Throughout January I kept wondering about Gar and whether I’d see him again. Would he be able to make a trip up to the States with his friends during his July break for an unbelievably ambitious but epic-sounding road trip? That itinerary would only have him able to visit me for a couple of days in Orlando before rejoining his mates, however. As I always do when a possible trip is on my radar, I kept an eye on NZ/US ticket fares. During one check I noticed a particularly cheap price, but departing from Los Angeles TO Auckland. Hm. With Gar’s schedule highly restricted by school, it would admittedly be easier for me to there than for him to come here. “Okay, no, that’s weird,” I thought. Go back? Again?? Redo that long ass flight over nothing but terrifyingly endless water? And how do you tell a boy you like you’re willing to consider coming to visit him in NEW freakin’ ZEALAND?? The very idea was preposterous.
“But… you want to wait ‘til July??” part of my brain whined. “Five months and change? And then only see him for two days?”
Admittedly, my mind rebelled in every synapse against the idea of never seeing Gar again; the thought was as insistent as the origin was mysterious. No, that was not going to happen if I had any say in the matter. So quite simply, the question became: is it worth it to me to take another trip to this marvelous country and at the same time see this amazing boy again? And do it in, oh, nine weeks or so from now? I was at this point pining sadly for him day and night, so waiting that amount of time sounded… more manageable.
I cautiously broached the idea of an earlier visit one evening, and Gar responded with increasing enthusiasm to the idea, suggesting perhaps April, when several public holidays occurred. We sorted our logistics, I obtained travel permission from work, and – with equal parts delight, nervousness, and excited anticipation – booked a two week trip departing in late March. I used frequent flyer miles toward the Orlando to L.A. leg, and booked the cheapest fare I could find on Qantas for the Auckland flight. [insert ominous rumbling of thunder here, for this crafty arrangement begets trouble later.]
My February birthday came and went with nary a peep from Gar, which made me a bit glum, though I felt silly for feeling so. Just an email mention of it would have been nice (no glitter required) but I noted to myself that naturally he probably didn’t even know when my birthday was; vaguely mentioning a month once in a boy’s presence is hardly going to stick. However, I felt worse when I realized that my unbirthday party blog post would likely have tipped him off, and if he wasn’t out checking ze blog occasionally – well, bummer. After all, I listened to his gaming podcast every week largely just to hear his voice and lovely accent, though I also found them entertaining on their own despite knowing nothing about the topic at hand. “Crap – I’m going to be down there visiting for two weeks; does he still want to see me?” I wondered.
He made reference during one of our email conversations (Skype was still not yet a possibility due to his restricted internet connection) to a project he was working on, and in the post a week and a half later I was floored to receive an amazing package of gifts from him, most super-especially a movie he’d made for me explaining how he’d realized from the blog he’d forgotten about my birthday! He talked to me on camera and went through the entire process: filming the present-purchasing excursion with the camera setup he uses when he races his car; the elaborate wrapping job and addressing of the envelope… and some other cool and clever stuff I won’t bore you with the details of, but we all know the requisite reaction from me by now: swoon. It was the coolest, most thoughtful thing anyone’s ever made for me, putting well to rest my prior concerns about him still wanting to see me, and best of all, containing tons of footage of him looking super handsome and talking in the aforementioned cute accent. I ached anew for the end of March to hurry the fuck up and arrive.
In early March I was summoned to the District of Columbia corporate mothership for a departmental meeting; further, I was promised there would be cupcakes. The cheap, clean-ish and well-located but somewhat depressing B&B basement room I’d stayed at previously was booked, but having had generally good experiences with AirBnB when traveling in Europe, I investigated the D.C. listings and identified a nice couple renting out their guest bed just a few blocks from my company’s Arlington office. They had two kittens (yay) and it’d be half the price of the cheapest nearby hotel. I decided to ply my savings into a nice dinner: given the relatively short notice to get into a dream experience like Minibar, I opted instead for Rasika, which the Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema refers to as the ‘best Indian food on the eastern seaboard.’ I was only able to wrangle an OpenTable slot for 10pm, but I took it.
