“You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they never have to be used.”
–The President of the United States of America, last week, in a letter to Kim Jong Un
I slipped away to Hong Kong Friday night, after a topsy turvy week on the peninsula. North Korea hosted international journalists to show the destruction of its main nuclear test site only for American President Donald Trump, in a fit of pique a few hours later, to cancel the big Singapore summit he had abruptly agreed to in the first place.
In the hours since, the President has signaled the summit is back on and is acting like the letter never happened. He also tweeted that one of his aides who argued June 12th might be too soon to pull off “didn’t even exist.” Meanwhile, Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in held a surprise secret Saturday summit inside the DMZ to try and keep diplomacy on track. I have been on the radio basically every hour in one form or the other and have subsequently lost my voice.
All I’m saying is thank god I got to get away to beautiful, balmy Hong Kong for delicious dim sum and Canto food and drinking with my fellow foreign correspondent Ivan, who lives on the far Western edge of Hong Kong Island, which means when you wake up at his place all you see outside is water and lush green islands. Also, he plays piano and I realized how much I miss dwelling in a home with the sound of piano music in it. (Note to self: Move my piano back from Uncle Jim’s house after repatriation.)
Anyway. Friday night we went to sleep thinking the summit was off and awoke Saturday to cryptic notes that the summit was maybe back on, something we both reacted to with an instant expression: “Fuck!” Casting those feelings aside, we hiked the virgin mountain behind his place, got rained on at the top, then made it down the mountain back into bustling streets to squish ourselves at a table with strangers at a local dim sum joint where no plastic stool goes unoccupied. (This is the only real way to do it.) Before I came home, I made sure to stop by a traditional bakery to load up on egg custard tarts and every carb stuffed with char siu inside.
When you’re on the second most relentless beat of the year (just as it intersects with the first most relentless beat), you really have to snatch those small pleasures when you can.
My experiences during short bursts of time in the states are reliably memorable because they are so abbreviated, and therefore I have to really make the most of every moment. In my downtime I a.) kept going to the Au Bon Pain next to my DC hotel to get giant iced teas and breakfast sandwiches and b.) watched some domestic cable news, which let’s face it, is pretty terrifying these days. The programming is interrupted by catheter and other medical device commercials, which are clues I should not be watching.
Highlights that I can piece together through the jet lag:
The Washington Half
Finally visited the Blacksonian — the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture — on the day I landed in DC. Eyes still bloodshot from the flight and jet lag setting in, Matt Thompson, his partner Bryan and I powered through and saw crazy amazing stuff like the Parliament Funkadelic MOTHERSHIP. Yes, yes we did.
Friend Claire came down from New York for a hang. We lingered over a three and a half hour dinner at a mezcal place, not because of the meal but because we had some epic catching up to do.
Don Gonyea gave me advice about work and life, which is always much appreciated.
Hanson, you know, of mmmmbop fame from 20 years ago, played a Tiny Desk Concert on the first day I went back to work in DC. They actually played two, because they recorded their very special Christmas Tiny Desk, too. Taylor (the middle one) and I joked around a bit about how the dinosaur on his Christmas sweater was wearing the same sweater, creating some sort of ugly Christmas sweater matrix.
One of my ex-work spouses, Javaun, took a train up from Lynchburg (where he now lives) to spend Tuesday evening hanging out and eating barbecue and drinking beers together. I can’t even remember all the ground we covered because, beer.
Finally ate at the State Department cafeteria in Foggy Bottom — a bucket list item.
Because I am support the notion of spending money to save time, I hired April Yvonne, friend of my always glam friend Angie Goff, to shop for me. She picked out racks of clothes in a few Georgetown shops in advance, so all I had to do was try things on and make decisions. The whole excursion only took two hours in total and I was hella wardrobed for the weekend and work by the end. Endorse.
The Austin Half
Met the following babies who have joined us since I’d last been in Austin: Baby Adaline. Baby Thomas. Baby Marcella. Baby EJ. Baby Franklin. Toddler Hattie. Toddler Emma. Missed Baby Sam, who is fattening up in a NICU right now, but boy was I overjoyed to see his parents.
Sam’s dad Jimmy is my ultimate favorite eating partner. He also cooks delicious food and personally catered my engagement party with Spanish tapas since he trained to be a chef in the kitchens of Spain and Charleston, SC. Because of serendipity, the weekend I was in Austin was also the Far East Food Festival, in which some sixty Austin restaurants served up healthy portions of various Asian creations and Jimmy was judging the food. He added me as a judge so we CHOWED DOWN until the heat and the food consumption did us in. I had to quit early because I just couldn’t eat anymore. Embarrassing, but true.
Due to the abbreviated time, there were extra meals sandwiched in. On Friday I had a cheeseburger appetizer at P Terry’s while en route to Cooper’s barbecue where we disappeared pounds of brisket, sausage and ribs plus jalapeno mac-and-cheese, potato salad and the standard vat of pickles plus white bread. (Also Cooper’s offers free beans!) This was my favorite meal because of the strong appetizer IN THE CAR ON THE WAY to BBQ and my reliable eating buddies, Blake and Justin, joined to work up some serious meat sweats. I probably could have recovered for third lunch after this but we had do disperse.
