Friday, May 30, 2008

A Memorable Memorial Day: Escape to Montreal

It was 10:30 on Friday morning, the day before memorial day weekend. I had slugged into work, bug-eyed from the wear and tear of the rainy, muggy work week. I had thought about flying back to Colorado for the weekend to see all the people I missed so dearly and to run the Boulder Boulder, but tickets would have cost me a month's rent and I had just ran my fastest 10K ever at the Healthy Kidney race in Central park the weekend prior - thus my legs had still not 100% forgiven me. So I settled into the not altogether terrible prospect of another glorious New York weekend - streetside drinks, brunch, walks in the park, shopping, (shhh maybe a cupcake or two), more drinks, laundry, until, Oops, suddenly its Monday night and your munging through your cupboards (a three day weekend and you still hadnt made it to the grocery store) in search of anything remotely edible, remarking to yourself how quickly your life is passing you by.... sigh.

In my daily IM conversation with my friend Tyler (who, in the true essence of IM, sits only two rows away from me) we tired of small talk and finally landed on the topic of all the exciting trips we'd take for distraction - Colorado, Utah, New Hampshire, a tour of the South, his hometown in Georgia, San Francisco - a road trip accross the country even! Him having never been west of the Mississipi and I who wouldn't know a southern gentleman if he picked me up in a 19th century horse and buggy, we had oh so many good ideas. Its always fun getting to know a new friend--it mimics the honeymoon period of all romances within a friendship. For the first week of your friendship you never run out of fascinating things to say, you're enthralled with your similarities, small annoyances are still cute quirks and, best of all, you are completely taken by all the glamourous things you will do with said new friend - Trips to Budapest, half marathons, the opera, or drinks at this great pizza and beer bar. For the standard friendship, this cute little honeymoon phase usually wears off within a week or so of pizza and beer eating, after which you realize that most of the plans you made were happy inklings that will never to come to pass. This rule of new friendship, although generally reliable, was not the case with two dangerously whimsical and equally as stubbornly committed to being unpredicable people as we turned out to be.

Our conversation went something like this:

"Too bad we aren't going anywhere fun for memorial weekend."

"Yeah. Too bad."

"Hey. Why dont we go somewhere!"

"Ok. Where?"

"I dont know. Boston. The adarondacks. Vermont. Montreal. Virginia?"

"Montreal is awesome. Lets go there!"

"Ok. You think Im joking. But Im dead serious."

"I am too."



"Do you think we will be good travel partners? I hardly know you. What if we want to kill each other after two days."

"I guess we will find out."

Five hours of scouring train tickets, plane tickets, travel websites and discount airline traps of all kinds, we were sitting in an STA Travel office in the West village giddy with excitement.

"Hello. We want to go to Montreal."

The ticket agent, hardened by years of bubbling, youthful travelers but nonetheless taken aback at our dual enthusiasm, raises an eyebrow, "Ok. When would you like to fly out?"

"Um. Tomorrow? Tomorrow morning please."

Approximately 14 hours later, we arrived at the airport, two near strangers, tired, poorly packed and absolutely thrilled. As our plane took off we turned to each other and said simultaneously, "We are SO awesome!!"

Turns out we were not only good travel partners and fast friends - but also mirror images of one another. By the time our plane touched the ground in Montreal, we had discovered that we were each other's very own dopplegangers - mannerisms, aspirations, interests, talents, histories, beliefs, you name it. Who ever thought my long lost twin would end up being a redheaded GUY from Georgia? To top off the sense of uncanniness one feels when they have met their long lost, separated at birth redheaded brother , we were born within 5 days of each other, same year. Wierd. By the end of the trip we would be giving advice as such "Well from what I know about you, and seeing that I AM you, I would suggest that you do X about this problem".

As you all know all too well about me when I meet a new friend, acquaintence or unfortunate neighbor on a train... Im not sure I shut my mouth for more than 5 minutes during the whole flight in to Montreal. My normal verbal diarreah was thus enhanced by the utterly platonic nature of our fast friendship and by the feeling that in reality I was merely talking to myself, and myself, in redheaded form, was reflecting myself back to me in his (my) responses. And it was a good thing I came equipped with my normal knee-jerk reaction distraction mechanism (words. lots of them) because I hadn't been on a puddle-jumper plane in years and now, stuck in this hot little tootpaste tube of an airplane cabin with a lot of French Canadians and no snacks, I can remember why I avoid them. Ah turbulence. So THIS is why they serve alcohol on planes. Quaint yet regular. Modern yet historic. Exotic and yet oh so comfortable and strangely familiar just below the surface (aka the French is fabulous and all but when you are nearly peeing in your pants to find a bathroom you can ask in English). I couldn't quite decide which city it reminded me most of - Portland in the financial districts, Seattle in the residential, Dublin in the drinking quarter and Budapest in the old district? I couldn't quite decide. But whichever it was, I was in love. And keenly intent on leaving the place with a near perfect french accent. And the men...let me just say in passing, I'm not sure Ive ever witnessed so many good bone structures walking around all at once. My "type" just took on a whole new meaning.

