Author: Bekah McNeel

Trying to Write a Wedding Toast, Part III

So…Liz and Jason. As their wedding draws nearer, I know that they are overwhelmed with details. I also know that they are overwhelmed with all the things they love about each other.

Meanwhile, there have been some loose ends in my own thoughts on marriage.  I know that I heard all of this before I got married, but it’s just now starting to make sense. I just remember thinking everyone was killing my love-buzz. And now that I’m not a newlywed…where did all those sages go who had so much good advice? Suddenly insight bills at $125 an hour.

Pop culture to the rescue.

Summary: The no-escape clause

At some point, ironically, the sameness in marriage and the changes in your spouse might make you shake your head and say, “I don’t think I knew what I was getting into.”


But it doesn’t exempt us from the “til death do us part” part. So we have to figure out how to deal with the fact that forever has a lot more Mondays than we’d calculated, and our spouse seems to have grown an extra arm out of his or her personality.

There are three movies I’ve seen that had some telling insights into this. They are not particularly fabulous movies. At all. I didn’t even really like them, and I don’t think that their overarching themes hold the key to happy marriages. But there were moments in each one that made me say, “THAT’S IT!”

The first is an older rom-com starring Topher Grace (see disclaimer above!) called “In Good Company” (83% on Rotten Tomatoes). I remember exactly one thing about that movie:  this quote, right here. (Carter Duryea is placed by Topher Grace, and Dan Foreman is played by Dennis Quaid.)

Carter Duryea: Dan, you seem to have the perfect marriage. How do you do it?

Dan Foreman: You just pick the right one to be in the foxhole with, and then when you’re outside of the foxhole you keep your dick in your pants.

Carter Duryea: That’s poetic.

in good company

Similarly, another sort of lackluster rom-com was “Friends with Kids” (67% on Rotten Tomatoes) I watched it because I needed a Kristin Wiig fix. Well, she’s in it, but she doesn’t say much, and what she does say is not funny. But Jon Hamm plays her husband, sooo…yes, I kept watching.

In the movie, Jon Hamm’s character Ben says something along the lines of, “You pick the person you want to be with in the bad times.” Probably also good that they share the good times… but that’s the easy part.

I tend to get dramatic about my needs, my feelings, Lewis’s needs, and Lewis’s feelings. But in the end, it all comes down to committing to the partnership like your life depends on it, and then dealing with the flurry of bullets and grenades. And you have to remember that the person in the foxhole with you is the one person who has taken a sacred vow to be ON YOUR TEAM. Taking aim at them is totally counterproductive.

Does that sound like too much negativity? Well, here’s the reason it’s not: you are no longer alone in the foxhole. That fact alone should be the underpinning smiley face on the rest of your days (which are more numerous than if you really were facing sprays of bullets and hand grenades, so, again, hooray!).

Also, it emphasizes the importance of picking well. Pick your spouse well. Because the last thing you want is some screaming Mimi running out into the fray.

But even if you pick the right person, there’s still days where the foxhole gets a little…foxholey.

The next movie that I did not like, but that I did feel had some insight was “Take This Waltz” (77% on Rotten Tomatoes). It’s about an achingly hipster married woman who seems “restless in a kind of permanent way.” Basically, she’s jonesin’ (in a muted, listless sort of way that hipsters express longing) for excitement . And there’s a shiny new boy across the street.

It’s her alcoholic sister-in-law, played very nicely by Sarah Silverman, who falls off the wagon and delivers the moral of the story.

“Life has a gap in it…it just does. You don’t go crazy trying to fill it.”


I’m keenly aware of the gaps in life, and the perils of my hunt to fill them. If Lewis was everything I wanted him to be every single day, he’d have to be psychotic, because I change my list of demands as often as I change my socks. Often to reflect exactly the opposite of yesterday’s demands.

The hip Christian way to say this is, “you never marry the right person.” The choice of words there is a little too let-me-blow-your-mind-nouveau-Puritan for me.  I propose this revision: “You can’t marry God, so cut your spouse some slack.”

It was actually Ira Glass, host of This American Life, who put this all together the best. He was talking to a man who had decided that marriage should have a contract expiration. That because people change, they shouldn’t have to stay in relationships forever. Honestly, I expected quirky, progressive Ira Glass to agree with him. Instead, he said,


I think it was the “no-escape clause” that gave me a panic attack two weeks before I got married…and has kept me from having one since.

Florence’s So-Called Life: Season 1, Episode 2

In this episode Florence continues to be humiliated by her parents, but also is forced to over come her fears.

