Heidi Isern

writer. thinker. whiskey drinker.

Tall and Small Tales

(originally published on Medium at @hisern)

Dating and Renting in NYC: a Tale of Moxy

Location: New York City Mileage: 4,338 (plus multiple miles traversing the city on foot, cab, subway, and carriage) Music: Gramercy Tavern special (calamari and carrot salad, trout with fava) Music: “Good Fortune” by PJ Harvey The urban frenzy and harshness of New York is for the thick skinned and steel clad.  Until I arrived here, I had only been met with soft open arms, motivational quotes, and encouragement to keep

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Bright Lights, Big City

Mileage: 4,338 Location: New York City Meal: Matzo and Martinis Music: “Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z * names have been changed * I left Maryland to head to New York City and enter the towers of dreams and the melting pot of life.  As I drove into the urban Mecca, I started thinking about the strong women I had met along my journey.  Unlike others who wear their suffering

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Gratitude for Life

Location: Bethesda, Maryland Mileage: 4,010 Meal: Fresh brewed coffee Music: “Float on” by Modest Mouse Solo travelers that keep their masks on and walls up won’t get very far.  Especially if the intent is to have complete strangers open up to you.  In order to succeed on my journey, I had to take a complete layer off of myself, rendering me raw and openly reliant on the outside world for

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An End of Ramadan Feast

Location: Arlington, Virginia, across from DC Mileage: 3,980 Meal: Samosa, kebab, and curried corn Music: “Stand Up for What you Believe in” by the Mumford Sons I had successfully kept any skeletons at bay now for over a week, likely due to the shining light of the religious and good-hearted homes I had been visiting.  Past demons have a way of surfacing when you are alone in the dark, with

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Homemade Dinner for Eight

Location: Fort Mills, South Carolina Mileage: 3,501 Meal: Homemade everything Music: “Carolina on my mind” by James Taylor Knowing I was going to be in the Carolinas, my old business school classmate, Jon, invited me over to dinner with his family in South Carolina. Heading south was a slight detour, but a home-cooked meal and friendly conversation was well worth the distance. I left the gleaming financial buildings of Charlotte

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Interview with a ‘Hippy Chick’ Racecar Driver

Location: Charlotte, North Carolina Mileage: 3,478 Meal: Veggie tapas and cheap whisky Music: “Open Road Song” by Eve6 Charlotte is a beautiful historic city that is the birthplace of two American icons: Billy Graham and NASCAR.  Surrounding the green hills and colonial church steeples is the unmistakable adrenaline exhaust of the racetrack. There are over 79 paved and unpaved tracks in North Carolina, infusing the citizens of Charlotte with non

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(Speak) Easy Opportunities

Location: Atlanta Mileage: 3,156 Meal: Bernheim whisky Music: “Finally Woken” by Jem “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” Milton Berle Unlike Joanne’s father mine had taught me all the things a girl needed to know in life, like how to shoot whisky and play poker.  At an early age I learned the art of gambling, and how taking risks and seizing opportunities were fundamental in to maximize our time

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“Hotlanta” Grace

Location: Atlanta, Georgia Mileage: 3,103 Meal: Salad (finally!)….with deep fried Ahi (sigh…still in the south) Music: “Don’t Use my Broken Heart” by Leona Nass Atlanta is described as the ‘melting pot of the south’, a blend of culture and class that no other southern city can rival.  Atlanta is also called ‘Hotlanta’ by the younger crowd.  I was never sure if this was due to the heat from the midtown

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A Chance Encounter in Birmingham

Location: Birmingham, Alabama Mileage: 2,830 Music: “Hit the Road Jack” by Ray Charles Meal: A plate of (scurvy reducing) vegetables—my first since I hit the south. *interview names and minor details changed* I left New Orleans as it was approaching the peak of its flamboyant frenzy.  In Nola Labor Day weekend was also Gay Pride Decadence Weekend. Men had come from all over the US to don rainbow boas, dance

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Interview with a Katrina Disaster Worker

Location: St. Bernard’s Parish, Louisiana Mileage: 2,600 Meal: Muffaletta sandwich Music: “This Tornado Loves You” by Neko Case After switching hotels (my other one was surely haunted), I drove out of the crowded French Quarter into an expanse of pastel painted homes, dog barking yards, and neighborhood po-boy sandwich shops.  St Barnard’s parish wasn’t exactly a rich area, most of it just recently rebuilt after the Katrina devastation, but it

