Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I do/will: Part 1

Part 1 (of 3): Deportation

Right from the beginning
I knew Dominic could potentially leave. He was consistently being offered jobs in countries all over the world. This was great…for him. I kept things as light and breezy as I could, but we fell in love hard and fast. Before I knew it we were both moving to London.


About eight months into the relationship an interesting job offer crossed his path. The job was in London, and he said wouldn’t pursue it unless I was keen to move. He explained the opportunity, and I agreed that it had great prospects. I wasn’t exactly tied to anything in San Francisco, I love to travel, and I love him. Why not move to London for a bit? I figured I would have time to let the idea settle anyway.

A month later he got the job and we were booking flights.

The truth is that I just wanted to be with him. It’s mushy and pathetic, I know. But if I didn’t go I would have always wondered what-if. So I packed up my beloved apartment in the Mission and shipped my worldly possessions with Dominic’s to London. It was both heartbreaking and thrilling.

Dominic and I got to San Francisco International Airport with two first-class, one-way tickets on Virgin in our hands. I was looking forward to the complimentary champagne, but he was eager land to safely to retrieve his two cats and dog that were flying with us to London.

Coupled with the fact that that Dominic hates flying, nervous was an understatement. All things considered, we had a fantastic flight. I’ve decided first-class is the only way to fly–three-course meals, non-stop beverage service, and spacious seats facing each other. As we reclined our seats turned into beds and the nice airline lady came by with the occasional Evian spritzer. Ok, there was no Evian spritzer, but you get the idea.

About 20 minutes before landing, we discussed our plan to meet once we passed through our respective passport gates. We suddenly remembered an email from his company’s Human Resources department suggesting that we say we are traveling independently so it wouldn’t seem like I, a college graduate and young professional, am trying to illegally stay in the UK with my British boyfriend. As if! I knew that I was allowed to be in the country as a visitor for six months without any hassles. We would figure out longer term plans once we were there for a few months.

Between the two of us we had been to over 20 different countries, so the last thing we thought to do was concoct a story for my entry to the European country most visited by Americans. We foolishly followed the HR lady’s advice to lie, which was stupid even without retrospect.

First off, I am the worst liar.

Secondly, I know that lying isn’t usually the best strategy–particularly when you haven’t done anything wrong, and especially when it involves government officials.

I collect my three oversized suitcases from the baggage claim. There is not a single person in line at the international passport checkpoint. Was I the only non-British citizen on that plane? I sail right up to passport checkstand, and:

Are you here on business or pleasure?

Pleasure? [Trying to maintain eye contact]

Right. How long are you staying?

A few months? [Face starts heating up]

Hmmm….ok. Are you traveling alone?

Umm…yes? [Sweating]

Do you have a return ticket?

Return ticket? [Heart palpitations]

See what I mean? Worst liar ever.

I knew I was in trouble, but I’m not sure what for at that point. The guard directs me to that row of seats by the string passport counters–you know, where the shady people sit and you wonder if they’ve been stopped for carrying a bomb? For 45 minutes I watch normal people breezing into England without breaking a sweat.

Meanwhile, Dominic has been anxiously waiting for me at the other end. Neither of us had a mobile phone yet so there was no way of communicating. I kept telling myself everything would be fine. Nearly an hour had gone by since we parted ways. Dominic lost patience, and raced down the hallway to the passport control area when he realized I had been stopped. Our worried eyes met. My passport guard recognizes the eye contact between us. He starts asking Dominic questions. The story now becomes even more tangled because Dominic admits we are travelling together, and now we are fundamentally screwed.

I am taken away to the official search area where my bags are thoroughly, and I mean thoroughly searched. Every scrap of paper, every toiletry, and every bra is questioned. My personal and business documents are scrutinized. Even my vitamins undergo a drug scan. It was eerily invasive.

I’m taken into a small, clinical room with fluorescent lights and metal chairs. I’m jet-lagged, cold, hungry, and feel like a criminal. I don’t have any of my stuff because I am a bad person who isn’t allowed any possessions Even more unsettling was that I had no way of getting in touch with Dominic.

Two hours go by and I have no idea what is going on. I literally just sit in the icy, metal fold-up chair thinking about how much I hate fluorescent lighting and staring at the other suspects. They smelled weird, didn’t speak English, and looked guilty of more than taking bad advice from HR. Maybe they thought the same of me.

