Thursday, May 24, 2012

Malawi bound.


That is what the inside of my brain sounds like right now.

Because holy balls. I mean HOLY HOLY balls.

Let's backtrack four hours. I was all settled in for a relaxing evening at my parent's house before I left tomorrow for two plus weeks in Malawi, Africa. I'd had a glass of wine, a nice supper. I was ready for a second glass of wine, some TV, maybe a nice book in bed. I had tomorrow all planned out-sleep in, eat a relaxing breakfast pastry at Can Can, maybe do a short run before I would catch my shuttle to Dulles for my 6pm flight.

"Why don't you print your boarding pass?" suggested my Mother.

My mother is a wise woman so I thought, why not? I hadn't gotten an email from the airline with a link to a boarding pass, but I looked at the email from when I first booked and saw that I could print the boarding pass within 24 hours of my flight's departure. I went onto the KLM-Royal Dutch Airline's (partnered with Delta and Kenyan Airlines-everyone involved in this debacle should be named here), typed in my booking number, click, la de la di la.

And then a message-innocuous enough-there has been a change in the flight schedule, call a toll free number to find out what the change is. I thought that it couldn't be a major change. There was no way. If it had been a major change (say more than a 20 minute time difference), they would have had to call me or at the very least email me. Text? Right? RIGHT?

So I call, am put on hold, and then told that my second leg of the trip, my flight from Kenya to Malawi, the flight that would get me to Lilongwe, Malawi on the 26th so I could leave with my team the morning of the 27th to get to our build site a day's drive away, that flight had been CANCELLED.

Not delayed. Not re-routed. Cancelled. Because there weren't enough people on it. I could take the same flight a day later, putting me in Malawi the afternoon of the 27th, well after my team would have left Lilongwe.

And this is when I thought, oh no. Not this. Not this again. I have been plagued by issues in all of my international travel. I love to travel, truly, madly, deeply. But it does not love me. I'm beginning to think it hates me. Because this shit always happens to me.

But I bucked myself up. There was another flight leaving DC tomorrow, with some of my team members on it that would get to Lilongwe even earlier on the 26th. KLM had screwed me over, so KLM was damn sure going to get me on that other flight, free of charge.

I may have used the words "international humanitarian mission" when pleading my case. I'm not proud of this.

I spent the next two hours on the phone with a woman who works for Delta. Our conversation went like this.

Me: "I need to get on this other flight. I need to get on this other flight. I need to get on this other flight. Or my team will leave and I'll be left to find my own way through the bush of Malawi filled with lions and tigers and VICIOUS HIPPOS"

Delta rep: "I'm so sorry M'am. Will you hold?"

30 minutes of muzak later.

Delta rep: "M'am?"

Me: Yes? YES?! Are you there? Is this a human? Can you please talk to me? How do I get on this other flight? How we we fix this? Just talk to me please. We don't even have to talk about my flight. We can talk about the weather! Or, or our favorite TV shows. Just don't leave me. Please don't leave me!"

Delta rep: "M'am I'm so sorry to have kept you waiting. Will you please hold?"

30 more minutes of muzak:

Delta rep: "M'am?"

Me: silent weeping into the phone

Finally I get her on the phone for more than 30 seconds and she tries to confirm with me the new flight. She reads out all of the same details I have, with all the right connections until she gets to:

"And then from Ethiopia to Afghanistan. From Afghanistan to Malawi."

Me: ummmmm?

Delta rep: "Please hold."

So I spend the next 30 minutes of muzak trying to come to terms with the fact that I would no longer be flying through Amsterdam but through an active war zone. It could be fun? An adventure? The president does it every once in a while. Kathy Griffin did it I think. I could do it!

Then she's back, two hours into the conversation to tell me that it would not be possible for them to book me on this flight because they don't have an "agreement" with Ethiopian Airlines. It took her TWO HOURS to figure out that they don't have an agreement and that they couldn't book me on the new flight. TWO HOURS.

Which left me up, to be vulgar, shit creek once again. I tried to go online to book the Ethiopian Airlines flight myself but no website lets you book less than 2 days out from the departure. Finally I call Ethiopian Airlines, find out there's room on the flight, and that they are NOT flying through scenic Kabul.

They are flying through the Congo. Which is waaaaaay nicer.

And now I am sitting here, typing this, with my (third) glass of wine, trying to calm my jangled nerves.

