Bethesda, 2007

The yearly all-hands meeting for my big project was being held on the NIH campus this year. I had a couple of restaurant recommendations that I was eager to try out, and managed to get to both, but I also got my first ever ambulance ride on this trip.

Sun Oct 15, 2007

I was watching the clock a bit during our DND game, knowing that I had to bail out early to catch the 5:20 or so bus to get to the airport for my flight. I made it through the first fight, but as we prepared to storm the tower and free the slaves, I handed my character sheet to Chris and packed up. Hauled my suitcase (okay, it was pretty light, only used since I wanted to pack extra boots for going out to dinner) up the hill to the bus stop, and ended up catching the late 5pm one instead. Score. It got me to Harvard Sq in good time and I popped back out of the subway to grab some tea and filter bags at Tealuxe since I was out of the latter, and I couldn't resist stocking up on some creme de la earl grey. Back down into the subway and to South Station, then silver line to the airport. I had checked in online, so went to the security line for my gate, which ended up being a bit of a pain. There was only one scanner open, but the people checking boarding passes at the opening to the line were making two lines, in the one lane. :/ I stuck behind the person I'd started behind, and eventually made it through. Put my shoes back on and realised that I was 1.5 hours early for my flight. Went to the little food court and got a very sad turkey + brie sandwich from the utterly bored staff, wondering why I was finishing it as I choked it down. Settled in a seat facing the planes and into my book, waiting for the flight to be called.

I sort of snuck into the front of the line, as they just called people in two groups and I was near the door as I was sitting. Got my suitcase in the overhead bin and my backpack under the seat in front of me, and my window seat mate arrived just then so we both got settled. We were in the exit row, our seats wouldn't tilt back (though once she realised that she knew the guy behind us, he told her that you can request the lock be taken off). Smooth ride, quick drink service, though the drone of the plane started to put me to sleep. I put my headphones on for a while but mostly read.

Walked off the plane and managed to figure out what I needed to do to get on the Metro at the airport (buying the subway pass was far too complex, I seem to recall the Metrocard thing I got last time was much simpler. Figured out as the blue train pulled in that I could take it and transfer at a different stop to the red line, so jumped on there. Long long wait at the transfer station, had lots of time to stretch (still sore from climbing this weekend) and observe the kind of eerie lit from below concrete structures. Train finally came, and I eventually noticed some familiar faces from previous AHMs on my car. They had disappeared by the time I rode up the long ass escalator to the surface, though, and I asked the bus driver waiting around if he was going to Pooks Hill Rd. He said close, but I'd have to walk 5mins. I gave the hotel a call, not wanting to hike with my suitcase, and they said that the hotel shuttle was coming at 11, and it was 10:56 then, so I waited. And waited. Eventually at 11:20 it arrived. Across three lanes from me, luckily they were empty at that time of night, so I just walked across and climbed the median as well. As the bus headed to the hotel, I saw the guys I'd recognised walking along the parkway, almost to PH Rd. I just managed to check in and was standing by the elevators when one dashed in. I'd spotted a few familiar faces in the bar, but was too tired to think of being social at that point, so just went upstairs and called Cris and my sister (return call) then checked my email to see what the situation was regarding our test binaries. Started a download and got ready for bed, then did a quick test once it got sucked down - success! In bed around 12:30, failure!

Mon Oct 15/07

Woke up with my alarm at 7am, had a quick shower, then went downstairs to get breakfast. Went with the buffet, but had to request the granola and it came as I was almost finished everything else. The fresh grapefruit juice was great though, and they had bagged earl grey tea. Was rushing a bit at the end, trying to finish up in time to get the 8am shuttle, but ended up missing it, or so I thought. Waited with a few other birners and ended up taking the hotel shuttle that went to the Metro stop and would go into NIH to the Natcher building. I was a bit worried as I saw a birn shuttle pull up as we were leaving, but we were headed the right way. We had to give up our ids to get visitor badges and the police swabbed down the driver's steering wheel and made us get out and go through metal detectors. But even with all that, we ended up getting to the Natcher building just after the birn shuttle, it seemed like it had left late anyway and then they had a longer security ordeal.

