travel

POV Writing Challenge: Week 1, Sample 3

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Hot on the heals of NaNoWriMo and determined to keep the energy flowing, a group of writers and I have decided to take up a 4-week writing challenge. After a month of spewing words out as fast as possible, we are taking a step back and focusing on craft, specifically looking at point of view through flash fiction. If you are interested in how the challenge works and want to follow along, check out the details here.


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© Katie Rene Johnson, 2016

Wind lashed against Brant’s cheeks jetting pellets of river water into his skin with needle pricks. He hated the wind, especially in the city, though the way it thrashed the Brooklyn bridge edged its way up for a close second. Brant looped his thumb through the keyring in his pocket, flipping the two small keys around each other. Top to bottom. Bottom to top. A chill spidered down his neck. Nerves or wind – he couldn’t tell the difference.

A shoulder bucked into him from the left, and Brant’s toe caught on an uneven plank as he stumbled. His eyelid twitched. Safety hazard. Priority seven. His free hand flicked to the railing and he steadied himself. The wind choked out his calming breath and he exhaled in a sputtering cough. The planks might as well have been wet concrete. Each step sucked him down, heavier and heavier. Impossible to move. He inched his hand further up the rail, dragging his feet forward. The rail held his weight without a tremor. Satisfactory. The keys in his pocket tumbled over one another. Bottom to top. Top to bottom.

The wind kicked an empty water bottle along the walkway barrier. It skittered to a stop against an overflowing garbage bin. Health violation. Priority three. Brant tipped the water bottle into the less full recycle tub and skirted around them both. A paper bag made its escape on a gust of wind and Brant clenched his teeth. Not my problem. Not my responsibility. Not anymore. Almost there.

Tucked against the brick of the support tower, the wind seemed less belligerent, and Brant rolled the tension out of his shoulders. A dozen paces away, chains of padlocks encased the bridge support cables. The keys in his pocket bit into palm of his hand. The lock pushed against his leg, suddenly heavy and unwieldy. Pulling his feet out of the concrete, Brant stepped forward.

Up close, Brant could read the names drawn onto the locks with paint or marker: Danny, Joe, Sharon, Casey. Ribbons tied to various shackles clipped back and forth in the wind, edges frayed and disintegrating. He couldn’t count how many locks there were. Dozens? Hundreds? Enough that the weight had built up for sure. Safety hazard. Level four. Priority five. Brant traced his fingers up and down the cables, reaching, testing. The higher the stack, the more solid the the stands of locks. They gripped one another, locked together by downward force. One cable, two.

The third was shorter, newer. Colors hadn’t faded yet in the sunlight. The ribbons less frayed. Brant could almost reach the top of the stack. He pushed up on the one of the locks and it gave, opening a small gap on the cable. He let it fall back into place, taking a step back. The wind raced against his ears, blurring out the traffic below, the hum of passersby. His own breathing cut in and out, catching on the rise and fall of the wind. Reaching into the heavy pocket, Brant pulled out the lock. Candy apple red. Gold shackle. One name.

One of the keys slid easily into the lock, and he heard it click, even over the drone of the wind. The body rotated to the side as the shackle pulled free. Brant pulled the key from the mechanism, and reached back up the stack, pushing the same forgiving lock out of the way. The gold shackle looped around the cable, and Brant twisted the body back into place. The lock snapped shut and he exhaled sharply. The sounds of the city wedged their way into the place over the breath he had been holding, and he took a step back from the rail.

Brant glanced over his shoulder, first right, then left. No one seemed to have noticed what he had done. Easing the keyring from his finger, Brant let the keys rest on his palm, holding his hand up to eye level. He closed his eyes, drew in another breath.

His fingers wrenched shut and he pulled his arm back. Swing, release. The keys flipped through the air and over the edge of the bridge.

Inspection passed.

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Solo Travel: Expectations vs. Reality

2016-04-18_232314723_1DBA3_iOSBooking a one way ticket to New York City at the end of February is probably one if the biggest leaps I have ever taken in my life. Clicking “buy” on that first ticket was both exhilarating and absolutely terrifying. I think my heart skipped around in a my throat for at least two hours afterwards.

A couple years ago, when I first toyed around with the idea of traveling solo, I picked Edinburgh, Scotland as my first destination. It seemed like a no-brainer given my fascination with castles, medieval times, and fairy tales. Planning a trip to Scotland felt like dipping my toes into the warm, inviting waters of the solo travel world. Booking the ticket to New York felt like diving into an icy lake naked and blindfolded.

