by Borderstan.com May 29, 2013 at 10:00 am 0

From Scott Thompson. Follow Scott on Twitter @foureyedblond or email him at thompson[AT]@borderstan.com.

"Spell check"

Spell check. (Luis Gomez Photos)

If Johannes Gutenberg were alive today, he would slap me in the face.

Five centuries ago, Herr Gutenberg meticulously lined up individual Latin letters on a metal press to create the first-ever printed Bible. The revolutionary final version contained 1,280 pages of text, colors, calligraphy — and no misspellings.

In 2012, it sometimes takes me two attempts to type and spell my own last name correctly.

I like to tell myself that this worsening problem is in no way related to my IQ. I used to be a fairly decent speller, and given the schadenfreude I feel upon discovering typos made by The New York Times or Perez Hilton, I certainly retain at least some command of the English language. Rather, I believe that I can no longer spell correctly because I no longer have to spell correctly. Modern technology does it for me.

My relationship with Microsoft Word exemplifies this situation. In 7th Grade, when my father brought home a table-sized Acer computer, I typed and spelled with joyful precision, out of respect for the old days when I had to write book reports carefully by hand. Today, I use Microsoft Word the same way the British and the Germans used the Enigma machine. Thoughts leave my head and land on the page in a garbled, red-accented collection of letters — decipherable only to me. Most often, it takes Spell Check longer to finish its run that it took me to type the paragraph.

Phone communication is no better. On my previous flip phone, texting was an arthritic endeavor. The tactile button-pressing required a modicum of mental focus and helped prevent a large swath of mistakes. On my new iPhone, the motion is so easy, so swift, and so autocorrected that I have to follow up each text with at least one or two *(asterisk texts) to explain myself.

Even Words With Friends — an electronic game solely designed to encourage proper, creative spelling — is now an orthographic wasteland. Rather than thinking critically about the set of seven letters before me, I often simply throw out a group of consonants and vowels, convinced that they will form some unknown, Scrabble-approved word from ancient Aramaic.  Or I spell a word like “at.”

It’s wrong to blame frenetic 21st century life for this problem. The question is not “Am I really that busy?”, but rather “Am I really that lazy?” Imagine if Thomas Jefferson had argued for man’s “unalienable tights,” or if the Duke of Wellington wrote a letter instructing his generals to “evade” Waterloo rather than “invade.”  One certainly could forgive these slight errors, given other life-threatening priorities at the time — not to mention the lack of impermanent ink.

But they didn’t make such errors. On the contrary, they did what our generation and every generation before us used to have to do in school spelling bees, pen pal exchanges, and testing blue books. They focused, took their time, utilized their minds and spelled (or at least did their best to spell) correctly – with no software system doing the thinking for them.

Today, if Herr Gutenberg asked me in person whether the word “misspelling” had one “s” or two, I would politely shake his hand, hand him the fire iron, and say, “Honestly, Sir — I can’t remember.”

“Let me Google it.”

This column first ran August 7, 2012.

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by Borderstan.com May 21, 2013 at 12:00 pm 0

From Scott Thompson. Follow Scott on Twitter @foureyedblond.

"Graduation"

Graduation. (Luis Gomez Photos)

Graduation season has arrived. Now you are graduated from college.

From Boston to Baton Rouge, undergraduate and graduate students will sport caps, gowns, and hangovers as they prepare for their first foray into “the real world.”  In May 2005, I did the same thing, under the blistering shade of a magnolia tree on Wake Forest University’s quad. Today, as I reflect on the past seven years, I deemed it appropriate to share a few personal lessons and words of wisdom with the Class of 2012.

1)  You can never be too rich, too thin, or too sober at the office holiday party.
Because there are only so many times you can apologize to your coworker for putting down your glass of free Chardonnay, spinning her around, and reenacting the “armpit caress” choreography from “Dirty Dancing” directly in front of your CEO.

2)  ZipCar and Supermarket Sweep require identical strategic planning.
ZipCar has redefined twenty-something urban mobility in America. It has also redefined time management. You will never be as efficient as the moment you step out of a ZipCar and into the foyer of a suburban Target, fully aware that within exactly 47 minutes you need to complete your shopping list, fill the trunk, drive Sandra Bullock-style back into town, park the car, empty the trunk, and devise a way to carry that stainless steel trash can up the street with one hand.

3)  The road to alcoholism is paved with good brunch invitations.
In the real world, the telltale sign of a problem is not “Why was i dancing on a radiator at Sigma Nu at 2am?” but rather “Why did I move directly from an 11:45 am Ibuprofen tablet to a noon bottomless mimosa?”

4) Just because he’s at the karaoke bar, doesn’t mean he’s gay.
Or not moving to St. Louis for medical school. In the fall. With his girlfriend.

5)  Pasta > Pinstripes.  
You will undoubtedly laugh and sneer when you open an envelope from your grandparents, containing a gift card to Safeway or Subway. You will long for the days of yesteryear when you received gift certificates to Banana Republic…right up until that moment at the end of the month, when your bank account hits zero and you’re knee deep in winter clothes in your closet,  desperate to find the one forgotten item that stands between you and starvation.

6)  Avoid looking at Facebook photos at the office.
Because you, too, cannot explain why you are mid-way through your coworker’s sister’s study abroad album.

7)  Receiving a wedding invitation in the mail is the same as receiving a bill. 
A wedding invitation is the most exciting, beautiful, and difficult-to-open item a twenty-something can receive in the mail. But the allure will quickly fade. Beneath that espresso/bluebell organza ribbon lurks a draconian Emily Post list of travel and shopping requirements that may necessitate a spleen donation.

8)  Your mother, if she is smart, will buy a maroon leather sofa and charge phone calls by the hour. 
Many economists claim that U.S. GDP does not accurately take into account activities not provided through the market. In no sphere is this more apparent than the weekly psycho therapeutic phone services provided by mothers to recent graduates. Whether it’s responding to an emotional cry for advice after a break-up, or a “They will notice that typo in my cover letter, I JUST KNOW IT,” mothers provide America’s largest out-of-network mental health service.

