Stuff I’m Into: August 2016 – Belated Vegas Edition

Del Taco

I finally tried Del Taco for the first time last month. My friends and I were driving to Vegas for a weekend trip and we stopped at one of the original locations in Barstow. I had their special Barstow taco and it was everything I dreamed it would be. And by that I mean nothing majorly special. But not bad!

Vegas Nuke Parties

When my friends and I were in Vegas last month, we stayed at an Airbnb which was actually a suite in a hotel on the quiet end of the strip. I’ve always stayed on the more active side (like at the Palazzo and the Mirage), and there was something charming about being in the less developed area (for now – since they tore down a few hotels and are in the process of building new ones).

I’m really fascinated by the history of Vegas, especially the seedier side of things that are now getting swept away to make room for larger, more corporate facilities. One of my favorite “forgotten” things about Vegas history is that it’s near the former US nuclear testing site, so back in the day people would gather to watch the tests and casinos would throw watch parties with dancers and atomic-influenced drinks.

Here’s a great interactive article that details the history of the test site, the Vegas parties, and the “downwinders” who suffered the consequences of it all.

There’s a museum about all this that I’d love to visit one day. I really need to plan a trip to do that and the Neon Graveyard (and to see Penn and Teller, since I’m lowkey obsessed with them).

Showgirls

During my trip to Vegas, my friends discovered that I had never seen the movie “Showgirls.” I haven’t seen a lot of movies, and that one has always been at the bottom of my priority list. Regardless, we made plans for a special movie night so I could finally experience it.

The most important thing about watching “Showgirls” is watching it with the commentary track on. Specifically the David Schmader commentary track. And watching it with a group helps, too. And lots of wine.

Basically, Schmader used to screen the movie doing IRL commentary all over America and ended up recording it for a special edition of the movie. I don’t think I could have sat through all 2.5 hours of it without his humor and insights and his points of additional context that illustrate how the movie failed gloriously in every way possible.

The Riviera

I honestly don’t care much for Vegas. I’m fascinated by it, but I generally think it’s a little creepy and I don’t have any emotional connection to the place so I’m somewhat indifferent to its changes and development.

That said, I was a little sad to see the Riviera in a half-demolished state when I was there in July. I honestly don’t know much about the history of the place (aside from what I read on Wikipedia on the car ride home), but I appreciated it for its place in pop culture and its general seediness on a side of the strip that will soon go from seedy to very sleek and developed.

Vegas is so fake. The facades, the illusion of wealth, the people (to some extent). It’s refreshing to see little glimpses of authenticity through places that are unabashedly run down. It’s why I appreciate Circus Circus even though it creeps me the hell out.

Though they are putting a Momofuku into the Cosmo and I’m psyched about that, so I guess I can’t be too mad at pseudo-ritzy newly developed Vegas.

RIP, Riviera.

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The first and last pic I’ll ever take of the place.

 

Five things I learned at an LA TV shoot

My friend Brian sent me a vague text a few weeks ago asking if I’d be down to help his friend out with something that involves being on TV. Of course I was. So this morning I woke up bright and early, drove out to Studio City, and spent the day on the CBS lot filming a new show called “SuperHuman.”

I went to some TV show tapings when I lived in NYC; I was lucky enough to go to the Colbert Show back in the day, and I got to pet a baby sloth on the short-lived Anderson Cooper talk show. I was also in the audience on the Bozo show when I was a kid but I only vaguely remember that (I mention it only to gain some 80s kid nostalgia points). This was my first time at an LA taping though, and it was totally different.

The other shows I went to were pretty quick productions, taking maybe two hours max. “SuperHuman” was a full day shoot (9-7 pm!) — luckily I was allowed to bail around noon since I only needed to be there for one segment.

We spent the morning doing audience shots, which was a bit of a challenge for me since I’m not an actor at all. For example, we did a take where everyone was told to look tense for a series of reaction shots. How do you make yourself look tense!? The audience hype dude kept cracking jokes while we were looking tense, so my tense face is really just me biting my cheeks trying not to laugh.