When I started telling people about traveling to New York City, I usually received one of three responses: You are so brave; the city is dirty and smells horrible; the people are rude. I should point out that I was not completely oblivious to the ways of the city when I booked this trip – I did spend eight whole hours there last year – but these responses still had their way of eking their influence into my expectations of my first real experience in New York.

Expectations Vs. Reality

  • Expectation: The city smells.
    • When every person you talk to tells you that the city reeks of urine and garbage, you can’t help but wait for your senses to be accosted the most terrible of smells.
  • Reality: Only a little bit.
    • When you have that many people crammed into such a small land area, there are going to be smells. However, there most certainly was not a constant barrage of horrible assaulting my nostrils. I actually remember one corner specifically that had a gross odor to it right in Times Square. Unfortunately, I had to walk by it often, but other than that I don’t really remember anything smelling that bad. The thing most jarring to me was the piles of trash on the sidewalks waiting for pickup when I rolled into the city on a shuttle about 11:30 at night.
  • Expectation: The people are rude.
    • In the city that never sleeps, people don’t have time for tourists or anyone who gets in their way to wherever they are going in a crazy hurry.
  • Reality: Just the tourists.
    • Seriously, the worst people I encountered were the tourists – hands down.  I tried very hard to fit in as I wandered the streets, and I think that it worked 2016-04-22_000855683_BEDC0_iOSfor the most part. I was hyper aware of common courtesy and even researched a few of the things that people in New York find annoying so I could avoid being one of THOSE people. Maybe that helped my case. But honestly, if tourists tried half as hard as I did, there would be a lot less rudeness in the city. The New Yorkers that I interacted with were all friendly (with the exception of the homeless man who turned nasty when I wouldn’t give him a dollar.) The tourists, however, were another story entirely. I really tried to immerse myself in the New York culture while I was there, avoiding for the most part some of the more touristy attractions. My venture to the top of the Rockefeller Center was probably the most touristy thing I did, and I came away from it appreciating the view, but hesitant to ever visit such a touristy spot again. As the sun set, the Top of the Rock became exceptionally busy and every single person vied for the best view of the city at night – regardless of who they stepped in front of or pushed out of the way. Attempting the apply the concept of common courtesy was completely moot, because the second you stepped back from the person in front of you so you weren’t breathing down their neck, someone else squeezed right in front of you. The idea of waiting patiently for your turn at the edge might has well have been a pipe dream. If you weren’t on your toes and ready to jump in the second the person in front of you left, you completely missed your shot. I honestly started to wonder if any of them were really taking it in or if they were part of some greater scavenger hunt where they just needed one crappy snapshot to prove they were there before racing off to the next location. I mean, really, once the sun went down it wasn’t going to matter if you waited 2 minutes or 10 – the picture of the city was going to look just the same.
  • Expectation: There are people everywhere.
    • Back to the idea of so many people being crammed into such a small space, you expect there to always be somebody around, especially 2016-04-20_125804900_9FA3F_iOScoming from somewhere where you can hop in a car and drive for twenty miles on a dirt road without seeing anybody.
  • Reality: Yes, there are a lot of people. 
    • Being based in Times Square, there were a ton of people. But, there are still moments when you are almost alone. I think this became one of my biggest fascinations with the city. Even the the middle of the hustle and bustle of a million people, moments stand out where there was no one around. Even half of a subway car captured in a photograph can suggest solitude. There may have been a dozen people behind me, but in the photograph there are none. Wandering through central park was really no different than hiking on a trail in the mountains back home. People were around, but not in the mobs and swarms you might expect, unless you were in Times Square.
  • Expectation: It is always loud.
    • Oh the infamous taxi horn. The sound of traffic, the constant swarms of people.
  • Reality: The City is loud.
    • I had barely been in the city for ten minutes before horns were sounding car to car like some bizarre symphony. I expected it and had to giggle because the horns for the most part are completely pointless. Honking at the person in front of you when the one holding up traffic is ten cars away really isn’t helping anybody. Aside from the incessant honking, the city also has a drone – a low, industrial hum that never breaks. I didn’t mind either sound, accepting it immediately as the ambiance of the city, kind of like crickets when you live in the country by the river.
  • Expectation: I will have the time and energy to write in the evenings.
    • Wasn’t the whole point of this trip to focus on my creativity, in particular my writing? And since I planned on being back at my hotel room fairly early in the evenings, I should have plenty of time and energy.
  • Reality: Travel is EXHAUSTING.
    • I really really kicked myself for not investing in a pedometer before I headed to New York. I know that I walked miles upon miles every day, even with my unlimited subway pass. I also didn’t account for the sensory overload that comes with traveling, not only in general, but alone. Without a second pair of eyes, my sense were constantly on high alert, keeping track of my surroundings, belongings, and whereabouts while still taking in the sights and sounds of the things around me. Even though I made a point to take my time going wherever I was going, I still had a checklist of things I wanted to see. By the time I returned to my hotel each night, I could barely stay awake long enough for a quick phone call to my husband back home. The couple of nights I did set to writing, I experienced technical difficulties on my iPad that caused me to lose nearly all of what little writing I did get done,  so I came back from traveling with negative writing accomplished. It’s a month later and I am just getting around to this post – which I decided to write on about my third day in NYC.

