese/Chicken Wings/Subs, of which there are many.

Annual DC Events That Should Make Your Calendar: Embassy Day. The High Heel Race. The Pride Parade. The AFI Film Festival in Silver Spring. Actually I don’t know that many ‘DC’ events because I only lived here about 60 to 70 percent of the last four years. But those are the ones I made it to and enjoyed.

T.S. Eliot says that you really only know a place after you left and came back, so I don’t claim to know DC at all. But again, it somehow crawled into my heart and became home, albeit only for a short time. See you next time, Washington.

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A Sendoff Song, Written From Lines In A Korean Phrasebook

Sample lyrics.

Sample lyrics.

We are (finally) leaving on Sunday to open the aforementioned NPR Seoul bureau. The absurdly talented Adam Cole decided to try and challenge himself to write a K-pop style ballad using only words from a beginner’s Korean phrasebook. The results made me cry with laughter … and delight. So, so overwhelmingly awesome. We need to make this a K-pop hit, y’all.

“We often get caught up in platforms rather than the most important tool for success, which is not a technological platform at all: it’s intellectual curiosity. It’s that persistent tug to want to know more, to ask questions, to seek answers. The best reporting comes from the best questions, and no matter what the platform, great journalists are asking them.”

-my chat with Gigaverse about finding good work, my favorite platform on which to report and balancing parenthood and journalism

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The Best Advice I Got Last Year

One of the most pleasurable aspects of having brilliant coworkers is basking in the wisdom, knowledge and good-humored counsel of said colleagues. I am lucky to count among my people Shankar Vedantam, who, among many other things, is the social science correspondent for NPR and author of The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives.

It goes without saying that it’s pretty sweet to have this guy around when I’m in the middle of a professional or personal crisis and just need some sage advice.

Last year I was considering another job offer, since I had just hit my three-year-mark at NPR and three years was the longest professional association I’d ever had. I was feeling anxious to do something new, maybe just for the sake of the stretching and growing that comes with leaving your comfort zone. The role being offered was pretty great and something my 29-year-old self would have leaped at, but I was at the much-better-cooked age of 31 by then. I worried about the organization of the other place — was the leadership stable? Did it have a sustainable business?

Shankar said none of it mattered. What mattered most, he said, was passion and what we feel most passionate doing. Which gets to the best advice I got last year:

He said, we tend to make personal decisions with our hearts and work decisions with our minds, but it should actually be flipped.

It makes more sense, he said, to make work decisions based on emotion because so much of professional fulfillment — and success — flows from passion, and the other details (who owns a company, the board, etc) are out of our control. But interpersonal relationships are dependent on far more than passion, because of our children, homes, etc. So it’s better to make those decisions practically and not emotionally.

Shorter Shankar: Professional decisions? Heart. Personal decisions? Head.

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What I’m Reading: The Love and Relationships Edition

It's complicated.

It’s complicated. (Photo credit: Channing Johnson)

If you and I spend any one-on-one time together, we inevitably get around to some of my favorite topics — love, fidelity, identity and memory. I cover human connection (and how technology is changing it) as a beat, so over the past year I’ve been writing more on these themes, with posts questioning whether online dating is really helping us make better matches, etc.

I’ve also evangelized the best show on TV right now (since Mad Men isn’t back yet), The Americans on FX. It’s ostensibly a show about Russian spies living as sleeper agents in the U.S. But really it’s about love, fidelity and identity. And it stars one of my mad crushes, Matthew Rhys. (I love Matt’s! And Welshmen!)

Buried in that exposition was RECOMMENDATION #1: The Americans on FX. Watch it. Seriously. Season 3 debuts on Wednesday.

Okay, here are the rest of my recommendations on this theme:

#2 Why We Cheat (Slate Magazine)
The author of the book ‘Mating in Captivity’ sits down for a Q&A, in which she dispels some of our black-and-white thinking about stepping out on our partners. The nut graf: “Very often we don’t go elsewhere because we are looking for another person. We go elsewhere because we are looking for another self. It isn’t so much that we want to leave the person we are with as we want to leave the person we have become.”

#3 The Split-Screen Marriage (The New York Times)

Showtime’s Golden Globe-winning (but not necessarily deserving) program, The Affair, explores the notion of perception and memory in our intimate relationships. It tells half its story from the man’s point of view, then flips midway through each episode to the woman’s perspective. Even though they remember the same sequence of events (for the most part), the tone and details are completely different. This NYT piece gets at “the canyon of ignorance that cuts across every human relationship” and got me thinking about how we can treat one other better by seeking to know our partners more.

