Saturday, November 29, 2008

Jersey Days, Philly Nights

I've continued my lazy streak now that I'm home for Thanksgiving. Since getting off the election campaign, I've done nothing but watch tv and sleep. I've got a million friends in Boston I haven't seen in ages and all I want to do is watch 'CSI: Miami' and sleep 10 hours. Part of me chides myself for my laziness, the other part drags me back under the covers.

Thanksgiving night I slept 12 hours, so I think I might be caught up now and am ready to be back to my exploring self. Last night I went into the city (meaning Philadelphia for us South Jersey people) to see a show with the folks. We tried to get a table for 45 minutes at Monk's to no avail. In the meantime we tasted a lot of good beers from their 60+ beer menu, including my new favorite 1809 Berliner Style Weiss Beir. Without a dinner, we took in a show at the Walnut--Hairspray--which was incredibly corny and didn't hold a candle to either of the cult classic movies, but still thoroughly enjoyable.

Today we're taking Dad into the city again for his birthday to do a tour of the Philadelphia Brewing Company. Word has it is that he took a tour of a brewery in Atlanta with the sister and loved it, probably more for the free beer than the beer-knowledge though.

I'm glad I've had a chance to give Philly a second chance since childhood. When I was a kid we'd take our yearly trip to walk South Street with mom, an occasional visit to the Franklin Institute and of course the Christmas spectaculcar at the downtown department stores. When I was a teen we'd get cheesesteaks at midnight on all the high holidays. (The biggest act of rebellion for my jewish friends was eating bread and meat and cheese together on Rosh Hashanah.) We'd drive to the art museum and run up the steps like Rocky. Later on I'd go in for a swing dance every once in a while.

But there's a lot more to the city. Yes, cheesesteaks, the Philadelphia Art Museum and the Libery Bells are must-sees (and eats) when you're visiting the city and still won't get old, but it's great to discover the neighborhoods. Shopping on Walnut is a lot better than South Street. Eating at Ludwig's is more of a dinner experience than Pat's & Geno's. Hanging out at Tattooed Mama's with friends or catching a jazz jam at Ortlieb's will beat out the regular diners for a night out. There's a lot of art--the city's buildings are covered with murals (2,800!). There's a lot of community too.

And best of all, there's no attitude. Unlike DC and NYC, you get the feeling that no one is out to impresss anyone. What a great feeling! I probably won't have a chance to live there, but it's nice to visit home and such a great city each holiday.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Newly in New England

I arrived in my new home of Boston yesterday and prompty left for Vermont. I'm here to help organize a conference with my new organization, the Toxics Action Center.

Vermont must be one of the most beautiful places in the country. I must have just missed New England's famous autumns since the trees are bare--but the ground everywhere is covered with bright leaves. The mountains here aren't quite the "Green Mountain" spectacle I remember camping in in childhood, but still gorgeous. Rolling mountains tug on my heart more than the jutting, rocky peaks of the West. Perhaps because of that childhood connection.

The sky is also grey and swirling. I remember when I moved to Miami how every day I would look up at the sky and marvel at it's beauty, wondering why I never really noticed it before. I thought myself a little silly for staring up with a silly grin a lot of the time when I was canvassing. I see now why--up North the sky only shows it's full glory a few months of the year and the rest of the year it peaks out occasionally.

But back to Vermont. It's adorable. Driving through the state reminded me a lot of driving the Romantic Road in Germany. As I sped by the exit signs I imagined them saying "Ausgang-Pfaffenwinkel" or "Ausgang-Creglingen." Each town was tucked into a mini-valley with just a few buildings, some barns and a tall church spire. Montpelier, the state capital is no more than a few roads, with yes a tall church spire, but also a gold-domed capitol building. Otherwise you'd have idea that the important business of the state goes on here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

On the Road Again

Now that I’m off the campaign I’m back on traveling for pleasure instead of business.  My first trip is a big one.  Wednesday I flew back to Los Angeles.   I think the city didn’t want me to leave as much as I didn’t want to—it took me a full hour to get out with the giant knot of traffic  that was tying up the roads. 

The rest of California was pretty uneventful.  The buzz around the election was still audible.  I overheard the gas station attendant and an older African-American lpady debate where one could find a copy of the LA Times from the day after the election.  Apparently  peole were stealing them off neighbor’s lawns and copies were going on ebay for hundreds. 

The terrain grew less and less lush as I continued, until I finally hit Las Vegas.  Perhaps this place once held some kind of hedonistic charm back in the rat pack days, but today it looks like one big neon covered construction site.  I detoured off the highway to drive through the downtown and saw no less than 3 people getting arrested.  I also cruised by the Elvis chapel which was surrounded by an Elvis-dressing wedding party. 

