Friday, October 22, 2010

Come here often?

I claim Virginia as home, in case you hadn't caught on to my love of the Commonwealth just yet.

I've never lived in D.C., but have been many, many times and have spent a fair amount of time riding the Metro.

So it was funny this week when I got on the wrong line, went the wrong way, missed trains, couldn't find the station, screwed up the bus plan and all around did not rock the Metro.

You'd never know I'd been to D.C. before.

I mock myself because it was really quite comical how much of a mess I was for a solid 24 hours, especially after lecturing my mom on how I was capable of handling the Metro. Karma perhaps. I'd like to think it was because I was so focused on a job interview that my mind couldn't process much else, but really, it's pretty typical of me. It felt a lot like many of my misadventures abroad, only I was home. We all have days.

But, I was redeemed when going through the security line at Reagan (DCA) Airport and the TSA guy watching me said, "You've done this before, huh?"

Buy map, throw dart. Just sayin'

The September issue of National Geographic Traveler had Slovenia on the cover and a Subaru ad on the back.

No, I’m not trying to sell you a Subaru. I don’t even care that much about them. Good cars sure, but an ex-boyfriend wanted one and we had to drive all the way to Tennessee to get it and I’m almost positive they do in fact have Subarus in ‘bama. Anyway, so sad for the Subaru that I have a negative association but that’s totally not my point.

The marketing team for the ad is absolutely genius.

The ad has a picture of a car on the coast somewhere and all it says is “Buy map. Throw dart.”

The ad absolutely, totally and perfectly describes the kind of traveler I am and hope I will always be. That alone could potentially get me to buy one of those cars, despite that negative association, and just wander about the country.

It’s also something to aspire to, or inspire, or motivate.

That ad is likely going up on my wall somewhere I can see it every day.

It’s a big world, I want to see it, and really what’s to stop me? (That's a picture of the Triple Bridge in Ljubljana, Slovenia from my 2009 trip. I picked Slovenia because a British guy I met in Peru recommended it...seeing the dart philosophy at work?)

To me, it’s almost like a bracelet I bought in Annapolis a few years ago.

It’s got a black and white stands braided and tied to a silver plate that has “Fearless” pressed into it.

Not sure if at the time I bought because I was fearless or because I wanted to be fearless. I wore it though as a reminder to be fearless, at least most of the time, and I suppose you already have to have some fearlessness in you for it to work, but I’d like to think I’ve become more fearless.

That doesn’t mean I’m reckless, but it means going after life and making it what you want it to be.

Sometimes that includes buying a map and throwing a dart.

Yorktown photos

Since my computer would not cooperate the other day and wouldn't let me post any more photos, here are some more from my sister, Maura Rowell, of our days in Yorktown.

One, clearly, is the tallship we toured that weekend. Still haven't found the info sheet about it, but I'm packing to move back to Virginia, so perhaps I'll find it among the piles of paper and books!

The other is the Yorktown Monument during the Virginia Symphony Orchestra concert at Yorktown. It was an absolutely beautiful night.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

There are stars all over my map, but I only have one home

A 12-hour road trip home with the puppy was a genius idea.

Somewhere along the way, it seemed a little less brilliant.

I had somehow managed a four-day weekend for Labor Day this year. Instead of sitting around Montgomery, I decided we’d go home.

I hadn’t been home or seen my family since Christmas and that’s a pretty long time for me. Plus, they’re never met the new puppy and well, I just wanted to go home.

Home to me is Yorktown, Virginia.

I wasn’t born there, didn’t live my whole life there, but to me it’s home.

Dad was military and we moved around a lot as kids. We got to Yorktown in 1997 and I started eighth grade at Grafton Middle School.

Dad retired in the spring of 2001 and we were supposed to move to New England, something I was less than pleased about, but Dad found a way for us to stay.

So, I graduated high school in Yorktown, went to college about 20 miles down the road in Newport News. I went to church in Yorktown, worked in Yorktown, interned in Newport News and Norfolk.

I bounced all over Hampton Roads and throughout Virginia for work, school and play.

I love Virginia.

After college, I interned at a paper in Fredericksburg where I was hired on full-time and worked for about another year.

So, maybe I’m not a native, but I claim Virginia as home and I choose to love the state that is for lovers.

Okay, okay, you get it, I love Virginia. Back to the road trip.

I get on the road late, of course, and have the puppy all situated in the back seat. I put his bed back there and he just curled up and slept through almost the entire trip. Lucky little man.

