You are viewing US Travel

Roaring ’20s-Style Bachelorette Weekend in Palm Springs

The first time I met my friend V’s fiancé KJ, he joined us and another friend for hiking yoga.

I knew KJ was smitten with V when I sensed how important it seemed to him that her friends like him. I took to him immediately: he’s genuine, kind, quirky funny and treats her so well. He fit in with us like an old friend.

V and KJ graduated from the same university and are even in photos together, but didn’t really know each other in college. They re-entered each others’ lives five years later when they met at a run club in Los Angeles. Few who know them were surprised when, four years after their reconnection, V and KJ announced their engagement.

To celebrate her upcoming nuptials, I joined V and nine of her college friends (she and I met at work) who drove or flew in from Los Angeles, Hawaii and Virginia for a three and a half day “roaring ’20s”-themed bachelorette party in Palm Springs.

The bridal party booked a four-bedroom mid-century home, including a heated pool and hot tub, just a few minutes from downtown Palm Springs.

Though my flight from San Francisco was only a little over an hour to Palm Springs, turbulence plagued the last 15 minutes. As I gripped both arm rests, wondering if this might be where it all ends, I scolded myself for not having made friends with the guy next to me. He might be the last person I see. I should at least know his name. I silently protested: “I’m not ready to go yet. It’s not time!” I heard a small child cry: “Mooom, I don’t like this!” Kid, we are on the same page.

Thankfully we landed without incident, other than my heart palpitations and someone’s potentially traumatized child.

The bride also flew down from San Francisco, but on a later flight. Unfortunately, after two rocky attempts to land in Palm Springs, her flight was diverted to Ontario Airport, about an hour northwest of Palm Springs. Understandably shaken, V and 12 others passengers exited the plane, opting to find their own way to their destination. Happily, she arrived that night after catching a ride with a friend – her former roommate – driving in from Los Angeles. Bachelorette party nightmare averted.

We welcomed her by hiding in the dark, pretending not to be home when she arrived.

The festivities officially kicked off the following morning with a ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, the world’s largest rotating aerial tram. In just over 10 minutes, the massive pod ascended more than 8500 feet above the canyon.

From poolside underneath palm trees in the bright California sun, to fine dining at an award-winning restaurant, to a snowy nature to walk: Inside a fun-filled "roaring 20s" themed bachelorette weekend in Palm Springs.
The aerial tram
source

We exited the tram to find the temperature dramatically lower at  25 °F, low visibility and the ground covered in fresh snow.

Both V and I showed up inappropriately dressed for the climate – who expects winter in the California desert in May? – so we purchased snazzy new lounge pants from the gift shop to cover our legs.

From poolside underneath palm trees in the bright California sun, to fine dining at an award-winning restaurant, to a snowy nature to walk: Inside a fun-filled "roaring 20s" themed bachelorette weekend in Palm Springs, read more in "Bachelorette Weekend in Palm Springs " on The Girl Next Door is Black
Photo Courtesy of A

We speed-walked, lunged and jumped our way through a 1.5 mile nature walk, trying to generate heat with each movement. High in Chino Canyon we found giant pine cones fallen from towering, fragrant pine trees, lush fir trees, the homes of crayon-colored birds and chittering creatures, as our footsteps left imprints on drying powder.

After an outdoor barbecue lunch (burgers, pasta salad, grilled corn, summer salad and fresh fruit), it was pool time for some, while others napped to power up for our evening of dinner and dancing.

That evening, each of us dressed to the gills in our best approximation of 20’s style garb for a night on the town sure to be the bee’s knees.

Following an appetizing meal at The Tropicale, our group headed next door to the Miami-themed Copa Lounge, where we danced our way to sore feet.

From poolside underneath palm trees in the bright California sun, to fine dining at an award-winning restaurant, to a snowy nature to walk: Inside a fun-filled "roaring 20s" themed bachelorette weekend in Palm Springs - read more on The Girl Next Door is Black
This is only ONE of the photos a very drunk woman took for us outside of The Tropicale. As she slurred her words and showered us with compliments and overtures of of friendship, she directed our poses: “look happy,” “Ok, now be crazy silly, fun, fun!!, until we finally cut her off.

