Raiding with the people still playing Pokemon Go

11 Aug

Pokemon go raid

When Pokemon Go announced the new “raid” feature a few weeks ago, I was apprehensive. I’m an antisocial introvert who has always played the game alone. Now suddenly I was going to have to work together with other trainers to battle and take down a raid boss. That did not sound appealing. But over the past few weeks, raids have become my favorite part of the game. I went from standing to the side of the group or battling from across the street to actually chatting with other trainers and having some human interaction. And I enjoyed it! The stereotype that Pokemon is for kids or nerds couldn’t be farther from the truth, at least in central London. Every time a group gathers for a raid it looks like an advertiser hand-picked us to hit every demo range — I’ve played with middle-aged white women, Asian grandmas, Muslim university students, men so old I was surprised they could work a smartphone, yet alone Pokemon Go, big-wig businessmen who snuck out during their lunch break, tourists from mainland Europe or America, and parents who were clearly way more into the game than their children who introduced it to them. I joined an online Discord group where players chat and organize raid meetups, but I’ve been too shy to participate. But in central London I’ve learned you can just show up and there will always be at least 6 other people ready to battle with you (or cheaters sitting at home and spoofing their GPS location to the raid gym).

A lot of people credit Pokemon Go for making them get off the couch and walk more. Pokemon Go pretty much killed my desire to run faster and farther, but it has helped me actually interact with people in my city, which I guess is important too.

Free soap samples and my first visit to Asda in Sketchyville, UK

4 Aug

There’s this store on New Bond St that gives out little samples of bar soap when you walk by. Except they don’t tell you it’s soap when they hand it to you, they simply say, “Don’t eat it!” It’s obvious many people have tried to eat it — it looks exactly like Turkish delight or a Jolly Rancher, and when people hand out samples on the street, typically they’re edible. But it seems like the whole misunderstanding could be avoided if they just said, “Would you like to try a sample of our soap?” instead of “Try this, don’t eat it!” I don’t get it.

asda old kent road london

I went to Asda for the first time today. Asda is owned by Walmart, and as it turns out, it’s exactly like an American Walmart, sketchy people and all. I was only 3 miles from central London, but it felt like I was in a different world. There was even a drive-thru McDonald’s next door! I was completely overwhelmed and amazed by the selection — there wasn’t just one variety, scent and flavor of everything like at my usual Tesco Metro. I am always lamenting about how there aren’t enough cheap grocery stores in central London and I can’t always find everything I need at Tesco, yet here I was, surrounded by every food (or household) item I could ever want, and I had no idea what to buy. I also knew everything I got I’d have to schlep home on the bus in my giant DSW tote (the best free bag ever).

So naturally I went for tea. I had to try the new Tetley’s Indulgence line — Cookies and Cream and Gingerbread teas? Yes, please! (Even though my tea cupboard is overflowing and I promised myself I would not buy any more tea until my collection fit in one cupboard. But pretty soon we’ll be remodeling the kitchen and getting bigger cupboards, so perhaps that won’t be a problem anymore :-P) I also bought stevia tablets to go with the tea, and Japanese BBQ sauce because it was on clearance. And instant protein porridge packs to take on our upcoming holiday, even though they probably sell instant oatmeal in Italy. I had planned to walk the whole way home, but I was getting sketchy vibes from the neighborhood and didn’t want to risk my phone (or new legendary Pokemon!) to some moped thief, so I hopped back on the bus, only to get off when I spotted a Lidl. Lidl and Aldi are always located in Dodgy McDodgyville, but the bargains are too good to pass up. They had giant cherries less than half the price of Tesco. And Belgian chocolate! And skyr! And sesame oil, coconut oil spray, corn, nuts… Needless to say, my shoulder is killing me. And I wasn’t even done! I had one more stop on my discount shop bus journey — Iceland. Where, of course, today’s special was cherries — 400g for 50p! That’s practically free. (The normal price is 400g for £3. Tesco sells 200g for £2.) People were going nuts adding them to their baskets. I only bought one pack since I already bought cherries at Lidl, but looking back on it I probably should have bought more and froze them for smoothies. Then again adding just 400g more to my tote bag may have caused my shoulder (or the bag itself) to give out.

Breaking records and winning the Friday Forty

3 Jul

It’s funny how people always say “I never win anything.” Because none of us win anything, until of course we do, and then we can never say “I never win anything,” because we have won something, but “I only win things occasionally” just doesn’t sound as good.