We pit-stopped in Fayetteville, North Carolina to see a reporter friend there and meet up with another reporter friend who had just started at the paper there.

Finally, we made it to Yorktown.

I’m sad to admit I got turned around (read: lost) when I took an exit of Interstate 64. I used to get off that way and know all the back roads, but I was aiming for the next exit and suffice it to say I confused myself.

I refused to use the GPS since I was home, how could that little computer know the way home better than me?

After a few wrong guesses to find the back way, I went back to the interstate and got to the exit I was looking for in the first place. Easy peasy from there.

Maybe it’s the time away or the need for a break, but every time I go back to Yorktown, I truly feel home. I feel it as soon as I see neighborhoods where I used to live or my friends lived. I feel it when I see the roads I learned to drive o

n. I feel it when I see my church, library, the skating rink, my school and finally my house.

For the short time at home, I wanted to go to the colonial part of Yorktown, along the York River. That’s where the colonial forces defeated the British and was the last major battle of the Revolutionary War. It was also a major port for the colonies for awhile.

Now it’s a small town that much of the older buildings and business were destroyed during Hurricane Isabel in 2003. But the town has rebuilt and much effort has been put into that little piece of riverfront and it was packed when I went with my family on Saturday to the farmer’s market. (Eggplant at the farmer's market, photo by Maura Rowell, my little sister)

There was fresh produce, locally made products, handmade jewelry and other crafts and specialty puppy treats. The lady at that tent gave Grover some water and tried to give him a treat, but he was afraid of her at first. Finally, he warmed up to her and ate the treat.

That’s about the time a man came up behind me and said, “Excuse me miss.”

For whatever reason I thought he was going to tell me I couldn’t have a dog or something, who knows why, there were dogs everywhere.

But he asked if I wanted to trade my puppy for some fresh, homemade soup.

I laughed, although he had startled me and of course I didn’t want to trade my dog for soup.

Since I had such a good looking dog, I could come back if I changed my mind, he said.

Not gonna happen pal, but thanks for the offer. (Meet Grover...isn't he the cutest thing? When he's not eating your shoes, or anything else. Photo by Maura Rowell, my little sister.)

There was a tallship docked and they were offering free tours that day so my littlest sister and I went up to check it out.

The ship is crewed by a group of young people and sails out of Georgia I think it was. I had a sheet of paper about the ship and it’s the one piece of paper I can’t find now. But still looking.

That night we went back to Yorktown to hear the Virginia Symphony Orchestra. It was one of their free outdoor concerts as a teaser to their season. The weather was spectacular that weekend and I was actually chilly sitting on the grass.

The music was great, being in Yorktown was great and you could look up and see a fairly unobstructed sky scape. The light pollution in Yorktown is still minimal. Plus, I ran into some friends and their parents at the concert.

It was one of those perfect days.

That Sunday, a friend from DC came down and I dragged him to Yorktown, too. Are you sensing a trend? I really like this place.

We ate breakfast in City Center, a sort of outdoor style mall with hotels and bars that had just been getting started when I was in college.

Since we weren’t far from my campus, we swung by there and I gave him a pretty terrible tour since campus looks completely different than it did when I graduated in 2006.

The campus tour didn’t last long since I couldn’t tell him what half of the buildings were and that was just depressing me.

It was a gorgeous day and we were on the road to Yorktown again. We wandered down the riverfront, went on the tallship -- I noticed different things this time -- and then hoofed it up the hill to the colonial part.

There’s a large stone war memorial that overlooks the York River and we wandered around that, reading the names of the men killed in battle.

And of course we had to check out the Thomas Nelson house since I’d gone on and on about the cannon balls in the side of the house.

My friend asked if they were the original cannon balls and you know what, I had no clue.

Turns out, they’re not. The craters in the brick left from cannon balls are genuine, but the cannon balls in the wall are replicas. Bummer.

Those cannon balls are supposedly the result of Nelson paying American troops to attack his own home since he believe British troops were occupying it.

Nelson was a merchant, businessman and member of the Governor’s Council before the war, and once war broke out, he was appointed colonel of the 2nd Virginia Infantry Regiment, according to the National Park Service. Later, he was elected to fill George Washington’s seat at the Second Continental Congress as Washington was leading the American troops. In 1781, Nelson became Virginia’s governor, following Thomas Jefferson. He returned to Yorktown to lead about one third of the American troops during that battle, which ended the Revolutionary War.

