Author: Bekah McNeel

Something New and Good: Baby

So…three years of marriage, and still I have not experienced the bloodbath I’d been afraid of before I got married. Lewis and I have yet to go to bed angry. I’ve never wished he would just go away. I’m not bragging. I’m the girl who had a panic attack two weeks before her wedding because she was afraid that marriage was going to be a 50+ year battle with untold casualties. No bragging rights here.

I’m saying that marriage has been wonderful beyond my expectations.

But now…a baby on the way. And the voices are back, telling me life is about to get really, really hard. So many were these voices that I put off getting pregnant for as long as I could without pushing poor Lewis over the edge. We are happy. We have balance…why upset it? Why invite what, according to a lot of people I know, is the most emotionally draining and difficult thing they have ever done?

Because it’s time to believe that God makes all things new.

People love to tell you how you’re going to mess up your kids, just like your parents messed you up. They like to tell you how you bring all of your baggage into parenting. They want it to be freeing, to tell you that you don’t have to be perfect, because nobody is perfect. They want it to remind you that you need grace as a parent.

I get that, and I appreciate it.

And it’s true that we’re born sinners. Sure thing.  Got it. My children will not be perfect. I will not be perfect.

BUT, here’s the deal: New life. What could be more of a picture of God’s grace that is new every morning than an actual. NEW. LIFE.

This baby will not come out cynical and jaded. She will not have years of baggage yet. She will be fresh and new, and her experience of the world, the church, and family will be her very own.

This baby, to me, is a celebration of hope. When I feel like so much has been ruined or twisted or corrupted, an entire new person will exist in the world who knows nothing of that. And maybe she will experience her own pains, but she will also have her own joys and see God’s faithfulness to her in her own life.

I’m sure that when she’s two and rolling on the floor screaming…or thirteen and rolling on the floor screaming, I will be glad for the wisdom that prepared me for her humanity. I’m sure I will be glad that someone warned me that I can’t be the perfect parent. Lewis and I are both first children, and we’re having our first child. We will win the award for most neurotic house on the block.

BUT, that is not what sets me free. That is not what makes me feel new and good. What gives me hope is that God makes all things new. And there is something new happening here (between my abs and my bladder) and it has the potential to be good. Not the kind of good that doesn’t need Jesus, but the kind of good that brings him glory. This little girl has her own story, and Jesus loves her. And I have every reason to believe that her difficult toddler/teenage years are nothing in comparison to the person God is already making her to be.

sonogram

“Sometimes It’s Best to Lie”: Poetry for the Young Realist

Dear World,

Please please please don’t take this little poem too seriously…I really really really don’t intend to start a conversation on how it’s never best to lie, how you would tell the truth even if it hurt someone in the short term, the exact nature of a lie, etc. It’s just some late night musings on the times when you realize that, “yes, the whole polite world expects me NOT to say exactly what I’m thinking at this moment.”

Of course, if you are now wondering if you are the extended family, neighbor, or friend who was lied to, the answer is most certainly, “of course not.”

Sincerely,

Bekah

Sometimes It’s Best to Lie

I.

You’ve always learned to tell the truth,

And surly you must try.

But sometimes to be kind or couth

You have to tell a lie.

Don’t ever lie to save your skin.

Don’t lie to hurt another.

A lie is not the way to win,

It’s a way to love your brother.

II.

When your sibling’s choice couture

Be it dress or tie

Makes them look like furniture

Sometimes it’s best to lie,

elephants

III.

When dear granny’s getting old

And she forgets your size

Her gifts may smell of cats and mold.

You’ll have to tell some lies.

hedgehogs

IV.

When your host has burnt the beef

Or undercooked the pie

There’s no need to cause him grief.

Just tell a gracious lie.

dogs

V.

When your buddy’s lost a game

You know how hard he tried

The brutal truth would cause him shame

You’ll be glad you lied.

pigs

VI.

When great-auntie buys you junk

That makes you wonder, “Why???”

Don’t act like an ungrateful punk

Just suck it up and lie.

skunk

VII.

When sharing cold hard facts of life

It’s easy to be jaded.

But when your thoughts could stir up strife

They may be better shaded.

Though few would outright tell you this,

They would say be polite

But manners, tact, and thoughtfulness

Are knowing when to lie.

Autumnals and Anniversaries Part 2 – Sicily

Usually mine and Lewis’s vacations are less like a relaxing getaway and more like well-structured 240-hour game show to see how much we can possibly hike, eat, swim, explore and experience before a buzzer goes off and we’re sent home.