mbirn summary slides started 20 mins late, but ended only 10 mins late. For the break, had to go up to the cafeteria to buy tea and a granola bar. Was quite sleepy. Then into the working group breakout session, basically Steve giving demos. Then lunch (bit of a sparse selection, looked like locusts had descended before I got there at 12:30, sat with Steve and Ron, and also managed to get some free hot water in my travel mug and made up my creme de la earl grey), then I gave demos and got drafted to incorp landmark reading into the fiducials class. Stayed to compile that as the Baltimore people took off to drive home. Caught the 4:30 shuttle, raided the lobby store for water for my room, and treated myself to a tazo iced tea as well (they have a starbucks in there!) then worked some more in my hotel room while getting ready for dinner (took another shower). Wore my nice boots and skirt, and threw my rain coat over it against the chill of the night.

Got down to the lobby 15 mins before the shuttle to the Metro was supposed to leave and sat with a couple of women. Then they told us that we were on the wrong one, move to the other. Then that driver seemed confused when we said we were going to the Metro, and he ended up waiting for a group of birn people who were one short (we drove around the building to pick up an employee). I was getting pissy at this point as I knew that my reservation was contingent on my getting to Sushi Taro on time. Finally we took off and I hustled down to the platform (my pass still had money on it, glad to have confirmation that I bought the right thing) and just caught the next train. Fast ride to Dupont Circle and then was able to easily skirt the circle to P and then walk along it to 17th (the trip planner tried to tell me to take a bus, traffic was horrendous, and it was only a 5 min walk).

I was seated at the sushi bar as soon as I walked in (with pleasantries in Japanese), the bar a warm orange counter running at a slight zig zag in front of the sushi chefs. A woman was already set up immediately to my left, but I had space on my right. A bit of a pause as I examined the menu and sighed over the kaiseki that they wouldn't make for just one person, and then I ordered butter fish nigiri, miso soup and green tea (the latter two were comped on my bill). I also settled on the chef's omakase sushi, in hopes of experiencing some of the bliss that Peter had described when he ate here last week. The butter fish was amazing, melt in our mouth succulent. The soup was good, and the tea almost too hot to drink. I had been idly watching one of the chefs creating a platter and it turned out to be mine. Presentation was fairly standard, the only surprise was a dragon roll anchoring the bottom right corner. I started off with the sea urchin (again, melted in my mouth, not slimy in the least). I bailed on eating the tail of the sweet shrimp that was perched on the end of the fish, the roll w/o crunch was awesome. The makerel was delicious, the tuna was a bit ... tendony, in fact I suspect it was really good raw beef but I'm trying not to think about that, because I ate it anyway after trying a delicious bite. :) There was a fish or two I couldn't recognise, I should have asked, but one had a bone left in it and I was a bit loathe to point that out when the whole rest of the plate was so awesome. Perfect amount of wasabi on everything, too, I barely dipped. I ended up by eating the dragon roll (very spicy in the middle!) and then the large roe (mildly salty, and popped just right). As I was finishing up, a guy was given the seat next to me, and we talked a little - he'd lived in Syracuse and used to go to Toronto a fair bit, he eats at Sushi Toro fairly often, but just recently moved to DC and hadn't heard of Makoto yet. I gave in and ate the green tea ice cream, oggling the fried fish on a stick that was being prepared for another customer by the chef one place down - memories of Yakushima and the ubiquitous flying fish.

Quick and easy trip back, no waiting for anything, and I came up to my room to work on the landmark reader, found it was written for a different version of our main library, so reimplemented it. :/ 2 hours later, my anticipated sauna visit is toast. :/ Almost time to head to bed so I have a chance at 8 hours. At least I'm listening to somafm while coding in my room, I'm not totally lame. *wry smile* 10:45pm, time for one more test and then off this goes.

