I wonder a lot where I’m going to be in five years. It’s like I’m constantly putting myself through a job interview. Quite an odd pastime, sure, but it’s one I can’t help but partake in.
Five years from now, I’ll be twenty-five. That means I’ll be out of college, fully in the real world, and finally able to rent a car. Don’t ask me why renting a car feels like the epitome of adulthood. I don’t know.
Five years from now, hopefully I’m right back where I was five years ago today, except older, and with better fashion sense, and ten years' worth of one-steps closer to becoming Savannah Guthrie.
Fifteen-year-old Alex was so eager to finally visit New York City after years of groveling that she made a themed playlist for the train ride. It consisted of songs like “Welcome to New York” by Taylor Swift and “Empire State of Mind” by Jay Z and Alicia Keys. I was also in the midsummer throes of assigned reading, so the coming-of-age novel A Separate Peace by John Knowles accompanied me and my companion summer reading notebook aboard the Amtrak on the hot morning of July 29.
The ride was going to be some four hours. Between the reading, the playlist, and the overwhelming daydreaming I did, the trip flew by. I fell asleep the night before thinking about how I had grown up watching the Today Show, and how, for the past year, I had watched it every night before bed (back then, I was a freshman in high school and had to be in first period by 7:50 each morning. Since that clearly wasn’t conducive to watching the morning program, I would record it and watch it later each night). Call me crazy, and I probably was, and I probably still am, but that system worked for me. So, to think that I was on a train taking me to that very place? I couldn’t wrap my head around what was happening. Turns out, that became a common theme over the next 72 hours.
My mom and my aunt— her sister— were the ones taking me to my own version of this promised land. My aunt traveled often for work, and as a result she was far more familiar with the city than my mother or I. She booked us a room at the Renaissance in Times Square. I felt like the most important person in the world as we got out of our taxi, and I looked up at the glossy black exterior of the hotel in the middle of the very hustle and bustle I had so longed for. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. I’m supposed to still be a girl on the train.
After so many hours of dreaming about what it would look like, I’ll never forget when the Amtrak first curved left, and there to my right was the skyline of New York City. It was late afternoon, and the sky was beginning to tinge pink. The contrast of the blue-grey buildings made the most beautiful backdrop. I felt a lump in my throat. This was it.
I think often of an anonymous quote I came across in those days. I thought of it often even back then. “New Yorkers are born all over the country, and then they come to New York and it hits them: Oh, that’s who I am.” I thought of this especially as I saw the skyline of my dreams for the very first time.
The remaining hours of that day proceeded much like a dream should. The train arrived at Penn Station, and up the long stairs my mom, my aunt and I climbed to hail a taxi. And there I was, suddenly standing in New York City somewhere in the middle of Seventh and Eighth Avenues, somewhere between 31st and 33rd Streets. If one has ever truly had stars in their eyes, I did in that very moment.
I sat with my palms and the tip of my nose pressed against the glass of the taxi cab window for the entire ride from Midtown Manhattan to Times Square. (I say “entire ride” as if it was long. I know now that it’s some five minutes, but in that taxi cab, time stood still.) My mother told me not to get so close to the glass. “Gross,” she said. And she was entirely correct, but I couldn’t have cared less. I was too busy seeing the world.
We checked in to the Renaissance, and then out on the town we went for the rest of the night. My aunt brought us to a wonderful pizza place. It used to be an old church, and we sat up a winding staircase across from an accent wall featuring a drawing of what I imagined was the landscape of the old church when it was still just that— a church. I have only one picture of the inside of this restaurant (see below). I don’t even know what it’s called, or if I could ever even find it again if I wanted to. But as I ate gnocchi (my favorite) and pepper and onion pizza inside an old church with my two favorite people that first night in New York, how could I look around and not thank God?
The night’s affairs concluded with a visit to Toys R Us and a ride in the famous ferris wheel (our car was adorned with the characters E.T. and the store’s mascot Geoffrey the Giraffe) as well as a stop in Sephora and pictures with the more real-life characters, if you will, who wander around Times Square (see above). I fell asleep listening to loud sirens and the chatter of teeming people. It was perfect.
The alarms that next morning went off at 3:30 a.m. I leapt out of bed at the first chime. I was headed to the Today Show. It felt like Christmas morning. I put my contacts in immediately— not that we were going to be late, but that I wanted to be as early as possible so as to secure a good spot in line— and my eyes stung. It was too soon after first opening them (I’m weary of this uncomfortable phenomenon to this day). I had packed a bright red blouse and a wildly patterned skirt with reds and oranges and teals in it to wear. I slipped into my outfit, fixed my contacts and added some mascara and some concealer to cover my teenage blemishes, and then braided my hair in what I considered my signature style— a low bun with one chunky braid down the right side of my head that met the bun at the nape of my neck. I was ready and raring to go.