We started the next day strong with an in-home modified Barre class led by one of the bridesmaids J, who teaches at a studio in Texas. Though we’re a pretty fit group and everyone has their preferred workout of choice (cross-fit, hot yoga, Pilates, SoulCycle, etc.) the class challenged us. We giggled through our pain. J gives good Barre.

From poolside underneath palm trees in the bright California sun, to fine dining at an award-winning restaurant, to a snowy nature to walk: Inside a fun-filled "roaring 20s" themed bachelorette weekend in Palm Springs - read more on The Girl Next Door is Black
“Embrace the shakes & quakes!” J encouraged us as our muscles burned.

Post Barre class and breakfast, the tenth member of the group, a 7-months pregnant TO, joined us just in time for a photo session by the pool.

Later that evening we regrouped for a three-course dinner at The Workshop Kitchen + Bar, recent winner of the James Beard award for best restaurant design.

A bachelorette party in your 30s is a different animal than that of a twenty-something. Instead of a second night out, we opted to play games (Dirty Minds, Catchphrase) and each made a commemorative scrapbook of our weekend using Instax pics we’d taken that weekend.

From poolside underneath palm trees in the bright California sun, to fine dining at an award-winning restaurant, to a snowy nature to walk: Inside a fun-filled "roaring 20s" themed bachelorette weekend in Palm Springs - read more on The Girl Next Door is Black

The night culminated with s’mores around the outdoor fire pit.

From poolside underneath palm trees in the bright California sun, to fine dining at an award-winning restaurant, to a snowy nature to walk: Inside a fun-filled "roaring 20s" themed bachelorette weekend in Palm Springs - read more on The Girl Next Door is Black

On our last morning together, we enjoyed a breakfast of waffles at the house and made friendship bracelets. It felt like being back at summer camp. The perfect bookend to a fun-packed extended weekend in Palm Springs.

Of course, we couldn’t leave the house without taking one last photo.

From poolside underneath palm trees in the bright California sun, to fine dining at an award-winning restaurant, to a snowy nature to walk: Inside a fun-filled "roaring 20s" themed bachelorette weekend in Palm Springs - read more on The Girl Next Door is Black
Congratulations V and KJ!

 

Seeing Broadway’s First Black Cinderella

Cinderella on Broadway Shop Tees | The Girl Next Door is BlackWhen I heard of Keke Palmer’s casting as the first black Cinderella on Broadway, I didn’t imagine I’d end up seeing the show in person!

It was a girls night out: sisters and groups of friends; an adorable Girl Scout troop of mostly pre-tween and tween black girls and quite a few mother/daughter pairings attended. One little girl dressed like a little lady wearing pearls and donning an updo, accompanied by her very chic and sophisticated mother who wore an enviable black cape, melted my heart. I attend a lot of plays and as I snarked to my sister, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many black people at a play in my life” [Chitlin’ circuit excluded]. I’m so used to being one of few. Even when I saw Porgy and Bess recently, whose cast is majority black, my friend and I were two of a countable number of black people in attendance. I found the audience diversity refreshing.

Keke Palmer delighted as Cinderella. To think that she’s only 21 and has already accomplished so much in her life. Her talent seems boundless.

Sherri Shepherd starred as Cinderella’s mean stepmother. I have had mixed feelings for Sherri in the past. I attended the same acting school she did, years after she moved on, and as one of the school’s success stories, Sherri was often a topic of conversation. It was her stint on The View that soured me though (“I don’t know if the earth is flat” anyone?). I wasn’t sure what to expect from her performance. I’m happy to share that she played the hell out of her character – a hilariously wicked stepmother. I enjoyed ever minute she spent onstage.

The show itself was wonderfully produced, surprisingly funny, and even magical at times. They pulled off the fastest, most seamless costume changes I’ve ever witnessed. After the show, I hustled my sister to the side stage door to wait for the cast to come out and sign autographs.

