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Young Man Went West #37: I’d Have Gone Anyway, a guest post by Jennifer Bautista

Since I was too lazy to come up with another post, I asked (read: begged) my girlfriend to do a guest post. It turned out much better than anything I could have thrown together this week. – AR

My obsession with New York began when I was twelve – that awkward age at which you first start to consciously define yourself. I blame this obsession on all the Law and Order I used to watch as a child. As someone who grew up in Hawaii, I felt unique knowing so much about such a vast, distant city (all the way on the East Coast!). Most of my classmates had never been there, much less had the ability to rattle off random details about it, such as the No Right Turn On Red rule or the fact that New Yorkers say “standing on line” instead of “standing in line.” For years I carried a map of Manhattan in my pocket, memorized the street names on my free time, and even designated a dream apartment (820 Fifth Avenue). Much to the shock of my family and friends, this obsession did not take me to New York for college; instead, I ended up spending my four years in Portland, which only confirmed my suspicions that I really needed to move to the City at some point in my life.

Like any typical recent college graduate, I had been encouraged to either enter the workforce as a useful member of society (apparently I had just been taking up space before) or to immediately continue on to graduate school. Uninterested in starting a professional career and burnt out from school for the time being, I spent a month in Southeast Asia instead. I road tripped up-and-down the U.S. west coast.  I played tour guide to two of my best friends who visited me in Hawaii. These temporary activities distracted me from the lack of specific future plans I had for the upcoming year. Besides living back home in Hawaii and applying to both the Fulbright Scholarship to teach English in Korea and to grad schools in New York to study urban planning, I had no idea what to do with myself. I reluctantly applied to jobs for which I felt overqualified, while feeling extremely nostalgic for my college friends, Portland coffeeshops, and that general feeling of productivity that I felt at Reed.

Bored and nearly broke, I hatched a plan: join OkCupid, that free dating site that was so popular in Portland, and go on a string of first dates. Lots of free meals and cheap entertainment to pass the time – what a perfect way to try new restaurants! Since I had just created a restaurant blog a few weeks ago, trying new restaurants around Hawaii had become one of my new favorite hobbies. It wasn’t until later that I noticed how much my string-of-first-dates plan seemed to be taken straight out of a bad romantic comedy.

My plan began to unfold smoothly. I was having fun creating my profile and taking the personality quizzes the site uses to match you to potential dates. I described myself in the most pretentious way possible by immediately discussing my senior thesis about the perpetuation of inequalities in the public school system, and I made sure to only upload photos in which my face was covered by a hat and my body hidden under modest attire. I figured this would be the most efficient way to avoid spending a first date with someone who was a complete imbecile and would waste my night with non-intellectually-entertaining conversation, or someone who only cared about looks and would just make me feel uncomfortable the entire night.

Since online dating sites lay out everything about each user in front of you, they allow you to be superficially picky about every little aspect about a person. Thus, I immediately ruled out any non-Atheist/Agnostic, anyone who was not college-educated, who was under the age of 21 or over 28, and who was over 5’7”. I had been on the site for only a couple of days, and my inbox was already full of messages from the typical idiots and creeps I had so painstakingly tried to avoid. So much for my plan to sit back and let my filtering method magically bring only desirable potential dates. Not all messages came from idiots or creeps; some actually seemed quite promising. I even responded to a few, one of which came from a Berkeley grad who, according to OkCupid, was an 86% match for me.

The message was brief, but from those two sentences it was clear that “Berkeley” had taken the time to read my entire profile, as he referred to four things that were the keys to my heart (or at least to a first date): social constructions, trying new restaurants, foreign films, and my thesis. Even more exciting, he made it clear that he was interested in meeting up for dinner.

Who was this guy? I looked at his profile and recalled why I had initially written him off while previously browsing it. Although the depiction of himself was appealing (he was obviously smart, honest, and had a sense of humor), one glaring thing stuck out and had led to my immediate dismissal of him: he was too tall for me. He was 5’9”, a whole two inches taller than my height limit allowed.