A new officer has been assigned to my case. I guess the other one was taking a long lunch or something. We go into one of the rooms where I’ve been watching lawyers and their terrorist clients coming and going for the last two hours. I will have to undergo a lengthy official questioning session.

The interrogation takes about an hour. He writes down every word I say.

At the end of the questioning, he says needs to review this with his superior. He informs me of the two possible outcomes: 1. I am granted entry to the UK as a tourist for six months, or, 2. I will have to go back to the US. He ushered me out of the room back to my cold metal chair with tears in my eyes.

What did he mean go back? I’ve moved out of my apartment, my stuff is on some vessel in the middle of the Atlantic as we speak, and my boyfriend is here. Going back in not part of the plan.

It’s not like I had capsules of drugs shoved up my you-know-what for godssake! I told a little fib under pressure, and it’s gotten sorely out of hand. Surely this will all be cleared up, and I can be on my merry way.

Two more hours go by. I felt gaunt and pale. I thought, on the upside maybe I’ve lost a couple pounds on the Deportation Diet. I had been crying for hours and trying to distract myself with a Spanish version of Lonely Planet, London from like 1996 that I found laying on one of the chairs.

As if sitting under fluorescent lighting for five hours wasn’t punishment enough, the officer returned with the verdict: I was going back to the good ole U S of A. Further more, I would not be able to return without an official visa.

Reason: Because I lied.

However, they don’t think I will flee the country or pose any real threat, so they are giving me five days in the UK to sort stuff out.

My heart sank through my body. I felt like a thousand bees had stung me. I asked if he was serious. And he was. Quite. I didn’t say anything at all. I just kinda stared thinking how messed up this was.

An hour and a half passes, and all I’ve done is stare at the small rectangular window in the door waiting to see Dominic’s face. I am shivering with fatigue and emotion. It doesn’t feel real. I truly think that any moment now a mist of Evian will wake me up from this nightmare.

Sadly no Evian appears, but I am finally released from the room and accompanied by my prosecuting passport person through the dim airport to meet Dominic in the pick up area.

I called my Mom the first chance I got and told her the story. My poor Mother’s head was probably flooded with scenes from Brokedown Palace. Oh, what we put our parents through.

The next five days were melancholy and jet-lagged, but we were grateful for every minute together. We held on to each other tightly every waking and sleeping moment; we didn’t want to part. We talked to lawyers in the UK and in US trying to figure a way out of this idiotic mess. In the end, there was no way out. I had to go back, and we would have to sort it out from there.

What the hell was I going to do, and what did this all mean?

Hold on a second…did I just get deported?


London Snowing

Today 5.4 million people took the day off work (down from 6 million yesterday). Hundreds of schools and universities remained closed for a second day. And UK transport systems are still in turmoil. All because of the freezing easterly wind that crept over from the North Sea on Sunday night while we were all sleeping.

Varying reports say it's the heaviest snow to hit Britain in the last 10/ 13/ 18 years. Either way, it's the worst weather Britain has seen in a long time, and it's clearly reflected by the havoc it's wreaking on the country.

Yesterday in the UK all buses were canceled because of hazardous driving conditions. Trains were delayed or canceled due to icy tracks. And Heathrow, the largest international airport, completely shut down two of their runways.

Temperatures are expected to range between 0 and 5 C this week in London. It's not likely there will be more snow, which is good because Britain is practically in a national state of emergency because of it. Which I find slightly strange. I mean isn't London supposed to be like the center of the world or something? You would think they could handle anything. Instead, businesses are losing money because people can't get to work and kids are building snowmen in lieu of going to school. And it's only been snowing for one, little day. What's wrong with this picture I ask you. Britains are asking the same question.

Maybe it's like in LA when it starts sprinkling rain and Storm Watch comes on the news announcing the torrential downpours meanwhile everyone has forgotten how to drive. Seems like it's simply a matter of not being prepared for unexpected weather conditions, which has happened to me on a number of occasions, so who am I to talk. But still.

On the upside, I'm wondering if Senor Global Warming will repay us with and extra long, hot summer for his sneak attack snow storm. I think that would be fair.

Yesterday most of the businesses on Marylebone High Street (the main drag of our neighborhood) were closed except for grocery stores, a couple cafes, and of course, Starbucks.

