Archive for the ‘adventures’ Category
So I’m sitting in the Seattle-Tacoma airport, and I’m pretty pissed. Our gate says that our flight to San Francisco is on time, but the internet says otherwise. And the internet always knows best.
Only now – five minutes before we are supposed to depart – does a human representative of Virgin America finally confirm what we already knew. We’ll be lucky if we get out of here tonight. Which is unfortunate, because the quickest way to come down from a weekend high is with a flight delay. Also, I’m now going to have to find and consume something made of dark chocolate.
I know I sound like a spoiled child of the first world (which, I suppose, I am). And Virgin America is certainly a lesser evil than its indisputably evil airline counterparts. And, of course, we can’t control the weather (yet). But as I sit here, glaring at the departures board, I can’t help but feel like we’re stuck in this horrible, awkward, acne-ridden transition period for air travel, where flying commercial is no longer glamorous, but not yet convenient enough to make up for it.
Today, I had a glimpse into what flying must have been like in its earlier, sexier days. My sister and I embarked on our first ever seaplane adventure this afternoon, from Orcas Island (San Juan Islands) to Lake Union (Seattle). The stated departure time was 3:00pm, so only at 2:50pm did we motor on over to the designated dock. Our plane was 15 minutes late, but no one gave a damn. We just sat on the dock in the sun, eyes on the horizon so we wouldn’t miss the water landing.
And once the plane did make its dramatic approach, there was no jostling for position in line. There were only a dozen of us, after all, sun-soaked and giddy. And with no physical tickets or assigned seating, our “check-in” was merely a quick roll call from a wonderfully jolly pilot, and a request for a volunteer co-pilot. Which a very chivalrous (and not unattractive) dude from Los Angeles ceded to my sister. The pilot then helped each and every one of us aboard.
The plane itself was from another era. Which is to say, it was old. Old seats, old seat belts, old safety instruction cards. And an old control board, which my sister, fortunately, did not need to use, her role as copilot being more decorative than functional.
But despite the disheveled surroundings, the flight itself was incredible. And intimate. These days, when I fly, I don’t even really think about the fact that I’m, well, flying. And how ridiculously amazing that is. Sure, on a 747 you can peer through that tiny, oval window with two-inch thick glass and see some clouds and stuff. But it may as well be a screen showing a video of clouds. The experience of flying has long been abstracted from the experience of flying. If ya know what I mean.
And serious bonus: our pilot didn’t give a damn about our “electronic devices.” Meaning I didn’t even have to be sneaky about taking the pictures shown here, and uploading them from the plane. Which reaffirms my (and many others’) belief that the safety threat that our phones supposedly pose to planes during takeoff and landing is bullshit.
Anyway, this was the first flight in a really, really long time where I actually looked out the window for more than seconds at a time. I wasn’t alone: everyone was glued to his or her respective (very large) window. The descent into Seattle’s Lake Union was beautiful, and we all held our breath when the plane touched down (with barely a splash). And then our gallant pilot helped us each off the plane.
I am willing to accept that glamour and excitement and intimacy are not things we should expect from today’s commercial airlines. Honestly, they’re not even things I think we should want. Given the volume and frequency of air travel today, what we need are efficiency, predictability and convenience.
But these are not things we are getting. It can take an hour to get through security. Flights are delayed more often than not. And how is it possible that the majority of airplanes are still not equipped with Wi-Fi?? I get that there are factors – like national security – that trump my desire to spend as little time in an airport as humanly possible. I guess I’m just venting in the hope that in five/ten years, we’ll look back on this awkward, preteen period in the history of long-distance travel and laugh. Like we laugh at those horrible (still painful) middle school photos. Because the future will have its shit together.
And when we’re done laughing, we’ll teleport ourselves wherever the hell we want to go.
Last week, I had the privilege of attending Fortune’s Most Powerful Women dinner in New York.
