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If you watched the news today, you saw the strange, new twist in the Christopher Dorner manhunt outside Los Angeles. The former LAPD officer — who’d killed four people, two of them fellow officers and wrote a manifesto promising to kill more — was cornered by police in a vacation house in Big Bear today and then set the place ablaze.
As I write this, the police are pretty sure he died inside the house fire. Pretty sure, but not completely sure. So this might be the end of the biggest manhunt in Los Angeles history. It’s a story worthy of “Law & Order” – angry ex-cop with military survival training, deadly shoot outs with law enforcement, a threatening online manifesto, creepy packages mailed to Anderson Cooper and a $1 million reward.
My heart goes out to the families of the slain officers and the ones named in his manifesto who’ve been living in fear. But I keep thinking that the extreme nature of the story seems almost typical for Los Angeles. Almost every day since I’ve lived here I’ve heard at least one news story that could make it into Lennie Briscoe’s case docket:
- - A urologist in Newport Beach is shot in his doctor’s office by a former patient.
- - The Los Angeles Archdiocese releases files with sexual abuse accusations against 122 local priests.
- - A Canadian tourist, a young woman traveling alone and staying near Skid Row, disappears without a trace.
This is in addition to the regular shootings, car chases and school sex scandals. Now I know where “Law & Order” writers went to rip their headlines.
I know it’s because Los Angeles is a much bigger city than any place I’ve lived before. But I’m no stranger to intense news. I spent five years as a journalist in South Florida, home to the weird and extreme. But rather than a terrifying “Law & Order” vibe, Florida news is more like an issue of National Enquirer crossed with a Carl Hiassen novel and an episode of Duck Dynasty.
There was a man giving butt implants to women in motel rooms using Fix-a-Flat, and the couple that bought street Botox and poisoned themselves in pursuit of wrinkle-free faces. There are pythons in the Everglades eating 70-lb deer, an escaped pet tiger owned by a former Tarzan actor and a woman who got mauled by the cheetahs she kept in her backyard. And there are hanging chads, botched presidential elections and county commissioners busted by the FBI for corruption.
It’s a lighter kind of crazy. More “Castle” than “Law & Order.
And it’s all very different from my last locale. In Minneapolis, it was big news if a company laid off 25 people or a car hit a bicyclist. If Minneapolis were a crime show, it would be “Prairie Home Companion.”
Looks like I’ve traded Garrison Keillor for Jack McCoy!
I started this blog when my life had turned upside down. I left a journalism career to gamble on an MBA, a direction I never planned my life to take. The blog gave me a great way to take it all in and process the new experiences.
Now my life has turned upside down again. In the last 30 days, I have:
- Moved from frigid Minnesota to sunny southern California;
- Switched from working in a massive corporate headquarters to a tiny desk at my house;
- Left a job with a lot of process and plenty of guardrails for a job that’s brand new to the company in a market we don’t understand.
It makes my head spin. And it makes for a ton of new experiences to try to understand.
Does it matter if I wear yoga pants and no makeup on a work day if the only one who sees me is the dog?
How do you build something new at a big company that only changes by inches?
Will I become one of those weird, overly chatty people if I work from home for too long?
Why do Californians wear 800-fill down coats on 50-degree days?
That last one is one of the first things I noticed when we arrived. There was a cold spell in January, a run of days in the 40s and 50s with some chillier nights. Nick and I were at Bed, Bath & Beyond picking up all the things you never realize you need until you move. It was about 50 degrees outside and both of us were congratulating ourselves on moving away from the freezing Minnesota winter.
Then we saw her. She was about my age and swaddled in a chin-to-toe layer of puffy down. It was the exact same coat I’d worn all winter in Minneapolis, trudging through -20 degree weather. But she was wearing it in Santa Monica.
Maybe I became a bad ass Minnesotan over the last 18 months or maybe that girl was from some equatorial nation. Either way, seeing her in that puffy coat reminded me of the place I’d most recently called home when I felt tired and a little sad. After a long weekend of moving, it felt good to laugh at this little absurdity.
Except, I learned instead that I was the one who was absurd. Over the next few weeks, I saw dozens more down coats appear all over Santa Monica. I was the weird one, wearing my trench. That’s when I realized: California is a whole new world.
Today seems like a good day to start blogging again. Not because it’s Thanksgiving, but because once again my life is on the edge of a big change.
I started this blog in 2009 because my life was heaving with change. I was leaving the life and journalism career I’d built in South Florida to get an MBA at the University of Virginia. It was nothing I’d ever planned for myself and I didn’t know what to expect.
I started the blog to keep my friends and family up to date on my new life. But it soon morphed into a way for me to process all the new things I learned and new experiences I had. I was lucky enough to be chosen as an official blogger for my MBA class, and soon my classmates were part of the blog, telling me that often I was writing what they were thinking and feeling. I felt like a voice for my Darden community and I liked that. (Check out the current crop of Darden student bloggers here.)