These things happen to me. I wish I knew why. It is simply a fact of life. Other people have smooth voyages, get upgrades, frolic through sun-dappled airports.

I get large portions of my journey cancelled out of the blue without any kind of notification, three hours on the phone with what I think now may have actually been a tape recorder set to say three words-M'am, sorry, and hold.

These things happen to me every time I travel.

And yet, in spite of it all, in spite of the tension head aches and the pleading with sales representatives, I still love travel.

I'm still so sure in the rightness of it. Tonight I'm a ball of nervous energy. I have plenty of worries and fears and anxieties. I had them even before this debacle. I'm going to Africa tomorrow and it terrifies me. Because with my luck, all manner of minor catastrophes will befall me. More than likely I will get into some kind of incident with an ornery giraffe.

But that's okay. I understand now, that I shouldn't use fear as an excuse to run away from things, but as proof that I'm going in the right direction, as a friend instead of an enemy.

The absolute best things I've done in my life have been the scariest things I've done in my life.

And tonight, paired with all of my excitement for the next two and a half weeks, is also that same fear.
Which is how I know, unequivocally and profoundly, that what I'm doing is right.

I'll see you all in two and a half weeks :)

Sunday, May 20, 2012


I cannot adequately express how incredible it is to have weekends again, weekends where I am not constantly nagged by stress and the need for studying and school work. This is my first real, lengthy break since 2010. And it feels awesome.

This past weekend was full to the brim. Monday night I ventured to Brown's Island for the Dominion RiverRock Mud Run. Despite being a Richmonder I had never experience RiverRock before. And I'm so sorry for this, because it is a good time, good people, just good everything.

The run itself was more fun than a race has a right to be. I'm starting to get more interested in "fun" runs-runs with a twist or gimmick, especially shorter runs, because well, at a certain point you get tired of running in a circle like a hamster.

This run was definitely different than any other I had done. There were tons of kids for one, and I'm happy to say I managed not to knock down any of them (the paths were very narrow!). We started at the Tredegar Civil War Center and ran across the car part of the Lee Bridge. After that I literally cannot say where we went. I am not super familiar with the off-road paths along the river, so thank God I was following other people the whole time. If not I may have ended up in North Carolina. Or floating down the river.

Speaking of the river the race promised that we would go "through" it. I was initially alarmed because the river that goes through downtown is full of death rapids and rocks. But then I saw all the eight year olds at the start line, and realized that we would not be forging the river ala Oregon Trail (I always drowned all of my people! Damn my pride for not waiting for the ferry!) Also because Dominion already has one lawsuit on their hands, I don't think they want anymore. So what we did was hop into the river off of a muddy bank, walk in a teeny, tiny semi-circle bordered by a rope with the river up to our chests, and then climb back up. Silly, sure. But also fun, and more importantly, refreshing.

Near the end we crossed the pedestrian suspension bridge underneath the Lee Bridge.

I have never been on this bridge, so when I first got on it, I thought, OH DEAR GOD I AM ABOUT TO DIE. If you haven't been on this bridge, here's what you should know before you walk on it, and which I did not know before I ran on it. It sways. Like major, hard to move in a straight line, swaying. I managed not to start screaming like a maniac when I was reassured this was a normal phenomenon. But I also picked up my pace to get the hell off of it. Because I do not like the bridge beneath me to move.

Despite being a 3-miler this was actually a pretty challenging run. Lots of hills. Lots of narrow, rocky trails (my lower legs and ankles are sore-which has never happened, not even after the half-marathon-definitely used my stabilizing muscles on this run). We got to the end on Brown's Island (this part is kind of funny-because the race goes through the festival and isn't completely blocked off, so you run past lots of bemused people in nice clothing, with their beer and food, wondering what all these wet, sweaty, muddy freaks are doing running past them). And then we got  to the MUD PIT OF DOOOOOOOOM.

Okay not really. I was picturing a mud pit of doom that would represent an epic battle of wills between me and fate, or something. Instead I got to this:

So instead of shaking my fist at the gods and roaring in defiance, I stopped, giggled, and internally went "awww." I mean is this not the most adorable, little mud pit you've ever seen. Don't you want to wrap it up in a blanket, stick a knit cap on it, and rock it to sleep.

