A.D.M. Was Here: Benelux and Strasbourg (and a Mugging!)

Some building in Brussels.

Some building in Brussels.

On some weekends while studying in London, I made excursions out of the UK to go to other parts of Europe. Sometimes, I went on unofficial trips alone or with classmates and, other times, the class would go on a sort of field trip together. These class trips included Benelux (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg) and Strasbourg.

King’s Cross and the Eurostar

As I mentioned in an older post, I was staying in a flat near King’s Cross (which I’d only heard of beforehand thanks to Harry Potter). It was about a ten minute walk away, across the street from the local Burger King and McDonald’s (and, I think, a Pret a Manger).

Nearly our entire class of law students were to take a train from London to continental Europe. I lazily assumed that meant we were leaving from King’s Cross and walked there dangerously close to the departure time only to learn that the Eurostar train didn’t leave from King’s Cross, but from St. Pancras. Though the two stations were literally across the street from one another, it feels super far when you’re late for your train.

Hustling over there, I got to the Eurostar security check and saw substantial lines of people waiting to get through. Talking to a Eurostar employee, I told her about my dilemma and she unexpectedly ushered me through security to get me to my train. I essentially cut in front of dozens of people who arrived to the station on time, making me feel both like a jerk and kind of like a boss at the same time (the theme for this post is me feeling like a jerk).

A glimpse of Brusels, then Luxembourg and the American Military Cemetary

Street in Brussels.

Street in Brussels.

An underwater train and a long bus ride later, we arrived in Brussels for a walking tour. The guide told us a bunch of stuff which I no longer remember, though she pointed out some nice places to get chocolate, restaurants specializing in mussels, and government buildings. Then, they packed us back into the bus and shipped us off to Luxembourg.

Judging from the fact that I have this photo of a Luxembourg hotel in the middle of the night, I think we stayed in Luxembourg. I don’t recall anything interesting happening that night, though I assume I drank with some classmates. Actually, this might have been the place where my classmate spilled red wine on the hotel couch.

Ho Hotel in Luxembourg

“Four Star Ho—” Yeah . . . sorry.

Luxembourg

Luxembourg is pretty.

The next day, we were given a tour of the city, and brought to the Luxembourg American Military Cemetary where many World War II U.S. soldiers were buried (if I recall correctly, many of the bodies were eventually moved to the U.S.). It’s always a little heartbreaking seeing the grave of an unknown soldier.

Unknown Soldier Luxembourg

“Here rests in honored glory / a Comrade in arms / known but to God.”

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Most Compelling Seth MacFarlane Thingies

While driving home and listening to “Majestic” by Wax Fang, I started thinking about how much I loved the episode of American Dad! that exposed me to the song. That is to say, I didn’t love it, but I liked it a lot (okay, maybe I loved it). That also led me to start thinking about what may be my favorite episode of Family Guy.

First off, I’ll say that my general assumption is that most people who come across my blog—people who can read—probably aren’t quite as into Seth MacFarlane created works as I am. Secondly, I want to warn people that this post includes some *SPOILERS* of relatively old episodes of American Dad! and Family Guy.

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A.D.M. Was Here: London

I did more studying abroad in law school than was wise, and I don’t quite regret it. After having spent humid summers in Asia, and two weeks of winter in Italy, I took the opportunity to spend a proper semester in London for the Fall.

No entry to Hogwarts due to anti-Muggle prejudice

Platform 9 and Three QuartersSo, I made it to platform nine and three quarters in King’s Cross, but those wizards and witches refused to bring me through. Jerks. It’s probably ’cause I failed to buy any Harry Potter souvenirs from the nearby store for my siblings.

Stuck in Bloomsbury

For most of my time in London, I stayed in a flat close to King’s Cross in Bloomsbury (Virginia Woolf’s house was nearby). I used a sort of student housing which gave me by own bedroom in a flat I shared with two undergraduate brothers from Venezuela and, later, an undergraduate girl from Sweden. Fun times. That was, until the persistent rain caused streaks of water to run down my bedroom walls and I noticed mold behind the wall hangings. Gross.

