Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Because Reunions Are Fun

It’s been a week since I’ve worn makeup.

I just lugged my suitcase up three flights of stairs in the sudden summer heat. High heels are strewn across my room and work clothes haphazardly rest in a laundry basket, both unused and untouched for over seven days. It seems while I was on vacation the seasons changed rapidly, and the fan is already blasting as I sit in my beach clothes typing this post.

There is also sand in my luggage, scattering on the floor and making its presence known as I unpack. The more clothing I pull out, the more of St. Augustine flies from my bags and finds itself in New York. But the more clothing I pull out, the more I want to place it right back where it was, sand included, and head once again to the beach.

The email thread to organize this trip began in September of last year and made me smile every time a new response popped up in my inbox. “Because reunions are fun” was the subject line, circulating to a group of people that was narrowed down through the passing months. We are busy, we have other endeavors, and we grow apart. But somehow, 160 some emails later, 14 of us made it to St. Augustine for a Memorial Day vacation because, you know, “reunions are fun.”

We came from all over, most driving through the night, making the 10 to 12 hour journey with a hint of giddiness. Raleigh, South of the Border, Savannah, Florida state lines; they all whizzed by in a blur as our headlights pierced increasingly dark skies. By 3am, my car mates and I were tucked into bed but too excited to sleep. College friends, together again – it was as though the last two years hadn’t occurred and I’d picked up right where I’d left off.

Of course, the last two years have taken place and affected us all. But there is a certain bittersweet comfort to being surrounded by what you once knew, yet no longer possess. Your perspective has broadened or morphed, and still what you’ve owned in a previous time is appealing – which affirms what you’ve had all along is real, and true, and genuine.

My community of friends from college was more far reaching than those just on this trip. Still, the last few days were a reminder of where I’m from, how we’ve evolved, and what I acutely miss. “Do you love New York?” “Was the first year hard?” “Are you ever lonely?” “Do you still love Virginia?” Yes… yes, a thousand times yes. You must know the answer to each of those questions is a resounding “yes.” The truth is this: New York can be a tough pill to swallow, but I expect nothing less from myself. You know as well as I do that I wouldn’t be happy back at home yet, though Virginia will always be just that.

But every laugh was a temptation; every new story was a lure. I do deeply long for my college community, and wish I could transplant each one of them amongst the boroughs of New York.

Because, you see, I’ll never have to wear makeup with them. They don’t care if I’m unemployed, or have a bad hair day, or occasionally act like an idiot. They’ve seen me at my worst and maybe my best, yet their loyalty rarely wavers. I have friends like this in New York too, but to glimpse all of these people from my past in one place, at one time… it was nothing short of sheer delight. I woke up early and was often the last to sleep, manic with the need to inhale every conversation and observation.

So yes, this weekend was restful because of the sunny beach, poolside drinks, and delicious homemade dinners. But it was also relaxing because I wasn’t anything except what I’ve always been, with no expectation or false pretense.

Still as I drove back into the city today, my heart skipped a beat (as it always does) when New York first came into view. My town, my lovely little town, was already drowning in summertime heat, buzzing, ready for me and every other nonsensical hopeful. People were out milling around, talking,  walking, being, and I longed to once again be with them.

I needed this vacation to remember much – including why I came to New York in the first place. My community from home prepared me for something thrillingly challenging, and while they go off and tackle their own aspirations, as will I.

In fact, starting tomorrow I shall be working at the Huffington Post, writing for their “Tech” column about technology and social media. I was incredibly lucky to receive this offer the day I left for Florida, and am extremely excited for such an opportunity.

So the seasons change once again, leading us blindly into whatever is next with only the faith from our past and an innate idealism for our potential guiding us in shaky, yet confident steps.

With this knowledge, I also need to find my makeup for tomorrow… 
as well as some clean clothes. 

Hebrews 10: 24-25


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Cheers to Change

Let’s start with this…

I’ve really come to dislike spring. It’s fickle and timid, much like an indecisive individual constantly torn between two unimportant points. Luckily we, as humans, are allowed to have our irresolute moments because it has already been proven a dozen times over we hardly know what we want or need. This is generally an accepted norm.

