Travel

A Week In LA and Palm Springs

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You know how everyone posts cactus and pool photos and is all #PalmSprings? Yeah I'm that person. Or was. Now I'm a person sitting back on her couch in flannel leopard print pajamas, but for six glorious days I was all sunsets and cacti. And it was pretty great. 

This trip (his spring break) wasn't as much about sightseeing -- Nate and I have both spent time in the city -- it was more about meaningful connection. (OK for him it was more about getting to the In and Out Burger, but we'll get there.)  Connection with each other, time with my brother/his uncle, and visiting with old friends who could give him a glimpse into the world of content creation, because he wants to be a writer and photographer. (And it's not as cool to hear writing advice from mom. Ahem.)

So, armed with an iPhone and his Fujimax, we set out together.

We arrived on a Saturday evening, and the moment we got to Santa Monica, met my brother, dropped our bags and headed for the pier as the sun started to fall. It wasn't the first time on the pier for any of us (Ryan lives a few blocks away), but it was our first time to ride the ferris wheel at Pacific Park. There's no better place to catch a sunset here than high above the Pacific. And, as Nate said, the wheel conveniently stops for selfies. Aka to let people on and off. 

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We made it a conscious effort to not try to pack in a million things each day. Since there aren't directs to LA from Birmingham, and we chose to fly from Atlanta (cheaper flights), the trip out there and back takes up nearly two full days. I'm now at a point in my life where I need a day to recuperate from a cross-country trip, which is what we did our first full day -- Sunday. So we sat by Ryan's rooftop pool, Nate swimming and Ryan and I working on details around his wedding ceremony. Why would you want to leave this view? 

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Sunday evening we had an amazing meal with our friend Eddie at Shutters on The Beach's casual restaurant, Coast. Highly recommend sitting in the window boxes to watch people skate, ride, run, and twirl by on the bike path. (The lobster roll served with hush puppies the size of a feast was the perfect meal.)

Come Monday, we were refreshed to walk to Venice Beach. We are lucky to have a brother/uncle who lives in one of the most prime locations in the world. Honestly, we could just walk this stretch for days and be happy. Plus, the steps we got in that day were off the charts. 

Beaches! Sunsets! King of the World Poses!

A pause for a moment.

Here's the thing about LA: you have to plan your activities around the traffic. This goes against my nature of trying to fit a number of activities into a travel day, but it is real and involves strategy. 

So that day we Ubered over to offices of Entertainment Weekly, where my friend Anthony Breznican graciously agreed to meet with us. Anthony is a senior writer there, covering, among other things, the Star Wars franchise, and has pretty much interviewed every celebrity you'd want to meet. He also happens to be just about the nicest guy. We caught up over burgers and Nate interviewed him about his career back at the Time Inc. offices. (They have better snacks than the ones we had when I worked at a sister title in Birmingham, by the way. Plus a hell of a view of downtown LA.)

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Anthony gave Nate some really good career and life advice, but you're going to have to wait for that story from the young writer. I will say it involves getting really, really good at what you do and building strong relationships, both of which Mr. Breznican is a pro at.

That night we dined at The Grove with our cousins Brendan and Sullivan, eating at The (Original) Farmer's Market. There we had a brief and momentary *celebrity* sighting, followed by angst, as Nate momentarily spotted The Martinez Twins, who are apparently YouTube stars. But being a 40-year old mother I did not know of said twins, and he spent the rest of the night searching amongst food stalls to try to find them. Content creation in 2017, people. 

Though the hunt for The Martinez Twins was unsuccessful, we did find donuts and coffee. Score! 

Tuesday we set off for Palm Springs. I'd gone back and forth about adding in this overnight trip, knowing we'd miss a few things in LA (like LACMA and Huntington Gardens). In the end, we decided to go for it, because I HAD NEVER BEEN TO PALM SPRINGS. What? I know. Plus the chance for Nate to see the desert -- a first -- was one we couldn't pass up. So we got a rental and drove the 2+ hours East. Not going to lie: I was saying "Jesus be a shield!" the entire way out of LA, and had a slight anxiety attack driving through traffic.

Because I believe in writing the whole truth I have to say that my anxiety flares while driving, But whereas I used to clench my entire body and have to take Xanax to calm down, and end up scrunched up in a hotel trying to unwind the physical knots from my body, now I'm not such a mess about it. Serenity now!

