Friday, January 30, 2009

Top Chef 5

Boy, the talented chefs keep getting chopped off the show. The only ones left who show any consistent talent are Jamie and Stephan. Boring.

I was hoping Carla would go far because she's from DC, and I do enjoy her quirkiness. She doesn't show any maliciousness, which is also refreshing.

They can get rid of Holeah as quickly as possibly. Hosea does show some talent, but he's a tool. And Leah, ugh.

I didn't like Jeff at first because of the whole pretty boy thing but he grew on me because he showed leadership (isn't that part of being a Top Chef?) and at least tried to be creative, maybe too creative, but better than boring Leah.

Fabio is charming but what has he cooked lately, besides ravioli?

Tom seems very grumpy this season. I think he's not happy with the talent pool. And they seem to be taking the choices out of the hands of the judges. TC may need to go through a redesign if they're going to continue it.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Inauguration, Part III -- The Journey Home

So the inauguration is over. I've been trying to communicate with some different friends who came to witness the event, with little to no success. My text message to S failed too, mainly because, on two hours of sleep, I used the first three digits of his cell and the last four digits of our home phone, doh! So since I can't reach any of them, I start heading home, quickly coming down from my high. First I stop by the warming tent to, well, warm up. I wander around the Lincoln Memorial some more, listening to Rev. Lowery and the poet. 

Onward. I'm walking against the crowd, who is heading west while I'm heading east. My goal is to walk up Independence Avenue, since the parade route would knock me too far off my route.

After I climb the Washington Monument's hill and veer south, I reach a massive crowd. Everyone is hemmed in by Port-a-Johns and no one seems able to cross 14th Street. Someone climbs atop the johns and others climb trees to call directions to the crowd.

Finally we're able to cross. I'm wondering if I made a mistake. The throngs slowly shuffle east. We end up halting again, directionless. Some folks are trying to get to a meeting spot for their buses. I'm just trying to get to the top of Capitol Hill. There's some pushing. But it's amazing how good-natured everyone is. At any other event, this kind of crowd would have led to trampling and cursing. But everyone here is so happy.

Someone had collapsed and is surrounded by police officers and that's what led to the bottleneck. 

After passing the ill person, the crowds claim Independence Avenue, ignoring the limos and VIPs -- until we reach the foot of Capitol Hill. Independence is closed and so is Third, despite the end of the event. A family clusters to ask directions. They're trying to get to Union Station to catch a train. I'm still feeling high from the event, and as a volunteer, want to help. Since I'm heading that way anyway, I offer to lead the way. 

So they follow me, a young family of five from Los Angeles. The three children probably range in age from 4 to 10. I take control of the daughter's suitcase and off we march. Poor child. After a while, at every bump, I seemed to drop the handle. My 2:45 a.m. alarm and two hours of sleep are taking their toll.

I made a call not to use the tunnel and it probably was a mistake. But I took a gamble that we'd reach the Amtrak station better from the east than four blocks west. That proved a mistake and if I could do it again, I would have used the tunnel. Actually, I would have boarded the family at Capitol South and told them to go to New Carrollton and catch Amtrak there. Wish I were psychic.

We make the trek to Union Station, up the hill, past the Library of Congress. The kids grumble a little but they're amazingly un-whiny, considering all the walking. I do my best DC tour guide routine, pointing out the Supreme Court and Obama's old apartment a few blocks in the distance.

We see Union Station at long last and the omens are bad. They have 10 minutes to spare before their 3 p.m. train to BWI to catch their 6:45 plane. Normally that would not be a problem. But the entire station is shut down. We go to the west entrance and it's closed, too. A security guard is bellowing that Amtrak, MARC and VRE passengers need to line up west of the station. There is a huge, unorganized crowd. The mom is crying.  

From future accounts of the mob, a lot of people were crying. New rule: when nearly 2 million people are expected in town for an inauguration, do not use a major transportation hub as a location for an inaugural ball. Thank you.

I leave them helpless with the upset masses while I try to figure out where the cab stand has been moved. I ask two police officers -- they shrug and say, "Good Luck." I walk down Capitol Street North. No luck. 

As I walk back up the hill, feeling helpless, I see Phoenix Park Hotel and think, well, maybe. The dad had said money was no problem when I warned him that cab fare could run $75, or on a day like this, even $100. I walk up to the lobby. A black town car pulls up and a woman in a fur coat asks a concierge if the towncar could take her and her friend to Dulles Airport. He arranges it. I ask him if a family could arrange transport to BWI. He thinks he can help. Since the dad said money is no object, I figured he'd tip the guy well and all would work out.

Off I trek, back to Union Station. The crowd is even more knotted and bigger. I don't think I'm going to find them, as short as I am. I scan the crowd. I see a tall man wearing a black knit cap with Obama in glittering letters. I found them! "Excuse me," I sing to person after person as I weavee through (sometimes, it helps to be small) and reach Ronald. Miraculously, the whole family is more or less together and off we troupe again.

When we reach Phoenix Park, I introduce the dad to the concierge as the rest of the family waits outside with the luggage. "Oh yeah," says the concierge. "The van will be back in about 20 and he can take you."

Their problem is solved. The dad gives me a hug and asks for my email and gives me his. The mom is out buying hot dogs but I find her before I go. They're both happy, the kids are glad to stop moving, and I'm beat. I give her a hug and then trudge home. 

