Monday, August 3, 2015

For Boston

There are some cities that you fall in love with at first sight. You come up from underground, blinking in the daylight, trying to get your bearings when you're hit with the thought, "I could live here." Just as simple as that.

That happened to me the first time I walked around Milan. It happened again in Copenhagen.

There are other cities whose energy and culture are undeniably wonderful. You love visiting. You would never relocate. New York and LA, I love you both, but the daily battles one has to fight to reside in you are not mine to fight.

Pittsburgh has been my home for a decade. I didn't fall for it right away. Then slowly it simultaneaously charmed, frustrated, and comforted me. After 2 years I fell hard and deep for Pittsburgh and here I still am. Pittsburgh is the longest I've done anything.

I didn't like Paris all that much our first time together. I mean it's beautiful, sure. The most aesthetically pleasing city in the world. But it's also aloof. You're kept at arms length. I don't like feeling like I have something to prove. Yet that's also what makes Paris so captivating. I kept going back. I started to feel a little less like a bumbling tourist. I got an apartment there for 5 weeks. I naively thought that would be enough time to get Paris out of my system. I miss it viscerally now. I am always thinking of going back.

If Pittsburgh is my life-long love. Paris is my favorite mistress.

Then there's Boston. A city that so enamored me during a choir trip as a teenager I was convinced it was my destiny. (Being a teenager is nothing, if not dramatic.) I would go to BU and then get a job. I would raise kids there. I was going to Boston. Pittsburgh was the back up plan.

Then Pittsburgh became plan A and I haven't looked back. Would do it all the same if I could do it over. But I held onto this thought that somewhere, in some parallel universe, there was a version of me who did move to Boston at 18. Even after the choice for Pittsburgh was made, Boston remained important.

It was on a trip to Boston nearly 5 years ago that really started Thread. We visited a recycling facility. We had meetings with industry experts despite not knowing what we were talking about. We got drunk in Cambridge after we ran some numbers and confirmed that starting a recycling business in Haiti could indeed be a profitable operation. It was the first place I traveled to with my now colleagues I have been all over the world with.

2 years after that, I found myself retuning for a conference on social entrepreneurship shortly after i had quit my full time job to focus on Thread. I was so overwhelmed and scared of what I had gotten myself into. I walked up Beacon Hill and thought about that bizarro Boston-based me and wondered if I had made a huge mistake. I kissed a boy on a baseball field at midnight. Our paths haven't crossed since, but he's become one of my most meaningful correspondents and friend, and without Boston we may never have met. I came home to Pittsburgh 5 days later - still not sure I was making any good life decisions, but sure that I was going to stick with them.

I hadn't returned to Boston until this past weekend when I went because one of my favorite people in the world moved there in March. We caught up in the way you only can with one of your best friends - talking about everything that's happened since we'd last seen each other, swapping stories, sharing opinions to which you both agree, which, ok, doesn't make for good debate, but sometimes it feels damn good to preach to the choir. And Boston? Well, Boston was lovely. It's a real city, with decent public transit, and multiple languages being spoken around you, and wonderful food. There was a festival in the North End celebrating Saint Agrippina. It's always worth celebrating a martyred blonde princess.

This time though as we wandered around the city and I thought of the version of myself who had come here instead of Pittsburgh, I couldn't picture her as clearly as I could in the past. She was a poorly-formed, ambigious thought, Boston-based me.

Boston may be the city that got away, but I'm happy that it did.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Death to Car Culture

I was almost hit by a car today.

This isn’t a novel situation when you’re a pedestrian, but the encounter today came close enough that my heart was pounding a good 10 minutes after the fact.

At first I was shocked. Then scared. Then relieved. Then livid.

I didn’t have my phone on me. So don’t tell me I shouldn’t cross the street with my head down oblivious to the world.

I wasn’t jay walking. I was crossing a street at an intersection, on a green light.

I was with my co-worker, we were a couple of feet apart, and we’re taller than average – it’s impossible that both of us were both in her blind spot.

It was the afternoon. There was no rain. Visibility was perfect.

I’m telling you this to let you know that in this instance, the driver was 100% at fault. That’s not always the case. It was here.