#4 Vonnegut on Marriage (dannyman.toldme.com)

An argument for the villages of yesteryear — extended families. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote: “When a couple has an argument nowadays, they may think it’s about money or power or sex or how to raise the kids or whatever. What they’re really saying to each other, though without realizing it, is this: “You are not enough people!”

#5 Searching for Sex (The New York Times)

This piece made me want everyone to get laid more. As I mentioned in a previous post, an economist dives into the big data we have on sex-related searches, whether it’s penis size or the number of times “sexless marriage” is searched instead of “loveless marriage.” The results show Americans are have WAY TOO LITTLE SEX and that they’re really hung up about body insecurities.

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Sex Study

An economist reviewed Google searches that Americans conducted about sex. It reveals we’re collectively having too little of it, and way too anxious and insecure about it. Get laid more often, people! One of the funniest data points among the searches was this one:

sex study

The Long Goodbye From DC, Part One

When leaving town, why have one big final blowout in which you accidentally consume too much marijuana and find yourself throwing up the entire way to the airport the next day (I’m just saying hypothetically, cough cough) when you can have a string of smaller goodbyes over the course of three weeks?

My former common-law work spouse Matt started his new gig at The Atlantic this month, our former boss Kinsey starts his new job in New York next month and my own move to Korea is imminent, so the first in the goodbye string was getting some of our old NPR colleagues together for drinks the same night the Packers showed America how to lose a football championship.

So many smiling faces. I already miss a lot of these colleagues so much.

So many smiling faces. I already miss a lot of these colleagues so much.

The other memorable part of this long goodbye tour is the DELICIOUS ETHNIC MEALS PEOPLE ARE MAKING FOR US. Eyder and his wife Cynthia dropped off authentic Texican enchiladas — Cynthia makes the verde sauce from scratch — and I ate three in one sitting. Chris Howie’s mom-in-law makes the most incredible Indian food ever and they had us over for a feast of I don’t even remember how many dishes. I got lost in a dream scenario of homemade naan, butter chicken, saag paneer, daal, oh man I can’t even describe.

Next, we wanted to see lots of DC drinking buddies and needed to get rid of a lot of random items in our house, like Magic Mesh, which Nick Fountain apparently wanted “real bad.”

So Friday night we had people over for a Hu-Stiles House Cooling, so that I could see lots of awesome people and give away items which included:

– Mark Sanford’s early book, The Trust Committed To Me
– A George W. Bush action figure
– A travel music stand
– Half a bottle of Jameson
– Some kind of Dutch knife sharpener
– A leftover party favor from my bridal shower in 2010
– A cat scratcher
– A screener of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood
AND SO MANY MORE AWESOME THINGS FOR YOU TO REMEMBER ME BY!

I mean, look at the excitement on their faces to leave with this bounty.

I mean, look at the excitement on their faces to leave with this bounty.

Last weekend we partied with the NPR  "olds." This weekend it's partying with the NPR "youngs." The olds definitely got drunker.

Last weekend we partied with the NPR “olds.” This weekend it’s partying with the NPR “youngs.” The olds definitely got drunker.

More goodbye-ing to come…

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Preparing For The Cross-Planet Move

The view from my packing position.

The view from my packing position.

So between the last time I blogged and tonight, I was in Cancun with the besties, many of whom were part of The Great Sucia Treinta Cumpleanos Extravaganza, in which Terp was briefly detained by Costa Rican authorities.

Maybe I will get to sharing the photos from that time (which was followed by a terrible bout of Montezuma’s revenge — what a crisis), but tonight I was just feeling reflective after a day of packing for 2015 Cross-Planet Move: Storage, Part A.

In order to move some clutter out of my house, I’ve decided just to call movers over tomorrow and take away as much nonsense as possible so the house can be shown for potential renters. We spent the day packing up mementos, books and a lot of things that were frankly already mostly packed from the last move and left untouched for the last three years.

Among the items, I found the “yearbook” my South Carolina TV news colleagues signed for me when I moved away in 2006. It’s filled with hilarious memories, some of which I’d forgotten. JL‘s was probably my favorite, and amazingly, all true:

All of this happened between 2005 and 2006. Because South Carolina.

All of this happened between 2005 and 2006. Because South Carolina.