I’m glad I got to bail early since the excitement wears off after a bit. It’s a lot of smiling and clapping like a seal for hours. It was cool to see how it all goes down behind the scenes, and to watch people like Kal Penn and Mike Tyson in action. I’m curious to see what the final show will look like.

Here are five things I learned today at the TV shoot:

1. Some people are professional audience members

I was a movie extra in high school (shout out to “Roll Bounce,” the best movie ever made) so I’m a little familiar with the world of “background acting.” I didn’t realize that people are extras for TV game shows though, and that some people basically make a career out of it. Since I was a friend of one of the contestants I was actually one of the few people in this audience who wasn’t paid to be there. I guess that’s the case for less popular shows or stuff like this that hasn’t been put on air just yet.

2. Follow the dress code

I got the instructions for the shoot only a few days ago, and I had a bit of a panic because I don’t own anything that fits their standards. It said no black clothes (90% of my closet), no white clothes, no jeans, and no patterns. I ended up breaking the rule and wearing a dress with a pattern. Oops.

One of the professional extras gave me a tip that jewel tones show up best on camera, and that most extras just shop at Ross for some single color dresses. She also recommended buying some “muted professional stuff” for court show audiences. I’ll keep that in mind if I ever get to see my hero Judge Judy.

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Oops oops oops sorry sorry

3. Bring snacks

Snacks are a must for all-day shoots. A ton of the pros brought a bag full of snacks, drinks, and their lunch since there’s no other food on set. I didn’t eat breakfast thinking it would be a quick shoot, and I was dyingggg by lunchtime.

4. Dress in layers

We waited outside the studio in an alley where it felt like 99999 degrees. Then we went into an air conditioned studio where it felt like 50 degrees. Layers helped!

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CBS pages and the audience control people leading us into the studio

5. Bring a book

Another thing I observed from the pros. They all brought books since there’s a fair amount of downtime and waiting. I did this as a movie extra back in the day, but again I had no idea that TV shoots take so long so I didn’t think to bring anything.

“SuperHuman” will be on FOX sometime this fall.

I say, old bean

I’m supposed to wake up early tomorrow, but I can’t sleep right now because I keep thinking about the Missing Hat.

Is it weird that I feel nostalgia for the old internet? Of course I have the classic childhood memories (Summer camp! Snowmen! Baking cookies!), but I also remember sending my first email from my dad’s Compuserv account and slumber parties where my friends and I spent hours wreaking havoc in AOL chatrooms.

My family was a fairly early adopter, first with Compuserv (where my aforementioned first email went to Roger Ebert – a story for another time) then to AOL where I got my first personal account when I was 10.

By age 12 I had a LiveJournal that I updated daily for a modest (but growing) audience. Yes, I was a better and more disciplined blogger at 12 than I am now. I wrote long posts about everything I did each day and random stuff I was thinking about, taking extra time to upload pictures to external sites like Photobucket and learning basic HTML to embed them in my posts.

This is where the Missing Hat comes in.

Back in the early 2000s — I think I was in high school or early college, there was a LiveJournal account and corresponding AIM bot that launched conversations among strangers. They were called Fishbots or Salmonbots since a lot of the AIM accounts that launched the chats had fish, salmon, or trout in their names.

They generally started the conversation by saying “I say, old bean, have you seen my hat?” so some people called the whole thing Hatting.

Here’s how it worked: two people who had their AIM names on their LiveJournal profiles would simultaneously get a message from a bot. After each person responded to that message, the bot would connect them and they’d be thrown into a conversation with each other. It was almost like a 3-way phone call, where one person sets up the call and then hangs up.

There was nothing that indicated what was happening, so each person in the message thought the other one had initiated the message. It led to a lot of confusion which generally turned to a good humored chat, and sometimes even friendships.

