September 29: Shooting Stars

Located just about 100 miles north of Los Angeles and largely devoid of what Angelenos would describe as “sites of cultural significance,” Bakersfield is not the typical Friday night destination.

As we pulled into town at sunset, we passed windowless buildings, chainlink fences, and oil wells. The air was dry and filled with particulate matter. While it’s population makes it the 52nd largest city in America, in 2015, Bakersfield earned the distinction of being the 2nd most polluted city in the country. We parked along the side of the road to avoid paying and joined the throng of Bakersfieldians making their way toward the large ferris wheel silhouetted by orange sky. The sound of mariachi music and arcade games became increasingly loud, and the breeze began to smell of fried dough. After a 2.5 hour drive and a ten minute walk, we had arrived at The Kern County Fair.

How, you might be wondering, did three good-looking, intelligent millennials with a car end up in Bakersfield on a Friday night? While the rest of our peers were heading out to bars and movies and art museums (or staying home and pulling up The Office on their parents’ Netflix accounts), we were on our way to see Smash Mouth, the one-hit wonder whose song All Star had spawned countless Shrek-themed memes.

I’d had to select my companions for this adventure with great care. It’s not just anyone who will drop everything, duck out of work early, and spend hours commuting at rush hour to one of the least exciting cities in California in order to see a band they don’t care about. Jared and Katie were temperamentally well-suited for this idiotic mission–good-natured people who are routinely kind to those around them. Katie’s the kind of person who’s up for pretty much anything out of the ordinary and has a good time no matter what. Jared DJs in his spare time and engages with music as a craft. He’d been ready to turn down my invitation until he learned that the concert was free with the price of admission to the fair ($10). In particular, I worried he would regret the decision to come.

Unlike Jared and Katie, I am as close to an un-ironic lover of Smash Mouth as a millennial can be. In early September, when I heard the lead singer, Steve Harwell (a Guy Fieri look-alike), had suffered from some kind of heart episode and had had to cancel shows, I knew I needed to act fast or risk never seeing Smash Mouth perform live. While in the early 2000s, the zenith of the band’s popularity, they’d won a Kid’s Choice Award, featured prominently in the Shrek opening credits, and filled stadiums, in 2017, they were mostly performing at county and state fairs. The Kern County Fair was the only place they’d be performing in California during the month of September, so it was either make the pilgrimage to Bakersfield, or gamble on Steve’s heart lasting into October.

We had some time to kill before Smash Mouth was scheduled to perform at the Budweiser Pavilion, so we headed for the second most exciting entertainment option listed in the fair’s program, The Great American Duck Race.

Robert Duck (who claimed that this was his actual last name), served as MC. He introduced us to his ducks who have won The Great American Duck Race hosted annually in Deming, New Mexico twelve times. He selected volunteers from the audience to come up and hold the ducks. When the whistle blew, the lucky duck-holders would drop their ducks into channels with water (like lanes in a pool), and the ducks would swim to the other side. The person with the fastest duck would move on to the finals.

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No matter how many times I raised my hand, I was never chosen. This may have had something to do with the fact that I was competing with 6-year-olds for Robert’s attention. The first round of racing ducks had names like Michael Phelps, Simone Manuel, and Katie Le-ducky. The next heat was filled with ducks named after NASCAR drivers. The third heat was a Duck Dynasty round. I was very impressed by Robert’s ability to tell all the seemingly identical mallards apart (how could he distinguish Michael from Simone every time?), until he let each kid name their own duck in the finals and I realized they were randomly assigned jokes. In the finals, most of the competitors selected duck puns for names, except for the two littlest kids who named their ducks Lucy and Jake. After a short but intense race, Jake proved victorious, and his temporary owner was crowned with a duck mask. After the ceremony, Robert said he wished he could give everyone a chance to race the ducks, but there just wasn’t time. However, for only $5.00, we could buy the right to race a duck. This $5.00 purchase included a complementary duck whistle. A tempting offer, but Jared, Katie, and I had places to be.