Moving always makes me feel a little wistful. This is my seventh move since graduating from college, not counting this summer, when I helped move all my childhood things from a childhood home, and I seem to have more crap with each move. I love it when old mementos (like above) pop up but it all reminds me of something Chuck Klosterman wrote in Killing Yourself to Live:

“When you start thinking about what your life was like 10 years ago — and not in general terms, but in highly specific detail — it’s disturbing to realize how certain elements of your being are completely dead. They die long before you do. It’s astonishing to consider all the things from your past that used to happen all the time but (a) never happen anymore and (b) never even cross your mind.”

So it’s onward, with the 2015 version of me. I’m definitely less reckless than I used to be (but not so conscientious that I don’t get my purse stolen from my unlocked car as we saw two weeks ago).

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Everything I Know About Serial From Hearing Y’all Talk About It

Something crazy happened this fall. A serialized audio tale called Serial gripped the nation, becoming the most downloaded podcast in the history of podcasts. A spinoff of This American Life, Serial followed producer Sarah Koenig as she re-reported an old homicide case from Baltimore. Ever since it caught on with a certain set (read: people who I hang out with at bars), I was the fifth or seventh wheel in some-sort-of-Serial-conversation almost every day.

I have not heard a second of Serial.*

But since I sure do spend a lot of time at bars with you all, let met tell you about Serial based on never hearing it. All of us in the small club of Non-Serial Listeners should try this exercise:

Sometime around 15 years ago, a high school student named Adnan was dating a popular Asian-American student named Hae Min Lee (or something). He suspected she might have been cheating on her and may or may not have strangled her to death, put her body in a trunk, and got his marijuana dealer friend Jay to help him bury the body.

The Baltimore Police investigated and pinned the crime on Adnan, charging him with murder, which carries a sentence of life without parole. Adnan swears he’s innocent, though the details of where he was on the day Lee disappeared are hazy. All the details are retraced for us.

Jay-the-“friend” was critical to the prosecution’s case, as Jay testified that he helped bury the body and maybe something about picking up Adnan at a Best Buy. And there was some long chapter somewhere about whether there was a pay phone at the Best Buy back in the day.

The case goes to trial. But the first trial ends in a mistrial cause of something that went wrong with a juror maybe(?) and afterwards, the jurors polled indicated Adnan would have been acquitted.

High on this polling data of one jury in one space in time, the defense is confident going into the second trial. That doesn’t go so well. It might have to do with an attorney’s voice, which is difficult to listen to. There is debate about how sexist it is to complain about her voice. Adnan is convicted and sent to jail.

Koenig, in a jailhouse interview with Adnan (or several), finds him to be quite witty and charming. In the exploration of the case, the podcast casts doubt on whether Adnan actually committed the crime. Since the case hinged on Jay, they try to talk to him in the podcast but he proves elusive. Jay eventually gives and interview to The Intercept, but only after the podcast season concludes and apparently he’s kind of convincing in Adnan’s guilt. But of course he would be. Hrmmm.

The whole thing just DRAWS YOU IN on so many levels because it reveals how many variables are completely out of your control in the criminal justice system, the work that goes into shoe leather journalism and how our memories and perceptions deceive us. Just look at how unreliable eyewitness testimony can be. Koenig asks at one point, “What did you do last week?” AAAAHHHH NONE OF US CAN REMEMBER!

Oh, and then in the final episode or thereabouts, it is revealed that a serial killer was released from prison two weeks before Hae Min’s murder, and he later went on to rape and strangle to death an Asian American woman. This killer later committed suicide, so we can’t hear from him again.

The week-by-week Serial episodes spawn podcasts-about-the-podcast. Slate‘s is the most popular. Cocktail chatter about Serial can include questions like is it racist? (Insert something about the stereotypes of immigrant children.) Is this worth telling as a podcast? Isn’t every Law & Order episode an hourlong version of serial? What is the journalistic value of this? Why is Serial so effective?

This concludes your Serial introduction from someone who’s never heard Serial. Details are/were sketchy.

*I listen to one podcast. It is Andy Greenwald’s Hollywood Prospectus, from Grantland. I don’t even listen to it that regularly.

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2014 Year in Review: What Kind Of Year Has It Been?