(Editor's note: six days after we got back from this trip, I was rear ended in Birmingham. But I survived LA driving. Ha.)

Once out of LA, the drive is lovely, with the mountains surrounding you like the most peaceful reminder of grace, and wildflowers blooming, and a child asking "Why isn't there WiFI?" Wait, back to the serenity.

I lived in the desert for a short time after college, and being in that landscape does something magical to my heart. As do roadside dinosaurs! "Mom you're such a tourist!" Nate said as we pulled over to see the Cabazon Dinosaurs. "We are travelers, love." Because is there anything better than posing under a T-Rex saying "Tell 'Em Large Marge Sent Ya?" Answer: no, there is not. And yes, we paid admission to take the tour to see each and every one of the majestic prehistoric pals and to also ride on one. Plus climb up to the top of the T-Rex and sit in his mouth. What a glorious Tuesday.

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Upon arrival to Palm Springs, we checked into The Ace Hotel & Pool Club. I love an Ace property and apparently so did all the other parents taking their children to Palm Springs for spring break. More friends to play with in the pool. And what a pool it is. (But oh how the vibe will change in a few weeks come Coachella ... )

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I loved the '50s vibe of the Palm Springs Ace. A former Howard Johnson, it has all the charm of a mid-century motel reimagined for the 21st century, like the former Denny's turned "King's Diner," where I could't stop thinking of the Mad Men episode when Don and Megan eat at the Howard Johnson's. "It's not a destination -- it's on the way to some place." The Ace, however, is a destination. (Pro tip: wake up early to snag the best pool seats, like that big old bed by the pool, or a spot on the sun deck.)

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After our pool time, we headed to shop downtown. Palm Canyon Drive, the town's main road, is a shopper's delight.  Since our time was limited, we went straight to Trina Turk's flagship store. Can't you tell Nate was thrilled to be inside Mr. Turk? I stocked up on gifts, including this gold foil covered tote that reads "Golden State" by Sisters of LA. OK the gift was for me. 

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It was fun to see Nate's eyes light up when we ducked into Shag: The Store. With a life long passion for tiki culture + modernism, I've long been a fan of his work.  (Let's just say it really influenced an earlier version of this site.)

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Dinner was across the street at Workshop Kitchen + Bar, where we ate at the beautiful communal table. Workshop won a James Beard Award for Best Restaurant Design in 2015, and is it ever gorgeous, in its minimal California simplicity and sophistication. Plus the scallops were divine.

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Everyone says to to the Palm Springs Arial Tramway, and it really is a must. We got there just in time to ride up the 8,516 feet for sunset (because apparently we love a sunset ride), and it was glorious. It's the world's largest rotating tram car, and the ride up affords gorgeous views of the Coachella Valley. 

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The crazy thing is that once you get up to the top, it's 20-30 degrees colder than where you started. We ran out, took some photos (snow and desert in one hour) and huddled inside, drinking hot chocolate and eating fudge.

Wednesday

Knowing we had to get back to LA for an early evening appointment (in-home Botox, if you must know, because, LA), we were at another strategic crossroads. My gut said to head to the Parker Palm Springs for breakfast at Norma's. And one's gut never lies, especially when it comes to the jewel of mid-century modern revised decor. This Jonathan Adler-designed property is spectacular in its aesthetic. Only a small part is open to the public -- the ground floor, including lobby areas and Norma's. It is a must-visit for a Palm Springs trip. 

Nothing is cheap here -- including breakfast, where blueberry pancakes will set you back $25. I ordered the potato pancakes with homemade cranberry apple sauce and sweet carrot payasam. Frankly, I didn't know what payasam is but it was all delicious. 

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After breakfast we checked out the lobby, which is basically my dream home. 

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Oh, and that front door? To die for. 

Before heading back to LA, we spent some time at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert, a short drive from Palm Springs. We didn't make it to actually see any animals, for it was at this point in the trip one of us hit a bit of a wall. I plan on returning during our next visit to Palm Springs, because the botanical gardens, populated with plants of the desert, are stunning. 