9)  “Naked Juice” Calories Per Serving: 180.
Servings per container:  Two.

10) By the time you’re 30, you’ll likely be in a career you had never imagined — which is how it should be.
Most graduates have a set idea in their head about where their career path will lead. This plan will likely change as you progress through your twenties. You may find yourself in a job you never knew you would hate – or in a career you never knew you would love. Take and learn from every new opportunity that comes your way.

As Erma Bombeck wisely stated, “Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the ‘Titanic’ who waved off the dessert cart.”

This column originally ran May 11, 2012.

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by Borderstan.com April 29, 2013 at 11:00 am 0

From Scott Thompson. Follow Scott on Twitter @foureyedblond or email him at thompson[AT]@borderstan.com.

"Washington"

Washington, DC, in many ways, is Neverland. (pnzr242 from Borderstan Flickr pool)

Growing up is such a barbarous business. – Captain Hook

As a child, I never understood the allure of the movie Peter Pan.

Sure enough, it had a rightful place in the pantheon of colorful, over-sized Disney VHS containers that my sister and I piled next to the television. But given the choice of Maleficent’s anger or Ursula’s wit, I never felt a burning desire to choose the prepubescent teen who used soap to attach a shadow.

Today, however — as a 29-year-old living in Washington, DC — my opinion of the story of Peter Pan is radically different. Why? Because Washington, in many ways, is Neverland.

Every year, thousands of newly minted graduates, waving elite bachelors, masters, law, and medical degrees, descend on the nation’s capitol for their first true foray into the real world. They arrive in a magical, boxed off land called Northwest, where the phrase “he was born in D.C” turns more heads than “he has a boyfriend.” Everyone is young, attractive, and smart — and in close proximity.

On any given day of the week, bars are hoppin’, kickball fields are packed, and pheromones are raging. Happy hours flow seamlessly into dinner, evenings flow seamlessly into brunch. No one has kids, no one has mortgages, no one knows if they’re quite ready to go to law school this year or next — and no one seems to mind.

For many, it’s almost like a second high school or college experience, tailor-made for academically driven students who grew up too fast. But that’s the catch. Those of us who grew up too fast are – in the end – the ones that have the most growing up to do. And in a city like DC, that process is as turbulent as it is illuminating.

When I moved to DC five years ago, I had two degrees, perfectly matted in expensive frames. But unfortunately, as my grandfather warned against, I had largely allowed “my schooling to get in the way of my education.”  I could explain the balance of powers that created World World War I, but I had never balanced a check book. I had held a litany of internships, but never a full-time job. I knew what “rent” was from references in NBC sitcoms and Broadway musicals, but I had never paid it on my own — let alone had to furnish the space that came along with it.

We know everything — and nothing — at the same time.

In no sphere is this more accurate than the field of dating. Washington, DC is likely the only city in America where a bad break up on a Tuesday could have a direct impact on U.S. foreign policy on Wednesday.

Why?  Because deep down, not one of us knows what we’re doing when it comes to relationships — and our romantic emotions. In every professional corner of the city, twenty-somethings, thirty-somethings (and all the way up) are dating again for the first time in years. Some of us are starting to date for the first time at all. Tearfully crying into a Jumbo Slice on the sidewalk at 2 am is now as much a DC rite of passage as watching the sunrise under Lincoln’s gaze.

The silver lining?  All of us — in our own ways — are “finally” growing up in Washington together — and that fact cannot be overlooked or underestimated. We’re all dealing with new opportunities, new challenges, new emotions, new anxieties, and new personal responsibilities   And we’re doing it on our own, away from our families, in one of the most chaotic and expensive cities in America, under some of the most powerful bosses in the world.

When we remember that fact, it makes it easier to forgive each other – and ourselves – if and when we make mistakes along the way.

This column originally ran on March 8, 2012.

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by Borderstan.com February 14, 2013 at 9:00 am 0

Or “How to Succeed at Chipotle Without Really Crying”

From Scott Thompson. Follow Scott on Twitter @foureyedblond

"Chipotle"

Corn tortillas are always better.(Luis Gomez Photos)

I have a crush on my Chipotle manager.

It’s the truth — a waistline shattering truth that has wreaked havoc on my daily routine. I imagine my tale is not unique. In a city where restaurants trump recipes, the potential of mixing food and romance is an ever-present danger.

It all started three weeks ago at the tortilla station.

I had stepped out for dinner mid-way through a late night at work. The neighborhood surrounding my office is filled with dietary landmines, Chipotle being the most dangerous. The queue moves fast, the menu options always appear fresh and the dim warehouse-chic lighting smooths away stress lines. It’s an evil combination that has resulted in a monthly mail delivery from my mother, containing a Chipotle gift card and a reminder to “eat more fruit.”

That night three weeks ago started out like any other night. I put on my coat, walked across the street and prepared for the weekly Sophian choice between tortilla and bowl.

“Three soft tacos to go, please,” I said quietly, reaching for my wallet to extract the gift card.

“Corn tortillas or flour?” said a voice.

My eyes lifted from the glass counter and met those of a stranger. I had more or less memorized the faces of my local Chipotle team. This face was new. He stood roughly at my height, wearing hipster glasses, a black shirt and a curious smile.

“I… didn’t… know you had corn tortillas?” (True.) “They are more authentically Mexican, right?” (True). “Sorry, I just haven’t been here in a while.” (Laughably false.)

“Not many people do. And to be frank, corn tortillas are really only good if you’re dining in – the tortillas fall apart quickly if you add salsa.”

“Oh, that makes sense.” I fumbled in my coat pocket, desperate for a missed text that could distract me from the chiseled hands that pushed my aluminum dish down the counter.

“Pico de gallo?”

I said yes, and asked for extra medium sauce — the final frontier before I could move to the cashier and escape with my meal and dignity in hand.

“Careful! I don’t want you to get sauce on that nice sweater of yours!” said the smiling eyes behind the frames.

Everything disintegrated from that point forward.

