Thursday, January 31, 2013


For Christmas, my girlfriend Sara got us tickets to go see the band Fun. in concert at DAR Constitutional Hall.  (yes, the capital F and period are officially part of the band name).  Fun.'s album, "Some Nights" was my anthem this summer on my road trip.  Over the thirty day trip, I think I listened to title track over one hundred times.  I often associate music with specific times in my life and that album will always remind me of home leave 2012.  So, getting these tickets as a Christmas present was truly awesome.

The venue is a few blocks away from the White House, so Sara made us reservations for dinner at BLT Steak.  When I got to the restaurant, there were two secret service agents outside, patting down patrons before they could enter.  Of course, I wanted to ask who was inside, but I forced myself to be D.C. cool and pretend that nothing was going on.

Our dinner was fabulous.  I had an amazing filet mignon.  I think the best part of the meal, however, may have been the giant popovers they brought out before our meal, which just melted in my mouth.  As we ate our dinner, it became clear that the VIP was already in the private dining room.  Sadly, we had to leave for the concert before catching a glimpse of the VIP.  According to Twitter, Michelle Obama was eating about 15 yards away from me.

The concert was pretty freaking awesome.  I have always loved concerts.  Back in the day, when my Mom would take me to a Don Henley concert, I would likely be the youngest person in the crowd.  That was clearly not the case here.  I didn't exactly feel old, but I certainly didn't feel young.  When you go to a concert with so many teenage girls, does it say good things about their taste in music or bad things about mine?  As the band only has about two albums (both of which I've listened to repeatedly over the 6 months), they played almost all of their songs.  The set was a bit short - I would have liked them to expand some of the songs live or do a few covers - and they had the crowd sing back to them a bit too much, but it was all in all a great show.  One cool feature was their light show.  All of the lights were LED lights - first time I have seen that in a show.  It really enhances what they can do and adds to the concert.

After the show, Sara and I strolled past the White House to find a cab.  Pretty much a perfect night.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Inauguration Day

Four years ago, I joined two million people to welcome our new President, Barack Obama.  I remember waking up super early, taking the surprisingly uncrowded metro to Chinatown and walking down to the Mall with Toni and her friend Chad.  I lucked into getting an extra purple ticket from Toni (the tickets were like gold 4 years ago).  The day was bitterly cold, but the jubilance (and shared body heat) of the crowd kept us warm.  Despite having these golden tickets, we endured the typical Washington security SNAFUs, getting onto the Capitol grounds only after the ceremony had already started.

A few of the enduring images from our peaceful transition of power include the dozens of people perched on statues, in trees, and on top of port-a-pottys to get a better view; the President flubbing the oath; and crowd chanting "NaNaNaNa, NaNaNaNa, Hey, Hey, Good-bye" to W as Marine One took a final lap around Mall.  On our trek home, citizens streamed out of the I-395 tunnel like scenes from the Zombie Apocalypse. Finding myself living in DC again, I felt compelled to return again.  Like in film, the sequel did not live up the original, but I still enjoyed the spectacle.

I snagged a pair of tickets from a friend of a friend's fiancee (yes, this is how things work in DC).  This time, we literally had golden tickets, but our view was no where near as good.  Four years ago, I was on the Capitol grounds, 200-300 yards from the President.  This time, we were between 3rd and 4th street, several blocks from the dais.  On the plus side, the security situation was greatly improved.  We left my house around 745 and were in our section by 9.  The downside is that we had several hours to wait before the ceremony started.  We passed most of the time talking with a group of high school students from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who we later realized were likely born in 1996.  One of the kids called me "Sir" in a way that indicated he clearly thought I was more like his parents than I was him.  For the first time since my birthday, I finally felt 30.

I enjoyed seeing all of the pomp and circumstance that I missed last time.  As each group arrived to the stage, I would point out politicians to Sara on  the Jumbotron.  I finally explained to Sara how this was my red carpet and she tolerated my political fawning.  Sadly, the largest cheer from the crowd came when Jay-Z and Beyonce appeared on the screen.  Pretty sure their cheer was even louder than the President's.  That was definitely not true four years ago.

I liked Obama's speech, loved hearing James Taylor ("who's that, he's pretty good" says one of the teenage girls behind me), chuckled about how much Chuck Schumer tried to steal the spotlight, and laughed at the poem.  The crowd was much quieter this year than last time.  Despite the valiant efforts of one of the teenage boys from Cedar Rapids, chants of "USA" or "Obama" quickly fell flat.  But, the weather was mostly nice and the people were all pleasant.

After the ceremony, Sara and I made our way to her work, where they were having a large Inauguration Party.  Their building is basically next to the Capitol (CBS News films from their roof).  Although I am glad we went to the Mall, we were likely closer from her building than with our tickets.  The food at the party was fantastic, especially the carving stations and the dessert bar.  Met some of her co-workers and watched the start of the Inaugural Parade before we made our way back home.  All in all, a fine day.

Me and Sara on the Mall

View of Capitol with full zoom
View of Capitol from Sara's office

Sara and me overlooking the Capitol

View of the Parade from Sara's work.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Avoiding German Homework

After losing most of my German abilities over Christmas break, I began anew this week in German with Herr Ryschka.  Herr Ryschka is the best language teacher I have ever had and one of the best teachers I have had in any subject.  On one hand this is fantastic, since I need to pick up the pace on learning German.  On the other hand, I have more homework, which I currently don't want to do.  In order to avoid my homework for another half hour, I decided to write this blog.