We like to go places we haven’t gone before. Which means we’re on a mission to see as much as we can before we leave.

But this time, we were tired. Work had run us both ragged and I was spacey and tired from all the baby growing I’ve been doing. So we were looking to really VACATE. We wanted to sleep in, go slow, and make very few decisions of importance.

So where better than Sicily, where our main objective was to spend quality time with our friends the Garber family? We took in some sights, hiked around a little on Mt. Etna, and ate some gelato (and discovered granita, which is even better!) but the pressure was off, because the whole point of choosing Sicily was to see our friends, and that mission was well-accomplished. We even got in a game of Settlers of Catan.

These are the Garbers. Gil is in the stroller.
These are the Garbers. Gil is in the stroller.

Some highlights:

Hiking on Mt. Etna with Elliott. The volcanic tuff trails and evergreens winding up the side of the volcano seem a world away from the olive groves of the Sicilian countryside. And with the fog rolling in, the whole place felt almost isolated and private. Even with a merry band of German trekkers right behind us.

London and Sicily 120

The friends we made in Agrigento, on our two night stay at a quirky little B&B overlooking the Greek ruins.

London and Sicily 139 London and Sicily 133

Lewis fulfilled a lifelong dream of driving in Europe. And we had all the classic experiences. Driving the wrong way down a oneway street, circling endlessly on the roundabout while we figured out where we wanted to go, and wedging ourselves into the tiniest of tiny spaces. The locals seemed entirely unphased by this. I think that’s what Itallians really have in their favor. In a country where “parking space” refers to any place you leave your car (sidewalk, middle of the road, whatever), people are super laid back about flustered tourists running stop signs and breaking other road “rules.”

The stunning views.

London and Sicily 160

Scala dei turchi. If ever you find yourself on the Mediterranean, this is really worth a stop. On our entire trip, this was the most spectacular thing I saw.

London and Sicily 186 London and Sicily 189 London and Sicily 195 London and Sicily 197 London and Sicily 199

Our romantic dinner in Agrigento. It was preceded by a high-stakes parking predicament and followed by a dash through a movie shoot. We stopped and ogled with the crowd as a car full of classic Italian hooligans drove up to a storefront and assumed gangland stance (or at least the Hot Cops version of such) over and over and over. If it was menacing they were going for, they were missing it by a mile. If it was entertaining they were trying to achieve, they hit the nail on the head every time.

London and Sicily 173 London and Sicily 176 London and Sicily 177

The medieval trumpeters rehearsing outside the Garbers fantastic hillside home across the street from the castle. Yep. You read all of that correctly.

Taormina. A lovely day in a picturesque world.

London and Sicily 220

The antique market in Catania, which was really more like a citywide garage sale. Becca Garber perused antique toys, and I got some Italian leather shoes for 2 Euro. Happy Leather Anniversary to me! I also enjoyed the chaos and junk tables slowly close in around Lewis until I could tell that even if we’d stumbled upon a work of early Renaissance high art, he would not have been able to see it for all the rotary phone parts and doll clothes.

Gil and Lena Garber. Lena won over “That Man” to the world of little girls. Good thing too…

London and Sicily 209 London and Sicily 233

Autumnals and Anniversaries Part 1 – London

I’ve taken an “autumnal” trip for the last six years. I was 23 when I first escaped the lack-luster Texas fall for the brilliance of the Berkshires and the company of my best friend.  The next year it was Washington DC. Then Tennessee. In those first three years, more than one person snickered at my annual getaway, another of my indulgent little habits.

I have a lot of indulgent little habits, apparently, and in my early 20’s it was wisdom-chic to tell me that I would not be able to carry on in such fashion forever.

To those who doubted my resolve, I say this: do not underestimate my wanderlust.

London and Sicily 050

In 2010, I conveniently married Lewis McNeel in October, thus replacing my invented holiday with a tradition even the most strident money-manager will recognize: an anniversary.

This year for our anniversary, which doubled as a babymoon, we decided to take some good friends up on their invitation to visit them in Sicily. Becca, Elliott, Lena, and Gil Garber have been in Sicily for two years (well…Gil’s been there for 8 months, but he’s also been there his whole life). It was high time we paid them a visit.

