Friday, April 27, 2012

Goodbye DOI

Today is one of those bittersweet days that I'm sure I'll come to know well in my FS career. Saying goodbye to a job and group of people that I really love, while at the same time anticipating the great things that come next.

For the past 2.5 years I've had the privilege of working at the Department of the Interior in the Policy Office, learning, growing, and really enjoying every day. I realize that it's a rare thing to wake up each morning and look forward to going to work, so it took a big opportunity to pull me away from my great colleagues and the inspiring work. Being my last day, I took the opportunity to do one last wander around the gorgeous building where I've worked, reminding myself of why I was drawn to DOI in the first place. I absolutely believe in the mission of this Department and hope that in my new career I can be an advocate for National Parks, species, ecosystems, and all the public resources that make this country so great (USA! USA!).

I absolutely love the art work at the Interior Headquarters building, and I'm definitely going to miss working in such an inspirational place. I've shared some of my favorite vantage points below, but I encourage DC visitors to think about taking a DOI Public Mural Tour, which includes some amazing Ansel Adams prints along with an impressive collection of murals commissioned during the Great Depression through the Works Progress Administration Artists Project. The official online tour is here.

The murals right next to my office, including a beautiful painting of Mt. Hood.
Historic murals from the WPA Artists program inspired employees during the Great Depression.
Art Deco staircase - one of the beautiful architectural features of Main Interior. 
Glimpses of Ansel Adams Yellowstone shots from the staircase.
My favorite mural - "Construction of a Dam" by William Gropper. Controversial for it's communist tones. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Friendly Skies

As I prepare for my journey into the Foreign Service, and because I've heard that diplomats fly a lot, I thought it would be fun to do some reflecting on flying. Not the kind where you jump out of plane strapped to another human and hurtle towards the ground at over 100 miles an hour praying that your parachute opens so you can post the pictures on facebook later, but the kind where you stand in lots of lines, sit in torturous seats, and experience 14 hours of cell-phone free boredom.

So I have a confession. As much time as I've spent in airplanes in my recent history (over 100,000 miles in the last 2.5 years by my rough count), the whole thing has never bothered me all that much. Sure, the lines are terrible, the fees are edging towards ludicrous, and the 32" inches of personal space that get for your few hundred dollars adds up to some headaches. But the whole process has some lingering romance and nostalgia for me.A small remnant from the days when my sister and I would put on matching dresses and clean jelly sandals, hair done nicely, and leave on a jet plane for Disneyland, every Spring break.  We were special, the daughters of the tour leader, and we were expected to show the rest of the kids (those inexperienced travelers unlike ourselves) what it meant to be sophisticated and calm. The pilot would grant us wings and the flight attendants would compliment us on our good manners. I will always remember what flying felt like back then.

Back when flying was fun and it was cool for you and your sister to have a matching outfits

These days, as I'm being shoved cattle-line style through the security check-point, stripping articles of clothing and walking barefoot with my shoes in my hand with the rest of the demeaned public lacking belts and proper footwear, it's hard not to be wistful for those Disneyland days. Sure, if you fly enough to gain the much coveted "status" offered by most major airlines, it is possible to be rewarded with perks once considered standard fare - free drinks, short lines, and a cushy place to relax between flights. But for the rest of us*, the dignity is gone, and we've all forgotten that this painful process used to be a luxury, not a punishment.  Someday I will tell my nieces and nephew about what it was like to fly when food and beverages were free, when your loved ones met you right at the gate, and every so often you could get upgraded just for smiling at the right flight attendant.  

In memory of those happier flying times, I share with you this video composed in tribute to SkyMall magazine and the wacky products (and cats) featured within: 

* Full disclosure - I've experience life as a "status" flyer and it's pretty darn great. Better than pretty darn, it's amazing. With my less busy travel schedule this year, my drop in status back to the mere mortals is going to be quite painful, however, I'm sure I will manage.  

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Did you see it?

That is the question of the day here in D.C. - Did you see it?

