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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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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We Got Briefly Lost At The White House

Yeah, the briefing room totally looks like a TV set.

Yeah, the briefing room totally looks like a TV set.

After a really difficult couple of weeks at work (which I’ll get into someday), producer Nick Fountain and I took the two and half mile Uber ride to the White House to interview Megan Smith. She’s the new U.S. Chief Technology Officer, and formerly a senior executive at Google. We went to three wrong gates until winding up at the right one. Process of elimination!

Then, we found ourselves wandering the White House grounds without anyone guiding us where to go. This happened to be the same time the press corps was gathering for an afternoon press briefing with the White House press secretary, Josh Earnest. So Getty photographer Alex Wong tried to help us find our way, but that meant following him into the briefing room to figure out what was next.

It was very disorienting to walk into that tiny room we see on TV everyday, as everyone’s rushing in for a press conference. Everything looks bigger on TV, for one, so the photographers in the back were joking that everyone’s in the way no matter where you stand. I made some comment about egress. (No one uses that word anymore. Maybe they never did.)

Quick photo together before the afternoon press briefing.

Quick photo together before the afternoon press briefing.

Luckily, my friend Colleen spotted me and hung out with us so we weren’t so awkward. She covers the White House for the WSJ and you might remember her from That Time I Ran Into Obama In Denver, earlier this year. Took a few photos cause it’s not everyday you get lost and wind up in the White House briefing room. Then the press sec came in and Nick and I tried to be invisible, scrunched along the back wall, until someone finally fetched us and got us out of there. Later, my old assignment editor from South Carolina, Kim Deal, tweeted that she saw me wandering around in there.

The Megan Smith interview, which happened at the neighboring Old Executive Office Building, went great.

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Mr. Zuckerberg Goes To Washington

The Atlantic editor James Bennet interviewed Mark Zuckerberg.

The Atlantic editor James Bennet interviewed Mark Zuckerberg.

The bazillionaire founder and CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, paid a visit to the Hill today to press lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to support some sort of immigration reform, which tech companies are interested in so they can get and keep high skilled, often Indian and Chinese labor. But Zuckerberg says his interest in the policy debate has extended to all 11 million estimated undocumented folks in the U.S.

As part of his visit, The Atlantic snagged him for a sit down interview in front of an invited audience. I went as press. The “#ThisTown” crowd attended, so David Gregory was there, all eight feet of him, and so were about 200 other interested Washingtonians.

Among the more interesting things Zuckeberg said was actually about his Mandarin, and how he set up a personal challenge to learn Mandarin and learned enough to communicate basics but found he had a hard time listening and understanding it when others spoke the language.

“I told my wife, I’m really bad at listening in Mandarin. She said, ‘You’re really bad at listening in English.'”

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Neighborhood Pig Roast Featuring Many Small Fires

The calm before the fires.

The calm before the fires.

 

2013 is halfway over and it’s been a riot so far. And sorta dangerous. Baby Eva keeps testing the bounds of her survival skills, rolling herself off furniture, squeezing the dog by the jowls or trying to crawl head first down the stairs. And we grown-ups keep acting like children.

A couple of weeks ago, my partner-in-shenanigans, Justin, visited DC. (You may remember him from previous blogged-about adventures.) We had already partied ourselves into a stupor on Friday night and thought we were going to lay low on Saturday by going to a neighborhood pig roast. A bluegrass band played the faves (but I couldn’t get them to do that David Allan Coe song because they didn’t know the long spoken interlude), the pork was that perfect blend of lean and moist and outside it felt cool and dry enough to actually enjoy a picnic. So relaxing was it that we got sleepy out there, with the tunes and the beers.

One of the many lantern crashes and subsequent fires. This one, in front of the band. But at the right it appears one lantern was trying to survive...

One of the many lantern crashes and subsequent fires. This one, in front of the band. But at the right it appears one lantern was trying to survive…

Then, after it turned dark, we got our second wind. To celebrate homeowner/hostess Hillary’s birthday, her friends had gotten Chinese lanterns, which, if made well, are easy to light and send floating into the sky. The more, the prettier. At this party, dozens of us got lanterns and the band started playing a little soundtrack to our impromptu lantern lightings. Justin and I successfully got one lit and watched it spirit away to the cheers of the group.