After purchasing the most expensive, least satisfying burrito bowl of my life (for $9.50 it only included meat, rice, and beans. Everything beyond that was an “add-on,” including salsa), we got in line to enter the pavilion. Jared and Katie were shocked by how many people had come to see the has-been band. Nearly all of the pavilion’s 3,000 seats were full. There was even a VIP section cordoned off with rope. Who these VIPers were and what exactly they were hoping to get from this experience remains a mystery. The band was scheduled to go on at 8pm. When 8:30pm came and went, and there was still no sign of the performers, the audience began to chant “Smash Mouth.” Logan, the eight-year-old in front of us, informed Katie that Smash Mouth was a fake band that did not actually exist.

Just as I began to despair that Steve had actually suffered the fatal heart attack, the man himself walked on stage, red solo cup in hand. The band launched into their first song, “Can’t Get Enough of You, Baby,” and the crowd went nuts (several people were wearing Shrek masks). I’ve been to a number of concerts for bands I actually admit to liking, but this was the first concert where I knew the majority of songs on the setlist. I was embarrassed and proud at the same time. Up on stage, Steve didn’t seem to know how to interact with the audience. While he sang, he paced back and forth between the bassist and the guitarist. He’d encroach on their bubble of space, placing an arm on their shoulder and singing directly to them. At one point, he kicked the guitarist on the butt. I wondered if there were women out there who fantasized about being romantically involved with Steve.

Logan turned again to Katie and told her that the man on stage was not the real Steve Harwell. He pulled up images of Steve on his iPhone as evidence. It was hard to say from such a distance if the man on stage was really Steve. He’d lost weight since the band’s early years and was now bleached blond. He didn’t sound like the recordings, but then again, neither does Katy Perry.

As the performance wore on, the anticipation built. There was one song everyone there had come to hear, and it wasn’t Walkin’ on the Sun, Holiday in my Head, Pacific Coast Party, Road Man, or even their cover of I’m a Believer. The couple behind me started chanting “All Star” every time a song ended. What’s it like to be a band and know that the thing you’ve created far surpasses you in terms of significance?

All Star was the very last song of the night, and it was glorious. The people in the Shrek masks jumped up and down in time with the beat. The crowd lit up with cellphone screens as people recorded the moment for their Instagram accounts. 3,000 voices joined Steve’s for the chorus that has scored this milenium. The concert ended with Steve softly repeating, like a mantra or a prayer, the words “only shooting stars break the mold.”

“That was awesome,” Jared commented as we walked back to the car in the dark. Katie nodded in agreement. I felt inspired, rejuvenated, a part of something much larger than myself (like a generation or a social media platform or something). I looked up at the night sky, searching for a sign, maybe a shooting star. There were none to be found, of course. The air in the 2nd most polluted city in the USA does not lend itself to stargazing.

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September 8: Grounded

I’d been ignoring the nagging pain in my left shoulder since the end of the trip. I finally went to see a medical professional about it on Tuesday. After jerking my arm in various directions, Dr. Rosenzweig’s assessment was that I needed to stop climbing until my shoulder stopped hurting. While this might sound logical, in the moment, sitting on the examination table, I struggled to follow his line of reasoning.

Me: So, I should take a few days off, pop some Advil, and then I can climb?

Dr. Rosenzweig (struggling to figure out how to explain this since I clearly wasn’t getting it): Um, no. You should give your shoulder a chance to heal. Then rehab it through physical therapy. Once it’s strong, you can go back to climbing.

Me: So I can go back next week?

Dr. Rosenzweig: If it doesn’t feel better in a month, call the office, and we can schedule a cortisone shot. If that doesn’t work, surgery is the last option.

Me: So if I climb, but make sure I don’t do anything that makes it hurt, I’m good?

Dr. Rosenzweig (having had enough): We want to nip this in the bud.

I’m now on a diet of anti-inflammatory medication, regularly heating my shoulder to “stimulate healing,” and I start physical therapy on Monday. When I want to wallow in self-pity, I think about the irony of working at a climbing gym, having free gym membership for the first time in my life, and being unable to use it.

