Saturday, May 8, 2010


It’s taken me a few days to get my Portland entry up, mostly because I’ve been in denial that I am not in Portland anymore.

My time in the city was spent at big vegetarian dinner parties and gay dance nights and in colossal bookstores and watching Rodney Dangerfield movies, so it’s really the closest thing to heaven on earth that one can achieve. I knew I was in love when I showed up to my host’s house and there was a bagel sitting on the window sill with incense sticking out of it at every which way as a makeshift incense holder. These are my people.

The first night that I got in, Talia was hosting a dinner party at her massive, adorable house that was teeming with musicians and Australians and kittens. After a quick strategizing, we separated into Team Food and Team Booze to make our grocery runs in preparation for the meal. Lindsey, Caitlin and I were, appropriately, Team Booze and spent an hour at Trader Joes picking out wine based on the labels (and whether or not it was under $8) and agonizing over our cheese selection as if our re-entry into the home was at stake if we got the chevre instead of the brie. (Editor’s Note: What a pompous sentence.)

Back at Talia’s, it was a lot of dancing to Motown and singing along to old soul and Nancy Sinatra and…Neil Diamond. We all assumed our roles, from carrot peeler to Pandora regulator, drinking wine and laughing and meeting new people while a handsome Australian man slaved away in the kitchen making an entrée that we would all be too full to eat by the time it was done. Basically, the entire night was living out my lifelong dream of being in The Big Chill, minus dead Kevin Costner.

After dinner, we decided to go out for drinks. I was warned before heading to Matador that it is kind of an old-man dive, there might not be too many people there, it’s dingy, etc. (Editor’s Note: See, Portland really is heaven.) However, as soon as I walked in the door, I literally tripped over a Cleopatra drag queen, and there were adorable gay men everywhere drinking beers, taking photobooth pictures, and dancing to Lady Gaga. Not one to question it, I got a Lagunitas and jumped on the dance floor. During one of our photobooth excursions, two men decided that we needed guidance and decided to go all Tyra on us, from advising us to smize to helping us plan out our strip, frame by frame, with props before giving us a kiss and jumping back to the dance floor before “I Touch Myself” was over.

The next morning, Caitlin took me on a walking tour of Portland, from the parks where people were freely smoking weed to the donut shops with 2-block lines, to the Saturday Market full of hippies and vegan hipsters. We browsed and shopped and spent an embarrassing amount of time laughing at the dirty names of the incense at a head shop. The rest of the day was filled with thrifting, being scolded by bitchy boutique owners, eating massive amounts of Froyo, lusting after million-dollar purple cottages, and finding oil paintings of Carlton from Fresh Prince of Bel Air. We followed this up with a carnival that cost way too much money and made all of us physically ill, but was worth it after visiting The Photoshop Booth then getting an F. Scott Fitzgerald airbrushed tee shirt.

Apparently, people in Portland actually have jobs and stuff, and don’t just live the idyllic dream life I’d imagined, as everyone went to work the next morning, leaving me to wander Portland. Continuing the trip’s theme of “My Life is Really Tough”, I spent the day trying four different coffee shops, smoking and reading in parks, and (if I could insert dramatic music, it would go here) POWELL’S BOOKS. It is one city block of books, glorious, glorious books! It also ships back to Chicago, giving me no reason to practice any restraint.  When I pray at night, it is in the direction of Powell’s.

After another coffee shop, tea with Kay and John, and a stop at the Korean bulgogi barbecue tofu truck, I headed to Portland City Grill, where the view is amazing, the appetizers are cheap for fancy martini’s and mojitos with Caitlin, Lindsey, Talia and Meghan (Editor’s Note: I swear that we actually went there, despite the photoshopped-looking background of the above photo.)

After Portland City Grill, Talia invited me to “Family Dinner” at her friend Amy’s house. Furthering the Big Chill-theme, they get together for big dinners with friends and listen to music and talk about what they’re grateful for. They set up a large buffet where you put together your own grilled cheese with five cheeses, three breads, avocados, peppers…do you understand why Portland = heaven?

