Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 Goes Out with a BAM

The Avett Brothers were playing on our Ipods. “I and Love and You” had quite fitting lyrics for our journey to New York City for New Years Eve 2009.

“Grab your bag and grab your coat. Tell the ones that need to know: we are headed north.”

Excited for another adventure with my sister Kathryn, and long-time high school friend Alice, I drove on (the dreaded) I-95N towards Washington.

Traffic was sporadic, but I had been on the road since 9am, coming back from Sandbridge, VA. So I expected nothing less and mentally prepared for backed-up highways and congested toll roads.

We finally passed D.C. and merged over to I-295. We stopped and started, stopped and started as the traffic thickened. Then there was a strange noise…maybe the screeching of tires? Or the sudden slam of breaks? Either way, there was a very strange noise.

And then… an unexpected BAAAAAM.

My foot was on the break, but we were moving. Or maybe, just all of our bodies were moving. Either way, I lurched forward in rhythm with Alice, and then smashed back into my seat. I thought I’d hit the black car in front of me because it was no longer aligned with my car. Luckily, our vehicle had been moved, not theirs. They drove away, and we sat in silence.

From the rearview mirror, I could see Kathryn’s eyes began to tear as she rubbed her head that had slammed into the front seat. Alice and I sat in silence, bewildered by the surreal event. Never having been in an accident before, it felt like a movie as I said “Well. Everyone’s is okay? Okay. Well. Let’s pull over.”

But of course, rolling onto the shoulder of 295 is not a bright idea. I was the only one able to exit the car without getting killed by on-coming traffic. Kathryn asked me to look at the damage, since we were driving her RAV 4.

“Well (I couldn’t stop saying ‘well!’). It’s not great. It’s not horrible. But it’s really not great.”

This generated a small squeal and a flood of tears. Not my intention, but I couldn’t lie. The taillight on the driver’s side was smashed to bits and the side bumper was hanging on by one bolt. But we were fortunate in one way: the big red truck that had hit us obviously tried to swerve at the last second. He hadn’t rammed us straight on, and so only half the car was a mess.

Oh cringe.

The driver, who we’ll just call Pennsylvania because of his license plate, was extremely sorry. He asked if we could drive to an exit so information could be exchanged.

I looked at him. He didn’t seem to be a liar. But to drive off would be so easy! I just kept starring. Did Pennsylvania have a cell phone? Could I take that? I mean if someone had my cell phone I would certainly follow them anywhere…

“Oh here. I’ll give you my license so I won’t drive off. I’ll just follow you.”

“Oh okay okay. Yes, uh first exit.”

What followed was about an hour of calling parents and collecting contact information. Here are a few things I learned:

*The south of Maryland, or the north of Washington D.C. is rather sketchy and the GPS was often confused, leading us into my unfamiliar areas at night. Not cool Garmin. Not cool.

*Our dear friend Pennsylvania was nice enough to help tape our car so it was drivable.

*You do not have to call the police in D.C. if you do not need an ambulance. By law, all you have to do is exchange information and insurance companies. I found that out the hard way, and I’m pretty sure my mother did not believe me. She kept begging me to call the Maryland police, though I have no control over where 911 takes me (haha thanks for helping though Mom)!

*Duct tape fixes everything. I knew this already – but now I understand this saying in its entirety.

Needless to say, New York City was no longer an option, especially with the impending snow storm. Our vehicle was in no shape to travel much of anywhere, and honestly neither were we. Various necks and backs needed some Advil ASAP, and the only thing I could think about was the coffee I was going to reward myself with once we had crossed over into Maryland. Since that was not happening, stopping at a friend’s house in the D.C. area was a must. Coffee is always a must.

After some extremely hospitable family friends fed us and gave us more tape (oh thank goodness for tape) we proceeded towards I-95S towards Richmond. By 11pm we arrived safely at home, bitter about our disappointing New York non-adventure.

Our saviors.

But we DID still have an adventure. And Richmond DOES have some lovely people to spend New Years with.

Alice pointed out that the Avett Brother’s song we had been listening to has another interesting lyric fitting for our trip:

“Are you aware of the shape I’m in? My hand they shake, my head it spins.”

Oh ha ha ha. How very funny Alice ;)

A few pictures from the incident:

Inspecting the damage.

