Monday, August 31, 2009

Places to Go in DC: Cactus Cantina

Cactus Cantina $$
3300 Wisconsin Ave, NW

After spotting this restaurant the first day I arrived, I knew this was going to be a delicious treat, and indeed it was.  The outside is southwestern 
meets old New England.  The brick contrasting the cactus-green and salmon-pink make the place
 instantly recognizable, that's if the huge crowds of people in the place don't catch your attention first.  The patio area is lovely, especially on a nice late-summer DC night.  I was able to venture out with a few fellow interns, who didn't realize the walk was as far as it was from our casa de Van Ness.  Although crowded, we were seated in less than 20 minutes.  We jam-packed two tables together on the patio to fit all of us, immediately receiving freshly fried tortilla chips and salsa.   The salsa was a bit sweet for my taste, with not enough spice, but it did the job to fill our hungry bellies.  The chips quenched my thirst, so I went after the half strawberry/half original margarita.  It beat the heat and gave my lips a good feeling.  For the main course, I ventured for their most requested menu item, fajitas!  They were perfectly cooked with all the right fix-ins and the tortillas were freshly rolled and grilled inside.  I also tried a tamale, that was a little bland in comparison to homemade ones I've had before. Overall, this place is a perfect gathering if you want something hip, good and Southwestern.  Next, I'd like to try the pizza place next door that I heard has the best brick-oven-baked pizza in DC.  Yummers.

A fellow intern, Kristin, and I digging into the chips and salsa

Getting over the old

This was written over a period of time. In my journal, the date last reads: September 25, 2009.

My lonely bed lies broken. The support strained from all the burden. The invisible rock crushing my bones, wet with blood. I fall beneath the pressure. I can't escape his gaze. The one with the sparkles. The wide-eyed kisses. The ones I dream about. It's too much to handle and he's over it. But this is about me. This is my journey. Mine to explore and do. Wanting things and getting them. Stop the intensity. Stop the addiction, the constant checking-up and prodding to get attention. He's stopped responding. He's moving on. His kisses lie as memories now, as wetness now dry. Get over him. He's over you. He never really needed you. He didn't know who you were to him. It was trivial. I guess he's ready to let his wall down. I guess. I won't be there to see it but it'll happen. He's already done more than me.

But stop it! This is your life. Get over it. Stop the comparisons. The monotony. It's dragging you beneath the surface and you are ready to fly. Live YOUR life. What are you passionate about? Spill it on your feet, make the guts fall on your shoelaces. Let the drippings manifest themselves into the seeps of the sidewalk, planting the seeds of the future. Just do it. No more fear. No regrets. The sky is the limit. Open your wings.

Well, that's what I'm told, right? But in the meantime, I'm just getting by. Afraid of being crushed by the man, I'm unwilling to negotiate the cause. Stuck as it seems in the marrow of time. Lost within the two streets I need to arrive upon. Catch the bus and swallow the pill. Make reality real. Stop pretending and just do!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

First day at work

August 24, 2009

I enter 1400 20th Avenue.  Home of my work place.   It's called The Bristol apartment building with a few office rooms located on the first floor (I wasn't expecting much but an apartment building threw me off a bit for work, I won't lie). I asked the nice man at the reception desk the way to ACLU, "I'm a new intern there".  He smiled and told me the directions.  I am up the stairs and the last door at the end of the hall to my left.  It seems the first walk towards a new destination, a new work place, is always the longest.  I stare at each minute detail on the walls: freckles of paint on the door ways, neighboring room numbers, shifted carpet designs, thinking about what if they'll like me, what if they don't, How will my first hand shake be, questions racing through my mind, each step evoking newness, each step provoking an idea, making the hall stretch long and far, as if I was walking for miles.  I finally reach it, my destination, room 117, home of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Now I've never really had high expectations for my internship.  It was an almost last minute decision made because going to Asia to teach English didn't follow the timeline I had expected.  I've always heard of ACLU through newspapers, articles bashing them or articles thanking them, it always seems to be here or there, never in between.  When I got a call from them, I really wasn't sure whether they were right for me to intern at.  I mean, I don't know very much about law and I realize their issues spring far towards the left but what intrigued me was its newness and passion.  I have strong interests in civil liberties, civil rights, and government check and balances.  The internship provided challenges I had yet to face in my undergraduate yet utilized my social justice work.  In the end, I found that the internship could provide an environment in which to grow, where my own biases on issues could be challenged, and my values reevaluated, questioning myself as an individual with freedoms, wanting to discover new things about myself.  I stepped up to the challenge, up to the plate, and am taking a swing.