Tues Oct 16, 2007

Up at 7am and decided to try the pancakes instead of the buffet. They were good, but took longer, and I ended up paying 50% more for breakfast. Sandy joined me when he came down, but I left him still eating to catch the 8am shuttle. This time, on the official shuttle, I got the full security theatre, getting off at the gates, going through the xray of bags and the metal detector in a little building, then getting my pre-printed badge. I followed the others as they took off walking instead of waiting for the next shuttle inside NIH, and it turned out to be just across a small field. I had lunch at the cafeteria, and later in the afternoon, during the scheduled break, found out that the cafeteria had closed half an hour ago (and no refreshments were on offer through the meeting organisers). I got sketchy directions to another cafeteria that might be open so I could get some more tea, and ended up walking through one building (with two security checks by guards very happy to give me further directions) to get to the other one and finally to the cafe. Got my tea and an oj and a boiled egg, as I couldn't resist it. We ended the day with a poster session, with a buffet. I grabbed cheese first and stood by my poster, then when I had a break, went into the food line - they had a whole baked salmon with cucumber slice scales. Pretty good, but the plates were all appetiser sized, so I ended up going back for another helping. Things thinned out around 6:30 (it went to 7pm), and I was tired, so I headed back on the shuttle, getting a lift from right outside the building back to the hotel, straight through the gate.

Changed and went downstairs for a workout, used the elliptical to warm up then did some light weights, then back again on the cardio machine for an intervals section. Stretched out well when I was done, then checked out the pool area - the life guard was soaking his feet in the whirlpool, looked like he wasn't busy. :) Found the sauna in the women's locker room, went back to the pool for a towel and then had a nice long dry sauna, trying to get even more knots out. It took a while to warm up, so I redid the timer for another 20mins, but got out at 10. Then I took a nice long bath, but stayed up reading and didn't get to bed until close to midnight.

Wed Oct 17, 2007

I went with the buffet again at breakfast, and had to ask a few times for my granola again. Dinying joined me as I was finishing up, but I had to run to catch the 8am shuttle, as I was part of the presenting group at 8:30. That went quick, got there in good time, and we decided to switch laptops instead of putting everything on one, so we could do our demos. My supervisor had to hit another session, but my boss stayed. I was scared of losing my voice, but managed to get through the demo okay.

It was the last day of the AHM, it was a bit more relaxed. We had time over the 2 hour lunch break to take the metro to the Bethesda stop and get lunch there. I twisted Christine's arm to get her and Andrea to join us, and Anthony and Tim from JHU and Katie and I made up the group. It was Andrea's first time on a subway, she weathered it well, though it took us some time to get past the gates as the ticket machines were acting up. I took off down a likely looking road once we got above ground and we came across Booeymonger's deli where we had good sandwiches and Katie told wedding horror stories based on her bridezilla friend's recent wedding where K. was a bridesmaid (including enforced ear piercing!). We made our way back to the Medical Center stop and walked through the security check at NIH again, just showing our IDs and getting scanned to verify our re-entry.

The afternoon sessions were okay, I ended up coding through one of them. The summary/planning session was a bit of a downer. An extra presentation was snuck in at the end, and derailed my plans to head back to the hotel at 5, change for dinner, and head back to catch the 6pm red line train from the Medical stop. I ended up leaving from the NIH directly, hauling my backpack with laptop with me. I took the red line to Farragut North station, then from there caught the D6 way out past Georgetown to Makoto on MacArthur Blvd.