Now that I’m grounded, I’m having to seek other forms of exercise, exercise that doesn’t involve raising my left arm above my head. Imaginatively, I’ve come up with hiking, biking, and running. Biking has risen above the other options because it doubles as a legit form of transportation, dovetailing nicely with my desire to spend as little on gas as possible. And save the planet, of course.

I’d always thought of biking as a fairly unskilled form of exercise. It turns out this assumption was not entirely correct. I’m slowly learning how and when to shift gears on the janky bike my dad found on the side of the road (our family’s only bike. It has one of those baskets on the back for carrying things, a nice feature, but I can’t figure out how to lower the seat). I’m pretty sure that, as a biker on city streets, I’m supposed to obey the same rules as cars. I try to do this as much as is convenient for me. I’m also still unclear about what arm gestures I’m supposed to make to indicate right and left turns. I’m a little afraid to learn these arm gestures because if any involve raising my left arm above my head, that will eliminate biking as a form of exercise. So far, I haven’t hit or been hit by anything. I’m starting to think the Tour de France might be in my future.

My father’s bike and I are an unstoppable team, making our way all over the west side of Los Angeles (usually no more than a 5 mile radius from the house). Yesterday, we biked to the bank to close out a checking account where they’d started charging me a monthly fee. I had to wait to be seen by a bank official, for which I was thankful because it gave me time to stop sweating. Through my interaction at the bank, I learned that really all they want to do is keep you on as a customer. The woman I spoke to quickly came up with three different ways for me to keep an account with them without paying a monthly fee (one involved claiming I’d be in school for another four years, allowing me to open a new college checking account).

Post-bank, I decided to reward myself with an espresso drink at the Caffe Luxxe across the street (one of a long list of LA coffee places that have passively rejected me over the course of the past month). Sadly, there was nothing in it for the bike, but I think it understood. When I enter coffee shops, I try to hang back because it takes me time to go through the drink offerings and pretend like I’ll choose something new and exotic this time, before finally settling on an almond milk cappuccino. The place was pretty empty when I walked in, which meant that the baristas noticed me immediately. I stayed back, hoping they would take this as a cue that I wanted to mull over my decision, but I think they read it more as fear. One of them, a guy with glasses, who I would later learn was named Preston, called out to me, asking if I wanted anything. In an effort to appear well-socialized, I took several steps forward and told him I was considering my options. After anther minute of careful consideration, I ordered an almond milk cappuccino. Preston didn’t ring me up; he just started making the drink. After pulling out my credit card, I had nothing to do but wait. I felt awkward waiting for Preston to make my drink in silence, so I brought up the first thing that popped into my head.

Me: You guys sell liquid soap?

There was no reason to phrase this as a question since they were quite obviously selling soap, and it was quite obviously in liquid form. Either that, or it was an art installation designed to be reminiscent of a soap display case. Thankfully, it is the job of all baristas to engage with their customers, no matter how pitiful their attempts at small talk. My comment led to a discussion of all the non-coffee-related items for sale in the store and a recommendation that I try a sample of their hand cream.

I watched with envy as Preston confidently poured dollops milk into a thick, creamy shot of espresso. When he finished, he’d transformed the dollops of milk into the classic leaf-shaped latte art. I offered him my credit card, but he shook his head. “This one’s on me.” I did my best to keep from grinning and thanked him. I sat down on the far side of the cafe with my self-help book, feeling incredibly special. This day kept getting better and better. Free checking account, free cappuccino. I was on a roll, and it was all due to the awesomeness I was evidently exuding.

After reading for an hour or so, my concentration was interrupted when I heard Preston say, “It’s on me.” My back was to the counter, so I couldn’t see who he was gifting a free coffee drink to. Needless to say, that put me back in my place. Still, a free coffee is a free coffee, regardless of whether or not validation of your existence comes with it.