Both Keke and Sherri braved the chill to take photos with and sign autographs for each and every fan waiting. Impressively, Sherri listened patiently as one fan tried to promote her singing talent to Sherri. Even though the woman had no demo, no videos of her performing or even business cards, Sherri gave her helpful tips for building a foundation for a singing career – even though as she said, “I can’t really do anything for you. I don’t have those connections.” That really endeared her to me.

After our successful celebrity encounters, we headed to Junior’s for a late post-show dinner and to relive our fantastic evening over cheesecake.

With Keke Palmer After Broadway Show | The Girl Next Door is Black
Keke is the sweetest. She told my sister (who is around the same age, has loved her since ‘True Jackson, VP’ and thinks of her as her “best friend in her head”) that she loved her lipstick and asked her where she got it. Then she told us we were “beautiful girls.” Aw, Keke.
Meeting Sherri Shepherd on Broadway | The Girl Next Door is Black
Sherri is so kind and patient with the crowd. She looked much slimmer too; whatever she’s doing is working for her!

 

Girls’ Weekend Getaway in Beautiful Sedona, Arizona

Back in June, I headed to Sedona, Arizona with two of my friends from Los Angeles for a girls’ weekend. The first time our trio traveled together, we spent a whirlwind 10 days in Brazil in 2010. We were overdue for a reunion trip. On the agenda: sun, no worries and making memories. Arizona in June? You crazy? The weather actually wasn’t too bad – hot, but not unbearably so. I feel sun-starved in San Francisco sometimes, so I soak up opportunities in the sun like a cat lazing in a bay window.

With it's backdrop of stunning red rocks, mysterious energy vortexes and gobs of outdoor activities like horseback riding and hiking, Sedona, Arizona is the perfect spot for a weekend getaway. | The Girl Next Door is Black
Iguazu Falls in Brazil, 2010

K___ and L___ drove from Los Angeles to Phoenix, picked me up at the airport and we drove to Scottsdale to stay for the night before heading to Sedona the next morning. We planned to drop by Amy’s Baking Company, made infamous thanks to an episode of Kitchen Nightmares – the only one I’ve ever seen – due to their crazified antics.

Unfortunately, when we dropped by the next morning, we found out they don’t open until noon. We peered inside, me wary of being too close to the insanity. I feared Amy or Samy might pop up out of nowhere and berate us for daring to approach their precious restaurant. We snapped a pic, L____ checked us in on Facebook for posterity, and off we went toward Sedona.

With it's backdrop of stunning red rocks, mysterious energy vortexes and gobs of outdoor activities like horseback riding and hiking, Sedona, Arizona is the perfect spot for a weekend getaway. | The Girl Next Door is Black
They put the “cus(s)” in customer service.

The drive to Sedona alone is worth the trip. Massive red rocks in all directions, imposing yet awe-inspiring, a postcard come to life and magnified to penetrate all the senses. Even the air felt different. Cleaner. Calmer. We stayed at The Orchard Inn, nestled in the center of town, with a pool facing a panoramic view of red rocks.

With it's backdrop of stunning red rocks, mysterious energy vortexes and gobs of outdoor activities like horseback riding and hiking, Sedona, Arizona is the perfect spot for a weekend getaway. | The Girl Next Door is Black
The pink jeep in front of us is from Pink Jeep Tours”. They’re hard to miss around town.

A LITTLE EXPLORATION AND SOME UGLY AMERICANS

Once we settled in, we walked the handful of yards to the main drag to explore the town. L___ voiced her disappointment at the amount of tourism-focused storefronts. Up and down the drag businesses beckoned to visitors, with promises of authenticity and pleasure: jeep tours, turquoise jewelry, Native American-inspired goods and psychic healing, among others. This isn’t where the locals hang out.

With it's backdrop of stunning red rocks, mysterious energy vortexes and gobs of outdoor activities like horseback riding and hiking, Sedona, Arizona is the perfect spot for a weekend getaway. | The Girl Next Door is Black
Montezuma Castle, a 2o-room “high rise” carved into the rock.