We walked from the hotel to 30 Rock and hit a Dunkin Donuts stop along the way. I didn’t get anything to drink. There was no way I was going to have to pee in the middle of the best day of my life and risk losing whatever spot on the plaza we would manage to stake out.
I’m not sure if I was simply manifesting that I was going to have the best day of my life, or if somewhere deep inside me, I somehow knew. Either way, when we rolled up to 30 Rock at 6:23 a.m. (ah, the glory of a time-stamped iPhone photo) on the morning of July 30, I had all the forces of fate, free will, and good fortune focused on me.
As is customary, I had made a sign to bring with me to the plaza. Most normal people bring signs that shout out friends or family, or advertise a birthday or anniversary they’re celebrating.
My poster read in giant orange and blue letters: NATALIE, CAN I DO THE NEWS WITH YOU?
I don’t know what I was expecting to happen with this piece of poster paper I had drawn on, but I can tell you I wasn’t expecting the morning to begin with the massive group of people in front of my mom, my aunt, and I to leave and subsequently create a prime spot in the very front row of the perimeter around the plaza.
I also wasn’t expecting to meet the Plaza Producer, whose name, of all the possible names he could’ve had, was Alex.
He liked my sign, and then he found out about my name, and he liked my sign even more. We were now "Alex Squared," and within minutes of meeting him, he was tweeting me and my sign out to the world— namely, to Natalie— and he was going to see what he could do for me. I could’ve passed out.
Back in 2015, Natalie Morales was one of the four hosts of the third hour of the Today Show, alongside Al Roker, Tamron Hall, and Willie Geist. I absolutely adored Natalie and Savannah, but I especially liked that Natalie had a role on the third hour of the show in addition to the first two. In actuality, Today Show programming runs from 7-11 a.m. every morning. I think there’s some joke about it being never ending (Good Morning America only runs from 7-9 a.m.) but never ending is fine with me.
Alex Ficquette (the producer) flew in and out of the studio and back and forth between the plaza all morning. By 9 a.m., my grandparents had texted to say they’d seen me on TV, and I had secured a selfie with Natalie when she came out on the plaza with Savannah and Al Roker. I am notoriously bad at taking selfies, and this one was no exception. I look about 50 pounds heavier than I actually am thanks to the wonderful angle I fumbled the phone at, but there I was smiling next to Natalie Morales.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, my mom also miraculously snapped a photo at the exact moment I shook Savannah Guthrie’s hand as she, too, trotted by in a blue and white dress. I didn’t know there was picture documentation to help me forever relish the moment, and I remember having one of those moments where you contemplate never washing your hand again.
Ah, the days of handshakes.
The best part of all, though, was that when the main portion of the show was over at 9, rain clouds were rolling in, and my mom and my aunt had to essentially drag me away from the plaza. We compromised, and ended up in the gift shop just across the street.
Arms laden with Today Show sweatshirts, blankets, mugs, and more, I dropped it all in the middle of the store when my phone buzzed with a Twitter DM from Alex Ficquette— it contained his phone number, and it said “call me.” So, I put my phone up to my ear, and then I went running out the door.
“Go after her!” I heard my mom yell to my aunt from the other end of the store. With my aunt sprinting down the street after me (I wish I was exaggerating) I saw Alex coming toward me from the plaza. The merchandise and explanations could wait— I was going to be on the Today Show.
I had never had a pinch-me moment. I always thought that was a sort of exaggeration. Of course you knew you weren’t in a dream. Of course you were able to tell what was real and what was a figment of your imagination. But as I stood in what they affectionately called the Orange Room in Studio 1A with a swarm of producers and directors and camera operators around me, I reached down and pinched the back of my thigh. It hurt. I couldn’t believe it. I felt the weight of the mic pack behind me, tugging at the band of my bra. This was happening.
Mel B walked over and smiled at me. She was a guest on the show that day, likely promoting her program America’s Got Talent as they approached the live shows. “Hi!” she said as she was ushered by me and out the door I had just entered. My mom and my aunt had been escorted to the green room according to Alex, so I had nobody to make eye contact with to confirm the sheer absurdity of what was happening to me.
