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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

 

Recovering from London Syndrome

15 May

According to a recent AskReddit thread, there’s a term for what I was suffering from before I came back to the states: London Syndrome.

london syndrome.jpg

I think it’s all but cleared up now, thanks to some quality time with friends and family in Milwaukee, Chicago, Cincinnati and Cleveland, plus the vast areas of emptiness that you can only find in rural and suburban America. When I run here, I’m lucky if I run into one other human being (though I am obligated to wave and smile at them, of course). The European stereotype of Americans is that we’re loud, fat and friendly, and I always forget how true that last one is. I was riding the lift (I’m sorry, elevator) in my hotel in Chicago and this guy just started… talking to me. As far as I know he wasn’t trying to pick me up, he was just being friendly. It happens at the grocery store all the time too. My mom and I were at Aldi talking about how much cheaper everything was than at Kroger, and this stranger just joined in the conversation like it was a completely normal thing to do. As an anti-social introvert who has apparently lived abroad for too long, I’m not sure I’ll ever feel comfortable about that aspect of suburban American life, though as far as American stereotypes go, it’s certainly not a bad one.

My running has been suffering since I’ve been back, though if I’m being honest, it’s been suffering since Pokemon Go came out last July. At first it was too rainy, now it’s too hot. My lungs have been suffering when I go more than 2 miles, and I’m not sure why. Am I coming down with something? Am I just choking on that sweet taste of freedom and unpolluted air? I was keen to do a local 5K this weekend, but now I’m thinking I’ll do the one in two weeks instead. When did running 3.1 miles become a struggle for me? And in light of that, why did I think this was a good idea?!:
London marathon.png
(I just entered the lottery. And if my luck is anything like my Royal Parks Half luck, I will not be allotted a spot. Though I have no idea what I will do if I actually am allotted one — could I really run 26.2 miles in April 2018?!)

When a (wo)man is tired of London…

19 Apr

“Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” — Samuel Johnson

I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’m tired of London, but it’s certainly grinding on me lately. The crowds of tourists have been giving me a mean case of pedestrian road rage (yes, that’s a thing), and it’s taken everything I’ve got not to body slam a group of Spanish high school students blocking the entire pavement in the park whilst I’m running. Things that used to be a happy coincidence — like just happening to catch the Horseguards changing of the guards when trying to get to St. James Park have become a huge nuisance. There’s always something going on near our flat in central London, whether it be Mary Poppins filming or an alt right protest (and anti-alt right protest and a huge police presence just in case the two protests clashed).

So while those crowds of tourists who walk at a snail’s pace and stop sporadically for selfies couldn’t be more chuffed to be in London, I am so looking forward to heading to America tomorrow. I’m looking forward to driving again, to running in my parent’s subdivision with no chance of getting trapped behind tour groups and slow walkers, and, of course, seeing family and friends. I’m starting in Milwaukee, then heading to Chicago, then finally to Cincinnati via my old pal Megabus (please no explosions this time!).

I just checked in online for my flight and was surprised when Delta informed me the second leg of my trip might be overbooked and asked me if I’d be willing to accept a voucher to go on a different flight. (A new process in light of the recent United fiasco, perhaps?) The kicker is they asked me to bid with the voucher amount I’d be willing to accept — $200, $300, $400, or $500. I opted out since I have a non refundable hotel reservation to make, but I wonder what kind of person bids $300? Whoever bids the least will be the first to be bumped. Presumably someone who for one reason or another doesn’t really want to take the flight will bid $200, but anyone who’s smart would go for the max. Who bids $300 or $400? I’d really love to know.

Here’s hoping for smooth traveling (I’m flying Delta, but wearing leggings) and as mild a case of jetlag as possible!

london pug bus

At least I saw a pug bus today!

An actual post about the weather and getting free tea at Waitrose 

7 Apr

If there’s anything that’s helped London bounce back from last month’s attack, it’s our collective British sun guilt. The weather has been truly amazing lately — sunny and 17 (62) degrees almost every day. The flowers are in full bloom throughout the parks and seemingly everyone — from tourists to office works on lunch break — is outside.

st james park flowers.png

I’ve been running in the late morning as usual, but almost every afternoon I’ve come up with a reason to get out and enjoy the weather more. Usually it’s to go to Tesco to buy one thing (yesterday it was a cantelope, but they were out of cantaloupe so I got a mango). Today I walked unusually far to go to Waitrose to buy yogurt and get a free cup of tea. I’ve been shopping at Waitrose for years now, but I haven’t been taking advantage of their free tea or coffee with your MyWaitrose card offer until recently. Every store seems to do it differently, though. Some give you the cup when you check out, others have a special separate kiosk and you just have to scan your card. And on top of that, they recently changed the policy so that you have to buy something to get the free tea (which I thought was the policy all along. How many free cups of tea did I miss out on every time I walked by a Waitrose?). I had the following exchange at the Waitrose checkout till today:

Cashier: That will be £4.50. Do you have a MyWaitrose card?

