Brooklyn, NY to Louisville, KY Summer 2017

We drove a lot when I was a kid. Road trips were fairly standard as the highway was often the most efficient mode of transportation for getting to the small town that my grandparents made their home in, or to the tiny island off the coast of South Carolina where we often vacationed. I know as a child I complained from my spot in the back seat, murmuring the dreaded, “Are we there yet?” But I’ve grown to enjoy immensely the feeling of the road beneath my wheels…or under someone else’s wheels that I’ve borrowed, as I no longer have any of my own — such is life in New York.

Summer is the perfect time for a road trip, especially if that road trip means leaving Brooklyn. Summer in the city brings hot sticky days and nights that are not much better, as the stench of hot garbage invades every space. Sounds lovely doesn’t it? Trust me: Stick with your idyllic images of New York in the fall, because New York in the summer is anything but. So sometimes you just need to climb in a friend’s car and escape, and for Zelda and me, the perfect escape is back to our hometown of Louisville.

Road trips hardly ever play out the way we want them to. We’re too often hindered by time or money constraints to really give in to the romantic ideals of just following the road wherever it may take us. But sometimes we can almost get there. We can choose a rough approximate of a route, stop when we feel compelled, and let the journey be the destination. I’ve done this once before. For spring break during  my senior year of college, I foreswore the beach to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway and explore the wonders of the Appalachians with friends, eventually dragging them back to my hometown. It was pretty much everything I wanted. I stood on the Eastern Continental Divide. I saw the sun set over the Blue Ridge Parkway. I even taught a friend to drive a stick.

I found in planning that road trip that the best course of action is to have a few points of interest picked out to guide your route, and then to let the journey do the rest. This summer, I’m taking friends-of-the-blog Jason and Sarah for a grand tour of the old homestead, and since they are among those rare unicorns known as “New Yorkers with cars,” we will be kicking it road trip style. Now I know we won’t have time for the leisurely journey of my dreams (#adultingproblems), but if we  did, this is what it would look like. This is my rough guide to get your road trip from North to South started, from my current home to my always home. Turn on our first-ever playlist, Highway Cruisin’, and join me on the adventure.

Brooklyn, New York to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

When you’re leaving New York, if you live in Brooklyn, I highly recommend you leave via Staten Island over the Verrazano Bridge. The tolls are a bitch, but it’s worth avoiding having to drive anywhere in Manhattan. Plus, the bridge itself is beautiful. If you’ve got at least three people, you can make use of that high-occupancy-vehicle lane and wave goodbye to the non-carpoolers as you speed by them (I especially revelled in this last fall when we left the city around rush hour, and traffic was at an almost standstill). As you cross into New Jersey via the Goethals Bridge (not as picturesque as the Verrazano, but it does the job), we can really get started.

New Jersey should come with an initial snack stop, preferably at Wawa. I learned of the wonder of Wawa from the many Mid-Atlantic dwellers at my college, who constantly sang its praises. It is, unequivocally, the best road trip food stop ever. Cue indie movie shopping montage: Grab a hot sandwich and a cold fountain drink; stock up on sour gummies, salty pretzels, and, if you’re lucky, some Old Bay Chips; and head back to the road, fully ready to appreciate the wonders that await.

Our first stop is Bethlehem, Pennsylvania — once the center of the American Industrial Revolution and the home of Bethlehem Steel. Fun fact: The Verrazzano Bridge you crossed to leave Brooklyn was constructed from Bethlehem Steel, not to mention many other American landmarks (including but not limited to: the Chrysler Building, Alcatraz, and the Hoover Dam). Bethlehem Steel declared bankruptcy in the early 21st century, and the steel plant has since been turned into a thriving arts and culture district called SteelStacks. The plant’s five tall blast furnaces, now defunct, stand as a backdrop to this new area, which is home to several arts venues as well as a casino. If you show up on a weekend, there’s bound to be something happening, plus it’s a short walk to any number of restaurants and bars in Bethlehem’s South Side. If you’re feeling done for the day, you can stay at the Historic Hotel Bethlehem. It’s supposedly haunted.

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

If you’re like me, your vacations mostly revolve around which museums you can go to and what historical sites you can see. The history nerd in me will never die, and our second guiding point on this fictional journey is an homage to that. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, is best known as the site of the Civil War battle that bears its name. The battleground is now part of the Gettysburg National Military Park, and in these times when the NPS is leading our social media rebellion, I feel it’s right to pay a little visit to one of our nation’s hallowed spaces. Plus I’ve wanted to visit since I had to memorize Lincoln’s famous address in the fourth grade.