Needless to say I mad it through it. I also reminded my boyfriend halfway through that if he splashed me with mud in my face I would drown him in my righteous anger.

I don't look very muddy but my lower half is caked in it. We hosed off and changed (um, Dominion RiverRock, next year you might want to rethink having the ladies' changing tent in full view of all of the people using the hoses-because every time a new woman entered that tent and opened up the flap to get in-all of those people got a nice show of some naked, very muddy flesh).

And then we collected our free stuff (isn't that one of the best part of races-the free swag?) and our drink ticket (how every run should end) and headed back to Brown's Island to enjoy the festivities. It was such a gorgeous night. I had that post workout endorphin high. I had a Blue Moon in my hand. Dogs were flying through the air.

No literally.

And as if life needed to get better, just as I uttered the words, "I'm hungry," I saw this beautiful sight.

I got my usual chicken gauntlet (American, Mexican, and Asian style), and we sat down in the grass, listened to the great live band, and people watched (so many adorable dogs and babies my heart almost exploded).

Eventually we tore ourselves away from the food, beer, music, scenery, and flying dogs, and headed back to shower and get ready to go out for my friend, Ellen's, birthday. We went to Balliceux, where I've been to eat dinner before, but never as a bar. And let's just say I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

I never have cocktails but I felt in a celebratory mood so I ordered the Hemingway's Revenge (largely because of the name). It had rum, grapefruit juice, and Tahitian vanilla syrup and it was absurdly delicious. I honestly hate grapefruits and grapefruit juice but for some reason I love grapefruit juice in cocktails. I think it's because I don't like sweet cocktails so grapefruit juice gives that nice sour, almost bitter flavor to balance out the sweetness of ingredients like vanilla.

We danced to a DJ who played 70s soul music. Apparently it was some guest DJ from NYC, and I know nothing about DJ'ing but I think this one was good because I can guarantee almost no one in there knew 80% of the songs. And yet everyone in there was dancing, because they were that good and that catchy.

Saturday we ate brunch at the front patio of the Continental (fast becoming one of my favorite Richmond spots-even though every time I go there I feel guilty about not going to the newly relocated Phil's). After that I lazed around (just a teensy bit hungover, there's a reason a drink is named after Hemingway-that man could drink enough alcohol to kill a moose) until the evening when we went to see Dessa Rose at Firehouse.

I thought there were some issues with the plot structure and tone (possibly because it is a musical about slavery, not exactly a subject that screams "JAZZ HANDS"), but I still thoroughly enjoyed myself because the music was absolutely killer and the vocals of the actors were jar dropping. Definitely worth the price of admission.

I really missed weekends like this-when I can sleep in and watch TV and do nothing productive and not feel even slightly guilty about it. And thank GOD, I have a summer break full of them.

Friday, May 18, 2012

My Scarlett O'Hara moment.

Okay so I may not have shot a Yankee, but I experienced an incident that I can only refer to the closest I may ever (hopefully) get to a Scarlett O'Hara moment.

To give a little background information, I live in a crack house.

Okay that may be a slight exaggeration, but sometimes it feels that way. When I decided to sign the lease on this apartment last fall, it all seemed like sunshine and daises. I didn't pay much attention to the state of the interior of my building, because I loved my apartment and I loved the location. It was on Monument Avenue, the street in Richmond I've always dreamed of living on, and in a historic, handsome nearly 100 year old building. The property management people seemed nice and had a legitimate office, and they had multiple buildings throughout the city.

Then I moved in and I realized I may not have been very thorough on my search (I was blinded by the wood floors and the giant windows!). First of all, the building allows smoking indoors, something I never even considered asking about because until now I've only lived in beautiful Charleston houses (divided into duplexes). As most modern buildings do not allow this (because it ruins them, forever making them smell like stale cigarettes), I think every smoker in Richmond decided to move in here. And they smoke, constantly. And each time they smoke, each cigarette (or other) they light, my apartment immediately fills up with that intoxicating scent of cancer.

I hate it. I've bought so many candles, you have no idea. But nothing covers up that smell. Also I realized that no one has done maintenance on this building in perhaps 50 years. The paint is peeling everywhere, especially the exterior windows and doors. The carpets in the hallways are mangy and disgusting. The paint on the walls is seven different shades of ugly and also peeling. A railing is broken that leads up the marble entrance stairs (and my God, as the daughter of a lawyer, sister of a lawyer, cousin of a lawyer, and sister-in-law of a lawyer-my family=lots of lawyers, all I can think when I see that is a giant, red, flashing LAWSUIT).