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Check-in Post, 12/27/14

Now that you’ve had a full two minutes to marvel at the awesome title of this post—

With weddings to go to on the opposite side of California, holidays with family, a two-week cold, and planning for upcoming travels, I haven’t made much time to post on this blog or work on my novel in recent weeks. Here’s a brief update:

Traveling Again

Ray Romano and Patricia Heaton - Ray and Debra Barone in ItalyAs I’ll be going back to certain countries in Europe and Asia soon, I wanted to do some A.D.M. Was Here posts about my past trips before setting out again. That’s not going to happen, but I might write those posts while I’m revisiting those locations (I do like going to cafes in different countries and doing work there—feels a bit more like you live there, doing regular stuff while also taking in the local ambiance).

Coincidentally, as I sat down to write this, I chose a random season of Everybody Loves Raymond on Netflix and ended up with the episode where the Barones go to Italy (where I should be soon).

State of the Novel

I’m about 20,000 words into the second book of my series right now, and I’m currently waiting on some beta reader feedback before I go back and edit my first book yet again. Then, I’ll send out another batch of queries to potential agents. Hopefully, I can get some of this done on my many impending train rides, and also do some more research for indie publishing.

A Superhero, the Post-apocalypse, and World Domination

Infamous 2 - Cole MacGrath - Sucker PunchWhile sitting at home to nurse my cold, I’ve been going through a backlog of PS3 games I never finished, including Infamous 2 by Sucker Punch and Enslaved: Odyssey to the West by Ninja Theory. On top of that, I’ve been playing hours upon hours of Sid Meier’s Civilization V on the PC.

Infamous 2 has some questionable character designs and the story kind of fizzles out at the end (no matter which ending you go with), but the game is enjoyable. Enslaved is also fun, though the story isn’t as intriguing as reviews led me to believe (but it was compelling enough through the majority of the game), and there are a few glitches here and there (none of which are game-breaking, so it’s fine). Finally, judging from the many hours I’ve spent on Civilization V, it’s fairly safe to conclude that I think the Sid Meier game is worthwhile.

A.D.M. Was Here: Italy (Italia)

During one of my winter breaks in law school, I ditched my family for the holidays and spent two weeks in Italy.

Rome (Roma), Parte Uno

After flying into Fiumicino Airport, I hopped on the train to Termini Station in Rome. Having learned a few lessons in Tokyo and Seoul, I expertly made my way on Rome’s subway system and found my accommodations for my first night or so in Italy (that’s right—no wandering around with my luggage looking for my hotel this time!). I stayed in a private room at the B&B Night and Day.

Staying in a quiet corner

Spanish Steps

The Spanish Steps

Nigh and Day was in a nice quiet area around the corner from a subway station and within easy walking distance of Trevi Fountain. I’m not sure I’d really call it a true bed and breakfast. It’s sort of an apartment suite that rents out the bedrooms and they don’t serve breakfast there. Rather, they give you a little coupon which you can use to redeem a pastry and drink at a nearby cafe (which, I think, is preferable to just sitting and eating in the apartment itself).

My first day in Rome, I spent a few hours walking around the city in a giant circle to the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, the Colosseum, Castel Sant’Angelo, and the Spanish Steps before I got tired and returned to the Night and Day for a rest.

New country added to my mental library—hooray for learning

Some ruins and stuff in RomeI met the folks staying in the other room of the Night and Day, folks from from Brunei (they were studying abroad in Scotland and traveling other parts of Europe during the break). Being awesomely American, I had no idea where Brunei was at the time. As soon as I got the chance, I Google’d the country and learned a bit about its history, its unique military situation, and other stuff (which I’ve since forgotten). There was at least one other person at the B&B we also talked to, but I’ve sort of forgotten. I’m going to assume it was an Australian guy (because anywhere you travel, at any time of the year, you will meet an Australian guy—it’s inevitable).

The five or however-many of us went out to dinner together and grabbed some dessert. I’m still in mild contact with some of the Bruneian folks (and met up with them when I went to Scotland on another trip). They’re very nice. Not as into drinking as I am (considering where they’re from, it makes sense), but nice.

One of these nights in Rome, I made my way down to The Yellow for the hostel bar. It wasn’t all that lively considering how close to Christmas it was, but I’d be back.

Christmas in the Vatican

Christmas in Saint Peter Square (Plaza)

So many people.