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

Going to the vet. I just don’t get why we have to do it. It’s this…thing…that keeps looming on the horizon. Making my dinner taste like guilt.

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All they do is weigh me (which is humiliating) and get me wound up. I know I’m going to pee on the floor and upset my parents, but I can’t help it. There’s something about the way the vet tech talks in that high, excited, goo-goo tone that just makes me so…. happy? Then she pets me…and I pee. Every time.

But then she says, “Wow, what a big girl.” And I’m like, “We all know what that means. Just say it. Why can’t we just be… real?”

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And then there’s my parents. They have this, like, need for me to get in and out of the car by myself. They are perfectly capable of lifting me. 60 pounds is not going to kill them.

We sat like this for a long time, since all they are going to offer as bait are those “organic” cookies they buy. Seriously guys, Milkbone. One little incident with a brand new Costco-sized bag of treats and suddenly we only eat “organic.”


And then…I did it. I made the jump. Maybe I am a “big girl.” Maybe I am ready to start getting in and out of the car by myself.

But then my parents made this big deal over my jump. I looked up and the boxer across the street was watching. The one with the big, sweet eyes. So was edgy Delilah, who lives next door and plays under the house. I thought I was going to die.

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The Curious Urbanite learns about Bike Commuting

The best Christmas present I got last year was my Trek hybrid 7.1. I, as a curious urbanite, had long been envious of those hip, healthy people navigating traffic on their bicycles, faster than pedestrians and more agile than cars. Locking up the bike and waiting at the table while the rest of us circled downtown looking for parking.

Not to mention my growing concern about carbon emissions.

I knew how to ride a bike…but I wanted to use it as a mode of transportation. Not a vacation novelty.

Finally, equipped with my sturdy, versatile bicycle, I have been slowly venturing into the world of commuter biking, photographing the ways that riding has changed my surroundings.

1)  My question is no longer, “is there parking?” It’s “is there railing?”

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2) Without a place to lock it up, you have to just take it inside. If the establishment has a problem with it, they need to get a bike rack. We have a bike rack inside.

On the other hand, while you have to valet a car, you can coat check a bike.

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3) Narrow stairwells + doors that open outward = problematic.

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4) I bought the most obnoxious helmet I could find, to compensate for my sensible bike.


5) There are definitely types of cyclists. You can guess which one I am (this is Lewis’s bike, but it illustrates a broader truth):

Yuppie bike

6) Unfortunately I got a flat tire once. Fortunately Lewis was around. Unfortunately he was in the Jeep. Fortunately we were  at the Pearl.

iPhone upload May 23 2013 015 iPhone upload May 23 2013 0167) And while it has solved many of my transit woes…riding a bike did little to alleviate the transit woe that is Fiesta.

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8) This is always sort of in flux, but really bike commuting changed how I believe tax dollars should be spent. I’m more aware of a lot of things: bad roads, incomplete removal of train tracks, bad drivers, smelly dumpsters, litter, dangerous intersections, and the dead-zones created by overpasses.

 It should be noted that my little reflective velcro strap that keeps my pant legs out of the gears was given to me by the MPO, who is in charge of all kinds of transportation…I mean, it says something when the people who’s salaries are paid by gas taxes are promoting biking. The people who look at transit alternatives all day.

Also, the MPO’s bike motto includes “Be Predictable.” I love when engineers take on marketing.



Beer Journal: Corona


This entry in the beer journal is not about travel. It’s about home.

This is a Corona. It is my beer of choice.June 9 iPhone 081

And sitting behind that Corona is Lewis, my company of choice. He’s having a Shiner Black.

When I am home, I drink light, effervescent, (preferably Mexican) beer. Lewis is pretty loyal to “whatever you have that’s really dark.” He likes words like “stout.” I like words like “crisp.” And I like my Mexican lagers dressed. That means with salt and lime (it was alarming to me that this is not common knowledge everywhere in the world, as it took me 10 minutes to explain it to a waiter in Yosemite National Park).

Our different taste in beer is a pretty good metaphor for the rest of our differences. He’s mysterious, minor-key, and and meticulous. I’m…not any of that.

Over years of marriage, from what I’ve heard, you start to know things about each other. Important stuff like, what cacao percentage to choose (70% for Bekah, 80% for Lewis). Which color of clothing will be a hard sell (purple, for Lewis). Which herbs to avoid (cilantro, for Bekah).

But there’s something really really special about the first time someone successfully pegs your drink order. You go out, it’s really crowded, and you finally manage to find a place to perch. Before you can even peruse the list, your partner senses the urgency of having drinks-in-hand, disappears to the bar, and comes back holding exactly what you would have ordered.