We have five super cans for a building with over 40 units. You do the math. This means that by every Friday (trash comes on Monday) there is garbage all over the sidewalk-pizza and beer boxes, random pieces of furniture, food strewn about. I am positive that there are multiple families of rats living there and living the life.

There are always cigarette stubs in the hallways and on the sidewalk in front of the building. My neighbors leave random crap in the halls-including a huge television that has been outside my door for almost a month.

And the neighbors, oh the neighbors. Some of them may be very nice and normal. Those are probably the ones I don't see often, because they work and live quiet, dignified lives. But my downstairs neighbors are just the worst. They don't appear to work or go to school or do anything at all with their lives other than play the most stereotypical getting high musical imaginable at volumes so loud that it shakes my own apartment and the inside of my brain. They often get into shouting matches, and many times it sounds like a one person shouting match-just a shrieked chorus of curse words that would make sailors blush. I've heard weeping and crashing and singing and every other loud, obnoxious sound imaginable. They've broken their windows, shattering glass onto the sidewalk below.

It hurts my heart that this building has been neglected and abused by both its owners and its occupants. I've long admired the building when I've driven or run past. It's this stately, solid structure, a piece of the street's architecture and character, and it should have been taken care of. It's earned it by being around for all of these decades. I think of the tenants who lived here in the 20s or 40s or 60s, of all the people it's seen come through its doors.

And I don't understand why my slumlords  landlords have let it decay. Or actually I do understand. Their business model is to put zero money into the property (or as scant as possible) and collect (the admittedly cheap) rent. I just don't like it. I think this business model attracts sketchy tenants, as my mother wisely pointed out to me (four months after I moved in), people who don't care about their surroundings, who don't care if their buildings fall down around them, as long as they can get high and drink and listen to loud music.

I do care about my surroundings. I just was high on wood floors and dishwashers and a big living room and $615 a month rent (with gas and water and trash!), and didn't see it at the time.

Which brings me to the events of last week.

I came home from babysitting around 10:30, strolled up to my buildings entrance doors (two very large, very heavy, glass doors) and paused.

One of the doors had its glass smashed to bits and looked like this.

I stopped for a moment, as one does. I was a bit perplexed as to how the door got in this state, but it was late and I didn't have the brain power to ponder it for too long. I walked up to my apartment, and not even 5 seconds after I closed and locked my door I heard the distinctive sound of more glass breaking. I looked out my window and saw a worker's truck parked outside with a ladder on top. Huh, I thought. Maybe my building actually sent someone promptly to fix the door. The maintenance guy is probably just busting out the remaining shards of glass.

But then I saw a younger man step to the driver's door, get in, and peel away. 

That son of a you know what had just smashed the other door.

This is when Scarlett took over. I didn't think. I didn't process. I just flung open my door and ran down the stairs, dialing 911 as I went. This is what I found.

I didn't care that it was 11pm and I was alone. I didn't care that whoever did it might come back. My building was just attacked, and I took it personally. I was pissed. I had to stop myself from chasing after the guy on foot.

Now this may not sound dramatic, but honestly until that moment I would have assumed my choice of action would have been to hide in my apartment. But as soon as I realized what had happened, all I wanted to do was make sure it stopped, make sure whoever did it was caught. I gave all the information to the nice 911 dispatcher as calmly as I could (probably not calmly). Some of my neighbors came out (all boys, all who trickled out of their doors after I did).

I have no idea if the police got involved. They never showed up. The building fixed the doors in a couple of days (even they could not ignore the flashing red LAWSUIT presented by massive, ready to stab someone, shards of glass hanging in the breeze).

And I'm still pissed. Apparently the guy was yelling "Nicole" as he did this. I've listened to countless screaming fights outside my window between a guy and a girl, and methinks the two could be related. I'm alternately angry at this "Nicole" and scared for her if this guy is her boyfriend/ex-boyfriend/stalker.

Mostly I'm disapointed, that my poor building, already in such rough shape, was further beat up, and that because of the type of people in this building, no one is all that shocked or outraged.