And then there was Natalie. She had on a red dress, one not much different in color from the shirt I was wearing. She’s a petite person at 5 foot 3— I should know, I’m the same height— and she had on the cutest pair of tan strappy heels that put me, in my flats, at about her shoulder.
She was standing to the right of me, and as I looked over to the left, there was Savannah, talking to Al and Tamron and Willie. I’m about 90% sure Savannah and I exchanged words. But, unlike the handshake, I had no documentation to prove it— not to other people after the fact, but to myself— and I was so hopped up on my own adrenaline that I was lucky to even remember my name when Natalie asked a few minutes later.
If history holds that Savannah and I did have a brief conversation in the midst of my living-the-dream-meeting-my-idol-fueled blackout, I sure do hope it was a good one. And I apologize for anything awkward fifteen-year-old me might have said.
My clip on the third hour of the Today Show was less than three minutes. The iPhone recording of the TV recording that I took of myself when I got home is even less than that, but it’s enough to prove that July 30, five years ago, wasn’t just some crazy fever dream I had.
I went on to see the Today Show control room and the little coat rack where the anchors hang their hats and other belongings. I also yelled across the bottom of 30 Rock, where there’s a Starbucks and a bagel shop and bathrooms, among other things, to Erica Hill in order to tell her that I liked her floral pants. Erica is a BU graduate from the same College of Communication I’m in right now, who, at the time, also worked for the Today Show. And her pants were from Zara, my favorite store. Don’t you just love the way life works out sometimes?
We returned to the plaza the next morning, too, to watch Jason Aldean perform as part of the Today Summer Concert Series. Naturally, I felt like I was practically Savannah Guthrie 2.0 after the 24 hours I’d just had. The very first time I saw my name on a teleprompter was standing in Studio 1A on the Today Show, live on national television. I’m aware that a lot of people never care if they ever see their name on a teleprompter at all, but for those who do, an experience like this was momentous.
I knew from then on that I would spend the rest of my life trying to get back to that very spot. New York City, 30 Rock, Studio 1A, the Today Show. These people made careers out of storytelling. It was, quite literally, something out of my wildest dreams.
The older I get, the less real it all seems. But then again, the older I get, the more work I’ve put in to get back to that spot.
So, today, happy half-a-decade to my hand that shook Savannah’s, and to my x taped on the floor next to Natalie on-camera, and to Alex Squared, who made all my dreams come true.
Do y’all need interns next summer?
So it’s been a hot minute since I put up a blog post, and I don’t know about you, but I feel like we’re going to be at the one year anniversary of this trip before I get around to recounting it all.
But, alas, I think this is it!
Where did we last leave off? Ah yes, the Pam Beesly-esque Pink Taco Toast. The next morning, we made a point to be up and out of D’s apartment by 9 a.m. It was Friday, and this was the last day she would have to work before she could join us for the full affair that would be Saturday. So, while she scooted off to work, we hailed an Uber (stopped at Starbucks) and drove off to the Hollywood Hills. It was time for a hike!
Nicole had been researching trails forever, and before we left that morning she had decided on one that was a decent length—about 1.5 miles each way— so that we would still have plenty of time to come home and get ourselves ready to spend the evening in Santa Monica. This was the day I had been looking forward to for the entire trip. The only thing I wanted to see more than Santa Monica was D, if that’s any indication of how excited I was feeling.
The Uber ride was scenic (every drive we took, for that matter, was scenic) and we passed the famous Hollywood Bowl on the way. After banging a sharp right up a steep, winding hill, the Uber dropped us off and waved goodbye. Around the corner, we found sprawling hills of green and dusty tan, and a little path that led up the rocks. We were off.
Casey and I led the way, with Nicole in the middle, and Jackie and Bella bringing up the rear. Jackie has an intense fear of snakes (which we knew about) and a rather intense fear of heights (which we all discovered together in the middle of nowhere Hollywood). At one point, between the Tree of Wisdom (yes, there really was a tree, and yes, that’s really what it was called) and hiking our way to the Hollywood Sign, Nicole broke off a giant branch from the brush for Jackie to use as a walking stick.
We started our hike where the Uber had dropped us around 9:40. By the time we had climbed our way through the Middle of Nowhere Hollywood (as I had affectionately dubbed it— we passed a total of maybe four other hikers on what was supposed to be a popular California trail) and actually found the Sign, it was past 11 a.m. The best part, aside from the view from the back of one of the most famous landmarks, was that around the corner from where we had emerged thirsty, dust covered, and with the walking stick in tow was a paved road upon which throes of people in flowy maxi dresses, cargo shorts, and sandals leisurely walked.