Spring, on the other hand, is only consistent in its hesitance… and this is typically displeasing to those waiting for the next move or adventure. This season knowingly plays with our minds, doling out fragrant, warm days mixed with a hint of monsoon and a sprinkle of frigid winter.

But in this season, there is change. I usually feel a creeping instability by March, and then a deafening shatter by bittersweet May. Still, June is swift and quite suddenly you don’t remember frustrating spring in the slightest because you only have steadfast summer in your eyes. It has always been so, though I’ve only just realized this seasonal cycle in the last couple of years.

Speaking of change, if you couldn’t tell by the crazy influx of Facebook pictures… I graduated from graduate school this week! Pardon the lack of updates, but between family visits and two quick Virginia trips, I’ve neglected both my blog and laundry basket.

Purely of out cruel coincidence, the last day of my job at HarperCollins was also contracted for the day after graduation. Thus, for the first time in two years, I have no formal obligations – and not exactly out of choice.

No internship, no school, no job.

Remember when I maintained all three and worked nearly 70 hours a week? Well this appears to be the unsolicited opposite time in life. And I don’t think I’m fully appreciating the freedom such unhindered circumstances bring because I’m simply one to naturally go, go, go.

But I’m not sending out resumes this week. I will not tweak another cover letter for a few days. I shall certainly check email, but sparingly and with a “delete-delete-delete” mentality, because also for the first time in two years, I’m going on vacation.

Ah, the sound of that word. How absolutely glorious.

Since moving to the city, I’ve not escaped its all-encompassing atmosphere for more than five days at a time. Not that I typically want to leave – particularly in the electric, buzzing summertime – but a change of scenery may do this tired mind some good.

Thankfully, shifty spring is leaking into consistent summer. I will wake up every morning and the air will be hot, the days will be long, and the nights will be one enthralling venture after another. I will take cold showers, map out beach trips, and consume Mr. Softie ice cream cones. I will get up too early and stay out too late because I can hardly have enough of this season. Even in the most miserable heat, I won’t mind the oppressive air so much because I will have known it was coming. The heat always comes. The heat always comes because it is reliable and unwavering.

There is something so comforting in that thought.

Freelance jobs are opening up. Resumes I sent out months ago are beginning to pay off.  A part of me even wonders if maybe I should take some time off from the 9 to 5 world to see, to do… to write.

And so “we hit the ground running” my friends.  
(After vacation, of course.)

The parents came to town, so we brunched in the East Village. 

Then Ivy, Clare, and I graduated at Radio City Music Hall with our Publishing cohort. I should have done at least one Rockette kick across the stage. 

Afterwards, all our families dined together overlooking the
 Brooklyn Bridge. 

And that is the finale of my student career. It was expensive and sleepless, but worth every minute. I don't think I'd change a thing. 
The End. 


Friday, May 11, 2012

NY Restaurants You Can't Afford... Yet

I’m pretty poor.

Saving money is something I’m actually half decent with, but living off of $10 an hour for long stretches of time means there is a consistent need to find the cheapest bar, the cheapest food, and the least expensive clothing. A countless number of my friends have a similar outlook on life, hence why I wrote previous blog posts about being 
“poor in New York.”

But not today, my friends.
No. Today we shall feast!

This post is all about when your parents come to town.

And it true 20s fashion, this means we freelancers, temps, and interns get a free meal or two. So below is a list of restaurants at a mid-range price point that I think you’ll enjoy for a night out with the family. These aren’t the most expensive spots in NY, just more expensive than your typical ramen or bagel-based meal.

Several of you graduates requested this blog post, so I hope you find it helpful. Also, please add any of your own favorite "the-family’s-in-town" restaurants to the comments section below. Now let’s dig in…

Freemans – Tucked away down a quiet cobblestone alley in the Lower East Side, this place’s location and eclectic décor only add to its delicious menu. The cuisine won’t frighten an inexperienced pallet, nor (in my humble opinion) disappoint the connoisseur. If you want to show out-of-town guests something a little more authentic than 42nd and Broadway, you’ll find that certain charm in this colonial-inspired haven.
*Dinner entrée price range: $15 - $28
*Recommended: Hot Artichoke Dip; Pork Loin; Scallops
*What to Know: Unique drink menu; also highly recommended for brunch. Not a vegetarian paradise, but has an awesome “Five Cheese Macaroni” dish even meat-lovers enjoy. Reservations can be made for parties of six or more. Walk-in wait time isn’t terrible, and the bar makes for a perfect distraction.
*Other notable restaurants in this neighborhood: Beauty and Essex, The Stanton Social, Schiller’s Liquor Bar
*Contact: 8 Rivington Street (down Freeman Alley). 212-420-0012 