Then I graduated. And I pretty much stopped writing altogether.
I had lots of excuses — new city, new job, wedding planning, blah, blah, blah. The truth was I felt out of my element writing about the working world, especially the corporate world. What was OK to say? Would I get in trouble? I went from feeling like I owned my experience to feeling as if I didn’t really own anything. I experienced all kinds of interesting things — developing a new product, working for six different managers in my first year, living through a massive layoff and restructuring, not to mention ice fishing, learning to road bike and getting married — but I wasn’t sure how or if I should write about them.
It was a frustrating 15 months. I missed writing, I missed sharing what I learned and I missed connecting with others who experienced the same things. I felt more isolated than I expected. So I’ve decided to start blogging again.
The impetus was change. My husband and I are moving from Minneapolis (aka the Frozen Tundra) to Los Angeles in January for his job. I’ll be going from a typical corporate desk job to working from home and traveling occasionally to visit customers. There will be lots of new and I’ve learned writing is the best way for me to embrace that. Striking the right balance between sharing my experience and protecting my company won’t always be easy, but I’ve discovered it’s worth trying.
So this Thanksgiving I’m thankful for change, second chances and any readers who are still hanging on with me. Here’s to getting back on the horse.
My childhood came roaring back today in the form of a plastic doll.
The vice president of marketing for the American Girl company came to speak at my office today. I was excited, but I didn’t expect to feel giddy. As we walked down to the presentation, all the women under 30 were reminiscing about their own American Girl dolls and all the women over 30 were talking about their daughter’s American Girl dolls.
During the presentation, Shawn Dennis, American’s Girl’s marketing guru, shared videos, letters and stories from girls and women who felt stronger, smarter and better thanks to American Girl’s dolls, books and magazine. Strangely, I found myself tearing up as I listed to their stories. I was dumbstruck by my emotional reaction.
But it was simple really. They reminded me of myself at age 9 when I was in love with American Girl. I was introduced to the company when a glossy, huge catalog showed up at my house with huge photos of the dolls — Kirsten from 1854, Samantha from 1904 and Molly from 1944 — and details of their stories. I spent hours staring at its pages and imagining those girls’ lives. Soon I was checking the American Girl books out of the library and absorbing their tales of smart, spunky girls.
Of course I desperately wanted a doll. But $98 was a steep price. For months I saved money from my first job — cleaning my dad’s engineering office — in a coffee can bank. Finally I was able to order Kirsten, the Swedish immigrant doll with blond hair, blue eyes and accessories like a school bench made of a log and a St. Lucia’s wreath. I adored her. I still have her.
I grew up before the American Girl brand came into its own with magazines, customizable dolls, huge stores and, last year, a cruise. My interaction was limited to their catalogs, dolls and books, but that was enough. I found out today that my passion for the brand never died.
Working for a marketing company, I sometimes doubt that brands really have significant impacts on people’s lives. It was nice to see today that sometimes they do just that.
PS: Don’t see your old American Doll on the Web site? Apparently they retire them. They “remember” the dolls here.
I just returned from a weeklong class in the United Arab Emirates where the theme is “superlatives.”
The nation — or, more specifically its two richest emirates, Dubai and Abu-Dhabi — is rich with oil money and its sheikhs have decided to pump that money into the biggest, largest, tallest, fastest, bestest things in the world.
The Guiness records and superlatives are simply everywhere. Some examples:
- The tallest building, man made structure and free standing structure (Burj Khalifa). And yes, those are three separate records.
- The third-largest mosque in the world (The Grand Mosque in Abu-Dhabi).
- The largest chandelier in the world (The Grand Mosque).
- The largest single piece handmade rug in the world (The Grand Mosque).
- The fastest rollercoaster in the world (Ferrari World in Abu-Dhabi).
- The world’s only 7-star hotel (Burj Al Arab in Dubai).
- The largest gold ring in the world (The Gold Souq in Dubai).
- The second-largest yacht in the world (Dubai, owned by the sheikh).
- The largest mall in the world (Dubai Mall).
- The largest water cannon show in the world — think the Bellagio (Dubai Mall).
- The longest indoor ski slope in the world (Ski Dubai).
It became a running joke, a joke that was topped off when we saw this sign inside the offices of the developer of the Dubai Mall (largest mall in the world!):
When a country starts measuring the size of its plexiglass, you have to wonder. The obessession with bigger, faster, taller, better seemed to be everywhere. In some ways, it’s understandable. The United Arab Emirates has taken a pile of oil money and transformed a primitive desert into two sophisticated, modern cities. They are clearly proud of their accomplishments as they should be. Not every nation so successfully transforms itself.
But it also reeks of nouveau riche. The UAE is like a man who makes a lot of money very quickly and spends its ostantaciously simply because he can. Like that newly rich man, Dubai and Abu-Dhabi seem to want to show they can do whatever developed nations do — and even do it better. By building all these modern marvels, they are proving they can compete.