I enter room 117.  Slowly turning the knob, it opens easily.  I see several people bustling about, the environment too much for me to take in at first.  Posters of human experiences, white cubicles, brown hand-me-down desks and chairs, stacks and stacks of paper, pride flags, 'Statehood Now' banners, filing cabinets, bumper stickers....I realized at this moment, I am now here, no turning back, despite the overwhelming feeling I had to run from this chaotic office, I knew I was there to stay.  

The volunteer at the front desk, I see first, announcing my self as the "new intern".  Sitting next to her was another intern, Adam.  Slightly shorter than me, Jewish-looking and slim, I could tell his first day was today as well, for he wore a suit similar to me, except slightly less color-coordinated.  He seemed very nice and nervous as well.  We both waited patiently for an introduction of some kind to the office.  I had been talking with a gentleman named Don Haines, I asked for him and out he popped in the cubicle right in front of me.  He was plump and welcoming.  After waiting for several minutes, unsure of what to do next, I saw a woman frantically going about the office printing off various papers. She eventually introduced herself, loads of papers in her hands, "Hi, I'm Beverly."  Her face gave a smile that seemed appropriate for the situation, quaint and direct.  She led us to the conference room.  

From here on, everything gets a little mundane.  Basic first-day stuff at work I suppose.  We went over the ACLU, what it does, how it differs being that it's the DC ACLU, etc.  I learned my correct title is now "legal assistant".  It sounds more official and special, although I'm still required to do the clerical work around the office.  Beverly and Don, my main supervisors, are welcoming, definite characters.  Beverly is strict and always busy while Don is long-winded, cracking jokes here and there, and a definite stickler when it comes to answering the phone correctly.  There are other people around the office, the director, Johnny, 2 law fellows, a paralegal and volunteer lawyers that have yet to come back from vacationing. I can tell lots of learning will take place here, well I hope it will.  My mind is open to new experiences and new challenges, the first day representing such things in store.  

Places to Go in DC: Ben's Chili Bowl

Ben's Chili Bowl $
1213 U Street, NW

This lunch counter and late-night hangout is home to the delicious "half-smoke" chili-covered sausage. I came here late night after some bar-hopping and found the experience quite overwhelming, in a good way.  The crowd was out the door, so I squeezed on into the madness and eventually ordered my food, a traditional chili dog and chips.  It came out hot and the cheese was oozing onto my fingers.  I noticed in the back a sign which read, "Bill Cosby eats free.  And Obama BUT HE PAID!".  You gotta love a place like this.  The bustling lovers of late night eats with no-crap-taking employees that will tell you how it is.  Cultures mixing all for the love of good food. I found myself a slab of counter and started digging in.  The dog was perfectly cooked with a rich smokey flavor and the chili was everything you could ask for.  I used the chips to clean up my spills of chili on the plate.  A perfect DC meal.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

How many Monuments can I see in one day?

Washington Monument:
With my trusty bike by my side, I was off.  I started out not knowing where to go but followed the sky to the tallest thing in it, the Washington Monument.  The omnipresent structure calls out to all the city of Washington representing in boastful beauty, the power of democracy.  It enthralls the viewer with its boldness and dignity.  A hopeful spire releases the tension of the sky, splitting the clouds and nestling itself with the birds, providing a perch to sing.  The people below frolic in its shadow, an awed grim on their faces.  Bestowed among a huge plain of grass, the mighty land in which it stands provides the backbone of our country.

World War II Monument:
Thrusting through the ground spurts water fountains, blasting from the earth like cannons, missiles hitting the earth with their treacherous power.  I come to it slowly, taking in all the states and territories listed along the monument.  Split down the middle, a body of water splitting domed entrances labeled Atlantic and Pacific.  US states and territory columns line the memorial, embracing one another.  Respect for the men and women from each of those states and territories filled my every sense.

Lincoln Memorial:
How incredible!  The steps were covered with people sitting, comfortable in his shadow.  His presence warm and inviting, sending out his infinite love for America.  The size of his presence and his greatness spans all nations.  People from all over the world in awe over him.  His massive size captivating the viewer, almost reachable, I reach out my hand to touch his incredible shoes.  I stop myself, for a man of this stature deserves more than just a physical embrace, it is through his unselfish acts I give him more than that, I give him a promise.

