three semi-inflated RIVER RAT inner tubes hung over the edge of the railing at the south tahoe thrift store i re-found after telling my friends i'd meet them back in sacramento. a handwritten sign on the door implored me to support local charities and warned that non-customers who wanted to use the bathroom would be charged a quarter. i piled three cotton-ish aloha shirts on the counter and asked the woman behind it if her weekend was going well so far.

"i was ready for it," she said. "the doctors finally figured out what was wrong with my foot, and what they could do about it." i thought that was wonderful. "yes, but i was wearing this" (she heaved an orthopedic boot a few feet in the air) "when i woke up to a bear in my kitchen last night. my three chihuahuas—the littlest is four pounds, it's a mother and a daddy and their baby—wanted to go for him, and i didn't know what to do. turns out their noise was enough to scare him away once he'd finished all of my chocolate-covered pretzels, and he went back out the window he broke—after grabbing a bunch of ritz crackers."

i told her i'd been hoping to see a bear all weekend—i wish i'd known. "i called the police and they showed up with a big shotgun, but they told me that it was full of rubber bullets and i shouldn't worry. 'he'll be back, though,' they said. 'he knows you have the good stuff.' are you from around here, honey?" once, i said, but i came from new york city to captain a relay race up in truckee. i was ready for a weekend, too.

"my husband and i went out to syracuse once and i almost had a panic attack. i hear that...you don't have cars." it's true, i said, i spend weeks on foot.


the dirty dozen, FIFA edition {some of the places joe and i have watched world cup matches this june and july}

jw marriott chicago (chicago, IL). the first of the hotels in last month's Circle of Life saga had talking elevators that sounded like judi dench and interminable hallways that reminded me of the overlook, all of which i found impossibly charming. our room and television were large, the air conditioning was robust, and it was a fine place to recover from the heat wave and reflect on our friends' nuptials while yelling at soccer players.

replay andersonville (chicago, IL). the smugness i felt after filing the first of my on-the-road freelance assignments quickly gave way to humiliation when i failed to acquit myself honorably with replay's free(!) arcade games (why don't you love me as i love you, midwestern galaga?). no matter. a single triumph is still a triumph.

the robey (chicago, IL). a hoteltonight hero that came through for us when o'hare made it clear that we weren't flying out of chicago for at least another 24 hours, the robey upgraded our room and provided us with a pot of coffee to pair with our first game of the morning on tuesday. bless the robey.

links taproom (chicago, IL). my second on-the-road freelance-assignment filing found us at a mostly-empty but very friendly sportstravaganza in wicker park, where i wore a tee shirt joe ran out to purchase at the bookstore we'd visited in search of a vintage copy of 1984 the previous afternoon (since o'hare had flown our luggage to california, despite our pleas). an empty pub is actually a pretty good place to work, assuming you can find a table that doesn't wiggle (and i did!). also, there's soccer. coffeehouses are for suckers.

sonesta silicon valley (san jose, CA). after another five-hour barrage of delays at o'hare, we were permitted to fly to northern california, where it was far too late for us to drive to my sister and brother-in-law's treehouse on the coast. we drove instead through a series of office parks and had a second spur-of-the-moment hotel date, this time at a comfortingly unrenovated retreat for pilots? (i resisted the urge to tackle the gaggle of them checking in the next morning and demand to know one had broken our spirits in chicago 12-72 hours ago.) while much of the valley looks suspiciously like pop-up ads or holograms projected from smartphones, sonesta looked to me like a slightly more corporate version of stanford sierra camp, and i slept (and watched television) like a rock there.

royal pacific motor inn (san francisco, CA). our old favorite (a wonderful japantown hotel with a toy machine in the lobby) is now part of an upscale chain that has standardized it and might now require actual organs from its guests, so we settled on a lodge that, like the one we found on long island for the night of this spring's broken social scene concert, was somewhat disappointingly non-murder-y. its television was small and old, but since we spent the majority of our time in the city with my other sister and her family and had just been introduced to the wonderful world of collecting and trading panini stickers, it was just fine (mostly i was excited about having room on our bed to muster our new two-dimensional squads). it was also very gratifying to be adhering to parts of our schedule that we'd planned more than 12 hours in advance—that two-day stay was edenic. parking was free! free!

nickies bar (san francisco, CA). i was excited about seeing our first game with my sister and her baby at mad dog in the fog, a haight spot that's captivated my imagination since college—i would pass it on the bus once every few months (the walk plus train ride plus walk plus bus ride to haight-ashbury from my place took like two hours each way, so i didn't do it very often, and i was underage, so i couldn't get in anyway). mad dog in the fog has a strict NO BABIES policy (the nerve!), though, so we holed up at nickies a few blocks away and had a fine old time. our server there came over to admire our infant, which was a good call on her part, for he is awfully admirable. and super huge! probably he won't even get carded circa the next world cup. she was in a remarkably good mood for someone who'd been tackling sports fans since eight in the morning, that server. we left a generous tip.