But our messaging was going so well! I convinced myself that it was only a date – why was I so picky about his height for a one night event anyway?

After a few more online exchanges, I eagerly sent him a list of restaurant options (as well as links to their menus) for our date, and we made plans to meet the very next evening. Operation String of First Dates – ready for takeoff!

We met at Formaggio’s, a wine bar and restaurant in Kapahulu. I was glad he had chosen this restaurant because I was familiar with the area and had a friend who bartended there; if the date went poorly I had some escape options up my sleeve. I was pretty confident; I’d been on first dates before and, while they almost never turned into anything serious, they’d usually been pleasant because I enjoy attracting people for short periods of time, and I always get a free meal out of them. I expected tonight to be no different.

I arrived at the restaurant at exactly 8 pm and spotted a man in a white button-up shirt sitting at a table facing the door near the entrance. He certainly looked like the guy from the photos but was cuter in real life. Just to make sure, I asked, “Anthony?” It was him! Yup, he’s much cuter in real life. He stood up, shook my hand and hugged me awkwardly. Great, now everyone in the restaurant knows we’re on a first date.

Conversation flowed smoothly. It helped that we already knew basic facts about each other; now we could actually dig deeper. A lot deeper. In fact, we stayed at Formaggio’s for over three hours, discussing his road trip, my aspiration to study urban planning, our hero Anthony Bourdain, love for New York, shared interest in photography, and eerily coinciding plans to teach English in Korea. His English teaching plans were more up in the air as he hadn’t begun the EPIK application yet, whereas I had turned in my Fulbright application a few weeks ago. Apparently I felt so comfortable with him that, by the time our entrées arrived, I confessed to him that I had applied to teach English in Korea mainly because I wanted to live abroad, not because I was interested in teaching.

I was enjoying the date too much. He was a good listener, made me laugh, didn’t just blindly agree with every eccentric opinion I decided to divulge, and had that rare ability to laugh at himself. I knew even before we agreed that we were too full for dessert that I didn’t want this to be my last date with him.

I was certain he felt the same way until something happened that really made me question whether or not my life had somehow turned into a romantic comedy. When Anthony tried to pay for our check, our waiter solemnly returned and informed him that his card had been declined. Anthony tried another card, but apparently plastic just wasn’t working for him that night. He found some cash in his wallet which covered about half of our meal but had to ask me to help pay for the rest.

Just my luck. I try to date for the free meals and end up paying for my own on the very first one. I was so amused by the irony of my situation that I couldn’t have cared less about paying (trust me, $40 for a three-hour dinner with this guy was completely worth it), and my only fear was that he felt too embarrassed to ask me out to another date.

When I got home after our short post-dinner stroll, during which I gleefully decided that he didn’t seem too tall for me after all, I told myself I’d give him four days to contact me again; if he doesn’t, then I’d go back onto the site and reluctantly continue my string of first dates. Much to my relief, about half an hour after we said good night to each other, he called to ask me out for a second date later that week.

Operation String of First Dates had been officially terminated.

Five and a half months later, Anthony and I returned to Formaggio’s for the first time to celebrate Valentine’s Day, which we celebrated on the 16th because being a repulsively mushy couple on the actual day would have been too cheesy for us. Although we were sitting at almost the exact same spot as on our first date, we were both in a completely different place than when we had first met in September. It’s hard to believe that only a little while ago we had once been complete strangers and were now almost inseparable.

It had already been over two months since we decided to move to New York together. In December, around the time grad school applications were due, I finally admitted to myself what I didn’t want to believe: I was using grad school as an excuse to move to New York. Knowing Anthony wanted to move to New York with me if I got into grad school, I asked him if he’d come with me even if I wasn’t a student there. Apparently New York had really worked its way into his heart during his road trip, because, without any hesitation, he said yes.

In June we’ll be moving to New York, not because I’m heading off to grad school, but because, for the first time, I am finally doing everything I can to fulfill my dream, and the 5’9” guy I love is coming with me.