In the morning, before catching the California Zephyr to Denver, I got Cuban food at Talia’s restaurant Pambiche with Caitlin and Australia Chris before wandering the Portland rose gardens. As I rolled out of Portland, a rainbow was cast across the field outside of the train station. Honestly, if a unicorn would have slid down it into a pot of gold guarded by a leprechaun, it would not have surprised me. Portland was just that good, I would have assumed that’s just what happens on Tuesdays in PDX.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


This adventure is the best idea I've ever had. Even better than that time I bought my terrier a hot dog costume. (But it's close.)

Monday, May 3, 2010

Everywhere You Look, There’s a Friend, a Hand to Hold Onto

Yeah, the subject line of this post is from the Full House theme. What of it? It’s a post about San Francisco and would not be complete without at least one Danny Tanner/Jesse and the Rippers/How Ruuuuude reference.

When I got off the train, I had to take a bus over the Bay Bridge to the San Francisco Ferry Building. It was just me and a British guy that had also rode in from Los Angeles and both of us were completely lost and disoriented. We had asked our driver for some kind of direction, but Lost was on, so he literally dropped us off at a random intersection in the middle of traffic and told us just to take a cab wherever we needed to go. The power of Lost, man…

Luckily, my ride was just down the street. Ever the quintessential California Girl, Kay picked me up in her Jeep and took me out for locally-made beers and vegan duck before we headed back to her gorgeous apartment that was across the park from the Full House house! Yes, this was a legitimate selling point that really solidified this trip for me. The other selling point? Whenever you were in Kay and John’s apartment, you could not go more than five minutes without a full meal and a glass of wine appearing in front of you.

In the morning, I attempted to head to Golden Gate Park, but still a novice at the SF transit system, I ended up downtown, causing great worry for my coworker (and former San Francisco dweller) who was helping me navigate the city via gchat. Apparently it’s a really sketchy area, but that day there was a great farmer’s market, so I just pretended that no one was going to murder me and bought some oranges. (Spoiler Alert: no one murdered me.)

I eventually made it to Golden Gate Park, hitting up the de Young Museum of Fine Art since I really needed to add some culture to my trip that had inadvertently turned into “Meg Getting Drunk and Crawling Into Photobooths Around America”. After a stop in the Japanese Tea Gardens and Shakespeare Rose Gardens (where there was a disappointing lack of “a rose by any other name” puns), I decided I was cultured enough and hit up The Trophy Room in Lower Haight for a 3pm watermelon-wheat beer and made friends with a fellow vagabond from Seattle.

I then hit up Haight/Ashbury, because my 16-year-old self would find a DeLorean and come kill me if I didn’t. It was just as glorious and rainbowy and weird as I had hoped, as long as I could ignore the fact that there was now an American Apparel there. I just wandered around drinking coffee and shopping for tacky jewelry and sequined hotpants. At one point, a group of hippies called for my attention, but assuming they wanted money, I kept walking. However, they were persistent and ended up not wanting money at all, rather they wanted to show me their pet chicken. After confirming that this was not a dirty euphemism, I relented and they actually pulled out a baby chicken. So I sat with them smoking cigarettes and hanging out until the rain came and I headed home.

I was unable to coordinate any plans with Trent in San Francisco, due to an extended game of phone tag. We finally got in touch when he called me as I was meeting Nick and was like “Hey, I actually did make it to the city, where are you?” and I was standing across the street from him. After standing on the corner trying to process that we were all standing on a corner in San Francisco together, Nick and I grabbed some beers and shots of Wild Turkey (I should really call this blog “Good Decisions with Meg Zandi”) while Trent ate dinner before we all convened at the Elbo Room for a birthday party. The time at the Elbo Room is a bit fuzzy, but I remember laughing really hard and doing shots of Fernet and drinking Chimay before squeezing into a photobooth with two very cute boys, and I feel that is all I need to remember.