The Battle of Gettysburg was the deadliest of the whole Civil War in terms of casualties, and President Abraham Lincoln, in his address, originally dedicated the battlefield as the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, four months after the end of the battle. If you’re pressed for time, you can make a stop at the visitor center, get the official map, and take a self-guided tour of the important spots via car (or you can download the map here). If you have a little more time, the site has daily talks and hikes led by park rangers. We here at Zelda and Scout usually opt for the latter; the people who work at places like this usually have an unrestrained amount of passion for the place, and, if you’re lucky, a little bit of theatrical ability as well (Years ago, Zelda and I had a particularly good experience with a Beefeater named Alan at the Tower of London. 10/10 would recommend).

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to Huntington, West Virginia

But maybe history’s not your thing, or you just don’t want to spend the day wandering an old battlefield. Just get back in the car and head southwest toward the great state of West Virginia. I have some mixed memories about road trips through West Virginia. The fastest way to get from Louisville to Baltimore (where I attended college) was to cut diagonally through the state, and for a long time it was the bane of my existence: a stretch of 100 or so miles where there was nary a gas station to stop at, or so it seemed. But when you’re not trying to get from point A to point B in the most expedient manner possible, West Virginia really lives up to its state slogan: Wild and Wonderful.

Our next official stop is the greater Huntington area, but it’s a long six hours from Gettysburg to there, so I urge you to give in to your spontaneous road trip heart and stop whenever the spirit moves you along the way. Maybe grab a bite to eat in Morgantown, or pause to enjoy nature at one of the many state parks, or make a pitstop in Weston at the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum where you can take a paranormal tour — whatever floats your proverbial boat.

Huntington lies on the border of Kentucky and West Virginia, just adjacent to the town of Ashland – close enough that they could be lumped together as one greater metropolitan area (in order to get over my years of ingrained anti-West-Virginia bias, I hang on to that little nugget). West Virginia tends to get a bad rap, but it really does have a lot to offer. Huntington is home to Marshall University, several historic districts, a number of cultural festivals throughout the year, and the internet’s own McElroy Brothers (who’ve done a number on your author’s preconceptions about West Virginia).

If you’re there in July, you might make the West Virginia Hot Dog festival, and in August there’s the Rails and Ales Beer festival. If there’s not a festival of some sort going on, Huntington has eleven public parks equipped with walking trails and footbridges to help you take in the suburban Appalachian scenery. If you’re more of a thrill seeker, you can check out Camden Park and ride the Big Dipper, a wooden roller coaster built in 1958 (I’m more of a log flume girl myself, and they’ve got one of those too!).

Before you head out, stop at Jolly Pirate Donuts to grab some good good snacks to go in their signature treasure chest.  

Huntington, West Virginia to Louisville, Kentucky

On this final stretch of the trip, the only stops you should make are at distilleries (okay maybe there are a few other stops that might be worthwhile — some scenic overlooks, a cave or two — but you’re reading this blog, so we assume you’re in it for the bourbon). Woodford Reserve, Four Roses, and Buffalo Trace are just off your route, and I know from experience that both tours are well worth a stop. Buffalo Trace is an especially scenic distillery, and the guides there are as passionate about the history as they are about the bourbon. You will learn things, but you will also get to drink (though you do need to drive to your final destination, so drink responsibly).

Take the rest of the drive up I-64 to reach our final destination of Louisville. I’ll save my tips for all the things you can do there for another post — or several  — but in the meantime you can read about some of Zelda’s picks in the New York Times!)

Sometimes a break isn’t about where you go. Sometimes it’s just about taking a second to appreciate the scenery. Don’t just roll those windows down: Actually look at what you may be passing by. And if something strikes your fancy, go ahead and stop for a spell. You’ve got plenty of time.

Photos via: AJ Indam, CyberxrefWV funnymanKittugwiki

A Short History of the Mint Julep

The first week of May has us here at Zelda & Scout in intense party prep mode. This Saturday, we dust off our wide-brim hats and our fascinators, and pull out our many years’ worth of glassware, and make some probably-less-than-stellar decisions regarding both gambling and inebriation. Because the first Saturday in May brings the Kentucky Derby, which at Churchill Downs means the consumption of hundreds of thousands of mint juleps.