Now, before you declare that the most obnoxious and unlikely sentence ever written, let’s be clear. I wasn’t exactly invited. Alas, my evil plans for power accrual have been stalled by the remodel of my underground lair.
I didn’t crash the party, either. Rather, my awesome (and far more powerful) boss couldn’t make it at the last minute, and she graciously allowed me to go in her place. How lucky am I?!
But then the plane ticket purchasing high subsided. And it hit me: I was about to be the Least Powerful Woman at a Most Powerful Women dinner. By about 20 rungs. And let’s be real here, I’m probably not even on the same ladder.
Oh. Em. Gee.
Panicked, I immediately began: a) scouring the interwebs for an outfit so perfect it would compensate for all other deficiencies, and b) preemptively drafting a series of self-deprecating tweets to have on hand. Ya know, the standard coping mechanisms.
Why the freak out? It’s not like I’m totally unaccustomed to hanging out with a more powerful set. The Valley is filled with brilliant people, and I’m often the least impressive and intelligent person in a room. I legit love that.
But it’s different when it’s an invite-only event, and the people invited have all earned the right to be there. Would they (politely) question my right? Would they even want to talk to me at all? And if not, could I overcome my chronic networking paralysis and summon the courage to talk to them? Standing in a corner and praying to be hit on for the sake of conversation was unlikely to work, given the obvious lack of Y chromosomes. Er, not that I’ve ever done that.
Well, the big night arrived. And the women milling about during the cocktail hour were, as expected, crazy impressive in every way imaginable. Some I knew by name, others I had to surreptitiously google later in the bathroom. You’ll have to take my word for it, though, because it doesn’t seem right to namedrop anyone here.
Except maybe when it comes to Martha Stewart. I think she’s fair game. And she was positively regal. As soon as she entered the room, the volume dropped and every head turned. And even though my commitment to the domestic arts has dropped precipitously since the age of eight, I just had to meet her.
Which never would have happened, if the powerful woman I was chatting with at the time hadn’t pulled me across the room, depositing me firmly in front of the Queen of Homemaking herself.
“Martha, this is Ashley,” she said.
“Hello dear,” Martha cooed. “Are you an intern?”
Staring into Martha’s impossibly tan, impossibly smooth face (holy skincare regimen, isn’t this woman sixty-something??), I was so nervous I almost said yes. Whatever you want me to be, Martha.
I did, I think, manage to get out one word.
Martha nodded politely, and my escort provided a few more helpful details about my identity. And then Martha was gone, her earth tone-clad body gliding through the crowd.
(I think I made a good impression.)
The dinner portion of the evening was fantastic. Everyone was chatty and friendly and interesting. The speakers were truly inspiring, and amazingly humble. They’d overcome some crazy shit, and many of them – despite their near-omnipotence – seemed to have far more balanced lives than I.
They also killed – or at least challenged – some assumptions of mine. I’ll admit to being wary of the effect that power can have on women. Rising to the top ranks in Corporate America seems to require a pretty substantial degree of aggression and ego (not to mention pantsuits, barf). The same goes for men, but these traits are already in line with the accepted male stereotype. I guess I just don’t like the idea of femininity and power being inversely related, which is one of the reasons why I’m such a Sheryl Sandberg fangirl.
So anyway, I did it. Great success, as Borat would say.
To celebrate my survival, I headed straight into another terrifying situation: karaoke-ing. Eek. And who happened to be getting his sing on in the East Village, but the one and only Adrian Grenier (sans any sort of entourage).
Funnily enough, I wasn’t even fazed. Perhaps I’d accrued some power at the prior event. And by power, I mean booze, natch.
A few weeks ago, I ventured into the desert to frolic with 90,000 other souls in celebration of an insanely awesome music lineup. Also known as Coachella.
Normally I avoid such gatherings like the plague. A single afternoon of navigating the teeming masses at Outside Lands or Hardly Strictly Blue Grass in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, and I invariably swear off human contact for a week. I love love live music, but I hate hate large crowds. Hence, enormous music festivals really aren’t my bag.