“Oh I won’t! Haha!” I barked, as my head fell backwards and to the left, as if I were auditioning for the scene inPretty Woman when Richard slams the jewelry case shut in front of an unsuspecting Julia.

The elevated eyebrows on the cashier’s face summarized the entire spectacle.

Two days later I returned for lunch, with curious colleagues in tow. “You have great glasses,” I muttered somewhere between pinto and pollo. He thanked me, feigned recognition and moved to the next customer.

A week later, I returned in the evening, hoping to recreate our first encounter, away from the frenzied lunch crowd.

“Hi, again,” I said, timidly waving my gloved hand above the counter. At this point, I might as well have held up a sprig of Cilantro, sang “It Only Takes a Moment” and called it a day.

Unrequited crushes are as tragic as they are common. In the days and weeks since, I have realized that “we” will never be. I continue to cross the street to Chipotle from time to time, smiling quietly as I proceed down the buffet line before going on my way. But I have accepted fate – as well as an existential truth that I never fully understood, until now.

The connection between food and love is sacred – as is the separation. Parisians cannot fall in love with their local baker. Italians cannot fall in love with their local barista. I cannot fall in love with my local Chipotle manager. It would break down the precious relationship between chef and customer — between daily routine and daily meal — between romantic dreams and romantic realities.

I will forever be grateful to Chipotle for opening my eyes to this fact.

And to Qdoba, for opening a franchise across the street.

This column originally ran on Borderstan.com on February 7, 2012.

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by Borderstan.com December 24, 2012 at 8:00 am 1,038 0

"lifestyle"

The No. 1 story in the Lifestyle section for 2012. (Luis Gomez Photos)

It’s that time again… a look back before we start 2013. Like last December, we will provide you with a list of the most-read stories on Borderstan by category. Today are the Top 10 from the Lifestyle section for 2012.

The web is forever, so they say. Posted stories continue to get hits long after originally going up on the site. As a result, some of the most-read stories for the year were sometimes published the year before — especially if they were published late the year before.

Top 10 Bordertan Lifestyle Stories of 2012

These stories were Top 10 most read in 2012 in the Lifestyle section on Borderstan.com. Former columnist Scott Thompson had 4 of the Top 10 stories with his musings about life and former pet-writer Tori Tyree had three of The Top 10.

  1. How to Succeed at Chipotle Without Really Crying (Scott Thompson)
  2. 10 Things I Wish I Had Known When I Graduated From College (Scott Thompson)
  3. Beyond Neverland: The Art of (Finally) Growing Up in Washington, DC (Scott Thompson)
  4. The Virtues of Pumpkin and Yogurt for Doggy Digestive Ills (Tori Tyree)
  5. Cat Scratch Fever: 5 Tips to Protect that New Sofa (Not Declawing) (Tori Tyree)
  6. The Great Migration (Fox Deatry)
  7. Urban Etiquette: Dudes, Don’t Show Your Junk on the Balcony (Mary El Pearce)
  8. Pit Bull Myths and Facts (Do You Fear Newfoundlands?) (Tori Tyree)
  9. DC Rent Prices: How High is Too High? (Rachel Nania)
  10. A Talk with The Greatest Generation: “I Would Like To Go Dancing Again” (Scott Thompson)

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by Borderstan.com September 18, 2012 at 10:00 am 1,026 1 Comment

"fall"

Fall is here. (Luis Gomez Photos)

Scott Thompson writes a biweekly column for Borderstan.com.

From Scott Thompson. Follow Scott on Twitter @foureyedblond or email him at thompson[AT]@borderstan.com.

Like most Washingtonians, I feel as though my molecules changed the moment fall weather broke last week.

Gone were the mornings of arriving at work looking as if I had walked through a car wash, or the evenings spent walking awkwardly through Rock Creek Parkway because only one mile of a three-mile run was physically possible. In their place arrived enthusiastic anticipation about everything that makes fall the best of all seasons. The pumpkin spiced lattes. The butternut squash soup recipes.  The layers upon layers of cardigans, ties and Gap receipts.

My response to the change of season was simultaneously surprising and unsurprising. Surprising, because in many ways it really did feel as though my brain cells had re-calibrated themselves, and I felt happier. Unsurprising because it exemplified the sentiment of a quote I recently discovered  in the “Daily Quote” space at the top of my work planner.  The quote now ranks as one of the simplest yet most meaningful quotes I have read in some time.

“We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us really happy is something to be enthusiastic about.”

The quote was said by Charles Kingsley. After doing a little research, I learned that Charles Kingsley was a 19th century Englishman — and in many ways, a Renaissance man. During his lifetime, he served as a priest with the Church of England, a university professor, a historian, a novelist and an early supporter of Charles Darwin.

Given his curiosity and diverse career, it’s easy to assume that Mr. Kinsley could have been quoted in my planner on a multitude of intellectual topics, ranging from natural selection to predestination. But the quote I discovered was the opposite — it was a simple, precise summary of a lesson each of us has experienced in our daily lives but perhaps have never been able to pinpoint. It’s the fact that enthusiasm — regardless of what it’s for, or who it’s about- is the single engine behind what drives us, what sustains us, what makes us successful and what makes us happy.

My enthusiasm for fall immediately made me excited about even the most mundane activities – waking up, walking to work, getting an afternoon coffee. It’s the same physiological sense of enthusiasm that can make every late night or early morning at work worthwhile if a project excites you and taps into your passion. The same enthusiasm that puts a skip into your step after a great first date, that makes pressing “complete purchase” on Expedia so thrilling, or that makes planning a wedding, a trip, or a party almost more exciting that the event itself.

Deep down, I suppose I was already aware of the lesson in Mr. Kingsley’s quote – but I had never seen it spelled out so succinctly. Like everyone, my parents and mentors have always advised me to pursue work in a career field I love, or have warned me that money can’t buy happiness. Those statements are correct, but that don’t dig down into what really does and can make us happy on a day to day, moment by moment basis – what helps us overcome the cyclical problem the French call “metro, boulot, dodo” (metro, work, sleep).

