Wining, whining and winning with Matt Bellassai

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We made the cover!

I spent New Year’s Eve with a guy who’s made his career getting drunk at his desk, and even though we were both sober, I had a fantastic time talking with him. Matt Bellassai is in Los Angeles tonight, because he’s a nominee for a People’s Choice Award (Favorite Social Media Star), but I hung out with him on a Thursday afternoon at the BuzzFeed office in Manhattan and talked about origin stories, Internet fame and why kids are the root of all evil. You can read all about it in today’s cover story at RedEye Chicago: Matt Bellassai’s guide to drinking (and whining) your way to the top. (To my delight, we also cast his biopic. I love his choice for starring role.)

That story includes exclusive video, as well as some behind-the-scenes photos of his star-making series, Whine About It. This much is true: Matt does drink an entire bottle of wine and then makes hilarious viral videos complaining about everything from pants to holiday parties to dealing with airplanes. It’s simple but effective — in addition to the PCA nomination, his videos have more than 150 million views, and the series only started last May.

You’ll be pleased to hear that Matt is a great pleasure to interview, that he’s both thoughtful and funny and that cutting down this interview was extra hard because of how much fun I had. Please enjoy these pictures, some of which didn’t make it into the article, and, because journalism is the beast that it is, feel free to share the article on the social media network(s) of your choice!

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With director Jeremy Briggs, who really collaborates on the filming with him and draws out a great performance.

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Detail from his desk
Detail from his desk
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FYI, out the big window to the right of this image, you can see the top half of the Empire State Building.

Matt Bellassai’s guide to drinking (and whining) your way to the top (RedEye Chicago, Jan. 5, 2015)

Empty NYC

It is this weekend, isn’t it — five months since I’ve been in Chicago; five months since I moved to New York. Five months since I said anything here too. I’d apologize, and I do, but it’s been an interesting busy, a sometimes staggering busy, the kind of readjustment I haven’t had to do since after I left college for a brief and ill-advised move to San Francisco.

I miss my camera. I have this great camera that I love using, but time management is a lot of work when you’re trying to just straight-up find your feet. I do love Instagram, though, and I recently got my first iPhone. It’s no Nikon, but it helps me do a thing I love in little bursts.

I notice this about my Instagram feed, though: It doesn’t take place in the city I see every day, but some sort of post-apocalyptic quiet, with very few people and interesting light. I think this says less about my state of mind than about when I’m comfortable snapping pictures in public — I don’t have the instinct to whip out my camera phone when I’m just hanging out with friends, most times.

I remember, when I came to Chicago from my small college town in Appalachia, how worried I was that I would never experience silence again, that somehow a city would be nothing but noise and lights and I’d never get a reprieve. But of course those moments and those places and times do exist, and they’re a good time to remind myself that I can spare a pause, and that I really can do something other than hurry to wherever I’m going. That it’s okay to be in the world and observe it and frame it to keep for later. New York is neat. I really do like it here.

I yelled and screamed about coming here before it actually became a possibility. New York believes a lot of its own hype, which is infuriating if you have lived in the places it considers not real or inferior. But coming here, I’ve thought less about the self-obsession (which is surely a coping mechanism for the cost of living) and let myself be surprised (and proved wrong). The light, when there aren’t clouds, is always like an Edward Hopper painting — I think that must be the effect of the ocean somehow, all that light bouncing off all that water. I’d always loved the Chrysler Building, but it’s the Empire State that I’ve come to regard as a friend. I saw Don Cheadle walking toward me on a sidewalk as I made my way to work. I’m not going to lie — that’s neat.

I’ve seen almost none of this city, is the thing. In five months, I haven’t yet been to Central Park or Coney Island or most of the museums. I’ve ventured into Williamsburg and Park Slope, though not a lot. But I got lost in the Financial District in a snowstorm, and fell in love with the twisting streets and surprise federal-style buildings. I know where to get good duck in Chinatown and great mofongo in Washington Heights. I’ve already spent too much at Forbidden Planet and the Strand. I know where to pick a straight line and just walk.