I'm secretly a little pleased that my response to this situation was not to cower but to charge and defend (may not be the wisest course of action, strictly speaking). But I should have known. By virtue of my Southern heritage, that reaction is firmly in my blood. I put down roots the second my feet touch the ground, and I did that here, even in the short five months since I moved in. I love places and homes and land to an absurd, probably unhealthy extent, to the extent that I hurt when my place hurts, that I feel where I live is an extension of myself and respond to an attack on where I live as an attack on myself.

It's why I could never let a building I owned decay or fall apart, why I'm so angry that my leasing agency does just that to save money, why I'm so angry that this little punk took a crowbar to my doors, why I'm so frustrated that some of my neighbors don't care at all about the state of their surroundings.

I love my apartment and this building and think it could be great again, if shown just a little care and attention, but I think my days in it may be numbered when my lease runs out. Because I simply can't live in a place where people (both owners and tenants) don't respect where they live.

Maybe that makes me uptight and high maintenance. But mostly I think it makes me Southern and sentimental and yes, very stubborn.

And in that way Scarlett and I have a lot in common, minus the gun violence.

Saturday, May 12, 2012


I spent last weekend in Charleston for alumni weekend, and like every time I return to my beloved city on the coast, it was jam packed with loveliness. So I'm going to have to recap the highlights:

1) Staying out at Folly Beach with the boyfriend and 8 of my Charleston friends in this house

At first when I was looking at houses I was all about Isle of Palms because I am secretly 90 years old and wanted a quieter, nicer beach. But then I remembered I'm in my 20s and poor, so Folly it was! But seriously I loved staying out on Folly. It's such a happy little mishmash of an island-half dilapidated shacks full of hippies, half bemused families in nice houses who didn't realize they were staying on an island where everyone is drunk and/or stoned 80% of the time. I love all the dreadlocks, all the half naked people strumming guitars, all the college students with their corn hole and coolers of beer. And this house was perfect, more than spacious enough for 10, with a nice little porch overlooking the coastal marsh behind it.

We spent most of Saturday on the beach, lounging and swimming, stopping only to do Subway and beer runs. We ate at one of my favorite Charleston restaurants Taco Boy (they do their own homemade corn tortillas and do them right, which as the daughter of a Texas woman, I know, makes alllll the difference for a great taco).

On our first morning I got up and ran on the road that runs along the water, and on our last morning I got up even earlier (I told you I was 90!) and took a beach walk. Oh, I cannot in any way describe how much I've missed my Folly beach walks. My last six months in Charleston I lived on James Island, next to Folly, and nearly every day (I was nearly unemployed minus occasional babysitting on Isle of Palms), I went to Folly and took long beach walks. These walks meant more to me than I can possibly explain, and I loved them dearly, especially once it got colder and the beach emptied. On this morning, it was early enough for the beach to be nearly empty, save for a few other walkers. The tide was high, and because Folly is slowly eroding into the sea (thanks Geology class!), the water came all the way up to the houses. I walked barefoot with the water coming up to my ankles, took big gulps of that sweet salt air that I crave so deeply when I'm away, and tried to internalize all of it, to fill myself up with the memory of that walk, to sustain me until I can come back. 

2) Going to the Charleston Affair at the Cistern on the CofC campus (the most beautiful college campus in the world btw, and no I am not biased)

I'm sorry but can you think of a better place to have a massive, boozy party than this?

And yes, this is where I went to college. I hate me a little too. But the annual Charleston Affair is one of my favorite things to do. This space transforms into this:

There's a band. There are multiple open bars where the wine and beer are free-flowing. There are food tents. This year, bizarrely, there was a DJ dance club tucked away by Maybank (I did not venture there). There are porta potties aplenty. And by far the best part is seeing what all the new graduates (who make up the majority of the party) are wearing. There is no better place to keep abreast of current preppy fashion trends. What I learned-Tory Burch purses (with a Chanel-esque chain strap) are in in a big way. I really forgot how rich most of the CofC kids are. Also in-suspenders! So many suspenders Half the boys looked like old-timey paper boys.

The other half looked like Chuck Bass.

I know that CofC boys are prone to be a little dandy. But it has reached new, amazing levels. So many brights colors, so much madras and pinstripes and bowties. I am shocked I didn't see someone twirling a cane or with a man-servant holding an umbrella. Needless to say I had endless fun watching all of these Southern boys try to out fashion each other. Mind you most of these boys are also Republicans who hunt, fish, drink whiskey, and watch football. Charleston is just this miraculous place where "manly" men are also complete women when it comes to dressing. And I love it.

