Denver, CO

What can I say about Denver besides the fact I entered the city with a predisposed sentiment of hostility? The true American Midwest frightened me; the weather was on the cusp of its arid fall season, thanks to its pivotal location between the High Plaines and Rocky Mountains; the food was urbanized by everything having an egg thrown in it or some Mexican dish containing an unnecessary amount of black beans; the Downtown area was quiet, maybe just a little too quiet for my liking and the people were friendly, maybe just a little too friendly.

Denver, in all of its autumn colors of pine greens and maple leafs’ yellows, was at its best. The air was crisp and the sun shone from the mountain tops so brightly, teasing of its last few hours before the storm. Snow hugged buildings like fleece on a winter coat but  transformed into a blanket of ice the next day, covering every inch and crevice of the city.

I moved through LoDo like a token on a game board, stopping at each block and questioning the Coloradian lifestyle. Each step was another battle between myself and the snowflakes bombarding my face. I couldn’t move any longer, my four layers of clothing was defenseless and I was succumbing to defeat of my first snowfall. My company was frolicking in the middle of the streets while I was pressed against the sidewalk, desperately looking for coverage from the snow.

It was obvious that I was out of my element.

To further embarrass myself, I was the obnoxious L.A. fan in Bronco Country. It was me against the entire population of Denver. Those who were not hiking or skiing were at Mile High stadium, those who were not cheering for the Rams, were trying to be smart with me. Although I was instigating every time Todd Gurley rushed into end zone, to my defense I shouldn’t be taken anywhere in public because si ya saben como mi pongo pa que mi invitan.

Denver, Colorado; a place I would probably have never visited if it wasn’t the home to my boyfriend’s and his mom’s NFL team. It was cold and country but in its corners I found bits and pieces that suited my likings.

My few days in the Midwest was as to be expected; In Denver’s 20 degree weather I danced on the bar top of Coyote Ugly (and kicked a drink in a guy’s face), fell asleep to a Jazz band performing outside of the Denver Performing arts complex across from our hotel, met Eric Dickerson during the game’s tailgate, and patronized the mother-son duo for being fans of the losing team.

The city was a mile high, and so was I.

 

Left vs Right

newyorker
Source: @newyorkercartoons

In 2016 I voted in my first presidential election; albeit I had voter eligibility since Obama’s administration. I didn’t have an opinion, I was naive living in a bubble, and I intentionally chose not to vote in those years prior. Then in the election race heading into November of 2016, my bubble popped. My Mexican heritage, my life as a student journalist, and my female gender were infamously threatened by the now President of the United States.

I voted for a cause but lost to a country that cared more about an egocentric man. And the worst part of it is, is that I know people, my friends, who didn’t care about any of that. They didn’t vote left nor right, they did absolutely nothing; and its been eating at me ever since.

If my mother could leave her country and become a United States citizen at 25, and if my father could serve in the Vietnam War as a 18 year old Mexican immigrant, then what is stopping my peers who were born and raised American and who also had similar stories like myself, from voting?

With a heavy heart, I cannot give you an answer. In my inner circle there are some who are adamant about not voting and I just cannot comprehend it. They say “it doesn’t affect them” or “it doesn’t matter because whoever has the most money will win,” and every excuse is just another blow to my ego and maybe, even my heart. Sometimes I feel dumb for being passionate about changing their mind to vote because in the end I feel like I’m speaking to a brick wall. I’m lost in frustration and have an overwhelming feeling to forfeiting the fight.

In recent days this issue has been resting in the back of my mind like a trigger waiting to be pulled. It nests in a cushion of anxiety and I find myself distancing myself away from those trigger warnings. I feel scattered and at times just don’t know what to do.

How can I influence those around me to change there ideals and work towards something for the better good? The task has been difficult, especially when it comes to convincing my own friends and family. At times, cutting off ties with these people seems like the best idea but is it worth it ending friendships or relationships over the affairs of the state?

They say you aren’t supposed to mix friends with politics but the pushing and pulling won’t cease to end. So this is my call for help, how do I keep my sanity when those closest to me make me want to give up? How do I reach these people!