When it comes to the theatre ticket lottery, I only win occasionally. When TodayTix first launched I won almost every lottery I entered, but that was likely because there were fewer names in the pot. When it first launched I entered the Book of Mormon in-person ticket lottery 10 times and never got lucky. I’ve entered the Dream Girls, Aladdin, and Harry Potter lotteries more times than I can count and I never won. Until now.

From the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child website:
Every Friday at 1pm we release 40 tickets for every performance the following week, for some of the very best seats in the theatre, at an amazingly low price. These tickets are known as ‘The Friday Forty’.

I have a weekly reminder on my phone to apply for the Friday Forty. Not winning has become such a habit that I almost didn’t enter last week — what’s the point? I thought. But since I was home I clicked on the “Buy tickets” button when it appeared promptly at 1pm, then walked away to get dressed for my run. When I came back I noticed the bar with the little wizard at the bottom of the screen was actually moving — I don’t remember it ever doing that before. Then suddenly I was in — it was asking me which dates I wanted to book! I got front row centre tickets for Wednesday’s shows for £20 each. Unbelievable! Wednesday is going to be a long day of theatre — part I at 2pm then part II at 7:30pm. But I’m sure it will be worth it!

friday forty tickets

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will be my 52nd and 53rd shows in London (it counts as two, right?). That’s right, friends, I did it — I hit 50 shows, and of course I did it with Bat Out Of Hell the Musical. Dare I say it was even more amazing the second time around? Partly because Andrew, the main Strat actor, was born to play the role, and partly because I had a cheeky pre-show glass of wine. (That sounded really British, didn’t it?). Then the day after I saw Bat, I saw Rotterdam, an emotional play that was absolutely nothing like Bat and actually made me a little depressed for the rest of the day, but it was an incredibly moving show about relationships and the struggle of being trans. Rotterdam was my 10th show of the year, which means I finally broke my 9 shows a year record! And it’s only July! I hate the central London traffic and crowds so, so much, but being able to witness world-class theatre regularly makes it all worth it.

Experiencing Bat Out of Hell the Musical

26 Jun
bat out of hell the musical londonJune 8, 2017.
The lights go out and Strat is standing center stage talking into the microphone.

“I remember everything!” he booms.

“I remember every little thing as if it happened only yesterday.” My eyes inexplicably begin to water. “I’m here, I’m really here,” I think to myself.

“I was barely seventeen, and I once killed a boy with a Fender guitar.”

OK, I’ve never killed anyone with a Fender guitar, but I do remember every word to Love And Death And An American Guitar, or Wasted Youth as it’s known on Bat Out Of Hell II. When I was barely seventeen I was reading Jim Steinman’s musicals Neverland and The Dream Engine, precursors to the Bat Out Of Hell musical, and downloading every mainstream and obscure song Steinman had ever written. I knew Bat Out Of Hell the Musical was in the works — it has been for 40 years — but I never dreamed Steinman would finish it and it would be performed in the very city I just happened to be living.

But there I was, watching Bat Out Of Hell the Musical unfold from the front row, wearing the Bat Out Of Hell T-shirt I bought on eBay when I was 17. And yet I somehow felt out of place. The women next to me were fully decked out in leather like they literally road in on the motorcycle displayed in the lobby. (A line from The Dream Engine comes to mind. “The revolution likes leather. The revolution wears leather to survive in the streets.”) They were dressed exactly like the members of The Lost wandering about on the stage a few minutes before showtime. My first thought was “Oh god, is this some kind of immersive theater? Am I going to have to interact with them?” (Another line from The Dream Engine: “Quiet. It’s only theater. It’s nothing to be afraid of.”) But no, they were not members of The Lost, just super fans who had seen the show in Manchester and came down to London to see it again. They waved their hands in the air and sang along to every song. Meanwhile I was completely still, “silently shrieking,” feeling every word and note in my heart and on every inch of my skin. (I’m trying to be poetic, but there was a speaker directly in my face. It obstructed my view a tad, but man, could I really feel the songs!). Those who know me are always surprised by my love for all things Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf. Steinman’s songs are about teen lust, going over the top, breaking the rules, and well, murdering people with Fender guitars. At 17 I was a straight A student who was president of the Latin club and played flute at Mass. I had barely slow danced with a boy, Paradise by the Dashboard Light was a completely foreign concept to me. And yet maybe that’s what attracted me to Steinman’s music — it allowed me to escape my top-button buttoned life and wear some auditory leather. (To quote one of his songs: “You’ve been nothing but an angel every day of your life, and now you wonder what it’s like to be damned.”)