We spent the first afternoon shopping, had an accidental run in with a 40% off sale at French Connection and turned up, arms full of bags and parched, conveniently on the deck of an irish pub. The afternoon was glorious, the sun still high and the brie sandwiches, suprisingly delicious at this dank Irish dive. Getting up from a situation like that...sun, people watching, brie cheese, beer and the satisfaction of bags full of new a bit like getting out of the bathtub when you are a kid. Nothing could be more excruciating. Luckily, a night on a new town was beckoning to us as a just reward if we could only pull ourselves from those warm wooden deck chairs and drag ourselves back to our hotel.

Just when I thought Montreal could not be more delightful...I discovered our hotel room's balcony by accident, getting out of the shower. The window was one of those floor to ceiling doors, the balcony one of those European-style terraces, a simple white fence suspended just out from the window with no room for you to step out, only enough room for you to hang out over hte street, carelessly suspended halfway inside and out of the window. Standing there alone in the room, the sun setting over the "Mont" casting late in the day shadows through the window, bringing in a breeze so warm I nearly dropped my towel and leaning out this oh so glorious terrace window 25 floors above MOntreal, I immediately began my Jackie Onassis routine...wave to the loving crowds, oh how they love my dress...oops, now Im a ravishing Italian beauty stolen from my terrace in Rome and carried away to Paris by some dark-haired Hungarian blacksmith...or maybe just a small town girl from Colorado on spontaneous holiday from very big city life, standing before all of Montreal in a towel...while three teenage boys look on from below...oops. Now Im legs in the air, toppling over the edge of the bed in a frantic scramble to get inside...

The next two days were spent in utter bliss - the most uncomplicated, unregimented vacation I have ever taken - eating, drinking, eating more, walking walking walking, buying, pointing, laughing, eating, more drinking, repeating and pointing " I love I love I love!". I loved Montreal so much, that, in fact, by the end I never even finished the sentence i.e. "I love that church"..."I'd just point and say "I Love." This was much more efficient, because I could point out more than one object of my affection at one and express my overwhelming love for it. The city is a strolling, rolling city, with all kinds of quiet charms and very few airs or in-your-face spectacles - things that keep my beloved New York forever running. Old Montreal was particularly captivating and we haunted it for 2 days solid. Narrow alleys, cobblestone streets, old stone buildings, flowerbeds hanging charmingly from stone windows, hot chocolate and brie sandwiches in small restaurant with low ceilings much like a wine cellar in an old castle except doors wide open to the street and the steaming rain from outside. Cupcakes across from an old church served by happy smiling French Canadians. 7 solid hours in the sun, eating out, walking out, hanging out...Running around desparately in search of sunscreen for our irish skin after said 7 solid hours. Ah. Heaven.

To top off an altogether perfect weekend, we missed our flight home. 50 dollars in flight change fees bought me and my newest best friend 3 more hours of wine drinking, penne eating and philosophizing at the airport until we had not a single problem, curiosity, belief, traumatic experience or hidden disappointment left unexplored. From the plane, I watched the setting sun leave pink streaks of stay clouds accross the horizon, like torn bits of a princess' dress as she runs home from her carriage, slowly turning into a pumpkin at the stroke of midnight. I Cinderella, hereby leave my glass slipper in Montreal and run back to my steamy, muggy, hungry New York. Who said Cinderella needed prince at the ball?
And after 3 days of non-stop talking that you all know only I can do without taking breaths (only bites and sips) in between, I slept the whole flight home.

(Pictures coming soon)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Big Business' Brothers in Arms: Meet the Warriors of Wall Street

I've joined the ranks. The ranks of underslept, overworked, understated, over-expected, underestimated yet overachieving New Yorkers. Ghosts in suits, ties and pointy leather shoes that haunt the subways after 10pm on a weekday. Even a quiet upbringing, a balanced childhood and a limited attention span couldn't save me from being drafted and now I'm trudging along with the rest at 11:32pm on another nondescript Tuesday, thanking God for DVR.