But it could have been much worse.

Not so happy.
The finished product. Hey - it got us home.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Winter Break '09

CNU students have vacated the Newport News area and (some reluctantly) gone to their residences around the east coast.

Now I’m back in Richmond, and happily snowed in with some family and friends. After sledding, and movie-watching, and emailing, and facebooking – well there just isn’t much left to do. Except one thing we Fitzgeralds and friends have mastered.


We have cooked, eaten, cooked, and eaten some more. It’s a good thing we were forced to WALK to Ukrops (for more food of course) so we would burn a few calories. And not to mention, the house is at full occupancy! Instead of the normal five family members, we have nearly eleven people over at times. So of course we need lots of food… right?

I swear I will go to the gym when all this snow melts. But since we still have about a foot of precipitation left on the ground, that won’t be anytime soon ;)

Cookie, anyone?
Gracie as Julia Child during one of our many kitchen adventures this break


Monday, December 7, 2009

Documentary Project

This is what I have been working on in a documentary studies class at CNU throughout the last semester. The slide show is just one part of an overall website we will be creating as a whole, which I'll embed later when it's complete.

My assignment was to talk with Mrs. Margaret from the Riverside PACE Center. And here is a little clip of some quotes she gave me about her life:

Mrs. Margaret Hunt and Riverside PACE on PhotoPeach

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

To Chicago and Back

It was a long trip.

Driving from Newport News, Virginia to Chicago, Illinois is not often attempted in a day's time. But we were determined.

Lambda Pi Eta is the Communication Honor Society here at Christopher Newport University. The club applied and won "Best Chapter of the Year" from the National Communication Association, and had beat out other prominent undergraduate programs. We had been invited to the conference, and couldn't resist the offer to visit to the "windy city."

Being the President of LPE, I had the fun and easy job of organizing our trip within a week and a half... not overly complicated, but technologically tiring. Still, communications majors certainly know who to communicate. Twitters, emails, and text were filling up my many in-boxes. But a plan was finally underway!

Two members, Kiara and Billy, would be accompanying me to the awards ceremony, where we would also meet our advisor, Dr. Meyer. Our group would stay with Jenn, one of Dr. Meyer's friends from college who lived near the city, and who would take us to the conference the following morning.

So we began the journey at 8:30am Eastern Standard Time, and arrived at 1:00am Central Standard Time. But along the way we found a few interesting American landscapes. Old diners, West Virginians in overalls, and Ohio nothingness were just some of our interesting discoveries while in route to Chicago.

Once we arrived, Jenn showed us to the basement we would be sleeping in. After driving all day, I passed out within five minutes, and didn't move for at least eight hours.

It was glorious.

The next morning, we rode the train into the city. Excitement was building as we exited the underground station and saw our first Chicago skyscrapers. We had made it! Now we just needed an award to take home with us...

After a business meeting discussing national matters for LPE, the ceremony began. While receiving the award was quite an honor, my favorite memories might have been when several extremely intelligent LPE Presidents approached Dr. Meyer and asked how "we did it."

"Hi, I'm from (insert big university here) and I was just wondering if you could give us a few pointers on winning the Chapter of the Year award. Do you mind if I take notes? Do you have contact information? Could you be our mentor???"

I would have liked to have said, "No she is our mentor - back off you LPE nerd." But instead I smiled as Dr. Meyer politely gave her business card to Mr. I-wanna-win.

We had won; I had to be nice...

So I held back "competitive Britney" as my family calls it, and switched into celebration mode. It was time for a toast! So we explored the city, ordered drinks at a classy bar, and bowled at an ally with a dress code and dinner tables. Billy, Kiara, and I loved being out of the car and in the city, stretching our legs and seeing new sites.

Of course... there was the whole we-have-to-drive-home thing.

But 16 hours isn't so bad... right?

Best Quotes:
"Third-wave feminist, post-structuralist critique of Katy Perry vs. Lady Gaga. Go!"
"I hate them both."
-Jenn to Dr. Meyer

"This is it!"
-Kiara and I for every part of the trip there and home. It was never "it."

Best States to Drive Through:
-Kentucky with rolling green hills.
-West Virginia with mountains and little towns.