And sure there are people who will tell you that mint juleps are gross, and taste like soap, and are only good on Derby. But we are staunch defenders of the julep tradition and its importance as a truly Kentuckian drink, no matter what some articles in the course of this research might like to suggest. Most agree that while the julep probably wasn’t invented in Kentucky, (though the lore does state we can lay claim to another classic bourbon cocktail — the old fashioned — so our whiskey bona fides still check out), since its inception, the great Commonwealth has become its one true home.

The mint julep has been the official drink of the Kentucky Derby since 1938, but the julep has a long and storied history before that. In the 18th century, “julep” was a general term that applied to a number of sugar-based cocktails popular during the Revolutionary War period. Often these sugary elixirs were used as means of masking the taste when ingesting medicine…or you know just alcohol, which was also medicine. It could be made with a number of spirits: rum, gin, brandy etc. But bourbon whiskey is what stuck.

The word “julep” itself is originally derived from the Spanish julepe, which in turn comes from the Persian root gulab meaning rosewater. Thus julep was applied to any drinks in which sweetness was the dominant note. The addition of mint to what we now recognize as our mint julep may have originally been intended to soothe stomach pains, but there is no definitive proof.

The julep slowly changed from a medicinal mixture into one of leisure. As its popularity increased, it became a status symbol, largely because of the ice. Ice was, rather ironically, a hot commodity at the time: Only those with a certain amount of wealth had access to ice houses, much less the ability to crush the ice as fine as we know it today. By the time people began serving their juleps in silver cups, it was officially the drink of the elite.

So you see the julep is an old drink, and a simple one: just sugar, bourbon whiskey and mint (you can find Zelda’s tried and true recipe here, along with laments of New York juleps gone wrong). And while it may not have been born in the Bluegrass state, it did come into its own in Kentucky, as a way to imbibe in the local libation of choice: bourbon. Eventually it was introduced to our nation’s capital, legend has it, by Kentucky Senator Henry Clay, and once the politicians got a hold of it, we were off to the races. And though some may associate it with lazy Southern afternoons, sweating daintily on verandas, we Kentuckians know better.

The julep is a city drink, one that gained fame at the bars of the ritziest hotels in the South’s grandest cities, and as such, it is a drink of action. It’s the drink you hold aloft with one hand as your horse crosses the finish line to win your big bet of the day. It’s the drink you probably spill a little of in your haste to hold onto your hat as you run across a muddy infield. It’s the perfect drink for a hot and humid Saturday in May, whether you’re in the grandstand, the infield, or even on a roof somewhere in Brooklyn.

The julep helps us lean into the decadence, with our fancy cups and our perfect sprigs of mint garnish. It helps us embrace the depravity as we make some questionable decisions after our third, or fourth, or fifth julep of the evening (wait, what do you mean it’s only 4:30?). There will always be those who claim it’s too sweet, or that it tastes like medicine. There will be those who can only stomach it, begrudgingly, on Derby Day. But for Zelda & Scout, whether it’s the traditional Early Times or the updated Old Forester, on every day of the year, the mint julep tastes like home.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Making Matzah You Want to Eat

It’s that time of year again! My favorite Jewish holiday is upon us. Yes, Passover is here, and along with all my favorite things — gathering around the table with friends, drinking wine, and opening doors for invisible guests — it also means eight days without the comfort of leavened carbs. If you know me, you knows that this definitely qualifies as a hardship. Instead of the glorious wheat products that normally make up the bulk of my diet, we get eight days of the cardboard-adjacent cracker substance known as “matzah.” But all is not lost! Today, the first full day of Passover 2017, I have scoured the edges of the internet to bring you ten recipes that make matzah actually tasty. The Jews of the internet have taken to Pinterest and Tumblr and what-have-you to take matzah to a palatable, even delicious, level. Enjoy.

Matzah Brittle: This recipe is first on my list just because I firmly believe the best way to make anything taste better is to cover it in chocolate and caramel. There’s really nothing better. If you make this right you’ll want to eat it even when it’s not Passover. In fact it’s so addictive, in Zelda’s house it’s known as matzah crack.

Matzah Brei: Matzah Brei is probably the most traditional way we Ashkenazi Jews have to make the unleavened fare of our ancestors taste better. The concept is simple. Take some matzah, break it into pieces, soften with water or milk, add eggs, and fry. It’s like a Passover frittata, or Pesach french toast. Slather with syrup and you can almost dream it’s a waffle.