By identifying the people, the places, the projects, and the plans that enthuse us — and by seeking them out — we can make every day feel like “the first day of Fall.”

And Mr. Kingsley, I can’t think of anything to be more enthusiastic about than that.

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by Borderstan.com August 21, 2012 at 10:00 am 0

"Bride"

The Wedding: Who will survive it? (Luis Gomez)

Scott Thompson writes a biweekly column for Borderstan.

From Scott Thompson. Follow Scott on Twitter @foureyedblond or email him at thompson[AT]@borderstan.com.

One month from today, my sister Anne’s wedding kicks off in Louisville, Kentucky.

In the 11 months since my sister emailed a photo of her wedding ring and my father said “Am I the only one who thinks that a small destination wedding is a good idea?… Anyone?” I have learned quite a few things about marriage, family, and the definition of black bean muneta.   Given the rash of weddings taking place across the United States this fall, I wanted to share 12 before-and-after lessons and best practices – specifically targeted at brothers and sisters of the bride who find themselves in the eye of the organza hurricane.

Part One:  What to Expect While They’re Projecting

1)    The film Father of the Bride will no longer be seen as a romantic comedy to be enjoyed.
It is a documentary to be studied.

2)    Throwing the phrase “Well, the Wedding Planner said…” into a conversation is the equivalent of throwing a Molotov cocktail.
In your mother’s mind, the wedding planner is a welcome goddess of ideas, innovation, and trusted experience.  In your sister’s mind, she is Rasputin.

3)    The acronym “DJ” = “Diplomatic Jockeying.”
You mother will want a band.  Your sister may/will choose a DJ.  Your sister’s fiance will demand Paul Oakenfold.  Your father will demand Paul Simon.  All attempts by a sibling to enter the fray and propose a diplomatic solution will fail — crushed beneath the weight of “Do you know who is paying for this wedding? Do you?” and “We are NOT playing ‘Nights in White Satin’ by the Moody Blues at my wedding! Is this a joke?”

4)     You will know every detail of every wedding you did not attend.
Odds are you turned down numerous invitations to weddings of your parents’ friends’ children due to prohibitive travel costs. Fret not.  By the time your sister walks down her own aisle, you will know every detail of every decision behind every passed appetizer and floral arrangement at each of those weddings.

5)    Your mother will become a meteorologist.
The moment your sister decides to have an outdoor garden wedding, your mother will become a full-time weather barometer.  Every day, for at least six months, you will know precisely what the weather is like in your home town and how it bodes for your sister’s wedding. In most instances, your mother’s phone calls will mirror either Al Roker (“Hi! I don’t know about you guys, but we are having SUCH a gorgeous day — I hope it’s like this on your sister’s wedding day) or Tyra Banks. (“You have no idea what I’ve been through!!”)

6)    Your father will become an ostrich.
“How’s the wedding planning going, Dad?”  “Everything is fine.”  “But what about the fight over the bridesmaids dresses and groomsmen outfits?”  “Everything is fine.”  “Are they speaking to each other?”  “Everything is fine.”  “But I thought…” “Everything is fine…everything is fine… everything…….”

To be continued….

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by Borderstan.com August 7, 2012 at 10:00 am 0

"Spellcheck"

Spell check. (Luis Gomez Photos)

Scott Thompson writes a biweekly column for Borderstan.com.

From Scott Thompson. Follow Scott on Twitter @foureyedblond or email him at thompson[AT]@borderstan.com.

If Johannes Gutenberg were alive today, he would slap me in the face.

Five centuries ago, Herr Gutenberg meticulously lined up individual Latin letters on a metal press to create the first-ever printed Bible. The revolutionary final version contained 1,280 pages of text, colors, calligraphy – and no misspellings.

In 2012, it sometimes takes me two attempts to type and spell my own last name correctly.

I like to tell myself that this worsening problem is in no way related to my IQ. I used to be a fairly decent speller, and given the schadenfreude I feel upon discovering typos made by The New York Times or Perez Hilton, I certainly retain at least some command of the English language. Rather, I believe that I can no longer spell correctly because I no longer have to spell correctly. Modern technology does it for me.

My relationship with Microsoft Word exemplifies this situation. In 7th grade, when my father brought home a table-sized Acer computer, I typed and spelled with joyful precision, out of respect for the old days when I had to write book reports carefully by hand. Today, I use Microsoft Word the same way the British and the Germans used the Enigma machine. Thoughts leave my head and land on the page in a garbled, red-accented collection of letters – decipherable only to me. Most often, it takes Spell Check longer to finish its run that it took me to type the paragraph.

Phone communication is no better. On my previous flip phone, texting was an arthritic endeavor. The tactile button-pressing required a modicum of mental focus and helped prevent a large swath of mistakes. On my new iPhone, the motion is so easy, so swift, and so autocorrected that I have to follow up each text with at least one or two *(asterisk texts) to explain myself.

Even Words With Friends – an electronic game solely designed to encourage proper, creative spelling – is now an orthographic wasteland. Rather than thinking critically about the set of seven letters before me, I often simply throw out a group of consonants and vowels, convinced that they will form some unknown, Scrabble-approved word from ancient Aramaic.  Or I spell a word like “at.”

It’s wrong to blame frenetic 21st century life for this problem. The question is not “Am I really that busy?”, but rather “Am I really that lazy?” Imagine if Thomas Jefferson had argued for man’s “unalienable tights,” or if the Duke of Wellington wrote a letter instructing his generals to “evade” Waterloo rather than “invade.”  One certainly could forgive these slight errors, given other life-threatening priorities at the time – not to mention the lack of impermanent ink.

But they didn’t make such errors. On the contrary, they did what our generation and every generation before us used to have to do in school spelling bees, pen pal exchanges, and testing blue books. They focused, took their time, utilized their minds and spelled (or at least did their best to spell) correctly – with no software system doing the thinking for them.

Today, if Herr Gutenberg asked me in person whether the word “misspelling” had one “s” or two, I would politely shake his hand, hand him the fire iron, and say, “Honestly, Sir – I can’t remember.”