3) Playing tourist. We had a couple of non alumni with us, including my boyfriend, and it was the perfect excuse to play tourist. And I LOVE being a tourist in Charleston. I love the history. I love the carriage rides and the sweetgrass baskets and the house museum tours and all of the history stories and lore. I eat that shit up. But living in Charleston I had to pretend I was above it. Luckily bringing new people into the city allows me to indulge.

We went on a carriage ride, which is the ultimate tourist experience in Charleston, but so worth doing. Not only do you get to hang out with ponies (did I mention I love horses?), but you get a great history tour as you stroll past sickeningly beautiful mansions on the water. I think a big reason I fell in love with Charleston is that along with all of its physical beauty, there are just layers and layers of the richest history. I love hearing about the pre-Revolutionary war stories and love that there are still houses from that time that people live in. I love knowing that the peninsula used to be a tiny, walled in fort, surrounded by marsh, and that they were attacked by pirates regularly. I love all of the Civil War stories (minus the whole horrendous slavery part). I wince hearing about the low period, in the 60s and 70s when the city fell into slight disrepair and so many of these amazing houses were almost demolished. And I cheer when I listen to tour guides talk about all of those people who refused to let that happen, about how Charleston is the second most well preserved city on Earth (next to Rome if you're curious). I love the modern gossip about the stars who live on the battery (Bill Murray is one, again if you're curious). I love that Charleston is a city of stories, the way that once you've lived there you start to take ownership of the stories, of those historic, older than old families you hear so much about, of the bad times-earthquakes and wars and hurricanes-of the way a city willed itself to survive, and flourish, again and again.

We took a tour of the Calhoun Mansion, which I'm ashamed to admit I'd never done before.

It's the largest home on the peninsula, was built by a friggin' Civil War blockade runner who made it rich and wisely kept his money in gold and silver in foreign banks (hello Rhett Butler!). It took years to complete, mostly by hand, and every inch of it is either hand carved wood or hand painted ceilings or hand-made light fixtures (by Louis Tiffany). It was a hotel briefly then a boarding house used by the US Navy (JFK lived here during this time). It stood empty for almost 15 years in the 60s and 70s, was vandalized freely, was condemned by the city and almost demolished (here's where I would clutch my pearls if I had pearls, because doesn't that make you want to weep, the thought of this beautiful house demolished-it hurts my heart to even think of it), until a very smart man bought it for $200,000 and spent decades restoring it. Prince Charles has stayed here. The interior of it was used in The Notebook (Allie's parent's house). The current owner bought it in the 2000s, and he actually lives there and still allows it to be open for tours during the day. I would love to meet this man, because you just know anyone who would open up their house for tours must be positively giddy over the history of the house and want to share it. He's also apparently spent his life collecting the rarest, coolest, most insanely unique antiques and filled the house to the brim with them. I could have spent hours in each room, taking in not only the house itself but all the treasures inside of it.

4) Confederate Jasmine

It may seem like a small thing, but it's just the most beautiful smell on this Earth. This time of year, the entire city smells like it. It's one of the many, many, many things I love and miss about Charleston. And I'm so happy I got to be back there, if only for a few days.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Summer reading.

One of the things I was looking forward to most toward the end of the semester was getting a big, fat pile of books to devour now that I don't have to spend 90% of my time reading about drugs and horrible things that can happen to the human body.

I love reading in the summer. I don't think it will come as a surprise that I was that kid who got excited about assigned summer reading lists (except for all of those books about dogs or pigs that ended up with the dog or pig dying-The Day No Pigs Would Die my butt-every day was a day where pigs died, tragically-can't schools give children one book where the animal doesn't succumb to rabies/wolves/bacon?). I still wander past the "Summer Reading" table in Barnes and Noble and find myself gazing longingly at Great Gatsby or East of Eden, before I remember I already own those books and that no one likes the old, creepy weirdo in the kids section of a bookstore).

I traded in $100 worth of text books to Amazon (that I probably bought for 400, but I digress), and as soon as my account was credited, I spent the most incredible half hour feverishly picking out books, both ones I've had on my list for a while and those wonderful little surprises Amazon cooks up for you (why yes, I would like to see books other people who've searched for similar items have looked at, thanks A!)