Matzah Granola: Snacking is the hardest part of staying #Kosher4Passover, so do yourself a favor and prepare a bunch of this munchy-worthy granola ahead of time. Then you can snack away to your heart’s content!

Matzah S’mores: S’mores are always amazing, and while the loss of the graham cracker shell does hurt the overall s’more taste, the flavor of the matzah is mostly hidden by all the good-good melty chocolate and marshmallow. For a cross-cultural Easter/Passover experience, use marshmallow peeps instead of regular marshmallows.  

Matzah Latkes: Why not combine these two bastions of Jewish food? Latkes aren’t just for Chanukah, people. We can savor the delight of the potato pancake all year round! Even if it’s more potato than pancake during Passover.

Matzah Lasagna: Anything you can do with noodles, you can do with matzah, or so this recipe posits. Having experimented thoroughly in my younger years, I believe it to be true. Your matzah lasagna is going to be slightly more crunchy than the traditional sort, but it will still be good.

Matzah Pizza: Teenage Scout’s favorite way to eat matzah, covered in cheese and marinara sauce. It’s just pizza! Really, really, really thin-crust pizza. There’s room for a lot of variety in toppings here, so you can really hide the taste of cardboard if you try hard enough.

Matzah Puppy Chow: For some Jews (cough-Zelda-cough), kitniyot are not off limits, so there’s really no need for this recipe as rice or corn Chex are #K4P. But alas for us Ashkenazi’s they are not…for some inexplicable reason. So we have resorted to re-creating a beloved recipe with Matzah to…mixed results. We’re sticking with the theme here: If you cover something in enough chocolate, it can never really be bad.

Matzah Cake: This is one for the more ambitious among you. It turns matzah into a dessert that almost looks restaurant-worthy. It does require two whole boxes of of the stuff though, so it’s mostly for the people who stocked up beforehand (not the Scout’s of the world, who will wander into the grocery the day before Passover and be relegated to making the last box of off-brand matzah on the shelf last the entire eight days of the holiday).

Matzoah Kugel: It’s fitting to end with this recipe. My children, what we’ve learned today is that the key to making matzah taste less like cardboard and more like actual food is drown it in as many other ingredients as possible. Hide it under apples and brown sugar and eggs and never look back.

Photos via: The kitchn, Love + Cupcakes, Martha Stewart Living, Ingredients Inc, Martha Stewart, DelishSkinny taste, What Jew Wanna eat, Living sweet moments, Epicurious

Things We Have in Common, Like Hating Duke

It’s that time of year again, when the entirety of my attention turns to college basketball and the never-actually-dormant UK fan in me comes bursting forth to the front and center of my life: March Madness. I love March Madness: it’s one of my absolute favorite times of the year. I love the ups and downs, the last second buzzer beaters, the Cinderella stories. I love watching my team defy or live up to the expectations (depending on where the expectations lie). I love brackets that get busted.  I love an underdog story. And I love it when Duke loses.

The second round of the NCAA Tournament wrapped up on Sunday night, and in the final game, Duke lost. This might not seem important to some of you, but if that’s the case, it’s likely you didn’t grow up in Kentucky or North Carolina (…or perhaps a select few other states, but those two are the big ones). Nothing brings people together like a common enemy.

Friend-of-the-blog Sarah is a UNC fan. She comes by it honestly, as she actually went to UNC Chapel Hill, whereas I was just born into my love of the UK Wildcats. Initially, I thought this might be a hindrance to our friendship but was willing to try to make it work. When you’re friends with a whole lotta nerds, you take sports fans where you can get ’em (though I maintain that being a sports fan is just being a nerd about sports). Then, when I was helping move her and also-friend-of-the-blog Jason into their last apartment, I stumbled upon this book:

With that, I knew our friendship was cemented. Now objectively, I know that hate on a real visceral level really isn’t okay. But I hate — like, really hate — Duke. Now I don’t know anyone who loves college basketball who feels ambivalent about the Blue Devils (and let’s be honest: very few of those feelings are of a positive nature). Maybe there are people out there who would disagree on that, but I don’t know them. And then there’s probably a portion of people reading this who have no idea what I’m talking about. Feel free to stop reading now, or continue in a sports-talk-induced haze, if you dare.