You have to find Freemans, but the search is worth it.
Photo by: Eatery

Sardi’s – We bash midtown a lot, but there are still some gems hidden amongst the bright lights of Times Square. After all, where else can you buy cheesecake at 2am, or see some of the world’s finest theater? And that is precisely why Sardi’s makes my list for places worth experiencing at least once when visiting the city. There’s a rich history in these walls – and quite literally hanging on them. Featured in Mad Men and the birthplace of the Tony Award, I find myself enjoying this food but adoring the atmosphere. So go see a Broadway show and then wine n’ dine vintage style in a restaurant that highlights the 
glamour of a city’s past life.
*Dinner entrée price range: $19 - $37. Lunch price fixe: $30,
 Dinner price fixe: $49
*Recommended: Jumbo Lump Crap; Cannelloni au Gratin
*What to Know: There is both a “dinner” menu for a meal before Broadway shows and a “supper” menu for after. Children’s menus are available for those 13 and under. Reservations are advised, and for weekend dining they must be made no later than 5pm on Friday.
*Other notable restaurants in the neighborhood: Carmine’s, Five Napkin Burger, Becco, Per Se
*Contact: 234 West 44th Street. 212-221-8440

Sardi's is shown here, in the heart of New York's Theater District. 
Photo by: Foodphoria

The Spotted Pig – Our West Village neighborhood plays host to tons of small cafes and gastropub hotspots, but in recent years this restaurant seems to stand above most. A favorite of celebrities from the likes of Martha Stewart to Jay-Z, The Spotted Pig prides itself on British-based cooking and quality meat. Chef and co-owner April Bloomfield also just released her latest cookbook, “A Girl and Her Pig” last month, propelling this Brit even further in New York’s cut-throat culinary world (pardon the butcher-esque pun). Relax in this slower paced side of town with a transcontinental dinner – and try not to think about paying $20 for a burger and fries. You’re parents are buying, remember?!
*Dinner entrée price range: $20 - $32
*Recommended: Chicken Liver Toast; Chargrilled Burger (some reviewers who don’t enjoy strong cheeses prefer just the burger without the Roquefort).
*What to know: No reservations available, so it’s best to go early or late. (For New York, this means you won’t easily get a table from 8pm to 10pm.) The kitchen is also open to 2am, making this restaurant an ideal place to stop into if you’ve had an afternoon meal. Walk-in parties cannot exceed six in most situations.
*Other notable restaurants in the area: Blue Ribbon Bakery, The Meatball Shop, Alta, Mermaid Oyster Bar
*Contact: 314 West 11th Street. 212-620-0393

 The Spotted Pig is a step into Britain's gastropub scene. 
Photo by: Eat the City 

Basta Pasta – Asian-infused pasta is not a usual food genre I crave, but believe me when I say it’s worth testing out. The dishes are lighter on sauce than typical Italian cuisine, and consist of clean presentations with unique ingredients. Housed in the Flatiron District, this comfortable and minimalist atmosphere will have you eating timeless dishes with a completely new twist. The staff will never rush you out, so feel free to try the chocolate coma inducing “Vulcano” dessert.
*Dinner entrée price range: $16 - $30
*Recommended: Spaghetti ai Ricci di Mare (with sea urchin); Spaghetti con Prosciutto e Parmigiano (served after first being tossed in a large half wheel of cheese that’s rolled to your table).
*What to know: Reservations are suggested during busy hours. The kitchen is open for patrons to view, and dinner can be served at the bar.
*Other notable restaurants in the area: Eately, Hill Country BBQ, ABC Kitchen, Gramercy Tavern
*Contact: 37 West 17th Street. 212-366-0888

Enjoy Basta Pasta's open kitchen while you wait for a table. 
Photo by: Fashion Victims Are People Too