“Let me Google it.”

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by Borderstan.com June 15, 2012 at 9:30 am 1,115 0

"Taxi"

Taxi dates. (Luis Gomez Photos)

Scott Thompson writes a biweekly column for Borderstan.com.

From Scott Thompson. Follow Scott on Twitter @foureyedblond or email him at thompson[AT]@borderstan.com.

Five Similarities between a DC Taxi Ride and a DC First Date

 

I approach a taxi cab the same way I approach a first date: with optimistic trepidation.

It’s a rule of thumb I developed after having survived a healthy number of first dates in Washington and an unhealthier number of cab rides, given my genetic allergy to snooze buttons. The reason is simple. Both taxi rides and first dates follow the same, well-choreographed conversational arch and culminate in one of two ways:  joy or anguish.

The run of show generally proceeds as follows:

1) The Apology Stage

The first word out of one’s mouth on a DC first date is most often, “Sorry!  I’m late!”   Traffic or Bikeshare dilemmas are usually blamed, followed by pronounced embarrassment at such ‘uncharacteristic’ tardiness.   The first few moments in a taxi cab are no different – except the expression “Sorry! I’m late” is used not to extract sympathy, but rather to ensure that the driver knows that you, unlike any of his/her other customers, are actually in a hurry and have no time for stop lights.

2) The Small Talk Stage

After apologies subside, participants in a date or taxi settle into a perfunctory small talk routine to break the awkwardness of two strangers sharing oxygen for the first time. “Wow – long day.” The received response serves as a bellwether of how the remainder of the conversation will flow. If either party perceives a hint of boredom or overextended enthusiasm, the imbalance will sink the conversation immediately. If mutual tolerance and interest does develop, participants move swiftly into the Conversation Stage.

3) The Conversation Stage

At the threshold of the Conversation stage, neither party knows exactly what to expect, which provides equal levels of intrigue and worry. It’s possible that the conversation may involve an engaging exploration of each other’s family backgrounds, musical tastes,  and opinions on the best Ethiopian restaurants west of 12th Street NW. It’s equally possible that one remark about the U.S. election provokes a political filibuster that drains all joy and potential from the relationship.

4) The Realization Stage

If the Conversation Stage goes well, participants may realize a long term potential with each other. Business cards or phone numbers will be exchanged and the date/drive will conclude with a sincere  “thank you – I really enjoyed meeting you.”

Most often, however, the opposite occurs. After crawling out of the Conversation Stage, participants begin to look at their phones or watches. Time begins to slow and the need for a swift exit strategy becomes apparent. Statements like “can you please speed up — we can make this light” or “I think our waitress forgot about us” start to pepper the conversation. Many participants will accept an urgent, fake phone call from a concerned friend, or simply feign imminent nausea.  Almost all will find themselves staring out the window at happy couples blithely passing by on the sidewalk. Oh, it’s SO easy, isn’t it?

5) The Frustration Stage

If and when participants reach this stage, inner monologues disintegrate into Sally Field territory.  “WHY am I stuck here?” “WHY did I agree to pick up this awful person!?”  “WHY didn’t I just walk straight home after work?” At this point, the financial burden of the experience becomes apparent – fueling both anger and anxiety. In a cab, one may choose to throw money at the driver (or customer) and bail out three blocks early, either out of frustration or actual dearth of cash. On a date, one may decide to split the drastically imbalanced bill simply to save time.

At the end, when the doors open and participants are thrown back into the real world, we question why we subject ourselves to this same, emotionally draining experience week after week, month after month.  We question if life would be easier and more peaceful if we lived in a different city.

Above all, we think of our college crush – and his/her car.

 

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by Borderstan.com May 29, 2012 at 10:00 am 1,051 4 Comments

"Facebook"

Facebook. (Luis Gomez Photos)

Scott Thompson writes a biweekly column for Borderstan.com.

From Scott Thompson. Follow Scott on Twitter @foureyedblond or email him at thompson[AT]@borderstan.com.

I knew Facebook had entered a new era the moment Dancing With the Stars appeared on my newsfeed.

Said event took place Tuesday, May 22, at approximately 11:00 pm EST.

Up until that hour, I had been casually aware of a cultural shift taking place on Facebook. It began when wedding albums started to replace sorority formal pictures, and became quite apparent the first time a terrifying 3D ultrasound image parachuted from outer space on to my newsfeed.

However, on Tuesday evening, after discovering the following conversation between my mother and her Bunco friends, I realized that Facebook had undergone not only a cultural shift – but a permanent generational one.

BUNCO FRIEND 1: Watching Dancing finale. Derrick and Maria were robbed. They should have been in the finals. My vote is for Kathryn.  (Tuesday near Louisville, KY via mobile)

BUNCO FRIEND 2 : Didn’t see that one coming – of the 3 I think Kathryn was the best.

MY MOTHER: They all were great but I agree that Kathryn was the best. But boy am I ever going to miss watching William shake his bum!!!!

BUNCO FRIEND 1:  Those football players always have a huge fan base. He was good but she was awesome. Oh well… next year.

BUNCO FRIEND 2:  Oh I’m right there with you. He was nice to watch ;p

BUNCO FRIEND 1: Amen. I think Bruno is going to miss him too! ;0)

BUNCO FRIEND 3:  Haha! I love this! I loved Maria and Kathryn! Great season!

Like most mid-to-late twentysomethings,  I do not watch Dancing with the Stars.  I have no idea who Derrick and Maria are, and I will likely have permanent emotional scars from reading one… two… three… four exclamation marks after my married mother’s public use of the word “bum.” However, Tuesday night’s conversation did provide me with valuable insight into the future of Facebook — or, as many in my generation would say, its end.

Not more than seven years ago, The Facebook (as it was called) was an innocuous website designed solely for use on college campuses.   Right from the start, it introduced new words and phrases into my generation’s social lexicon — “friend request,” “profile picture,” “poke.” Our parents had nary an idea what those phrases meant when they came up during the 2004 Thanksgiving dinner conversation — and we relished that exclusivity.