You can find more of Jenn’s writing at her own blog: self-indulging in hawaii

Jennifer Bautista, guest writer

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Young Man On The Road #19: Who Dat?

 by Guest Blogger Melanie V. Ramil (Sister of “Young Man”)

I had the great pleasure of joining my brother along his continental adventure in the great city of New Orleans.  It was both an excuse to spend time with him and to explore a new city which I had yet to visit, and an opportunity for me (finally) to treat him to a vacation as his long overdue college graduation gift.  To recount his New Orleans leg, he has bestowed upon me the honor of guest blogger of entry #19 to share our days there together.  Enjoy! 

August 11 – 14

New Orleans, LOUISIANA (aka, NOLA, Crescent City, The Big Easy)

Some things never change.  My flight landed at MSY in New Orleans at 11pm, a surprising 30 minutes before our stated arrival time.  I had confirmed with my brother days beforehand that he could pick me up from the airport, and I made sure to send him my flight information so he knew exactly what time I would be arriving and on which airline.  Excited, I texted him, “Just landed!  Got here early.”

His response?  “I just paid cover at a bar and the band is still setting up.  Can I stay for a few songs?”

Whhhaaattt?!?!

Little brother strikes again.  For any and all birth order theories claiming that responsibility and organization belong to the first born, and that the carefree and laid back among us are the last born, my brother and I are their poster children.

It was my first night in NOLA and I had not seen my Bubs for awhile, so Ate (Tagalog word for “older sister” and term of endearment, so I assume, my brother used for me) was going to be nice.  I texted back and said he can listen to a few songs, but “please don’t leave me here all night.”

On his way to the airport, he gets lost following the wrong directions.  Once my little brother actually follows the correct directions and makes it to the airport, its 1am and I had been waiting at the airport for nearly 2 hours.

Empty airport

After we valet park like pros at our hotel, I laughed aloud as soon as I saw my brother.  He walked into our quasi-fancy hotel wearing a huge traveler backpack, lugging a ukulele in one hand a bag of dirty laundry in the other.  I feel like I had picked a hobo off the street and offered him a warm place to sleep for the evening.

Bubs holding his bags in hotel lobby

I love my little Bubs with all my heart, so I just had to laugh at all the scenarios that had played out during our first night together.  They seemed all too familiar from our 24 years together as brother-sister – I was convinced that some things just never change.

The next day we set out to explore the city, primarily as gastro tourists.  We started out with the muffuletta (a sandwich of salami, pepperoni, ham, provolone and a marinated olive salad) and then roamed the famed French Quarter and Bourbon Street.  During this walk, I concluded that Bourbon Street is best experienced at nighttime.  Large hurricane drinks from a sidewalk stand and girls in gold thongs may be part of the Bourbon Street allure, but only serve to bare their sadness during the day.

As we walked and ate Café du Monde beignets (of course), my brother shared with me his adventures over the last months – Kentuck Fried Chicken buffets, more-than-hospitable Couch Surfing hosts and the gems of cities small and large.  I was excited to listen to it all and even more proud that my little brother – the once seemingly mute baby boy that clung to my mother during family gatherings – was independent, adventurous, spontaneous, and even an inspiration to some.  Our little cousin Jordan shared with me that after college he wanted to travel like Anthony because “he was living life more than anyone he knew.”  I beamed at that statement and shared his sentiments with my Bubs as soon as I could.  I’m not sure I would have predicted someone saying that about my little Tony-Bones years ago…

Young bubs nestled in mom’s chest

Later that evening, we joined the masses and enjoyed fried alligator, crawfish po’boys and beer while taking in a pre-season Saints game.  I figured that, if there was anything NOLA-ish to do at this moment in time, it was to surround ourselves with proud Saints fan donned in black and gold shouting, “Who dat!  Who dat!”

As the hundreds of times before, we started debating something (topic irrelevant) and little brother got frustrated with me.  All of a sudden, we reverted 20 years and I was Older Sister Bully who had just told him he was adopted and made him cry (shamefully, I admit to such an act).  I felt bad of course, but also succumbed  to the role I knew in this dance, the stubborn one who was always right, and frustrated once again by his sensitivity.  I guess even our little sibling rivalry had remained, 24 years and going strong.