And you just can’t cross the Atlantic without a good multi-day stopover in the best city in the world, my personal favorite, London. It’s been six years since I left, and I had been dying to show Lewis around (and indulge my own nostalgia).

London and Sicily 065

And that is how Anniversary #3 (or Autumnal #7, however you see it) came to be.

London was almost exactly as I left it in many ways. In others it was like a whole new city. That’s the secret to London’s success, I think. Curated evolution. New skyscrapers dotted the landscape. The blocks around my former residence on the fringe of Bankside were now startlingly posh. The Olympic Park exists. We visited a new Zaha Hadid designed space in Hyde Park.  And yet…there was the Swan. Covent Garden. Spittalfields. Brick Lane. I was able to give Lewis directions for a running route along the Thames without wondering if the landmarks had changed.

London and Sicily 059

London’s public transport system still gives me a schoolgirl-like swoon. Sitting on the top front seats of a double decker bus heading west on the Strand, I felt so completely satisfied with life.

There was also the familiar frustration, recalled from deep within my memory, of trying to navigate a city developed as a series of shortcuts and courtyards that eventually became roads. “Grid” was not an Anglo-Saxon idea. However, because the British have a little nugget of genius embedded beneath their stalwart nonchalance, no matter how lost you think you are in London, you are somehow always just around the corner from your destination, magically happening upon the restaurant, shop, or tube station just in the nick of time. (We contrasted this later with Italy, where an apparent total lack of civil engineering means that even when you think you are headed straight for your destination, you are in fact getting further away.)

Of course the most fun new thing I found in London was Lewis’s perspective on it all. Seeing the greatest city in the world with an architect is like going to Napa with a winemaker, or the symphony with a composer. The little treasures that would have been whimsies to me pre-Lewis – like when we stumbled upon Sou Fujimoto’s “Cloud” at the Serpentine Gallery- were moments of real (and well-informed) excitement. The Olympic Park would have been a lovely place to read a book, but with Lewis is was a place to read the park itself.

London and Sicily 031 London and Sicily 048

London and Sicily 075

When we stepped out of the tube at London Bridge, even an ordinary errand became a sightseeing stop. I was marching around looking for the ticket kiosk, a little disoriented because things were not as I’d left them. Meanwhile Lewis looked up and exclaimed “We’re AT the SHARD!” And so we got to explore while I looked for the kiosk. Which is now quite slick in it’s new Shard cladding.

London and Sicily 091

I loved sharing old things with him as well. Nando’s, pub food, Borough Market…okay, it was mostly food and shopping. But also just walking though Bankside and seeing it differently because I was not a bleary-eyed grad student in search of wi-fi and warmth. It’s actually a pretty romantic little neighborhood, what with it’s cobblestones and narrow passages. Who knew?

London and Sicily 010 London and Sicily 023

London and Sicily 027

And jetlag? Not bad when you’ve got someone else awake with you at 2 am.

London and Sicily 020

All in all, the London leg of the autumnal was a return to Neverland. London was the place where I took a one year hiatus from driving and being committed to things. And to return with Lewis didn’t diminish that magical feeling (as reliving nostalgia usually does), but it added yet ANOTHER layer onto my “I love London” cake.

London and Sicily 005

Gym-nation Politics

Recently I switched gyms. Such a good move. My new gym, a YMCA, is clean, friendly, and well air-conditioned. Everything my old gym was not (which is why location after location appears to be closing, like slow-moving corporate gangrene).

Really, the cleanliness of this particular YMCA is remarkable. It smells clean. I think it could have something to do with the fact that there is a spray bottle and microfiber towel on EVERY SINGLE weight machine, and most of the ellipticals. Several are lined up on the wall behind the treadmills. Those spray bottles are everywhere.

And it’s a good thing, because there’s a lot of DNA, bacteria, and yuck on those machines. I’ve seen people sneeze into their hand and go right back to their pull-ups. Or just sneeze straight onto the elliptical!  Skin cells, sweat, mucous. It’s a forensic nightmare (fortunately there are not many crimes happening at the Y).

Those spray bottles have a big job. And there seems to be a sort of social contract at work about how to not become the origin of the plague.

So I began to notice how people used the spray bottles as well, and thought that this might reflect something of our broader outlook on personal vs. communal responsibility. Could how you use the spray bottle and microfiber towel say something about how you vote?

Those who clean the machine before they workout, but not after

These are the libertarians of the gym nation. They believe that that it’s up to each weight lifter to make sure that his machine is sanitized. If you get sick because Joe licked the chest press for some reason, well it’s not Joe’s fault, it’s yours. Should’ve pre-cleaned.

