As a waiter at some of the region’s glitzy, famous, and most expensive restaurants, Ballston resident Isa Seyran has seen it all.
Tense political negotiations. Joyous family reunions. Power brokers holding court. Elaborate marriage proposals. A first lady having a great night out.
And now, after more than two decades, Seyran is telling his story about serving others in his new book “Waiter: Reflections and Memories, A Brief History of Washington D.C’s World-Class Dining Scene.”
“Call me crazy. Call me romantic,” Seyran told ARLnow. “But I think there’s something sacred about feeding people.”
Seyran made his way to this country and Arlington 22 years ago. He grew up in a small village in Turkey, always interested in “literature, language, and poetry.” While he says he could have had a fine life there in a “diplomatic career,” Seyran knew that wasn’t for him.
“I wanted to be free. So, I escaped with a one-way ticket and $300,” he said.
And that’s how he landed in the Ballston neighborhood, where he has lived since moving to the U.S.
He calls himself a true “Ballstonian,” throwing out memories like how there used to be a Shell gas station where he washed his car at the spot where The Salt Line is now.
Seyran began working in restaurants, using his charisma, love of people, “genuine smile,” and ability to learn quickly to earn a place working as a waiter, bartender, host, and manager at some of the region’s most well-known eateries.
By his estimate, he’s served nearly a half million diners in his career.
Besides working at restaurants, he’s also found time for his “hobby” as an author, playwright, and filmmaker. In 2015, a play he wrote was part of the Capital Fringe festival. Then, in 2019, Seyran’s short film about working in the local restaurant industry was chosen to be part of an Amazon-sponsored film festival.
The new book is an all-encompassing look into his life over the past two decades filled with stories, experiences, and memories.
The point of the book, he said, is not to be “salacious or malicious” about the industry he has worked in, but to provide an “honest account” of what restaurant workers experience on an everyday basis.
“There are people who are the unseen heroes of our industry, the busboys, the managers, and the dishwashers I work with. I thought it would be a nice tribute…writing their stories,” Seyran explained.
That being said, there are a number of anecdotes in the book that may create some good old-fashioned D.C. buzz.
There’s the one about former First Lady Michelle Obama being a “camper.”
Michelle Obama had the night of her life with two of her female friends at Rasika, drinking martinis first, then a bottle of wine, eating a sumptuous meal with appetizer, main course, dessert, masala chai and the whole nine yards. But when her security detail did not eat or drink anything, I lost between seventy and a hundred dollars in the first seating.
Like that was not enough of a loss, Ms. Obama turned out to be what we call in the industry “camper,” a guest who overstayed their welcome, which cost me another hundred dollars in the second seating.
Or how he once got bribed to give up a famed Washington Post restaurant critic’s identity.
ARLnow and its sister sites celebrated another year of hard work, journalistic achievements and client service at our holiday party Monday night.
One change: the venue. Rather than eating and drinking at a local restaurant, as usual, we had beer, wine, soda and pizza in the common area of our coworking space in Ballston. It’s one example of the belt tightening underway over the past couple of months, amid a downturn in the economy and among media companies in particular.
Round after round of layoffs have been announced at U.S. media companies this fall, including at CNN, Buzzfeed, Tysons-based newspaper chain Gannett, and email newsletter company Morning Brew. The Washington Post is set to undergo more layoffs early next year, its publisher announced today, while Rosslyn-based tech publication Protocol shuttered last month.
ARLnow and our sister sites are no exception to the pain felt among advertising-supported news outlets. After a torrid start to the year, which brought about plans for additional hiring, our company’s revenue is down in the quarter to date.
We started to see the slowdown, as did other media companies, in July. October and November were particularly bad months. The good news is that we’ve seen a pronounced recovery in December.
That does not mean we’re out of the woods by any means, however. Many are predicting a recession in 2023, though projections for how deep and prolonged it will be vary to a significant degree.
Despite the economic challenges, we have committed to our nine full-time employees that no layoffs are planned and we will do whatever is needed to avoid them. Instead, we have cut back on some technology expenses, non-essential spending and our freelance budget.
You can also expect to see ALXnow editor Vernon Miles helping out with ARLnow, to offset some of the freelance cuts.
We are fortunate to be operating in a market that is bolstered economically by federal spending and to have a loyal adverter base and a growing roster of paid members. Other local news outlets are not as lucky.
Still, we can use your support. If we can add 200 new ARLnow Press Club members (less than 0.1% of our monthly readership) between now and the end of the year we should be able to keep ARLnow’s freelance budget at current levels. If you’d like to support our reporting while getting an early look at the next day’s news, please consider subscribing.