Expectation: Solo travel will be an incredible, eye-opening and confidence building adventure.

REALITY:  Absolutely.

There is a certain amount of pride that comes with pushing one’s boundaries and levels of confidence. I has always been easy for me to make excuses not to do things, but once a plan like this is in motion, there is no room for excuses. Stepping off the plane at JFK put me in an instant independent mindset knowing that I had no one but to myself to rely on, both in points of adventure and (if there should be any) trouble. It was kind of like flipping a switch. While having that switch flipped proved exhausting, it was also freeing. The ability to plan each day on a whim and take as much or as little time here or there led me from Times Square to The Cloisters in the northern corner of Manhattan to the2016-04-21_162527143_50737_iOS Staten Island Ferry all the way south, across the Brooklyn Bridge at sunset and even to a castle in the middle of Central Park.  This trip as a whole went off without a hitch, and though I didn’t have a set schedule, I did do a lot of research ahead of time which allowed for me to skip around the city and group together points of interest as needed. My unlimited metro card became my personal tour guide, dropping me here or there and leading me down streets or through areas I wouldn’t have ventured without the need for the next closest subway station. And mostly, this first solo travel opened my eyes to how much there is to see in the world.

I started this venture thinking that New York was a crazy place to go on my first solo trip, when in reality it was probably one of the best places I could have gone. Part of that came from dipping my toes into the city for a few hours last year. Even though we weren’t there for long, it was enough to get me my bearings and avoid being completely overwhelmed when I went there on my own. The city forced me to test myself. There was a definite moment of “take a deep breath and just do it” when I dropped into the first subway station and purchased my metro card. By opening myself up to the city and the experience, I found the most difficult thing do was decide where and what to eat. And if I am honest, I was pretty okay with living on coffee, granola bars and some kind of egg concoction for breakfast. When I splurged on my last day in the city, the waitress did look at me a little weird as I ordered Gnocchi with a side of onion rings and a lemon drop martini at this little Irish pub. But hey, you only live once, right?

 


A note of perspective:

I am not typically one to put a lot of hype into my Montana roots, but it plays into the intimidation factor of taking my first solo venture to somewhere like New York City. Aside from maneuvering between the airport and my hotel, I spent approximately 5 days in Manhattan with my hotel base just off of Times Square. Manhattan is just about 23 square miles of land and home to about 1.6 million people. I live in Montana, which has a total land area of about 147,000 square miles. That makes my home state 6,391 times bigger than the city of Manhattan. And Montana only has a population of just over a million. The “city” I live in has about 40,000 people in a slightly smaller land area than Manhattan (roughly 19 square miles). We drive everywhere and have a public transportation system less than a decade old that I have never used. I grew up in the country on 5 acres where spare time was passed riding bikes with my best friend (now husband) up and down the 1/2 mile road to our neighboring houses.

Experience: Metal Rock Opera, Part 1

… A somewhat long-winded introduction to my love of Avantasia and the once-in-a-lifetime concert experience of the first leg of my NYC 2016 #writinginspirationvacation…

 


 

When I found out that Avantasia was going to be in New York City the weekend that I would potentially be in New York, I could barely contain my excitement. It is also the one thing that made me seriously consider making the trip if I didn’t get the writing residency I had applied for. I have been following the band for about 8 years, and knowing that they originate in Germany and have very little following in America, I assumed (and resigned myself to the fact) that I would NEVER see them live. When you make a list of bucket list bands, there are just some that will always remain on that bucket list.