We may have free-climbed rocks to get there, but the way back down (and the normal way up) was going to be much easier.
We gorged ourselves on chips and salsa as soon as we burst through the apartment door, some of us half-watching a show about supermodels on Hulu while the others took turns showering and getting dressed.
I had deliberately packed a bright orange beachy dress to wear to Santa Monica. Like I said before, I was in the middle of binge watching Private Practice, and to see Santa Monica Pier with my own eyes was something I couldn’t even believe was going to really happen. Two iconic spots in one day— I was living.
The drive from West Hollywood to Santa Monica was one of the longer trips we’d taken so far. D was going to meet us at the boardwalk after she got out of work, so we picked a little Mexican cantina restaurant (the same one from next to the exercise cycle bar.... turns out it was a chain) and settled in with orders of burritos and quesadillas and a giant strawberry margarita for Nicole.
After dinner, we walked toward the water and found D and her roommate Ricki in search of somewhere to stop and grab a bite of their own. We settled on a corner rooftop with a wonderful view of the pier. D and Ricki shared fries and pizza, and after Casey caused a (well-deserved) scene on behalf of the 21+ers of the group over some very expensive espresso martinis, we scooted out in search of somewhere else to go.
We happened upon a little restaurant about a block down, this one on a corner too, with it’s open feel and oyster-bar atmosphere. Unbeknownst to us, there was also a DJ and a dance floor, and I’m not sure any evening will ever top the one I spent dancing the night away in Santa Monica, looking out with my own two eyes at the glowing neon lights from the pier.
We slept in Saturday morning and all woke up sore from breaking out our terrible dance moves the night before. Today’s agenda for our final full day in LA was a safari in Malibu. And yes, it really was just as cool as it sounds.
First things first: Malibu is absolutely breathtaking. Rolling hills of green interspersed with rocky mountains of dusty brown zig-zag into the blue sky for as far as the eye can see. When Miley said the sky is more blue in Malibu, she wasn’t kidding.
Cue the lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Except, not really. There was just about every other animal present on the property except those three. So it was more like zebras, llamas, and giraffes, oh my. On the list of Llama names that deserved to be recognized here are Barack Ollama and Kendrick Llamar. You’re welcome.
I wore black culottes, a white t-shirt with beading on the sleeves and collar, my leather jacket, and a big, black, flat brimmed hat. Behold, the picture that is plastered all over this website. Fittingly, the picture was taken by D, LA’s newest, best and brightest resident whom we had all journeyed to come see.
I bought a postcard in the safari gift shop that day. Not because I intended on mailing it to anyone, but because I knew if I kept it, it would always remind me of the blue skies in Malibu.
Though it’s a bit faded and the corners are curling, I keep it on my nightstand still.
At dinner that night— we stopped somewhere on the side of the road on the way home from Malibu to West Hollywood (and in California, the side of the road means some big, beautiful Italian restaurant)— and shared our hopes and dreams for the coming year. It was only January 11th, after all.
There were hopes for promotions, more opportunity at work, and better work relationships. There were dreams of studying abroad, of landing internships, and of continuing to celebrate this wonderfully insane pseudo-sisterhood-of-the-traveling-pants the six of us had gloriously created.
The world has changed beyond belief in the six months since that moment, but the six of us are very much still traveling along. Not literally traveling, of course, but figuratively, down the road of life.
In fact, D just celebrated the one year anniversary of moving to LA last week.
Before we got on the plane Sunday afternoon, we spent the morning walking around The Grove. Our imminent departure made the clear morning air thick with feelings. It was a real rip-the-bandaid-off type moment as the five of us threw ourselves and our suitcases into one last Uber outside D’s apartment complex and waved goodbye.
Bella had given her toast during our Cheesecake Factory breakfast at the Grove. That left only me. I had it all planned out and rehearsed in my head from start to finish, but no time left to say it. So, I did what I do best. I put it down in words, and with the press of a button, I sent all my feelings to my five favorite people.
And then I hopped on the plane at LAX.
I'm Alex, and welcome to my blog. I'm a junior at Boston University where I'm studying broadcast journalism and dabbling in political science. Usually, us journalists write articles and not blogs, but seeing as summer 2020 already hasn't gone according to plan, I missed writing with a purpose. Here you'll find all my thoughts and the words I felt needed to be put to paper (or, immortalized on the internet).