Lee was a couple of feet in front of me. Given the angle the car was turning and how we were walking, there were a couple of seconds once I realized the car was not stopping, where I thought, “Lee is going to be hit, then I’m going to be hit, and there’s nothing I can do about it!”

Thankfully between us waving our arms around and screaming, she slammed on the brakes. I heard Lee yell that she was an idiot. I heard people on either side of the intersection shouting. She stared at us blankly.  As we stepped away, she uttered a weak, “sorry.”

“Yea!” I turned and yelled. The only thing I could think to yell just then. I should have added, “you should be!” but I felt it was implied.

Then she drove off. I wish I could say I got her plate and called 311 or something, but I didn’t. I was mostly glad that neither of my legs were broken.

I’m over it. I’m so over car culture, but I don’t know how to make that statement as an individual other than not owning a car, which I don’t. I’ve never owned a car in my life. Yes, I know how to drive, yes I have my license. Yes, sometimes I even enjoy driving. It's fun. It's also dangerous as hell.

People moan that social media is the downfall of our society, but I would argue that already happened decades ago with cars. When it became our god-given right to drive 2 ton pieces of metal around with no regard to the fact that we can kill with these machines.

Driving makes people assholes. My most calm, compassionate friends get aggressive behind the wheel. Add on a stressful commute, a bad day, and you are a ticking time bomb with next to no regard to the very real humans in your path.

I’ve been a pedestrian in a city for a decade. I cannot begin to tell you the things that have been shouted at me for having the audacity to walk across a street when I had the right of way. Actually, I could tell you, but my grandmother reads this blog, so I won’t.

There are a lot of things one can worry about in this world, that don’t concern me very much. I’m not afraid of flying. I’m not afraid to walk alone at night in the city I live in. I’m not afraid of the flu, or of eating foods a couple days past their expiration date as long as they don’t smell funny. I probably should be more afraid of being shot, but that’s a post for another time. I am afraid of cars. As a passenger. As a driver. As a pedestrian.

I don’t care if that woman driving was on her way to work.  I don’t care if she had just received tragic news. If she was in an emotionally compromised state, she never should have gotten into her SUV. Maybe she was under the influence of something. If she was, there were no checks in place to make sure she didn’t operate heavy machinery. Nothing she was doing, nowhere she was going, would have been worth 2 humans.

I think it is ridiculous that I still have to answer, multiple times, when re-entering the country whether or not I’ve had a fever or visited specific African countries during my trip abroad, but renewing my drivers license took nothing more than me paying $25 online.

Self-driving cars can’t come soon enough. Hurry up Google and Uber, I trust your algorithms a million times more than strangers’ driving abilities.

To everyone else, every time you drive you have the opportunity to kill someone. I hope it never happens, but please keep in mind that it could.

Does this make me unpatriotic? It feels like it. Am I better off moving to a country like Denmark where alternative forms of transportation are more widespread? Maybe. Except it’s hard to just move to Denmark when you’re not a citizen.

I don’t care if I sound like a preachy liberal. I don’t care if I am self-righteous about this. Your right to drive is not worth my life.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


From 2012-2014, for a variety of circumstances, I moved 4 times. Nothing makes you more intimately familiar with your stuff than moving. Having gone through the process 4 times in 2 years, I can honestly say that there is nothing in my apartment I don't consider to be functional or beautiful. Everything I own at this point, I love enough to pick up and schlepp to my next living situation.

Living alone has also made me very aware of what stuff I consider important to have as well as the things that apparently I can do without. Books, art, a dining room table - non-negotiable, must-haves. Other things like a sofa are less important. Truth be told, every time I get close to purchasing a sofa I start imagining the plane tickets I could buy with that money instead and then I do that.

Some dear friends of mine recently purchased a big old victorian house, because you can do that kind of thing here in Pittsburgh. They purchased it as is, meaning they got it for a steal, even for Western PA standards, but it also means the place needs some serious work and is full of stuff from the past several generations who lived there.

We went over there this past weekend. It was my first time seeing the place and we started going through the piles of stuff, loading most of it into contractor-size garbage bags and discussing which of the furniture seemed cool and salvageable.

We came across boxes of family photo-albums rotted together, news paper clippings announcing the assassination of JFK, a mink stole with feet and eyes that for a second had us convinced we had stumbled across an animal that had died in the closet.