I couldn’t tell you a lot about all of the battles of the Revolutionary War, but I could tell you a lot about the battles at Yorktown and the significance of related historical cities like Jamestown and Williamsburg. I did, after all, grow up in what we call the Historic Triangle.

Every time I go back, I learn something new, or notice something different. And during the holidays, each of these historical cities is aglow in colonial Christmas decorations and I just can’t get enough of it.

I’ve been all over the world, with plans to add some stars on my world map, but I always come home to Yorktown.

Monday, October 11, 2010

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a flying Jenny!

I grew up in the Air Force. My dad was a bomber navigator and had a private pilots license. He took my mom flying on one of their first dates and he had me and my sisters in the skies at a young age. I hear that mom didn’t like it quite so much, but I loved flying as a kid.

Except when dad would act like he was turning upside down over lakes. That always terrified me and I would scream at him till we were completely upright again. Of course now I know that kind of plane can’t actually fly upside down and if you were to fall out of a plane, over water would probably be a better bet.

He also dragged us to many air shows and I mean it when I say dragged. At least in my case. In my younger days I cared more about my latest dance recital than airplanes.

Funny how things change.

Now I’m a military reporter and am developing the ability to identify planes by sound as they fly overhead.

I’m by no means a master, but I’ve come a long way from my days twirling in pretty pink tutus to spending my days learning about synthetic jet fuel and the payloads of various planes.

Dad would have been proud when I dragged an

Air Force friend of

mine to Birmingham to check out the Southern Museum of Flight.

I’d seen signs for the museum during many, many trips to and from the airport on my way to more exotic places, but

when I dropped the roommate off for her flight to New York City a few months ago, I noticed a new sign.

There was a billboard near the airport exit with a parachuting mannequin and something about dropping in.

Very clever marketing and I was hooked.

After a few weeks of scheduling conflicts and other adventures, I finally made it up to the Southern Museum of Flight.

Mike is active duty so we got in for free and to our left was an exhibit about the Tuskegee Airmen.

The very first exhibit included a plane that had “Maxwell” painted on the side. Several more exhibits detailed the role of the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II and display of paintings and other items told the stories of the legendary aviators of those famed units. The picture to the left is one of those exhibits and that plane has "Maxwell" painted on the side, just behind the pilot's head.

For me it was even more interesting, because as I read some of those displays, I realized I had interviewed several of them, like Roscoe Brown, over the last three years as the military reporter here.

We moved over to check out some airplane engines and some static displays and then on to an exhibit about the F-86 and its battles against MiG-15s in Korea. The planes on display at the museum had also been captured in lithographs that had been signed by the pilots involved in the dogfight depicted in the print. Mike bought one for his dad and as I was telling him about retired Lt. Gen. Charles Cleveland, who flew the F-86 in Korea. About 50 years later he was recognized as a fighter ace and was awarded the Silver Star. Cleveland retired in Montgomery and I’ve interviewed him many times.

There were other connections to the Montgomery area at the museum too. There was a small replica of the USS Enterprise and Rear Adm. John Crommelin was the flight officer on the ship. The admiral was one of the four Crommelin brothers who served in the military. The family was from the Montgomery and Wetumpka area.

The museum also has artifacts like a B-25 ventral gun turret with a sign than reads, “Absolutely, positively do not touch this exhibit,” parts of a bomber that crashed into a lake and an outdoor exhibit of airplanes from several eras.

It looks a little like a boneyard and the planes could certainly use some love, or at least a fresh coat of paint, but Mike and I had fun checking out all the planes and Mike told me the history of some of them and some I recognized myself.

The yard includes a R4D-6Q “Gooney Bird,” an A-12, the first version of the SR-71 “Blackbird,” and an F-100 “Super Sabre.” The Gooney Bird is pictured below.

There’s also a Wright Brothers exhibit, complete with life size mannequins of the early aviators and a room full of experimental aircraft.

Of course, I must point out, the museum also has my favorite airplane, a Curtiss JN-4 Jenny. Like my name in the 1980s, the plan was one of the most popular planes of its time. According to the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission, the plane was used to train about 95 percent of American and Canadian pilots after the U.S. entered World War I in 1917.

The plane was also sold to civilians and according to the commission, more than 6,000 JN-4 Jennys had been built by 1918.