Eight years ago I stumbled across the video “Dying for an Angel” by a group I had never heard of featuring the lead singer of The Scorpions. I love The Scorpions and moreso the uniqueness of  Klaus Meine’s voice, so I figured I couldn’t go wrong.

The video blew my mind. It had a solid rock vibe, a good beat, harmony – I couldn’t help but tap my foot and try to sing along. Avantasia became my new obsession. After listening to a few more videos, I realized that this band, founded by Tobias Sammet in 1999 encompassed essentially everything I loved about music from the epic soundtrack type orchestrations to 80’s hard rock. They had ballads, rock epics, radio tunes. I couldn’t find a song I didn’t like.

I am pretty sure I have subconsciously decided they have to be played enough to make up for the time lost the first 21 years of my life not knowing them, to have them so engrained that they were to me another Beatles or Eagles. My husband can attest to that amount of obsessive listening.

Avantasia is a project band, meaning the majority of the songs are collaborations with other artists. Even Tobias Sammet has his own band Edguy (who I also love), so when Avantasia comes together for a new album, it is quite a feat, and you can guarantee it is going to be epic. Tobias Sammet is a musical genius. He writes all of the music for Avantasia (by the way, the Avantasia playlist on my phone is nearing the 8 hour mark). He sings, orchestrates, organizes – he is by far the mastermind of this incredible project. Songs have included guest artists Klaus Meine, Dee Snider, Alice Cooper, members of Warrant, KISS, Twisted Sister, Queensryque, Within Temptation, Nightwish, and many many others. From early on, Helloween front runner Michael Kiske has been a regular as well as Ronnie Atkins and Jorn Lande.

Just the list of guest artists is impressive. Then you start listening to the music. I still find myself closing my eyes when certain songs start to play and sinking myself into the melodies. The music pulls me in, sparks my imagination, warms my soul.

When I started expanding Better to Pretend from a short story to a full length novel, the addition of music to the story surprised me. I didn’t realize until I started working on that piece how much of myself could translate into a character. Jenna is not me, by any means, but parts of my own life and personality definitely shine through her character. When the idea of creating this connection of music I between her and the male lead transpired, I pictured her similar to me – classic rock roots and a stubborn aversion to new and modern bands and genres. I decided she would have a band obsession, straight down to the giddiness of being close to the stage and making eye contact with the lead singer. I created a band called Love and Lace, and they became my creative interpretation of Avantasia and Edguy mixed with my favorite 80’s hair metal.

At first, I thought it was a fun, minor detail of the story that I would enjoy because I knew the secret. Then Jenna’s love of music became her solace, the thing she could turn to when the world came crashing down. Certain songs could keep her afloat in a sea of desolation, disappointment and misery. My connection to the music of Avantasia seeped from my soul onto the page and into my characters.

I believe things happen for a reason (see Inspiration: Fate) and it was undeniably a crazy, fateful, serendipitous string of events that led me to New York City last Thursday, not only on my first solo travel endeavor, but my first solo concert and first trip (hopefully of many)  geared towards research and working on my novels so long postponed by irrelevant excuses.

After a whirlwind 36-ish hours in NYC, I hopped a train down to Marlyand to visit a dear friend of mine for a couple of days. As I settled in for the 3 hour train ride, I put my headphones in and shuffled my Avantasia playlist, the previous night’s concert still so fresh in my mind that I could have been there all over again. Now, two days later, I still feel the buzz of the experience (and I’m still listening to the playlist on repeat). But after two days of good company, good food and good booze, I have spent a good deal of time reflecting on the experience adjusting my mindset into creative mode for the remainder of the trip.  Now, as I sit on the return train to NYC, I can’t wait to share in more detail the concert experience. Look for it in the next post (since this one is already over 900 words….).

 

Inspiration: Fate

I have always believed that things happen for a reason. Some people might call it fate, others serendipity. Maybe even luck. I accept things as they were meant to be or not.

