Friday, November 19, 2010

Winter Fun in Phoenix

Despite any lack of love that I may have for Phoenix, it all seems to dissipate during the months of November through about February. Winter here is a cold-hater’s dream; though I do miss only getting to wear my favorite Spanish leather jacket about 5 times before it’s time to return it to the back of the closet.

One event that I hate to miss is the Phoenix Open, previously known as FBR, until Waste Management took over the sponsorship and now the complete name is really and truly the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Are we supposed to call it the Waste for short?

Whatever the name, it’s the rowdiest stop on the PGA tour.  If there’s one thing Scottsdale does well, it’s rowdy, which makes for a very fun day of people-watching, food and drink, and a little bit o’golf.

Work buddy and I usually figure out a way to score some corporate tickets (there are enough floating around) and take most of a Wednesday off to enjoy the Pro-Am. We park ourselves in the tents around the 16th-18th holes and enjoy some food and perfect weather. George Lopez and Alice Cooper are regular players, and the delicious Josh Duhamel is in attendance. This year I made a repeat appearance on Saturday to get up close and personal with Camilo, but I avoided the hyped-up Bird’s Nest after party. Amazing people-watching there though, AMAZING. In 2009 there were all sorts of Scottsdale cougars, frat-boys, go-go dancers of barely legal age and men of all ages hypnotized, a Zowie Bowie performance and lots of intoxication. 

Another great part of the Open is that Melissa, my old college roommate, is in town from Boston to support one of her clients who has a big presence at the tournament. I get to take funny pictures at the Xerox booth, Mel and I have dinner and catch up on life, and we build a fire at Greasewood Flat and hope to find some cowboys.

Another event that I ended up doing this winter was helping out at a book signing for Mitt Romney. After leaving DC, I have barely read a line about politics. I know I should probably care a little more, but eight years of being around people who live and breathe for that stuff (and I’m certainly glad that some people do ), I just let it happily fade away. That was not the part that interested me about living in DC, nor does it interest me much now.

Regardless, a friend of mine had worked on Mitt’s campaign and got asked to put together a group of volunteers to help out during Mitt’s Phoenix stop of the book tour. Our job was to interview people in line about “What Makes America Great?” using little Flip Cams and collect email addresses in return for a photo with Mitt while he signed their books. Of course the book store had their own set of rules for people to follow (colored wrist bands and book purchase lines and all that), but since our group was actually wearing Mitt T-shirts, everyone thought we were in charge and we were not. It was a little confusing and there were some displeased book store employees, but hey – whatever.

Mitt spoke and signed away and then when all was said and done we got to meet him and chat for a few minutes. I think that my mom made me buy about eight books for him to sign. And then the race was on back at my house (post dinner and free cheesecake, courtesy of Mr. Maughan, the organizer) to upload all these photos and videos to the official Mitt website. That took for-ev-er, until 1 or 2am, maybe? And this was on a week night, though totally fun and a good reminder of the DC political energy that maybe I do sort of miss. Here’s to your next campaign, Mr. Romney!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Olympic Fever! In Vancouver!

So I know it sucks for people to lose their jobs in these trying times, especially when it happens to a close friend, and for her that meant not only unemployment, but also losing a visa to the USA.  I was more than a little bummed to see her leave Phoenix,  but thankfully Karen fully embraces her Canadian heritage and was ready to go back for a time and settle in the best place - Vancouver!  Just in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics!  Like - just in time - a month before!

I had been wishy-washy about my President's Day weekend plans - to ski in Tahoe or not to ski?  My heart just wasn't in it.  I think Karen and I had talked about me coming to visit Van at some point, but didn't have any definite plans.  Then all of the sudden in late January we had a phone call and despite two other visitors in town for the Olympics, we decided that one more person could definitely fit in that tiny basement space that Karen and Emma shared and before I knew it I was Vancouver-bound!  Flights were even cheap!  

The Olympic fever embraced all the visitors in a flurry of email introductions and instructions for a flash-mob via YouTube.  Karen even got to hold the torch on its way to light the Olympic Flame!  Bryndee flew in from NYC, Karen's former home; Joanna, a BYU friend, drove up from Seattle; I came in from the AZ desert on Saturday, the day after the Opening Ceremonies.