As it’s located in the Southwestern US, Arizona has a rich Native American history. We “hiked” a short half-mile path to see the ruins of the Sinagua people, Montezuma Castle. The stature of the surrounding mountains gave the illusion of a sunken path, the tall trees whose branches canopied above, and the air, quiet (at first) except for the sounds of our breath and the low hum of ordinary animal activity,  created the sense of seclusion and peace. Mother Nature encircled us in a bear hug.

Trailing behind us was a group I referred to as “The Ugly Americans.” If you were to look at a checklist of “Ugly American” behaviors, they’d score at least 90%. Imagine being in the still of a quiet valley, surrounded by rocks older than we can truly conceive, near the protected ruins of an ancient people and you hear the loud flapping of flip flops, the smacking of lips, the swishing of thighs rubbing against khaki and cries of  “Hey, look at THAT!” “Moooom, I’m bored!” They may or may not have been slurping on Slurpees. I may have imagined that into the scene during my stereotyping. I’m sure they were lovely people, but they sure knew how to spoil a moment.

DO YOU FEEL ANYTHING?

Sedona is apparently teeming with energy vortexes. We visited the disappointingly named “Airport Vortex.” I expected to encounter whirls of dusts spiraling in the air, maybe with a Tasmanian Devil or two babbling incoherently as it’s tossed about. Some people claim to experience a greater sense of uplifting calm, intense relaxation, spiritual enlightenment, seeing Jesus and Buddha apparate, holding hands and bestow many blessings on you or some such other (OK, I made that last bit up). Sadly, none of that happened. My friends and I kept asking each other, “Do you feel anything?” “Do you feel different?” “No!” “Nothing.” “Um…noooo.” Lack of visits from Jesus/Buddha notwithstanding, the Vortex visit proved it’s worth in the spectacular views alone.

ALL THE PRETTY HORSES AND A LITTLE SNORTING

The next day after enjoying a bare-bones, but importantly, free, continental breakfast at our hotel, we made our way to Cottonwood, Arizona for horseback riding with Cowboy Way Adventures. Can horseback riding be a spiritual experience? Because I think I shared a moment with my horse, Vidalia – though our initial meeting didn’t go as smoothly as I would have expected.

With it's backdrop of stunning red rocks, mysterious energy vortexes and gobs of outdoor activities like horseback riding and hiking, Sedona, Arizona is the perfect spot for a weekend getaway. | The Girl Next Door is Black
I didn’t even have to use a stool to get up there!

The one and only other time I’d been on a horse was over 10 years ago when my body was more resilient and I had fewer fears. I mounted Vidalia with some trepidation. I startled each time she shifted her weight. “Why does she keep moving like that? C’mon girl stay still for me!”

L___ snickered and teased, “Are you scared of the horse?”

“No! I’m not scared,” I protested. “The older I get, the closer I am to death and therefore the more aware I become of my mortality! Besides, uh, you have heard of Christopher Reeve, right?” She shook her head at me with amusement.

Once my jitters subsided, I got into the groove of things. Chris, a bonafide cowboy if ever I saw one, and a shoo-in to win a Sam Elliott lookalike contest, along with Jen, his younger partner, who looked as though she could have been on Hey Dude,  led us on a 2-hour trail which the horses knew well. Much like any group of friends and family, the horses had their favorites of their stable. Chris warned me that my horse would likely try to stay behind the horse being ridden by a little boy who was there with his parents.

Vidalia was a sweet horse. I gradually relaxed as I realized we were in this ride together. She trusted me to be a kind human who’d pet her, treat her gently and let her tail behind her BFF. I trusted her not to up and jump and go horse-crazy and trample me. Once I accepted our partnership in living, I really enjoyed the rest of the tranquil trail. I took in my surroundings: the arid, still, desert heat; listened for rattlesnakes I never saw; marveled at the massive expanse of cactus and we even spotted a jackrabbit. Everything looked straight out of a Wile E. Coyote cartoon.

With it's backdrop of stunning red rocks, mysterious energy vortexes and gobs of outdoor activities like horseback riding and hiking, Sedona, Arizona is the perfect spot for a weekend getaway. | The Girl Next Door is Black
With the sweet Vidalia

After our horseback ride, we’d scheduled a massage and I am so glad we did, because sitting on a horse for two hours hurts your butt more than doing 1000 squats followed by 1000 lunges and 3000 burpees. It can’t have looked good to watch us walk.