In January, I began preparing a selection of Solidity for submission to a writer’s workshop at an event called MisCon, which is Montana’s largest “Comic Con” type event. I have had my eye on this event for years and grudgingly missed the year that George R. R. Martin attended as a guest speaker accompanied by the Iron Throne. Last year, Terry Brooks attended as a speaker. I had to miss that one too.  This year, Jim Butcher is the author feature. I haven’t read his books, though I know a lot of people that highly recommend them. Regardless, I am looking forward to finally sitting in on a panel by a New York Times best selling author.

But that is besides the point. When the first of the year hit, I decided that I was going to MisCon this year, no matter what. To enter the writing workshop, you have to submit a piece of writing for evaluation. I set to work refining my favorite 10 pages of Solidity to date. Not a week after making that decision, I received an email from The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards Alumni Council. They were sponsoring a writing residency in New York City, and I just happened to meet the requirements for submission. Having already started a 10 page writing sample, I adjusted my focus to reflect the expectations for the residency, which I had to apply for. Who wouldn’t want a week of distraction free writing in a nice, historic hotel in the middle of New York City? From the beginning, I imagined my chances were fairly slim for acceptance. After all, they were only taking two writers and they had decades worth of writing alumni from their awards program eligible for submission.

I am an obsessive planner. Once I decided I was going to submit, I started researching details – just in case. The dates of the residency turned out to coincide with the week of vacation I had already reserved earlier in the month. How handy was that? I checked one box on the list of Fate-related circumstances. Then I looked at plane tickets to NYC. I have a dear friend who lives in Maryland whom I have been planning to visit this year. Knowing that, I started checking plane tickets to the east coast before Christmas and no matter what dates I looked at, tickets were sitting between $400 and $600. I figured NYC wouldn’t be much different. Turns out, plane tickets for that exact week were only $250, round trip. I checked another box on the circumstance list. Add up the fact that I already had a 10 page submission in the works, the fact that I am a Writing Award alumni, and the fact that I have never done a residency before (which pushed me up on the list for consideration), three more checks made their way onto the list.

At this point, I was feeling pretty good. Everything pointed to the idea that I at least had to try, and I submitted my proposal a week ahead of the deadline. A problem I struggle with on a daily basis is that I hate waiting. I am an instant gratification type of person. Once the waiting stage sets in, I obsess over possibilities, potential, plans – pretty much anything that in some way can pertain to the idea of whatever thing I am obsessing about. I end up searching for a lot of distractions. One such thing came in the mail about a week later – an autographed copy of the newest album just released by my favorite band, Avantasia. Not only are they my favorite band, but they serve as a partial muse for Better to Pretend, inspiring the band that main character Jenna obsesses over. I follow the band on social media, and accompanying the release of the new album, they announced a world tour – something that is rare for this band. For something to do, I looked it up knowing I wouldn’t be able to make it to any of the concerts as they most definitely wouldn’t be coming anywhere close to Montana. My hunch was right. They had two shows in the USA: one in NYC, the other in Los Angeles. Then, I looked at the dates.

Considering I have resigned myself to the idea I will NEVER see them live, what were the chances they would be performing somewhere I had the slightest chance of being? I figured nonexistent. Turns out they were going to be in New York City the literal day I would fly in should I be accepted for the residency. I am not going to lie. I had a minor (okay, major) freak out session. Add about 20 checks to the fate circumstance list for good measure. At this point, waiting for news on the residency became almost painful – especially since the deadline for submission was still a few days away. I waited and waited and waited and weighed my options.

I started seriously considering going to NYC regardless of the residency. Doing so would be my first official solo travel venture. Solo travel is something I have always wanted to do, and something I have continually put off for any number or reasons (excuses). I had also figured my first solo trip would be over seas, particularly to Scotland and a town pretty close in size to my hometown in Montana. It seemed like the logical step. Now, I was considering my first solo venture to Manhattan, where the island is home to more people than live in the entire state of Montana. Somehow, it seemed infinitely more intimidating.

More waiting. More obsessing. More driving myself and those around me crazy. The deadline finally passed. It was only a matter of time. I did something I never do – I checked my horoscope. If I do look at a horoscope, it is because it happens to be there, say on the sidebar of the Yahoo homepage. Sometimes they are vaguely fitting, most of the time they are way off. They are never specific. I looked at the February horoscope. It started with that day, which had nothing remotely relevant. The weekly look wasn’t any better. I flipped over to the overview for the entire month.