There were other remnants of people's lives. A passport with a black and white ID photo. There was one stamp in it, she had visited Ireland. A mortgage for $2,000 for the house from the 1920's, back when mortgages were actual pieces of paper.  Pieces of luggage I love to look at, but know I would hate in practice - lugging on planes and through cities with no wheels. A lady should always be capable of handling her own luggage.

And of course, going through stuff like that makes you think about the fact that someday people will be going through your stuff, whether it's your family, or total strangers.

What will that be like? The evidence of my life is so different. My love letters are emails. My photo albums and scrapbooks have been instagram for a number of years now. Even my journal is a word document. Will my grandkids hack my gmail account to learn what I was like as a twenty-something in the early aughts?

I kind of like the idea that when I'm done, there won't be as many trash bags to fill, but rather it will disappear with me. Into the cloud.

That being said, when a different friend who is moving several states away posted a question to Facebook asking if she should take boxes of old journals with her or burn them, I didn't hesitate in commenting that I vote she keep them. I think it's important to keep the documentation of your becoming, I said. So maybe I'm more sentimental then I'd like to think.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Running Across Haiti

It’s summer in Pittsburgh. The season that makes up for the grey, cold, and god-forsaken month of February. I’m in work out clothes, hanging out on my boss Ian’s front porch in Friendship. We’re having a beer, talking about our company, my latest break-up, and running. It was during the running talk that Ian poses the question, “What if we run across Haiti?”

There are moments in your life when you know the answer to something so quickly that you have to wonder if deep down you’ve just been waiting for someone to ask the question. I say yes almost immediately.

7 months later, I’ve hired a running coach, run more than I ever have in my life,  and am en route to Haiti to run 230 miles across a country with a group of 17 people who are taking ten days out of their lives to complete this challenge and raise $75,000 for Team Tassy.

Ian Rosenberger has a great many talents, but one of them is his ability to collect people – smart, talented, ambitious, people – and convince them to do crazy shit. The team for this race is no exception. The group dynamics are nearly perfect. Everyone is interesting, hard working, and dedicated to making this run happen. We sleep on floors next to one another, we schlepp luggage, and every time we runners pull into a check-point or finish line, our support crew is there to offer high-fives, hugs, electrolytes, and water before you can even ask. The logistics behind something like this are endless, but everything runs smoothly, thanks mostly to the leadership of Viv Luk, Team Tassy’s Executive Director. It’s unreal. Analogies to summer camp are made all week long.

Poor Dr. Steve is an anesthesiologist, but on this trip he’s mostly responsible for draining blisters and drilling toenails. My feet have completely betrayed me. After 7 months of intense training, after back-to-back 20+ milers, I thought I understood how my body would respond to this level of running. Haiti however, has changed all of that. The heat, the humidity, and who knows what else have caused my feet to swell and widen to the point where my shoes no longer fit. This destroys my pinky toes, and my solution is to cut holes into the sides of my sneakers with Ian’s knife, so that my toes hang out. Dr. Steve super glues my toes back together. Running is gross.

I had 3 goals going into this race:

     1)    Finish.
     2)    Don’t poop my pants.
     3)    Don’t cry on camera.

Halfway through and I’ve completely failed #3. I’m sick. There’s a cold or flu or some sort of virus spreading through our group – unsurprising considering we’re spending every waking and many sleeping moments together. We’ve been saving today’s run for the evening to avoid the demoralizing heat that occurs after 10 am. I’ve spent the day in bed unmotivated to do much else.

Dr. Steve takes my temperature while wrapping up my feet. 101.2. He gives me Tylenol to bring the fever down and tells me we’ll need to check it during the run to make sure it stays below 101.5, or else I start putting myself at risk for heat stroke. I go back to the room I’m sharing with our film crew. I’ve become close with these folks – traveling with them for the past 5 days, falling asleep to the sound of them editing video and photos. I’m tired, and sick, and frustrated, and nervous, and when I talk to Taylor and Andrew I start to choke up.

“Do you mind talking on camera?” Taylor eventually asks, and I agree. So, Andrew pulls out the camera, Taylor asks me some questions, and I cry and blow my nose on film. Maybe it’s footage that will get used, maybe it won’t. Either way, it’s actually kind of cathartic. I put on my gutted shoes and Viv and Ian hang back to pace my shuffling self. A Half-marathon later, Tony Rosenberger hands me a cold Prestige for finishing.