As a Kentucky fan, I can trace my hatred for Duke back to 1992 (okay, so, technically I don’t actually remember the East Regional Final of 1992, but I know that’s where my hatred of Duke started). It’s mostly Christian Laettner’s fault. He’s the one who scored a lucky, overtime, buzzer beater shot that dashed Kentucky’s chances at glory, in a year that was supposed to be our year. The UK team  that season was called the Unforgettables, known for the four Kentucky-native seniors who had been with the team through a two-year probation from the tournament, punishment for an old teammate’s mistakes. Those guys stuck it out, waited to get their shot at the title. And then at the last second, Laettner took it all away with a shot he shouldn’t even have been able to take (having committed a foul that should have had him ejected from the game earlier in the second half). That stupid last-ditch effort gets played over and over again every March, in every montage, on every channel. It even has its own Wikipedia page.

Now I’m not alone in my antipathy toward Laettner. He’s one of the most reviled players in college basketball history; ESPN even made a documentary about it. And he’s got company.  Duke’s an easy team to hate, the spoiled rich kids of college basketball, and every season there’s one who seems more annoying and entitled than the rest. When I was in high school it was JJ Redick. This year, it’s Grayson Allen.  Notice how Duke has its own category in this info-bracket from the now-defunct Grantland :

So this year, as I readied myself for another month of March Madness, I was sad to see that Duke was a likely favorite to win the whole tournament. They were ranked #2, and the East Region, historically the toughest quadrant of the bracket, was the weakest it had been in years. By all appearances, they had a pretty straight shot to the Final Four if they just kept being f***ing Duke. They wouldn’t even need to try that hard. I organized a bracket pool this year, so I took mine very seriously — weighing records and stats instead of just which teams I like, watching as many games as possible. I’m in it to win it. And so I reluctantly placed Duke in the Final Four, hoping I could get at least some money out of it in the end.

So imagine my (pleasant) surprise when the SEC’s own South Carolina, to whom I hadn’t given much credit, held on to oust the Blue Devils from the tournament this past Sunday night.  And my favorite part of Duke losing? The camaraderie between all the basketball fans on my Facebook and Twitter feeds, regardless of affiliation. I saw UNC and South Carolina fans celebrating side by side. I was reminded that this website exists. It was beautiful to see that no matter how much Louisville and UK fans fight about their respective teams, we can all agree that “Duke is unequivocally the worst” (direct quote from noted University of Louisville fan, Zelda). A Duke loss is a powerful thing. It can turn enemies into friends. It can unite the Carolinas.

 

So if by some act of the March Madness gods UNC and UK  play each other in the South Regional Final, no matter how uncomfortable and anxiety-inducing watching that game will be for Sarah and me, I love that we can at least find solace in the fact that Duke can’t win the 2017 NCAA Tournament. I guess what I’m saying is that in these trying times, when nothing else makes sense, we should focus on the things we have common, the things that bring us together — like hating Duke.

The Old Fashioned Way

We all have that one drink: the cocktail standard that we order when we’re feeling fancy, and we want a little more than Blank & Blank. I’m talking about the go-to when you’re dressed up for the night, and you want to feel like your drink made as much effort as you did to be standing in this bar wearing your new bomb-ass boots. For me, that cocktail is the Old Fashioned. And if I want to class up my personal joint (and I am assured that the bartender has time), I order what I consider to be the most classic of bourbon cocktails.

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If it’s not the most classic, it is probably the oldest, or at least the oldest to be given the name “cocktail.” The term cocktail can be traced as far back as 1806, and in the strictest version of the the term it means a drink that is composed of any spirit, sugar, water, and bitters…so if you know the recipe, you can see how the Old Fashioned would be one of the oldest. But in case you don’t know, this is the Scout (and generally) accepted recipe:

Put some sugar (1 cube, a bar spoon full, or some simple) at the bottom of the glass, add two healthy dashes of bitters, and stir or muddle, depending on your sugar type. Add a couple ice cubes and a healthy serving of bourbon (rye is acceptable if bourbon for some reason is unavailable). Stir to combine. Finish with the essence of an orange peel (twist it above the glass to release all those good oils and rub it around the rim) and garnish with said orange peel.

Note: Some people will tell you there should be a cherry in there; those people, in my personal opinion, are wrong. God forbid someone muddles said cherry, and bless their hearts if it was a maraschino. Now I realize I may not be in the majority here; said people include the apparent namers of the cocktail, and a certain hometown establishment for Zelda and me, The Pendennis Club (Maybe if they let more women in, they’d get it right…but I digress. More on them later.). You do you, I guess: Just keep all cherries away from my old fashioned’s, please.