All you aviation buffs out there, military kids and if you just admire the ability to take to the sky, head to the Southern Museum of Flight. It’s worth the trip and deserving of support.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Pirate at 10 o'clock!

After that half-marathon in Montgomery (Oct. 2), I made waffles, had a beer downtown, then packed in about 20 minutes, walked the puppy, showered and headed out the door for a 4 p.m. flight to Vegas.

If you've caught on to my attraction to random destinations for my excursions, then you're probably wondering what is Jenn doing going to Vegas?

I was headed to the 2010 Society of Professional Journalists Convention. I'm on the national board, so I had to be there early for Sunday morning meetings before the full convention got underway.

So after running 13.1 miles, I hopped on a plane to Atlanta, where the wi-fi was useless and wandered the halls of the airport because I was bored and wanted to stretch. I spend a lot of time in this airport. A lot.

The flight to Vegas was a little more than four hours and was brutal. I sat next to a sweet little girl and had a window seat, but I just couldn't sleep. She passed out and I was getting very antsy, but had no where to go.

By the time I arrived and collected my bag around midnight Vegas time, 2 a.m. my time, I was exhausted. Plus, Vegas is a busy place. I don't just mean lots of people, I mean slot machines in the airport, flashing lights, people in clothes that don't fit properly, noise and smoke.

Oh, and then there are the pirates.

After a Sunday full of meetings, my friend Kara and I escaped to the great outdoors of the Vegas strip. We needed some natural light and quasi-fresh air. We were in the Planet Hollywood (which used to be the Aladdin) for the conference, so we popped our heads in Paris, but didn't like it so we kept walking. We wandered down the street a little to cross over the pedestrian bridge into the Bellagio and planned to check out the fountain show.

On the way there, Kara says nonchalantly, "Pirate at 10 o'clock."

Mind you, I'm still pretty exhausted and my brain is tired. I'm looking around 2 or 3 o'clock and can't for the life of me figure out what she's talking about. I see a kid in a safari type hat, but that can't be it.

"10 o'clock."

I'm still not looking the right way and by now he's at about 8 o'clock.

Yes, for a military reporter, it's ridiculous how long it took for me to connect the dots on this one.

Finally, I spot the pirate. He must have figured out what was going on. He's perfectly still until I see him. Then he suddenly moves quickly toward me and says something that ends in "me lady."

Scared the living daylights out of me. I visibly jumped.

Kara laughs at me and then we're both laughing hysterically as we continue walking down the street.

We find a spot along the wall to watch the fountain show and I'm looking at a little boy at about 4 o'clock (see I'm practicing), when the show starts suddenly with a wall of water and loud burst of music. The little boy and his friends start shrieking, startling me again.

But, the show was fantastic and Kara and I have a story that will probably entertain us both for years.

Run, run, run

Since I never did write about our adventures in Nashville in April, I'll do it now.

Myself and Advertiser reporters Jill Nolin and Markeshia Ricks roadtripped to the Music City for the County Music Rock n' Roll half-marathon.

I decided now was a good time to write about that trip since last weekend I ran the Montgomery half-marathon here in town

The Nashville race was the first half for all of us. We met up with my friend Joy, who has run quite a few races. She was planning to run the full marathon, but weather changed her plans.

We hit the road on Friday, met up with some running friends and their spouses for dinner and all tried to get to bed early. We were up around 4 a.m. to get ready and get to the starting line. It was a rough wake-up call. I was already feeling queasy and not rested at all. I'd also pulled something in my leg going into the race, but I did it anyway. Wise, probably not.

Massive storms were predicted for race day and everyone was a bit edgy over that. Especially those running the whole marathon since the storms were expected to roll in a few hours after the race started.

Joy and I planned to run together since we paced around the same (well, I paced with her for a few miles) and we'd trained some together.

We didn't really have a plan for meeting that morning and she didn't bring her phone. It was only by chance that we ran smack into each other while lining up at the start.

And then we were off. We made friends with some of the other runners around us and wondered where a few of our other friends were. Mostly we tried not to think about the serious hills were were powering up through downtown Nashville and that we still had a long way to go.

I lost joy at a water station somewhere around mile 5 and just kept on going. That's when it started to be a pretty miserable run. It got better for miles 8, 9 and 10 or so. By mile 11, I thought I might die, or at least that my leg might fall off. By mile 12, I was really not happy. If I'd had something to throw, I would have, at the guy around there who said, "You're almost there! It's all downhill from here!"