I arrived at Reagan International to the bone chilling temperature of near forty degrees (yes, I’m from upstate NY and should perhaps be happy in a light sweatshirt at those temps, but ten years in Florida has turned me into an incredible wuss about the cold). At baggage claim I disgorged the contents of my entire suitcase onto a nearby bench and replaced most of the items on myself. A nice older black lady sporting a dapper hat approached me and looked at me inquiringly. “Have you lost something?” she asked. “Oh no,” I assured her. “I’m just freezing.” “Oh, all right, because I found this,” she replied, waving a dark, familiar-looking lump of cased camera at me as she proceeded towards the lost and found.
I paused for a second and checked my backpack. Shit! That was MY camera! How the hell had it escaped? I shoved any straggling clothes back into my suitcase and hastened after her. She’d just handed it over to the counter attendant when I dramatically shouted over the assembled line of disgruntled travelers, “Ma’am? Excuse me – I believe that IS mine. If I am correct, it will be a Nikon camera with a USB data transfer device tucked under the strap, which is vertically coiled towards the shutter side of the camera.” (Heh, yes – I can be a real pompous ass. But I was having fun channeling Sherlock Holmes: “Watson, our killer is a short man with a limp, missing left thumb, and terrible cat allergies who used to work as a pipe welder and lives with his mother near Whitehall.”) With a raised eyebrow, the counterlady nodded and handed it over to me wordlessly, and I thanked the good Samaritan profusely.
In all my layers, I was now moving like a small snowsuit-clad child ready for sledding, and still it wasn’t enough to prevent me shivering as I waited for the Metro on the outdoor platform’s chilly granite bench. Washingtonians, reveling in the day’s bright sunlight, blithely jogged in nylon shorts with their leashed dogs following. I scowled at their lack of hypothermia and realized that, after completing a hasty pack job and just two hours of tossing, plane-anxious ‘rest’, PLUS these shivery temps, my plan of going to the zoo was direly endangered. I’d actually previously planned my next D.C. tourist visit to include the air and space museum, but decided to hold off in the hopes of hitting it with Gar in July. Instead I bumped my rolly case from the Rosslyn Metro stop up the hill of Clarendon (ugh! Florida is flat! much unacclimated wheezing ensued), to the Safeway to pick up some nibbles, then snarfed a hastily compiled grocery store salad and collapsed into a five hour nap on the guest bed of my hosts, huddled miserably beneath all the blankets I could pile on. Their home office in which the bed was situated was glassed in on three sides and harbored the door to their back porch, so it was chilly and drafty except in the spot where the intermittently activated central heat scorched my face and turned my hair into a static-y, crackling mess.
I completed the evening’s news assignments after my nap, and, feeling guilty about sleeping through the entirety of my planned tourist day in town, bundled myself up again for an evening stroll around the neighborhood, ascertaining first with my hosts that the area was safe for random wandering. I purchased a shockingly mediocre hot chocolate –virtually indistinguishable from warm milk, blech– from a little café that was still open (it was about 9:30 pm) and meandered along for about an hour, entertaining myself with my favorite city night pursuit: peering in lit windows to check out the décor of the dwellings inside. Buildings in D.C. are generally of modest height – no NYC-esque concrete canyons here – and this area of town was no exception: most hovered around the 6 story mark, and especially with the small undulating hills, I was able to gain some good voyeuristic vantage points. There were some seriously drool-worthy conversions of historic buildings, with residential units boasting 2 glassed-in open stories, exposed brick walls, floating teak staircases, fantastic art, and gleaming gourmet kitchens. I finally found myself on a street I recognized, where my office is located, and retraced my way home to be well-rested for the next morning’s meeting.
It’s always fun to actually see my virtual colleagues (who are all extremely nice), and the meetings were productive and pleasant. I amused myself making several different varieties of coffee with the little prepackaged tubs the office machine uses, nibbled some of the promised cupcakes (made by one of the boss’ tween daughters, with all the lilac and pink frosting that implies) and had a quick Mexican lunch with my own small workgroup before everyone parted ways.
I tidied and packed back at the apartment and readied my dinner garb. Work ran sufficiently late (along with my hosts detaining me to watch videos of cats being startled by deterrent devices of various sorts, based on my suggestion they look into a static mat to keep their escape artist kitten from perpetually darting out the front door) that I needed to grab a cab to be assured of reaching Rasika on time. At off hours Metro trains can come at 20 minute intervals, and I needed to take two to reach my destination near the National Archives. The cab itself only took about 15 minutes, so I was quite a bit early, but I discovered there were already plenty of seats available.
