I remember my first trip to the Big Apple, when I was a wee 22-year-old and helping my friend Lara move into her Hell's Kitchen apartment from her beautiful row house in San Francisco. I was interning at Atlanta Magazine and wasn't taking any classes, so I struck a deal with my editor that while all the other interns took off on the same spring break week, I'd take on all their workloads if I could get 10 days off in April. They quickly said yes, thrilled they wouldn't have to fact check all those articles themselves.
Upon arrival I had stars in my eyes -- the big buildings, the bright lights, the historic landmarks, the celebrities (a guy in a Madonna video and the owner of American Apparel were my sightings)...it was everything I was hoping my future would hold at that moment in time.
Fast forward seven years...
Lara and her boyfriend, Matt, finally decided to tie the knot, so K and I headed up for her bachelorette weekend. We hadn't been since our last trip to see Lara, and I had decided not to even try to fit in fashion-wise this time. I played it safe with my favorite gray cardigan, a cream, satin trimmed cami, pearls, dark boot cut jeans, and black flats.
"When did you become so conservative?" K asked me on the drive up.
"I don't. Know." I mean, really, what had happened to me? I used to be a little fashionista, wearing bright colors, loud patterns, lots of sparkly things, and loving the attention that came with it. But somewhere between working in a federal building and living in DC, I guess I just gave up.
It's not that DC is so conservative. I mean, it is, but not everywhere, and not as much as people who don't live in DC would think. I hear DC Fashion Week is a kind of a disaster, but generally I think the fashion here -- at least in the U Street Corridor/Dupont/Logan Circle areas (read: hipster) -- is pretty forward. Let's not kid ourselves, it's no New York (which I would be quickly reminded of later that day), but it's not all navy blue suits, either.
Even so, K and I discussed how much more we like DC than New York on the way up. DC is cleaner, not as crowded, much less fear of bed bugs...but as soon as we saw this:
...you better believe we started blasting this:
As we made our way through the Holland Tunnel toward the Lower East Side, suddenly we were 22-year-old, starstruck girls again. You can reason all you want, but there's just something about New York that takes your breath away. We ogled the tall buildings while doing our best hip hop car dancing, laughing the whole time.
Miraculously we found a parking spot right in front of Lara's apartment.
"You better thank the Lord," I told K, "because that was clearly divine intervention."
This was doubly true because K did not bring a coat, thinking New York might possibly be as warm as DC (this was right after our faux spring last week).
We lugged our stuff inside (and Noli -- her first time to NYC!) and were greeted by the bride-to-be who was in a rush to get ready for the party. First order of business: mani/pedis! Lara was trying to make boot cut capris with boots work and I quickly vetoed that idea, so instead she went with electric blue leggings with boots, a mushroom t-shirt with a pink and gray backless top over that, a khaki butt coverer (cannot be described as a skirt because it just wasn't), topped off with a turquoise knit cap.
[Insert your confusion here]. Exactly. You won't see that in DC!
We cabbed over to the salon, where the Coach Poppy model gets her nails done.
K immediately noticed they were offering the OPI Axxium manis, the manicure that lasts two weeks. I passed because I wanted to copy Miley Cyrus's Marie Claire cover look...
...and I didn't want to wear that to work -- too funky. (OMG I am such a bore.) K was happy with the fact her mani would last a while, but a New York manicure is twice the price of a DC one, and there was no foot or hand massaging. Note to self: get this done beforehand next time!
After spending my entire allowance for the month of February on my nails, we needed a quick and cheap meal. Enter Mac Bar. O to the M to the GEEEEEEEEEEEEE.
After gobbling all THAT up, we all started getting ready. Several of Lara's friends from high school had flown in for the occasion, and it was fun to catch up with them, all the upperclassmen who were so cool when I felt like such a geek (I was a year younger). Turns out several of them read my blog, too!
My attempt at being hip. Not too bad, huh? Thank you, H&M!
People began arriving for the party, and I overheard someone say Carol Hannah was on her way.
Carol Hannah? Like, THE Carol Hannah? From Project Runway? My favorite designer on the show EVER? The one who designed the hottest jersey dress last year? And who is from Charleston where I also used to live?
YES! Turns out Lara offered Carol Hannah some free marketing for a wedding dress, and in the process they became friends, and Carol Hannah was coming to the party!
"Get ahold of yourself," K warned me as I fanned my face. "Famous people like to be treated like real people."
But I couldn't hear her. Carol Hannah had just walked in, wearing a black dress with subtle sparkle and really tall shoes and brown hair.
"Hi!" I said to her, trying my best to be casual. "I'm Mary El. You're my favorite. I love your hair! Can I get you a drink? I used to live in Charleston too! Have you seen these glowsticks? You put them around your neck like this. Need some help? I can help you."
I could feel K's eyes boring into my face. I ignored her. Carol Hannah and I chatted (yes, I finally let her speak) for a moment more, and then I backed away slowly. K didn't have to say anything. I knew she was cutting me off.
But then it was time to go see the 80s cover band, and guess who I ended up in a cab with? I PROMISE I did not orchestrate it. I promise. I did not.
After some more chatting, we arrived at the club. Carol Hannah and I crossed the street together, and I couldn't hold back anymore.
"I'm sorry if I'm coming off as a stalker, but I'm so excited to meet you, and my friends said I was too much, but I just think it's so awesome that you're standing here and we're talking and I love what you did on Project Runway!!!"
"What?" she said. "You aren't being too much. We barely talked before! And I think it's exciting that you are so happy to meet me."
"Then will you take a picture with me?"
EEEEE CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?!
We went inside to find a room full of people in sweatbands and tutus. I smiled at a couple of guys, but they were not interested. Hmph, well that's one thing DC and NYC have in common.
We all danced to 80s hits for a while, but my tired, DC feet, which long ago became accustomed to little black flats, were not going to last long in my 4-inch suede heels. They were hot though, so I sucked it up for the sake of looking hip in New York. In my zeal to fit in, I realized I was towering over just about everyone in the room. (Isn't New York the land of supermodels?) Well there's another thing NYC has in common with DC.
After dancing we dragged ourselves home and crashed. The next day we had brunch then lunch then cupcakes (the DC-based Red Velvet cupcakes are WAY better than the NY ones, I have to say). What are weekends away from home for if not eating your heart out?
We had to scoot in order to get home before dark, but that ended up being a joke when it took us two hours just to get to the tunnel. I still can't figure out what was causing so much traffic. Noli was a trooper and crawled up on my shoulders and chilled out.
My little neck roll. (And yes, that's my favorite gray cardigan.)
It took us six hours to get home, but the trip had been worth it. As much as I hated to admit it, those big lights had inspired me.
The next day I did my laundry, including my favorite gray cardigan. When I took the clothes out of the washer, I noticed a string hanging off of the cardi...yep, it had unraveled and was WAY beyond repair. I thought about the days of yore when I would have never worn such a thing, and about meeting Carol Hannah, and about how I was fulfilling the dreams of my youth by living in a big city but not really making the most of it. Then I threw that cardigan in the trash without hesitation.
And the next day, for the first time this winter, I wore a dress to work. And I'm proud to report I haven't worn a cardigan once this week. Color? That's another story. But I'll get there...baby steps...