Like we do, we toned it down, brushed it off and enjoyed a fun evening out with his friends.  We celebrated his old college friend’s roommate’s girlfriend’s little sister’s 21st birthday (which was very different than the 30th birthdays I’ve been celebrating of late) with the famous/infamous New Orleans’ hurricane.  It is the equivalent of the “jungle juice” of my experiences, a sweet, juice-like drink that creeps up on you and which, I assume, causes many to do that of which “what happens in NOLA, stays in NOLA.”

The next day, we were overjoyed – we had found NOLA.  We found the spirit and soul of the city, and finally felt the essence of the place and all it had to offer: its music, Creole-inspired culinary treats, heart, history, pain and pride.  We started the day off with a walk to Treme and an awe-inspiring visit to the New Orleans African American Museum (did you know that Treme was the country’s first neighborhood of free people of color?!).  Our time in Treme was marked by a side of my brother I had always known and admired: his all-encompassing and wildly enthusiastic desire to learn every single detail, fact and anecdote about something of which he is passionate/intrigued/interested.  As he spouted details and dates of the historical markers we passed, most of which were learned from the HBO show “Treme” and then Wiki-researched later on, it reminded me of all the “loves” (obsessions?) of his life.  The time he spent transcribing Will Smith’s songs and reading his biography, the money he has spent collecting Stars Wars figures and buying books that detailed the history beyond what most Star Wars fans know, and the energy he has put into learning every theory, thought and historical detail about Mars and our ability (as humans, not as “my and my brother’s”) to exist there.

Later, his excitement exploded as we stumbled upon (figuratively, as we were just sitting, listening to a jazz band and eating gumbo at the time) a second line, an impromptu brass band parade and tradition that seems to be the thing that at once captures everything New Orleans.  He jumped into the parade, danced and earned his beads (no, he did not flash anyone).  Of course, before this trip, he had researched the tradition, knew the lingo and shared the historical context; it was his one wish for this trip and it had come true – it was a good moment with my brother, the passionate and excited Bubs I’ve always known.  We ended that wondrous day with a night on Bourbon Street, completely captivated, at times grossed out and overly-stimulated by everything going on around us.  We were stoked to have found a lively bar with a jammin’ jazz group and danced the night away…that is, until Ate headed back, worn and beat, and little brother stayed out with his buddies until the wee morning hours.

Bubs with beads from second-line

On our last day together, despite an empty wallet and full stomach of everything fried and Creole, I was sad to see the end of this trip with my brother.  As we enjoyed our last lunch together (jumbalaya and red beans and rice), we entered shaky territory as the sibling-rivalry debates heated up again.  This upset me being our last day together and I started to tear up.  I think this may have softened us up a bit because we started to share, for maybe the first time ever, those things we do to each other that just get under the other’s skin.  It was the type of conversation I routinely force my boyfriend to do, those ones about “feelings” so we openly communicate, blah blah blah.  Oddly enough, as I had thought in that embarrassing public display of emotion, I have never had this productive kind of dialogue with my brother.  We shared with each other why we get hurt or frustrated in those instances and then, unlike every time before, we both listened.  In rare fashion, instead of getting defensive, we strove to understand the other’s point of view and asked the other what we could do differently in the future.  It was touching and refreshing and wonderful and new (and yes, emblematic of the Nickelodeon after-school specials we used to watch together).  Maybe my brother and I were growing up, and maybe – some things do change.

We finally said goodbye – and after I slipped him some cash to help him make it to the end of his road trip (hey, baby steps people) – we parted ways.  Older sister was heading back to work and younger brother was on his way to the next destination along his once-in-a-lifetime, life-changing, post-college tour and exploration of self (so I assume).  I’ll never forget our trip together – not only our delicious and educational exploration of this beautiful and storied city, but of the time my brother and I grew up together in our own little rare and beautiful moment.

Only pic of me and bubs in NOLA

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