The show was everything I could have dreamed it to be. There were certainly elements of Neverland and The Dream Engine in there, but it had been cleaned up and polished for a mainstream audience. The Dream Engine was pretty dark and outrageously sexual. Reading it as a good Catholic school girl was one of the most rebellious things I did back then. I’m not sure I even understood all of it, but I kept going back to it, even plastering lines from it all over my school notebooks. (Lines like: “Reality’s in agony and it’s about time it stopped. It’s about time we put reality out of its misery. And there are only a few of us left with the grace to try euthanasia.”) Even before I saw the show I had a feeling it wouldn’t be one I could see just once (even though my one ticket practically cost more than the 7 other shows I’ve seen this year combined). And when I realized the guy playing Strat was actually the alternate, I knew I had to go again to see the lead (though Ben the alternate was brilliant!). That, and it was the 49th show I’ve seen in London. I couldn’t let just any show be my landmark 50th.

Then like a sinner before the gates of Heaven, I’ll come crawling on back to you…

So I’m seeing it again this week. Front row center this time.

My mildly convenient superpower

7 Jun

I remember reading an AskReddit thread once about mildly convenient superpowers. I never really thought about what mildly convenient superpower I might want, until it occurred to me the other day that I might already have one.

Almost every time I fly or travel on a Megabus, I never have to sit next to a stranger. There’s always an empty seat next to me.

I thought it was just a fluke at first. It used to happen on my frequent Chicago-Cincinnati Megabus trips when the bus was only half full. But then there was a time the bus was completely full save for one empty seat, which just so happened to be next to me. It began feeling like a superpower.

It’s been so long since I’ve had someone sit next to me on a trans-Atlantic flight that I don’t even know where I would put my headphones or water bottle if they couldn’t go on the empty seat next to me. I flew back to London last week and made sure to select an aisle seat next to an empty middle seat. I almost got ambitious and selected a row with two empty seats (maybe I could actually stretch out and sleep?!), but knew that was too much of a risk. Some couple could come along and choose those two seats. I checked the seat map on the Virgin app every hour or so during my 5-hour layover in Boston and figured I was golden — the middle seat next to me remained empty. But then I checked one last time while waiting to board, only to see a little X on the empty seat — as well as on every single seat on the plane. It was a fully booked flight. My superpower had met its match.

A few minutes after I sat down, uncomfortably holding my giant headphones, toiletry bag and water bottle until I could figure out where to store them, a young man came and motioned to the empty seat.

“I’m seated there, but my girlfriend is in 55E — would you mind switching with her?” he asked. Stephen and I have asked people to do this many times and I was happy to pay it forward. Until I asked them to confirm the seat.

“55E? Is that a middle seat?” I asked. It was. I felt like a horrible person, but I had to turn down their request. Being stuck for 6+ hours with your knees touching one person is bad enough, there was no way I was going to do it crammed between two people.

“It’s no problem, we understand,” the girlfriend said, waved goodbye to her boyfriend, and headed back a few rows. The boyfriend immediately put on headphones and closed his eyes while I tried not to bump his legs digging for my iPad in my bag. It seemed my superpower was no more and I was going to have to suck it up, just like everyone else seated in economy. But then they closed the cabin doors and I felt a presence next to me. It was the girlfriend.

“Hey!” she said to her boyfriend. “There’s no one sitting next to me, come on back!”

And that’s how I knew I truly have a mildly convenient superpower.

super corgi

 

The thrill (and pain) of the 5K

29 May

Man, I forgot how exhilarating, exhausting, exciting and painful running a race is. I haven’t run a single race since the half marathon last September, and since Pokemon Go came out my runs have been focused on hatching eggs and catching them all, not piling on in the miles and increasing speed. But since my phone gets horrible reception in the US, these past few weeks have been a good time for me to work on running fast again.

The 5K is a weird race. It’s easy to brush it off as “only 3 miles” when you’re used to marathons and halfs. But to really race it properly, you have to go hard the entire time. As a recent article in Runner’s World put it: “If you reach the halfway point of a 5K race feeling calm, comfortable, and confident that you can maintain your pace to the finish line, you’re doing it wrong.”