Next morning, Kay the San Francisco Native took me on the full tour of the city from Pier 39 to Twin Peaks to the Golden Gate Bridge and Coit Tower to the Castro and Mission District and real seafood (apparently Bay-Area people don’t believe that anyone who doesn’t live within 10 miles of water shouldn’t trust seafood, which now thinking about it, I think I agree.) Basically, any question you could have about the city, she would have the answer and a back story. It was like having a well-dressed, petite Sherpa.

My little Sherpa then took me home and filled me with wine and a fantastically large dinner full of veggies and tofu and fresh seafood before we left for a progressive political party (with the clever tag line on their street-themed posters of “no right turn”) After a bit of rum and schmoozing, we headed to The Café in the Castro, because no trip to San Francisco is really complete until you’ve been to a bar where gay men are dancing naked on tables as rainbow lights flash around them. At this point, our other friends had just finished with their moped-gang-meeting (you can’t make this shit up) and joined us at yet another dive bar that had more local brews yet another photobooth. I swear, you could take me somewhere where they beat puppies and hate women is full of Republicans and red meat and as long as they had endless photobooths, I think I could call it home.

Now, the downside of all these schmoozy parties full of scotch and gay bars full of vodka and dive bars full of beer is that in the morning, being productive and exploring a city full of hills on public transportation does not sound like a very good idea. So it was a day of lazing around sleeping off hangovers, which after two and half weeks of traveling felt quite good. At one point, I mustered up the energy to get an eggplant sandwich and take a nap in the park. (Editor’s Note: I know, the dismal tone of these entries and reading the strife that I encounter on a daily basis may be too much for my younger readers. I apologize for the lack of disclaimer.) After expending the energy to eat that sandwich, I needed more fuel in the form of veggie mushroom tacos at The Little Chihuahua before catching my train to Portland.

While I was at the Amtrak station, my friend Casey, who lives across the Bay, took a bus over to wait with me and do as much catching up as we could do in a half hour when we hadn’t seen each other in 7 years. Nonetheless, the familiar face and the warm energy were much appreciated as I jumped on a train for the 18 hour ride up the coast.

On this 18 hour ride, one couple was arrested for copulating in their seats in front of 60+ people. Another guy was kicked off for sneaking on 40s and getting unbelievably drunk. At one point, the phrase “is anyone here a doctor?” was used in a serious context. But I also woke up to the sun rising over snow capped mountains and rolled through national parks and along riverbeds listening to Cosmic Warrior. Why haven’t you, loyal reader, booked your Amtrak trip yet?

Goodbye, San Francisco. Thanks for being just as loopy and progressive and gay and sunny as I had hoped you’d be. Warm regards, Meg.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

“This is LA, we celebrate mediocrity”

Well, Los Angeles was certainly the strangest stop so far on this trip, and with the exception of not being able to eat at Randy’s Donuts or go to Venice Beach, I’m not particularly bummed that I had less than 48 hours here, since I totally Jack Bauered those hours.

Just before I arrived in LA, I had called the people I was hoping to crash with while I was in town. Unfortunately, they had just been evicted for, um…being too loud during personal relations. So I googled “Hostel, LA” and found The Banana Bungalow in West Hollywood. The Banana Bungalow is overly campy and tiki-themed to the max, and for some reason all of the foreigners there ate that shit up.

After checking in, I stepped on the patio for coffee and a cigarette. I was soon joined by two Brazilian men who were in town for Coachella. They asked what my plans in LA were;

Me- “Nothing concrete, really. Just going to wing it, play it by ear.”
Brazilian Man #1- “FIND WILL SMITH.”
Me- “…What?”
Brazilian Man #2- “The Fresh Prince! Hollywood! Look for the Fresh Prince!”
Brazilians in Unison- “DJ JAZZY JEFF!”

I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I was not going to spend my time in LA looking for the 1992 version of Will Smith.