Me: Yes ::Begins fishing through wallet::

Me: How do I get the free cup of tea?

Cashier: You have to have a MyWaitrose card, it seems like you don’t.

Inner me: Did I not just say “yes” when you asked and am I not at this moment getting it out of my wallet?

Me: I have one, here it is.

::Awkward silence::

Me: So where do I get the cup?

Cashier: Wait.

::Cashier immediately starts serving the next customer, who practically pushes me aside::

::Other cashier brings over stack of cups, cashier finally hands me one::

Cashier, calling out as I walk away with the cup: You have to have a MyWaitrose card!

It was such a bizarre exchange! Perhaps it was my mistake by phrasing it as a question. Next time I’ll be sure to say “I have a MyWaitrose card and would like my free cup of tea, please,” but if it’s the same cashier, it seems verbally and physically confirming the ownership of a MyWaitrose card is somehow not enough.

We Are Not Afraid

23 Mar

I was watching a matinee performance of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? when it happened. The brilliant Imelda Staunton as Martha was lambasting her husband for not knowing the origin of the phrase “What a dump!”, while less than a mile away pedestrians were being plowed down on Westminster Bridge and a police officer was stabbed to death. I didn’t find out about it until I turned my phone on during the interval. My dad had texted me to see if I was OK.

“There’s been an attack near Westminster,” someone behind me said.

“Oh dear,” said an older woman. Somehow those two words seemed to convey so much — “I hope everyone is alright. Though I guess it was only a matter of time before we had another terror attack. …I wonder if Martha is really going to cheat on George in the next act?”

Nobody panicked. Some people made calls to loved ones to ensure they were alright, but most people just sat and ate their tiny cups of Häagen-Dazs, waiting for the play to resume.

I admit my first feeling upon hearing of the attack was not that of fear, but of practicality — how was I going to walk home after the show? Would all the roads be closed? I didn’t have any proof of address on me to show the police if my street was barricaded. Would Tesco still be open? I needed to buy some grapes.

When the curtain rose we were once again immersed in the twisted lives of Martha and George and the outside world temporarily didn’t matter. Every once in a while someone’s phone would go off, likely a worried friend or relative trying to check in (who would only grow more worried when the person didn’t respond for two hours). But for the most part, the proverbial show went on.

Afterward I hesitatingly emerged from the theatre, mentally exhausted from essentially watching a couple fight for 3 hours, unsure of what the post-attack atmosphere would be like. The first thing I saw was a couple taking a selfie. As I made my way towards Trafalgar Square, I encountered more tourists cheerily taking photos as if nothing tragic had just happened 3 hours earlier. Past Trafalgar Square all the roads were blocked off by cones, police officers and tape, but pedestrians were allowed through. I popped into Tesco, got my grapes, and went home.

“It’s so quiet out there,” Stephen said when he got home from work. While there was the constant buzz of helicopters overhead, there were no cars, taxis or buses zooming by.

The next morning the streets in Westminster were still closed. I debated whether I wanted to go run — not because I was afraid, but because all the road closures seemed like a hassle — would I be able to get to the park easily? I looked out my window and noticed the police who were previously stopping pedestrians were now letting them through. So I went out. It was eerie seeing major streets without any cars, but aside from the increased police presence, it felt like any other day. The annoying European school groups were out in full force — some of them even mocked me as I ran in place to warm up. I smiled. London was going to be OK.

Rick Steves posted a video from 1990 on his Facebook page that still rings true today.

Europe will always have terrorists. But the chance of being killed in a terrorist attack is still statistically tiny. You shouldn’t cancel your European vacation every time there’s an attack, just like you shouldn’t cancel your flight every time there’s a crash. Of course we should mourn and honour those who were injured and killed in the acts, but we also need to keep living our lives. While #prayforLondon has been trending worldwide, the hashtag that’s been trending in London is #WeAreNotAfraid.

we are not afraid

I’m glad I went out for a run today. It was a beautiful day. But as I was going through Green Park, admiring the fields of daffodils, a piece of a tree branch broke off in the wind and struck me in the neck. If the wind had been stronger and the branch piece sharper, I might have been killed or at least seriously injured. And just like that it all came together: pretty much anything out there can kill you — even Mother Nature herself. But that’s no reason to never leave the house. You have to be smart and alert, but not afraid. There’s so much out there worth living for.