In society these are the people who believe that it’s up to parent alone to educate their kids, that hard work will necessarily pay off, and that there shouldn’t be a public version of anything that can be privatized. They would like to pay for their gym membership with gold doubloons.

Those who clean the machine after they workout, but not before

These are the bleeding heart liberals of the gym-nation. They have put their full faith in the social contract, believing that everyone will abide by the big posted sign that says: Clean the machine when you are done. The believe that even that meathead checking himself out in the mirror between sets has their best interest at heart.  And so they do their duty, and trust that no matter what strain of flu is going around, that we will all survive by taking care of each other. (Or maybe they are just rule followers.)

These are the ones who dutifully put their kids in inner city schools, believing that the reasons those schools are failing is because all the concerned parents pulled their kids out. They pay their taxes without looking for loopholes. They participate in Park Clean-Up for parks in other neighborhoods, and they vote yes to public programming and environmental efforts every time.

(Full disclosure: I’m one of these people at the gym, and for the most part in public life too…verdict still out on the public school thing.)

Those who clean the machine before and after

These are the “trust but verify” types.  They’re doing their part to prevent the global pandemic, but they are also doing their part not to get any of Joe’s mucous on their hands. These people often came from gyms where the machines were visibly dirty, or they have used the keyboard at a public library.

In civic life, these are the wealthy/middle class liberals. Their kids are in private school…even though they vote for public Pre-K programs. They have private insurance, even though they believe in Obamacare (or some variant thereof). I had a British friend tell me that while he believed that the NHS was vital to civilized life in Britian, he used a private practitioner. These are the ones who live in the suburbs and work/volunteer/donate in the city.

(It has been noted that many conservatives would fall into this category via church and volunteer activities. There’s more than one way to take care of others!)

Those who do not clean the machine at all

I really wish there was some sort of monitor to make sure these people were chased down and required to go back and clean the equipment. When we all die from some beefed-up superstrain of the flu in coming years, I’m pretty sure it’s origin will be on the freeweights at an American gym. Not only are they germs…they are fit germs.

The only time I habitually did not clean my workout machine was when I was stuck in a contract with the worst gym on the planet. The machines were constantly breaking, the management was apathetic, and the cleaning supplies were never ever available. They had one spray bottle and one roll of paper towels that was never anywhere to be found. It was a failed-state gym-nation, and I, like many people in a failed state, turned to anarchy.

These people in society are the criminals and freeloaders. They are not taking care of themselves or others. Some of them are just slime, while others are operating as best they can in a society that they feel has failed them. Some of them need to be locked up, and others need to be helped to find their place in society.

The point in all of this is that we have differing views of our obligations to ourselves and others, and those views might manifest themselves in more than just our ballots. The point is also that we should all wash our hands after we work out, regardless of our spray bottle habits.

Florence’s So-Called Life : Season 1, ep 5

In which Florence makes a bold move in body art.

(read in the voice of Florence, which sounds uncannily like a 14-year-old Claire Danes)

My people are sort of boring. They have NO piercings. NO tattoos. They never even change their hair.

Brown hair. Yawn.
Brown hair. Yawn.

They call it being “natural,” but I’m like, “what is natural anyway?” I mean, is natural just about having the same skin and hair you were born with? Delilah next door says that’s stupid because our skin and hair change all time. So what’s the big deal about changing it a little?

There’s this chow down the street. He’s totally cool, and a little scary. And he has this amazing blue tongue. Wiley says it’s the blue tongue that make people think he’s cool. (Our people say it’s because he’s so fluffy and lazy).

On Friday mornings, Lewis has a bunch of guys over for Bible Study. Wiley and I are to be neither seen nor heard. Milford Dogs.

This is me being neither seen nor heard.
This is me being neither seen nor heard.

I hate being away from the people, with all those hands available for petting.

Me when I'm not being pet.
Me when I’m not being pet.

So we were locked in the utility room with Lewis’s drafting table and all the cleaning supplies. Cleaning supplies are of no interest to me. But on the drafting table…there was a pen…a Pilot Precise V7 Rollerball Pen, to be exact …I could see the ink inside swirling around…and it was blue.

Wiley casually mentioned that it looked just like the blue chow’s tongue. He said that he had a delicate constitution or he’d eat the thing himself to turn his tongue blue.

