Monday, May 31, 2004

Issue 2: The same, yet different

Ways in which California is different from the DC area:

  1. The wine selection at EVERY store is far, far better (I was blown away by the wine aisle in Target!) Everyone’s a wine snob! I love it!
  2. Merging onto the highway is an art, and also involves a certain amount of luck and sheer grit. You have about 4 feet to merge in (or that’s what it feels like), and the slow lane moves around 70 mph – a bad combination.
  3. Gas is up around $2.39/gallon. I kid you not.
  4. People refer to highways as "the" – I think this is a California thing. Usage: "I went down to Pescadero. Coming back, I took the 84 to the 280."
  5. No shoes, no shirt - no problem. I’ve seen a lot of people in some form of deshabille being served. People are more casual about dress code in general – especially when you calculate in proximity to the ocean, and the weekend.
  6. Very, very few personalized license plates and/or bumper stickers – in stark contrast to Northern Virginia!
  7. Many street names are in Spanish, and I wish I knew what they meant and what they were named after! Alameda de las Pulgas ? Anyone?

How things are the same:

  1. People can’t drive here either - signals are also out of style on the West Coast, apparently. (But I’m more careful about yelling at other drivers, since a lot of people (myself included) drive with their windows down!)
  2. The culture of eating out is prevalent here – but, if it’s possible, people are even more demanding about food than in DC.
  3. People take their surroundings for granted (until friends or family come to visit.) In the same way that we rarely go to the Smithsonian, etc. without an out-of-town visitor, people here don’t hit SF/the Bay Area’s highlights (such as wine country) without guests.
  4. People are EXTREMELY plugged in. This might be limited to the people I work with, but I doubt it. I received my first Blackberried email from an attorney who was in a deposition. And as usual, I feel like a neo-Luddite, I can’t see myself going in that direction. I tried using a PDA for a little while a few years ago, and gave it up for an old-fashioned planner.

Those are just my impressions from the first week. I can’t believe I’ve been here for 10 days! In some ways, it seems way longer than that since so much has happened. On the other hand, it seems a lot shorter since I have spent most of my time at work (don’t worry – I haven’t actually been doing work!)

Wednesday, we had to play "3 truths and a lie" with a bunch of associates – I’m incredibly bad at lying! (I know, I know – what am I even doing in law school?) In my typical geeky fashion, I, embarrassingly, tried to jot down a few notes so I could keep it all straight. Here’s what I’ve learned, when it comes to people at The Firm, if it involves a run-in with the law, or interaction with reality TV "stars" – it’s probably true. The truths ranged from being arrested in a foreign country on a 16th birthday (for stealing license plates!) to artificially inseminating a cow. Here’s my list, which one is the lie? (1) I’ve changed my name twice, (2) I’ve had typhoid, (3) I was born in Lumput, Malaysia, (4) I once drove home w/no pants on.

Every Thursday, all the attorneys at our office eat lunch together. Anyone who has a new case, or who has finished a case, stands up and talks a little bit about it. This is especially cool for summer associates because you can try and get on the new cases that interest you. Of course, that would involve having some confidence in your ability to do the work – and I have none! This is a normal pattern for me. For some reason, it takes me a long time to establish for myself that I know what the hell I’m doing. It’s even worse right now because I really don’t know what’s going on! This is being exasperated by my officemate - I’ve asked him a few questions and he’s so dead-set on his responses that I think I have to be wrong. It’s always driving home (meditation through movement?) that I realize that he’s full of crap. Lesson learned: asking another summer associate is pretty close to the blind leading the blind.

Yesterday, I drove to the coast – traffic galore. Coming home, I decided to take a road I thought might hit a highway I could use to get home. All I have to say is that I wouldn’t want to drive it at night! The scenery was gorgeous – driving through redwoods, at one point there was so little light, I turned on my headlights, but a little nerve-wracking, hairpin turn after hairpin turn. I decided that it was actually a slalom for cars, or maybe a car commercial where they weren’t using "professional drivers on a closed course." The smell of the air was phenomenal, creosote-after-it-rains. This very clean, nearly astringent smell that makes you feel hopeful and energetic.

I’m coming off of a crankypants bender. As much as I (thus far) love my firm, it’s stressful– even in social situations, you’re essentially on an 11 week job interview. I thought I just needed some time to myself, but that created different grumpiness – I’m tired of every little thing turning into an "adventure." I’m sick of not knowing my way around, and not knowing where anything is. When you’re in a good, or even normal mood, getting lost and finding another way home is fun. But when you’re crabby to begin with, you just want to be able to find the damn bookstore without any drama. I hit the high/low point of crabbiness last night, and as usual – things look better today. (To ensure that the mood was broken, I bought a pair of shoes!)

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Issue 1: My California adventure begins!