Ode to Los Angeles

El Mercadito

I woke up today with a craving for the city. In its name the Spaniards once called the small pueblo something related to the angels. As divine intervention would have it, the pueblo grew into a city of mestizos and Americans and its origins boomed into one of the greatest places for cultural diversity. Then when the second World War hit, a young Mexican man served his duty defending civil rights and left to a world unknown. He came back to the United States with his indigenous wife and the two planted the Salas family tree in Los Angeles.

I developed my relationship with this city in the womb. I was born in Garfield Medical Center but was stripped from the urban jungle and taken to the suburbs in the nineties. My father, a baby boomer spawn of the fifties, always took my siblings and I back to where he came from, showing us every different house he lived in and every different memory that came with it. I remember never understanding how large the city was because my father always knew every street corner, every exit and every short cut of the municipality. Los Angeles was etched into the map of his internal system, like every boulevard and avenue were the routes directing his veins throughout his body and every landmark was a functioning organ. I am convinced he can navigate Los Angeles better than he can navigate his iPhone.

Somewhere in between East L.A. and El Monte I first heard the word Chicano. Then I heard it again when I saw Selena for the first time. I was confused, unaware of the differences what it means to be Mexican and what it means to be Chicano. Before I knew what an identity crisis was, I was already in it. But the city had so much to tell about both ways of living. Through Los Angeles I discovered cultural roots in Olvera Street and was struck by the burst of colors of ornaments and crafts that brought back faint memories of a trip to Guadalajara in my youth. I learned empathy for immigrants who refresh our definition of diversity and enjoy the fruits of their street vending, literally. Just like my father, I became a sports fanatic of the purple and gold and the boys in blue and just like him I verbally abuse my tv when they play. We became accustomed to carne asada on Saturdays and menudo on Sundays, también always finding time for a chelada on the weekends. I found a happy medium being Chicana-Latina-Hispanic-Mexican-American and an Angeleno in the mix.

Something about Los Angeles’s mysticism calls me; never knowing what it feels to be a true inhabitant of its county lines but always wondering what it has to offer. Once I started working near the city I reached half a goal I set for myself- to work and live in L.A. The commute is just as bad as you imagine but at least my heart has found where ‘X’ marks the spot. When I leave the city parameters and see downtown disappear from a magnificent set of skyscrapers to a object of nothingness in my rearview mirror, I feel dejected and again, I’m sitting alone in traffic.

I’ll admit it, it even upsets me when I meet out of staters that live in the city that I should be living in. Maybe now is not my time, but one day I’ll be there.

Los Angeles, I love you.

The Future is Near

selfie
The one and only, Jillian

Summer 2018 almost went down in a spiraling hole down the shitter.

My professional life at a stagnant low had me waking up in the middle of the night fearing the same question everybody keeps asking me, “When are you doing with your life?” I awoke without an answer. I felt adrift, neither here nor there, nor close to anywhere. The anxiety spread and I felt that my career as a journalist had come to an end, that what I studied for all these years didn’t want me as much as I wanted it. I turned into a dejected, moody ball of bad energy. It was a fear that bled into my relationship and had me thinking that I have nothing to offer for the future of this relationship. My summer turned into a cycle of working as a server three days a week so I can go out two days a week and spend as much time with my love in between.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Alas in my summer daze of unworthiness, I received a call that I’ve always wanted but never received- a job interview. In a month’s long process I drove back and forth from Los Angeles for a series of interviews and rescheduled appointments. I waited weeks in between each meeting, unaware of my standings with the company. My night terrors became worse as I put all my cards on the table. The anticipation killed me. And then in front of my eyes, there it was- a job offer. An email that sent me flying. The beginning of my career.

Albeit the profession is a part-time job in the entertainment industry, it is just an arms length away from their news broadcast center. This is what I’ve been waiting for, at foot inside the door of a media corporation that I could hopefully test my skills into screenwriting as well. For now my mid-20’s angst is on hold but the new chapter of my life, is to be continued.

——

Just when I thought Summer 2018 was going to be a dud, another small gesture tugged at

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My wonderful boyfriend and I at the Dodger game

the strings that connect my heart. One day my boyfriend and his dad were changing the taillight to my car and when my keys were handed back to me there was a new addition; a small Dodger Blue key with the LA logo printed on its sides was now in my possession. And just like that, I had my own key to their house.