Haiti is a country of extremes. Extreme wealth, and desperate poverty. Jungle, and desert climates. Dark and cool for 12 hours a day, and ruthlessly bright and hot the other 12. I’ve been coming here for 3 years, but am experiencing the country in a whole new way. We run along to the soundtrack of “blan! Blan! Blan!” being shouted at us every hundred feet by children and adults. We look a sight, us white runners (with the exception of Tassy), in our neon running gear and sunglasses passing through towns and villages. I pass a school one morning as students are arriving for their day. A woman, a mother I assume, dropping off her child at school runs up to me and paces me in her sandals and dress.

“You’re fast,” I say.

“Yes,” she responds confidently.

She runs with me for about a half a mile before peeling off onto a side road leading to a neighborhood, towards, I imagine, her home. I wonder what she thought of me. Why she decided to run with a stranger passing through her space. I wish my creole were better so I could’ve found out. I told her thank you and have a good day as she left. I wish she knew how much I appreciated the company.

Team Tassy works in a very specific neighborhood in Port au Prince called Menelas. It’s near the water – a network of dirt roads and small houses. There, Team Tassy works with families holistically, to get them out of poverty, until the family is self-sufficient and no longer needs them. It’s long, hard, work. But, they are getting people healthy, getting kids into school, getting parents into jobs, and the difference those actions make is drastic.

We visit the home of one of the families during our rest day in Port au Prince. It’s a home I visited 3 years ago, while I was in country for Thread. When I visited, no one had a job and 2 of the kids were seriously sick. We stood and met with the family in the front yard. The house was in rough shape. The roof leaked constantly. This time though, we visit, and everything is different.

The kids are getting big – their faces are round, and they’re in school. The older kids practice their English with us. We’re invited into a newly constructed house built with a foundation made from blocks of recycled Styrofoam. The father works as a tap tap driver and just paid off the loan Team Tassy gave him to purchase the truck with. He and his wife help to mentor new families as they enter the program. This is working. This is why we’re running.

It’s the afternoon, and I lie on a bed with my legs up against the wall, reading and resting before our last run of 56 miles into Jacmel. I look up at my legs.

“I think my calves have gotten bigger than my knees,” I say.

Taylor looks up from her laptop across the room, “But that’s good, right? Means you’re strong?”

“Totally,” I say. “It’s just weird, not recognizing my own body.”

These legs – these same legs I’ve been distance running with for the past decade look like they belong to someone else.

It’s midnight and we’re driving to the starting point for our final run, 56 miles from Port-au-Prince into Jacmel. We’re running through the night to avoid the heat and city traffic. To know Port-au-Prince during the day is to know streets and sidewalks that are filled. Every square inch of space is taken over by people, mottos, cars, trucks, and the occasional cow. It’s sensory overload with sounds and smells and colors unlike anything I’ve ever experienced anywhere else in the world. At night though, it’s quiet. Almost post-apocalyptic-like quiet. The streets are empty. It’s both peaceful and eerie. Outfitted in spandex and headlamps it feels like we’re part of some covert ops off to do something much cooler than run for the next 12 hours. We take off, the support trucks ahead and behind us until we clear the city limits and hit the wide open, empty, dark road. I love running at night. If I didn’t have to be a functioning human during the day, I think I’d spend most of my midnight - 2 am’s running.

The next 12 hours pass like a fever dream. I laughed, I cried, I cursed God and everyone, and experienced moments of utter joy and bliss. I mentally quit at least 3 times and got altitude sickness at the top of that mountain. Viv kept me sane, pacing me the last 30 km’s. Owen injured his Achilles and climbed the peak in a splint. The support crew kept offering snacks and encouragement despite having stayed up all night. We all met at the bottom of the mountain, and limped into the finish together. Sun burnt, blistered, and a little bloodied – we made it. Every one one of us.

Since I’ve known him, I’ve heard Ian say, “It’s not an adventure until you’re wishing you were safe at home in your bed.” This experience qualifies.

I start writing all of this down during the flight home. A drunk Canadian comes across the aisle and sits down in the empty seat next to me.