Balthazar – A little piece of Paris can be found on Spring Street in New York’s Soho neighborhood. This French restaurant is popular amongst locals (as well as celebrities), and buzzing from morning brunch to late night hours. While the dinning room is often stuffed with customers, the to-go bakery usually has a quick moving line for coffee and tasty breads. If you stay for dinner, be sure to take in the European décor and observe a beautifully stocked bar of notable wines. Since opening in 1997, this restaurant has not missed a beat with its adoring fans.
*Dinner entrée prince range: $22 - $42
*Recommended: Steak Frites; Goat Cheese & Caramelized Onion Tart
*What to know: Reservations needed. For meals after lunch but before dinner, they have an “afternoon” menu. Remember: This is a French restaurant. Sometimes you have to ask for ice in 
your water - and that’s okay.
*Other notable restaurants in the area: Lombardi’s Pizza, Mercer Kitchen, Imperial No 9
*Contact: 80 Spring Street. 212-965-1414

There seems to never be a dull moment at Balthazar. 
Photo by: New Construction Manhattan

Enjoy your meals and time well spent with the family. Also, make sure to buy your guests a New York bagel before they return home. Despite the research that went into this post, I know my parents are simply going to crave a Brooklyn Bagel the second their feet touch the pavement. 
Alas, so will I. 
And that's only $3.95. 


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Concert Collisions and The Shins

I was driving down Ridgefield in my car with all the windows open.

It was summer and the breeze was warm as it playfully blew my hair away from my face. The lights were all green, and the smell of sizzling dinners hung like an afterthought in the night air. It was late enough to hear the bullfrogs and crickets, playing their own symphony as I played mine, rushing back from visiting the boys of River Road… aka my friends from across town. Radiohead, The Garden State Soundtrack, OAR, and The Shins were all jammed into my CD player, where they would remain for eight years. In that moment, high school Britney was content… and almost late for curfew.

But content, nevertheless.

Just the other day I was walking in the East Village, listening to the same playlist I had been driving with all those years before. CDs have since been swapped out for MP3s, and OAR has “sold out,” now making three minute pop songs. Still some things remain the same, despite the location change, lack of vehicle, and iPod upgrade.

One of those consistencies is certain music choice.

The Shins played in New York City two weekends ago. I’ve always enjoyed their tunes, and proudly purchased their CDs – even during that time in life when an illegal download carried only an iota of consciousness. I never remember The Shins being my self-proclaimed favorite group, nor do I ever remember not listening to them. High school, college, graduate school… Yes, there was an album for each mile marker in my life, making this band a subtle preference and a catalyst of nostalgia.

So you can imagine my delight when I was standing second row in a New York concert venue, with both a friend from 9th grade and a friend from graduate school. “New Slang” began to play, and past Britney met present Britney as the soundtrack to both my worlds forced these selves to crash into one another.  

It was an epic explosion.
And in that moment, I was content all over again. 

"September" from their newest album, "Port of Morrow"


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Poor in New York: Culture Clash

Oh yes. This happened.

Somehow we’d ended up at Bergdorf Goodman’s trying on $9,000 wedding dresses. I’m wearing a t-shirt while the women of society mill around in the latest and the greatest name brand designers. Don’t get me wrong; I can hold my own after working at Bloomies for a year. But as the sales associate asked my friend to slip into the newest Vera Wang, I tried to remember how we’d gotten here…

I think it had something to do with a pervious Friday night. Didn’t someone grab my phone; make a bridal appointment, and say, “You’re going to Bergdorf’s Clare! You deserve it!”

Yes. That someone can remain anonymous if they so choose. But here we were, on a beautiful New York Saturday, simply enjoying our time together at the height of 5th Avenue couture. I guess there’s nothing simple about Bergdorf’s, but it felt easy enough.

And it didn’t matter that we couldn’t even afford a veil.
And it didn’t matter that the “cheaper” dress would still have been 5 months of my current rent.

No, our biggest concerns were what we’d wear to a "Zenon party" in Brooklyn that night (You buy the tin foil for our costumes, or me?)  and if we had homework due on Sunday.

As my ol’ friend Notorious B.I.G. once said: “Mo’ money, mo’ problems.”

That's more like it.