I underestimated the toll that 14 hours of driving takes on one, especially after a 100 hour work week.  By the time I turned east toward the mountains in Utah, the sun was setting.  I had lost an hour with the time zone change and my eyes were growing weary.  I refilled my coffee cup for the 5th time, which wasn’t anything new since giving myself over to caffeine weeks ago.  It got really bad as the snow started.  The weather combined with the feeling that the curvy roads could send me off the cliff at any moment erased any of the relaxing benefits from the Korean health spa. 

When I made it to the resort I had missed most of the fun.  As I was dragging my suitcase to my condo I spotted several groups of drunk campaign workers stumbling back to their rooms.  So I did the same, snuggling up gratefully in my bed.

Keystone was more relaxing after 8 hours of sleep.  I spent my afternoon drinking a thick Malbec and floating around the hot tub.  That night I joined the party at a local Mexican joint, danced like crazy and rang up a modest tab.  One day in Keystone was definitely not enough.   Tucked in a nook in the mountains with steep, tree-covered slopes rising on every side, I felt worlds away from the suburban stretches of Colorado Springs.  Being surrounded by smart, political, hip people probably did just as much to ease the tension I had built up from canvassing ridiculous undecided voters and dealing with less-than-bright staff.

My early morning wake up shake was later than I wanted to get started, but probably earlier than my body could handle.  (I have to figure out how to kick this hang-over problem I’ve gotten in old-age.)   I picked up my dad at the Denver airport and after a brief reunion, we set out.  Colorado really is beautiful—both the mountains up close and the snowy caps in the rearview mirror. 

Nebraska is, well, beautiful for a time, but 8 hours of wheat fields can be tiring.  Our one detour turned out to be a big disappointment for Dad.  The Great Platte River Archway.   The Archway during the day, I imagine from the large parking lots and bus lanes, is swarmed by children and tourists coming to learn about all the folks that have traversed the Great Plains—from settlers to cowboys.  I had a feeling there was a reason all these travelers kept going, so we did too. 

We ended the night in Lincoln.  Seeing the state capital building glowing across the wheat fields, we headed to ‘downtown’ to the Haymarket.  I was surprised to see a gorgeous old renovated factory district.  It was a Sunday night so the bars were fairly deserted, but there was a trio of bustling coffee indy coffee houses.  After dinner it would have been nice to curl up in a comfy chair in one of them, but my eyes were so droopy by this point, that I don’t think even my beloved coffee could pick me up.    

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Place Matters

Well, it's done.  We won it.  Colorado got shifted over to the blue column.  Colorado Springs remains a republican county, but there's a stronger progressive element there now.  My hope is that we can keep them connected, keep it building, and make it stronger.  And hopefully Focus on the Family realizes it isn't the only game in town now!

But oh, am I glad I am out of there.  I used to think of myself as mutable and able to find my favorite things about any city I've lived in.  East coasters marvelled at how I enjoyed dirty, crowded LA, but I loved it!  Northerners were shocked I could withstand the brashness and humidity of Miami, but I reveled in it.  Miamians wondered how anyone could live where there was snow half the year, but I enjoyed Boston.  

But now I see that not all places are suitable for living.  I think I just lucked out on all the wonderful cities I've been placed in up until now--New York, Philadelphia, DC, Boston, Miami, LA.  I fell in love with each of those cities.  But Colorado is a whole other matter.  I also saw how my entire personna is completely affected by the place I live.  

It started with NYC.  I became more progressive, involved in the arts, developed my sense of style and a love of diversity.  In DC I was completely politicized.   In Miami I let loose, wearing clothes I would have been shocked to see on anyone else up north, hanging out until late at Tapas bars and dancing salsa with strangers.  LA's neighborhoods brought together the universal influence that I loved making me learn Spanish and Korean and spending my weekends visiting historical sites and art museums.

In Colorado (and Virginia to a lesser extent) I was different.  My heart wasn't in it--not in the place I was living, and hence not as much in my work.  I still worked ridiculously hard, but without the enthusiasm and charisma I typically employ.  

Landing in LA I changed.   Winning the election had made me happy, but didn't thrill me like it did to so many of my friends around the country.  But when I walked out of the metro on Wilshire Blvd., I felt so much emotion, I was overwhelmed.  I wanted to shout for joy.  Finally I felt at home and happy.  They were the same emotions I had expected when we won the election, but somehow had been unable to surface in the misery of being unhappy in a particular place.

I feel so much better now.  Today I am working out of the LA office and I took some of the best job calls and did some of the best interviews I've ever done in my life.  I did a great indy with one of the ADs and helped out with turfs.  Even though I wasn't supposed to be helping, I was so excited to be back here that I was excited to do the work.  It felt great to be doing campaign work again.

So my lesson learned is that place does matter to me.  I was once given advice to pick my career moves based on great opportunities, not location, but I see now that will never work for me.  As I look into the future I'm keeping an eye out for opporuntities that will match with where I want to be, even if it's not the most politically import.  I will have the biggest impact when I like where I am.  Now that I'm preparing to leave LA to head east I hope Boston will give me the same energy as being here has. 

Stay tuned for updates on the road as I drive East.