A friend of mine who grew up in DC had been urging me to go to Makoto for years and this time I wasn't going to miss it. The entrance is below ground, and as soon as you open the door, it feels like you're transported to Kyoto or Tokyo. I took off my shoes as the hostess greeted me and put on the provided slippers. I was seated at the sushi bar, and this time I could see over the fish cooler to the chef's knife work. The next station down held the pans for cooking dishes, and often flames would flare up as they cooked the next batch of mussels. There were currently only a few other people there (7pm), at the other end of the small bar and at a table for 4. My purse went inside the bench I was seated on, and I tucked my backpack out of sight under the bar. The menu was quite simple, I decided to go all out for the full dinner, 8-10 courses, and a glass of choya wine. I got to choose my type of soba and the grilled course from a short selection. The service was impeccable, the waitresses wore kimonos and were very polite, and at one point told a patron that they couldn't use their cell phone in the restaurant, and showed him the alcove that he could use. Each course arrived with scarcely a pause, but I never felt rushed, and my small wine glass would be filled up each time it reached half way down. Oh, yes, the food. :) I had to take the time to write down notes in my palm pilot as I was waiting for the bus home, I was scared I'd forget it in a haze of foodgasm. :)

The wine came in a hand made glass container, with blue accents and a pour spout pinched from the main body of the glass. They placed it on a piece of origami paper folded on an angle to show off the gold foil part. No plum, that would have been too pedestrian. :)
The first course was a bowl of steamed mussels in a rice wine broth, swimming with garlic pieces. There was a tiny bit of grit in one of the mussels and the abundance of garlic had me worried, but despite the challenge of eating mussels with chopsticks (fork and knife not offered) and a spoon, I enjoyed this dish.
Next up was a small orange tomato-like melon with the top sliced off and the interior extracted as balls then rolled in miso paste and reinserted in the shell of the fruit. The plate also held pickled carrots with seaweed wrapped up in nori to form veggie sushi, and two thin slices of salmon sashimi sandwiched between planes of radish. This was all delicious, and I'm totally stealing that salmon/radish idea.
The next dish was a bit intimidating to begin: deep fried fish formed into a seat for a boiled and marinated new potato with tons of crunchy brown spikes covering all the battered parts of the fish. Eventually, I just picked it up in the chopsticks and started nibbling, and oh, it was good. The fish was half battered, the chair of the seat was open and I could see the pink fish mixed with a sauce of some sort. The batter was perfect, and the spikes were crunchy and good. The plate was garnished with deep fried lotus root slices and persimmon skin strips (very good and I wonder if I can get these in a bag for snacking) and a single spicy shrimp.
They gave me a break with the next dish, going back to a simple presentation of three pieces of sashimi: tuna, spanish makerel (I'm a huge fan of makerel, this was more meaty than the ones I've had before, but the flesh was even more delicious) and snapper.
Next up was a lovely salad of crabs, avocado and mango, pressed into a short cube and garnished with deep fried wonton wrapper triangles. It was topped with deep red piles of flying fish roe. Perfection. :)
As I was eating the crab salad, the waitress warned me that the next dish would be cooked at my table, and she deftly moved my wine carafe and glass to the side before bringing over a spirit lamp and a stone frying surface. A small plate neatly arrayed with the raw food was there soon after, and she placed the shrimp, two scallops and a scored mushroom head on the hot surface, turning and testing them for me, and then finally putting them into the bowl of dipping broth for me to eat. I added scallops and some bonito paste to the bowl, skipping the chilli paste. Then she asked me how I wanted my beef cooked. I had a brief moment of panic, as I don't eat red meat, but then decided to hell with it: "medium rare". She picked up the paper thin slice from the prep bowl and just seared it for me. And it was good. Oh, was it good. :)
Back to the simple stuff for a course, a plate of nigiri: tuna, scallop and sweet shrimp. All delicious, of course.
Then my main grilled course: a perfectly grilled piece of salmon, liberally salted, with a pile of grated daikon radish that had been drizzled with soy. They left me the soy sauce from the nigiri for use with the salmon, but I enjoyed it so much plain that I didn't want to use it. The skin was nice and crispy, so I sneakily ate it after eating all the flesh. :) Some of the best prepared salmon I've ever had.
They warned me that my last course was coming, the soba, and asked if I was ready. Bring it on. :) I chose the mushroom option, and the buckwheat noodles were accented with at least three kinds of mushroom, tiny full ones, and then two other sliced ones. The broth came with a tiny box of chilies and I used the tiny spoon to sprinkle some heat into the liquid and it was prefect. I gave a surreptitious glance down the bar to see how the group who was one course ahead of me was dealing with their bowls (no spoon), and then gleefully picked up the bowl and drank from it. It's not often that I rave about broth, but this was wonderful. It was served in a beautiful black and red laquer bowl that I'd love to own.
But I wasn't done yet, dessert appeared after a short pause: a grape sorbet with a melon slice hidden underneath and a mug of lovely green tea, with my favourite toasted rice flavour.
I asked to keep a copy of my itemised bill, but they had to re-copy it for me as the order pad copy had to stay with them. No problems requesting it and they offered me more tea while I waited. Once all that was sorted out, I was showed out with a chorus of thanks and good bye and emerged back into Washington DC, replete. :)