The name “Old Fashioned” probably initially referred to all drinks made in this spirit-sugar-water-bitters style. The term came into prominence in the late nineteenth century and referred mostly to drinks made in “an old fashioned style,” as opposed to with newfangled liqueurs and the like. There were old fashioned cocktails made with gin and whiskey and brandy (see: a gin version mentioned in 1862’s Jerry Thomas’s Bartender’s Guide: How to Mix Drinks). But the whiskey and bourbon versions gained more and more popularity as the nineteenth century turned into the 20th, and were soon cemented as The-with-a-capital-T Old Fashioned.

The official story is that the cocktail we know today as the Old Fashioned was invented in the 1880’s at Louisville’s own aforementioned Pendennis Club, by a bartender and whiskey magnate called James Pepper. He invented the drink and mixed the very first one in Louisville, and he later brought it up to New York’s City’s Waldorf-Astoria, where it really made its name (The old fashioned apparently has a similar life trajectory to Zelda’s and mine, fancy that).

In 1885, George Kappeler published Modern American Drinks, which included the recipe for The Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail: “Dissolve a small lump of sugar with a little water in a whiskey-glass; add two dashes Angostura bitters, a small piece of ice, a piece of lemon-peel, one jigger whiskey. Mix with small bar-spoon and serve, leaving spoon in glass.” And essentially, that was that. The recipe has been slightly modified back and forth since then, but has stayed relatively close to the original.

In the 1930’s, the orange peel and cherry garnish were introduced, instigating turmoil among drinkers over what actually makes the perfect old fashioned. But you know you’ve got a good bartender when they ask “How do you like your old fashioned” after you order. Whether you stick to the traditional four-ingredient base, or add some orange zest, or take yours with brandy like they do in Wisconsin, or I suppose even if you muddle yours with a maraschino cherry (*sigh*), the old fashioned, in some way, shape, or form — is here to stay.

The great thing about a classic cocktail is that there’s endless potential to put a new spin on it, and bars these days continue to seize the opportunity, making them with agave or sorghum or whatever they can find. We are, as they say, in the age of the craft cocktail, and you can be sure that the Old Fashioned is in no danger of becoming what its name might suggest. But if you’re making me one? Please, no cherries.

Sources: Thrillist–The History of the Old Fashioned; The Mix–The History of the Cocktail

On Representation in Pop Culture

It’s been a rough couple of weeks here in the United States. I’m scared; most people that I come into daily contact with are too. And we have every reason to be. We’re living in the backstory of a dystopian novel right now. And in these frightening times, I’ve been thinking a lot about identity and privilege and personhood. I’m lucky: I’m a white woman in a liberal city, and I come from a solid upper-middle/lower-upper-class economic background. I’ve got parents who will support me if things get rough. I’ll be okay because of who I am. I wish everyone could have that feeling.

It’s hard for me to talk about our political atmosphere without getting overwhelmed with anxiety. There are a million things wrong right now, and the sheer depth and breadth of them all is overwhelming. I’m not going to be able to break them all down and figure out how to combat all of them, but I’m going to try my best to do as much as I can. I’m going to write postcards and call my senators and do something every week that maybe helps our collective souls. One step at a time. And because dialogue is important, and one has a responsibility to use whatever size platform one possesses, I want to use this week’s post to talk about media and representation and why it matters.

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As I said, in many ways, I’m very lucky. I get to look at magazine covers and billboards and see faces like mine generally doing okay. I’m lucky enough to see people who look like me on television, in movies, described in books. These characters have jobs and families, experience love and happiness and adventures. I’m grateful for that. But not everyone is so lucky. One of the things that Zelda and I often grapple with on this blog is the feeling that our views are too insular. We’re two white girls with very similar upbringings, offering one viewpoint on the South and New York and our lives. And that’s hard for us. We want to bring in other voices, to highlight them and their stories as much as we can, and while we try, we don’t always succeed. Even looking back at our list of our favorite Southern movies from a couple weeks ago, there’s not a ton of diversity there. We know we need to do better. All media needs to do better. If we only tell a single story, how are we supposed to understand the struggles of others?