Getting to San Francisco went off without a hitch. The adventure begins with picking up the rental car. I am the proud (temporary) owner of a Chevrolet Aveo. Yeah, I’d never heard of it either. I spent the weekend in Foster City (at my best friend’s fiance’s condo.) Kit (the fiance in question) drove down to visit Pat (the best friend in question), so I had the house to myself. Anyone who knows how anti-social I really am can appreciate how perfect that time to myself was, especially after my taxing last week in DC.

Some of you received slightly delirious phone calls from me on Saturday. I decided to take a mini-roadtrip to Half Moon Bay, felt ambitious and kept driving down Rt. 1. I spent an afternoon on the beach listening to the waves, reading, and just watching: the wet-suited surfers (the water’s still very cold), the beach volleyball game, the kids running down to the water and screaming when the water hit their toes, the big dog paddling around. (If you have a dog of a certain size, you should be required to take it to the beach – they just look so happy. Oh – and bandanas should be mandatory too – so damn cute!) I stayed long enough for most of the people to leave and had the beach to myself.

The Pacific is always a spiritual experience for me – here, in Malaysia, etc. I’m not sure why I respond to it so much more strongly than the Atlantic. Maybe familiarity really does breed contempt. Here, I feel like I’m curling my toes over the very edge of America. Hopefully, I will get some beach time weekly or nearly weekly while I’m out here. I left the beach and drove further south to Santa Cruz. Along the way, I bought the best cherries of my life. I think Saturday was just about a perfect day.

I moved into my place in Palo Alto on Sunday. Thankfully, moving wasn’t a real ordeal as I only brought two suitcases here. My roommate, Michele, is a Stanford law student summering at a firm in Palo Alto. She’s been enormously helpful in helping me find my feet. I’ve lived by myself since college, so I was a little worried about sharing space, but she’s wonderful. I love the condo too – it’s set up like mine in Falls Church – 2 floors, 2 master bedrooms upstairs. It’s even a little better, maybe – each bedroom has a little balcony. From mine, I have a view of the flourishing trumpet vines that have insinuated themselves throughout the lattice-work lining the walkways on my level, and the level below. The flowers are in bloom, so it’s really. The condo is set back from the street, but the complex has storefronts along the road. Here are some of the businesses: Palo Alto School of Hypnotherapy, Bay Area Biofeedback, Acupuncture Clinic, and Integrated Healing Arts. I love California!

On another note, I’m falling in love. Actually, I think I’m in love already. No, you’re right – it’s too soon, it’s probably just infatuation. I had a pretty serious crush before I ever left DC (buy me chocolates and I’m yours, especially if you have the good sense to do so during exams.) I’ve only been at The Firm two days, but it’s been dreamy. The "training" opened up with a video of one of the hiring partners describing the summer program by putting on a bunch of hats (all of which he found lying around his office): a fancy-going-to-the-horse-races hat (about being wined and dined), a chef hat (for the cooking class we will take at a partner’s house), etc. etc. The office head described what they are looking for in hiring as "seriousness of purpose, goofiness of heart." Goofiness! Could this place be more me??

We had a big happy hour at the end of the day where everyone really knew a lot about us. One of the first-year associates let it slip: you know in action movies, they have that sequence where everyone sits around a big table in the war room and they flash up a grainy photo taken on the sly, and then someone talks about the spy in question: where they were born, what their M.O is, etc. etc.? Apparently, the firm did that with the summer associate class. The firm held meetings where our "mugshots" were blown up and the audience was briefed on the highlights of our resume, interviews, etc. Kinda creepy, and yet kinda flattering? Maybe that’s just me.

Our office has two buildings right next to each other. About 3 weeks ago, a number of people moved from one building to the other. Somehow, I ended up in the office leader’s old office. Not to worry – I am sharing it with someone, but it’s a HUGE corner office. Mike, my officemate, goes to Georgetown and lives in Clarendon. How weird is it to have come all the way across the country to share an office with him? Speaking of sharing – so far, I really like the other summer associates. They are a personable, friendly bunch and very quick to laugh. (And I’m not the only smartass!) My mentors are wonderful too. Theresa, my associate mentor, interviewed me in October, and Heidi, my partner mentor, I’m just getting to know. I went out to lunch with them today and the conversation turned to Brad Pitt’s "heiney" (not my term), so I’d say we feel pretty comfortable with each other. I’m so comfortable, in fact, that I’m hoping to have them over to my place for dinner some time soon. I thought mentors were chosen based on practice areas and interests, but, according to Theresa, they are chosen based on personality! I’d like to think that I’m a little bit harder to read – but from the time I’ve spent with my mentors, it seems that the Rebecca, the recruitment coordinator, has a pretty good sense of who I am.

I know I’m gushing, and I’m sorry. I get my first work assignment tomorrow afternoon, and I’m sure the honeymoon will be over.