Another recurring theme in my life, besides the typical “What do you want do with your life?” is the other constant repetition of the question, “Jill, how are you and your man?” I mean, ask me again because quite frankly I love talking about my relationship. Still, it has me thinking- What is it exactly do the people want to hear?

Well as an update to my relationship chisme, a few weeks ago I found myself in the midst of a wine drinking party that I unexpectedly arrived late to. In the backyard of my boyfriend’s house his mother and sister-in-law were three maybe four bottles of wine deep and I was there to polish off a fifth.

In a drunken spell his mother shared the secrets of her son’s past relationships that I was too afraid to ask him myself. In what could have been gut wrenching awkward conversation, the ghosts of my lover’s past turned into a heart-felt moment between his mother and I. Behind a broken voice and tearful eyes she told me everything I wanted to hear from my significant other’s mother.

Sometimes when I feel down or insecure I think back on the moment to remind myself that in a jungle of scavengers, be a lioness. Be the hunter, and the killer.

 

Wino Forever

If there are some things I really love in life it’s my boyfriend and our mini weekend/weekday getaways, a smooth glass of Cabernet, and an even better meal accompanied with it.

This past weekend my boyfriend’s parents treated us to a staycation in Wine Country, Temecula. It was a complete bacchanal of varietel wine consumption and other gluttonous indulgences including a spontaneous visit to a rec clinic (sans parents) and death by overeating.

As a connoisseur for wine and charcuterie I’m surprised it took me this long to finally go wine tasting. But alas in the desert valley that is Temecula, I sipped my wine as bougie as I could be.

As anyone’s first time wine tasting, my boyfriend and I were more than satisfied from the first winery, Europa Village. His family and myself became members after the delightful server gave us more than she should have. She navigated our way through the different types of wine and gave us a tour from sweets and sparking, to whites and reds catering to our pallets. The men were hooked on a Port made partly with cognac while us women splurged a little on gifts.

We walked through the harvested vineyards and found ourselves in the spa area hours before our scheduled couples massage. In an instant we were already having dinner at The Gambling Cowboy and definitely overdid it with the medium rare steaks, baked potatoes, creamy mac and cheese and fried appetizers. Back at our own hotel room we unwound to Netflix and resinous extract of cannabis that ultimately paired better than the food and wine we were consuming all day. It was a perfect weekend away from life. Away from our normal surroundings, away from people.

In my 4-month old relationship things continue to change for the better. We are so malleable with each other it might seem a little excessive that we try to see one another every day; but when you feel that parts of you literally feel empty when they’re gone, then you could understand where I come from.

Even around his parents I always hope that I stand out from the others that have been in his life before. I hope they can see what I can feel and ultimately that we need each other. This trip I was able to really show my overdramatic yet humorous satirical side because I would rather show them who I am than be someone who blends in.

Again being hopeful, I can see this developing into something beautiful in the future.

25 and Alive

I’ve always considered turning 25 a midlife crisis. In my not so overdramatic state of life (sarcasm) I’ve been considering all the different routes it can take: I could pack up my bags and move to Spain and teach English. I could get my Masters degree. I could still be jobless. I could land my first career job. Or I could be engaged, who knows!

Alas, the road less travelled by could be my only option and whatever it is, hopefully it makes the difference.

On my 25th birthday this past 15th of May, I lived one of the best celebrations of turning a quarter of a century. My agenda was set and clear and my friends, family, boyfriend and his family all contributed to it. It was a perfect day catered to my needs in contrast to the organized chaos that was my Vegas trip ten days prior.

I worked out at 6 a.m., made blueberry banana pancakes and chilaquiles, experienced my first massage therapy session, laid out by the pool with my favorite sour beer, grilled burgers with my boyfriend, had wine and charcuterie with my girlfriends, shared an Italian dinner with my love, and finally came home to a cookies and cream ice cream cake with my boyfriend’s family. It could have been the bottle of Malbec we had at dinner, but I was definitely drunk in love. In love with the entire day and how bittersweet it was finally coming to an end. In love with the setting of being surrounded by people who really went out of their way to celebrate with me on a Tuesday. In love with feeling a part of a family other than my own.