Generally, I don’t go for massages. I’ll do it to play along when my friends want to “go get massages, mani/pedis” and all that, but I am not really into having random strangers rub all over my mostly naked body. The masseuse will be like, “Wow, you’re really tense! Why don’t you try to relax a little.” Um, your hand is dangerously close to my boob, an appendage I don’t just go around showing people willy nilly, and you want me to chill? Yeah, OK.

Maybe it was the heat, the ride through the dusty desert, the release of all my exhaustion from stress at work, but it was the most relaxing massage I have ever had. I fell asleep. I woke myself up with a snort! I’d heard of such things happening to other people, but it was a first for me.

HERE PIGGY PIGGY

Our last morning in Sedona, we lounged around the pool for a bit, trading stories and enjoying the last bit of calm before heading back to our lives.

With it's backdrop of stunning red rocks, mysterious energy vortexes and gobs of outdoor activities like horseback riding and hiking, Sedona, Arizona is the perfect spot for a weekend getaway. | The Girl Next Door is Black
The obligatory poolside foot shot

As San Francisco has its heart sculptures placed across the city, Sedona has its javelina sculptures dotted across town. It became somewhat of a game (for me, at least) to see if we’d stumble upon more javelinas. Having only found a handful of the ones in existence the previous days, my friends indulged me and we found a park with retired sculptures!

With it's backdrop of stunning red rocks, mysterious energy vortexes and gobs of outdoor activities like horseback riding and hiking, Sedona, Arizona is the perfect spot for a weekend getaway. | The Girl Next Door is Black
The javelina that started me on my quest for others. Though it looks like a pig, it’s actually not a pig. Who would have thought?

 

With it's backdrop of stunning red rocks, mysterious energy vortexes and gobs of outdoor activities like horseback riding and hiking, Sedona, Arizona is the perfect spot for a weekend getaway. | The Girl Next Door is Black
Javelinas on parade

GOODBYE RED ROCKS, YOU’VE BEEN GRAND

We closed out the trip with souvenir shopping, a few more photo opps and a Southwestern lunch.

I couldn’t have asked for a better, more relaxing and memory-making trip with two of my favorite people.

About those vortexes and the enlightenment? The javelinas whose noses I rubbed for luck? A few days after I returned from Sedona, I got laid off from my job.  So, there’s that. At least I got a chance to relax before it happened!

Check out my friend L___’s take on our trip at Recipe for Fab!

*Credit for some photos goes to my friends L__ and K___. Thank you!

A few more photos…

 

America: Land of No Time Off, No Fun?

A good book, a beach and a hammock: this is the life.
A good book, a beach and a hammock: this is the life.

In Tanzania this summer, I had a stimulating conversation with an Irish woman who had taken a break from her teaching job to manage a resort in Zanzibar. When she discovered that I’d been in Tanzania for three weeks, she was in shock. “I thought Americans didn’t get much holiday time?”

“I work for a company that provides really good benefits in the hopes of retaining employees.” 

“Lovely. My American relatives come to visit us in Ireland and they only stay for six days. What’s the point? Stay home! There’s no time!” Imagine this said with a delightfully animated Irish accent.

“I know.”

“Why don’t Americans fight for more time off?”

I gave a heavy sigh and answered, “I don’t even know where to begin.”

A few months before my trip, Jack Cafferty of CNN asked in a short essay, “Why don’t most Americans take all their vacation time?

Personally, I don’t feel I have enough vacation time. In fact, I have a Pinterest board titled, “I need more vacation time.

The article sourced a recent study that found “57% of working Americans had unused vacation time at the end of last year. “ Reasons given for this varied: some feel they have too much work to afford to take time off, others are afraid to take time off for fear of returning jobless and some just feel they can’t afford to do anything.