 

August 18: No Reply

Sent my sister an email with the subject line “hi” and had her send me one back to make sure my email address was working. It had been days and, after applying for jobs with 7 coffee companies (if you break it down by individual stores, it was more like 10 or 11 job openings) and 1 climbing gym, I’d received nothing beyond a few automated “your application has been received” emails. I knew going into this that it probably wouldn’t be as easy as handing over my resume and getting hired on the spot. I knew that a Yale degree wouldn’t impress someone looking to hire a barista, that if anything, my degree would make it seem like I was less serious about learning the barista arts. I knew all of this intellectually, but I don’t think it prepared me for the utter radio silence that followed my applications.

After about a week of nothing which felt much, much longer to my unemployed brain, I opened my inbox Tuesday morning to find I’d received a single email calling me in for an interview with Urth Caffe, a local chain devoted to organic, responsibly sourced coffee, tea, food, etc. “Do you have any questions?” the woman on the phone, who I spoke with to set up the interview, asked. “Uh,” I said, “Is there a dress code?” She assured me that casual attire was fine.

Hair washed (yes, you read that correctly), sporting a pair of dark jeans and a respectable sweater (black because I thought it made me look slightly edgier, and because it’s never a bad idea to do a subtle homage to Steve Jobs), I made my way to Urth Caffe’s downtown headquarters. The address took me to streets lined with warehouses on the south side of downtown LA. I got to the door a few minutes before 9am, joining a small group that had gathered outside the door. Urth Caffe was doing what they termed an open house interview. You could show up anytime between 9 and 10:30 am. They said to except a 45 minute wait. I thought I could get around this by being one of the first people there. My early bird companions consisted of a boy who looked even younger than me (not helped by his skinny frame and the backpack he was wearing) and a man who looked to be in his early 30s and was wearing slacks and a button down. The boy, in his hand, held an Urth Caffe to go cup. “Suck-up,” I thought, bitterly wishing it had occurred to me to rep my love for the product.

At that moment, a large man in a large teal shirt joined our group. He addressed his remarks to the man in slacks, who had an air of authority, likely because he was wearing slacks. The man in teal wanted to know if he had parked in the correct location. The man in slacks didn’t know because, in spite of what his clothes seemed to indicate, he was not in charge. We were joined by a man with torn jeans and blue dreads of a slightly more purple blue than the man in teal’s shirt. We stood in silence until the doors for Urth Caffe were thrown open. Everyone jockeyed for position in line. I ended up near the back by the kid with the backpack. One by one, we entered the building, signed in, and were ushered to a holding area with folding chairs. It was 10am before the first person was called in for an interview, and nearly 10:30 by the time I went into the small, brightly lit room where three managers were waiting.

Two of them sat in silence during the interview, and I wasn’t entirely sure they were paying attention. The third, the man, began his line of questioning, “You went to Yale?”

“Yes.”

“What are your longterm plans?” Jeeze, it’s like this guy was peering into the depths of my soul and drawing inspiration from my insecurities.

“Uh, I don’t really know right now.”

He asked a couple more questions about my availability, and then it was over. It had been less than five minutes. On my way out, I asked when I’d know if I got the job. He said I’d receive an email by 5pm that day if they wanted to bring me back for the second round of interviews.

I did not hear from them by 5pm that day. The day after, I kind of hoped I’d get a “whoops, sorry we didn’t send this sooner, but we still want to interview you!” email. After about three days, I gave up on that fantasy.

In the days following my Urth Caffe rejection, I got an email from Peet’s saying they’d like to interview me, and an email from the climbing gym. I responded with my availability, but have yet to hear back. I’m glad La La Land didn’t win best picture, but I’m also glad it exists because the film’s given me a way to conceptualize my situation. For those who’ve seen the movie, you know the montage where Emma Stone’s going out to all those auditions, and people aren’t even looking at her? I feel like that, expect that I’m auditioning for the job Emma Stone already has when the movie begins; I’m trying to get the job she has to make ends meet while she tries to realize her dreams. What I’m trying to say is that La La Land glosses over how she got her barista job to begin with, but there’s probably another movie in that story. Maybe it’ll be the prequel.