But that was an exception. Most of these lanterns ended up crashing to the ground before getting any lift and promptly setting grass, chairs, bags, plates — and very nearly, children — on fire. We were able to stomp out these fires, but they happened in various places around the lawn, and sometimes at the same time. When some lanterns actually made it up in the air, they wound up crashing into trees or the roof, which made for real close calls. Eventually many of us gave up on the lanterns and cleared the yard.

Suddenly, Justin and I were amped up to party some more! Headed out to U Street after leaving the fire dangers and enjoyed a long night with some other fantastic pals. Nothing like almost setting houses and people on fire with a well-meaning Chinese lantern activity to really get you going again.

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White House Correspondents Dinner Weekend: Jokes About A Town That Is One

“How do you write jokes about a town that already is one?”

-Kevin Spacey, as his House of Cards character Frank Underwood, in the spoof video produced for the dinner

I’ve never covered Hollywood, so the White House Correspondents Dinner is the only place I’ve seen so many celebrities in one room. Granted, the dining room at the Washington Hilton holds 3,000 so it’s a large pool from which to find bold-faced names. The dinner — and the weekend of partying that grew up around it — is quintessentially “Washington,” for better or for worse. (Much like SXSW, apparently the event has gone from a well-meaning celebration of one idea to a marketing-laden orgy of totally different priorities.) A glutton for new experiences and an avid reader of celeb-blog The Superficial, I am game to witness the absurdity.

The whole event is sensory overload. You can’t turn your head without seeing someone famous or familiar-for-some-reason-you-can’t-quite-place. The long hallway shoot of pre-dinner receptions and a few post-dinner parties is in a basement, probably the only time Michael Douglas or Nicole Kidman hang out in a basement. After going through security with Don Draper’s wife Megan (actress Jessica Pare) to get in the ballroom, the likes of Kevin Spacey, Steven Spielberg and Claire Danes get gawked at near the stage. Packed in that giant ballroom, it was easy to walk right into and nearly run over a tiny Hayden Panettiere. Last year, I found myself reapplying lip gloss next to Kate Upton* and Anna Paquin. Ron Kirk snapped iPhone photos of people wanting pics with his friend Eric Holder. Tony Romo and his wife told me details about the birth of their baby, since we Texans just instantly bond that way, I guess. This year the Romo’s showed up again.

“Y’all are becoming real White House Correspondents Dinner regulars,” I said to him.

“It’s her. She loves to put on a dress,” Romo said jokingly, of his wife.

Saturday, Friend Matt decided to offer me his dinner ticket with only 90 minutes to spare. It took an incredible amount of perfect timing and logistical savvy for us to drive across town and do the pass off in time. (And to shower and get ready in 10 minutes.)

What I learned last year was that it’s actually the parties preceding and following the meal, the ones sponsored by real power — Fortune 500 companies and VC-backed startups — that are actually “fun”, if you want to call it that. (Fun in the weird Washington way.) Loved seeing old friends** and meeting new ones. Frankly, it was all so much better than when I attended while pregnant last year because this time I could drink through it. (!)

My memories of the weekend exist in single frames: A Swavorski crystal toilet at a late night house party. Asking Kevin Spacey about House of Cards spoilers (“I don’t know anything,” he said). Making new friends while in a super long bathroom line at The Atlantic’s Friday night confab. Seeing Gayle King and Joaquin Castro at every hoppin’ spot in town. Getting momentarily spooked when Gus Fring (the Breaking Bad villain who got half his face blown off) walked past my dinner table and looked me right in the eye WITH HIS WHOLE FACE. The AC dropping to temps in the 50s so a room of 3,000 wouldn’t wind up sweating. Conan really yelling into that mic. My gal pal Judy. Piano renditions of Coldplay at the Turkish Ambassador’s house. Delicious dolmas. Lots of red carpets and velvet ropes but way more gawkers than celebs. Celebrating a startup incubator in an unexpected place. Signature drinks named AT&Tini’s. Gorgeous views at the Sunday brunch. Corporate sponsor after corporate sponsor after corporate sponsor. Big brands. Medium brands. Small brands. Business cards. Bacon. Introductions. Jewel tones. John Oliver!

*When Kate Upton first walked by our table at dinner, I thought to myself, that woman should be a model! Doh.

** Including a sorority sister I hadn’t seen in 13 years

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Last Days in the Old NPR Building: Saying Goodbye With Clever Graffiti

Five furniture auction guys were outside as I pulled up to work today. This afternoon, NPR’s signature show, All Things Considered, will broadcast from our soon-to-be-bulldozed headquarters building for the final time. Tomorrow, Weekend Edition Saturday airs from 1111 N. Capitol, our shiny, gorgeous new headquarters in the city’s Northeast quadrant.