As the month begins, it’ll soon become clear to you that a writing project…will take up the majority of your time and energy. Fortunately, this is something you not only want to do, but it’s something you’re talented at doing…

…There’s no doubt you’re working on something significant. Perhaps that book you’ve always wanted to write is finally ready to come out of you. Go for it!…

…Expect an honor, award or other type of recognition… You’ll feel validated…

Reasonably, I kind of lost my shit.

I stewed on this for a few days, then I did something else I never do. I bought a one-way plane ticket, two nights in a hotel room, and a concert ticket. By this point I was pretty sure the universe was trying to tell me something. Everything I did seemed to point to me being in New York City that specific week in April. My stress level multiplied by about a thousand. The planner in me could barely handle not having a finite plan. I waited some more.

.

.

.

I didn’t get the residency.

By the time I found out, I had mostly decided that it wasn’t going to happen. And I was okay with it. I really, really wanted to be accepted. It was an incredible opportunity. But as much as I wanted it, it didn’t matter. I am going to New York City. The planner in me rejoiced as I booked the remainder of my trip.

I still believe that things happen for a reason. The series of events that lead me to booking that first plane ticket were the only reason I did it. The domino effect of fate, or serendipity or whatever you want to call it made me take a leap that I have been putting off for ages. Had the residency not come up, I wouldn’t have looked at plane tickets to New York. I wouldn’t have cared about the Avantasia world tour, because I knew they wouldn’t be anywhere I could get to easily. I never would have spent a week scouring over Solidity for 10 pages of perfection that in the end led to revelations about the story. You get the idea. I really do believe this was meant to be.

You can tell yourself a million times how much you want something. You can dream about it, talk about it, write about it, and obsess about it for days, months or even years. The fact of the matter is, if all you ever do is talk about it, it is never going to happen. You can’t make something happen unless you commit to it.

Writing has always been my dream – my passion. I have had successes. I have had validation that it is something I am meant to do. However, if you look at the reality of it, I have been calling myself a writer for years and I have yet to finish one of my three novels. The only thing I have completed since I was a freshman in college was a poem. I always have an excuse: I don’t have time; I am too busy; I am too tired. I want to travel, but I don’t have the money. I want to see the world but I am afraid to do it alone. There has always been one reason or another that something doesn’t happen. And I have nobody to blame but myself. That is kind of a hard pill to swallow. As much as I want to put the blame somewhere else, the only thing really stopping me is myself.

In two weeks, I am going to New York City. I am going to spend a week visiting locations that are relevant to Solidity. I am going to spend a week focusing on my writing and photography. I am going to see my favorite band by myself – a nearly once in a lifetime opportunity. I can’t say that I won’t lose track of my writing again when I get home and go months without putting words to a page. It might be a few years before I am able to take another solo adventure. The thing is, now I know I can do it. I am capable of taking a leap of faith. No more excuses.

“One day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.” ~ Paulo Coelho

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Inspiration: Travel

I have always loved to travel. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to do near enough of it in my life. Sure, there are the short weekend trips, but I want to explore the world – venture into new places, wander the remnants of past times that have been so hugely inspirational to my writing. Someday, I want to travel for the sole purpose of finding things to write about. Someday.

In the meantime, I will settle for whichever opportunities arise to take me somewhere new and I recently had such an opportunity. Last year, my dear friend Lindsey moved from the West coast to the East coast – quite literally, Washington State to Washington DC…ish. I have never really thought about traveling to the East coast save the obvious New York City venture, but with Lindsey stationed there and knowing that she herself had not had much of an opportunity to explore, I thought it would be a great chance to have a real beans, explore the world adventure with a good friend. So we did.

Over the course of a week, we dipped our toes into the plethora of wonderful things to explore between Washington DC, Baltimore and New York City. I am not much for museums or zoos, or aquariums, or even guided tours of anything. I like to get out and walk, discover things that you might not see from the window of a bus. I like to be immersed in a new place, taking in the sights, smells and sounds so different from my home in Montana. We planned our trip as kind of an introduction to all of these great places, and now when I go back, we can explore those we liked the best in greater depth. We did a lot of walking. A lot. Just exploring the National Mall in DC we walked at least 7 miles in one day and still didn’t see everything. New York City much the same. I could write about this trip all day, but instead I will show you a little of what we saw.