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On the way back, we stopped for the customary In and Out Burger and I had a date shake from Hadley's Fruit Orchard . Because, fruit. (Conveniently, they're right across from one another. Score!) Sadly, we didn't have time for Desert Hills Premium Outlets. Because 10 year old boys and outlets and pressing Botox appointments don't mix. File under next time. 

Thursday

Not going to lie, despite trying to pace ourselves, I was pretty beat by the time we reached our last day in LA. The highlight was a long lunch with my lifelong friend Dave. We met in elementary school and have deep ties, but hadn't talked in a while. But, as old friends do, we talked like no time had passed by. The funny thing is that we both do similar things professionally, and had the best talk. I'm so crazy proud of him and what he's doing.  

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And that's really travel really is about now for me. 

Not checking off every box, running from place to place every day. But real connection. Time with people I care about. Being present for all of it. Till next time, Cali. May it be soon. xo

Pennsylvania Avenue

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This week, I had lunch with my college friend Emilie. Emilie is a book buyer at East City Books, an independent bookseller on Capitol Hill. We were talking about addiction memoirs and she asked me if I knew Leslie Jamison. Jamison's 544 page tome is called "The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath." Billed as part "memoir, cultural history, literary criticism, and journalistic reportage," I have been eagerly awaiting its April publication date.  

Emilie pressed Into my hands an advanced reading copy. It was like Christmas.

Current dumpster fire politics aside, my feelings about DC are deep and wide. It is the city where I began drinking in earnest. The year was 1996 and I was an intern for Senator Fritz Hollins of South Carolina. Though aged himself, he was youthful compared to Senator Strom Thurmond, the one an aide told me to "watch out for."

I wore blue polyester suits with gold buttons and pantyhose, my hair in a half-up, half down style of the 90s. I wore those itchy suits and respectable pumps while I sorted constituent letters about the telecom bill and partial-birth abortions. I also learned how to keep  pace with the Citadel cadets with whom I lived in a row house.

It was a competitive internship. At night so was the drinking.  I told the boys I had red Pat Conroy's "Lords Of Discipline" to prepare me for living with them, to which they scowled. They also did not have comment when I asked them about the recent landmark change that allowed female cadets to join their ranks. There was one thing that we did have in common, me the suburban quasi-goth stuffed in a polyester suit and them, these conservative, spiky haired boys. Alcohol. 

***

I was not a big drinker before my junior year of college and that fall internship. At least I don't remember being. That's the thing about memory -- it blurs over time. I know that if I write my book (the one I've been talking about for ages) I will have to do what a journalist does and go back and get the facts straight from other people who were there. But I remember it tasting like poison, and the vodka mixed with orange juice tasting sharp and unpalatable.

Something changed in the fall of 1996. Nursing a heartbreak that had me playing The Cure, living in a house some referred to as "The Real World" (an on point cultural reference for the time), and stuffing down my lifelong anxiety and fainting disorder (it's called dysautonomia), the recipe was not good. When the cadets brought home 24-packs of cheap beer, I drank. The taste was still horrible. 

At home during the summer in Florida, the last summer my parents lived there, I'd drank Rolling Rocks. During the day I worked as a newspaper intern and at night went swimming with my Catholic school friends. With chlorine in our eyes and alcohol in our bloodstreams, it was the last vestige of my childhood home. My parents would pack up and move to Alabama soon after and I would head to my internship in DC. 

In DC I learned to drink shitty beer and White Russians, the way that the Hill staffers did. We went to the Monocle, a legendary bar across from the Senate buildings. Here I learned to stuff myself into suits, to put drinks in my body I did not like, and to fade out of my feelings and into the darkness of an altered state.

***

In DC I had my first brown out and my first blackout, terms I didn't understand until I read Sarah Hepola's Blackout three months before I got sober for the first time. This was a full 20 years after I started to experience the devastating effects of binge drinking. In the two years since I got sober, I've started to learn more about the incredible complexities surrounding substance use, substance use disorders, and addiction, including the multitude of factors that renders some more vulnerable than others. I've learned more about what is mine to own, and also things that were not my fault. (The past six months of #MeToo have been revelatory.)

Emilie asks if I am writing my book. The book. Not really. I've been doing things other than that, the freelance writing and the family care and the self-care, to which I came quite late to the party. Then there is that tape I play in my head that says it's all been written, and no one wants to hear from me, another white girl with an alcohol problem. Emilie points out that even though the stories are similar, the voices and perspectives of the storytellers are different. 