Touchdown Saturday around noon.  Slightly cold, rainy, but who cares?  I'm at the Olympics!  A car full of girls picked me up, and we were off.  First stop, McDonald's.  Ha.  They have better McFlurry flavors in Canada, like crème brulée, by the way.  Except really we were just using the McDonald's parking lot as our Metro Park and Ride stop, hoping that the car would still be there when we returned many hours later; mass transit was a much better way to get into the heart of the madness.  Soon we were gazing at the Rings across the Harbor and checking out the Flame.  Karen shows off her mittens below, which I was determined to get my hands into before the trip was over, even if they were only sold at one store that was insanely crowded at all hours of the day.
After taking in the most important sites, we headed over to Robson street for the event that we'd practiced so hard for.  A flash mob that turned out to be a little heavier on the mob and not so much of a flash.  I don't even want to hear that song again and I really hope that I'm not in that video.
Take notice of my bandaged hand in that photo - it will come into play later.  Oh, and going through airport security with that on gets you lots of extra attention.
There was an awesome zip line up above one of the main downtown plazas; I think the line was about 3-6 hours long almost every day, so I didn't try it out.  But we saw awkward teenagers singing in a show choir and a weird acro-gymnastic group on unicycles!

And super proud Canadians!  Man, I almost wanted to be Canadian and sport that maple leaf everywhere.  I heart Canada!  Really, it's true.  I loved the Canadian pride everywhere.  Way to go, nation to the North.  You are much more than America's hat.

We found a restaurant for dinner down in Gaslamp, I think,that wasn't too crowded or crazy.  Ate a delicious meal, got the check, and suddenly I couldn't find my debit card anywhere....yikes!  After thinking about it (and making a couple expensive phone calls to my mom and my bank via my cell phone), here's what must have happened.  We went straight from the airport to downtown; clearly I didn't want to carry a big purse around, with dancing and crowds and all of that going on.  I took money, cards, ID and stuffed them into my coat pocket.  It's a little cold in Canada in February, especially at night, and those cute red mittens were awesome!  Except 1) I didn't have any yet, and 2) I had a broken hand and a cast that prevented me from warming my hands, so I had to put them in my coat pockets.  Clumsy hand removal resulted in pulling out debit card and depositing it on the streets of downtown Vancouver.  Thankfully I had another Visa card in my wallet in the car  (they really do only take Visa at the Olympics) so I could still pay for stuff.  I just couldn't get  any fun Canadian cash from the ATM.  In the end - all was fine.  I learned my lesson: don't break your hand before going on an international trip.
Not only was it the Olympics, USA's President's Day, and Valentine's weekend, it was also Chinese New Year.  Very fun lanterns and other Asian-inspired decor showed up downtown.  Except I don't know where Batman fits into that.  But after saying "I am Batman" in the Batman voice and taking a nice picture with Karen, he decided that she was hot and he wanted to lick her face.  Ewh.  We saw him a few days later, sans mask, and Ewh.  Definitely Ewh.

After dinner we trekked out to another area of the city with another celebration site, with the aim of getting into Holland House, which supposedly had a big party going on.  I won't post the picture of the faces and gestures we made toward Holland House when we found out it was a closed party and only the Dutch could go.