Korean War Memorial:
Men lined like warriors, hearts heavy with the metal that make them up.  Tired and war-torn, faces intense yet confused, the men walk with rifles at their sides.  Their large trench coats hiding the pain of their sacrifice.  The sea of faces on granite erected next to the sculptures bring life to "The Forgotten War" reminding us all of American patriotism, devotion to duty and human courage.

Vietnam War Memorial:
The most strikingly powerful memorial, I'm drawn to it and at the same time want to hide from it.  My black reflection stares me dead in the eye.  Letters sketched along the wall, intercept my reflection with a hurtful reminder of what war creates.  The wall engraved with the dead.  The sister/brother/son/daughter rubbing a piece of charcoal against paper, against stone trying to get a piece of evidence proving their soldier's sacrifice.  I stand and acknowledge my own privileges, my own fortunes that have kept me from harm's way.  I stand next to these names trying to piece it all together.  Why must war tear these names away from the ones they love?  My mind thickens with thought as I notice my reflection again, names from the past staring at my privilege, I stand thankful.

Thomas Jefferson Monument:
A good ride around the Tidal Basin, trees hanging low over the cracked sidewalks, led me to the Pantheon residing our Third American President.  His love for architecture evident in the creator's design, the beautiful greek style fitting for such an extraordinary man.  The inventor, the architect, the drafter of the Declaration of Independence, the President, Jefferson stands as someone everyone strives to be at their greatest.  His quotes filled the room with thought.  People looking up and reading such divine messages of knowledge brought enlightenment.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men. We . . . solemnly publish and declare, that these colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states. . . And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."

Roosevelt Memorial:
Hidden in the trees, I found the last Memorial of my day.  He was sitting carefully in his wheelchair, back straightened, hand in pocket.  Courageous and withstanding the stigmas put around his disability, his strength and powerful decisions made effecting the world still today.  He was any man you'll ever meet yet the greatest man you'll ever meet.  Four rooms representing four terms led me on a maze discovering the beauty and tragedy in which America went through during his times as president.  Waterfalls discovered in the rooms get larger and more complex as the walk continues much like the complexities of world war and economic depression complexed the life of the 32nd president.

Places to go in DC: Ching Ching CHA

Ching Ching CHA $$ 
1063 Wisconsin Ave NW (in Georgetown)

Lovely traditional chinese tea shop and restaurant.  Little bento boxes served delightfully alongside tea of your choice.  Each table comes handy with it's own teapot and a small burner to keep the water hot.  There is traditional seating on your knees towards the front of the restaurant (please ensure you take off your shoes before entering this space) or some tables along the rest of the restaurant.  Children's Chinese books line the entrance of the establishment alongside bagged teas.  I bought a bag of Lapsang Souchong for $8.50 and stayed for Green Hair green tea for $7.  The Green Hair brew has a great sweetness to it, a bite of honey.  A bit pricey for tea, but well worth it for the environment and friendly service.

The Butterfly tells me it's okay

Friday, August 21, 2009.  

The storm pelted me like a worn down animal.  The butterfly said it was okay, she led me down this path, to the rock in which I sit.  The rock, concrete in its foundation, sitting along the Potomac River, a rock like mermaids sit on.  I'm being eaten by a storm now.  I wasn't expecting it, the butterfly said it'll be okay, but it came all the same.  Quicker.  Quicker.  I was drawing the scenery in my sketch book but the pages became wet.  The scene around me was intense.  The cloud's wind pushing my body, ignoring my pleas.  The earth beneath me solid, although trying to be swayed by the cloud's mighty gusts.  The cloud not taking "no" for an answer, continues the punishment.  The rain now thicker, marbles hitting me, painting me with color.  I find cover under an old tree, hunching over my belongings, remembering that my diploma and other valuable items were hidden safe inside.  I thanked the old tree for giving me some sort of covering in this wicked rebellion.  I wanted to whimper there, cover my heart with an arched back from the rain, and wait it out. 

The storm was in front of my eyes.  I should of seen it coming.   Maybe I did, but I didn't trust it would hurt me because the butterfly led me there.  I saw the clouds get dark.  I saw people cowering to shelter because the sky was dark.  I chose not to trust my own eyes.  It was as if I was looking into a picture frame, staring at a painting.  The grey in the sky just markings the painter left to leave an impression on the observer.  Only paint strokes.  Colors: charcoal, sea foam, and dust.