I did some searching tonight and found an old LJ account that monitored instances of it happening, but nothing official on behalf of the creator. It lists an email address that’s apparently affiliated with the original Salmon-master. I sent him/her an email, but they probably haven’t salmoned/hatted for 10 years or so, so who knows if it’s an active account.

And the whole thing is driving me crazy right now, because I don’t think we ever got to the bottom of it. Nobody ever came out and claimed ownership, as far as I know. It had a large chunk of LiveJournal in a total tizzy wondering what it was all about, and then one day it just stopped working. And then a few years later LiveJournal died out too.

That said, the mystery around the account is part of my nostalgia for it. It’s reflective of a pre-Real Name Internet when nobody really cared that everything was anonymous, back when people would actively engage with a nonsensical AIM message from a stranger. Sure today I’ll tweet at strangers and sometimes add them on Facebook, but it all seems so much more professional and restrained. A lot of the weirdness is gone. Nobody calls anyone else “old bean.”

So I guess I’ll wait and see if I get a response from the Hatter email address. And I’ll keep thinking about it tonight and remember all the weird little things about LiveJournal that don’t exist as much on today’s internet. And maybe I’ll even sign onto AIM and request a fishbot, just to see what happens.

 

Further reading: Hatting FAQ

My Sharing Economy Move

A few weeks ago, just when I finally started to feel settled in my new apartment, I found out I had to move.

I was living in a shared house with a few girls, in a setup that happens a lot around LA. Basically there’s no real lease and rooms just get passed from person to person as long as they seem chill and are a fit with the rest of the girls. The place I moved into had people in that arrangement for about six years, so I heard I’d take over someone’s lease but didn’t think twice when I never actually signed anything. That turned out to be a mistake.

Long story short, we all got booted. We think the landlord is trying to sell the place, but who knows. It’s not worth getting into the details, I just scrambled to find a new place and found one that’s a major upgrade all around. I moved in this weekend and I’m thrilled to be here.

Since I had a super last minute move, I ended up using a few apps from the ~sharing economy~ to keep things cheap and efficient. I calculated everything out and it cost way less than it would have to hire movers, but that’s also because I was only moving a single room’s worth of stuff and not much furniture.

The following apps made a quick, stressful move very easy. In most cases all I had to do was arrange pick-up times through the apps and then just focus on packing. I have no idea how people moved quickly and alone before this stuff existed!

Here’s what I used:

TaskRabbit

I hate to use the old “Uber of X” convention, but TaskRabbit is basically the Uber of everything. I hired a guy to move my dresser and my bed and he made the whole thing ridiculously easy. It took about an hour and with a promo code it only cost $60 (+tip, which I did heavily since the dude was a godsend).

LetGo

My old roommate gave me some furniture that I didn’t want to bother moving. I downloaded LetGo and listed the stuff, and boom people from the neighborhood swung by, handed me some cash, and took it off my hands.

Uber XL

This one was a bit more experimental. I have a bike that doesn’t fit in my car, and I was too scared to ride it over to my new place. I called an UberXL and loaded my bike into the back. The driver was confused at first, but then seemed to get a kick out of it. He said that’s the first time he’s had a bike as a passenger.

BuddyTruk

BuddyTruk is kind of like TaskRabbit, but specifically for moving things. I didn’t use it this move but I did use it to move into my last place. It’s worth mentioning because my “Buddy” wasn’t as good as my “Tasker” and ended up scratching up my dresser, however their customer service was really awesome and responsive and threw back some $$ to cover the damage. Overall it cost more than TaskRabbit, but again, this may be because my individual guy wasn’t as on top of stuff as my Tasker was.

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Goodbye, old-ass apartment (/ one corner of my room in the apartment.)

Stuff I’m Into: May 14

Disney’s California Adventure, 2001.

I was recently reminiscing with a friend about the OG California Adventure and how they did an incredible job with the park’s transformation into what it is now.