The next day was actually Christmas Day, so I went to stand among the crowd out in the Plaza of Saint Peter (Piazza San Pietro). Having not reserved a ticket to get into the Basilica for Christmas Mass (sounded too hectic for me), I ended up just people watching for a minute before wandering down Via Ottaviano to a fairly lively area north of Vatican City.

Venice (Venezia)

Since I planned on meeting my brother in Rome a week later, I didn’t stay in the capital for long after my initial arrival. The day after Christmas, I got on a train and shot up to Venice where it was substantially colder (still no snow, though they did salt some of the walkways to melt ice that formed overnight).

Venezia - Venice - View from the Hostel (I think)

View from my hostel window (I think).

Having done some proper research, I managed to avoid getting lost. The hostel wasn’t too hard to find—just had to cross the big bridge east of Santa Lucia Station, turn right, and look for a big red door for the Residenza Santa Croce (pretty good hostel in a good spot; it may be because it was right after Christmas, but it was also clean and not too crowded).

When I got to the six-person dorm room, there was no one in there. However, the luggage and clothing by the beds indicated that the room was nearly filled to capacity. As it was the middle of the day, obviously the other folks were out being touristy. After some solo-exploring, I came back to the hostel and met my dorm mates: a guy (from Hong Kong), and three young women (from Australia, South Korea, and a country in South America—I don’t remember which).

Cheap eats in Venice, and general touristy stuff with the guy from Hong Kong

Venice - VeneziaIt didn’t take much convincing on my part to get everyone to agree to go to dinner together (hostel people are normally pretty friendly).

We went down to a place called Brek, a sort of low-end cafeteria-style restaurant. The food wasn’t the greatest, but it was relatively cheap and conveniently located near the train station and our hostel—good enough for me to return a few times. An additional plus was that the restaurant had free wi-fi (the wi-fi in our hostel was basically non-existent).

San Marco Plaza

Piazza San Marco



On day two, being the only two Venice-noobs who haven’t walked to San Marco yet, the guy from Hong Kong and I spent half the day walking across the island to see the church and the plaza before it (it’s the biggest tourist destination on the main island). The walk itself was entertaining, seeing the canals, buildings, and people along the way, and the plaza itself was pretty cool (we didn’t opt to stand in line and pay to get into the church or the tower).

Excuse the partially obscured foul language graffiti.

Pizza al Volo. Excuse the partially obscured foul language graffiti.

In another plaza near a bunch of schools and libraries there’s a place called Pizza al Volo which sold what I could call a New York style pizza by the slice for just two euros a piece. It was good, and I would assume it’s priced that way because it’s near the schools. I don’t think there’s a place to sit inside, but one of the awesome things with Italy is its many plazas. On my second visit to Pizza al Volo I sat outside and watched some kids kick a soccer ball around (er, a football—and in a non-creepy manner).

Something notable about Venice is that it pretty much has no night life. So, on night two, I rallied the Australian girl and Hong Kong guy to go pick up some alcoholic beverages from the supermarket and drink in our hostel. We didn’t get particularly wasted, but it was fun.

Boating to the other islands

A house on one of the islands.

A house on one of the islands.

On the third day, I think all my original hostel buddies left except for the girl from Australia who also ditched me for the the morning to go on a day trip to Verona. It was okay, though, as I sort of had other plans: taking the water bus to the other islands—Murano, known for blown glass, and Burano, known for its lace.

While on the water bus, I was recognized (purely from my clothing) as an American by a Californian woman traveling with her Italian husband and his friends—more Italian folks (including an adorable little girl of about five or so), and a nineteen-year-old German girl who interned at the husband’s work. Pretty random, but this led me to what was probably the best meal I had while in Italy. Eating with Italians while in Italy is a pretty good idea. That frutti di mare pasta was worth every cent.

That crooked bell tower.

That crooked bell tower.

I’m not sure why I remember this of all things, but the Italian husband (who had moved to the United States for work) was complaining about how it was really hard (or impossible) to get good bread in the States, and that he thought ketchup was kind of gross. He said something along the lines of ketchup being a weird sugared-up version of tomato sauce.

Oh, and one of the other Italian guys also pointed out a tilted church bell tower, saying that Italians can’t build straight (referencing the Tower of Pisa, of course).