Today, Facebook is a $100 billion dollar, publicly traded company with more than 600 million registered users around the world. News outlets use it to pump out stories. Companies use it to sell clothing.   Above all, “others” use it – other generations, both younger and older.

According to recent statistics, 46.4% of Facebook users are under the age of 25 and 27.5% are over the age of 35.  As a result, the words “Prom” and “orthodontist” now have prime real estate in newsfeeds. Boozy 60th birthday photos will soon eclipse boozy 30th birthday photos. Most shocking, Stein Mart — the mythical land our mothers used to frequent “because you wouldn’t be-LIEVE the brands you can find in there” — has, at last count, 269,257 Facebook followers.

It’s the end of an era.

As a frequent Facebook user, I can in no way criticize the uncharted joys and addictions others generations discover when they register for Facebook — nor do I encourage a Facebook purge of anyone too young or too old to quote Saved By the Bell. But I do lament for the good old days when Facebook was the unique property of my generation — of our time — of our zeitgeist.

I feel the same way I imagine my parents would feel if I ran on stage at a Doobie Brothers concert within minutes of their arrival, grabbed the mic, and announced to the world, “LIKE!  It looks like you and Mom are having fun! Call me tomorrow. Love, Scott.”

Yes, the Doobie Brothers are open for all to enjoy. But please remember — and respect — who discovered them first.

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by Borderstan.com May 11, 2012 at 8:00 am 1,399 1 Comment

"Borderstan""Graduation"

It's that time of the year. (Luis Gomez Photos)

Scott Thompson writes a biweekly column for Borderstan.com.

From Scott Thompson. Follow Scott on Twitter @foureyedblond or email him at thompson[AT]@borderstan.com.

Graduation season has arrived.

From Boston to Baton Rouge, undergraduate and graduate students will sport caps, gowns, and hangovers as they prepare for their first foray into “the real world.”  In May 2005, I did the same thing, under the blistering shade of a magnolia tree on Wake Forest University’s quad. Today, as I reflect on the past seven years, I deemed it appropriate to share a few personal lessons and words of wisdom with the Class of 2012.

1)  You can never be too rich, too thin, or too sober at the office holiday party.
Because there are only so many times you can apologize to your coworker for putting down your glass of free Chardonnay, spinning her around, and reenacting the “armpit caress” choreography from “Dirty Dancing” directly in front of your CEO.

2)  ZipCar and Supermarket Sweep require identical strategic planning.
ZipCar has redefined twenty-something urban mobility in America. It has also redefined time management. You will never be as efficient as the moment you step out of a ZipCar and into the foyer of a suburban Target, fully aware that within exactly 47 minutes you need to complete your shopping list, fill the trunk, drive Sandra Bullock-style back into town, park the car, empty the trunk, and devise a way to carry that stainless steel trash can up the street with one hand.

3)  The road to alcoholism is paved with good brunch invitations.
In the real world, the telltale sign of a problem is not “Why was i dancing on a radiator at Sigma Nu at 2am?” but rather “Why did I move directly from an 11:45 am Ibuprofen tablet to a noon bottomless mimosa?”

4) Just because he’s at the karaoke bar, doesn’t mean he’s gay.
Or not moving to St. Louis for medical school. In the fall. With his girlfriend.

5)  Pasta > Pinstripes.  
You will undoubtedly laugh and sneer when you open an envelope from your grandparents, containing a gift card to Safeway or Subway. You will long for the days of yesteryear when you received gift certificates to Banana Republic…right up until that moment at the end of the month, when your bank account hits zero and you’re knee deep in winter clothes in your closet,  desperate to find the one forgotten item that stands between you and starvation.

6)  Avoid looking at Facebook photos at the office.
Because you, too, cannot explain why you are mid-way through your coworker’s sister’s study abroad album.

7)  Receiving a wedding invitation in the mail is the same as receiving a bill.
A wedding invitation is the most exciting, beautiful, and difficult-to-open item a twenty-something can receive in the mail. But the allure will quickly fade. Beneath that espresso/bluebell organza ribbon lurks a draconian Emily Post list of travel and shopping requirements that may necessitate a spleen donation.

8)  Your mother, if she is smart, will buy a maroon leather sofa and charge phone calls by the hour.
Many economists claim that U.S. GDP does not accurately take into account activities not provided through the market. In no sphere is this more apparent than the weekly psycho therapeutic phone services provided by mothers to recent graduates. Whether it’s responding to an emotional cry for advice after a break-up, or a “They will notice that typo in my cover letter, I JUST KNOW IT,” mothers provide America’s largest out-of-network mental health service.

9)  “Naked Juice” Calories Per Serving: 180.
Servings per container:  Two.

10) By the time you’re 30, you’ll likely be in a career you had never imagined — which is how it should be.
Most graduates have a set idea in their head about where their career path will lead. This plan will likely change as you progress through your twenties. You may find yourself in a job you never knew you would hate – or in a career you never knew you would love. Take and learn from every new opportunity that comes your way.

As Erma Bombeck wisely stated, “Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the ‘Titanic’ who waved off the dessert cart.”

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by Borderstan.com April 27, 2012 at 10:00 am 1,324 9 Comments

Scotts Parents

On June 25, 1949, Robert Thompson married Juliette (Judy) Hance. Sixty-three years later, after raising two sons and 6 grandchildren, they are still married and live in Elmhurst, Illinois, in a home directly across from Elmhurst College, where they first met. (Photo from Scott Thompson)

From Scott Thompson. Follow Scott on Twitter @foureyedblond or email him at thompson[AT]@borderstan.com.

This past weekend, I watched the film, The Iron Lady.

I had seen the film once previously, back in January during Oscar nomination season. At the time, I was awed by Meryl Streep’s performance, but I found the overall tone of the film flat — undeserving of the complex political life on which it was based. This time, however, the point of the film resonated with me in a new way — the way I believe its filmmakers had intended.