Washington DC

We spent two days in Washington DC. The first we wandered the National Mall to take in as many monuments as we could. We only missed out on a couple as we wanted to beat rush hour getting home – something that can turn a 20 minute drive into 3 hours. The second day we visited Arlington Cemetery and the National Cathedral. I would love to go back to DC and explore more of the monuments and get off the beaten path a bit and away from the tourist. I am pretty sure there were as many tour buses as there were cars.

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Walking up to the Capital Building. Unfortunately, the rotunda was under construction, but still impressive.

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The statue of Lincoln is impressive. I honestly didn’t realize how huge this monument actually was. I also wondered how many people take the time to look away from his giant figure to take in the stained glass windows on the ceiling.

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One thing I loved about DC was how it could make you feel like you were not in the middle of a modern city. Yes, this is a monument, but it looks like something from another time. The beauty of these structures truly left me in awe.

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Speaking of stepping back in time, probably one of my favorite places was the National Cathedral. It reminded me much of Notre Dame, both in its size and grandeur. The attention to design and detail in the architecture of churches has always drawn me in.

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And if an epic church in the middle of DC wasn’t enough, we stepped back into the gardens which truly could have existed in another world. It is amazing the things you find in the city when you take the time to look.

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The Memorial Amphitheater near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers is another impressive beauty. It’s presence, however, was dwarfed by the vigil of the guards at the tomb. We witnessed a changing of the guard, and it was a truly beautiful, humbling experience.

Baltimore

We had grand plans for Baltimore. Both Lindsey and I love to read and had hoped to visit the Edgar Allen Poe Museum as well as his grave site. Another point of interest was the George Peabody Library. We didn’t make it to any of them. Baltimore has been in the news a lot lately for not-so-great things… but we figured we would give it a shot. The Edgar Allen Poe destinations aren’t far from the Inner Harbor and the Library is on a college campus. We both figured things would be peachy, but after trying somewhere to park near the E.A.P. grave and circling around the block multiple times through some rather unsavory neighborhoods and by more than a couple people who seemed highly entertained while talking to themselves and wandering in circles on the sidewalks, Lindsey and I high-fived ourselves for our decision to head out to Ft. McHenry, the only place on our venture where she had been before and somewhere that she knew to be safe. Who knows, we probably would have been fine, but we just had that super uncomfortable feeling that things weren’t totally chill. Ft. McHenry was great though, and we strolled around the Inner Harbor Area for a while too. I can’t deny that Baltimore wasn’t my favorite place. But we gave it a shot. And I have a soft spot for boats… especially old piratey looking ones, so the day wasn’t a total loss.

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New York City

I am not going to lie. I could gush about New York City for days, and we were only there for 8 hours. I absolutely loved it. I would go back in a heart beat. I could spend a month there and never get bored. Of everywhere we went, the Big Apple definitely had that culture shock  aspect to it. In Montana we don’t have cities. We don’t have skyscrapers. There are less people in the state than Manhattan Island by itself. And it was incredible, even if 90% of the things that we wanted to see were hidden behind scaffolding. It just gives me an excuse (not that I would ever need one) to venture back there again. It was a whirlwind trip that started and ended with a 3 hour train ride, included trips on the subway, a stroll through central park and down 5th Ave. We were rained on, terrorized by a homeless man and Lindsey was pooped on by a pigeon (the latter two in the first hour we were there). We tried some good ol’ New York Pizza, ate dinner at the top of the tallest building in the Western hemisphere  – on floor 102! – and I had the two of the most disappointing lattes I have ever tasted. There was no excuse for the one beneath the Rockefeller Center, though the one in Penn Station wasn’t terribly surprising. Regardless, it was a day to remember and a fabulous finale to a week of epic adventures. (I apologize for the weird order of the pictures. For some reason the ones I captioned decided to sit somewhere other than where I told them to… )

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It rained the entire time we were in the city. By the time we reached the top of One World Trade center, I wasn’t sure we would be able to see anything at all. We timed it just right, though. Clouds moved in and out. Sometimes you could barely see the buildings right below us and then there were moments like these where you could see all the way to Times Square.

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Lindsey and I grew up listening to the Beatles. We spent hours listening to their music. It only made sense that we would visit the John Lennon Memorial in Central Park. Our teenage selves would never have forgiven us if we didn’t.

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A perfect way to top off the day. Sweeping views of the city, a fancy dinner and a glass of wine.

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We survived. It was an epic week long adventure and much needed reunion between friends. I can’t wait until next time!