The media business is always evolving, but now seems like a particularly volatile time. In the interest of transparency, we wanted to discuss some other factors that are affecting our business now and into the future.
Artificial intelligence and automation
We have spent much of the past year working on no-code automations that allow our editorial and business teams to operate more efficiently. For instance, most social media posts are now automated and we can publish events, announcements and other user-submitted content with a single click.
Everyone has flat screen TVs already so how about a more interesting Black Friday special?
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When Donaldson Run resident Liz Lord learned that she had breast cancer in late 2016 and needed to receive chemotherapy, she had lots to worry about.
One thing that might not be a matter of life and death, but is a common concern: her hair.
“At the time, because I had a seven and a nine-year-old, I was really concerned about how [losing my hair] would affect their state of minds, knowing that I was now seriously ill,” Lord told ARLnow.
She reached out to one of her son’s teachers, who had gone through a similar experience and had managed to retain a lot of their hair. That teacher told her about cold caps.
Cold caps are freezing-cold, helmet-like gel caps worn on the head. They narrow blood vessels in the scalp, which helps reduce the amount of chemotherapy medicine that can reach the hair follicles.
While it’s proven to work and is FDA-approved, there are logistical challenges associated with the treatment. This includes needing help to put it on the patient’s head and the relatively high cost. If worn for every round of chemo, prices can soar to thousands of dollars.
While Lord was able to afford the treatment and her husband (communications professional and ARLnow cartoonist Mike Mount) was able to assist, not everyone has those privileges. Plus, cold caps are often not covered by health insurance.
That’s why, in 2018, Lord help start Cold Capital Fund, a local non-profit that helps patients secure and afford cold caps.
Losing one’s hair from chemo can be a traumatic experience, not just physically but mentally as well.
“The primary driver for most patients… is privacy, normalcy, and dignity,” said Lord.”There’s some research… that when you look like yourself and feel like yourself, you have better outcomes relative to treatment.”
The way Cold Capital Fund works is that patients apply for either $500 or $1,000 of assistance. Lord encourages everyone in need to apply. Cancer and treatments are very expensive, she said, plus adding in a number of ancillary costs can make patients think they can’t afford cold cap treatment.
While $500 or $1,000 doesn’t always cover the entire cost of the treatment, it can put a significant dent in it. Plus, Cold Capital Fund has a relationship with two cold cap manufacturers and notifies the companies when a patient is approved for assistance. In turn, the companies apply a 25% discount.
When all is said and done, many patients end up getting about half of their cold cap treatments paid for.
Over the last four years, Cold Capital Fund has provided approximately $105,000 of financial assistance to about 125 patients across the region. Mostly, they are breast cancer patients like Lord was.
Recently, the organization has seen a marked rise in applications.
Clement, who we’ve covered since she first ran more than a decade ago, has thus far been unsuccessful in her nearly annual quest for seats on the Arlington County Board and school board. But she remains undeterred, and is hoping to win over voters with an anti-Missing Middle housing message this year.
Perhaps this is the year for Clement and, as the cartoon suggests, residents will no longer be able to keep track of their Arlington tenure by counting the hats she has tossed in the ring.
See of Mike Mount’s local ‘toons in the ARLnow Press Club weekend newsletter. Your membership supports our reporting and includes the daily Early Morning Notes newsletter, previewing the stories we’re planning to cover that day.
They say baseball is a game of inches. Okay, maybe that’s football. But for one Arlington Little League team, this can be taken somewhat literally.
The Athletics (A’s, for short) are a team made up of players and coaches who have been together for as long as six years, very much a rarity in a league where players often find themselves with new teammates every season.
This means they’ve seen each other grow up, in literal inches, from five-year-old tee-ballers to 11-year-old grand slam hitters.
“I have loved to see the team grow and I feel like we’ve bonded and made a lot of good memories and friends together on this team,” 11-year-old Alex Ng told ARLnow, who’s been on the team since he was six. “Players have come and gone, but the heart of the team is really nice to be around.”
At this level of Little League (the “majors”) teams are drafted, with the most skilled players often going first as is the case in the professional leagues. But A’s coach Dan Uscinski, or “Coach Dan,” has decided that their draft strategy is different: Pick the kids who’ve played together on their team before.
“It’s not like this is a blockbuster squad that I’ve manipulated the system to keep them together,” he said. “I thought it was important for these kids to just keep the team dynamic together as long as possible.”