Anyone who has ever talked to me for more than five seconds is well aware that I am not a fan of the cold, but I'll have to say it was quite delightful mushing about in the snow yesterday. Delicate snowflakes fell on my face and a few even made it in my mouth. They tasted crisp and sweet. I was tempted to throw a snowball but found no desire to do that snow angel thing. Never understood how that was supposed to be fun.

I'm glad I braved the weather yesterday and took some photos because today skies were blue and the sun even came out to say hello.

Anyhow, it seems like the worst is over and the chaos will melt away with the snow, and we'll all go back to sipping our tea and crumpets over here.

Our backyard as we've never seen it before:

Our neighborood as we've never seen it before:

The Interview

I’m in an Office Space waiting room with people who look clumsily dressed in business attire. I can immediately tell this is the kind of place where people say things like, looks like you’ve got a case of the Mondays, any day of the week.

This is an interview for a door-to-door salesman job disguised as a Marketing Manager position. I have no other interviews lined up, so this is why I am here. I want to leave as soon as I walk in.

Sandy, the receptionist, cheerily greets me, and I fill out a form with questions like, What are you passionate about? What is your leadership potential? How would you handle rejection?

I hand back the completed form along with two copies of my resume. I sit down in a chair facing Sandy's desk, and I wait. It’s 80-degrees outside and a bone chilling 42 in here.

A dude rolls through the door wearing oversized dress pants with an unmatching shirt and tie and clutching a crumpled resume. The receptionist hands him the form and asks if he has a pen to fill them out. He shrugs his shoulders and shakes his head, Naaah, he responds, as if the question was absurd. Sandy lends him a pen and he goes to his seat. I wonder what the hell I’m doing here.

You know how my name is Sandy?

Then a long pause. I look up wondering who she is talking to. The room is full of people, but she is looking right at me, so I reciprocate her eye contact.

Well, Jamie started calling me Sandy Beaches, and I was like oh my god, how embarrassing!
Then he starting calling me Sandy McBeaches.
And now everyone’s like, heeeeeeeeey McBeaches.
(giggling ensues)

In my head, my eyes widen and I say, Why, oh why, are you telling me this?

In real life I nod my head and say, Oh, with a forced smile.

I go back to sizing up everyone in the waiting room. Most people there seemed lost and loser-ish. So unsure of how they got to this waiting room. A guy in his late twenties who never grew out of his frat boy stage is trying really hard to be all salesman-y. I leer at him, but he is too busy tap dancing to notice.

I’m up for my interview with Sara. She is young, slightly stylish, and talks REALLY, REALLY loud. She is extremely intense. I know she likes me and will call me back for a second interview. I know this because I had just been observing the competition for the last 30 minutes.

An hour later she calls me for a second interview. It’s the following day from 9:00 in the morning to 5:30 in the evening. But of course and eight and a half hour interview is perfectly normal, I thought. I am told the day will consist of shadowing a current associate followed by various interviews. It sounds lame and I don’t want to go, but I accept only because I feel like I should- one of the worst reasons to do anything.

I wake up the next morning in a bad mood knowing I have to waste my day. I say I’ll give it until noon, at which point I will grant myself permission to leave if necessary. I'm big on options.

I arrive to a group of average to unattractive, badly dressed people standing in a room set at the same 42-degree temperature as yesterday. There is a mix of current associates and second interviewees, and it appears that affirmative action is back in fashion.

An exceedingly normal looking white man in his late 30's dressed in a polyester beige suit is leading the meeting. If I had to say Jew or Gentile, it would be Gentile all the way. I could tell he was the kind of guy who got off on seeing his name at the top of an org chart knowing all the little people were obligated to fetch him a latte and tell him how smart he is. I could tell this because he actually had an org chart projecting on to a white wall. He is the Leader, Messiah, The Don and sports a kitschy floral tie to show that he can get jiggy with it if need be.

He starts off by congratulating Esther for the highest sales of the week. Because she rocked it and was a kick-ass team player, she is given a gift certificate to Chili's. You heard me right, Chili's, as in The Restaurant Chili's. He shoots her a finger gun and an wink to lock in the congratulations. Everyone claps and woo-hoos knowing Awesome Blossoms at Friday's happy hour are on Ester this week.

Are you there God, it's me, Margaret....I want to leave immediately.