Back at the hostel, the Australian girl and I returned to our beloved Brek.

Four days in Venice is two days too many—unless you have good company

Kind of dorky and adorable, the girl from Brisbane (which she affectionately referred to as Bris-boring) was a bit too young for me to really pursue romantically. She’s part of the generation that really grew up with Harry Potter. She confessed to me how disappointed she was when she turned eleven and didn’t get a letter from Hogwarts. Shortly after she found out she was a Muggle, her father introduced her to The Lord of the Rings, making her an adorable nerd for life. She also has a tendency to trip over things, and slip into puddles of mud.

Venice - Venezia 3On my fourth day in Venice, I felt I’d already done most of the normal touristy things I could there (at least for a person with a moderate budget). The girl and I walked down to the end of the main island, away from all the other tourists, to a little park at the end. On the way, there were a bunch of houses occupied by locals as opposed to abundance of hotels and restaurants you see on other parts of the island.

For dinner, we ventured away from the cafeteria-style Brek to a more proper restaurant. She laughed awkwardly when the waiter assumed I was going to order for her. I asked her why though it was obvious she was laughing ’cause the guy thought we were on a date.

That night, we were surprised with a new roommate when we got back to the hostel—a kid from Belgium who spoke English like an Englishman. He was perfectly nice, but he basically turned the lights off on us at some absurdly early hour (maybe 9 or 10 PM).

Arrividerci, Venezia

Santa Lucia Station in VeniceThe last day in Venice, the girl and I went to some cafe in the morning for breakfast where she utilized more free wi-fi to book a weird set of train tickets to make her way up to Paris (a lot of the trains were already booked up).

I, on the other hand, already had my train tickets to go back to Rome and meetup with my brother.

We said our goodbyes and parted ways (well, I’m still facebook friends with five or so of the people I met in Venice).

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A.D.M. Was Here: Seoul, South Korea (서울, 대한민국)

A few summers ago, I went to Seoul to study abroad, taking a class I believe was called International Business Law (It concerned mostly pragmatic issues companies face when they do business abroad, and a whole lot of history about the South Korean legal system. Sort-of-fun fact: prosecutors in South Korea are from the top of their law school classes and, unlike U.S. prosecutors, they have a more direct role in investigating crimes, making them like a hybrid attorney-detective—awesome. Sorry, I’ll get back to the travel stuff.).

Another clumsy arrival

Airport Limousine Bus - Incheon to Seoul (Lotte Hotel)

I have no idea why I took such a crappy photo. Younger-me sucked at taking photos. My guess is that I just wanted to take any photo with some Korean text (한글) in it.

My plane landed sometime in the evening and I bought a ticket for the last so-called Airport Limousine Buses for the day which took me from Incheon International Airport to the center of Seoul. For a while, I was the only person waiting outside for this bus, so I was a bit worried that I’d somehow missed it entirely. As you can see in the accompanying image, a handful of other people eventually showed up.

Dropped off in downtown Seoul, I pulled another A.D. Martin and lugged my bags around for a ridiculous amount of time trying to find the Best Western hotel I’d Google’d prior to leaving Los Angeles.

I didn’t find it.

So, I gave up and checked into a nearby hotel instead. The nearest one was Lotte Hotel, but it was a bit out of my price range, so I walked next door to the President Hotel. If I remember correctly, it cost me around $120 which was rather pricey for a student, but I needed some place to leave my crap for the night. A few distinct memories of this hotel: all of the other guests were Japanese for some reason, and I couldn’t get onto the wi-fi there.

The next morning, I took a taxi to Kookmin University (국민대학교) which was sort of built into the recesses of the mountains in the north of the city. If I was a better photographer I would’ve taken a photo that showed this off.

The apartment building they dangled before me before snatching away.

The apartment building they dangled before me before snatching away.

When I went to the front window of the dorm I was supposed to be staying at and tried to tell the security guy that I was there for the study abroad program, he brought me next door to an apartment building and showed me to a considerably large one-bedroom suite with its own bathroom and living room. It was too good to be true. The thing with the guard was that he spoke less English than any random student I could have grabbed on campus.

Turns out the dude thought I was a visiting professor of some sort (despite being in my mid-twenties at the time and looking like I was in my early twenties) and brought me to the wrong place (actually, through one of my classmates, I later met a young-ish South African woman who was in Seoul teaching English and living in one of those apartments).