“I saw you writing,” he says. “And writing, and writing. Are you a writer?”

“No,” I respond.

“What were you doing in Haiti?” he asks, looking over my shoulder at the scribbling in my notebook.

“I ran across the country,” I reply, “and apparently have just started processing that.”

He blinks, then says, “I could tell you had a story.”

I do, and I am grateful for it.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Summer Reading

I come from a family of readers.

I remember coming home from the last day of 3rd grade, the whole summer wide open in front of me, and my Mom telling me I could stay up reading as late as I wanted because there was no school to wake up for the next morning. That was one of the best rewards ever.

Even now, when I am home for holidays, the mornings are usually spent with the 4 of us sitting in my parent's living room reading. It's silent except for pages turning, coffee mugs being picked up or set down, and "good morning" when a new person comes downstairs to join the group.  It's a really nice way to start the day.

At the start of this summer I treated myself to a book splurge on Amazon (and picked up a few more through out the season.) Between my front porch, Mellon park, the bar at Franktuary when I'd finish a shift, and several planes, I worked my way through the stack. It was a really nice blend of fiction and stories. The authors made me think, and smile, and tear up, and care about their characters, or see things in a new perspective.

As much as I love love love my library, there is something special about buying a book. I have some more space now in my current apartment for books, and a well stocked home library is something I aspire towards. Even if books are old fashioned, and a complete horror to move. (I know,  I've lugged them all over the city of Pittsburgh from apartment to apartment at this point.) I may love technology, but there is something about curling up with a book, the weight in your hands, the smell of the paper and the ink that I am in no way anxious to give over to a screen.

This week was the fall equinox and in good timing, I finished the pile of books I had marked for the summer. It's a new season.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Thread + Moop

Two years ago I started the best adventure of my life, which is working full time for Thread.

This week, our company moved into our first real office space. It's empty save for a bottle of tequila and margarita mix (we moved in on cinco de mayo). We don't even have chairs yet, so we're sitting on the floor typing on our laptops. We're just so happy and excited to be in our office.

no chairs, don't care.

Our office.

It's a big deal.

Almost as big a deal as the fact that today marks Thread's first product collaboration with Pittsburgh-based bag manufacturer, Moop.

Our fabric is being used in stuff.  Stuff for sale. And it looks freaking cool.

Being able to point to a finished product and say, "that bag is creating jobs, and making neighborhoods safer," makes me proud. Having the opportunity to know the people responsible for making that fabric first hand makes me grateful.

Seeing the response from our friends and families as the bags went on sale this morning, has been pretty overwhelming.

People care about where their stuff comes from. We can use trash as a resource to end poverty.

It's working.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Coming Back

You're prepared for culture shock. You're warned and nervous and so out of your element that when it happens it's unnerving, but you expected it. Of course you did. You're in another country, speaking another language, surrounded by customs and mores unfamiliar to you.

What you're not warned about is coming back.

Which is really the harder part, because you don't expect it to be hard. And it's not hard per se, it's that while you were off galavanting around the globe, life at home held steady. While you learned how to exist in a foreign city, in another nation, and while you had great revelation into yourself, and while you gained confidence and courage that only comes with being completely out of your element, everything else stayed relatively the same.

Sure time passed. People started new jobs, couples got together or broke up, babies got bigger, but generally speaking things stayed the same.

Coming back from extended time abroad is such a mixture of excitement and relief at first. You know how things work! You don't have to look up directions every time you leave your house! You get to see all these people who know you, and who you love, and who you've been missing!

But quickly, everything's just as it was. And you're a little changed, but not different, so you can't help but notice that everything feels flat.

Flat. That's where I've been this week.

It's not that I'm not happy to be home. It's not even that I miss Paris. It's the return. It's a weird and difficult feeling to explain. I've been here before, and judging by the way I prioritize travel in my life I'll be here again.

Other people, much more worldly than me have written about this - one of my favorite descriptions being that if you're not careful, you'll develop a lifestyle version of the bends.

So I'm reconciling with being back and life being about as normal as it gets. I'm trying to indulge in the things and people I missed, while holding on to some of the habits I picked up. I'm already planning future trips while settling back into a routine in a place I am happy to call home.