Instead, I called my cousins Sean and Alex and spent the day hanging out with them and their awesome babies (that aren’t-so-babyish anymore) and getting a mini driving tour of LA. And now, as much as I’ve loved spending so much of this trip trying new restaurants and new foods, Alex made me a big homemade vegetarian feast and it was really incredible in the middle of the trip to taste slow food again. It was really fantastic to see family, hang out in the warm weather, and drink some wine. We capped off my visit to their place with a quintessential California dessert: Froyo.

After that, I caught up with my friend Bato at Golden State for french fries (with curry ketchup!), beer and ice cream. (Editor’s Note: to anyone reading this blog who is underage, do not listen when your parents tell you being a kid are the best years of your life. You can’t have beer and ice cream for dinner, so that can’t possibly be true.) Our waiter suggested we go to his friend’s bar, Surly Goat. Upon arriving, we made friends with the staff, as it was fairly empty for a Sunday night. They opened up the bar to Bato and I, letting us sample everything, and let us just start mixing shit together (Editors Note: Framboise and obsidian stout mixed together tastes like raspberry chocolate cake.) After we asked if they had any Sofie from Goose Island, they got the (completely misguided) impression that we were “girls who know their beer” and let us tap into their reserves, open their rare bottles, and browse the closed-to-the-public cooler. After about five hours and $120 worth of beer, we closed our $14 (!) tab and I stumbled back to my hostel, much to the chagrin of my terrified German roommate, so instead I had a tea party with some Irishmen on the floor of the common room downstairs.

In the morning, I caught up with Nyna, who I picked up in Arizona, Our mission was fairly simple: go to the beach. However, we got lost all over the Palisades and Santa Monica. It becomes especially hard to become unlose yourselves when the place where you’re lost in is so beautiful that you don’t really want to find your way out. So we drove around aimlessly, taking everything in and debating between pizza or burritos until we realized we could eat both. (Editors Note: My life is hard, please leave pity or kind words in blog comment section.) So we laid down a blanket and feasted at an empty beach, two friends who met as children and had barely seen each other since, sleeping and laughing an the shore in Santa Monica.

As Nyna drove back to Arizona, I wandered through West Hollywood, looking for a psychic to tell me exactly how the rest of my life was going to play out. I was hoping to find a shop that looks like Oda Mae Brown works there, but it was getting late and I had dinner plans, so I just stumbled into the first neon “PSYCHICS! PSYCHICS! PSYCHICS! LIVE NUDES” sign that I saw. (Editor’s Note: I made up the Live Nudes part.) This woman gives readings out of her living room and insisted that my life was miserable, that I had a very hard time making friends and connecting with people, that I hate my job and should quit, have an intensely close relationship with my parents, and am a hopeless romantic. There was not one single thing she said over the course of the reading that was remotely true, but maybe it’s my palm that’s the hack, not the $20 psychic on Beverly.

Leaving the psychic prepared to put in my two weeks notice and fall madly in love, I instead made dinner plans with a guy that I had gone to Canada with when I was 19. We called him Kilometers up there, but in California he goes by Miles. We headed to an Italian tapas trattoria by the Beverly Center, because apparently they are all about the fusion in LA.

Before dinner, I had received a text saying “What are your evening plans? Well cancel them, because we’re going to STEEL PANTHER.”  So as I was walking north down Fairfax, Jake and his girlfriend played Richard Gere to my Julia Roberts. (Editor’s Note: Except for the whole hooker thing.) Since the show didn’t start till 11, we went bowling to kill some time. I don’t know about you, but when I think of bowling, I think of beer-bellied old men with stories about ‘Nam, lounging around a wood-paneled alley, drinking Coors Light and getting a few hours away from the old lady. This bowling alley was not like that. More than a few people were wearing leather pants and drinking martinis, and when we walked in, Jake’s friend Caleb just winked at the bowling shoe guy and all of the sudden shots appeared and we were given free games of pool while we waited for our free bowling lane. Never underestimate the power of being attractive in Los Angeles.