They took my coat and I was led to a comfortable corner table that gave the broadest possible vantage point over the rest of the dining areas. I was pleased to discover I’d been assigned a tall, dark, handsome drink of water as my server; Cody – a very apt Western name! – was a recent Colorado transplant (low man on the restaurant totem pole gets the damned late diners) who’d come to D.C. to do program work with the Red Cross. Curiously, every guy I’ve ever conversed with in D.C. does something interesting: three with whom I chatted on my May 2011 trip were a law student, embassy attaché, and curator of the classics and philosophy library at GWU, respectively. Anyway, Cody was new to the restaurant and at first erroneously took my order for the small tasting menu before being pulled aside by one of the other servers and notified they didn’t do those so late in the evening. I was slightly miffed that the online restaurant information hadn’t clearly shown the tasting menu hours (I’d done my pre-trip research, of course, though I’m glad to report their redone website now features menus updated to show the serving times) so I selected a few a la carte dishes.
First was Rasika’s much-lauded crispy baby spinach drizzled with sweet yogurt, tamarind sauce, and date chutney. Definitely the best dish of my meal, it was an intriguing combination of textures and sweet and savory flavors with just a lightly fatty mouthfeel – decadent with a touch of green vegetable virtuousness.
Next were seared scallops in a salty, almost lemon-grassy sauce thickened with pureed lentils. This dish was missing a middle flavor note – the initial sweet scallop flavor was hustled rapidly away by the intensely flavored sauce, both of which were separately yummy but not well integrated or balanced: it needed something else, an additional actual foodstuff to buffer the two disparate flavors and textures. Plus the sauce was very runny and did not cling to the shellfish (Cody said most people order it with naan or something on the side to sop it, but I couldn’t spare tummy space for mere bread!)
My entrée was again a signature house dish: black cod with a sweet honey and star anise glaze. The fish, like the scallops, was perfectly done, fresh and delicious, and luxuriously oily, but I almost felt like it was again missing just a little something… it was just fish on a plate.
Since I hadn’t been able to get tasting menu-sized portions, I was getting very full at this point, so I didn’t quite finish the cod but quaffed the rest of the wine Cody had suggested to accompany the meal and selected a chocolate samosa from the dessert menu. It was warm and full of oozy chocolate which I swooshed up with the fresh berries it was served with, solid and pleasant but otherwise unremarkable, as dessert always tends to be.
Cody returned at frequent regular intervals to chat with me since the restaurant was quite empty now and the servers starting their side work, and our conversation ranged from his recent move from Denver to my travel plans and our mutual interest in good beer and promising places to visit in Colorado and D.C. for the sacred brew. “You must come back and see me the next time you’re in town,” he urged, adding that he might be at the new West End location, but that I could probably call to find out. I paid my tab, collected my jacket, and dashed out into the night, anxious to catch the Metro before it closed just a few minutes hence. The station was thankfully practically outside the restaurant, not even a half a block away. Being a NYC girl, I cursed again these damned non-24 hour transport systems and wondered if it was possible I could get stranded at my transfer point – surely they finish taking home poor travelers who’ve managed to squeeze into the network before the entry doors were shuttered? Everything went smoothly, though, and I caught the last train out of each station for my return to Rosslyn without a hitch. I walked the rest of the way home in the chilly air, grateful to work off some of the stuffing I’d just administered to my tummy. The streets were very quiet as it neared midnight, my surroundings etched in sharp detail in the cold wintry atmosphere, streetlights gleaming – it was quite lovely; I somehow find almost the most peaceable scenes are those of a deserted cityscape, presumably from the comparative knowledge of how clamorous it could be.
After a heavily sedated night’s sleep from both my decadent meal and the three glasses of wine I’d imbibed, I bade my hosts goodbye and had a quick flight back to Orlando, where I gleefully shucked off my numerous layers in the warm, humid air blasting from the passenger walkway. I looked with satisfaction at the MCO interior, and smiled happily at the prospect of my return in just a few weeks’ time to go visit my adorable and much-missed Kiwi.