Day 2 of Olympic Madness - Karen and Bryndee headed up to ski at Whistler.  The road between Vancouver and the mountain was closed during the day; only Olympic travel was allowed, though the ski resorts were definitely still open and travel agencies ran official shuttles back and forth for the non-Olympian skiers.  I had thought about making the trek, but with a broken hand and a shuttle that left at 6am, it was a pretty easy choice.  I don't think I could've stayed on the mountain all day; the return was at 9pm or something crazy.  Karen was a trooper to do it though, since she had to work the next day!
Jo and I because fast friends and started the daytime tour of more Olympic sites in the city.  Many of the countries took over various buildings in Van and set them up as celebration sites of their nations.  Since Russia is hosting the next winter games, they invaded the Science Center and turned it into Russia Expo, which had a crazy long line.  We didn't wait in it.
All the provinces of Canada had their own houses and displays as well.  Poor Saskatchewan's wasn't that exciting, but it's fun to say!  Coca-Cola sponsored a couple enclosed areas downtown with musical performances and big screens to watch all the action.  The line to get wasn't too bad, so we settled in for a little while.
Even though the Sea to Sky highway to Whistler was closed during the day, it opened again about 5pm.  Jo and I planned to drive up to hang out for a few hours in the village (Estelle concert!) and save Karen and Bryndee from taking a bus back after their long day on the slopes.  Oh, and we were going to take Chad with us.  So before this trip, none of us girls knew each other - Karen was the common link.  Now Chad - Chad had been a DJ on a cruise ship for awhile.  Both Bryndee and Jo had met Chad, but on separate cruises about a year apart.  Wild, right?  I think Bryndee and Chad had stayed in touch, though Jo and Chad had not.  Chad met up with me and Jo (who was understandably a little nervous since she hadn't seen him in ages) and we all techo'd our dance moves in the car on the two-hour journey.  We had a blast and were instant friends.
We wandered around the village and made a pact to go back to Whistler in the summer (man, Canada is awesome any time of year).  We saw one of the day's medalists walking around with his teammates, medal around his neck.  We heard some of the Estelle concert, though we couldn't see much.  And we posed with the fluffy mascots at the official store.
On the way home we made a midnight snack stop at a 7/11.  Another great thing about Canada - trust in your fellow man.  Oh, and Canada has awesome candy.  I love me some gummy candy.  Here in the US, you gotta put your choices in a bag and pay by weight, which is totally fine.  But in Canada at this 7/11, each piece is 5 cents.  You count your pieces, put them in a bag, and then just tell the clerk how many you have and pay.  Amazing.

Day 3: Karen went to work!  I have no idea how she had the energy to do so.  Tyson, the international man of mystery (who lives in NYC and knows Bryndee, yet also sort of lives in Canada and hangs out with Karen, and then shows up in Nepal last week with some of my friends from DC...yeah...) has a buddy who runs the double decker tour bus company in Vancouver - free tour!  Steamclock, pit stop at Granville Island, the awesome Stanley Park, etc.
It was cold and rainy that night, but we just had to go out since it was Bryndee's last night in town.  Notice the  inukshuk in the background?  And I finally got my mittens!  I stood in line at The Bay, the only store with the official stuff.  I think I only had to wait in line to get into the store for about 20 minutes, even though it stretched 'round the block.  The perfect souvenir for 10 bucks.  I can't wait to wear them again this winter, even if I'm not in Canada nor at the Olympics.  I also wanted a Canada hoodie, and the store only had the really small or the really large sizes available.  I snagged a men's medium that was misplaced in a random aisle, intending to bring back as a gift, but I planned to hang onto it for me if I couldn't find anything in my size, which I didn't.  Lucky for the recipient, the airport store had a boy's hoodie that fit me fine, so I could actually give one away.

We made it over to the Quebec house; of course all the artsy stuff from Canada comes out of Quebec.  These two guys did a really interesting performance piece; they started out just reading books and having tea, and soon one was upside down and doing the splits, while ambient music accompanied.  Oh, and there was some dramatic ignoring going on, while one performed his heart out.
Last night in town also calls for dessert, warmth, and the day's highlight reel at Red Robin.  Go Canada!  I think the Canadian women's hockey team was victorious that day, so everyone was celebrating in the streets.  
Day 4 of Olympic madness - the day I had tickets to an event!  So Karen, being Canadian and all, was able to buy tickets to events way before the rest of the world (maybe 2 years in advance?).  Between her purchases and family purchases, she had her hands on tix to a good number of events and was able to take each of her visitors to one event.  Mine was Men's Figure Skating - short program.  And it was awesome!  I mean, the show down between the US and Russia (Lysacek vs Plushenko) was one of the biggest rivalries of the games.  And someone was a sore loser, and later claimed he had won the Platinum Medal at the Olympics.  Sorry, Russia.  USA rules!