But alas, the allure of donning of a sparkly headband across my forehead proved too powerful to resist, so off to Indio I went.
(And lest you believe this prior statement to be in jest, know that this accessory was purchased weeks in advance; my plane ticket: days. #priorities.)
Like any good adventurer, I did zero research before arriving at my destination. Turns out La Quinta Resort is quite different than La Quinta Motel (a welcome surprise), and that the concert grounds are comprised of nicely manicured grass, not the expected desert sand (also good – fewer snakes, perhaps?). I did get a few things right, though. My newly purchased neon jorts (jean shorts) and aforementioned headband created sweet, sweet fashion harmony with the very LA, very tan, very seventeen-year-old Coachella set.
Also, as one might imagine, very high.
Now, I’m far too square to do any interesting drugs, but to be fair, I can see why one might be tempted to indulge at Coachella. Drinking simply isn’t pragmatic. And yes, I realize that makes me sound absurdly lame for a twenty-something without a baby or mortgage to her name, but hear me out. Even if you kick it poolside for the first part of the day (rough life), you’re still spending a good eight to ten hours on the Coachella grounds. Maintaining a buzz throughout and still having the requisite energy and hand-eye coordination to rock out to Swedish House Mafia at midnight with the fervor they merit is far beyond my (admittedly fading) super powers.
So, after downing a few delicious breakfast mojitos by the pool, I would coast into sobriety for the remainder of the day.
And wander defenseless amongst the masses. God help me.
Well, not entirely defenseless. I had some awesome friends with me. And friends of friends. And friends of friends of friends.
But eventually, all these degrees of friendship and the small talk they required were more dizzying than the giant Burning Man-esque orchid that swiveled 100+ feet above the ground. (Hello Alice in Wonderland, no blue or red pills required.)
So when my social capacity hit its sadly limited limit, I did what any rational introvert would do. I wandered straight into the thick of the densest, danciest group of people I could find.
The first time it happened by accident. Coachella has the cellular reception you’d expect from a barren dessert overburdened by smartphone-wielding narcissists uploading Facebook photos in real-time (for the record, I include myself in this group). Stray from your crew without a preordained meeting place, and you are – in a word – fucked.
Which is how I learned that dancing anonymously in a crowd is almost as rejuvenating as being stranded all alone in the desert. And certainly more rejuvenating than trying to be charming among the other humans without the conversational lubricant that is alcohol.
Admittedly, getting your groove on in a throbbing throng of strangers with a BAC of zero entails some awkward ramp-up (think Dr. Evil and the Macarena*). But then you realize that no one gives a damn, and furthermore, no one is all that good at dancing anyway. And the music is frickin AWESOME. This blanket statement applies to Fitz & the Tantrums, Calvin Harris, The Rapture and a bunch of other acts I rocked out to solo.
I was even on my own for the final act, separated following Florence and the Machine. Snoop and Dre and every possible guest appearance you could ever hope for: Warren G, Fiddy, Eminem, TUPAC’S HOLOGRAM ZOMG.
And by “on my own,” I mean I was surrounded by new and equally dance-minded friends. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten down so hard in my life, sober or otherwise.
So overall, it was a very good exercise in embracing an overwhelming experience, dispensing with dignity, and loving it. It was also a good reminder that there’s solitude to be found in anonymity, and I should never ever leave the city for suburbia, where supermarket small talk reigns supreme.
And last but not least, Coachella reaffirmed that jorts rule, something I’d forgotten after my age hit double digits.
Until next year, Coa.
*If you get this reference, marry me?
Parents: earmuffs (or rather, blindfolds, the visual equivalent). I prefer that you continue to see me as an upstanding, law abiding citizen.