As I age and notice a few differences here and there mentally and physically, the one right decision I’ve made so far was starting anew in the journey for love.

To be quite honest really, the only thing keeping me sane from the uncertainty of my life post-grad purgatory is the growing relationship between my boyfriend and I. Although my days are consumed by him I admit, my weakness is an inability to say no to him but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Part of it I think is because we are both are learning how to communicate feelings with each other for the first time in a serious relationship. In our romantic growth I see parts of me in him and vice versa. In Vegas we had our first fight and it was a result of neither of us being on the same page. Standing in front of him, bawling my eyes out and trying to explain myself to him stripped me down to pure emotional nudity. But in that moment I knew how much this person would mean to me in my life because I knew I truly loved him, even in the midst of it all. I was hurting because I wanted to make him happy and he was hurting because he was trying to do the same for me, but mixed up in the emotional mess we both did something we didn’t want to do and that was fight each other. Finally, the conclusion we both needed to hear; that the problem is not between us two, the problem is only in itself.

Sometimes there are things I want to say to him that I don’t know how to articulate in the correct manner. So I come here and say the things I want to knowing he will read them later.  Everything I write, everything I think about somehow always goes back to him but in the most soothing of ways. In my twenty-fifth year of life I think I found the person who will change this life forever.

Winters is Coming

lakers
Los Angeles Lakers Point Guard Lonzo Ball and Serena Winters/ Source: @serena_winters

The morning the Los Angeles Lakers were to return to Staples Center for one of the last preseason games, sports reporter Serena Winters sat in front of her Starbucks attired in gym clothes with a Robeks smoothie at hand.

“I’ll get [to Staples Center] at 4 p.m.,” said Winters. “When I get to the arena usually I’m around the court talking to people, watching what’s going on, seeing D’Angelo Russell shoot… We then do a pregame media availability for [Head Coach] Byron Scott [then] the game starts at 7 p.m.”

Winters, 27, is the lead field reporter for the sports writing blog, LakersNation.com. Her 24/7 schedule revolves around the team of purple and gold as she also contributes to Time Warner Cable’s SportsNet: Access Lakers and radio shows like The Beast 980 AM.

“Once the game ends around 10 something there is then head coach post game availability,” said Winters. “Once we finish that up, it’s past 11 p.m., we go back to the interview room, my camera guy and I, and get a post game story. We post videos around 12:30 a.m. Send video links to [our editor-in-chief]. Maybe we get lucky it’s around 1 a.m. but usually around 2 a.m. is when I get home. Then the next day I wake up and its practice at 11 a.m. so I drive to El Segundo to get more stories from players.”

At 5-foot-5 and 115-pounds, her petite toned frame can be contrasted against the 6-foot-6 athletes weighing well over 215 pounds; but her confidence in the sport equates to theirs. Winters, a Huntington Beach local, grew up in the world of sports where her niches were basketball, golf, and track. She also excelled in academics throughout high school and college, earing a 4.8 GPA at Huntington Beach High School and graduating Magna Cum Laude at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Winters was raised an only child. She was kept very active throughout her youth. Her parents put her in theatre classes when she was younger and her father would have her read to him aloud to discover new words. Alongside being a tri-varsity athlete in high school, Winters was also part of the Model United Nations where she and her club members would take on the role as economic leaders of a specific country and debate against other mock leaders of different clubs.

Chris Evans, Winters’s mother, said one facet in raising her was that she wanted her daughter to act appropriate for her age.

“A lot of things kids do in today’s world, I think that all needs to be very well watched,” said Evans.

Winters’s father passed away when she was 12 but both she and her mother credit him for her involvement in sports.

“When I was kid I think most of my pressure came from myself,” Winters said. “I felt pressure to get straight A’s and be the best athlete but my parents were really supportive. My dad always wanted me to be smart so everything was more to please my parents.”

Her piercing blue eyes and contagious smile broke into a laugh however when she spoke about her competitiveness, but her freckled skin and owl shaped glasses aren’t too threatening.

“The first thing that comes to mind about Serena is that she is always very hardworking,” said Jeff Payetta, 26, her boyfriend of four years and childhood friend. “She was always very good in school, which I can’t say the same for myself.”