Well, he does have a delicate constitution…but I don’t. It was a little messy, and Bekah and Lewis were, well, furious. But sometimes you have to make bold moves and try new things or you’ll never know how cool it really is to have a blue tongue.

IMG_4264[1]

Gym members of the world unite

Preface: I have lots of lawyers in my family whom I love dearly. They are not the lawyers referred to in this post. Further, I would like to commend Mr. Erwin Inc. A/C repair as a sterling alternative to the shady companies mentioned below.

I was 23 years old. Standing at the checkout desk of a nasty little hotel in Sarajevo, and I had been railroaded for the last time.

After four days of sharing a bed (not a room mind you, a BED) with a chain-smoking Norwegian who slept in black lingerie, being shoved by disrespectful men on public transportation, and otherwise made to feel completely ill-at-ease, I was not taking anymore crap.

When they presented me with my bill, which included two late night minibar raids by the Norwegian, 4 days of calls to Brazil by a third roommate, and miscellaneous charges racked up the fourth roommate, I simply said “no.”

Now, seeing as we were in Eastern Europe, this all played out in a very on-the-nose style. There were no forced smiles or corporate jargon. And thus it serves as a perfect illustration for railroading techniques employed by many huge companies, as they not only profit from selling legitimate products and services, but fatten the margins by imposing penalties, convoluted fee structures, and trapping people into contracts that far exceed the value of needed services.

1) The “There’s nothing that can be done.”

The desk clerk said, “there’s nothing I can do. The system won’t let me check you out until the bill is paid.”

This is a favorite. The helpless underling at the mercy of technology. But thanks to my impaired mental state at the time of check out, I replied with, “Well I’m sorry. I’m simply not paying. But I am leaving. You’re going to have to do something about that.”

This is what I said yesterday to the customer care representative at the billing company who handles my gym membership when I called to cancel my month-to-month membership with Blast Fitness (this is AFTER canceling at the gym itself, and being told that memberships must be cancelled 30 days in advance, so I would still be charged for another month, and then that I must call the billing company to complete the cancellation of services).

She said that she couldn’t help me because the system had me listed under a year long contract, and so I needed to contact my gym again to straighten it out. I wanted her to  patch me through to someone who could help me. Someone with an override pass-code. But she persisted in her victim-of-the-system routine.

2) The “Somehow This is Your Fault” 

Meanwhile, back in Bosnia, upon seeing that I was not just going to wimp out and pay the $350 bail she’d set for my release, the clerk involved the Bosnian conference-organizer who said, “You are responsible for this bill. You should have come to check out with each of your roommates to make sure they didn’t do this to you.”

Aha.  This is a gift that the legal profession has bequeathed upon the world. It’s a favorite of pastors as well. If there is some way that you could have prevented yourself from being defrauded, some moment where you chose to let you guard down or heaven forbid if you messed up even a little, then no one else is responsible for their actions against you.

Thank goodness I was a banshee on the loose at that point.  I replied, “Excuse me? My roommates left at 5 am. And it is NOT my responsibility to make sure that they didn’t leave without paying THEIR bills. In fact, they are your guests, and if those are the kind of people you invite to your conferences, then that’s the risk you take. Furthermore, I requested a single room, so these roommates were less than my responsibility, they were a burden imposed on me.”

This is similar to when we realized that we had misunderstood what a “grace period” was in credit card billing. Apparently, in a normal credit card agreement (billed in a monthly statement) the “grace period” is the 3 days between the due date and the day you start accruing interest. However, if at any point the terms of the agreement change (in our case due to a check written to ourselves against our credit balance), then a “grace period” refers to each passing day between when you swipe your card, and when you transfer money to your credit card company. That’s a fun one to find out when you see that you’d accrued $80 of interest on a tank of gas.

Again this “it’s your fault” tactic was employed during the gym cancellation saga when this conversation happened:

Customer Care Rep:”May I ask why you are cancelling?”

Me:”Because they are closing my preferred location.”

CCR: “I’m sorry to hear that. But there are two other locations within 10 miles of the closing location.”

Me: “Yes, 10 miles further from my house. It would take me 30 minutes each way to get there.”

CCR: “I’m sorry for that, but that’s just not reason enough to waive your cancellation fee.” [which we subsequently established that I was not supposed to incur]

So yes. My choice to live 30 minutes away from the gyms I do not use penalizes me when they close the gym I do use.