Worst States to Drive Through:
-Ohio with nothing to see.
-Indiana because it was such a loooong state.

State with the Most Roadkill:
-Kentucky. So many dead deer!

Best Accent Heard:
-At the Arbys in Kentucky on the way home. Hae actuwaly tawked laike theis.

Best State overall:
-Virginia. Of course.

Some pictures from the trip:

At The Gage after the awards.

Yummy Cheese plate.

Chicago at night.

You know you're in a city when...

Dr. Meyer in Hard Rock Cafe.

Pulling it off.

He gets a shirt in every city.

So patriotic.

Water! I didn't like not being on the coast, so every time there was water we
screamed about it a little bit...

Some city traffic.

Virginia! Still home for me. This was the Chicago Tribune wall that had bricks
and stones from around the world.


Monday, October 26, 2009

"So I fired the gardener..."

I can't say I was nervous. The day had been hectic, trying to figure out plans for a warm Saturday night in mid-October. Yet there was that delicious lingering summer smell in the air that leaves you excited for something to come. You're not sure what... but you're thrilled for the unknown.

So I wasn't nervous when a friend asked if I would like to eat dinner with some homeless people underneath an overpass in downtown Newport News. Nervous just isn't the word. Maybe it was the weather... but I was "thrilled."

Under the bridge with Abe.

David's been doing his thing for almost four years now: He drives downtown every Tuesday and passes out breakfast. Every Thursday he brings several men and women back for a worship service on campus and dinner. Later that evening, they will hang out with us students at bonfires, or even watch episodes ofThe Office.

Some of them are quiet, some loud. Some are content, others restless and scrambling for a job. Some are upbeat, others more mellow. But one thing is the same... no matter how well the they do or don't fit in at CNU, they must always return to where they came from: the streets.

I can't imagine how hard it is for David to drop them off each week. Still, his relationships with that community have only strengthened through the years. And it certainly is a community - if anything that was illustrated Saturday night.

"So I fired the gardener," Alicia says as we parked under the bridge. I laughed, looking around the grassy plot of land, not quite sure if I was supposed to joke about the situation. "Yeah... he was gettin' too expensive," she continued with a smile.

Well that was one way to break the ice.

My friend Kelsey and I were meeting David, two friends from school, and the usual Thursday night crew of homeless men and women... but this time they were sharing their home with us. Their home just happens to be under an overpass. The river is close by, and a parking garage borders the right side of their space.

Kelsey talking with Will.

"We've got all sorts of pets... some 'coons, some opossums, some deer... in the Spring you'll see them... some stray cats," Alicia told us as we waited for our meals. "Usually they don't come into camp. Not if we throw our scraps right over there, ya see?" And like a perfect tour guide, she pointed her finger towards the garage.

Someone's car had been parked under the overpass with the lights on so we could see our dinners. A red grill held pieces of meat that Alicia's husband, Greg, seasoned and cooked. The warm summer air mixed well with the chicken and country sausage sizzling on the fire.

Cooking some dinner...

"Brit, you gotta check out Alicia's bed!" David yelled over to me. Their little "camp" was divided up into platforms made by crates and boxes. Each "bed" was elevated with boards and blankets on the top. I plopped down on Alicia's mat and let my feet dangle off the bed while my head rested comfortably.

I looked up and saw the rusty beams of the overpass. It was beginning to mist, so swirls of little dew drops danced down from the sky, illuminated by street lamps and the car's headlights. It made me sad looking at the rusty bridge; the beams overlapping, creating a binding image. Alicia had to feel so bound. Stuck under this bridge, under the beams, and the rain, and society.

Yet she smiled that lovely smile and pranced around camp, with such hop in her step. I slid off her bed and walked back over to the warm grill.

"It's a great bed, isn't it?" she said
"Yes," I smiled back. "It's perfect."

Some other pictures from the night:

The church they go to for water from a hose.

Walking for some water.

David in his element...

Greg was an excellent cook.

Their home they shared with us.


Sunday, September 6, 2009

And Home Again

“Welcome home!!”

Since these infamous words, the whirlwind of Dublin has disappeared into fond memories, and the foreign reality of responsibility and the drudgery of normalcy has taken shape more rapidly than I imagined possible. Well, maybe drudgery is the wrong word. After all, “university” isn’t so bad…

But to put it simply: I am home.