See what you might ask? Oh, you know, only the Space Shuttle Discovery on it's way to retirement, piggy-backing on top of a 747 while doing a flyover of the National Mall. If there's something that makes you feel more patriotic than this, you'd be hard pressed to find it.

I had heard a story on NPR this morning discussing the details and logistics that would bring Discovery from her home at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to her final resting place at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum near the Dulles International Airport. The DC metro area was given a heads-up that we would be able to see the shuttle between 10am and 12pm if we head to the Mall. Around 9:45, my coworkers began gathering in the hallway wondering when they should go down, and how they would know when it was close? I turned to the most obvious source for this kind of second-by-second details, hashtag #spottheshuttle on twitter, where I learned that the shuttle was early and we were going to miss it! I don't think I've ever seen middle-aged economists and policy analysts power-walk so fast!

We left our building from the entrance facing the mall, and already a good-sized crowd was gathered. Someone gave us the sad news that we missed the fly-by as more people poured from the various Federal building and made their way to Independence Ave. I turned once again to twitter, reading that the Shuttle was going to multiple flybys, so the tears and temper-tantrums among the self-avowed space nerds were averted. Two minutes later, fingers were pointing, cameras were out, and along came the Discovery down the National Mall. We stood there for two more rounds of the show, snapping pictures and just gawking at how cool the whole scene was.

And it was indeed amazing, so close that you could almost see the space-rock chips in the windshield of the Shuttle. The sunshine, warm weather, and swell of patriotic pride rising in the crowd made this one of those moments of true American pride.

Discovery on her 747, with a fighter jet as a guard. 

Discovery and her escort doing a fly-by of the Mall

Feds taking an impromptu break to appreciate the amazing site. As the jogger who passed by said, "it's great to be an American"

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Happy Hour

A generously poured $3.75 glass of house red

One of the most typical and persuasive aspects of D.C. culture is the happy hour. The after-work time spent decompressing with friends and colleagues over drinks, venting about your jobs, your bosses, and your colleagues who decided not to join you. Often happy hour centers around drink and food specials, but I've found that the time spent comparing stories of the latest "crisis" in your office and catching up on lives outside of work is more important than a generously poured $3.75 glass of house red.

Happy hours are great for folks who are new to D.C. (and there are almost folks who are new to D.C.) to "network." Find your affinity group - Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, college/grad school alums, Russian speakers, or people who are fans of Mad Men - and there will be a monthly happy planned especially for you and your like-minded future friends. But happy hours are also great for those of us who've made it over the 2-year hump - that magic amount of time as a transient resident of D.C. where it ceases to be a place to work and becomes a home. Us long-timers tend to get absorbed in our jobs and our routines, and coming back to the  trusty old happy hour allows us to reconnect and relax.

With an old job ending soon (just two weeks left!) and a new career beginning, I can look forward to plenty of happy hours in the coming weeks to commemorate life's inevitable transitions.

And of course, conversations over drinks are always "off the record."

Monday, April 2, 2012

Seattle Vacation

Usually when I head out to Seattle to see friends and family, my schedule is so packed that I don't have much time to really experience the city. Having lived there for a couple years, I'm not exactly a tourist, but after a several years on the other coast, I don't exactly feel like a local either.

This past weekend in Seattle for a good friend's wedding allowed me to feel a little like a local and a little like a tourist, which was exactly the kind of trip I needed. I don't know when I'll be in Seattle next, so I wanted to do a couple touristy things, but I also wanted to sit in a coffee shop and read without rushing. And I did exactly those things. The rain came on and off, as it tends to do this time of year, so I spent a good amount of time on my friend's couch. During the sun breaks, and when I wasn't attending the wedding festivities, I walked around Pikes Place market, shopped, and ate multiple types of hot noodle soups. I drank hot, strong espresso while finishing up the first Hunger Games book (which was of course better than the still awesome movie). And most importantly, I watched a couple of great friends and amazing people get married.

So now it's a red-eye back to reality and just a month of work before I take a few weeks of vacation to get ready for A-100.