Dormitory D for international students. The undergrads we met later were jealous that we law-abroad folks got 4-bedroom rooms to ourselves.

Dormitory D for international students. The undergrads we met later were jealous that we law-abroad folks got 4-person rooms to ourselves.

Some school faculty guy eventually showed up and corrected the mistake, and they sent me to my dorm room. Being a law student studying abroad, however, I at least got a 4-bed ensuite dorm room to myself (yep, still had my own bathroom).

Undergraduate curfew…

Student art at Kookmin University

Some random student-made art on campus.

The funny thing about the dorm was that the front door automatically locked itself at a certain hour (I think it was 11 PM), enforcing the undergraduate curfew on us (I think you could get out, but then you wouldn’t be able to get in without calling people and waking them up). That was pretty ridiculous, considering the fact that my law classmates and I were all in our mid-twenties or older (there was also a thirty-year-old, and a guy in his—I’m not really sure—forties or something).

But the Way East of Kookmin University

Convenience store behind our dorm. Ah, the memories.

So, whenever we were out late doing grownup things, we were locked out until 5 AM.

One of the law students from Hawaii eventually made friends with some of the undergraduates living in the dorm, and introduced the rest of us.

The undergrads showed us a way to sneak back in. It involved a bit of climbing and being of a certain slimness to get in through a window in the basement, but it worked. Some of my larger friends had trouble getting in, but we made use of it a handful of times.

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A.D.M. Was Here: Japan (日本), Part Two

Before going to Japan I purchased a JR rail pass which basically allows you unlimited rides on JR trains all over the country, including many of the “bullet trains” (shinkansen/新幹線). I think two or three rides on a high-speed rail already equals the cost of the rail pass (of course, I did this six years ago, so things may be different now). The pass is available only to foreigners and can only be purchased while outside of Japan, so plan ahead.

Anyway, toward the end of my time in Japan I activated my rail pass and finally ventured away from Tokyo—

Kyoto

Kyoto Imperial PalaceBefore the Meiji Restoration which put the Emperor of Japan back in power, Kyoto was the capital of Japan. The city’s home of one of the Imperial Palaces (yeah, there’s more than one—the other one’s in Tokyo) as well as a whole bunch of iconic Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. With my limited time in Kyoto, I did see the Imperial Palace in the rain and also visited a few shrines and temples.

Kitsune Statue

Keeping in mind that this was in the summer and I didn’t bother going to a hot spring (definitely on my to-do list for my winter trip), my favorite place in Kyoto was the Fushimi Inari-taisha—an Inari shrine located up on a mountain (Inari Okami is the Shinto spirit of foxes and, generally, prosperity). This particular shrine requires you to hike up a mountain for about two hours to get to it and, really, it was the hike that made the experience awesome. On the way, you pass through countless orange and black gates, and other notable monuments.

Inari Shrine Gates

CatBeing awesome, I got lost on the way down and ended up passing by a cemetery where a handful of cats started following me around.

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A.D.M. Was Here: Japan (日本), Part One

Long flight, long subway ride, getting lost for a bit—still fun

Two years after I graduated from UCLA, I went to Tokyo to do stuff (super secret stuff—don’t ask). Aside from going to Canada as a kid, this was my first time out of the country, and it was pretty exciting. It was probably a good thing that my anime-nerd phase had ended about four years prior to this trip. Otherwise, my head might have exploded from all the awesome.

I undertook my first fourteen-hour flight with Korean Air. This was pretty much just before the major airlines started providing screens for every passenger, so my choice of entertainment was limited to whatever they had up on the large-ish screen up front (I’m pretty sure the TV I’m sitting five feet from is larger than the screen they had—higher resolution, too—ah, the past and its crappy technology). They started with an American movie, then switched to a Japanese one, then a Korean one. If I recall correctly, the last movie had no subtitles and no dub option on the headphones, so I had to actually try to sleep for a while. It sucked.

Somewhere in Tokyo

Is this Shibuya? I forget.