The bus stop was right outside the restaurant, and I overhead a group coming down from the other sushi restaurant on the second flood talking about how the one downstairs was supposed to be really good, but that "it was the type of place that your dad would go". A guy who was waiting with me put his bike on the rack at the front of the bus as he got on. The outbound route went past the Dupont Circle Metro but they announced the Farragut north station before I head Dupont, so I got off there, and took the red line back to the Medical stop. I called Matt while waiting for the hotel shuttle to tell him thanks for the recommendation. :) All the way back, I had a slight smile on my face, and was probably still a little buzzed from the wine. :) Grabbed some more water and a cereal bar from the hotel gift shop, in anticipation of the morning's meal being at NIH. Packed up everything but the clothes for the next day, and was in bed around 11:30 this time, with the alarm set for 6:00.

Thur Oct 18, 2007

This was the big demo day for me, to try and help sell the consortium's tools to the other institutes at NIH. I got up and had a quick shower and did video express checkout, then caught the first shuttle at 7am. I think I was a bit too keen, only the big wigs were on this one! My suitcase fit through the xray machine, and I hauled it over to the Natcher building and took the elevator down to the basement level. Left it by the admin table there and picked a seat in the auditorium, then came back out to get breakfast. Which turned out to be a bit slim, I had a small bagel w/cream cheese and a tiny muffin, and a small cup of tea. No juice nor fruit on offer. Back into the auditorium to listen to the welcome and first speeches. Turned out that all the NIH heads that we were hoping to demo to were required to be at a meeting all day and wouldn't be able to attend our demo sessions. Great.

I started to notice that I was having some trouble getting a full breath, there was a guy wearing copious amounts of cologne two rows in front of me, so I ducked out between speakers to take an allergy pill. Had a huge coughing fit to try and clear out my lungs, but even the pill didn't seem to help much. I couldn't face going back to my seat, so popped upstairs to sit outside for a bit. That didn't help much, so went back downstairs to try listening to the talks from just outside the auditorium door. Couldn't hear much, but could see the slides at least. I was still having problems catching a full breath and was feeling light headed, so I decided to try and find a place to lie down, preferably with an EMT nearby. The building event coordinators had no clue, they called their boss (?) who said to take me upstairs and he'd take care of me. I refused offers to call an ambulance. One guy took me up in the elevator and left me with the guy at the front desk. Who was doused with cologne, and I kept holding my breath anytime he'd come near. He said that he'd get me a shuttle to someplace else on campus. He puttered about with boxes for a while as I sat next to the desk, and then said follow me. It turned out that he was going to drive me himself. I cranked down the window in the van and kept my nose in the fresh air. I tried to keep track of where we were, but was sort of out of it. He pulled up in front of a building that looked like a clinic, and said "go in, the guy at the front desk will direct you" and then took off. Um, thanks? So, I go in, still feeling light headed and gaspy, and the info guy gives me a blank look. Says that there's no patient treatment facility here, and that since I'm not on staff, he can't do anything. Anxiety kicks in, I think that I'm going to pass out, but luckily the guy sitting behind him is somewhat trained and he helps me to sit down on a chair in the open lobby. Cue people turning to stare. :/ They decide to call 911. Guy tries to take a history, can't find my pulse, gets my name and allergy wrong. A really nice fireman/emt appears at my knee, takes my blood pressure and pulse and checks my lungs. A doctor appears and talks to me a bit, but they all basically say that they can't do anything for me and will take me to Suburban. Turns out that's a hospital off campus, I ask "how will I get back?" - they say taxis are available there. Gee thanks. From needing a place to lie down, I get taken to the hospital, strapped to a rolling stretcher and all. :/