There was a time when I worked for a large insurance company as a contractor (because they were too cheap to hire me and many others full-time; of course, the execs got nice fat bonuses most years and they can afford shiny commercials with a celebrity endorser). I was only a few years out of college and didn’t have enough saved to afford to take unpaid time off. Even calling in sick wasn’t an option. No work, no pay. So, I get it. But, I didn’t like it. Working days on end with no break in sight. At a job I hated. With no health, dental or vision insurance and a micro-managing mid-level boss spying on everyone’s move. Another who kept calling me by the name of another black girl. I needed a break. We all do. Taking time off can have a beneficial impact on our physical and mental health, as well as our productivity at work. While according to the study, the average American employee gets 13 paid days off, the United States doesn’t mandate it (and I’m not sure how I feel about government intervention in this realm).

Costa Rica was REALLY good for my soul
Costa Rica was REALLY good for my soul

However, according to CNN Money the UK mandates employers give employees at least 28 paid days off, France decrees 25 and Japan 20. If vacation time is good for the body, good for the soul and good for the business, why don’t Americans fight for vacation time?

Cafferty’s question generated a (mostly) healthy debate.

Patrick from Oregon said,

“Many who work making minimum wages or near it are unable to afford a vacation. heck we can barely afford to buy gas to get to work.”

A more cynical MnTaxpayer commented,

“Because most corporate drones think they are more important then[sic] they really are.”

Quite a few chalked it up to our strong American work ethic. Guy Williams summed up the recurring themes nicely,

“Reasons: (1). Americans, for the most part, have very strong work ethics. (2). We fear losing our jobs if we aren’t at our desk every day other workers see our absence and maneuver for an opening. (3). We barely keep our heads above water with the work load we have; setting it aside for 2 weeks or longer means an unconquerable mountain of backlog when we return. That’s why we don’t take vacations.”

On Friday, CNN Money posted a somewhat related article: “One in three U.S. workers has no paid sick days” which similar to the vacation post received a large number of responses. This time some of the responses were a little sharper in tone.

J. Medford replied,

“I live in a 3rd world Caribbean Country and we have that right…America is weird.”

To which Burns8282 responded,

“Says the guys in the 3rd world country. Ill take the American work ethic and the title of most powerful country in the world.”

Ouch! (As of this writing the response had received 6 positive votes, 14 negative votes.)

In an unrelated comment, Waytooold2 chimed in,

“when your[sic] worried about being outsourced you don’t worry about sick days”

The eye-rollingly named liberlmedia added,

“They should move to Europe if they want paid vacation.”

Others worried about the increase in malingerers (one woman worried about an uptick in drunkards taking the day off to nurse hangovers). However, many were sympathetic to the plight of those without paid sick days. As Nick Knight commented,

“America, slowly becoming a right wing toilet.”

And the battle between the 1% & the 99% continues as Madisontruth stated,

“Welcome to the new normal. The 1% who control the game board see us all as pawns. This is why government intervention is necessary.”

Why don’t Americans have as much time off as other countries? Is it a strong work ethic? Is it that we’re pawns in a game played by a few, dazzlingly wealthy people in charge? Are we just so used to it that it never occurs to us to ask for more? Even when people do take vacation, some end up working anyway!

Paris, je t'aime
Paris, je t’aime

I don’t know what the answer is. What I do know is that I choose to live my life with respect to my future self. When I make important decisions, I ask myself: will I feel it was worth it; will I feel good about it? If not, it’s probably not the right decision. When I look back on my life, I don’t want to lament all the time I spent not making the most of it, not enjoying myself, not doing something meaningful. As I lay on my deathbed, I surely will not regret spending too much time working as I reflect on my life choices. I work hard during work hours, I play during play hours. When I’m on vacation, don’t call me and I’m not checking work emails.

Of course, it’s not that black and white. I’ve progressed well in my career. I have chosen to work in a field where the smart employers – as in employers that realize employees are their best asset –  fight over employees by dangling tantalizing benefits in our faces. I have the option of saying “Hellllll to the no” to jobs with shit benefits. But, that could change: I could lose my job, the debt ceiling could finally crush us and work “perks” like sick days and vacation time could disappear. However, I’ll do my best to live a life to love and in any case, liberlmedia has a good point about moving to Europe…I did love France when I visited.

As far as we know, we get one life to live and I want to enjoy the hell out of this one!