And there he is......Evgeni.
The whole event was 5 hours long; I had feared a little boredom, but no way did that happen.  A group of 5 would warm up, then each would skate, then another group of 5 with some Zamboni action in between.  The Canadian love for Patrick Chan was pretty crazy.  I wished I had a Maple Leaf flag (to be fair, I'd get a USA one, too.  Don't worry).
Cause when you're from the USA, you have to cheer for crazy Johnny Weir.  He skated very well and it's obvious that the judges have something against him.  I booed the score.  
But then, the future Olympic champion showed up and threw down!  Evgeni barely was in 1st place after the short program, but Evan was the eventually Gold Medal winner.  Take that, Russia.
There really just is something about the spirit of the Olympic Games - it kinda hit when I walked into the venue and you can just feel the nerves and excitement and all of that.  Then the TV broadcast started, the intro video (which plays the hook from my favorite Doves track, not unlike like this one, though not exactly this) began to play as the lights dimmed, and suddenly I was quite emotional with watery eyes.

I love when the world comes together in an event like this.  I wish I could attend every Olympic Games (maybe I will make that my goal - I was in a Chinese territory when the Beijing Games began, and maybe I'll be living in London for 2012?).  And even when skaters fell, or your country's rivals took the ice, there was such an environment of support and well-wishing.  I think there were a few Austrians sitting next to us (or insert other small country name, I don't remember exactly) and after their 1 skater finished, even though he wasn't amazing or had a shot at a medal, they cheered like he had just won gold.  And the rest of the crowd took notice and joined in, applauding this guy's journey to the pinnacle of all competitions - the Olympic Games - a once in a lifetime for very few.  These are the best of the best, and should be recognized.  They trained their whole life for these three minutes, not even knowing if they'd get a shot to go to the long program to skate for a medal.  Needless to say, it was quite the experience in a live setting.  It won't be the last time.
My last night in Canada required a one more stop at the Flame and one stop for poutine, since I hadn't eaten any yet.  The streets were wild with revelers; Canada men's hockey had a victory that day.  Daring Jo stole a hockey stick from a group of Canadian guys and started chanting "U-S-A" over and over.  I swear we maybe would've been attacked anywhere else, but Canada is so dang friendly.  I remember taking a public bus from downtown Van back to Karen's house one evening - the bus was packed beyond belief.  If I'd been in DC, the driver would've either driven through even stop without stopping, closed the door on people, or made some nasty faces, and you'd best hold on for dear life.  Don't even think about boarding if you're old or have a stroller.  Not in Canada.  Everyone was ridiculously nice.  There weren't enough priority seats for those who need a little extra assistance, so other passengers were holding groceries for people and holding onto their arms to make sure they didn't fall over.  Women with kids and strollers were helped on and off the bus.  People asked each other for loonies and toonies and people were willing to help out.  The bus driver was the nicest man ever, thanked everyone for their patience and did his best to get people to where they needed to go.  That, my friends, is how we should all operate.  Score another one, Canada!

The next morning Karen was off to work again (once again - don't know how she did it!) and Jo drove me to the airport.  Such an amazing few days that I hope to repeat in another 2 or 4 years!  It's hard to sum up how great is was.  Vancouver, I will definitely see you again, and Olympic Flame, here's to London 2012!

(If you want to read a first-hand report of what it's like to work at the Olympics and have some other awesome Olympic experiences, you can read my friend Matt's blog here).

Sunday, November 14, 2010

First Time for Everything, or How I Broke a Bone

My dear friend Kari grew up in Northern Arizona and always invites me on her frequent trips up that way.  Kari and I have known each other since our DC days; she moved back to AZ a couple years before I did, and we've become close friends now that we're out west.  She's definitely an outdoorsy girl - hiking, hitting the lake, winter sports, etc.  I'm just not. outdoorsy.  Though I try for the sake of being social and hoping that some of nature will rub off on me.

It never snows in the Valley, though the area around Kari's sister's house up north got hit with lots of snow last January/February.  Of course we had to take Kari's nephew up to the snow and enjoy a change of scenery.  Yes, it's nice that it's sunny ever single day in PHX, but I decided to join for a chance of pace (and temperature for which I am ill-equipped).
We bought sleds at Walgreen's on the way up - some colored plastic for cheap.  Soon we turned off the main road, 4-wheel drived our way through some muddy dirt roads and ended up at the house.  All started out well in Happy Jack, AZ, the middle of nowhere and nothing.
The dogs had a blast, little nephew enjoyed himself and soon it was off to the big hill down the street for some real sledding.
See - look how fun that is?  It may not look that steep nor fast on camera, but when you have no way to control said piece of plastic, yeah....