Today, I went for a long run.  I took the metro to the Mall in DC, ran around the Tidal Basin  across the Potomac and then past the airport home.  I mapped my route when I got home and I ran a bit over five miles.  This is one of the longer runs that I have done and I honestly felt pretty good afterwards.  My total time, excluding a short break I took to look at the MLK Memorial  (which I thought was bigger than it is), was about 1 hour 10 minutes, including my warm-up and cool down.  Hopefully, this means I should be able to double that and complete the Cherry Blossom run in the allotted time.

Speaking of which, I met my fundraising goal last week and I am officially signed up for the 10 mile run.  Thank you to those of you who donated to my run.  In particular, I would like to thank the anonymous donor who gave me $500.  I must admit I have spent the past week trying to figure out who in the world would donate that much.  Whoever you are, I hope you read this, so that you hear my heartfelt thanks.  I also greatly appreciate the smaller donations from many of my family and friends.  For five months now, I have been working to get in better shape through running and eating better.  The support I have had has been amazing and really helped.  I reached my first weight loss goal of 250 lbs this week and reset my new goal to 220 lbs by the time I leave for Germany in May.

Yesterday, I met up with one of my oldest (haha) friends from high school, Brandon.  Brandon and I have been friends and rivals ever since 7th grade when he skipped another grade and we had science together.  (My favorite story of 11 year old Brandon was he had one of those calculator watches and set it to beep about 3 seconds before the bell rang in science class.  This went on for months - Brandon's alarm beep would go up, the teacher would stop talking, the class would make the initial movements to pack up and the school bell would ring.  After about seven or eight months of this, Brandon set the alarm five minutes early.  His watch beeped, the teacher quit teaching, everyone began to pack up, the bell DIDN'T ring, and Brandon chuckled in the corner.  Clearly, someone had learned about Pavlov before 7th grade science.

Anyway, when I moved to DC 4 1/2 years ago, Brandon was about the only person I knew out here.  I hung out with him and his congressional staffer friends quite a few times during those first few years.  After six years out here, Brandon is now planning to leave DC this summer to start a PhD in history.  (How in the world our small group of friends in Shenandoah Iowa produce two PhDs I'll never understand)  He started talking about his plans for grad school and what he wants to research and write about.  That got me to thinking what I would like to write about if I ever get the chance.

Book idea #1 - My favorite piece of trivia is - "Who issued the oath of office to George Washington at the First Inauguration?"  The answer is a little known founding father named Robert Livingston.  This guy, from what I know, had a fascinating life.  He was one of the five people authorized to write the Declaration of Independence (although Jefferson did most of the writing and New York recalled him before he could sign it), he served as the Secretary of Foreign Affairs under the Articles of Confederation, as Chancellor of New York, he issued the oath to Washington.  He later served as Minister to France under Jefferson and was primarily responsible for the Louisiana Purchase.  Yet, he remains completely unknown to most Americans.

Book idea #2 - Last year, I read an amazing book called "How the States got their Shapes."  This book details how each of the fifty states got its borders.  In the telling of each border, there is fascinating history or forgotten pragmatism.  For example, my home state of Iowa has a little tail on its southeastern border that has always looked a bit out of place.  The reason for this deviation from the straight line southern border is that if the border had continued on, this land would be in Missouri, yet cut off from the rest of the state by a river.  Congress worried that Missouri would have no control over this due to logistics and Iowa would have no jurisdiction.  So, it made the tail a part of Iowa.  The book explains the panhandle of Oklahoma and why all the western states look alike.

This book fascinated me beyond belief and got me to thinking that now I wanted to learn how every country got its shape.  Why were today's borders selected and who made those decisions? (often the answer is dumb colonial bureaucrats).  So, book idea #2 is to document how every country got its unique shape.

Book idea #3 - I've had this idea for years and it may have already passed its prime, but I still think it would be fascinating.  The book would be called "Where were you?" and would write the oral history of 100 people on 9/11.  To this day, I can recount with vivid detail, most of that day's events and I think that many others can as well.  New York and DC may have been the targets of the attack, but it affected the whole world.  The book would incorporate the direct victims but would be more about the stories that have never been told.  A bus driver in Los Angeles.  A migrant worker in Alabama.  An elementary student in North Carolina.  An office manager in Buenos Aires.  A store clerk in Tokyo.  Like I said, I think the book is past its prime, but it is still something that I would read.

Book idea #4 - I have always been fascinated in immigration history.  Particularly, the way that immigrants in the U.S. always seem to live in the same neighborhoods over the span of time.  For example, there are neighborhoods in NYC or Chicago or Boston, etc. where the Germans left when the Irish showed up, the Irish left when the Italians came, the Italians left when the Poles arrived, the Poles left when the African Americans moved in, and the African Americans left when the Hispanics got there.  In the next generation or so, the Hispanics will move out as the Africans or the Arabs or the Indians move in.  My goal would be to find one of these neighborhoods, focus on a block, and then go back through the census data to find out who was living there and when.  I would use immigration data to trace the pattern of immigration.  I would seek out more recent immigrants and the descendants of those who came before and tell their story.  How does the neighborhood change?  How does it remain the same?

Anyway, those are my book ideas.  I expect royalties if you steal them.  Now it is time to go do German homework.