I managed to stop at 4 (I also had to replace my ipod FM car connector-I've been listening to Richmond radio for months since I lost my old one-it is literally all Adele all the time. Maybe some 90s Aerosmith thrown in to mix things up). The tally:

Arcadia by Lauren Groff

It's been a while since I've read a novel (sometimes I get on non-fiction kicks) and this one is about crazy commune hippies! What's not to love? The plot is actually a lot more nuanced than that, but I've consistently read awesome reviews of this.

Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff

Have also heard great things about this and have had it on my list for almost a year. Loved, loved Unbroken and from what I understand this is similar, only with cannibals.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed.

So this memoir about a young woman who loses everything and in her grief decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail has been covered to the point of over-saturation. Strayed was interviewed in O Magazine, excerpted in other magazines, and basically hyped to the max. But I never let over-saturation deter me, particularly when a memoir gets great reviews from sources and authors I respect. I'm thinking this will be a colder, darker Eat, Pray, Love, just with a lot more fighting the elements and a lot less sex and pasta.

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain.

A tragi-comic novel about the Iraq war that comes highly recommended by Karl Marlantes and Tim O'Brien (two men who have produced the two greatest war novels I've ever read without question). Yes please.

So there's my list, a little split personality-but that's always been my reading style. I am an equal opportunity reader, and I am willing to try everything. I also just now realize I got two novels and two memoirs, which I think is perfect, since I am constantly going back and forth between novel kicks and memoir kicks. 

I have a couple of long ass plane rides and layovers coming up when I go to Africa, and I am so excited to take these with me :)

Now off to watch some Downton Abbey before bed (seriously, my life was empty without this show in it).

Ode to a water fountain..

I have every intention of recapping my wonderful Charleston trip, and I will. But first:

Today I had one of those runs that reminds you why you're a runner, the kind of run you don't want to end (and that is a rarity, even my good runs I count down the steps until they're over). I kept finding ways to extend it, to go a little longer, down one more street or block. I am kicking myself I've never run this route before.

I started on Monument and went down the Boulevard towards the Carillon. I ran past the Carillon, past Maymont, past the public tennis courts and the dog park and across the Nickel Bridge.

I spend so much time longing for Charleston, for the ocean and marsh and endless bodies of water that dot that beautiful city. And yes, Richmond does not have an ocean or a marsh or a harbor. But my God, it has a gorgeous river. I love the Cooper and the Ashley in Charleston, but I don't know if they can compare to my James. I feel slightly ashamed, living here since I was born, and never really giving the James its due. I've lived by it, driven over it, swam in it, and loved it, yes, but I don't wax poetic about it the same way I do about the water in Charleston. And that's a mistake on my part. Because it is beautiful, and this run just gives you a front row seat to the most beautiful stretch of the James-all rocky and vast. I absolutely love the running trail on the Nickel Bridge, because you're protected from the cars by a guard rail, and I cannot believe I only did this today.

I was planning on ending my run and turning around at the end of the bridge, but like I said, it was one of those rare runs where you want to keep going. So I did, up the hill to Riverside Drive and down a block to my childhood home, the home I was brought home to from the hospital. The majority of my memories of this house are a little blurry, since we moved away from it when I was seven, but what the memories lack in clarity they more than make up for in strength. I ran past that house and I remembered all those summer nights playing baseball in the front yard with a plastic bat and wiffle balls, playing until it grew too dark to see and my mom called us in for supper, 4th of July parades in the street with all the neighbors, the snowy winter day we found a stray dog and "adopted" him, keeping him in the garage, the post-pool evenings when we'd been in our bathing suits for hours and it was still so hot outside all we could do was run to the one room with the window unit and stand in front of it, letting the frigid air blow our wet hair until it felt like ice.

I ran past the house, past the houses where my best childhood friends lived (in my memory literally every house on that street had a kid my age, waiting to play at a moment's notice), past the corner where we used to play toll booth on our bikes (until I was like 20 I thought toll booth was a classic childhood game, then I realized that the kids in my Westover Hills neighberhood grew up next to a toll bridge, and that might have had something to do with the frequency with which we played it). I ran down the street to where you get another spectacular river view from the top of the hill.

On the way back I ran past the lake in Byrd Park, and even though I'd run 5 or 6 miles at that point, I still didn't want to stop. So I ran down to the trail that goes around the lake and ran around it, past all the geese and ducks and kids feeding them pieces of bread.