“Of course, life will randomly go to hell every so often, too. Cold winds arrive and prick you: the rain falls down your neck: darkness comes.” -Annie Lamott

I spent much of 2014 just barely hanging on. (In the NorCal redwoods, May 2014)

I spent much of 2014 just barely hanging on. (In the NorCal redwoods, May 2014)

It’s hard to look back at 2014 without feeling completely paralyzed. A missing plane, never found. A plane being shot out of the sky. Another plane that went missing in the final days of the year. ISIS beheadings, Crimea, Gaza, Ebola, school shootings, campus rapes, lethal cops, our nation’s intractable problem with race. Ryan Gosling fathering a child with some woman.

For me, the year started with bringing home a flu strain from Asia, my nanny quitting at the height of a dramatic fight with us and a week later, suffering my first miscarriage. The nanny that replaced the first one wound up disappearing from our lives by August because she somehow was knocked up and needed to go tend to her own baby. Yep.

In the summer I went to Ferguson and got automatic rifles drawn on me by eight jumpy cops.

By October, I had finally moved desks as a gambit to change up my feng shui. A new beginning, I thought. On the very same day, the staff received an email — I read it at my new desk — that friend and mentor and the reason I came to work at NPR had been dismissed from his job by our new CEO. When I called my husband to commiserate, the first thing he said to me wasn’t empathetic but, “I hope you’re not crying at your desk right now.”

Then, two days before Christmas, after running into get a sandwich in the freezing rain, I returned to my car to find my purse and computer had been stolen sometime inside of four minutes. Merry Christmas, assholes.

That is the pessimistic take, of course. All our first-world “hard times” are nothing in the scheme of things. And there were moments of great love and delight this year, too. As I’ve done for 10 years now, here’s a Hu look back:

Favorite Discoveries on the Internet: Clickhole. The Passenger Shaming Instagram account.

We did not have a selfie stick for this. This is just Eric Schmidt's pure talent.

We did not have a selfie stick for this. This is just Eric Schmidt’s pure talent.

Favorite Selfie: The one Google Chairman Eric Schmidt took of us. He snapped a lot but I liked the one where I wasn’t paying attention.

New Experiences: Tear gas. Being in the crosshairs of cops. Jellyfish sting in Jamaica. Dangerous halluciongenic crisis in Jamaica. Couples crisis brought on by aforementioned dangerous drug trip. Aspen Institute. Doing a Planet Money podcast! Having a pregnant au pair. Speaking at the UN. Seaplane flight. Oculus Rift virtual reality experience. The miscarriages.

Randomness: Running into Obama in Denver. Getting lost in the briefing room. Hung out with a semi-famous actor-I-will-not name and watched him effectively bum some weed off strangers.

And in no particular order, this year I:

Flew 72,952 miles to four countries and 28 cities. Was gone from home 90 days this year, though it felt like way more.
Visited the Taiwanese News animation studio (a favorite from a previous Year in Review), told a story about it.
Took some creepy stalker photos of Sofia Coppola at a pool in Miami.
Moderated a panel on wearables at SXSW and did not wear Glass despite lobbying efforts by the Glass guy.
Got Taco Cabana delivered to my hotel room at the moment we needed it the most.
Partied with Scoot McNairy.
Got solar panels on our house.
Became buddies with a Hollywood funnyman named Alec Berg after interviewing him about his show, Silicon Valley. This led to a friend reunion with my high school pal from 9th grade, Scott Mechlowicz. Small universe.
Got retweeted by Martellus Bennett.
Survived longest winter in DC in maybe ever.
Taught a quarter at Northwestern.
Taught a semester at Georgetown.
Stayed at YMCA in the redwoods.
Attended four weddings. (Crissy, Alexis, Tim, Drew.)
Went on a hike in Aspen with Lance Armstrong’s nanny.
Parked wrong in San Francisco. Paid a $600 price for that mistake — the $440 base towing cost, plus the $150 citation.
Did a little talk with Eric Schmidt.
London!
Reconnected with my high school economics teacher, Mr. Coates.
Got a is-a-burrito-a-sandwich story on national air for more than five minutes.
Convinced my editor to get some online clothes styling with me (for a story, of course).
Covered #Ferguson. Dealt with difficult feelings afterward.
Lost my favorite boss. (Not from earth, just from work.)
Saw Seoul. Prepared to move there.

It wasn’t a bad year, entirely. I just had some of the hardest days and weeks of my life during the course of this year. It felt unrelentless at times. Tears were shed. Mistakes were made. But ultimately we survived. Here’s to a brighter, more peaceful 2015.

Previous Years in Review:
20132012 | 20112010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004

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