Knowing that our landlord plans to demolish this building has led to some brilliant goodbye graffiti on the walls. A stamp that reads “EVERYTHING WILL BE BETTER,” a familiar trope we’ve heard about the new building, shows up in mirrors and stairwells. “You can see people’s inner monologues about the building as you walk down the hallway,” friend Denise said. I’ve been tickled by the creativity and the doodle skills of my colleagues.

Thank you to my friend and former boss Joel for chaperoning me into a shockingly yellow men’s room for a photo. And whoever wrote the descriptions under emergency signs as if they were high art … I think you are a genius. (Click on any image to start the slideshow)

We employees are moving in four phases. I’m here until the bitter end, next Friday. But digital media — the talented folks responsible for our apps and API and design — as well as multimedia, music and some of the newsroom, like the Washington desk, leave this afternoon. Farewell, 635.

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The Final Countdown Before The Bulldoze

Our current building, which won't exist soon. (photo via Flickr)

Our current building, which won’t exist soon. (photo via Flickr)

The hundreds of us who work at NPR are 51 days away from leaving our current crumbling edifice for a shiny, environmentally-friendly new headquarters on North Capitol Street. The old headquarters will be bulldozed almost immediately to make room for some fancy mixed use development.

With the move to our new building imminent, everyone’s stopped caring about the current one. The facilities guy, Don Gooden, caught me stapling random things to the wall today, my first day back at work after four+ months off with Eva. I said I would graffiti the place next, and then maybe hide some dead bodies in here.

He shrugged, smiled and said, “Do what you gotta do!”

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Inauguration Is Over. Now I Have a Brain Cloud.

The presidential motorcade as it headed to the Capitol for the swearing-in.

The presidential motorcade as it headed to the Capitol for the swearing-in.

 

The single best thing about living in DC is that people I love come into town frequently for one reason or another. Since presidential inaugurations only come around every four years, MANY people I love came into town at the same time. I had been training my liver for this weekend for awhile.

My only other DC inauguration experience was when I covered Bush’s first inauguration in 2001 as an intern for WFAA-TV. Attending that swearing-in ceremony was the coldest I’ve ever been. I remember getting dressed up for the Texas State Society’s Black Tie and Boots ball in the public bathroom of Belo’s DC bureau building at 13th and G.  I remember anchor Gloria Campos being in DC to anchor the coverage and wanting her scripts printed in bigger type, and how I had to help rush reporter Jim Fry into a cab so he could go do a post-parade live shot.

I remain on maternity leave, so I got to take part in this inauguration as a straight-up spectator. I skipped the weekend balls but was looking forward to the Common/T-Pain/John Legend concert since, as many of you know, Stiles loves loves LOVES Common. (BTW: Where WASN’T John Legend this weekend? Anyway.) We waited until the day before to respond to the ticket email and it was too late. Instead, we went to a delicious Indian restaurant for our 2nd anniversary dinner, seven months late. (Hey, 2012 was a little busy, okay?)

Continue reading →

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Ai Wei Wei Poses A Question I’ve Been Pondering About Journalism

The Ai WeiWei exhibit continues here in Washington through next month, so if you are going to be in town in the coming weeks, I really encourage you to see it. My artist-turned-diplomat Mom and I went over the holidays and we both found it riveting. The two of us have been going to art museums together since I could walk, and we really zip through when exhibits are boring. But at the Hirshhorn, we found ourselves lingering over each piece, studying Ai’s work from various perspectives, coming back around again, getting inspired by his agency and taking photos to remember what we saw.

Curators chose a few Ai WeiWei quotes to display alongside the art. This one in particular seemed to get at the very question we were tossing around at #NewsFoo in December, in our case, regarding those crazy Taiwanese news animations:

From the Ai Wei Wei exhibit in Washington.

From the Ai Wei Wei exhibit in Washington.

 

Obviously a lot of the Taiwanese news animations are totally full of made-up and sometimes bombastic details. This traditionally makes for poor journalism. But just as photo illustrations go, you can communicate a truth even though the mashup is fake, right? Or is that outside the realm of journalism? I think it’s an interesting question as we continue trying to do “something new,” toy with non-traditional story forms, etc. Given what we saw of his art, it seems Ai WeiWei’s answer to his own question is yes.

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