That’s the mindset I went into this morning’s 5K race with: go out too fast, power through the [minor] hills, then hang on for dear life. I made a killer playlist that (ambitiously) was only 28 minutes long. It was a beautiful day for a barbecue, but for a run it was a scorcher. The sun was beating down the entire time and the course only had one small stretch of shade right before the finish. As expected, I went out too fast, was huffing and puffing on the “rolling hills,” but I never stopped to walk. The Runner’s World article stressed the importance of motivational self-talk during a 5K, so I tried different approaches: “Remember that time you ran 13.1 miles without stopping? You’ve got this last mile in the bag!” “The quicker you finish, the quicker you can see Cherry at the finish line and get out of the sun!” “The top 50 female finishers get an award!”

That last one seemed like a long shot — there were certainly a lot of people ahead of me, but were most of them men? I definitely saw only men pass me on the bridge out and back part. So I powered through. I kicked it into high gear during the last half mile. Sunscreen-laced sweat was pouring into my eyes behind my sunglasses and there was a brief moment I thought I might be sick. But then I remembered the final tip from that article:

“If you’re chasing a PR, you should seriously wonder whether you’ll make it to the finish.”

I full out sprinted when I saw the finish line in sight, passing two of the girls who were ahead of me the entire time. At the finish line they had separate men and women crossing points, and when I crossed a volunteer handed me a medal. I was feeling weak, a bit delirious, and like I had just ran way more than 3.1 miles, and I just assumed it was a generic finisher’s medal. But then the girl who finished right behind me got my attention.

“Is this for finishing in the top 50 women?” she asked, holding up her medal. It didn’t even dawn on me that that was why they had a separate female finish line point.

“I don’t know, that’d be great if it was!” I replied.

I put the thought out of my mind, collected all my food swag and found my parents and Cherry. I felt weird — more exhausted than I’d been in a while, short of breath, but also really excited. Even if I didn’t get an official award, I got an official PR. I was absolutely miserable during that last mile, and yet the minute I finished, I was already wondering when I could do another race. I guess the runner’s high is real and runners really are crazy.

And the proverbial cherry on top of it all? I checked the results online and I really did finish in the top 50 women! If I had run 30 seconds slower I would not have made it in.

corgi running gif.gif

She got the way to move me, Cherry

24 May

Remember how I posted 3 weeks ago that my parents’ dog, Cherry, didn’t like me?

Well, now we have a different problem. She likes me. A lot. And I like her a little too much too.

Before, she used to give a “does SHE have to come?” look on our family walks. Now she hesitates to walk unless I come too. It’s amazing how something finally clicked in her little head and she realized I was someone she could trust. I can understand why she was apprehensive at first — she got attached to her original owner and she dropped her off at a shelter, then she got attached to her foster mom and she dropped her off with my parents. But now my parents have had her for two months and I’ve been with her exactly one month, and she’s finally starting to feel like she has a real home with some stability. Which I’m afraid will only make it harder on her when I go back to London in a week. Will she still recognize me the next time I’m home? Will it take her over a week to acclimate to me being around again?

I say I’m afraid it will be hard on her when I go, but I also mean it’ll be hard on me. I told myself I wasn’t going to fall for her, which was easy when she didn’t care for me. After all, she’s not “my dog” in the same way that Squirt was. But she’s just so adorable, cuddly and friendly, I couldn’t help myself. I’ve fallen pretty hard for the little girl and her cute corgi butt. So for now I’m trying not to think about how much time we have left together and am just enjoying the time we have.

cherry dog.png

Just because it’s your namesake doesn’t mean you can have any!

braxton tap room dog.png

We took her to a local dog-friendly tap room. (Don’t worry, she’s drinking water!)

chihuahua corgi.png

Cherry went on a playdate with her birth mom who’s still recovering from surgery. Here she is imparting some motherly advice!

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They were both vying for my attention!

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Cherry loves being with us — even if that means climbing onto the kitchen table while we play Mexican Train Dominoes! I love her little back legs subtly lounging.

corgi chihuahua sploot.png

Fact: It is really hard to get work done when someone is splooting on you! (Splooting refers to the way she’s sitting with her back legs kicked out. It’s a classic corgi move, which makes me think she has some corgi blood in her. Squirt never splooted.)