 

August 14: The Application Process

Applying to become a barista is much like applying to college. There are the big state schools, the small liberal arts colleges; the large, international chains, and the local boutique stores. You have your top choice, the coffee shop your heart’s set on; your mom wants you to apply to at least 9 others in case “things don’t work out.” Instead of asking for a resume and a cover letter, each shop has its own highly individualized method for separating the world’s future baristas from a lower order of human existence. Some are fairly basic, asking for the online form equivalent of a cover letter and resume, and remind me of schools like Middlebury which did not require any supplemental essays. Most coffee shops, however, like most colleges, come with their own arsenal of short answer questions. These questions range from the expected, “why do you want to work at (insert name of illustrious coffee shop here)?” to the anecdotal, “describe the best tasting coffee you’ve ever had and what made it so great?” to the cerebral, “how do you define a high-end offering and why?” One place asked me to list any relevant coffee-related experiences I’d had, including “awards, training certifications or other coffee-related accolades” I’d obtained or achieved. I had to leave that section blank. Another company refused to call the people who sell and make the coffee drinks “baristas,” choosing instead to refer to them as “retail associates.”

Of all the applications I’ve gone through (I’ve applied for positions with 6 different companies so far), the application I most enjoyed completing was the one for Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf goes a step beyond the short answer questions and asks you to complete two assessments. The first took me right back to junior year of high school. It gives you ten minutes to answer as many questions as possible. Though they’re not exactly the same, many of the questions bear strong resemblance to certain sections of the SAT. I’ve included some visual supplements below for those who wish to relive their glory years:

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Sadly, it has been many years since my standardized testing heyday, and the questions on the test itself were more difficult than the practice problems seemed to promise. Still, having to take a bastardized IQ test made me feel like they really were attempting to hire an elite group of baristas, that if chosen, I (and my resume) would forever more bear the mark of an elite institution.

The second test seemed to be an attempt to understand my character. It was much longer and more difficult.

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As you can see, they were not pulling their punches. I was thrilled by the challenge, but it also made me long for the much simpler character assessment I’d had to complete for a previous application with questions such as:

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I was fairly certain I nailed these questions.

I’m now waiting to hear back from my first round of applications. Some have taken the time to let me down easy in advance:

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August 10: Always Store Ground Beef Above Poultry

After an unexceptional end to a mediocre road trip (turns out planning ahead has its merits), I returned home to a purposeless existence. On my road trip with Mico, I knew what I was supposed to do each day–rock climb. Not that this was a particularly lofty purpose, but it gave shape to each day just like college had before it. Knowing I could stomach a directionless existence for only so long and that a climbing habit requires an income source, I prioritized finding a job when I got home. It’s been my dream since I was in middle school, enjoying my first cups of coffee, to work as a barista. I picture myself working in a place filled with the bitter aroma of coffee, gracefully moving around an espresso machine, handing beautiful cups of latte art to eager customers, and watching caffeinated smiles lift their lips as they walk out the door.

Turns out I didn’t even need a job in order to find a purpose. A job search in and of itself can easily take over your life. As I searched for job openings at my favorite LA coffee shops, I came across the term “ServSafe” for the first time. The ServSafe California Food Handler Certification or equivalent is required of those who aspire to handle other people’s food in a commercial setting in the state of California. Like driver’s ed, I imagine that at one time this was a course people were required to take in a classroom setting. However, in the digital era, it’s the kind of course you take online. After watching a multicultural cast of people, united by poor acting skills and a tendency toward over-enunciation, detail the finer points of “keeping food safe” for two and a half hours, you get to take a learner’s permit style test (also online).