san francisco athletic club (san francisco, CA). hats off to the cavernous SFAC for having a huge corner booth at which my sister's actual baby and my and joe's soccer-sticker-album baby had plenty of room to spread out and do our thing. screens were massive, memorabilia was old-school and charming, and i'd have happily eaten lunch there if we hadn't been en route to the mission for a last-minute taqueria pancho villa pilgrimage. (my burrito was not as exquisite as i'd been hoping it would be, but my god, pancho villa still beats new york burritos hollow.)

olde sonoma public house (sonoma, CA). i've been to many a bar that offers take-out menus from local spots and lets you call something in, but i have never had a server from a neighboring restaurant roll up to my table with dishes and silverware. you astonish, sonoma! we and the bartenders then turned out to be the only germany supporters in a strip-mall watering hole full of swedish soccer enthusiasts; you astonish again, sonoma! i learned that day that i bellow when germany scores, and that one should always order more quesadillas than one believes one needs. also my cousins are shorter than i thought they were (we had a family reunion later that afternoon).

dog house pub (st. john, USVI). there was a minor sports-related freakout in cruz bay last tuesday when it became clear that the FOX affiliate out of puerto rico (which had supposedly aired every other world cup match) decided to show valkyrie instead, which conspiracy theorists insisted was somehow germany's revenge after getting knocked out of the tournament? i was unaware that telemundo was an option (and was unable to work the TV in my suite back at the resort anyway), so i wandered down to the marina and found a place where someone had managed to direct the english team's wonky live stream from his smartphone to a bar's television. i probably should have been napping instead of sweltering with a bunch of colombia supporters, but i did meet and have a lovely conversation with a woman who'd come down with FEMA to help with long-term economic recovery on the islands. look, ma! i networked!

videology bar & cinema (brooklyn, NY). i had yet another story to file before i could join joe back in videology's super-boss screening room the day after i returned from st. john, so i spent the first half of the game formatting jpegs while listening to brazilians and belgians scream and groan. i can't listen to music while i work, but that was surprisingly okay. you definitely shouldn't go see the final there on sunday, though—it's a terrible place (okay, it's the best place, but keep that to yourself.)

barleycorn (new york, ny). we'd intended to head back to videology, and i'd woken up extra-early to file two stories so i could head to videology without a laptop, but a surprise meeting meant joe had to stay downtown. "do you remember that place where we met that couple at the bar and they shared their pizza with us?" he asked. "we could go there, they have the game." (it took me a while to figure out which place he meant, actually—strangers like to give us stuff.). i have questions: who are these suited dudes who can roll into a bar at two in the afternoon and not work there? they did not have laptops. are world cup matches the new three-martini lunches? they were definitely england fans, though, and they were pretty bummed. we decided that luka modrić is an elf; he looks like he has access to special, extra-nutritious travel wafers. i am proud to say that we have collected every last sticker for his team.

*i often refer to our little cat as mad dog in the fog.


it was fitting, perhaps, that my first press trip in a few years popped up after this summer's Circle of Life Tour (chicago for a friend's wedding and visiting my college roommate and her newborn son, then on to california to meet my sister's newborn son and attend a family reunion). i seem to have reached an age at which bystanders need to talk about my age, and...okay? i mentioned that i was going to rome for my fortieth birthday this fall and a new friend on said press trip gave me the "oh, you don't look it!" that i gave a friend a few years ago on a hike in hawaii; i now get that that sentiment is always weird. a few days later i climbed up to a sports bar for the england-colombia world cup match and a twentyish guy rolled up to me with a glinting grill: "you're a cute Mature Woman," said he. a day or two later i was assured that i was still voluptuous. which is all fine, i am okay with the fact that i have a face and a body that are visible to others despite my efforts to sidle through life like an eel, but i'm realizing that i love the existence i've had at my bird hospital and my bookstore. while it's clear that i'm older than the film students helping me shelve books and that one weird guy who kept working into every conversation that he was born in 1996 (that's your calling card? really?) and that V was born several decades before i was, i guess i thought we were all...ageless and kind of formless? that because i assume most of my acquaintances are like me, they assume i'm like them?

i've been talking to my dear friend L about this—a friend who's gotten things like, "she's pretty sexy for an old lady!"—and would like to say that i've come up with a graceful response to the faux spit-takes about my age, but man, that shit is weird. i spent this week hearing nineties alt-rock at various resort-adjacent spots and thinking about how those same pool decks spun golden oldies a generation ago—who doesn't want to hear their high-school hits when they're on their long-earned vacation?—and realizing that, son of a bitch, i'm old. it's fine, this is how the world ends, but i thought i had more time.

i shared my flight home from st. thomas with a couple of paralytically privileged kids who were en route to the hamptons for the night; she might or might not have been his girlfriend, but he was definitely her project, as he lurched into our seats and spent four hours curling into her lap, ordering cups of water in triplicate, and puking them back into his seat. at one point he sat with a demitasse of bile on his tray for like half an hour, and she glinted up at me, apologetically: thank you so much, i'm so sorry. i have been sixteen, and you will be forty, and i told the angry folks across the aisle that i withstood you because i don't fancy airport jail but in truth i don't want to have outgrown understanding you.