Posted by: shannontraeger | May 19, 2010

Home Sweet Home

Everyone was home for Easter this year, so I couldn’t pass up a short trip to MN. I was the last to arrive of us all, and was immediately and pleasantly surprised my brothers’ latest habit (or lack there of) of facial hair experimentation.

Danny even experimented at the house before shaving for Easter. I like to call the below “Molester Stew”—Mutton Chops complete with eye-liner-colored black mustachio. Danny if you ever want to scare off another creepy stalker, just shave one of these catastrophes up!

After a delicious dinner of fish, risotto, and mixed veggies cooked by Chef Mom, we played a little game called “What earthly element are you?” © Michele Traeger.  If anyone reading this knows my Mom and the idiosyncrasies of my family, then you’ll know that this game is spot on for a casual nightcap in the Traeger family.

After reading over a list of adjectives, Mom had us circle all of those characteristics that we think represent ourselves. Not what others think of us, but what we think of ourselves. Notice I picked both “decisive” and “indecisive” as well as “spontaneous” and “predictable.” Each column (5) matched up to one of the following earthly elements: water, fire, earth, wood, and metal. I came out as a mixture of fire and earth. It was very interesting to see how the couples in the room balanced each other out.

Dad: Wood & Metal
Mom: Fire & Metal
Ryan: Water & Earth
Marissa: Fire & Earth
Colleen: Water & Earth
Dave:  Water & Fire
Shannon: Fire & Earth
Danny: Water & Fire

The next day I got a much-needed haircut in the morning, went to the gym with Dad to train for our upcoming race in San Francisco, and went with Mom, Ryan, and Marissa to register for the TraegConti wedding. I love the look on Marissa’s face below. You guys are a funny couple–I expect big things!

After wedding registration, we met everyone else at Masa for some delicious Mexican eats and drinks. Caipirinhas, margaritas, Dad probably had a XX (Dad, pronounced “dose-ah-keys”). I had Tacos con Arroz y Frijoles, corn tortillas filled with grilled mahi mahi, pico de gallo, lettuce and guacamole, and Danny had Puerco a la Veracruzana, which is Roasted pork shoulder marinated with lime, garlic and chile ancho, cooked in banana leaf and served with broiled pineapple in adobo and black bean purée. YUM! I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of Mexican food—you can’t beat fresh cilantro, avocado, tomatoes, and spices!

Nightcap at Kierans Irish Pub was super fun, aside from Danny getting assaulted by a cracked-out idiot on our way over (I won’t go into it for fear of offending you all with swear words). Easter the next day and brunch back at our place with the Mealeys, and back to Chi-city—a quick 48 hour trip.

Edina shancity: There’s nothing like going home to Edina, MN, especially when all of my siblings are back too. It’s hard to see everyone now because between the eight of us, we are in four different cities, but occasionally we make it work. It’s always great to come back to my room at home to find presents from my Mom and the radio blasting with KS95 classic rock thanks to Dad. My bed may still be tiny, but there’s nothing like waking up at home!

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Posted by: shannontraeger | May 19, 2010

New Orleans Round II: A Longy, but Goody

I left New Orleans in February feeling that I saw a lot of the city, but I had some goals in mind for round two.

  • See a Jazz/Blues Show–check
  • Experience a true New Orleans festival—check
  • Visit a Voodoo shop—check
  • Challenge Megan to an oyster—half-check
  • Test our Abita’s new Strawberry Harvest Lager—check
  • Attend Mass at St. Louis Cathedral–oh well, I’ll do this next time!

For work, we held events at the French Quarter Festival for three days. Our events were set up behind the Capital One Bank Riverside Legacy Stage by Woldenberg Riverfront Park, not to shabby for your standard work day: we listened to constant blues and jazz, were right off the Mississippi River, and soaked up the rays throughout the weekend.

We saw various bands like the Original Hurricane Brass Band, Higher Heights Reggae Band, and the Storyville Stompers, and I got a chance to see a performance by Billy Iuso & The Restless Natives (watch the video here). The Natchez even sailed by during the performance, which was a total treat! The French Quarter Festival is completely free, and is the perfect opportunity for local New Orleans people to get out and listen to some tunes.