Lewis does that for me, and he also knows those deeper differences. He can order my drink, squeeze my hand at the right time, and know that my storms will pass. He knows me.

Beer Journal: Aguila

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.

This is Aguila, a Colombian Beer.

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I drank…a lot of it. With Benja, who was never really a stranger, but is now an old friend. Also some lovely Australians.

Somehow, Australians always know where to find beer. We could be in the middle of nowhere, and one of them would show up with armfuls of beer, passing it around, for the good of all.

Benja and the Australians gave me a three day crash course in not “overthinking.”

On our last day we hiked through Tayrona National Park, one of the more fascinatingly beautiful places on earth. We sweated out the remnants of the night before, and then soaked in the sea on a 7 km hike in 95 degree weather at around 100% humidity. It was like some kind of purification ritual.

It’s weird how many times I’ve called up that day. When vines start creeping around my ankles asking, “What will they think?” or “Do they like you?” or “Won’t they expect you to…?”

Sometimes you have to look disapproval/pressure/judgement in the eye… and have a beer.

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Beer Journal: Cusqueña

Some people have wine journals. Liz James told me about beer journals. Mine will double as a travel journal. When I travel, I drink beer. Not haute beer. Not craft beer. Not hip beer. Everyman beer. Beer I can order in any restaurant, or snatch at a corner store after a long day of activity. And these stories are not about the most amazing places I’ve seen. They are about times I had a beer, and the people who shared them.

This is Cusqueña. A Peruvian beer.

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This beer, right here, this exact bottle, stands for all the beers (and tequila shots) that have given me back a little bit of agency. Yes, I realize that excessive drinking can lead to a loss of agency. But for me, it’s the first sip that tells me, “you know who you are.” The first sip tastes like slamming the door…letting your hair down… and turning on Tom Petty as loud as you can and jumping on the furniture.

When reclaiming one’s agency/identity, drinking alone is drinking in good company. I drank this alone, while Lewis napped. The server wore a white jacket and a bowtie.

I was in the courtyard of our hotel in Cusco, after 14 site inspections of luxury hotels. Being waited on hand and foot. I had been fussed over, portered, and served beyond my capacity. So I ordered a beer. Sometimes you need to remember what kind of girl you are.

Beer Journal: Kross

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.

This is Kross. It is a Chilean beer.


This might be the only beer in my beer journal that is something you should actually find in a beer journal. It’s won awards. It’s microbrewed.I had it in Chile with Lewis and a guide names Marcelo, who would introduce us to the world of expert guides and when to use them.

This would come in handy later.

I had gone to get away from  the pervasive unpleasantness that had become my job, back in 2012. When I came back from Chile, bad news was waiting, and it just kept coming for two months. Job gone. Church gone (for me). And a series of other disappointments.

Then I started working for Ker and Downey. I used the research I’d done for our trip to Chile in my application, which included creating an itinerary suited to the company’s clientele. It just so happened that a South America Specialist was something they needed. Now, one year and three trips later, the whole continent continues to dazzle me.

But Chile always comes up special. It’s unique and diverse and dramatic. When I left California, back in 2004, I told friends that I didn’t think I was done there quite yet. Same goes for Chile, where I got a sneak peak at what lay beyond the rapids of April and May 2012, though I still don’t think I have the full story.

There’s something special in that country. Maybe I just have a thing for westernmost places.

Chile with Lewis

The Campaign Trail: Day One

Occasionally  I throw around the idea of running for public office some day. I have a family history of public service…and big ideas about how to help San Antonio.

Yesterday, I got a little taste of what my life would look like if I were a candidate for public office in San Antonio.

8:30-9:30 am – Neighborhood Board Meeting: discussion of budgets, 501(c)3 status updates, and revisions of standard operating procedures. Also some really exciting stuff.

9:37-11 am – go to meet a friend at the Farmer’s Market, end up running into 10 other friends, holding am adorable baby, meeting friends-of-friends, etc.

Noon-3pm- Juneteenth Celebration/Neighborhood Association Fundraiser. Knowing this was a neighborhood association thing, I expected the usual mix of African American, white, and Hispanic folks serving up bbq plates and hanging out at picnic tables.

Instead, when we got out of the car at the park we’d never been to on the city’s southeast side, the beehive in my stomach erupted, like on the first day at a new school. We looked like conspicuously pasty glowworms.

For the next three hours I had a blast serving up grilled chicken and potato salad… and  thinking of a compelling answer in case someone finally voiced the question that was surely on everyone’s mind: “What the hell is that yuppie white girl doing in here?”