For the rest of you: a confession. For almost two years, I’ve evaded the long arm of the law. Like Dexter, I’ve lived inconspicuously among you, holding down a steady day job, and standing in line with you at the supermarket. But instead of methodically dispensing of killers by night, I’m a serial collector of…parking tickets.
It all started so innocently. A cruel slip of paper fluttering on the windshield of my newly acquired car. The frustration of having mis-remembered the street cleaning schedule. Best to just put it in the glove compartment, deal with it later. Out of sight, out of mind.
And then another slip of paper, and another. They came so easily, so naturally. Stuffed in a purse or a jacket pocket, never to be seen again. Sure, they were followed by mailed notices. But honestly, who opens their mail these days?
In-the-know friends would warn me that my criminal ways could not continue unpunished. And yet the parking tickets would come and go without repercussion. Others encouraged my devil-may-care delinquency. Confessed a boy I dated: “I knew I liked you when you said your time was too valuable to pay your parking tickets.” #smoothcriminal
And thus, my invincibility complex grew. As did my ability to justify my rebellion. Parking in San Francisco is an absolute nightmare, tickets are inevitable. They probably don’t even clean the streets on the appointed days. No way will the government spend the money wisely. And most importantly: why should I have to obey someone who drives such an absurdly tiny car?
Well, today started like any other Monday. I woke up, rejuvenated after a night of guilt-free sleep. I made my daily pilgrimage to Peet’s, where the barista whipped up ‘the usual’. We joked, we laughed. Just a normal exchange between two normal, responsible citizens.
But when I arrived at my car, something was different. And when my freshly brewed caffeine finally hit my bloodstream, I realized what it was. I’d gotten the boot. Busted.
I didn’t feel anger, or fear. Strangely, I was amused. They’d finally gotten me. Hat tip, my worthy adversaries.
I took a cab to the SFMTA Customer Service Center, since Uber-ing there just didn’t feel right. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, the Center is like a miniature DMV, but far more efficient. Two minutes and one (rather painful) swipe of my credit card later, my criminal history was behind me and rescuers were dispatched to free my poor Prius.
And then I felt…relief. The life of a criminal – while terribly sexy and adrenaline-filled – is exhausting. Even the strongest compartmentalization skills cannot completely block the knowledge that you’re just one meter maid away from being outed.
You win this time, SFMTA.
I’ve had my share of ups and downs with the taxi drivers of San Francisco. Mostly downs. These days, I’m more than happy to pay Uber’s (somewhat extreme) premiums — for its remarkable customer service, but also on principle. The taxi industry is in dire need of transformation.
But I recently had a rather remarkable old-school taxi experience. And after telling the story to my dad earlier today, he insisted I write it down. So here goes:
It’s 4pm on a Friday, and I haven’t slept in 34 hours. Voluntarily. I’ve just wrapped up a pizza and Redbull-fueled hackathon with about a third of my coworkers, most of whom spent the night building crazy awesome Box features in a crazy short amount of time (don’t worry, they didn’t let me near the codebase). I’ve Caltrain-ed back to the city to avoid falling asleep at the wheel, and I’m standing (swaying) at the corner of 4th and Townsend, ready to go home and collapse.
There’s some skinny dude in a sweatshirt and baseball cap lurking around, asking people for cigarettes, but I don’t pay him much attention as I sleepily summon a ride from Uber on my iPhone. Suddenly, I’m body slammed sideways, and my phone is wrenched from my hands. I scream – and in retrospect, it was a really strange scream, like a panicked animal. I try again, and this time manage to form words: “That guy just stole my phone!”
Too late: despite the best attempts of a rather beefy dude nearby, the iPhone thief is already half a block away, sprinting out of sight. It’s over. My phone is gone for good.
“Get in!” I turn, and the voice belongs to a cab driver with a passenger in the backseat. “GET IN!” he repeats, and I do. “Do you see him?” he asks, and with me riding shotgun, he begins barreling down Townsend in pursuit of my mugger, who is no longer visible.