There’s two things that really stick out to be about New Orleans aside from the obvious history, debauchery, and vivacious culture. It’s the people watching and the cuisine that really intrigue me. People of all ages attended the Festival and came adorned in standard New Orleans spirit and enthusiasm. Fefe, who came to the Festival straight from a speech Sarah Palin was giving, told me she does not have a last name, and that everyone in New Orleans knows her as just Fefe, kind of like Madonna or Cher. Her spirit for life was addictive and made me realize that we really do have a long and fulfilling life to live! And of course there’s the lady below, who was dressed head to toe in Mardi Gras attire, and even brought out her festive umbrella to shade the sun and add to her dancing routine at one of the concerts. I was inspired by her gusto as she danced by herself, able to entertain and enjoy herself.

I expected the food at the French Quarter to be expensive, much like Lollapalooza or other music festivals, but I was happily surprised. The shrimp tacos I had on the first day were only about $4. Perfectly grilled with a hint of Creole flavor, they were just about the only “healthy” lunch option available. Either way, I guess it’s all part of the experience of New Orleans. And of course, there’s the oysters. The first night we went to Dickie Brennan’s Bourbon House, where I was hoping to get Megan try oysters, but instead, had my own order, served raw and on the half-shell. Just as deliciously slimy and fresh as when I had them back in February with my parents.

My Mom always loved this chalk drawing of her mother, and after years of having it around, realized that on the back of the portrait, it said, “This portrait was drawn at the Court of Two Sisters in New Orleans in 1950”. So, 60 years later, I went back to the Court of Two Sisters for dinner with Megan and stood in the same restaurant as my grandparents did so many years before. The food was a little overrated in my opinion (mostly having to do with not being able to find many items on the menu that weren’t fried or cooked in butter), but the service was spectacular. Thomas, our server, even treated us to complimentary bowls of Cajun crab and corn chowder—yum!

After dinner Megan and I walked around the French Quarter and stumbled upon Reverend Zombie’s Voodoo Shop (check, another item off my list of to-do’s). Unfortunately, Reverend Zombie’s does not allow pictures or videos to be taken, so as not to tick off spirits or offerings. One guy got too close to an offering, and he was pleasantly screamed at, yes, screamed at, by a store worker. Reverend Zombie’s is not as famous as Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo, but it was equally creepy.

The shop did a great job of getting Megan and I out of our comfort zones, that’s for sure. I feel like I’ve been around weird, strange, or unusual things before, so I wasn’t too surprised when the shop attendants were extremely serious about their beliefs in Voodoo. There were your standard chicken feet, items from Haiti, Voodoo dolls, and other talismans, but it was the signs and rules that really tripped me up. “Do not touch the offerings, or the spirits of Voodoo priests and priestesses will revenge you.” OR “If you look at the shop owner in a funky way, she’ll put a curse on you and you will die a painful death where lizards eat your brains out.” Of course, I am exaggerating, but these are some of the feelings that go around in this sort of place.

According to Wikipedia’s definition, “The main focus of Louisiana Voodoo today is to serve others and influence the outcome of life events through the connection with nature, spirits, and ancestors. True rituals are held “behind closed doors” as a showy ritual would be considered disrespectful to the spirits. [Hence, me being unable to take pictures.] Voodoo methods include readings, spiritual baths, specially devised diets, prayer, and personal ceremony. Voodoo is often used to cure anxiety, addictions, depression, loneliness, and other ailments. It seeks to help the hungry, the poor, and the sick as Marie Laveau once did.

Megan was inspired by our voodootastic surroundings, so she decided to get her Aura read. An Aura is, “a field of subtle, luminous radiation supposedly surrounding a person or object (like the halo or aureola of religious art) that some people are claimed to be capable of observing by means of their third eye.” Brian, our spiritually-enlightened, third-eye possessing Aura reader, actually analyzed Megan pretty well. Was it because of the way she phrased her questions? Was it because of her posture or body language? Or perhaps Brian actually knew Megan on a different level. I am slightly mocking the practice of Aura reading, however, I do believe that if there is a capability to read an Aura, Brian would know how to do it. He was extremely well read, truly believes in Voodoo and its practices, and was able to give Megan an analysis of her personality and life that she was pretty content with.