The course was divided into five sections, and each section began with a horror story about food service gone wrong–“boy ordered chocolate pudding for desert…” During the course, I learned things I never knew and would never have anticipated ever needing to know in my life. I learned that food should not be stored between 41 and 135 degrees fahrenheit as temperatures in this range are most friendly to bacteria growth. I learned that one should always close dumpster lids after use, that proper hand washing takes approximately 20 seconds, and that poultry requires a higher cooking temperature than steak or seafood (165, 145, and 145 degrees respectively). My favorite fact, however, the one that will stick with me even though it serves little practical use in my daily life, is the proper order to store food in order to prevent cross contamination. Ideally, you have a separate cold storage container for each type of food. The course, acknowledging that this would require many fridges, gave an alternative–storing the foods in order of how high a temperature they need to be cooked at. This results in the following order from top to bottom: ready to serve foods; whole cuts of beef, fish, pork; ground meat; and poultry. I know, good stuff. The course was almost worth $15 for entertainment value alone. Below is a screen shot of one of the friends I made during this process:

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I wonder if people on the street ever recognize him, go up to him, and say “hey, you’re that super chipper guy from the ServSafe videos who uses catch phrases like ‘yikes!'” Probably not, but one can always hope.

I passed my test with flying colors and, with ServSafe’s blessing, continued on my quest to become an LA-area barista.

August 2: Forks

Nobody wanted to plan the road trip from Seattle to Los Angeles. My mom was burnt out after all the planning she’d done for the family vacation to Italy earlier in the summer (and still a little pissed that, though her ingrate children had refused to help plan it, they’d still reserved the right to complain about it after the fact). My sister and I had this romantic idea that we’d just flip through Auto Club books as we drove and providence would guide us to all the life-changing tourists destinations on the west coast. The date arrived for us to leave Seattle, and we had no idea where we wanted to go or what we wanted to do. After googling “best tours in Washington state,” my mom and sister settled on touring the Boeing factory. I’d forgotten I lived with two airplane aficionados. To be accurate, one airplane aficionado and one factory aficionado. Whether it’s a candy factory, a shoelace factory, or an airplane factory, my mom wants to tour it. As my mom loves to remind me, I was a kid who happily toured museums and sites of cultural interest. I’ve since grown into a young adult with a short attention span and intolerance for reading plaques. I think this transition took place during the last four years (coincidentally the four years I was at Yale). “You can pick the next place we go,” my mom and sister promised. This was more of a burden than a gift since all of us were ultimately trying to get out of planning. If you plan things in this family, you run a high risk of getting blamed. “Ok,” I said grinning, “I want to go to Forks.”

Forks, WA is a small, economically depressed town on the Olympic Peninsula. It’s economic depression has been recently somewhat alleviated by the publication of the best selling series, Twilight. Forks is the setting for these page-turning novels filled with sparkly vampires and teenage longing. After my utterance, I waited for my sister and mother to call me out, to tell me that I didn’t actually want to go to Forks, but they didn’t.

“I want to go there because it’s where Twilight’s set,” I elaborated in case they were unaware. Still no pushback. They began looking for places to stay on the Olympic Peninsual. Their reaction left me disappointed. Why bother to make ridiculous pronouncements if people behave like they’re reasonable statements? Now, before you think that I only said this to start an argument with my family members or to get the burden of planning the trip lifted from my shoulders, there was some sincerity to this statement. Mid high school, I read the entire Twilight series on a dare. A friend gave me three months to read the series, thinking I wouldn’t be able to stomach it. I read the four books in a week. I waited a month before admitting I’d finished them, lest someone suspect that I’d actually enjoyed them. 

As with many things I do, I was somewhere between seriously wanting to make the pilgrimage to the Twilight promise land and wanting to go as a joke. This is probably why those close to me have such a hard time knowing when to take me seriously.