After tossing around all sorts of sales jargon and a team pep talk, he puts on his Life Coach hat. We all shuffle into the next room to watch a video of creepy looking man asking a woman to put some large rocks into a bucket that is filled with pebbles. The lady can’t fit the large rocks into the bucket with the pebbles. It was a long-winded way of illustrating a valid point- that you can’t focus on the big stuff in life if you let all the small stuff get in the way. This video was twenty minutes long, and small icicles start to form on my face from the arctic AC.

I’m thinking this is a really weird job interview.

We are herded back into the other room. And he starts regurgitating Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. He draws the quadrants on the dry erase board and everything. Thanks to his presentation I’ve learned that we shouldn’t waste time in from of the boob tube and playing video games because those activities fall into Quadrant 3- the Quadrant of Deception.

He proceeds to tell us that God is his number one priority. And how work allowed him to donate $65,000 to GOD last year and his wife to stay home with the kids. Because he donated this money to GOD, GOD wants him to be rich so that he can continue doing good in the world. He compared himself to the likes of Bono and Bill Gates. Furthermore, if we kick-ass at work, we could one day be as lucky, successful, and philanthropic as

Personally, I thought he was freakish (and I don’t think being Canadian even had anything to do with it). I could picture him getting ready for bed that night telling his wife how he used words like kick-ass to relate to his young subordinates and how he thought the cool flower tie went over really well. What was even more insane was how people were nodding in agreement, taking notes, and even laughing at his lame at jokes. It seemed like they meant it, too.

It's not so much that I disagreed with what he was saying. I think that video games should be categorized in the Quadrant of Deception, but in my world, normal people just don't bible thump in the work place. I was scared and wanted to bolt out of there. Instead, I took the moral high ground and stayed just until this guy was done preaching. After all, I think he meant well.

It’s only 10am and he is done talking. It was time for my exit, and I did thank God for that.

As I searched for the way out, I was promptly approached by Rachel to go into the field to watch her pitch prospective clients all day. I was frank with Rachel:

I don’t think this is the right fit for me, so I am going to go. Thanks.

She gets all ruffled up.

Oh really. Well, let’s go talk to Jamie (the Gentile-life coach-no TV watching guy) so you can tell him why you aren’t interested.

I had never met Jamie, nor did I think it was entirely appropriate to explain that I wanted absolutely nothing to do with his little organization. While wrangling my way out of talking to him I backed up toward the front door. I literally ran down the hallway, out the building, and scurried across the street to my car. I felt enormous relief as I drove home.

I can’t say exactly why I was so scared. From an outsider’s perspective, I could be lumped into this group of lost souls. And maybe I hated being there because it magnified how lost I felt. Maybe I hated how all the people who worked there seem so cracked out with giddiness because they were happy to be there even if they didn’t like their job. Could it be that in some strange way I envied their contentment with the status quo?

Naaah. I think I just hated it because if felt like a friggin' cult.


Dub Reggae Night at the Elbo Room in San Francisco was tough to get to considering it was only a ten minute walk from my apartment. Sunday nights weren't typically reserved for going out, but the promise of a dull work week ahead prompted me to get in one last weekend outing.

What is dub reggae?

Dub is a version of existing music that is electronically rearranged. Think cutting and pasting elements of a song to create another version of it.

Dub is a sculpture of sounds using echo and reverb effects and scientifically layered beats set to a trance-inducing tempo. While strips of the original lyrics fade in and out, tracks are mostly instrumental. Dub is reggae on hallucinogenics.

It all started in Kingston, Jamaica, in the Sixties. Two people are credited with pioneering the genre–Osbourne Ruddock, better known as King Tubby, and Lee "Scratch" Perry, who is over 70 years old, still performing, and I had the pleasure of seeing in concert in 2007.

Here's one story of how dub came to life:

Reggae is meat-and-potatoes to Jamaican culture. The country has endured a history of impoverishment, Rhude Boy gangs, and overall political/social/economic instability*. Dancehalls were where people could listen to reggae on a sound system and dance. They were more than the local watering hole–they were an oasis from the turbulence at home and on the streets . They were also the social and illegal affairs networking hub of towns. If there was no music in the evenings, the consequences were proven to be grim, even catastrophic at times, resulting in riots. There simply had to be music, which made the sound system operators and repairmen gods.