OR when Perma Pier leveled our house with the wrong kind of pier and beam system, did a shoddy job, and then offered to come back and fix it for $27,000 (minus $7000 for the shoddy original job…gee thanks). Since we’d signed off on the work, (after seeing ONE appropriately serviced pier) we were liable. Because we should have hired an inspector to crawl under the house to make sure they had not ripped us off before they left. Literally. That’s what they told us.

3) The Guilt Trip

Meanwhile, back in the twilight zone, the conference-organizer then tried to guilt me into paying.

“If you don’t pay, then it will come out of my paycheck.”

I’m pretty sure I just stared at her. But I also said, “That’s really not my problem.”

It’s like when you’re made to feel like a naughty car owner if you don’t upgrade to the super special oil for your oil change.

The happy ending of the Bosnia story is that the American organizers of the conference saw that there was conflict, intervened, and handed over their credit cards without hesitation. And paid for my cab ride to the airport.

The regional manager of the gym cancelled my membership without penalty.

We used another credit card until we could restore our original credit card agreement.

We pestered a foundation company until they reimbursed us for half of the shoddy construction job. (And we hired a wonderfully honest company to fix it, for half of what Perma Pier quoted.)

And from this day forward whenever I am given the runaround by someone who hired a lawyer to write a ten page contract absolving that person from treating me like a human being instead of a bank account, I will say this:

“I want you to patch me through to the person who can write me a personal check for [disputed amount], mail it to my house, and sort it out in the “system” for himself. Because I guarantee you, if he’s out [disputed amount] he’ll tell you the override code. I am tired of living in a world where people are just trying to see how much money they can get me to lose at no cost to themselves. ”

I also have a recurring fantasy of walking up to the lawyers who write the contracts for these horrible, slimy companies, and saying this: “Do you know how the little guy feels when he finds himself taken advantage of by the big guy? Do you know how he feels when he is powerless to free himself from the spiderweb of your contracts? You don’t?”

And then I’d kick him in the testicles. And then I would say, “Well I don’t have testicles, so I don’t know what that feels like.”

Florence’s So-Called life: Season 1, ep 4

In which Florence faces peer pressure from her brother.

(read in the voice of Florence, which sounds uncannily like a 14-year-old Claire Danes)

Sometimes Wiley and I totally get each other.

IPhone photos feb272013 013

And sometimes it’s like we’re two different breeds.

Sometimes he’s like, the bravest, coolest, guy. He’s all confident… and swaggering… and peeing on everything. The trainer said that Wiley enjoys “marking his territory” more than he enjoys fetch and the other kiddie games she made me play. So she just let  him. Everybody just lets him. Sometimes he marks me…and I just don’t even…I can’t even stop him.

He just lays in the room like he owns it…

Wiley's so cool that PROFESSIONAL ARTIST sketched him once, at our house. by Jacinto Guevara
Wiley’s so cool that PROFESSIONAL ARTIST sketched him once, at our house. by Jacinto Guevara

while I’m constantly finding myself awkwardly in everyone else’s way.

I don't understand why yoga mats are not for sharing.
I don’t understand why yoga mats are not for sharing.

He’s just sort of…over it when it comes to food.  He never begs. He never chomps Bekah’s hand when she gives him treats. It’s just…not a big deal to him. I get so excited I jump in circles, fall down, and then end up biting her hand. And then I’m in trouble.

One day he asked me to keep a secret for him. I promised I would, because I want him to think I’m cool. Then he broke out of the fence. He goes through Delilah and Henry B.’s yard like it’s nothing. Like Henry B. is not the scariest dog on the block.  I’m just scared that one day, you know, he’s going to get into trouble. Not just because Bekah has to go running down the sidewalk in her nightgown screaming like something off of “Real Housewives of Appalachia.” I mean real trouble. What if, like, ACS gets him?

Here I'm in a funk because Wiley's mad at me for telling on him.
Here I am worrying about Wiley, waiting by the front door.

So I told Bekah. Then Wiley was mad, because I broke my promise. But sometimes being a good friend/sister means doing things your friend/brother doesn’t like. 

So… yeah… Wiley’s, like, totally brave. But then…it rains. And suddenly he’s a complete mess. There’s drool everywhere, he shakes, he hides in the shower. He has to wear this ridiculous shirt, that only half-fixes the problem.

And then I’m like, well, I guess maybe we all aren’t so brave sometimes. I’m afraid of maracas. Wiley’s afraid of low barometric pressure. We’re all just sort of a mess, but we’re family.