The fun part at the hospital was that they were doing a decontamination drill, and the ambulance staff had to keep repeating "real patient, not part of the drill" to get me through to the emergency room. They had me walk from the stretcher to the bed, cue almost passing out again, but I have a bed, and it's relatively quiet. But it's cold and the nurses are taking my top off. I ask for a blanket and one appears once they've got the hospital johnny on me, and it's even warm. My teeth are chattering now, though, and they leave me alone for a bit until the registration person comes. They tried to get info from the ambulance drivers but the telephone game distorted things, and I had to clear it up. A doctor appears for 30 seconds, says I'm having a panic attack because I'm "stressed about my presentation" (ignoring me saying that I was panicked because I *couldn't breathe*) and will give me something to calm me down, and disappears. A nurse comes back, gives me an ambien, and actually puts the call button and phone in my reach. But I can't make LD calls, and can't use my cell phone, so I can't call my Boston co-workers. The nurse comes back soon and cuts off the hospital bracelet, removes one of the sticky patches they put on me (I later found three more still on me) and gives me my discharge papers and has me sign things with the finger monitor still on. The papers only cover anxiety attacks, nothing about the drug they gave me. I decide that since my lungs are calmed down now, I'm leaving. I use the house phone to call a cab, telling them, as instructed, to meet me by the emergency entrance. No one there to help me up, but my head stays clear and I don't black out. I'm feeling a bit dozy, so I try to follow the nurse's directions to get outside, and get redirected to the main lobby. Where the taxi can't get as the whole thing is blocked off due to the decontamination drill. :/ Walk slowly out to the street and wait on the corner there, though one guy directing traffic does come over to ask if I'm okay. Cabbie finally shows up and tries to tell me that he'll take me to the Bethesda metro stop, but I insist on the Medical Center one or I'll get out. Finally make it and pay (stupidly high initial charge, cost me $9 to go around the campus). *Back* through security and walked slowly to the Natcher center again. Took the elevator down, and sat in the lobby for a bit, talking with Sonia and Katie. Sonia brought me some water and I got some tea to try and keep my passages clear, but I avoided going into the auditorium again. Eventually went to get lunch in the cafeteria close to 1pm, long wait in line to pay. Then went into our demo room and got set up, and shifted to the group FS/Slicer table. I think I demo'd to two people, it was pretty sparse for all that set up time.

Left with Steve and Wendy to head to the airport around 4:30, but Steve's summoned cab didn't appear by 4:50 so he took off on the Metro. Wendy managed to highjack a cab for us (very confusing where we were supposed to wait with the security check right there) and we were off. Into traffic. Took ages to get to the airport, I zoned out for most of it, we got there close to 6:30. I was able to get checked in at a self service kiosk and through security fairly quickly, running itno some Boston bound coleagues, but we split up before the gate. I grabbed a soft preztle and water for dinner, used the bathroom, and then it was time to board. We ended up sitting on the tarmac for 30 mins waiting for permission to take off (fog in Boston was backing things up), but once we were airborne, it was fine. I read a tiny bit, then dozed until we landed. Cris was there to pick me up. I had some toast and went right to bed.


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