The days are getting longer now. I keep joking that I’ve only ever seen New York in the dark, after work, and that I won’t recognize any of the places I do know in the light. What a thing, to get to be in a new place. We should all be so lucky.

Put a camera in my hands

To my shame, yesterday was the first time in exactly two months I’d used my beloved and much-longed-for DSLR. I really love taking pictures, a lot, and luckily I’ve got friends who are willing to help me out. Grad school bud Clancy (previously seen in this iconic photo) and I hung out yesterday, which happened to be beautiful in Chicago. Clancy is an awesome human being who also happens to have a wonderfully expressive face, which led to some awesome shots.

First the nice pictures.
First the nice pictures.
This is why we're friends.
This is why we’re friends.

Continue reading “Put a camera in my hands”

We need vacations.

Everyone’s talking about Amtrak’s publicity gold writer’s residency program (some more skeptically than others) this week. I was super for this idea at first — I really love trains, after all — but on further contemplation, namely during a weekend visit to Ohio I took by way of Megabus — I’m not so sure I’d be a good fit. It turns out that the worse the free wireless, the more determined I become to bend it to my will, so I spend a lot of time glaring at Tumblr or cursing at slow-loading news sites rather than writing.

The vacation part, though, the quick getaway — that worked out very well. We’re pretty bad about allowing ourselves actual breaks in the United States. Even with firsthand proof of how good it is to get out of your head by just getting out, sometimes it’s not easy to convince ourselves we need to skip town for a while. But Megabus came to my rescue with outlandishly cheap tickets ($35 round trip) to Columbus, and I hadn’t seen my dad and my dog since Thanksgiving. It was time.

Eerie and beautiful most of the way to Indy
Eerie and beautiful most of the way to Indy

Megabuses, if that’s the proper plural, are double-decker. I am pleased to say I snagged an upstairs front-of-the-bus seat both ways, which afforded me an awesome view of what turned out to be some really weird, gorgeous weather between Chicago and Indianapolis: miles and miles of fog over thick melting snow. It was like driving through a Swedish detective novel. Continue reading “We need vacations.”

An actually excellent Friday the 13th

After a week of 90+ temperatures, when the air cooled off and the clouds were racing across a bright blue sky, Julie and I finally decided to do it. We’d been saying we would bike to the Chicago Botanic Garden for weeks, if not months: with conditions like this, there was no time like the present.

The day got off to a promising start. Spoiler alert: it stayed pretty perfect.
The day got off to a promising start as I left my apartment building, bike in hand. Spoiler alert: it stayed pretty perfect. This post is actually not a tragicomedy!

I’ve been happily doing my running thing for about a month, but my bike has, unfortunately, spent a lot of time in my apartment building’s laundry room this summer. No worries, though, right? We had a map and an open schedule, and Google said we’d be there in an hour and a half.

Google makes some funny jokes sometimes, fyi.

The original plan was to take the North Branch Trail, which has some occasionally confusing bits that we were totally prepared to tackle, thanks to this helpful comic. We fumbled our way through a number of interruptions and detours, but figured this was probably the last hiccup that would bother us; it appeared that we’d have smooth sailing as soon as we passed, say, Devon Street.

Not actually the case! All through Lincolnwood, Wilmette, Skokie and into Evanston, we had to start and stop at very busy street crossings (though we did get to enjoy some interesting public art along the trail). By the time we made it to Evanston (more winding through streets, at which point we nearly hit the football stadium, distressingly close to the lake), it was nearly 2 o’clock and both of us had been counting on eating lunch at the Botanic Garden by then.

Enter Walker Bros.

Oh my god.

I learned that corned beef hash is something that looks like it will give you mad cow disease, but tastes like heaven. Hurrah for culinary daring!
I learned that corned beef hash is something that looks like it will give you mad cow disease, but tastes like heaven. (It’s hash browns or potatoes plus corned beef, all fried together.) Hurrah for culinary daring!

The whole interior of that place is well worth a photo essay all its own, but a little Instagram will have to suffice for now: we had better places to be.

Continue reading “An actually excellent Friday the 13th”