Weekend Flashback: The Platform

Having been a writer for as long as I can remember, I have an arsenal of stories written throughout the years. Looking back on those stories is always fun, both as a reflection of where I was at the time and how far my writing has come. I figured, why not share some of those stories here. They aren’t doing anyone any good locked away in boxes and hard drives.

 

Weekend Flashback #1 – The Platform (2007)

This piece was written during a creative writing class in college as a personal memoir. The summer before I started college, I spent 10 days in France with my high school French Club and this story recalls an few moments of the hassle and drama of traveling in a large group on public transportation. Enjoy!

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            For being in such an exciting place, our train car was awfully quiet. I suppose it had to do with everyone being so exhausted—we had just spent three days walking around Paris and another day exploring the Valley of the Kings. But still, as I looked out the window, tired as I was, and watched the French country side go speeding by, I found it to be simply spectacular. Little villages and towns dotted the fields and meadows, and from time to time a castle popped up on the horizon. I could have watched it for hours had the swaying of the train and the rush of the landscape not made me train-sick.

            Eduardo, our tour guide, stood up all of the sudden and hurried back to where Mr. and Mrs. Chapman sat looking over a map of France. After a few minutes of intense conversation, he centered himself in the middle of the car.

            “Ladies!” he yelled, intentionally loud to wake up those who were sleeping. “Ladies, wake up; pay attention.” Several girls groaned, wiping sleep from their eyes.

            “We may have a problem.”

            He had our attention.

            “I have just realized that we only have ten minutes between trains.” His fingers flickered the number ten as he spoke. “Frankly, this many people and all of your luggage make it a stretch.” Everyone laughed a little. Between twenty-one people, we had a lot of luggage. “Now, add into the mix that we may have to change platforms! Which means probably two flights of stairs with our luggage in ten minutes not to mention getting all of you girls and your luggage off this train and onto the next one.” Speaking rapidly, Eduardo had to stop and take a breath. “So that means I need everyone to pay attention.”

            From there he went into a detailed explanation of how we were to effectively disembark the train. I listened intently with everyone else, thinking to myself that it would really suck to miss the next train because that meant we would miss the one after that and our entire day would be shot. When Eduardo finished, the car erupted in chatter that didn’t break until he stood up again, ten minutes from the train station.

            So, we put our plan into action. Everyone filed boisterously into the aisle. For those of us whose bags didn’t weigh as much as a small whale, we pulled them quickly off the overhead luggage rack. The rest of them waited impatiently for Eduardo and Mr. Chapman to heave the suitcases to the floor. With our luggage in line to make a quick exit, we all played musical train seats and baggage, attempting to unite ourselves with our scattered gear—some of the girls squeezed their way down the narrow aisle, while others crowd surfed their bags down the line.

            By the time everything was somewhat organized, we had pulled into the station. From either end of the car, Eduardo and Mr. Chapman literally chucked our bags out the doors onto the platform, barely giving us girls time to jump out without getting beamed by a flying suitcase.

            On the platform, chaos erupted as Eduardo took off down the platform looking for the nearest attendant. Scrambling to grab our luggage we started to follow him, only to be told to go the other direction because, “We have to change platforms! Everyone follow me!”

            Almost running, Eduardo fled down a flight of stairs, leaving us to follow awkwardly behind, suitcases flipping over off the wheels, skidding on the cement and bags bending their carriers in half with the weight of a thousand souvenirs. The underground passageway between platforms echoed deafeningly with the clank, clack, crash of our luggage sliding, rolling, bouncing down the stairs and up the other side.

            Time progressed in slow motion as we emerged onto the next platform and raced after Eduardo to the correct car. “Go to both ends, load from both ends!” he hollered over the train station ruckus as steam billowed out from underneath the train. A TGV sped by on the opposite side of the platform, rushing everyone with a gust of wind and Eduardo started heaving luggage through the door, ushering whoever was next in line up after it so they half fell into the car, tripping over the bag in front of them. Gradually, the twenty-one of us spilled into the already partially filled locomotive, just as the conductor came over the intercom rambling in French that we had two minutes until departure.

            Steam bellowed from beneath the train again, and the doors closed with a definite, airtight thud. We were still stumbling into our seats as it pulled away from the station and as the last of us sat down, Eduardo announced with triumph, “Eight minutes!”

            We answered with a resounding, “Ugh.”