The water soaked me through and through.  My body was wet, my clothes now heavy with liquid, dark with rain.  I remember sucking some water from my shirt, tasting the rain that was making my body so vulnerable.  As I was down, peering through the trees, I found two kayakers who had abandoned their boat and were now trying to find safety from the storm.  They were struggling through bushes and stones and trees.  Something came over me, to lead them to safety.  The Butterfly inside myself speaking up to say everything will be okay.  There was a man and woman.  They were from Maryland and came for an afternoon on the river.  The man was short and stumpy, his glasses protruded from his nose, his chin slightly lower than his shoulders.  It was as if a mole had dressed like a man.  The woman had a familiar face.  She was kind and confident.  They were debating whether to stay with the boat or trench through the land and I guess I was their answer.   She made a comment as I was leading them down the path, "We came this way because we saw you to guide us."  I was their butterfly it seemed.  I have to admit that at times I wanted to leave them.  They were slow, the man would constantly stumble because of a hurt hip.  But I knew they needed me and of course I would stay to help.  My wings were in flight and despite the rain, I continued flying.

After a while, the rain weakened.  We came to the Fletcher's Cove Park on the Potomac.  The skies were blue and beautiful.  The butterfly returned, showing herself out of the corner of my eye.  All was safe.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Welcome Washington DC

The thick air exhausted me as I exited the plane.  The sky feels like it's closing in on me.  Dripping down my body until the pores on my skin have nothing else to do but spill over, my hand wiping the excess away.  Beyond the heat and humidity, I toughened up letting the thick air rest upon my shoulders.  I dug my feet into the ground and stepped towards an open curtain, the theatrical production being that of one I haven't memorized yet, in fact, I was just jumping in on the one-act, improvising my next move, but excited for the adventure to begin.

I left the airport, bags in hand, well, three bags and one box (with my bike in it!).  I crept upon the taxi line, not sure whether such an excess amount of baggage could fit into one of the small four-door taxis.  They hailed a van for me, "they" being the taxi valet.  I put my things in, careful not to shift the taxi's broken back handle.  The driver was silent, a black man with a grey crispy beard.  I was tired and was comfortable to keeping silent.  The drive was pleasant, passing overgrown trees and brick fences.  I stared out the window, each moving thing creating a slideshow in my brain.   The history coming alive in front of my eyes.  I saw the Washington Monument in the background, the spire jetting up like a giant thumb, pointing towards our destination.  Things meshed together, things came fast and went fast. The age of the city was evident while modern elements took me by surprise; the rubbed-down marble stone next to the torn down billboards gave contrast to the outstretching vale of green and grey.  It was magical and moving to be in such a place, "The Nation's Capital".  I remember hearing the flight attendant saying that as I exited the plane.  I also remember myself repeating it, saying to my self, "I am at the Nation's Capital.  Outstanding!"

Upon arriving to the apartments, I felt a new sense of energy.  Our doorman, Harold I think his name was, tried rushing over to help me with my things but spilled his coffee because of my startled entrance.  He eventually cleaned up and helped me along my way, giving me a key to the room, a key to the building and a key to my mailbox.  I was shown up to my room, with a grand tour of the building.  I guess I was the only one to receive this grand tour because people in my intern cohort continue to ask me where things are or what we can do. I unpacked my things and set everything precisely in it's place.  The previous tenants had left some food in the pantry, so I likened to the New England Clam Chowder and ate it for myself, partly in celebration for being close enough to New England that it was just as good as tasting it.  Yum!

After my meal, I was off on a bike ride.  I grabbed the reins of my bike and took off, riding up Van Ness Avenue until I decided to take a left, turning into a right, turning into a left, then deciding I was lost for the first time in this new home of mine.  I heard chirping in the trees and the thick air seemed thicker now that I was perspiring in it.  I ran into spots fit to remember:  Old houses with father's playing with children, tennis courts being used with eager tennis players, and on the corner of Wisconsin and Macomb, I found a restaurant that was packed with people.  It's name was Cactus Cantina, I guess a favorite of former VP Dick Cheney.  ha.  I've decided that I must go there to eat someday soon.  The enchiladas looked divine.  I eventually, after doing many U-turns found myself on Connecticut Ave, the one that eventually leads right to my apartment on Van Ness.   I arrived back exhausted and ready for sleep.  My bed was made and I was ready for my first night's rest in the Nation's Capital.

'Til tomorrow.  Adieu.