Me on the other hand, I decided to have Brian read my tarot cards, to see his stance on this practice. He told me two main things about my life through interpretation of the cards. 1) I am seeking change. If I decide to go with this change, he advised me not to jump into it right away, even if I may be extremely excited and eager to start this change. He told me to make the change at the right time, whatever that may be. Telling advice from a unique third-eye possessor, or your standard guidance? You decide.

Never letting on my relationship status (for all Brian knew, I could be a lesbian with a bad record for relationships), I asked Brian what the cards tell him about my love life. 2) “If you’re in a relationship,” Brian said, “It’s either not going well, or you think its way better than it actually is.”—Eek! I called Chris to make sure he thought we were doing okay. Needless to say, I am not completely sold. I do believe that there are people in this world who see and know things that normal people like me cannot. However, I have yet to meet that type of person.

Either way, the experience at Reverend Zombie’s was enlightening because it opened my eyes to the seriousness of beliefs in Voodoo and what I would describe as “non-traditional” beliefs in a higher being, or lack thereof. This really was a truly anthropological experience in understanding and observation!!!

For fear of making this a long and boring blog entry, I’ll summarize the rest. After another day at the French Quarter Festival, Megan and I celebrated our last night on the town in true New Orleans style. We stumbled upon La Bayou, a restaurant on Bourbon Street, which we thought was reasonably priced and had a delicious looking menu from the street. The host tried to seat us in a lowly corner upstairs, but he was immediately interrupted by Doc, our waiter, who demanded the host sit us on the balcony overlooking Bourbon Street.

First of all, we didn’t even know that La Bayou had a balcony or an upstairs. Second of all, Doc told us that there is a ten-minute window each night where seats on the balcony open up. We lucked out by being at the right place at the right time, because we spent three hours up on that balcony people-watching, eating delicious meals of Crab Claws, Jambalaya, and Cajun seasoned Blackened Redfish, and drinking NOLA Strawberry beer (which I vote is better than Abita’s Strawberry Harvest Lager).

Countless bachelorette and bachelor parties, scantily clad patrons, men wearing dresses, women who looked as if “Party City” threw up on them (both literally and figuratively), hurricanes, beads, and vice galore! Once we actually walked around Bourbon Street, I found that I liked it much better when I was just viewing the debauchery from the safety of the balcony. I felt like I was always on guard, blocking my face from being hit by beads, or making sure my drink was constantly covered for fear of being roofied by guys (or girls, for that matter).

New Orleans shancity: New Orleans is one of a kind, and a place that everyone should experience at some point. It is literally, as my Dad would say, “dripping with ambience”—or maybe it’s dripping with booze—either way, it’s a site to see. The music, the excitement of the French Quarter (whether it be the art, the night life, or the history), and the life of the people, make New Orleans a place you cannot pass up!

Posted by: shannontraeger | May 5, 2010

Memphis, Marie, and Mid-South Things

I’m probably the worst blogger ever. I started this blog with the intention of updating you loyal readers (how many of you are there, four now?) promptly after each trip, but turns out, that’s harder than I expected. It’s been over a month since I travelled to Memphis, and I write this post on a plane on my way to my first trip to San Francisco. So, you do the math, I’m about 5-6 posts behind.
 
It was really fun to visit Memphis. I feel like I saw a lot in three days, and an extra bonus was seeing one of my college roommates: Marie! I really didn’t know what to expect aside from what Marie has told me about Memphis: ghetto babies named L-a (pronounced La-dash-ah) screaming at her doctor Dad, high school uniforms straight out of Little House On The Prairie, and Memphis being Elvis’ hometown.

The first night, co-worker Megan and I ate at Automatic Slims, just down the street from our hotel in downtown Memphis. Look at the picture below, and you’ll see why I was confused that there was no tango music playing in the restaurant. What I thought was a tango bar turned out to be a Tonga Club. All I know about Tonga is that it is a small Kingdom in the South Pacific Ocean, “near” Australia, and Jonah from the Aussie TV show “Summer Heights High” is originally from Tonga. Either way, I had a delicious Caribbean Voodoo Stew, a seafood tomato bouillabaisse with crab claws, shrimp, mussels, crawfish and rice. Yum!

Every last Friday of the month, the old train cars in Memphis run for free, and all the shops and boutiques open up with sales, free wine or beer, and cheese. Marie knows me too well, because this type of Friday night is right up my alley. Any chance to check out discounted arts and trinkets sounds good to me! I even got a glimpse of what Chris and I look like in 40 years, and saw the Lorraine Hotel, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot.