I feel like any runner will identify with this kind of run, the rare time when pleasure outweighs pain, when you forget about your lungs and your muscles and just enjoy everything around you. I ended up going 7.3 miles, the longest I've run in a while, and it felt so much easier than the 3 or 4 mile short runs I sometimes do on Monument.

And a big part of why it was so enjoyable is that there were actual water fountains on my route. You have no idea how many times I've prayed for a water fountain during a run. I've changed my route to run through city parks, assuming a water fountain would be there, but so many times there hasn't been (apparently the Fan does not believe in water fountains in their parks, go figure). But there was as water fountain right before the bridge next to the Carillon and water fountains at Byrd Park. On a hot day that makes a huge difference for a runner, especially one like me who is easily dehydrated and who HATES wearing those water bottle fanny packs (I have bought several of these, all highly recommended, and they all are TERRIBLE, I usually end up with 90% of the water all over my shirt and shorts).

But today there was actual water! From water fountains. I don't know if I can adequately convey how much I love a good water fountain, and how endlessly amazed I am that water fountains aren't on every city block. I actually get downright sentimental over them.

Here's a pet peeve of mine. People, in this country, who complain about tap water or refuse to drink it. And the thing is that's almost everyone. Whenever I go on beach trips no one will drink the water because it's "beachy." I'm surrounded by a nation of people who drink from water bottles, store bought water gallons, from water coolers, from any source of water other than the tap water available from literally any faucet.

And yes it's bad for the environment , but that's not why it bothers me. It bothers me for the same reason I love water fountains so inappropriately much. Excuse me while I step onto a particularly sanctimonious soap box.

Drinkable tap water represents everything America has at its advantage, and everything Americans take for granted, turn their noses up like it's nothing.

The bad part about travel is that it makes you obnoxious. I know it's obnoxious to say these things, that everyone would prefer if I just shut up about tap water for the love of God.

But the places I've been prevent me from doing that. I will drink tap water from any water source in this great nation, forever, and I will do it proudly and gladly, even if it does taste "funny" or "beachy." I don't care what studies have been done, showing such and such in the water supply. Because ultimately water in this country is safe. We won't get diseases from it. I lived for 6 months in a place where the water wasn't safe, and I'll never forget when I got the flu and I had a crazy high fever and was so thirsty, and all I wanted was water, and the only way to get it was to walk 10 minutes to the store. It sucked. I would have given anything to be able to drink from the tap, to do what we can do here so easily and safely.

In Haiti I saw a 6 year old girl walk miles down a mountain cliff, in unbearable heat, with a jug almost the size of her, to fill up with water and bring it back to her family. We were in a truck with our leftover drinking water for the day, and none of us could stand it, so we broke the one rule every mission trip is supposed to follow-don't give out things (water, food, gifts) to locals. There are many good reasons for that rule, as cruel as it sounds, but in that moment we didn't care. None of us could stand to see that little girl walk any further, on that dirt road in the heat. We gave her all the water we could, and it still broke every one of our heart's, because we knew that for today we had helped, but tomorrow that little girl, and so many like her, would face the same thing, the same brutal search for clean water.

I think of what the presence of a water fountain with clean water would mean to a country like Haiti, or to a place like India, where children would beg us for our cokes or our sprites, because they were thirsty, because they didn't know when they're next drink would come. I think of what it would mean in nations in Africa, where HIV positive women are advised to breast feed because those babies have a better chance at life than if faced with the alternative, mothers mixing formula with water, and all the water-borne diseases, quick and lethal, that come with it.

There are so many places in this world where people die because they don't have access to clean water. And that's so ridiculously unfair and absurd. I can't wrap my head around it, and never will be able to.

And that's why I think a water fountain is a beautiful thing, to be celebrated and cheered, to be placed on every corner. It represents this ludicrously unfair advantage we all have and have never had to earn. And I will never turn my nose up at that advantage, because it tastes funny or because I think it's gross compared to bottled water (which, let's face it, really is tap water).

All of this came to me on my wonderful run today. I usually don't get so philosophical on runs, because inside my head is too full with "oh the humanity! make it stop!".

But today my head was clear and calm. Today I had the run, the mystical unicorn of runs, absolutely perfect in every way.
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