Of course, everyone was far too gracious for that. They said, “Thanks for helping out! Hope you had fun!” And I did.

4-5:55pm– Lake|Flato pool party. Where I (along with the senior partners in the firm) constantly whispered “who’s that?” to Lewis whenever new hires and interns came through the gate.

6-8pm– Dinner with friends. It ended at 8 only because I could tell that I was about to fall asleep sitting upright, and that control over what I said was waning.

If I were actually stumping, I’d have headed off to a gala, benefit, or rally. But by this point, I’d already made up my mind. I’m not running for office. I thoroughly enjoyed each activity today…but when they fire out of the canon bam-bam-bam like that…I don’t think I stopped talking until 8pm when I simply stopped making sense.

I know someday I’ll think I’ve changed my mind. The desire to do good and effect change will convince me that, yes, I can totally take on one more thing. I’ll be convinced that it will be energizing and exciting.

I know myself, and that’s the sort of lapsed memory/judgement/ability to asses reality that gets me into trouble every time. So, in an effort to do my future self a favor…I’m going to post the following pictures, and just nip that campaign in the bud.

Future Bekah, this is for you. You’ll thank me later:

IMG_3738[1] No hands IMG_3736[1] Strawpedo Shots Karaoke Christmas

Beer Journal: Red Stripe

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.

This is Red Stripe. It’s a Jamaican beer.

Red Stripe

Red Stripe is my favorite bottle of all beers. And it’s a lager, so I can drink quite a few of them before I feel like I’ve swallowed a loaf of bread (by contrast, I can only drink half of a Guinness before that happens…)

This particular Red Stripe was imbibed in the back seat of a van, upon arrival in Jamaica, my first really big trip with the Walkers.  Both sets of grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles. The works. The fun had begun.

I nannied for the Walkers for 1.5 years. After that I lived with them for another year. I went with them on numerous trips.  California, Jamaica, Chicago, Anguilla, Mexico, and a cruise; but living in the house was by far the best adventure.

There are too many stories to recount, but there was always always some sort of beverage served. And the fact that the Walkers let me paddle off in a kayak with their one-year-old on my lap, or snorkel with their five-year-old, and met me upon return with a cold beer in hand tells you something about just how great of a time we had.

If you look closely, you see little feet hanging off on either side of me.
If you look closely, you see little feet hanging off on either side of me.

Mexico with Celeste

I would share the ups and downs of life in more ways than I ever could have imagined when drinking this Red Stripe in 2008. We would live “in community” in that idealistic way that rarely works in real life, but I think it worked for us.  It was the Walkers who taught me that family can be something you choose.

Beer Journal: Brewery Tours

I love brewery tours. Especially in Europe.

I’ve done quite a few, but two really stand out.

First, the Heineken Brewery in Amsterdam. It’s slick, it’s corporate. But it’s got lots of fun things. Or maybe it doesn’t…I don’t really remember.

Why don’t I remember? Because I went to the Heineken Brewery with Lee, on our whirlwind tour of Europe during Holy Week while I was in grad school and Lee was working for The Alley in Houston. Amersterdam was our first stop, and we were there for 36 hours. At no time in that 36 hours was I fully aware of what I was doing. We are so so so tired in this picture.


We’d left my London flat at 3am. By 10am we were at the Heineken Brewery, hyped up on caffeine. Thanks to the samples given at the Heineken tour, by noon we were asleep on a bench on the top floor of the Van Gough museum. At some point there was more caffeine, and this happened:


After that is was around 4 o’clock, maybe a little after…

Somewhere along the line, this happened:

Girl in shoe

The other brewery tour I remember fondly was the Carlsberg brewery in Copenhagen. I went with my cousins, Matthew, Tommy, and Alex. We were on another backpack blitz of Europe, on the way to Tommy’s law school summer course in Innsbruck. Matthew and I had done a Eurail trip together before, and I think we can both agree that it was a sign of our deep familial bond that we tried it again.

Copenhagen was our second stop after visiting the family in Stockholm/Boxholm. I personally find Copenhagen a little odd, but this was a classic brewery tour. I don’t remember how, but somehow Alex and I got separated from the boys and found ourselves in the bar at the end of the tour (a standard feature). Carlsberg is more generous than most with their samples. We got two full size beers of our choice. To consume in the 30 minutes we were allowed to stay in the bar.


Carlsberg makes Elephant Beer. Which at the time had an ABV of 12%.

I woke up on a bench just outside the brewery. I’m not certain, but I think Alex did too.

I guess my criteria for a good brewery tour is the quality of the nap you get at the end.