But suddenly, he is! And he’s getting into a white sedan a block and several cars ahead of us. “There!” I yell. “He just got into that white car.”
The taxi driver – a weathered, middle-aged man – goes into what can only be described as Hollywood car chase mode. He’s swerving around buses, swinging into oncoming traffic and darting back into our lane, avoiding collisions by fractions of a second. And he of course drives a stick shift, which makes his maneuvering all the more badass (at least from my wimpy Prius-driving perspective).
At the same time, he’s yelling into his radio, giving the play-by play of our chase to the dispatch office — which I only just now realize means that his masterful steering was done one-handed while the other gripped the radio. The poor passenger in the back seat (along for the ride, literally) also comes to my rescue, and she gets on her phone and calls the police. The license plate number of the getaway car is now visible, and so the driver is shouting it into his radio, and the passenger is shouting it into her phone. And I’m just sitting in the passenger seat, my hands folded serenely in my lap (strange that I remember this detail), completely useless because I don’t even have a pen and paper in my bag with which to write the license plate down. Because why would I ever need pen and paper…when I have an iPhone?
The car with my abducted phone veers right, and then right again onto Brannan. My taxi driver doesn’t miss a beat, and now we’re immediately behind the white car.
“Haven’t driven like this in decades,” he chuckles.
We can now see that the car is filled with guys in baseball caps, five of them. They keep turning around to look at us, undoubtedly seeing the radio and cell phone at work. I gesture in what I hope is a threatening way at the radio mouthpiece in my driver’s hand.
And suddenly, they’re stopping. They have nowhere to go. Cars ahead stalled at a red light. Oncoming traffic at a standstill. They’re blocked in.
“I’m getting out. I’m getting my phone back.”
I open the taxi door and march over to the temporarily barricaded getaway car. Five sets of eyes are on me. I don’t recall feeling the slightest trepidation, which I’ll chalk up to severe sleep deprivation rather than inherent bravery (stupidity?). I just wanted my iPhone back, damnnit.
“Police,” I say, mimicking being on the phone with my hand (what am I, five?) and pointing back to my two rescuers, both still narrating the play-by-play. “Give me. My fucking phone.”
The back seat passenger window rolls down slowly, awkwardly, cranked by hand. A skinny arm emerges, holding out my iPhone. I snatch it and walk back.
It’s only once I’m back in the passenger seat of the cab that I start shaking. My sleep deprived body has been shot through with adrenaline, and I begin spouting gibberish, thanking the driver profusely, unable to believe my awful-turned-amazing fate. I’m babbling on about the hackathon, the crazy chase, the flight to Jamaica I’m supposed to be boarding in only a few hours. Now with my phone in tow, thank god.
“Um, excuse me?” It’s the girl in the back. “I’m really, really happy you got your phone back, really I am — but is it cool if I get dropped off now? I’m running a little late.”
The taxi driver insists on dropping me off too, and I insist on paying for both our fares with all the cash I have on me, $40. He argues that it’s too much, I don’t think it’s nearly enough. Once he’s driven off, I worry that I’ve offended him by trying to pay for his spontaneous act of chivalry.
And then I collapse in bed, exhausted but so crazy wired that I’m unable to sleep. But I guess I do fall asleep, because the next thing I know, my sister is waking me up. We’re going to be late for our flight to Jamaica.
So that’s my wild story. The whole ordeal was very surreal and rather out-of-body, probably because it was processed by a sleep-handicapped mind and punctuated by a deep slumber. I did get the cab driver’s number, but I can’t seem to find it. Which I regret, because I’d love to call and thank him, now that I’m back in the country and back in my right mind.
Anyway, hooray for the kindness of strangers, and hooray for absurdly good fortune. And hooray for driving skills that could rival a Bourne Identity car chase (minus the explosions). It was a potentially shitty situation transformed into a pretty remarkable experience, and for that, I am incredibly grateful.