IPhone photos feb272013 091

Beer Journal: Local watering holes

Some people have wine journals. Liz James told me about beer journals. Mine will double as a travel journal. More than wine, when I travel, I find beer. Not haute beer. Everyman beer. Beer I can order in any restaurant. And these stories are not the stories of the most amazing places I’ve seen. They are about the times when I had a beer, and the people I was with.

These are our local watering holes.

The Friendly Spot - King William
The Friendly Spot – King William

Here is Lewis at the The Friendly Spot, which has apparently been around longer than I thought. It can be hard to find a seat, but when you do, it’s about as simple a place as ever did grace the hip side of town. And it is oh so hip.That’s why my bike helmet it here. Because we’re trying to be hip like the Southtowners.

We often meet our Southtown friends there.

I was particularly thrilled to see it mentioned in the biography of Ann Richards.

The Granary - Pearl
The Granary – Pearl

The brewmaster at The Granary went to high school with my sister, and the beer is worth a mention. The Root Beer is worth some sort of award.This flight of beers was shared with a group of Australian travel professionals visiting for a conference. More proof that Australians know how to have a good time.

The Granary is not a bar. It’s a restaurant, serving an elevated twist on Texas smoked meets and their accouterments. I, for one, am not a die-hard purist about Texas beer and bbq. People rail about the inherent evils of “high end” bbq and beer flights, but this is good food and good beer. What could be more purist than that?

The Esquire Tavern - Downtown/Riverwalk
The Esquire Tavern – Downtown/Riverwalk

There’s not any beer in the is picture, but Esquire Tavern is simultaneously 1) home to the longest bar in Texas, and 2) the only place downtowners go on the Riverwalk. History and relevance. Some other organizations I know of should take note. The food is all heavy duty, and the drinks are delicious. I’ve had more than one beer here.

On the night this picture was taken, I was with Liz James. We had just left a jazz concert and the Spurs were in the final round of the NBA championship. Liz is committing the crime of getting us to be very attached to her before she leaves us (probably for Boulder, like everyone else). But we’ll forgive her and have a few more beers before she’s gone.

The Luxury - River North
The Luxury – River North

We can reach The Luxury on our bikes, without peddling. We can leave our home, lift our feet, and roll the 7 blocks to this table right here.

You know  the beer in the picture is not actually mine because it’s opaque.

All seating is outside, and I love it. Large plastic animal toys substitute for numbers. In this picture, we are with our friends, the Sedgwicks who pointed out that Lewis’s pants match the saurolophus and the table. It’s cool to have people around who notice that sort of thing.

Blue Box - The Pearl
Blue Box – The Pearl

Blue Box has become a pretty common happy hour spot for me. It’s incredibly hard to find the first time, as there’s no sign out front, and it’s under the Pearl parking garage. But that doesn’t seem to stop it from filling up. People have a thing for places where you have to know. They serve fun cocktails and beer. These pictured were both recommendations of their incredibly knowledgeable head bar tender (who may be the owner, I’m not sure.)

I am here drinking with Haley, my primary happy hour companion for the last three-or-so years. Haley is that person who understands that some days happy hour needs to start at 2pm on a Tuesday, as well as the many reasons that someone might drink most of the bottle of wine in the course of a weeknight. Because, in the words of Haley, “I’m a grown-ass woman.”

Dallas or (Mega)bust! A play in 3 acts

Prologue: I consider myself a pretty intrepid traveler. I have yet to meet a mode of transportation I can’t endure.

Further, I’ve gotten pretty city-savvy. I enjoy making the most of the latest fad in transportation.

Mostly though, I’m a sucker for a good deal. I’m the girl who plans my vacations around flash sales.

So naturally, hearing that Megabus was coming to town was the kind of good news that could only be topped if RyanAir or EasyJet decided to hop the pond and start offering 15-cent flights to Los Angeles. I took the Megabus to Austin back in December for a lunch date, and it was perfect. On time, low-key, seat to myself, read the whole way. So I didn’t even hesitate to book a trip to Houston for Monday-Tuesday, and a trip to Dallas for Friday-Sunday last week.

Sitting in the parking lot of Katy Mills for an hour with no sign of the 7pm Megabus, I should have seen the writing on the wall. As I griped about the lack of communication, my gracious ride (who was waiting with me so that I could stay in an airconditioned car, instead of sitting on the pavement) said,

“Yeah, I’d pay at least $4 per trip if they would be on time.”