People of every walk of life deserve to see versions of themselves illuminated. It helps them accept who they are and stops the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes. And on the flip side, one of the best ways to cultivate empathy is to hear human stories about people of different backgrounds or different identities from your own. It helps you to imagine others complexly, to understand the things that bring us together and celebrate the things that set us apart. And while clearly I don’t have it as tough as some people, I can speak from personal experience when I say that representation is really important. Here’s why: I am bisexual. I came out to my small group of friends a little over a year ago, and to a lot of my family…just now, in the previous sentence.

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I come from a place where being queer wasn’t maligned, but it was heavily stereotyped. Certain people “looked gay” or “acted gay.” There wasn’t such a thing as a queer spectrum; identities were either homosexual or heterosexual, and bisexuality was for girls in a “rebellious” phase or for people who just weren’t ready to be “fully” gay yet. That kind of environment is still the case for many people. And these biases  proved really hard for me to get over, especially the idea that being bi was like some sort of sexual purgatory you were in until you “picked a side.” I didn’t learn about the Kinsey scale until college, and even then I wasn’t totally comfortable with claiming my pretty central place on it. There was a lot of socialized thinking that having a “girl crush” was a totally straight thing to have — and maybe for some people it was. But not for me. Slowly, I acknowledged my identity internally near the end of college. It would take years after that before I was able to come to terms with it publicly.

I was able to come out when I did because I was in an environment that made me feel safe, surrounded a strong support system. But the journey to that point, and since then, as I became comfortable telling people and owning my identity, was also thanks in large part to positive representation — specifically two characters: Clarke Griffin of The 100 and Darryl Whitefeather of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. These two are not by any means the first bisexual characters to grace television screens — far from it — but they were the first two that I was able to really connect with. They were the first, on shows that I watched, whose bisexuality was depicted as just another facet of their personality, not the be-all-end-all of who they were. It wasn’t overly sexualized; it wasn’t portrayed as a phase. It was brought up simply for what it was: attraction to two genders. It wasn’t the one thing that defined them, but it also wasn’t insignificant. It was a part of their story the same way it was a part of mine.

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My first encounter with bisexuality in the media was not as nuanced. The O.C. brought me the character of Alex Kelly, played by Olivia Wilde, back in 2004. Alex was great because she introduced me to the fact that there was such a thing as bisexuality. But a lot of her arc, and of Wilde’s performance, was hyper-sexualized. She didn’t have much of a personality outside of being a significant other to both Seth and Marissa, and with Marissa in particular her character seemed to exist as an object for rebellion and a method for Marissa to shock her mother, rather than as a three-dimensional human being with whom Marissa shared an intimate connection.

At the time, I didn’t think much of it. I was still a long way off from exploring this aspect of myself, so I wasn’t really looking for representations of this part of me. But as I went on, I continued to encounter bi characters that were similarly oversexualized, or even more so. The media made it seem like being bisexual meant you had to have a lot of threesomes, which just isn’t true. You can be bisexual and have threesomes, just like you can be heterosexual or homosexual or queer and have threesomes. But you can also be bisexual and not have any sex. You can only date one gender and still be attracted to two. Each person’s sexuality — bi or otherwise — is as unique and diverse as people themselves. But until recently, it seemed like all the bi characters I saw on tv and in films were one-dimensional sex fiends. And that started to hurt.

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Now Clarke and Darryl are far from the only bisexual television characters nowadays (which is awesome), and they’re far from perfect. They’re both white, which is not exactly groundbreaking, and they both come from relatively privileged backgrounds. But nevertheless, they’re the ones I connected with. I identified with them because they’re rounded, interesting characters whose identity is not rooted solely in their bisexuality. Clarke’s got other things on her mind besides relationships, having to save the world multiple times and all. But sometimes she wants comfort or companionship or a little fun, and she can get it from men or women. And while there are periods  of the show where she is in an exclusive relationship with a woman, that does not invalidate her bisexuality. Then there’s Darryl, who is wonderfully unafraid to claim his newly discovered identity — sometimes in song. His sexuality-discovery arc is one of the most genuine things I’ve seen on television.

I am so grateful to live in a time where Clarke and Darryl are on TV, and network TV at that. But the world needs so much more. We need more Clarke’s and more Darryl’s. We need more Annalise Keatings, more Magnuses, more Korras and Asamis. We need more queer characters and trans characters and characters who fall all along the spectrum. And representation is not just about gender or sexuality. We need more characters of color, more Kamala Khan’s and Miles Morales’s. We need Nyota Uhura’s and Zoe Washburne’s and Toshiko Sato’s. We need Jane Villanueva’s and Jessica Huang’s. Cassian Andor’s and Bhodi Rook’s. We need more movies like Moonlight and Hidden Figures, shows like Atlanta and Master of None. We need to let actors of color play characters whose central trait isn’t their race. We need to stop white-washing Asian characters. We need John Cho as a romantic lead, as an action lead, as a period drama lead, as…you know what, you can make John Cho the lead of anything, please and thank you.