Winters created an extensive portfolio during and after her college career. Her list of internships range from working at ESPN with the Jim Rome Is Burning show to working in the social media department on Fuel TV, to reporting color commentary for the men’s basketball team at UCSB, and eventually interning with the Lakers.

While she was commuting from Huntington Beach to Santa Barbara, Winters’s income came from valeting at the Hyatt in Newport Beach.

Always looking for her next move, she applied to Lakers Nation and was again, taken on as an unpaid intern. Her previous connection with the Lakers allowed for one-on-one interviews with the players while she attended practices. Winters eventually earned her spot as a full time reporter for Lakers Nation in October of 2012. She proved her worth over the next year to Lakers Public Relations and was given season credentials. This move gave the sports blogging website a major push into the media industry.

The website currently claims a following of 2.5 million on Facebook and a community of nearly 350,000 followers on Twitter.

However, there is a backlash for new media reporters from old media reporters. Winters says that coming from an online world there is still a divide in people who are stuck on traditional media.

“Even though they are friends of mine, like newspapers [reporters] … I feel like they are talking behind my back,” said Winters. “[I’m] still at the forefront with online media because a lot of people still ask me advice for video or YouTube. Whether or not you like it, media is clearly changing.”

Winters cracks a smile over the negative connotation of online media because it’s something she hears on a daily basis. But she says that despite the criticism, no one works harder than her.

Because of her role as a reporter, she does not consider herself a PR representative for the Lakers. She has yet to write something specifically the team has asked her to do but she chooses to avoid family issues. She reports on facts, gameplay and quotes said by the team to provide context for Lakers Nation.

In one post-game availability conference Winters took heat for asking a decisive question.

“I had a PR pull me aside and threaten to take my credential away … I was told that it wasn’t my place to ask that that question,” said Winters.

The question was when she asked Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant what he thought of his ESPN ranking of 40 out of top 500 players in the NBA last year. The five time NBA champion replied with “they’re a bunch of idiots”

The response generated a heavy news flow for sports media outlets and commentators. Winters held her ground for asking a fair question that produced a good answer. She writes what she knows based on certain things; commenting and critiquing players’ performances rather than coaching decisions.

Winters and her videographer Andrew Martinez, easily work over 40 hours in a five or six day work week to provide nonstop information for one of the country’s largest fan base. The two spend more time with each other than their own friends and family. Martinez has been working with Winters for the past two years and says he learned much from her.

“I’ve never been in sports media,” said Martinez, 28. “Serena is like a mentor to me… She helps me understand the journalism part of it all.”

Winters says being a woman in the sports industry faces its own obstacles in itself.

“As a female I feel like it takes so much more to build respect, especially in a male dominated industry,” said Winters. “A male in this industry can make one mistake and it’ll blow over. As a female you can work five to 10 years, but you make one mistake and your reputation is over.” Winters dresses, speaks, and works in a specific style to make herself professionally presentable.

In her experience in the sports industry she says one of the most difficult parts is managing other personalities. Winters labels herself as a perfectionist and when it comes to getting her job done correctly, it is her utmost priority. If someone else is not reciprocating the effort, characters begin to clash .

“In a male dominated industry it becomes more challenging to ask why does this get done improperly. There are no open conversations, they get defensive,” said Winters. “It’s personal. Men just want power… I’m not sure if that’s what it is, but men want power.”

Her stern belief is that she does not want others to out work her and while some may view this as unappealing, many respect her for it.

“There is this intimidation factor working with her because she knows what she is talking about,” said Martinez. “But once you start talking to her she’s laid back and funny and the intimidation factor goes away.

“What I like best about Serena is that she is very talkative… she makes it a point to make a person feel special,” said Payetta. “She also has an excellent choice in food.”

A medium rare steak filet or yellowtail sushi tops the list of Winters’s favorite food.

When Winters is not practicing Muy Thai or competing against her boyfriend in golf, she likes to relax with her English Bull Terrior, Bruno.


***This story was written in 2015 as a feature profile assignment for a college course. I worked briefly with Serena as a previous intern for LakersNation. She was kind enough to take time out of her schedule to give me a lengthy two-hour interview for my assignment.