Right. You get what you pay for.

Tickets were already booked for Dallas though. So Haley (who, in all fairness, would never have hazarded such an obviously fallible plan had I not been so exuberant about Megabus) and I boarded in San Antonio at 4:30 pm, and headed for Dallas. You can read Haley’s account of the trip here.

Act One: Austin. Where after seeing a pretty convincing Chris Farley double…

IMG_3996[1]

we backed up right into the spot where he had been sitting, and felt an ominous bump. Followed by an announcement that we would be staying in Austin for an hour to address a “safety concern.”  They also told us to be back on the bus in one hour because they were leaving “regardless of whether or not we were on the bus.”

Though needlessly stern, that’s about as helpful as the Megabus people would be throughout the hours that followed. Also, we saw Chris Farley again, so I don’t know what the bump was, but it was not him.

We were in Austin, on Guadalupe street, though. I’ve been stranded worse places (Ljubljana, for instance). So we made the most of it and had Pho for dinner.

IMG_3997[1]

IMG_3998[1]

Better than organic funyuns and dried cherries, which was what I had packed. We also had two bottles of wine and no corkscrew. Little did we know by the end of the evening we’d be willing to claw through and drink whatever cork bits fell into the wine.

The bus left at precisely 7:20. I don’t know how I feel about that kind of punctuality. What kind of safety issue is resolved in exactly one hour as scheduled? How well can you really fix something in an hour? I mean, I was ready to get to Dallas, but I also believe in the importance of actually fixing things.

Because if you don’t, you end up exactly where we were 1.5 hours later.

Act Two: After crawling along in the predictable North Austin/Temple/Belton traffic jam, we realized that while the rest of traffic was speeding up, we were still going about 5-10 miles per hour. Cars whizzing by, efficiently making their way north. No announcement, no explanation.

One concerned passenger jumped up and rushed down the stairs to check on the driver.

“Well, he’s still alive.”

Suddenly, we sped up. A collective sigh of relief. But wait…we were just going down hill. Once the road leveled out, we slowed to a stop.

Still no word from the driver. It should be noted that Haley and I were giggling like idiots the whole time, because we were neither hungry nor alone, and so this was all very entertaining. (The people in the Group Messages are Haley, me, and Amanda Brack, whom I still have listed under her maiden last name…we’ve been friends for a while!)

IMG_4052[1]

Policeman #1 boarded the bus, asking us to please get off the highway. That’s when we got the first and only piece of true information we would get.  We peered down the stairwell, listening to the driver explain that our transmission was out. (the video Haley mentions is of this conversation)

IMG_4002[1]

Policeman #1 explained that there was another southbound Megabus a few miles ahead…also stranded. Then he left.

Policeman #2 appeared about five minutes later, and the scene repeated itself. This is also about the point when our chronical of the trip on social media started generating some worried phone calls and messages from friends.

IMG_4003[1]

“We’re going to die on this bus,” one particularly hopeless passenger said, as the clock neared 9:45.

“We’ve got wine!” Haley and I announced.

“It’s my 21st birthday at midnight!” another passenger exclaimed.

We felt like we’d saved the day. Even though we were still sitting on a bus on the side I-35, and no one from Megabus had spoken up to inform us of our fate.

Finally, another bus, Coach USA, pulled up, and we walked along the grass median to board the smaller vehicle.

IMG_4006[1]

Haley and I could not find seats together, which is when this conversation happened:

IMG_4056[1]

Act Three: The remaining 1.5 hours were uneventful. Over the course of the journey I listened to a confident young man tell his cute seatmate the following (which I relayed by text to Haley and Amanda).

IMG_4079[1]

He then went on to explain that he was classically trained, but just had a knack for rhythm. And he’s an amateur mechanic. “I don’t know, I’m just good at that kind of thing. I’m good with my hands.”

The cute girl relayed her woes of car trouble, and the confident fellow offered to take a look at her car for free when they were back in Austin.

I wanted to take the girl by the shoulders, shake her, and say, “If there is one thing you have learned from this trip: when it comes to transportation, you get what you pay for.”

Epilogue: Our return trip was 2 hours late presumably due to traffic…which is always present…but not accounted for in the eta. If you plan to take the Megabus between San Antonio and Austin, just be advised, it’s a seven hour trip. You could literally fly to Peru.