Sledding from L Dubbs on Vimeo.
We were enjoying the fine view, I went down the hill a couple times and Kari and I decided to do one more run, sharing the sled.  Started going down, hit a rock, flew up, I reached down to grab the side of the sled and instead grabbed underneath the sled, which came slamming down on my hand.  I knew immediately that something was broken.

It's amazing how the body responds, even to this tiny bit of trauma.  I still had to walk back up the hill, dizzy, heart pumping, and nearly passed out when I reached the top.  Wouldn't you know that the town's volunteer EMT on duty was standing right next to us, watching his own kids sled.  I sat down, caught my breath, then headed back to Amy's house to take some drugs and wrap up my hand.

We still had a 2-ish hour drive back to Phoenix, and I tried to make the most of the scenery.  The pain was in and out.  For someone who plays the piano (and types and all that) regularly, I was a little scared to see how bad it would be.
Kari sat with me at the Urgent Care for a couple hours that night.  The nurses and doctor were actually all awesome, and congrats to me, first broken bone.  Cracked my bottom pinkie knuckle in a nice little fracture.  We wrapped it up in a temporary brace and I watched it turn crazy black, blue and purple over the next few days.  I made an appointment with an orthopedist near my office to check things out further (and lucky me, he was young, hot, and a former MLB player - um, yes, please?).  I got a plastered cast on my hand for a few more weeks and some strong drugs to go with it.  Wahoo!  And now I know to politely decline sledding invites this winter.....

A California January

After our Vegas trip, C-squared and I decided to go to Cali for New Years with his two best friends, Aaron and Erin (who are cutely married to each other - and since C-squared and I are no longer, I do miss hanging out with A and E).  I have many friends in Huntington Beach, they have a good friend in HB (conveniently living around the block from my closest friend here), so New Years Eve shaped up to be okay.

Tim and I had let the tradition of traveling abroad over NYE slowly pass away.  There was Paris/London.  Our cheap Caribbean adventure.  Belize and Guatemala.  Mi pais, Espana.  And nothing this year, since we now live on opposite sides of the country.  I'm sure we will resume at one point, at least I sure hope so.

Anyway, back to the California roadtrip.  We drove out one afternoon to spend the weekend at the beach, which is always okay with me.  New Years always has me feeling obligated to go out and do something big.  And maybe I felt like doing that, but with C-squared sick and lots of Tivo'd movies and TV to catch up on, no one else really felt like doing much.  Not that there was a lot to do in HB (or maybe there was and I just didn't know).  We met up with my friend Becca, her boyfriend, her roommate, and wandered the streets of HB until we found a restaurant that was open and had available seating.  We were home by midnight and watched a sad Dick Clark countdown the arrival of 2010.  Riding beach cruisers and great weather rounded out the weekend.

Two weekends later I was back in the Cali scene.  My dad attended a conference in Santa Monica that ended on Friday, and he decided to stay the weekend.  I went out to spend time with him and play tour guide a little bit.  We had dinner in Culver City with his friend Laura and her husband, who are two of the most fascinating people I've met in a long time.

We spent Saturday visiting a couple of my dad's clients from Oklahoma who now live in the LA area, including a lovely 90-year-old woman who lives in Rancho Palos Verdes.  We spent the rest of the afternoon in Huntington Beach, trying out the new cameras we got for Christmas.  Dad had never been down that way, so it was fun showing him around one of my favorite little beach towns.

After our OC exploring we headed back up for dinner at Manchego for some Spanish food, another thing my dad hasn't had much of (when you live in small town America, imports from Spain aren't high on the availability list).  I can always eat some jamon and queso manchego and reminisce about my vida espanola!  I think we ordered about one of everything on menu and sampled it all.  Dad caught a cab to the airport early on Sunday morning and left me sleeping in before my drive back to AZ.  He knows me well - me, wake up early?  Not a chance....

2023 Recap

Oh, hey there. It's been awhile. I disappeared for a bit. Everyone's doing their 2023 year in review today, and I figured I'd ju...