Yes, a mile might seem like a short distance to someone who has been standing on the sidewalk all morning. To someone who's been running for 12 miles already, that last mile seems like eternity.

And that last mile was in fact not downhill. Not even close to downhill. Brutal.

So when I ran the race in Montgomery and Jill and Markeshia said they'd make signs for me I told them not to lie to me or there would be consequences.

Jill's sign said, "It's all uphill from here." I think her other one said something like "You're not even close." She and another co-worker, Allison, passed out orange slices and cheered on the runners.

Markeshia made a sign for me in green marker, because green is my favorite color, and on the back it said "Military reporters rock." She was around mile 12 and it was flat to the finish line so I actually was close to the end when I ran by her.

In Nashville, I finished about 12 minutes before Jill and Markeshia and found the car. That's about when the sky opened up and the storms pummeled anyone outside. Joy didn't get to finish the whole marathon since most of those runners were redirected to do the half because of the weather.

We were a soggy mess after the race so we got greasy food and took naps. Later we met up with Joy, her husband and some other friends and went to a great Mexican place that was forever away. Okay, not really, but it seemed really far. I can't remember the name of it. I know I'm failing you. But if I think of it, or find it, I'll pass it on. We loved the food and the margaritas. Joy, Markeshia and I were all about the margaritas after such an exhausting day.

The next day we figured we needed to do some touristing while we were in town. We decided to visit the Grand Ole Opry and do the backstage tour. We also went through the museum and walked around the grounds, taking pictures in front of the massive guitars.

To anyone in Nashville, I highly recommend the Opryhouse tour. Our guide was funny and informative and since I'm a country music lover, I had a great time. But even if you don't love country museum, you can appreciate the history in that building and the true community that those artists have built. It's a honor to be invited to be a member at the Opry, but that honor comes with responsibility. They have to play so many times a year there and certain other performance commitments. Maybe it's me, but there's something cool about that.

The museum had clothes that artists like Martina McBride and Carrie Underwood wore when they performed there. There's a history of the place, memorabilia, instruments, books, photos and so on. Clearly I should have written this right after we went, because I'm forgetting some details!

Not far from the Opry is the resort and the mall. We did a bit of shopping. More than I should have done for sure, but it's an outlet mall and I can't resist a good deal. Plus, the walk was good to stretch our tired legs.

I need to go back to Nashville and see more of the city when I'm not worn out from running.

Last weekend, as I crossed the finish line, I heard a man shouting, "There she is! Go Jenn!" I had just run 13.1 miles and was tired and thirsty so I didn't really realize who was talking to me. Finally I spotted him right in front of me. The Montgomery mayor high-fived me and congratulated me. Most days, I think he forgets my name, but I guess not.

About four people were shoving medals toward me so I almost dropped a few, but got mine eventually and found my friends. The boys, of course, finished ahead of me. But they're fast and in the military. They basically get paid to run. I was just happy to finish. And in about the same time I did in Nashville...that's notable because I trained a lot less for this second race. And I didn't hurt too bad.

We went home and I made my absolutely awesome cinnamon waffles. Seriously, they're amazing. And the perfect post-race food.

About that time my friends were calling me to meet them at Dreamland downtown for a beer...only I still needed to pack and get ready for my 4 p.m. flight to Vegas. Yes, I pack a lot into my days.

So I went for a beer.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Oh look, the Atlanta airport.

The past month has been chaos.
It feels like about half of it was spent in the Atlanta airport (which is, for the record, my least favorite airport to date).
I drove home to Virginia for Labor Day weekend -- with the puppy.
The next weekend was a 10K in Montgomery and an awards banquet that night in Atlanta and a going away breakfast for some military friends the next morning.
Then it was weekend duty before a week in Seattle with the family. Back in Montgomery for a week then a half-marathon and off to Vegas for the 2010 SPJ National Convention.
Now I'm back in Montgomery for about two weeks before moving back to Virginia.
Suffice it to say I'm tired. I've crossed so many time zones lately I hardly know where I am when I wake up every morning.
But, I love it.
I love that I can breeze through airports like it's my day job.
I love that I can go for a morning jog straight up hill in Seattle one morning, a week or so later be accosted by a pirate on the Vegas strip and then back home with the puppy who is absolutely overjoyed to see me (nice to have someone love you so unconditionally).
I write this not to tell you how tired I am, but to tell you that many, many updates are coming.