So…Steel Panther. They are an 80’s hair metal cover band that has been an LA staple for years akin to Spinal Tap. However, many people seem to be either in denial or just not care that they are a fake band, as many legit hair metal fans showed up and the things that girls were willing to do to get the attention of these heavily-botoxed, over-40 actors in Nikki Sixx wigs was remarkable. Let’s just say there was a lot of hair mousse and vagina that night.

Anyways, the show is pretty small, you can easily stand up front by the “band” with little effort. That is, unless Dane Cook is there. Whenever celebrities show up at SP shows (which is fairly often since its on Sunset Strip), they wait until they get nice and sloshed and then make them come on stage to sing Guns & Roses songs. So we just stood there, singing Paradise City with Dane Cook, as he remained oblivious to the merciless mocking. And I was with the best three people for it, people who could appreciate not knowing what the fuck was going on and laugh hysterically but were not too cool to sing along when Every Rose Has Its Thorn started.

Morning came, I threw my stuff in a bag, freaked out my German roommate for the last time, and headed back to Union Station. So far the ride to San Francisco has been unbearably beautiful. We go in and out of tunnels carved through the middle of mountains and are 100 feet from the Pacific coast. There are stretches where we ride along on cliffs, but the fog is so heavy you can’t see past the rails and it legitimately feels like you are on the edge of the world.

Love from the rails of northern California,

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Arizona - Everyone has guns, but they're really nice.

The way to preface an entry about my time in Arizona is that it was absolutely incredible, but in a much different way than Austin. In Austin, there were a million things to do and a million eager people who just wanted to take you under their wing, show you their city, and laugh hysterically with you. What made Arizona so incredible for me is that while its pictures may not get as many “likes” on Facebook, the time spent there was the definition of connecting and engaging and having incredible conversations with interesting and intelligent people.

In Arizona, we drank strong espresso and drove around through mountains and palm trees and talked about politics and the education system and immigration reform, but also Celine Dion and monster-truck rallies. We ate midnight sloppy joes and Torino beer then talked about relationships over falafel and lemonade. We shopped for robots and records, as well as trombones in an antique store with a Doberman who nuzzles you as you shop. We went to biker bars and put Cher on the jukebox and Mexican restaurants where you could feast for $6 and get suspiciously racist stick-on mustaches for an extra $.50. We wandered around bougie boutiques mentally plagiarizing their overpriced goods before playing a board game called Mr. Bacon’s Big Adventure at a punk kid’s birthday party.

Earliest thing I see my first morning is Brian making me coffee with blue agave nectar and Fran prancing around pantsless, saying “I’m SO glad you’re here!” I think that is the most appropriate way to sum up Brian Kelly and Francesca Musumeci, in that they are inherently warm, and also that they know how to cut right to the core of me with my two weaknesses of coffee and an abhorrent attitude towards pants.

And while they insisted that Arizona culture is severely lacking, we still managed to hit up some really rad places, including:

Smeeks- Have you ever wondered where you could buy meatball-flavored gumballs, candy that you thought didn’t exist past 1992 and toenail clippers shaped like a ’57 Bel Air? Wonder no more. They also had my personal Kryptonite: a photobooth:

(The second strip was included in the price, which we didn’t know, hence the Ringu-like blank first frame.)

Red Hot Robot- not 24 hours before arriving in Arizona, I was brainstorming with a friend on how to properly celebrate Daft Punk’s robot birthday, and how tactless it would be to show up without a gift. I worry no more, because Ms. Manners would totally approve of my party etiquette after my stop here, assuming Ms. Manners has a chapter on how to properly behave at robot birthday parties.

At this point, we stopped being Brian and Meg, 24 year olds, and became like, Elmore and Gertie, 90 year olds, as we spent the afternoon antiquing, trying on sequin lion jackets and vintage dresses, searching for skeleton keys and reading postcards sent between friends in the 1920’s.

I have always said that I needed to see a southwestern sunset before I die, and while I saw one from the train in New Mexico, Brian sends me a text one night saying “find somewhere high, look west.” Ever obedient, I did and saw this:

And felt my heart explode.