I only have very vague memories of the first few years. I remember it had giant “CALIFORNIA” letters out front like a postcard, there was a place you could get a sample of sourdough bread, a place you could get a free tortilla, a lot of stuff for “A Bug’s Life” that didn’t mean much to me since I’d never seen it … and not much else.

I recently watched a YouTube video to try to jog my memory of the park in 2001. Looking back, it looks so dated and so totally 90s! It was so empty! It had a weird sun logo and looks nothing like a Disney park!

I also watched this YouTube video which goes through the Superstar Limo ride, the infamous ride that has been called the worst creation in Disneyland history. I was at DCA last weekend and went on it — except it’s long gone, and has been re-skinned as a “Monsters, Inc.” ride. The track and the cars are still the same though!

Apparently Superstar Limo was doomed from the start; it was intended to be a high-speed chase ride where each car drives all over LA dodging paparazzi, but plans had to be changed quickly after the death of Princess Diana. Here’s an article that goes much deeper into this story as well as other things that went on behind the scenes that led to it being such a flop.

I kind of love Superstar Limo for its totally cynical take on Los Angeles, and how wonderfully ill-fitting it is for the Happiest Place on Earth. I love that it only lasted a year and that I have no memory of it existing even though I’m sure I at least walked past it when it was around. I love it because everyone absolutely hated it.

And because I love it so much, I got a SSL pin on eBay.

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Chicago Pizza in California

I’m so skeptical of “Chicago pizza” that’s not from Chicago. Generally it’s the worst. It’s so bad that I usually refuse to eat it because I know I’m going to be disappointed.

A few people told me about Hollywood Pies, a place in LA that has “authentic” Chicago style pizza. I didn’t totally trust them, but I tried it out last week. It’s actually amazing. I’m shocked! The sauce was perfect, the crust was perfect, the cheese was a little different but not bad.

When I’m really craving Chicago pizza, ordering it directly from Chicago is still my favorite option. My friend Katherine and I went in on a box of Lou Malnati’s and an Eli’s cheesecake sampler a few weeks ago and it was worth every penny. SoooOoOooOoo good.

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Not Really Caring if Dat Boi is Dead or Not

I miss the old days of the internet when memes would simmer slowly for a while before popping and getting lame. More time with an “in-joke” led to more humor and heightened absurdity and by the time it finally went mainstream everyone was ready to part with it anyway.

That said, it’s a weird thing to see backlash against the Daily Dot for “killing” Dat Boi. I get it, but who cares. Brands would have ruined it if the Daily Dot didn’t ruined it first. RIP Dat Boi. It’s still funny to me and probably will be for another week or two.

Something else will come along. It’ll be fun and not totally exploited for a bit. Then our parents will start sharing it on Facebook and we’ll all move on to the next thing. The circle of dank meme life~.

Moving

Well I’m not actually into it, but I guess I am by default. I’m moving again. A bit further west this time, and I’m really excited about my new place. At the very least it has a toilet that is fully attached to the floor and a working heater, which I can’t say about my current place.

ClassPass…Still.

I’m bummed about the news of the ClassPass price increase, but honestly I’m not surprised. Their model wasn’t sustainable, and anyone who used it regularly could tell that. They were gaining way more users than they could handle, which makes sense because it used to be an incredible deal. The only problem is that the original model that made it so great doesn’t scale very well.

I’m still a member for now but am keeping my options open for the future, since it’s almost doubled in cost since I joined. It’s still the best system for me because I get bored so easily and it introduces me to new studios in my neighborhood — which is great given how often I move. It’s also still somewhat cost effective for me (for now) because of all the aerial classes I take, which are regularly $40 a pop. But I totally understand why people are so angry about it. It was a brand that people really loved and now they’re feeling like they got booted out of it.

Definitely a crap situation, but luckily at least in LA there are a ton of gyms and cool studios that are now all offering great deals for former ClassPassers.

I ran a half marathon!

Ahhhhhhhhhh! I did it!