Rather than an in-depth analysis of political events, The Iron Lady focused on something that affects each of our lives:  the reality of memory, of looking back. Regardless of whether we are Prime Minister or pauper, 90-years-old or 30-years-old, each of us goes to bed at night in the same manner — alone with our thoughts, alone with the memories, the faces, the regrets, and the joys that define our lives.

As I watched the film, I immediately thought of my grandparents Robert and Judy, of the “movie” they must experience as they look back on 60 years of marriage, and 90 and 88 respective years of life. What memories stand out most to them? Most importantly, what have they learned — what lessons could they share?

It’s easy for those of us living in big cities to forget that the greatest lessons available to us often lie within the memories of grandparents, parents, aunts, and uncles — the people that we forget to call as we bury our noses in books, music or the internet to find meaning and direction.

This week, I took that realization to heart and called my grandparents — not simply to ask about their day, but to ask about their lives.  They are members of what is known as “The Greatest Generation” — children of the Great Depression and the Americans who won World War II.  Will our generation carry the baton?

Below are excerpts from my conversation with them.

"Borderstan"

Scott and Grandpa Bob, in full 1980s regalia. (Photo from Scott Thompson)

After 90 and 88 years, what is it that makes you excited to wake up each day?  What keeps you going?

Robert:  The key is to always have something to look forward to – and if you don’t have anything, make something, whether it’s a vacation or just a dinner date.

Judy: That’s why I always keep my calendar near the phone — to pencil in something to look forward to, be it tomorrow, next week, or next month.

When did you know each other was “the one?”  Do you believe in the concept of “the one?”

Robert: I wanted to go steady with your Grandma because we laughed and had fun wherever we went. It didn’t hurt that she was a good looking, sexy gal, too!

Judy: I had gone on dates with several gentlemen during college. However, when I met your grandfather, it seemed so natural – and I couldn’t imagine going out with anyone else after that. Today, I think young kids are so nervous about everything. We didn’t have any money when we met, but we took the bull by the horns and went for the moon. When I walked down the aisle, I was not apprehensive at all — I knew I had made the right choice. It really is about finding someone you love to be with all day long — who makes you laugh — who is your friend. That’s what I think at least.

Robert: And we still cuddle up in bed. The other night your grandmother had a nightmare, woke up, and hit me with a pillow. I sat up, turned to her, and yelled “what on earth do you think you’re going to do with a pillow?” We still make each other laugh.

After fighting in World War II and seeing the horrific side of humanity, were you nervous about bringing children into the world? 

Robert: No, because when I remember the war, like most things in life, I remember the good times. I don’t remember the bombs – I remember the baseball games, or the songs, or laughs on the ship. The good memories always rise to the surface if you let them.

How important is money to happiness?

Judy: It certainly helps, especially as you raise kids and when you’re older. When your grandfather retired, we loved being able to travel, to go to the symphony, to do the things we loved. But when we started out, we were just like you kids. We only had two pieces of furniture and lived on what money we had. It was very hard to save anything. Our favorite night was potluck night with our friends. I could perform miracles with one pound of ground beef in those days!

Robert: There is a line that goes something like “From the cradle to the grave, the money that matters most, is the money you gave.”  So you may laugh when your Mom sends you a gift or when I give you a $10 bill before you go to the airport, but we do it because there is joy in it.

What is one day you wish you could live over again?

Judy: Our 50th wedding anniversary — being surrounded by our children and grandchildren.

What is your biggest regret?

Judy: I can honestly say I don’t have any regrets — I have lived a very full life.

Robert: It’s not a regret I think about — but I suppose I could have taken more advantage of those opportunities when I easily could have seen something new, be it a new city or a new museum or a new play. I always wanted to come home right away after business trips to be with my family, but looking back I am sure there were moments when I could have adjusted my schedule a bit, even if just for a few hours or a day, and could have seen more of the world while I had the chance.

If you had your 30-year old body back and a free Saturday with nothing on your schedule, what would you do?

Judy:  I always loved when your grandfather and I would go to our local club and go dancing. I would like to go dancing again.

Robert: My 30-year -old body? Well it would depend on who I was with and what time of the day it was!

Judy: Bob!

What is your favorite memory of your mothers?

Robert:  I remember my mother coming in each night to give me a kiss goodnight.

Judy: I loved watching my mother bake Christmas cookies. She was a widow during the Depression and worked during the day, but she would stay up all night to make sure we had a beautiful Christmas.

Robert: You’ll find, at some point, there comes a time when you end up taking care of the person who always took care of you. And you shouldn’t fear that day – you should appreciate it and look forward to it.

Most of us in our twenties and thirties are constantly worrying — about dating, about jobs, about money, about the future. What advice would you give?

Robert:  I have complete empathy with your group, because I remember exactly what it feels like to be that age. The challenges you face these days may be different than our generation, but they are still challenges. In the Navy, we had a guidebook called The Bluejackets Manual — and there was a line in it that said, “For all your days be prepared, and meet them ever alike. When you are the anvil, bear — when you are the hammer, strike.” In other words, there will always be bad times, and when they come, you bear them and keep going. And when the good times return, you need to enjoy them.

Judy: Life is fun. Be yourself, enjoy life, enjoy your friends — enjoy the moment.

Robert: And do what you can to make people smile. Smiling faces always find a welcome.

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by Borderstan.com March 26, 2012 at 8:00 am 1,559 1 Comment

Scott, Thompson, Borderstan

Scott Thompson writes a biweekly column for Borderstan.com.

From Scott Thompson. Follow Scott on Twitter @foureyedblond or email him at thompson[AT]@borderstan.com.

Today, Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone released her 12th studio album, MDNA.

Whether they chose to publicly admit it or not, Washingtonians of every age and gender will be tuning into YouTube, iTunes, and Pandora throughout the day to listen to Madge’s latest musical output.   It’s a tradition that goes back to the moment when each one of us first discovered Madonna’s music.

My moment began on a trampoline — 21-years ago.