In my first small-world encounter that Tempe had to offer, a girl from my old neighborhood that I grew up in (Sacramento Avenue, represent) works around the corner from the place I was staying and picked me up to bring me to A Mountain, where we hiked up and talked about her upcoming nuptials and family and happiness all while taking in this view on an incredibly crisp night where the air inexplicably smelled of barbecue. (Editors Note: Not complaining.)

For my second small-world encounter, my junior-high best friend had now moved to within 2 miles of where I was and found out I was in town. The only thing you need to know of running into her was that it went something like this:

Me: “Hey, I know we haven’t seen each other in 10 years and that we randomly met up 1,800 miles from home, but I’m going to LA tomorrow and you should come.”

Her: “I’ll pack a bag.”

So after getting an Amtrak-themed album from Brian, new books on the transgender experience from Fran, and a new travel buddy, its time for the Sunset Limited to Los Angeles.

love, mz

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Cat on the Back of the Milk Carton

On my way out of Austin, Caroline and I went to Phil’s house so that she could meet/abduct the kitten. While the abduction was delayed because she decided to do the honest thing and ask the kitten’s family if she could take it, I have full faith it will one day be hers.

Phil wanted to take me to Barton Springs as kind of a ‘Goodbye to Austin’ experience, but once I told him I had gone the day before and we both admitted we didn’t really want to swim, we went and ate veggie burgers and drank margaritas at Shady Grove instead. I think that was a better way to say goodbye to Austin. Speaking of goodbye Austin, this was my final image of the city-proper as I rolled out of the station over Lady Bird Lake:

The train ride from Austin to Maricopa, Arizona was much more stimulating than the one from Chicago to Austin. No hate on Springfield, Illinois or anything, but seeing a southwestern sunset disappear into the mountains on the Mexican border totally beats anything that the Midwest had to offer.

ALSO (!!!), I saw what I know now is the infamous Prada Marfa! We were riding along and I see this on the side of the road:

Now, I know I hadn’t eaten anything since the burger and margaritas yesterday, but I didn’t think I was at the point of dying and going to heaven yet, or even this strong of hallucinations to be seeing high-end designers in the middle of the Texan desert. Apparently this is Prada Marfa, a social commentary/art installation. Quoting Caroline, “All hail West Texas!” (Editor’s Note: Big up to Miuccia for licensing out her name and products for this.)

I also saw the country’s largest natural bridge, some bitchin’ landscape, and the aforementioned sunset, but because bombarding you with pictures of these things is the modern day equivalent of making people crowd on the shag carpeting around the projector in your living room to look at vacation slides, here is a condensed version of the anti-Midwest sights:

Again on this train I have refrained from too much socializing or even eating in the dining car. I’m totally that creepy girl who doesn’t take her sunglasses off, sitting alone eating only ClifBars while listening to her iPod*. I know its “part of the Amtrak experience” to chat it up with your fellow vagabonds, but I’m really enjoying the time for introspection and catching up on all the new albums I’ve been meaning to listen to. Plus, the only people that want to talk to me are creepy dudes with prison tattoos who I later catch watching me sleep at night. Hypothetically.

*Do not try listening to Fuck Buttons on a 30-hour crowded mass transit ride. I thought I would give it a shot to wake me up, and I just ended up freaking myself out and having to switch to Neutral Milk Hotel and Belle & Sebastian to reach any kind of emotional equilibrium again.

But I arrived safe and sound in Maricopa, Arizona with Brian Kelly and Fran, who were waiting with open arms, laughingly bitching in their coats about how cold the 60 degree weather is as I’m wearing a strapless dress. Back at Fort Tits & Bits, Brian gave me some Arizona beer that looked like a movie prop (and I suspect might kill me as soon as I digest it) and Fran made me vegetarian sloppy joes as we reminisced about Chicago (Yes, I was there four days ago, but its been years for Fran and transplants need a good Giordano’s recollection once in a while. Editors Note: Fuck Lou Malnati’s.)