Reunited with the dim sum club on Saturday morning to eat our faces off.
Did not see my oracle, Harry Whittington (the guy Dick Cheney accidentally shot in the face) but did see Bachelor Brad, who we seem to run into in Austin pretty much all the time. Is he everywhere? Is it because he’s a twin?
Surprised my goddaughter Marion Cass at her school, which led to second graders drawing me a bunch of butterflies and teaching me how to play a game called Sleeping Queen (need to get this for my daughters). Marion Cass also had me over to her house Sunday afternoon where she showed me how she can do things like SPLITS IN THE AIR because, gymnastics and being seven.
The purpose of this Austin return was to attend Friend Todd’s wedding. Did it, and so glad, because I love weddings! I also get to take partial credit for this union in the butterfly-flaps-its-wings kind of way, because I brought Todd to the Texas Tribune in 2009 as we were starting it. Here’s what happened: He was a weirdo who was teaching me Final Cut Pro as a part of a class I took at Austin Film School. I decided he was adorable even though I’m pretty sure he didn’t wash his hair at the time and was always railing about the dangers of aspartame and fluoride. Started calling him Hot Toddy behind his back (he later confronted me about this and yep, guilty) and convinced our boss Evan to give him a job at the Tribune because we were in wild wild west days of throwing jobs around. It was through this job that he met Carsi, his bride.
Reeve and I ran the hike and bike trail and joked around the whole time, just like the good ol’ days.
Sent up a flare in DC, and again in Austin, for big group happy hours. Both led to the happiest reunions, predictably. In Austin, April, my BFF from those halcyon days of my partying/Texas lege-covering twenties in Austin, HAPPENED to also be back after moving away to Toronto a few years ago. We got to see each other for about twenty minutes. I’ll take it.
The last time I was in America, I was two people. This time it was just me and my pump, which had to be used every few hours for the duration of the nine-day trip, the bottles and bags of expressed milk piling up in my respective hotel freezers until I had so much that I paid $400 in heavy baggage fees to bring all that liquid gold home. In order to keep it frozen while flying, I snuck in a trip to Ace Hardware in DC and got a giant padded cooler bag, which ended up being perfect. Thanks, Ace Hardware.
It has been SO LONG (okay, like three weeks) since we’ve hung out and partied together! And South by Southwest has consistently been a real championship-level debauchery event for us. Now, because SXSW itself has gotten so out of control in recent years — WTF, there’s a list and a line to get into places like Buffalo Billiards?!? — I’d love to use this time to do off-campus, meaningful connecting with some of the coolest journos and digital media folk around.
There’s also a lot of pure Austin stuff I want to do, since the last time I was in town was so short (and most of it was in Fredericksburg.) Here is my to-do list of SX and not-so-SX stuff:
1. There is a new Bush’s Chicken down on Brodie near Slaughter. Hello?! Bush’s Chicken, a staple of my post-college diet when I lived in Waco, features the best combo of chicken trips, crinkle cut fries, yeast roll, white gravy and a 32 ounce giant sweet tea drink for UNDER $7.
2. I am going to the screening of HBO’s Game Change at the LBJ Library next Sunday. The authors of the book that inspired the movie, John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, will be on hand for Q/A, and YOUR employer, The Texas Tribune, is putting it on. Hope to see you. I think I will bring our favorite movie critic, Chris Vognar, if he is free.
3. We are eating the following meals for deliciousness sake: The “Regular Dinner” at Maudies. The #2 at Dario’s. The Democrat and the Fried Avocado Tacos at Torchy’s. The fatty beef brisket at Franklin BBQ. Steak Frites at Justine’s. Beef Noodle Soup at Coco’s Cafe. Chicken Tikka Masala at G’Raj Mahal. The Love Cleanse Green Juice at Whole Foods. Assorted Dim Sum with the dim sum group at Shanghai. Family-style everything at Asia Cafe. And as for new restaurants, I still haven’t tried Contigo, which Hannah raves about.
Mom was concerned about selecting an auspicious wedding date, which is apparently important in Chinese tradition. So she checked our selected date against Chinese almanacs and the universe said it was acceptable. (Thank God, cause I already begged, stole and borrowed to nab photographer Channing away from other couples on the now-auspicious date.)
That night, a new banquet hall/dim sum restaurant opened in North Austin and I made the trek to eat some fried tofu. And shrimp dumplings. And Peking duck. And BBQ pork buns. Stiles couldn’t make it so my friend J-Dehn stepped in (because who turns down fried tofu?). He even donned a Matt Stiles nametag.
That move wound up causing some, uh, confusion. Like when the Statesman entertainment writer saw us and got a picture for his blog. At first he captioned Justin as Matt, and when corrected he changed it to this awesome moniker… (Click to enlarge)