In 1991, half way through my second semester of first grade, my father finally accepted the fact that his high-school All-American athletic genes had skipped a generation.  That spring, like every spring since 1982, he propped me up in the back yard, placed a leather mitt on my left hand, and threw a ball at me.

Without fail, the ball whizzed past my head — or landed at my feet — or bounced off the mitt that was muffling my terrified screams.  The same spectacle occurred every summer with soccer balls, every fall with footballs, and every winter with basketballs.

Realizing that his son had far more in common with Ferdinand the Bull than Mickey Mantle, my father had an epiphany.  He descended into the basement and pulled out the one piece of athletic equipment he knew I could master:  the trampoline.  A mini trampoline in fact, which my mother had used in the mid-’80s for aerobics.

His idea proved ingenious.

Every day after school, I would board my mini-trampoline and bounce. If it were sunny, I would bounce in the driveway. If it rain were raining, I would bounce in the garage. Like Tom Sawyer’s friends painting the fence, I bounced with no purpose, no abandon, and no shame.

The problem with my trampoline routine, however, was the musical accompaniment. With no money to my name, I had inherited my parents’ cassettes and blasted them on my boom box as I bounced along. Billy Joel. The Beach Boys. Stevie Nicks. Eventually, after my 1,000th prepubescent belting of “Stand Back,” my father decided I needed new music, so he purchased and handed me a newly released cassette:  Madonna’s “The Immaculate Collection.”

It was a revelation.

Within a matter of months, I had memorized every lyric to “Holiday” and “Open Your Heart.” I had become a proud member of the “Like a Prayer” church chorus, and I knew the exact moment I had to jump in the air in order to stay in rhythm with “Vogue.”

As my parents watched Chicago Bulls’ games and my sister finished her homework, they listened quizzically to the odd combination of springs coiling, Madonna, and their son/brother’s voice emanating from the garage. I imagine intrigue turned to horror every time the lyrics of “Justify My Love” entered the fray.

But they never interfered. They knew that Madonna, much like my trampoline, had given my young life new energy and new joy.

This morning, as I listened to MDNA, I recalled fondly those days — when a pair of Reeboks, a boom box, and a bouncy melody were all I needed to have a great day. For 30 years, Madonna has fueled her career by sticking to that same philosophy – and 300 million album sales support her case.

So today, I salute Madonna for giving all of us music that makes us dance and makes us smile.

But most of all, I salute my Dad. This one’s for you:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5NHD-auYLE[/youtube]

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Previous Posts from Scott Thompson

by Borderstan.com February 7, 2012 at 11:00 am 2,884 6 Comments

"Borderstan""Chipotle"

Corn tortillas are always better. (Luis Gomez Photos)

From Scott Thompson. Follow Scott on Twitter @foureyedblond or email him at [email protected].

I have a crush on my Chipotle manager.

It’s the truth — a waistline shattering truth that has wreaked havoc on my daily routine. I imagine my tale is not unique. In a city where restaurants trump recipes, the potential of mixing food and romance is an ever-present danger.

It all started three weeks ago at the tortilla station.

I had stepped out for dinner mid-way through a late night at work. The neighborhood surrounding my office is filled with dietary landmines, Chipotle being the most dangerous. The queue moves fast, the menu options always appear fresh and the dim warehouse-chic lighting smooths away stress lines. It’s an evil combination that has resulted in a monthly mail delivery from my mother, containing a Chipotle gift card and a reminder to “eat more fruit.”

‘That night’ three weeks ago started out like any other night. I put on my coat, walked across the street and prepared for the weekly Sophian choice between tortilla and bowl.

“Three soft tacos to go, please,” I said quietly, reaching for my wallet to extract the gift card.

“Corn tortillas or flour?” said a voice.

My eyes lifted from the glass counter and met those of a stranger. I had more or less memorized the faces of my local Chipotle team. This face was new. He stood roughly at my height, wearing hipster glasses, a black shirt and a curious smile.

“I….didn’t….know you had corn tortillas?” (True.) “They are more authentically Mexican, right?” (True). “Sorry, I just haven’t been here in a while.” (Laughably false.)

“Not many people do. And to be frank, corn tortillas are really only good if you’re dining in – the tortillas fall apart quickly if you add salsa.”

“Oh, that makes sense.” I fumbled in my coat pocket, desperate for a missed text that could distract me from the chiseled hands that pushed my aluminum dish down the counter.

“Pico de gallo?”

I said yes, and asked for extra medium sauce — the final frontier before I could move to the cashier and escape with my meal and dignity in hand.

“Careful! I don’t want you to get sauce on that nice sweater of yours!” said the smiling eyes behind the frames.

Everything disintegrated from that point forward.

“Oh I won’t! Haha!” I barked, as my head fell backwards and to the left, as if I were auditioning for the scene in Pretty Woman when Richard slams the jewelry case shut in front of an unsuspecting Julia.

The elevated eyebrows on the cashier’s face summarized the entire spectacle.

Two days later I returned for lunch, with curious colleagues in tow. “You have great glasses,” I muttered somewhere between pinto and pollo. He thanked me, feigned recognition and moved to the next customer.

A week later, I returned in the evening, hoping to recreate our first encounter, away from the frenzied lunch crowd. “Hi, again,” I said, timidly waving my gloved hand above the counter. At this point, I might as well have held up a sprig of Cilantro, sang “It Only Takes a Moment” and called it a day.

Unrequited crushes are as tragic as they are common. In the days and weeks since, I have realized that “we” will never be. I continue to cross the street to Chipotle from time to time, smiling quietly as I proceed down the buffet line before going on my way. But I have accepted fate – as well as an existential truth that I never fully understood, until now.

The connection between food and love is sacred – as is the separation. Parisians cannot fall in love with their local baker. Italians cannot fall in love with their local barista. I cannot fall in love with my local Chipotle manager. It would break down the precious relationship between chef and customer — between daily routine and daily meal — between romantic dreams and romantic realities.

I will forever be grateful to Chipotle for opening my eyes to this fact.

And to Qdoba, for opening a franchise across the street.

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