Being a cheapskate, I opted to be on the subway as much as possible making my way from Narita Airport into Tokyo proper—all while dragging my luggage around. I got off at the Aoyama-itchome Station and proceeded to wander for an excessive amount of time looking for my hotel—and, yeah, still dragging my luggage around. Locals watched me and pitied me as I backtracked two or three times (marveling at the tiny cars that hadn’t yet become abundant in California) until I finally got my bearings and found my lodging. It even started to rain a bit near the end of the ordeal.

The first of many acts of idiocy abroad . . .

Still young and charged from being on my first international excursion, I didn’t let the rain stop me from venturing outside. I checked Google Maps for a place to eat, borrowed an umbrella from the front desk, and wandered over a few streets to a little ramen shop.

Well, in Japan, some of the cheaper eating establishments have you order through what I would describe as a vending machine. It’s a box near the entrance that you put your cash into, press the buttons for what you want to eat, and then it gives you a ticket with your order on it. Then, you’re supposed to hand that ticket to the cook-person who prepares and/or fetches your grub.

Being a noob, I totally bypassed the vending machine thing and just sat down and had my first experience in which a local tried to explain stuff to me in English because I couldn’t be bothered to properly learn the language of the country I was visiting.

Yeah, that wasn’t embarrassing at all.

Obnoxious American-ing: convini hopping

In Tokyo, it’s legal to walk around with an open alcoholic beverage in your hand, so long as it’s not a glass container (like Vegas, I guess). Notably, local Japanese folks generally don’t eat or drink anything while they walk from place to place.

Being Americans, my friends and I (and sometimes a random person from another country) had no qualms about walking around and getting sloshed (of course, being politer than most, we didn’t cause any trouble aside from calling attention to ourselves by simply having drinks in our hands). What we’d do was decide on a destination to walk to and intermittently stop by convenience stores for more drinks until we got there. The journey was definitely more important than the destination. Continue reading

Cool-ish Actors, Annoying Characters

Frodo Skyler Anakin Julie Deadpool Regina

Some actors suck. That’s just a fact. However, there are times where actors, through no real fault of their own, get a bit of flack because of the roles they play. Here are six actors who I’d say are at least pretty good at their craft, but are somewhat marred by the personalities and actions of their characters.

Anna Gunn as Skyler White

Skyler White Breaking Bad Anna GunnSkyler White is a fairly intelligent and strong woman who happens to be married to a teacher-turned-meth dealer. She loves her children, supports her husband more often than not, and generally tries to do the right thing. Yet, because of the few times she doesn’t stand by her meth-cooking husband, many Breaking Bad fans grew to hate her. Some weirdos who didn’t seem to appreciate the fact that Anna Gunn was simply playing a role in a fictional television show actually redirected their hatred toward the actor. Ms. Gunn wrote about this unfortunate phenomenon as the show was wrapping up in 2013.

Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker

Anakin Skywalker Hayden Christensen Star Wars Revenge of the SithI believe the most annoying things about Anakin Skywalker were written into the character. It wasn’t so much Hayden Christensen’s fault as it was the intent of the writers to make Anakin a whiny teenager. While it’s true that Christensen hasn’t really shown us super great talent outside of the Star Wars movies, I don’t think his acting is as bad as people make it out to be.

I liked Christensen in Takers and Vanishing on 7th Street. Yeah, neither movie is great—the former lacked in character development, and the latter had an ending I didn’t care for—but, they’re okay, and it wasn’t Christensen who brought them down. If anything, he helped make those movies better than they would have been without him.

Aimee Teegarden as Julie Taylor

Aimee TeegardenFor whatever reason, after the first season of Friday Night Lights, the character of Julie Taylor becomes incredibly annoying: she becomes selfish, unreasonable, and never seems to learn from her mistakes. Well, I suppose she does learn one thing: she’ll never do better than the awesome Matt Saracen.

Before her final good decision at the end of the show, Julie Taylor pulls some pretty obnoxious stunts. She has an affair with a married teaching assistant her first semester at college. Then, to avoid going back to school, she intentionally runs her car into a mailbox and lies to her parents about it.

Yeah, I haven’t seen Aimee Teegarden in anything aside from Friday Night Lights, but from FNL alone I get the feeling Teegarden’s pretty good with the acting thing and probably no where as near as annoying as Julie Taylor (also, she’s adorable, so she’s got that going for her).

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