Leslie Jamison has been compared to Sontag and Didion. I won't even show some of my clips from the last two years of my career (like the ones that made garbage disposals "sexy").  I clutch the advanced copy of her book and walk down Pennsylvania Avenue. I wonder if I can write this book. I wonder, if like Elizabeth Gilbert says in "Big Magic," that it's passed. Or has it not yet arrived? 

This is what I think about as I walk down the same street as the one where I learned to stuff my feelings, to bury them so deep. I could be a 20-year old stumbling out of La Lomita, where the server brought us underage drinkers pitchers of strong margaritas. But I am not. I'm a 41-year old mother who stuffed everything down for 20 years, who built a career out of telling stories for everyone else: the newspapers, non-profit, the magazine, the advertising agency. Slowly and slowly on this career and life trajectory, I did things that took me further from the truth.

I am holding this 544-page book stating on Pennsylvania Avenue at a new time. A time where my shame has been long punctured, and where in its place has been placed a kernel of grace for a girl who did the best with what she knew.

What is my perspective in this new landscape, the one in which a country is in the grip of an addiction epidemic? The one where more women are struggling with this thing that takes lives? This thing that tried to kill me. Where sobriety is considered a trend by some, maybe something they've already given up post Dryuary? 

I play the Cure's "Fire in Cairo" and clutch the book. It's like I'm 20 again, but know a few things and have the grey hair to prove it. 

 

***

The next day I meet my friend Kevin. He's the publisher of three newspapers. including the Baltimore Beat. Two weeks before he asked me to write a piece for The Beat's Liquor Issue. It was a bold move to include a story like that in an issue about, well, liquor. Here's the thing: I'm not a prohibitionist. But I do care about the stories we tell about booze. At lunch I tell him how thankful I am that he asked me to write about my project, an examination of alcohol messaging in women's lifestyle publications and brands.

I tell Kevin I don't want to be pegged as someone who writes solely about addiction and recovery. I have this whole other career, one involving writing about travel and culture and food and other health issues. But alcohol is intertwined with each of these. It's like stepping into recovery opened this vantage point, a lens through which I see everything. It has opened up the matrix I was part of for an entire lifetime.

***

Sometimes when I tell my story in twelve step rooms I tell the story about what happened the night of Bill Clinton's second election, 1996. I wore a black taffeta and crushed velvet party dress and drank unlimited free White Russians at the Monocle. I didn't know who won the election until the next day. It was my first blackout.

I drank in DC not just as a college student, but as a young woman, visiting friends and later building my writing career. No more pitchers of margaritas, it was craft cocktails and bottles of wine with friends who had made their way up in this town. Then, in the fall of  2015, with a few weeks of sobriety, I came for a baby shower, white knuckling it past the Prosecco, triggered by just the air in this town. But everything triggered me then. Now, writing this from Alexandria, I have more knowledge and sobriety.  Now within 24 hours of landing I find a meeting. 

Midweek a friend comes over. Her name is Laura Silverman and we have never met, but we feel like we have. She's the founder of The Sobriety Collective, "Where Creatives Recover Together."  She brings a bottle of elderflower and rose lemonade and I order in vegetable biryani and butter chicken and we share our stories and talk about where the recovery world is going. She's been sober for more than a decade (with the badassery of getting sober at 24). We talk about the rise of sober bloggers, podcasters, influencers: a robust ecosystem that did not exist (save a handful of early adopters). There is room at the table for all of us, we discuss.

I'm packing my suitcases to return to Birmingham. I'd like to say I've made peace with this city, but this city comes with me wherever I go. I go with me wherever I go. But I make a truce. I have walked this city's streets again. I have wandered its bookstores, consumed all of the coffee, and watched as familiar landmarks go by outside car windows.

I have made slow amends to the girl in the crushed velvet party dress from 1996.

I am thinking about my place in this landscape, this new landscape of women in recovery. I'm asking her what she wants to do. On Pennsylvania Avenue, with my nose running a bit and the light fading, I release that 20 year old with a grace that does not come from me. I stuff nothing down. I tell the truth. I walk on Pennsylvania Avenue.