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It is 2017, and with the world more diverse than ever, we need to acknowledge that the straight, cis, white Protestant is not the default person. So in this season of resolutions, let’s all try to expand our views of others. Let’s read and watch and listen to and elevate stories that aren’t our own. Let’s strive to see people as complex beings. The more diverse our media becomes, the better we can build empathy for the people in the world who aren’t like us — whatever “us” may be — so that we may understand the struggles of others and stand next to them on the frontlines of resistance. Let us build the modern canon so that it actually looks like the world today. The best thing about world building is that your world can be free from the socio-economic-political-racial-sexual-etc. divides of reality. You can make your own rules. And what comes out can be beautiful.

Pics via: LoquaciousLiterature; Fox; The CW; Hypable

Home Away From Home: Hinterlands

Both Zelda and I have come to the point in our New York lives where we consider Brooklyn home. This isn’t just a temporary sojourn anymore; we live here. And while I know Kentucky will always be home-home, there’s definitely been a shift in how we think about things. This Home Away from Home series is more about places in the city that are there for me, that are a meeting place for the family of friends that I’ve managed to acquire here…basically just a series of my favorite bars. These are the bars that have become a safe haven and a warm welcome in the cold winter. And why shouldn’t my not-home homes be bars? There’s something really great about being a regular at a bar and how a particular barstool or table can become just as comfortable as your sofa at home.

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I’m no stranger to being a regular, but I’ve left my once-a-week sojourns to The Sampler and The Way Station behind this past year. There are a lot of reasons; money is one of them, but time is the main reason. Having a full-time job, despite the extra income, has actually decreased my happy hour attendance. My work commute no longer takes me past my regular bar, and that in itself is a reason for my decreased attendance. And having to be at work on Mondays has severely decreased the regularity of karaoke for my whole group of friends. I’ll always love those places, though, and they’ll always be a second home, whether I’m there once a week or once a quarter.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t find new places, new corners to take me in as I establish my home here in Brooklyn. To tell the tale of how the south Brooklyn bar Hinterlands became one of my homes away from home, I have to go back to last summer.

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Last June, friends-of-the-blog Sarah and Jason encouraged me to listen to the My Brother, My Brother and Me podcast. In listening to all 300+ episodes, I found a deep love for the McElroy family and their comedic stylings; so, like the obsessive consumer I am, I branched out into other podcasts on their network, Maximum Fun. There’s a lot there, and my then-new job gave me a lot of time sit and stare at computers while people made jokes in my headphones.

These podcasts led me to a fan group on Facebook: all people who shared my sense of humor and values and were geographically located in my area! How convenient. As we’ve lamented, it’s hard making friends as an adult. I never thought meet-up groups would be a thing for me, but here we are. We karaoke once a month, we do bar crawls, we host board game nights, and we do it all at Hinterlands.

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Last Summer, The Flop House podcast co-host, Stuart Wellington, and his wife Sharlene opened Hinterlands. His podcast being on the MaxFun network, it sort of became a haven for a lot of us — myself, Sarah, and Jason in particular since it’s so close to their apartment, which means I have an automatic place to crash. But the thing that makes it a home-away-from-home is that it’s a place that I feel safe being me. I’ve had more open and honest conversations sitting in that bar than anywhere else in the past year. In a corner, I’ve conversed about politics and social issues in the south. At those barstools, I watched the Pokémon Go craze begin. On the back patio, I’ve cried about the election results. I’ve celebrated marriages and jobs and birthdays. I’ve sat in the back room with twenty other people and yelled about Nick’s terrible decisions on the most recent iteration of The Bachelor.

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The older I get, the more I realize I don’t have to be a certain way or do certain things to impress people or to fit in. I’ve tried to stop worrying what others think so much (tried being key — I’m an INFP, so I can’t give it up totally). Doing that successfully has a lot to do with the environment. At Hinterlands, I don’t have to impress anyone. Fitting in is showing up and being willing to appreciate the snozzberries taste like snozzberries wallpaper and the subtle role-playing game-themed decor. That’s all it takes. And you’re home.