Yes, these corporate night crawlers do indeed exist among the normal, the well rounded and the wellslept. And there are many, many of them walking quietly amongst you here in Go-Getter Gotham. They are the culprits who make the rest of us normal people feel guilty for an unanswered weekend email at 5am, who crowd the pre-made frozen food aisle, whose daily excercise consists of walking to and from the subway, supplemented by the weight-loss effects of a constant stress and sleepless night diet, and who may be single-handedly responsible for the destruction of the nuclear family (although I think that particular illustrious illusion had it coming anyway).

11:34pm, the late night train finally arrives, freckled with sleeping bums and stiff red ties wrinkled only slightly from another day at the office. The bums, passed out, discussing racism with the voice in their head or sleeping, look 10 times as lively as these suited soldiers, whose bleary-eyes have the cloudy, fixed appearance of a 2-day old dead person left undisturbed. This is the ugly underworld of the corporate world and these are its creatures. It is truly disturbing and more than slightly eerie to see them arrayed and upright in their pressed Kenneth Cole heather grey at such an ungodly, lightless, soulless hour - collared, corporate vampires marching up a gruelling corporate ladder, ambition's very own army of indentured servants who simultaneously rule the New York class system and slave for it as both lords and serfs of modern commerce. How unperterbed they look, how unmoved and mechanical, normal and untired as if a 11pm commute was as normal and regular as brushing your teeth before bed. If you see any glimpse of these reclusive creatures during their prime commuting hours, then chances are you yourself are one of them.
I slump on to the train, my head heavy and my posture dissolved into a puddle. The painful act of moving my eyelids over my parched eyeballs in order to keep them open, feels like peeling a bandaid slowly off of unwashed skin. I am consumed by all of the things my body desparately wants -social interaction, unlimited sleep, simple carbohydrates, visual stimulation, circulation to my immobile limbs. But my fellow soldiers march on, stare unseeingly at the passing platforms out the train window, holding their briefcases as if they were an extra appendage they'd been born with much like a third nipple, never checking their watches and even feigning to cast me a look that clearly says 'dont worry newbie, you'll get used to it. The hunger pangs and the dizzy spells both subside after your first promotion.' The more lively ones are blankly thumbing their blackberries like a kid fixed in front of a video game theyve been playing for 8 hours straight but havent beaten.
No one is slumped, leaning, shuteyed, drooling, raving from sleep deprivation or even making anything that even resembles a facial expression. They don't even look anxious to get home because this IS home - the uptown apartments that they work this hard to afford are like time shares for the rare but occasional vacation of an extra 2 hours of sleep on the weekends or dinner with their girlfriends, who are either enlisted as well or filling the hole with nail salons and the sweet-smelling dressing rooms of Bloomingdales.

My stop arrives and I drag myself up to the street as the rest of my commerce comrades pass me robotically on the stairs. Welcome to corporate New York - Has my number really come up?

Monday, May 5, 2008

KinderCorporate: Employed Again and not a moment too soon

Oh first days. They never get easier. You pass all the tests required of you to officially make it into adulthood. You get yourself, a job, a life, a wardrobe, a bank account and even a 401K, and you think you are in the clear. Its a contract - turn in your high metabolism, all the fun in birthdays and finally your innocence to seal the deal in exchange for taxes, electricity bills, this thing called champagne, relationships that should work out but don't, high heel shoes that finally fit and (hallelluia) the end of your never ending awkward phase. To the outside world you look like a perfect grown up. But alas, you've been fooled. Inside you are still a kindergartener waiting for another first day to bring out your true self. The visible end of the awkward phase was only a temporary concession. You should have read the fine print.

My first day outfit was perfect. Something between postmodern sophistication with a to-hell-with-it twist, and, you guessed it, cowboy boots. And yes I had it laid out the night before. Last minute second guesses - a belt so no one would think I was fat and green tights so no one would think I was boring. Its all about first impressions right? My boss had kindly emailed me the night before to let me know I didn't have to come in until late morning when she'd have more time, which of course, gave me more time to obsess over whether or not I could really do this job, let alone figure out how to use the elevators with no floor selection buttons, without falling flat on my face. On my way to the subway I realized too late that I may have overlooked one important detail in the choice of my first day outfit. I hadnt thought that the belt would make my skirt a tad bit shorter - a little shorter than I would have liked on a first day, but hey, it could be worse. At least its not see-through, right? Right??