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Bartending in Nola

Location: New Orleans Mileage: 2,329 Meal: Homemade biscuits Music: “Someday You Will be Loved” by Deathcab for Cutie I woke up in my white French pressed sheets, sweating.  The women on my road trip were becoming intertwined with my past and invading my dreams. I groggily got up and headed for the shower, trying to cleanse myself of the swirling thoughts.  But the thoughts were not done with me. Voices

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Life is a Whorehouse

Location: New Orleans, French quarter Mileage: 2,329 Meal: Étouffée and a whole lotta whiskey Music: “Not an addict” by K’s choice I entered the stone streets of New Orleans’s French Quarter at dusk, right when the flames were starting to flicker in the street lanterns.  Jazz permeated the muggy air and street performers danced jive.  There were music cafes on every corner, sometimes even four on a corner, creating a

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Interview with a Pastor’s Wife

Location: Baton Rouge Mileage: 2,243 Meal: Pecan pie Music: “Trouble” by Nina Simone * minor details have been modified, as requested, to protect innocent identities* After driving for hours through the fields of Louisiana’s highway 49, Baton Rouge suddenly emerged from the riverbank, its towers gleaming in the afternoon sun.  I drove over the bridge and followed the chirp of my GPS’s monotone voice through hopscotch neighborhoods and dog wood

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Shreveport: A little family heritage detour

Location: Houghton, Louisiana (a few miles outside of Shreveport) Mileage: 2,192 Meal: Dirty Rice Music: “Don’t Fence Me in” by Rosemary Clooney Gone were the days of cruising along an empty freeway with nothing to keep me company but a lone cactus and my wandering mind.   Small towns, welcoming whitewashed churches, and forests so lush I wanted crawl inside them, bordered the two-lane highway between Austin and Shreveport.  My speed

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The Institution

Location: Austin, South of Congress Mileage: 1899 Meal: Tex Mex and a shot of tequila Music: “She Talks to Angels” by The Black Crowes Although I was mainly staying with Stevie for the unique conversations he offered, I did have a secret hope that he could also introduce me to some of his patients at the mental hospital where he worked. Part of the hope was to better grasp and

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Interview with a Mom…and secrets to a Happy Family Life

Location: Austin, Texas Mileage: Music: “That’s right, you’re not from Texas” by Lyle Lovett Meal: Grits and Quail, no butter spared (do I need a weigh in along the journey?) The landscape once again shape shifted before my eyes and West Texas vastness turned populous…well as populous as small town Texas can do.  Peach Orchards dotted the farmland canvas and I stopped to pick up a fragrant basket for my

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The Road to Nowhere

Location: A long road to Fort Stockton, TX Mileage: 1544 Music: “Life for Rent” by Dido Meal: Too many helpings at a Texan Buffet Anytime you travel you always get asked the same perplexing question: “Where are you from?” Nowhere. Everywhere.  I don’t know how to explain my movement over the years.  “My parents were carnies,” I lie.  “We traversed the earth.  I also spent a lot of time in

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Interview with a Soldier

Location: Tucson (by way of Fort Huachuca) Mileage:971 Music: “Zero” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs Meal: IHOP special I waited for Tess against the wall of a back booth of IHOP eagerly awaiting tales of the former athlete, West Point scholar, and Army captain. A tall slender girl with sparkly earrings came in, looked at my position in the booth a bit awkwardly, and sat down.  I later learned that

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The Road to Tucson

Location: Tucson Mileage: 922 Music: “Keep the Car Running” by Arcade Fire Meal: Bad roadside ceviche that I hope doesn’t have a parasite The trip between Los Angeles and Tucson is eight hours of hot dusty driving.  At one pit stop en-route I managed to lose a gas cap and my Mac Powercord.  At another stop I decided it would be a good idea to order roadside ceviche. (The aftermath

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The Female Hollywood Producer

Location: Hollywood Mileage: 415 Meal: Mocha Lite Frappaccino Music: “California Stars” by Wilco I drove up from beach bliss to Hollywood to meet my friend Rebecca in her indie production company’s new office. Long before before she got her second masters in film and even longer before she started making movies Rebecca had been my dearest compadre during our MBA exchange program Santiago, Chile. Rebecca gave me a big hug and

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