This morning I did the Run Disney Tinker Bell half marathon. It was my first official race, my first Run Disney event, and my first half marathon.

I had been training diligently ever since I signed up last winter, following Jeff Galloway’s plan and going to Nike Run Club events. But I totally fell off track in March when I was out of town almost the entire month and moved to a new place. I never really got back into the swing of things, and in the week leading into the race I got really busy with work so I didn’t even do a final run to prepare.

Since I didn’t train too well, my big goal was just to make it to the finish line. I had read stories about the infamous balloon ladies / balloon bikers who sweep people off the course so I figured as long as I could stay ahead of them and make it through to the end I’d consider the race a success. I did some calculations based on run/walk interval paces and figured I’d finish in just under 4 hours, safely ahead of the sweepers.

Well, not only did I make it to the end — I finished in 2 hours 40 minutes! That’s not a great pace for most runners, but for me in my first half marathon for which I had severely undertrained, it was incredible.

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The race itself was a blast even though I (still!) hate running. We woke up at 4:30 to get to the starting corral by 5:15. We lined up and the course took us through the Backstage areas, then into Disneyland and DCA, then through Anaheim and back to Downtown Disney. Almost everyone was dressed up like a Disney character (I went as TinkerBell, of course) and there were stops along the way to take pictures with actual characters.

Running through Disneyland at sunrise was incredible. All of the park staff stood on the sidelines to cheer us on, and they had ride operators running a lot of the rides totally empty. The teacups were spinning and the carouseul was moving with nobody inside; it was slightly creepy and I loved it.

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Heading into Main Street

The best part of the race outside the park were the ladies in purple (I wish I knew their official name – it might be Red Hot Ladies but I’m not sure). They were in Anaheim around mile 7 or 8 and gave me a MUCH needed boost when I was starting to fade. They had the best signs and the most fun energy and it helped me keep my pace even though I wanted to slow down or take a break.

5 things I learned at the Tinker Bell Half

Compression socks/sleeves are a major key
I got some compression socks at the expo the day before the race and they made a huge difference. I’ve been having trouble with shin splints which made running pretty painful, but the sleeves helped right away and I felt fine during the race.

I’ll eat all sorts of food from strangers when I’m running
The people who were handing out food in Anaheim were my heroes. I ate big chunk of a donut, some pretzels, and some Red Vines. I don’t even like Red Vines! It helped to get some extra fuel since I didn’t really eat breakfast beforehand, plus that donut was delicious.

Signs and cheers help more than I ever realized
I’ve volunteered in the past to hand out water and cheer people on at races. But until today I never understood how much of an impact that stuff makes to the runners. It was fun to read all the signs people had — my favorite one had a picture of Dory from “Finding Nemo” and said “Just keep running!” — and hearing people cheering us on helped me stay motivated and not think about all the pain or how many miles I had left to run and so on.

The advice on the Dory sign was legit
Jeff Galloway’s guide advises repeating a mantra in your mind to keep you motivated. I didn’t plan on following that advice until around mile 8 when my legs started to hurt and I kept wondering “are we there yet?!” I loved the Dory sign so my mantra quickly became “JUST KEEP RUNNING!” There were also cheerleaders in Anaheim who were chanting “Faith! Trust! And Pixie Dust!” As cheesy as it sounds it really helped, I just kept repeating those lines in my head whenever I was hurting.

The feeling at the finish line makes it all worth it
Physically I felt horrendous by the final stretch of the race, but I didn’t even notice it in the moments leading into the finish line. It was so exciting to finally make it to the end and see some characters dancing around and everyone cheering. I couldn’t believe I actually made it — I still can’t, really.

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The finish line! (My time was different from the clock time because I started in the last corral)

And even though now, a few hours later, I can hardly even move I’m in so much pain, I already signed up for another half in the fall.

 

Just keep running, just keep running, just keep running!