Ok, so Ive made it through the subway at rush hour. Only slightly dishevelled and unnerved, I emerge from the subway into a bright new New York morning. Sun glinting off of every window, the grind of ground zero construction, swarms of rabid tourists obstructing corporate foot traffic and looking at us as if we were part of some mad museum exhibit called Financial District 101. Step One. Starbucks. There is one on the corner (of course). Excellent. Step two. Fight your way to the office through the obstacle course of tourists without spilling your Starbucks beverage or breaking your New York stride. This, however, is more of a challenge then you;d think. Step three. Put on your new york game face. 'Excuse me, could you please get out of my way, Im on my way to close a very big acquisition, meet with a very important C-Level executive over breakfast and then meet with my team to plan for our very high profile trip to Mumbai next week.' Game face - check. Despite my nervousness, Im now starting to feel pretty good. Arriving at the spaceship that was now the doorstep to my office building, I found myself reaching for my camera, catching a glimpse of myself in the glass doors and saying to myself...well I'll be damned. I mean I said I'd do it, come here on a whim and build a life, and hell, here I am, Mary Tyler friggin Moore, although visibly more awkward, frightened and...early. Damnit. What kind of geek arrives 30 minutes early for her first day at work? Why didnt I just bring a brown paper sack lunch and a thermos while Im at it, maybe a copy of Grapes of Wrath to recite at my first staff meeting? Ok, I'll just putz around the fountain in the courtyard and look like I belong here.

Time successfully wasted. I turn up at the security desk. Hi Im Kate - oh um Harris, I work at Mansueto and its my first day! I cant help doing that annoying little excited half jump when I introduce myself as a real live employee of this office. The security gaurd is not impressed. "You're a little late, aren't you, Harris." The way he says it its as if I should drop down and give him 20. My enthusiasm falls to my ankles. "They um told me to come late." "Well it sez hea you supposed to be here at 9." "Well they called me last night and told me to come later." "You sure, Harris? Says here 9." (No, you're right, perhaps it was some spiteful imposter calling to try and sabotage my first day. And, if you please, thats Miss Harris to you, Hammerhead), "Yes, I am quite sure." He gives me a stern stare, which fails to have its full affect because he has a bit of a lazy eye, but I am thoroughly unnerved nonetheless. After I make it through security, I spend another 10 minutes finding the correct elevator dock (Apparently its a screening process. you must have a certain IQ to figure out how to use the elevators. And they've been designed to all look the same like some house of mirrors Magic Eye. 'Haha! Say the security gaurds, lets watch Alice and Wonderland meet the Space Age.')

Ah. My new office at last. And it is GORGEOUS. Even more gorgeous than I remember. Glass from ceiling to floor, papered with bluescreen views of Manhattan...oh wait. That IS Manhattan. All my calm has dissipated and now, faced by an office of new faces, I feel if I hadn't gained that extra 7 lbs from Crumbs cupcakes then I'd start involuntarily levitating. When the first employee notices (or at least I think thats what she's looking at) my accidental Ally McBeal-esque skirt hemline, I almost loose my breakfast.

Ok two hours later. My boss is awesome. My desk, cute. My coworkers, friendly, open, funny and whip smart. I smile, I stumble over words, I laugh at their web 2 dot O jokes even though I don't know what they mean to save my life. I can do this, no big deal. Lunch time and my stomach tells me its time to eat. First my stomach complains, then my mood protests and finally my brain cells start to demand calories. I check my calendar - back to back meetings all afternoon. Ive waited to see if anyone else will go to lunch but no one moves. Not one person moves toward the door, nor does anyone seem take note that it is lunchtime. No one is snacking, fidgeting or passing out from low blood sugar. My food window closes to 20 minutes before my first staff meeting and the hope of nutritional reprieve is quickly fleeting. Those of you who know me well know this is a dire situation, very dire indeed. I should have brought the sack lunch after all. Even with the risk of breaking the mold on my first day, Im on the brink of hypoglycemic shock and so I finally succumb to bodily demand and jet down 30 floors for the nearest deli. (Who are these people, robots?) On the way back in I realize Ive left my temporary security pass upstairs and turn reluctantly to face the security counter. Why hello, Hammerhead. Its me, Alice.

Ive wolfed half my sushi in the elevator by the time I return and make it back just in time for my 1:00 staff meeting. Thank GOD I ran out to get food, that was a close one. I decide to stand through the meeting so not to accentuate the length of my skirt by sitting. Its right around then that the boxes upon boxes of pizza arrives. OH. Pizza. Haha. Of course...

All in all, it was a fantastic first day. The environment is smart, quick, innovative, friendly and casual. I love the way these people think, the waves they are making in their industry, the way they talk to each other, even argue with each other, without hierarchy or formality. I couldn't have asked for a friendlier welcome. Nor could I be more nervous about how I'll measure up. In the hopes that my motor skills, self confidence and taste in hemlines somehow return to me as more days pass, I think I'll try going back tomorrow. :)

This is Alice, Signing off.
The entrance to my building--

Views from my office--

I love New York in summer!

Out on the town