I don’t know how to describe all the amazing stories and experiences I lived out over the last several months. When people ask, “How was Ireland?” they must think I lost intelligence while I was abroad because I stare at them, dumbfounded, and then mutter, “Great…amazing. I don’t know where to begin…”

So here is my last Ireland-related list (I think):

Five Moments I Will Always Remember…The Good and the Bad:

1. Getting off the plane in Ireland – I was by myself in a different country for the first time, and was so tired and confused. But there was also this euphoric sensation of an adventure beginning. That rare feeling is certainly memorable…and addicting.

Finding the house was another story...

2. First Pub Experience – Alex had invited me to join him and his friends at a pub downtown. I actually turned them down the first time because I was nervous. I didn’t know where the pub was, who I was meeting up with, how to get around the city safely, if I needed my passport or would they take my driver’s license? I didn’t know anything – and I was tired. But I remember texting him back and saying, “I can’t make it out tonight, but I will be completely free tomorrow so please call me then!”

Basically I set myself up so that I couldn’t say no. And sure enough the next night, I was invited to Doyle’s pub in city center. I sucked it up and got on the bus alone, found the place and Alex, hailed my first taxi, and met some amazing friends. I remember thinking…”If I hadn’t gone out that night, who knows how long it would have taken me to make that initial step?"

When I didn't know how to get somewhere, I would google seach the place, and then take a picture. Then I could pull out my camera like a map...usually worked!

3. That One Friday – I wrote several blog posts about one specific Friday. All in one day, I went to Slain (also known as The Village of the Dead), I was called a homeless person, and went on a weekend excursion with friends where the hostel lost our reservation. Consequently, we had to sleep in the “cinema room.” This rollercoaster of a day had some extremely funny moments, some extremely horrible moments, and some moments where I simply had to laugh at the situation. But everything was memorable and made for some great stories.

During my weekend trip, we saw that cows really do get stuck in the road.

4. U2 Concert – My friend Letitzia and I were depressed. Our first group of friends in Ireland had gone back to Italy and France, and we still had several weeks to go without them in the country. So we needed to do something fun and exciting to take our minds off saying “ciao ciao ciao…”

U2 was playing their last concert in Ireland that Monday night. If you know anything about U2, you know that most of the band members are from the Dublin area, so this is a very important show to the Irish people. Letitzia and I tried to go snatch some last minute tickets but of course we were told “SOLD OUT!” So we made a new plan: we would walk around and mumble “tickets?” to the incoming crowd.

Getting through security was fairly easy. But after an hour and a half, we had been completely futile in our attempts. Finally we found scrap paper and a pin, scribbled “Two tickets please!” and stood on a sidewalk, alternating who would hold the sign.

A few people stopped and told us different places they knew about where extra tickets had been sold earlier in the day. We checked out one place, but the process seemed like a drug deal. We were supposed to ask this person, and say blah-blah had sent us, and give them this amount of money. Needless to say, nothing much came of that.

We almost gave up. We were tired, neither of us had eaten, and we had been walking around for almost 2 hours after each working a 7 hour day. But, ironically enough, we saw a rainbow and got distracted. Letitzia and I starting singing “There Can Be Miracles” as a joke, and were about to walk away and catch busses home. At the exact moment we were taking down our sign, a man rushes over and says “I have two extra tickets from two employees who didn’t come. They cost me 100 euro each but I’ll give ya both for 50…”

HECK YES. And it was “brilliant.”

5. Dublin felt like home – I am amazed at how quickly I got used to being in the city. The first couple weeks were tricky, but also the most memorable because everything was new (and confusing). But by week four, I knew most the busses I needed to take, the method to avoiding traffic, the places NOT to walk near, and the general layout of the city. I remember when I was arriving back from Belfast into Dublin and I had the urge to tell my friend Macy, “We are home!” And it felt so natural.

Now I am really home, because of course Virginia will always truly be that special word. But meeting all those people, getting to know an excellent host family, working for a newspaper, and living in Dublin are some memories that I will always cherish. My experience abroad could be summed up by simply saying I was challenged yet blessed in the same second every moment of the day. Of course maybe that’s not so different from being at home…my real home.

So when do I get to go back?!

Goodbye shall be missed.