ClassPass Round-Up: LA

Ever since I’ve moved to LA I’ve been obsessed with ClassPass. I’ve always been someone who jumps from gym to gym; I get bored on treadmills and when I do the same classes regularly I hate knowing what to expect next — I need things that trick my brain! I’m always looking for new ways to stay active, and being in LA is like fitness heaven with so many innovative gyms.

I started doing ClassPass right when I heard about it (and honestly am a little sad I didn’t come up with the concept first). It’s a monthly subscription that gives you access to a bazillion boutique gyms, and you can go to each place up to three times per month. It’s perfect for me since it allows me to try new things and explore new areas in LA. With the added benefit of getting ripped, of course!

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Do you see that tiny bit of muscle? (I know you see my messy bedroom…)

So here’s my round-up of some of my favorite ClassPass classes. I’ve gone to a ton, sometimes when I’m feeling extra amped I’ll do two classes a day. This list is for general gym stuff, I’ll post a list of my favorite aerial places in another post.

Here are my top 5 Classpass Classes:

Swerve: Yoga Booty Ballet

The top thing I look for in fitness classes is something I’ll have fun doing. Yoga Booty Ballet is always a blast. It’s basically a cardio dance class where as long as you’re moving, you’re golden.

I’m a horrible dancer, and dance classes with very specific choreography always throw me off. I’m always like one beat behind the rest of the class and flopping around like a fool. I love YBB because the moves are extremely simple and it’s a total judgment-free zone. Everyone moves at their own pace and the class has an incredible supportive vibe.

Reebok Crossfit LAB: EFX

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I’m definitely not a Crossfitter, but I love the Reebok LAB. I’ve taken a few actual crossfit classes in the past back in Chicago, and while I know they’re ok for beginners I still feel like I need a better basic level of strength before I could ever attempt to do it seriously.

Luckily non-Crossfit people can still benefit from the gorgeous space that Reebok has in West Hollywood. They have a class called EFX that’s basically a circuit class where you do a few rounds of basic moves with hand weights or body weight and then hit the treadmill. It’s an intense full-body workout without having to know how to do a clean and press.

Barry’s Bootcamp: Bootcamp

Barry’s is a cult favorite in LA, and I’m so thankful they have some spots on ClassPass (though they fill up fast!). They’re another circuit class where you spend half the time on the floor and half the time on the treadmill.

Barry’s is one of those places that celebrities go for their workouts, last time I went to the West Hollywood location I found out that Carrie Underwood was there the day before me. It’s no wonder they go there — I always leave there drenched in sweat and I always feel it the next day.

Cycle House: House Ride

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Speaking of celebrity workouts, Cycle House has (had?) its own reality TV show. As totally LA as that is, this place is legit. I love spin classes with dim lights and loud music, and the real draw here is the instructors.

Last time I went I took Nichelle’s class. She’s the owner of the studio and she is NO JOKE. One thing I noticed was that she knew so much about her clients, and how she was motivating the ladies in the front row to push themselves for things they had coming up in their lives, like a wedding and a beach vacation.

Bionic Body: Bionic Circuit

This studio is also celebrity-connected, since it was started by one of the trainers from “The Biggest Loser,” Kim Lyons. I’ve taken her class and a few others and unlike the show nobody here will get in your face and make you cry.

My favorite class here is the circuit one (can you tell I like circuit workouts?). Each station has something different, and they incorporate their signature weight bands instead of hand weights. I love the bands because I feel more in control of them than traditional weights and I feel the resistance during every move of the workout.

The studio is also bright and beautiful and has a mini spa inside as well.

So there you go! Let me know if you try any of them!

Run for your liiiifeeeeee

Prior to about two weeks ago, my running experience was mostly limited to those Presidential Challenge runs in middle school.

We had to run a mile once or twice a school year. The fastest kids were rewarded with a McDonald’s Happy Meal (which ironically was a common method of reward/bribery in my middle school gym classes). I never got the Happy Meal — I wasn’t even a contender. I always hung out in the back walking and talking with my best friend.

I finished dead last every time.