I gave up meat for Lent, but I made an exception for some dry-rub Memphis barbeque at Rendezvous. Megan, Marie, Whitney, Chud and I shared a platter of ribs, beans and the fixins’. Here’s what it says on the menu,

You’re about to settle in over a slab of Rendezvous ribs…about as far as a pig can go in this world. And we picked out the good ones for you. We charcoaled yours in a seasoned pit – oh so slow. And boldly basted. And secretly seasoned. If you’re looking for the meaning of life, this is something to chew on.”

It makes me sick just re-typing the above because I’m usually not a pork eater (my brothers love to sneak bacon into my meals, on occasion, just to tick me off), but the ribs were quite flavorful! It was great to catch up with Marie over dinner. She works at FedEx Forum for the Memphis Grizzlies, a perfect job for the sports enthusiast that she is. I also learned from Chud that it’s hard for him to fathom moving north of the Mason Dixon line (Seriously?). Oh yes, I’m also referred to as Yankee, and apparently, 145 years after the Civil War, people still have Confederate pride. Eek! I don’t exactly understand the mindset of the South, but my anthropological background tells me that we’re all just a product of our upbringing. 🙂

After dinner, we headed out on Beale Street and got some drinks at Silky O’Sullivans—a bar with a live goat in a castle in the backyard. It was good to hang out after a long day of work. Oh yes, and watch Megan get hit on by some pilots.

I haven’t said much about Elvis, but we accidentally stumbled up on the Heartbreak Hotel and Graceland—not exactly the picture of glamour and Rock ‘N Roll. Either way, it was cool to see the King of Rock N’ Roll still rockin’ some 30 years after his death.


 
Memphis shancity: Although I didn’t actually see a live blues show like I hoped, you can just feel that Memphis is hoppin’ with soul. Great music,  delicious food, and eclectic arts and culture!

Posted by: shannontraeger | April 6, 2010

Lexington: Deep Fried Basketball

Before I headed to Lexington, I knew two things: 1) It is the Horse Capital of the World, and 2) There’s apparently some pretty sweet bourbon distilleries outside the city. Well, turns out the closest I got a horse was the statues of these equestrians around town, and as for bourbon, none for me, but lots for the tipsy basketball fans. Also, I’m extremely allergic to horses, so maybe it was good I didn’t come too close to any live ones.

What I should have been prepped for pre-Lexington were the basketball fans–they’re absolutely insane! For work, we hosted an event at the High School Boys Sweet 16 Basketball Tournament at Rupp Arena (University of Kentucky), and we were blasphemed for not knowing of John Wall and Demarcus Cousins (Cuz Knows!). I said, hey, I’m a huge basketball fan, have played my whole life, but I’m more familiar with the Big East and Notre Dame, rather than the SEC.

To cure my lack of University of Kentucky knowledge, basketball fans so graciously taught us the “John Wall Dance” (see video). Co-worker Kelly and I made up for our not knowing much about University of Kentucky ballers by throwing T-shirts to fans and doing the John Wall Dance center court at one of the Kentucky Boys High School Sweet 16 basketball games.

Lexington as a city has a bustling downtown of two, yes two, high rises. I expected it to be larger than South Bend, but was proved wrong. South Bend is to Notre Dame and football as Lexington is to UK and basketball. Although the city is small, it has some character. It was refreshing to see local restaurants and shops, rather than chains. We were fortunate enough to stumble upon some eclectic local gems, namely A La Lucie, The Tin Roof, and Third Street Stuff & Coffee.

A La Lucie was just what Kelly and I needed. After having several meals where chicken and vegetables we expected to be grilled came out fried, A La Lucie proved to be delicious, fresh, and unique. Owned by Lucie, who according to bartender Rob, was Lexington’s first go-go dancer, the restaurant interior is both girly and feministic. Pink napkins, leopard print, and frilly chandeliers combined with images of pin-up girls and Lucie’s own portrait (see below: apparently the fan was added in, if you know what I’m saying).

After a delicious meal, Kelly and I headed to The Tin Roof for a night cap and watched our first UK basketball game. Man! Everyone in Lexington is crazy about basketball. We watched the Wildcats beat Wake Forest and the fans go wild. We met Tin Roof owner Wes and he even let us sign our own beach ball to put up on the bar along with other funny trinkets and  paraphernalia.