 After the Boeing factory tour (a tour I will remember thanks to this dude my age who informed our tour group he was a future Boeing employee and seemed to have memorized the Boeing book of trivia, the same one our tour guide got all his questions from. He monopolized the question asking parts of the tour, peppering our polite, midwestern tour guide with an associates degree in criminology with technical questions about engines.) we drove 4 hours in a northwestern direction to the Olympic Peninsula. We arrived in Forks. I hopped out of the car, snapped a picture in front of the “welcome to Forks” sign, texted it to a friend, and announced I was ready to leave. It was then that my mother and sister learned why I wanted to go to the Olympic Peninsula. And it was then that I learned that my mother and sister thought the whole Twilight thing was a joke, that I wanted to go to the Olympic Peninsula because of the rainforest and hiking and nature stuff. A lot of learning went on in the span of a few minutes. We then piled back in the Subaru and drove in a strictly southern direction.

July 30: Epilogue

The trip ended at 4:30am on July 30 when I dropped Mico off at the Seattle airport. However, at the risk of being a walking cliche (a millennial who blogs), I think I’m going to keep up this blog for the time being, at least until it a) becomes too time consuming, b) is no longer fun, or c) reaches a point where it’s barring me from employment opportunities. Mico hasn’t decided if he’s going to continue posting. I think our lives would make for an interesting contrast (one of us is putting a Yale engineering degree to use in a maker’s space at our alma mater. The other is making good on the promise of a film degree, an aspiring barista living with her mom in Los Angeles. I’ll leave you to figure out who’s who). If Mico decides his blogging years are behind him, I don’t know how unsubscribing works, but I hope all you all who’ve been following this blog for the sole purpose of keeping tabs on him (with such dazzling good looks and quality personality, who can blame you?) find a way to make that happen. I bear you no hard feelings and would contemplate doing the same thing if it were not my own life.

Here’s where the first day of the rest of my life begins. Calm and composed, I dropped Mico off at the airport and spent the next half hour driving into downtown Seattle, sobbing. I’m not sure of it’s safe to drive while crying that hard, but luckily it was 4:45am on a Sunday, so not too many people were on the road. I was crying for a number of reasons. I was going to miss Mico, of course, and likely wouldn’t see him for a long time. But it went beyond that. Mico boarding that flight marked the severence of my final tie to college. With the end of this trip and his return to Yale, I could no longer pretend that I would find myself in the same situation in a month’s time–boarding a flight to JFK–that this was only a short vacation from the life I had built over the course of the last four years. I was pretty dry eyed during graduation; the finality of my sentence to life as an adult hit home in this moment.

I consoled myself by spending the next five hours blogging about the end of our trip in Starbucks Heaven–the largest Starbucks I have ever seen. For reasons I never found out, it had three separate espresso bars and an enormous gift shop. The staff members spoke to you of their products in soothing tones using words like “floral,” “bright,” and “awesome.” The awesomeness of the beverages was reflected in prices printed neatly on the steel gray menu cards they passed me. I got a 12oz cup of coffee for over $7.

Hopped up on caffeine, I collected my mother and sister at the airport. I was excited to see them, especially because it meant I’d finally have the opportunity to show (disgust) my mother with my hygiene habits over the past two months. Camping with little access to showers had given me the perfect chance to experimented with what happens when you go 55 days without shaving your armpits and without washing your hair. My mom is accepting of many things (during my teenage years, she routinely offered to raise the products of any unplanned pregnancies I might have), but she has made no secret of her opinions concerning women and shaving. She once told me that it looked like there were little ants crawling all over my legs after I participated in “no shave November.” I’d never in my life had this much hair under my arms, since I’d started shaving as soon as the first hairs started growing in and my elementary school friends started making fun of them. So I guess, I was more or less excited to goad my mother with my relatively hairy, unwashed body. Her reaction did not disappoint. She was appalled that I hadn’t been washing my hair, and nearly puked in the street when she saw what my sister poetically referred to as the “dead animals” under my arms. My sister was almost equally appalled, but to her credit, gave my mom a lecture about how the idea that women should have hairless bodies was an image promoted by razor companies during the 40s when they needed a new market with the men away at war. Both agreed that the hair needed to be washed immediately. Below is a video of my hair the following morning (still unwashed). I’m kind of starting to think it has the potential to look good.