My only race experience was a kid’s mile run that I did when I was 7; it was one of the festivities leading into the Chicago Marathon and my parents thought it would be a fun experience. I loved going to the expo beforehand but the race itself was a disaster. The moment it started I got trampled by the kids behind me, and I curled into a ball for what felt like forever as kids stomped on my fingers and hair.

I miraculously got up and finished it. But once again: dead last.

Despite all this, I recently signed up for my first big race. Some of my good friends out here like to do the Run Disney races, and I told them I’d join them for an upcoming one. I was thinking something along the lines of a 5K. But my friends aren’t doing any 5Ks, and I want to go with them.

So I’m joining them for the Tinkerbell Half Marathon.

They assured me I’ll be ok, and that Run Disney is purposely accessible to a range of running abilities, plus there are breaks along the route to take pictures with characters. I’m starting in the last corral since I don’t have a prior time to submit and I don’t have a time goal — I just want to finish.

I’ve been “training” for the past two weeks, mostly with the Nike Run Club group. Last Wednesday I did a 6 mile run, which is the most I’ve ever done. It was brutal.

I walked a bit. I felt light headed. I remembered why I’ve always hated running. I considered getting an Uber and just flat out bailing. But I did it, and the last little jog to the finish area felt amazing.

The half marathon is about 2 months away, so I still have some time to train. I’m learning all about running and the different elements needed to prepare properly, like tempo runs and long runs. I’m learning about race nutrition too and just ordered some gummy blocks to start incorporating into my runs as I hopefully gain more miles.

I don’t think I’ll ever be someone who loves running, and I still believe the “runner’s high” is a total myth. But it’s fun to work towards a big, scary goal. Well, it’s fun when I’m not running. The running itself is painful and frustrating, but damn does it feel amazing when it’s over and I can check another few miles off my list.

I’m going to do everything I can these next two months to be able to finish Run Disney.
Even if I finish last.

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The Girl On Fire

When I did my first hula hoop light up in October, I figured it would be a one-time deal.

The studio where I was taking hula hoop classes (yes, that’s a thing) closed down and the light up was the last hurrah. Without a place to continue classes and a safe environment for lighting up I didn’t have any way to progress.

Plus, even though I was proud of myself for facing my fear of fire I still had a long way to go to be relaxed around it. The other fire dancing students all seemed to love being close to the flames whereas I was shaking and felt my heart pounding in my throat during both my routines. But even though I was scared I was glad I did it, and that was that.

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of things that make me uncomfortable. I’ve been trying to force myself into not hating running, and willingly spent time on a treadmill for the first time in my life. I sent someone an email to tell them how much I admire them, and I called out another person for being a jerk.

I decided I was going to give fire dancing another shot.

I found an amazing teacher/safety to help me out and she gave me a refresher on fuels and safe burning techniques before we got started. She also introduced me to a new fuel that I hadn’t tried before and it made a huge difference: it was a mix of camping fuel and lamp oil.

Here’s what I learned about fuel: in my last burn I did straight kerosine first, which is smelly and really smokey but doesn’t burn very hot so it’s pretty safe. Then I did straight camping fuel, which is not as smokey or smelly but burns very hot. Both fuels make that whooooshhhh noise that I’m sure in some contexts sounds pleasant but it’s terrifying when it’s right next to your body. Lamp oil with a little bit of camping fuel had minimal smoke, didn’t burn too hot, only makes the wooshhh noise for a few seconds, and won’t burn you right away. It was great.

During my second burn I focused entirely on getting comfortable with the fire. I didn’t think much about dancing or tricks (though I did try some!), I really just wanted to spend my time confronting the feeling of being surrounded by fire.

Just like the first burn, I left feeling absolutely amazing and so glad that I did it.

Being around fire is never something that will feel natural to me, and luckily I don’t have aspirations to be a professional fire dancer since that would obviously be a major hurdle. I do feel a lot better than I did last time, and I’m sure if I did it again I’d feel even more comfortable. It’s a process, and who knows if I’ll ever do it again but I’m glad I gave it another shot.

