What Home Is

I’m sitting on my bed in New York, snacking from a bag of homemade Chex mix that traveled with me this morning on a plane from Portland, Oregon. This is bringing me great joy.

For the first time since I moved to New York over two years ago, I went home for Thanksgiving. I’d been home other times, of course, but this was the first time in a few years that I spent Thanksgiving in Portland. I was lucky to get a good chunk of time there, too – flew out Tuesday morning and came back Sunday afternoon.

One thing that’s surprised me about living in New York is how infrequently I get homesick. Or rather, how infrequently I get Portland-sick. I miss my family, but we talk all the time, and since my sister is also in the area for school, they come to New York at least a couple times a year. We’ve also gotten together in “neutral” places, like a trip to Florida last summer. So while I miss a lot of things about Portland – friends from college who live there, extended family, Fred MeyerPowell’s – I find myself able to go a long time without physically being there, because so much of what represents “home” to me can be found elsewhere.

This was my first trip to Portland since last Christmas, and I think I was wearing my almost-a-year-away-from-home badge with some degree of pride. I secretly wanted to see if I could make it a year. And I know I could have done it, but what’s the point? The opportunity to go home was there, and I wouldn’t have jumped at it if there hadn’t been some part of me that longed to be in the actual place.

These little thoughts about home have been bouncing in my mind since Tuesday. What is home, really? A place? The people in the place? A combination of the two and several other elements? When I landed at PDX on Tuesday, my first stop was my old high school, where my mom is still a teacher. A landmark for me in Portland – but the school changed locations in January. I loved chatting with my favorite teacher and cross-country coach, but we weren’t in any of the classrooms I used to sit in. It didn’t matter, of course. But it was different.

And about a year after I moved to New York, my parents moved within the Portland area. They’re not far from the old house at all – my sister who’s still at home didn’t change schools – but there’s not the same sense of nostalgia. I’m not going to Portland so I can sleep in my old room, you know? My whole frame of reference for driving has changed, too. Again – none of this really matters. Home is still home. Portland is still Portland. But I was reminded this week of how things are always in flux.

It’s the physical places that are in flux, though. Not the people I spend time with. My parents and little sister are the same people, as are my best friends from college. It was a joy to see those girls. I think there’s a relaxed air to the Thanksgiving holiday that doesn’t exist at Christmastime, where there are more events to attend, gifts to buy, places to be. At Thanksgiving, we can just hang out.

I know there isn’t a formula calculating the perfect number of times one should visit home. There are so many factors. But I know this visit was perfect, and perfectly timed. I saw so many amazing people, made two trips to Powell’s (scored a gloriously retro used copy of this for $2), tried new (to me) restaurants and sang at the top of my lungs while driving up and down I-5 (though I discovered that in two years of basically never driving, I’ve lost my parallel parking prowess).

There’s something I love about landing at JFK and knowing I’m home. Not home in the “this is where I was born” sense, but in the “this is where I am supposed to be right now” sense. So here I am. Eating snacks from home and thinking about what home really is. I think the last few days have given me a pretty good idea.

Cranston for President

As soon as I heard Bryan Cranston say “It’s not personal, it’s just politics” in a TV commercial for “All the Way,” I knew I had to see the show.

I mean, come on.

Like good little nerds, my sister and I, with our friend Kate in tow, went to the show on Friday night and all gave it rave reviews.

Cranston plays LBJ in the first year of his presidency – the play opens with him on Air Force One, having just been sworn in following JFK’s assassination – as he works to pass the Civil Rights Act and run for election in 1964.

In my unprofessional opinion, this play was tremendous. It wasn’t necessarily the story itself that I loved, but the way the story was told. It followed different groups of people seeking different endgames through the same situations: LBJ trying to procure votes for the Civil Rights Act; Martin Luther King, Jr. working with fellow activists on a plan to ensure the Act included provisions they wanted; and long-tenured politicians fighting against its passage.

The play told the story of three disparate desires, but connected them in clear, logical ways. Sometimes, multiple stories shared the stage. It was often set up like a split-screen. You’d see MLK on one side, LBJ on the other. Each would have his moment to act out the scene, and then the next actor would begin telling his side of the story. It wasn’t rapid-fire or back-and-forth, but it helped me understand how the stories were intertwined. As the action shifted from one setting to another, often from a room in the White House to a hotel room MLK and his team were staying in, it sometimes seemed as though they shared a passing glance, as if to toss to the next guy and the next scene. They were acting separately, but aware of each other’s every move.

And then there was Bryan Cranston. I think he’s one of those actors you just know will be amazing, no matter the role. I’ve never seen Breaking Bad, which is what I think most people love him for. But whether he’s the CIA director in Argo or Ted Mosby’s boss in How I Met Your Mother, I think you can sense there’s something great about him.

He certainly was great in this. I don’t know exactly what LBJ was like, and maybe Cranston played a bit more of a caricature than he did real person, but he clearly wanted to represent the man himself onstage, with all his political genius and all his personal insecurities. The NYT did an interesting story on Cranston’s preparation for the role, which included a video of his trip to the Times‘ archives in search of information on the president. I also love the story’s pictures of Cranston and the cast in rehearsal. I never think about the stripped-down rehearsals a Broadway cast had to go through in order to get to the elaborate final production.

I also loved discovering that one of my obscure little obsessions had a connection to this play. John McMartin, who I later found out is a veteran stage actor with multiple Tony nominations, played a senator set on blocking passage of the Civil Rights Act. Before “All the Way,” I knew him as the editor of the foreign section in my beloved All the President’s Men. He delivers one of my favorite lines in the movie while expressing his skepticism over the paper’s aggressive Watergate coverage: “Where did the Washington Post suddenly get the monopoly on wisdom?” (A clip of this scene is nowhere to be found on the internet because I’m the only person who’d watch it. Just trust me. He delivers the line perfectly.)  I love that McMartin is still going strong, and it was cool to see him on the stage.

I don’t think “All the Way” will be on Broadway much longer, though I’m sure it will run past the upcoming Tony awards. If you love Bryan Cranston, great acting, or American history, it will enthrall you.