By the time I get home, it's 4:30. Missed most of the parade but I'm happy one family will get home OK. And by 8:30, I'm in bed and sound asleep. What a day.

Inauguration Day Part II

Standing at the feet of Abraham Lincoln, we receive our instructions. As the late, great Ricardo Montalban said, "Smiles, everyone! Smiles!" We get lots of hotties to give our team members -- and we needed them. A map. Our general location. 

So we string out along the north side of the (frozen) Reflecting Pool, holding signs announcing our team numbers. Everyone gets phone calls from volunteers trapped on Metros and running late, and some from the outer suburbs lost because they're not familiar with the Metro or the Mall.

As dawn gleams pink at the distant Capitol, our teams gather. I have an enthusiastic bunch, and one woman shows a talent for leading us in cheers and song. One I especially liked because it kept us warm: choo-choo,choo,choo,choo, rotating arms like a train. "Get oooooon the Oooo- Bama Train!"

We also sang "When the saints go marching in," with refrains like: "When Obama takes that oath, oh, I want to be in that number, when Obama takes his oath." Clearly Paula is a church choir member. She should be director if she's not already.

So finally at 6 a.m. we move to our positions. My toes, despite being clad in wool hiking socks and fleece-lined boots, are completely numb. I almost stagger over the small rise we must climb to pass the Vietnam Memorial and reach Constitution Avenue.

Most of my team end up at 18th Street because the crowds are already pouring down the hill from Farragut North and West metro stations toward the Mall. Paula leads some cheers while I go to station more volunteers.

Most of the time we spent greeting the crowds, smiling and offering to help. Some take us up on our offer and I'm surprised how many have Silver tickets, a mile and a half from our location. (the tales we hear over the next few days explain why).

One of our team discovers a warming tent near our location. Yay! Better yet, another works in a government office nearby, so we don't have to use the frigid Port-a-Johns. Even better.  The security guards are a bit bemused by our visit (we have to show ID, go through X-ray machines, the works) but it was worth it.

Finally, at 11 a.m., the shift is over. I wander by the Lincoln Memorial and debate weaving through the barricades to join the huge crowd there. I gape at the sea of people off in the distance, clustered at the base of the Washington Monument and beyond, a pixilated sea of humanity. There's only a smaller crowd clustered at a Jumbotron near the Reflecting Pool and I amble over there. I'm really close. In fact, almost too close -- the screen is a little blurry. The sun is in my eyes.

Then we listen to the stentorian announcements of various powers-that-be arriving. Cheney is in a wheelchair. Actually, the crowd I'm in is polite. There is little booing.

And finally, Barack Obama appears. The cheers go up. The oath seems awkward. Obama gives Roberts a smile and I wonder what happened. We all learned later -- Roberts has a hatred of split infinitives. He really needs to read up on the history of English grammar. Some idiot monk tried to impose Latin rules on English. In Latin you can't have a split infinitive. That's because the infinitive is one word in Latin. Duh.

Then we listen to Obama's speech. There are few cheering points, but elegant turns of phrase, I thought. No one was chatting, everyone was listening. 

And it's over! We have a new president, at long last.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Tuesday Part I

I was up before the dawn. Hours before the dawn. I was drafted as a last minute sub for a volunteer captain who had left the job. So here I was, the alarm going off at 2:45, out the door at 3:15 a.m. , baby. It was cold, very cold. My husband was a warm lump, still huddled under the comforter. He had to be at his assignment at a late-ish 5:30 a.m.

I was slightly nervous at trudging the deserted streets of Washington, DC alone at that time of night. Not to worry. Only a block away on Maryland Avenue were five soldiers in camouflage, their faces covered by olive scarves. Good morning! I said cheerily, teeth not even chattering. Did I say it was cold? It was. Good morning came the muffled replies. Are you cold? I asked. We're freezing! was the reply.

So off I was on my trek down Constitution Ave. The PIC text warned us the north side would be closed because of the parade, and I debated veering south. But then Constitution seemed open so I plunged down Capitol Hill.

At the confluence of Constitution and Pennsylvania, I ran into my first hurdle. Uh oh.  I found myself having to drift down Penn Ave. Was I going to have to keep on it until the White House? That would put many blocks and probably 20 minutes off schedule. And I was already running late. My pace was definitely too slow.

There was a group of either secret service in civvies, or parade planners in the middle of street. I asked if I could cut across Pennsylvania since I was heading to the Lincoln Memorial. They glanced at each other, looked at the barren road. One asked if I was crossing the street and hanging a right. Yes, I said. OK. So I scooted one of the barricades open and scurried through.

The stream of people heading to find their spots in the darkness on the Mall started grow. A few more fences and hurdles later, I was climbing the hill toward the Washington Monument as more and more people were heading in the other direction. Because of the dark and the empty streets, it felt almost post-apocalyptic. 

Finally, along the ice covered Reflecting Pool I met my fellow captains. 

Saturday, January 17, 2009


I forgot how good Battlestar Galactica is. and the best moment wasn't the revelations, like Starbuck finding her own corpse or even finding out the last cylon. It was the gut-wrenching moment when Dee holds the gun to her head after tenderly putting away her wedding ring, hummingly happily. Second best was the confrontation between Adama and Tigh. I love Michael Hogan and his ability to act and convey emotion with one eye. And it's the little things like the "frak earth" graffitti and the dandelion weed Laura treasures.