But the problem with being nouveau riche — other than accumulating a collection solid gold toilet seats — is that you often don’t spend your fortune wisely. And there are signs that Dubai and Abu-Dhabi have fallen into that trap. Dubai’s man made islands have fallen in value and, according to some folks we spoke with, may be experiencing technical difficulties. Abu-Dhabi is building a carbon zero city so far away from its city center that all its employees must drive for an hour or more to get there. Every new development is a luxury development, leaving one to wonder — is there enough money to fill all these fancy hotel rooms?
Only time will tell if Dubai and Abu-Dhabi can maintain the lead in all these biggest, tallest, fastest races. It will also determine if setting Guinness records makes a better country.
As a little girl, I hated dogs.
One of my earliest memories was of being chased around my front yard by a neighbor’s Great Dane who used to roam the streets. Looking back, I’m sure the dog just wanted to play, but from a three-year-old’s perspective he was terrifying. My grandfather used to keep a wooden baseball bat on the front porch to chase him away.
And so, for the first 12 years of my life, my family shared a home with a beautiful but anti-social white cat named Edel Weiss and I stayed away from dogs.
Then, a few years after Edel Weiss died, my parents met a border terrier at a friend’s dinner party. They were so impressed with how smart, friendly and adorable the dog was, they decided to get their own. So one day in February we drove to Virginia to pick up our new puppy.
Her AKC name was Bendywood Sleigh Belle, but we called her Belle. She was like a lot of dogs — she loved chasing squirrels, eating and playing. But she was unique as well. She was stubborn and never learned to fetch because she thought it was much more fun to train us to chase her. She learned words just by listening to us. LeCoco, Cindy, dinner, go, Grandma’s — she understood what they all meant. And she adored my father. He was the only one who was allowed to hold her on her back like a baby, rub her chin and talk baby talk to her.
Belle was such a good dog that my parents decided to get a second border terrier, a friendly but ditzy girl named Maggie. The two terriers became friends and as Belle aged and lost her hearing and then her sight, Maggie became her nursemaid.
Last week, Belle died at the ripe old doggie age of 15. I still can’t quite believe it and I’m not looking forward to visiting my parents this weekend and not seeing her there. Maggie wanders the house at night now, looking for Belle. And my dad’s voice choked up when I asked him how he was faring.
Belle left behind a family of people who loved her. But more than that, she was my first dog and the reason I love dogs today. Belle paved the way for me to say yes when my fiance proposed getting a Hungarian viszla puppy this year. Rugby is a smart, funny and loving puppy who wouldn’t be in my life today if not for Belle.
I miss her, but she left me better off. She was a good dog.
- I signed up for a b-school spring break class in Cairo. Canceled, for obvious reasons.
- I switched to a b-school spring break class in Bahrain. Canceled, for obvious reasons.
Exhibit A: Letter from a concerned friend
Would you please schedule your next spring break plans for Cuba, followed immediately by Russia, follwed by Venezuela, and then the final one in Iran? If you guys keep up your revolution streak, these are the ones I would like to take down next.
Conclusion: Maybe I have a future spreading democracy!
I know that I took some risk scheduling another Spring Break class in the Middle East after my trip to Cairo was canceled.
I know, I know.
And I know that calls for democracy can spring up even in relatively stable countries with lots of wealth.
I know, I know.
So I shouldn’t be surprised that protests have begun in Bahrain, my new Spring Break class destination. But I was surprised and disheartened this morning to hear that police resorted to violence last night.
I have a feeling Bahrain – at least as far as my Spring Break is concerned – may go the way of Cairo.
But I had to write about Brookville, a new restaurant on the Downtown Mall.
First, full disclosure: The restaurant is owned by Harrison Keevil, a close friend of my boyfriend. That fact got me in the door. But the fact that Harrison is an amazing chef with a fantastic menu of local foods demanded that I spread the word.
Brookville’s premise is relatively simple: Harrison will only cook food grown or raised within 100 miles (an idea I especially love after reading Omnivore’s Dilemma this summer).
As a result, the menu changes almost daily and the food is amazingly fresh. Harrion’s deft hand means it’s also delicious. My first time there I had the watermelon feta salad with the hanger steak. On the second trip, I got a tomato salad, a chicken leg topped with a fried egg and bacon waffles topped with warm, fresh peaches.
All of it was devine.
The even-better news for broke grad students like me? The food is completely affordable. All the appetizers are under $7 and all the entrees under $20. And the wine list is super reasonable as well.
Good food, reasonable prices and supporting local farmers — what more co
uld you ask for?
Restaurant name: Brookville
Location: 225 W. Main St (on the Downtown Mall, across from the movie theater and above Escafe)
Hours: Open for lunch and dinner, Tuesday through Saturday