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First light up of the night. As you can see, I had my hair up in a hat and was wearing a cotton sweater since I was nervous about the flames.
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Starting to feel good
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Then I felt good enough to take off the sweater and hat (but with my hair pinned up and wet)
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Feelin real good

Winter Break

My office was closed for two weeks last month and instead of spending all my money on travel as I usually do I decided to be more responsible and do a “staycation” to explore LA.

There’s so much to do out here that I only made a small dent on my overall “to do” list, but I was out and about almost every day and I saw more of the city in those two weeks than I have in a lifetime of coming here on vacation.

Here’s what I did:

  • A long weekend in San Diego where I hiked, saw the (very smelly) sea lions, and spent time with friends
  • Saw Chickenboy 
  • Saw the wigwam motel on historic Rt 66
  • Went to the world’s first McDonald’s. I was a little confused because I have also been to the world’s first McDonald’s in Des Plaines, IL and also what I thought was the world’s first McDonald’s in Downey, CA. Here’s what I learned: San Bernardino is the official first one, owned by the McDonald’s brothers. Des Plaines is the oldest Roy Kroc-owned location, and the one in Downey is the oldest one that still functions as a restaurant. The more you know!
  • Bought some Green River at Galco’s.
  • Visited Walt Disney’s grave
  • Saw the Suicide Bridge in Pasadena
  • Went to the Hollywood Towers apartment building, the place that inspired the Disneyland Tower of Terror
  • Ate the S’morrissey donut at Donut Friend
  • Hiked at Runyon Canyon
  • Hung by my elbows on the Lyra
  • Hiked and went to the beach in Malibu, Venice, and Palos Verdes
  • Some other stuff that I can’t remember

And, just for Jeff, here’s my Stuff I’m Into Lately:

The history of fast food mascots
I’ve always been a little fascinated (and frightened) by Ronald McDonald et al, and every now and then fall into a YouTube wormhole of original Ronald ads. How creepy is this guy?! Why does he look like he wants to hurt me?! Early Grimace is equally terrifying. Weird stuff, man.

Mr. Ed
I’ve never seen the show but I read that Mr. Ed’s birthplace is somewhere in California so I started reading about it. Did you know people think the theme song (allegedly) contains a satanic message ? Well now you do.

Spahn Ranch
I never really knew much about the Manson murders until I spent some time reading about it over “break.” I knew a few details, mostly enough so I could understand some “Mad Men” conspiracy theories in the final season. Spahn Ranch has a fascinating history, and it’s a little creepy that there are still some Manson followers around today.

Male comedic celebrities who get ripped to revitalize their career
Chris Pratt, John Krasinski — one more and it’s officially a trend.

Neko Atsume
It’s a gamified microcosm of my life whenever I’m hanging out in a house that has a cat: trying any and every tactic to lure them over to me.

Donkey Kong
My friend Andrew recently reminded me of the excellent documentary “King of Kong.” I want to at least once in my life witness a Kill Screen in person. This leads me into my fascination with…

The nihilism of classic arcade game universes
Bear with me on this one. We have Tapper, where all the customers are horrible people with limitless tolerance for beer (or root beer, depending on your edition). The protagonist’s entire life revolves around beer glasses, making sure they’re full and nothing falls on the ground. What a meaningless existence.

It’s a similar story with Burger Time. Life is a hamburger. If you mess up the hamburger you die, and someone needs to insert a quarter to revive you. Hamburgers are life, hamburgers are death. Hamburgers are insignificant and your life is a lie.

Then there’s Q*Bert, which is like the futuristic inverse of Sisyphus, where instead of pushing a boulder up a hill for eternity he has to jump down a pyramid for eternity. At least he’s cute.

 

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Hamburgler at the OG McDonald’s
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The most majestic seal in San Diego
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Malibu
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Learning new tricks on a lower hoop