After a long event the following day, Kelly and I stumbled upon yet another local gem: Third Street Stuff & Coffee. Filled with creative recycled art, Lexington hippies, delicious vegetarian food, and a gift shop, we ended up spending all of our time there before taking off for the airport. I bought a tiny piece of Frida Kahlo-inspired art for myself and my Mom, and apparently it was created by Frida’s own granddaughter or relative!

We shared a delicious lunch of grilled brie and vegetable sandwich and Nachos “Ray Ray”, a Third Street creation of vegan chili, crushed Sun Chips, topped off with avocado…yum! It was a nice day, so we sat outside and, to our surprise, we were entertained by Lexingon’s own Amalgamation Fire Nation, “a professional collection of dazzling dancers and performers,” as they practiced for their upcoming gig. Check them out if you’re in Lexington, Amalgamation Fire Nation, “Showing grand proficiency with props such as hula hoops, poi, fans, balancing pots, and levitating wands!” -Facebook.com

On the way to the airport, we decided to stop by Oneness, a local Lexington T-shirt and apparell shop. We were inspired by Tin Roof owner Wes to buy a “Cuz Knows!” T-Shirt in honor of our trip to Lexington. Turns out when we got there Oneness was closed! Well, just our luck. The car behind us happened to be the owner of Oneness. He stared at us as we creepily waited outside, hoping he was heading inside to open the shop. The owner was just briefly running inside, but he turned on the open sign for us, and our luck again, there were only two “Cuz Knows!” T-shirts left in our size! A great end to a funny trip!

Lexington shancity: Although I wouldn’t call Lexington the most riveting of cities, for being a small town, it had some great hot spots. Follow your nose to find local restaurants with delicious eats, and make sure to check the lastest UK basketball roster before you’re trip. If you don’t know basketball, you don’t know Lexington.

Posted by: shannontraeger | March 2, 2010

New Orleans: O’Shaughnessys, Food, and Aerobic Bar Hopping

This past weekend, I was lucky enough to visit New Orleans, a city I’ve never been to before! Needless to say, I was so excited to soak up everything this unique city has to offer, and get some tips for places to go when I head back in April (with @megangreve). I left the city very happy, as I feel like I covered most of the hot spots in just three days, but I definitely have a short list of things I still want to do. 

My Mom’s family foundation holds their annual board meeting in February every year, historically in Minnesota, Arizona, or Denver, but this year they decided on New Orleans. This weekend I got to observe the happenings and decision-making of a typical board meeting, but was also able to see the beneficiaries of the foundation first hand at the East Baton Rouge Lab Academy (EBR Lab). 

Friday morning, about 20 of my Mom’s cousins, my Dad, and I hopped on a party bus, fully equipped with two stripper poles and strobe lights. Of course, the bus was filled with 50-to-70-somethings, so the amenities of the bus were (thankfully) not used. We arrived at EBR Lab to smiling high school students, thanking the foundation for their generosity. 

EBR Lab is only in its third year, and shares their halls with another local public school. They don’t have any actual sports teams, and don’t have the funds for extensive clubs or activities, but the kids are happy, and incredibly motivated to graduate high school with good grades, and attend college. It was so great to hear from the students and staff, and see where the school has gone in just three years. 

 

 

After the site visit, Mom, Dad and I got drinks with my Uncle John and Aunt Cheryl at The Windsor Court Hotel, then hit the town before meeting up with my sister Colleen and her husband Dave in the French Quarter. I was set on eating at Acme Oyster House because of the Travel Channel’s visit there on Man v. Food, but because of the rain and a long line out the door, we decided to eat next door at Dickie Brennan’s Bourbon House Oyster Bar, much to my parent’s happiness. We all tried some local New Orleans beer, Abita Amber, which very tasty. The oysters were delicious and slimy, and served how they should be: raw and on the half-shell. And, my Dad said he had the best shrimp cocktail of his life! 

 

 

 

Saturday, we spent most of the day in meetings, but Dave and I were able to make a list of things to do in New Orleans, much to the dismay of Dave, who prefers to “fly by seat of pants” aka “do things less efficiently.” 