A little problem. A sound system error occurred one hot night in Jamaica. It is said to have opened the floodgates to a new genre of music: Dub. A packed club with a broken soundboard forced the MC that night to improvise. As he tinkered with various records, sound levels, and timing, the fragments of sounds caught the ear of Lee "Scratch" Perry, and the rest is history.**

Back in San Francisco, opening MCs started around 8pm at the Elbo Room, but the place wasn't in full swing until 10pm when the best sets came on. I liked getting there early to see how the crowd evolved, but it also meant pacing the amount of Red Stripes I sipped while listening to the early grooves of the night. But sometimes soberness made the whole vibe of the place even more intoxicating.

You can dance to dub. Or you can sway to the roll of the snare drum. Or you can just bob you head to the bone-chilling tinge of the high hat. Anything goes, which is another beautiful aspect of dub. You can move to your own intimate interpretation of the hypnotic beats.

All sorts come to Dub Night in SF. Your yupsters, your Rastafarians dressed to the nines in robes and turbans, and your token hippies smoking weed in the corner making it a truly Rastafarian atmosphere.

In a way Dub Night was like being at a hostel. Everyone is there for a specific reason, but everyone is also having their own experience. Since Dub is a niche genre of music, everyone knows they have at least one thing in common with everyone else in that room. And that thing, the music, is all anyone cares about in that moment. It's a peaceful and satisfying existence for a few hours.

*Watch the film The Harder They Come starring Jimmy Cliff for an accepted depiction of the times.

**This could be a tall tale, so don't quote me.

A Special Hillside Place

With so few restaurants displaying consistency in both quality and service, Poggio* in Sausalito, CA, features Northern Italian cuisine and shines like a beacon. The menu changes daily and uses local ingredients as well as those imported from Itlay.

Location: There are places reminiscent of Sausalito, but nowhere beats the real thing. Proudly sitting on the main strip of the Marin County hamlet, Bridgeway Drive, the view of the hills and the light sea breeze make it a very special place.

Ambiance: In this beautifully designed Italian trattoria you feel like you are going out to dinner without the common trying too hard swank. Although the restaurant has a sprawling floor-plan, Poggio maintains an inviting coziness. It’s dignified, elegant, and cozy all the the same time. It's a place you would be proud to take your parents when they come to visit. Come dressed as an Italian mobster or a hippie from Santa Cruz–either way, it works.

Complimentary sparking water: A welcoming touch that I enjoy each time.

Drink: I love my wine. However it was another stunner of a day in SF, and a festive cocktail seemed in order.

Two Bridgeway Lemonades, please.

The citrus infused vodka and fresh squeezed lemonade was exactly what we should have been drinking at a sidewalk table for two, at dusk, in Sausalito, on a Wednesday evening.



Bread and butter: In a word, it’s happiness.

If you have a don't-fill-up-on-bread rule now is the time to make an exception. Warm rosemary, sage, sesame, and sourdough bundles of joy sit on your table longing to be one with the perfectly salted butter. As the two lovers melt into each other, they create the appropriate introduction to the meal that lies ahead.

Antipasti 1: Oak-grilled squid on a bed of bright, green arugula speckled with sweet, plump baby, baby tomatoes and white beans. “Oak-grilled”- need I say more?

Antipasti 2: Three tender, tasty lamb meatballs nestled in a small iron dish that looks like it was patiently cooked in a wood-burning oven. The meatballs lay in a lush marinara sauce shrouded with whisps of bell peppers. Impossible to not relish this dish.

Elisa’s entrée: Margarita pizza–tomato, fresh mozzarella, basil, olive oil. Almost perfect. The only thing missing–garlic.

Dominic’s entrée: Ceppo “alla amatriciana”- strips of pancetta provide a natural saltiness to the slender tubes of fresh pasta perfectly prepared in tomato sauce. Onions, chile, and pecorino romano accent this dish. Utterly satisfying.

Dessert: Miraculously we managed this last course. Vanilla Bavarian cake with mixed berries. A fluffy, moist vanilla cake set the foundation for this four layer delight. Next a sparkling berry melange was delicately nestled in a bed of luscious whipped cream. The final layer of spongy cake was topped with a dollop of whipped, creamy sweetness. It was a refreshing finale to the meal.

End mood: Hand in hand we stroll out two very happy people.

* The name Poggio is translated from Italian to mean 'a special hillside place'.