 

 

 

 

 

My Dad was very eager to go, what he calls, “Aerobic Bar Hopping,” which means, sprinting from bar-to-bar to ensure we don’t miss out on the Saturday afternoon French Quarter scene. We started out at The Checkered Parrot, walked around Bourbon Street, met up with some cousins at Pat O’Brien’s for hurricanes, and truly experienced the culture and festivities of New Orleans. My Dad even met a friend, named Kathy, who seemed to really be into him. 

 

 

The next morning we had a short private Mass at the hotel with an Oblate priest, and hit the town for round two of sightseeing. This time we hopped on the U.S.’s oldest street car down St. Charles Avenue and saw some breathtaking homes. I loved seeing the French influence in the architecture: the cast-iron gates and balconies, tall pillars, and varying exterior colors in the old homes screamed the culture. People jogged in the street car tracks, and the trees were filled with Mardi Gras beads. It was also cool to see Tulane University and Loyola University (shout out to Pete and Rox), great campuses in the heart of an old town, across the street from Audubon Park, and along the Mississippi River. 

 

 

 

 

Finally, before I headed back to Chicago, my family and I strolled around Jackson Square, peaked into St. Louis Cathedral, checked out the street art, and stopped at Cafe Du Monde for some beignets and coffee (where Dave so kindly blew powdered sugar all over my face and black scarf: see picture below). Oh yes, and I forgot to mention that the Rock ‘n’ Roll Mardi Gras Marathon was that Sunday morning, so it was fun to see the runners enjoy the town as well. 

  

 

 

New Orleans shancity: It’s amazing to observe a town so struck with tragedy by Katrina slowly but surely overcome. The Oblate priest told us that the Saint’s Superbowl win did wonders for the hope of the town. He said New Orleans lost a lot, but did not lose their faith and passion. Any observer can see that this is true. It’s so great to see a city preserve its history so passionately. 

Things I hope to do in April during Round II of New Orleans: 

  • See a Jazz/Blues show
  • Experience a true New Orleans festival (and I will, during three days of the French Quarter Festival)
  • Attend Mass at St. Louis Cathedral
  • Visit a Voodoo shop (preferably Reverend Zombie’s–seems very contrary to the former item on my to do list, but hey, when in Rome…)
  • Challenge @megangreve to an oyster-off
  • Test out Abita’s new Strawberry Harvest Lager
Posted by: shannontraeger | February 1, 2010

I Am Not A Blogger

I am not a blogger. I swore I would never be. After 8 hours of staring at my computer at work, the last thing I want to do when I get home is hit the interweb. I’d much rather work out, make a delicious meal, or hang with my roommates. In fact, I’d much rather do ANYTHING than blab about my thoughts online. Blab about my thoughts to an actual person, yes. But online, no.

Working in PR, I fully realize the business advantages of social media. Facebook, Twitter, engaging with Mommy Bloggers–all of these outlets advance the presence of my clients. A good majority of my job has been to read and research bloggers who may focus or have a passion for a topic that relates to my clients. I am very much connected to the digital and social media world, yet I have no interest in blogging myself.

However, I think I’ve found a topic worth blogging about! Or least a topic that I would like to record so I can go back and reference and allow my family and friends to read. I’m fortunate enough to be spending most of 2010 traveling around the United States for my job. Over 6 months, I’ll call Chicago home, but  I’ll be visiting 16 cities and 14 states. I’ll blog about each city’s individual presence in the U.S., funny quirks, culture and maybe even test out some restaurants and hot spots. At the end of each post, I’ll provide you with a shancity: a word I made up, which means, a cultural observation or takeaway of a city by me, Shannon.

Here’s where I’m going in 2010:

New Orleans, LA (Round I) -Check!

Lexington, KY -Check!

Memphis, TN -Check!

Edina, MN -Check!

New Orleans, LA (Round II) -Check!

Tulsa, OK -Check!

Oklahoma City, OK -Check!

San Francisco, CA (Round I) -Check!

Wichita, KS -Check!

San Francisco, CA (Round II) -Check!

Knoxville, TN -Check!

Indianapolis, IN -Check!

Madison, WI -Check!

Grand Rapids, MI -Check!

Cleveland, OH -Check!

Springfield, MO -Check!

Boston, MA -Check!

Des Moines, IA -Check!

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