The kids come from schools across the county, including Fleet Elementary and Thomas Jefferson Middle. This fall, they are playing their games at newly-renovated Jennie Dean Park.
Most seasons the team loses just as many times as they win, but that’s kind of the point. The players are learning how to win — and lose — together while growing and developing as a team. And making long-lasting friendships along the way.
“We built a pretty fun environment for the kids as a team. Kids go out, play for each other, and they built friendships out of it because baseball is ultimately supposed to be fun,” Uscinski said. “I’ve formed friendships that’ll last a lifetime too.”
Maya Kaufman has been on Coach Dan’s team since 2017 when she was six. She said that because the team has been together so long, they all know what each other is good at and what they need to work on.
“Because I’m so close with all these people, we give each other feedback and can tell each other what we need to do [better]… we pump each other up, but help each other know that you could have done this better,” Kaufman said. “If I was on another team, that might not happen.”
One of her favorite things is that over the years they’ve been able to come up with “funkier chants” than other teams.
“A lot of other teams have generic chants,” she said.
Jason Kaufman is an assistant coach on the team (and Maya’s dad). He says that’s probably the best part of it all, the kids are having fun and learning what it means to be responsible to one another.
“They don’t always work hard, but they are always having fun,” he said. “And they are certainly accountable to each other.”
And, this past spring, something special happened. Getting over a slow start, the team finished with a winning record and got into the playoffs. Then, they rattled off a bunch of upset wins to get into the championship game.
“Then, we got our butts kicked,” Uscinski laughed.
Within the first five minutes of Netflix’s new series Partner Track, Arlington native and Yorktown High School graduate Alexandra Turshen already has her “boss” moment by telling the new paralegal to get his feet off the desk.
“I would be lying if I said that I didn’t always want to play a fierce Manhattan lawyer,” Turshen told ARLnow, laughing. “The role of Rachel is so aligned with who I am. She’s a boss.”
But before 36-year-old Turshen was starring as “Rachel,” the best friend in a romantic comedy about lawyers climbing the ladder, she was a boss in the Yorktown marching band.
“Your girl was playing cymbals with the best of them,” Turshen said. “We were absolutely the coolest kids in town. I can say with absolute certainty that the best time I had in high school was being part of the symphonic band and marching band.”
From slamming cymbals at Yorktown to being a fictional high-powered attorney on a Netflix show, it’s been a bit of a journey for the hometown actor.
Turshen grew up in the Rock Spring neighborhood of North Arlington, within walking distance of Yorktown High.
Performing arts has always been, quite literally, in her blood. Her mom, who still lives in Arlington, was a music teacher for nearly 50 years working mostly in D.C. and Fairfax County. Her dad was an Arlington attorney. The two met doing community theater at the Hexagon, a long-running political satire musical theater in D.C.
“My family has always this real appreciation and foundation in music and performance,” Turshen said.
And Turshen followed in her family’s musical footsteps, playing the string bass in Yorktown’s symphonic band and cymbals in the marching band.
“The whole band would walk uniformly out to the field to the beat of the drums with the cymbals right in front. It was such a great feeling,” she said.
But Turshen dreamed of dancing. So, she joined a program while at YHS where she left school early for lessons at the Washington Ballet Company. She would wear “leotards and tights” under her clothes at school all day and leave right after band class to make her way downtown. While she loved dancing, her body didn’t.
“As it turns out, my body just kinda gave out. I got injured… the tendons and ligaments started tearing in my feet and they just really couldn’t take the 9 to 5 job as a ballerina,” Turshen said.
So, she went to college in Massachusetts and studied international human rights. But she missed performing, so shortly after graduating she moved to New York to become an actor.
It wasn’t easy, though. There were times when she wanted to give up, but early on she got advice that “perseverance, persistence, and patience” is how one makes in the industry.
For Turshen, that’s held true. She has had plenty of roles over the years, but it’s taken time to build her career.
“It’s so heartbreaking. It’s so brutal. You get so close sometimes and then it just doesn’t go your way and then it can really get you down. After five years, after ten years, or 12 years, it wears on you,” she lamented. “You really have to have a strong sense of purpose, and you have to believe in yourself when others don’t. And that takes practice, especially as the years turn into decades.”
For opponents, suddenly living next to a multiplex building in what has otherwise been an exclusively single-family home neighborhood for decades may seem like the worst idea ever. For supporters, proposing eight-plexes off the bat, even if only on certain large lots, may seem in retrospect like a blunder that galvanized opposition.
Catch all of Mike Mount’s local ‘toons in the ARLnow Press Club weekend newsletter. Your membership supports our reporting and includes the daily Early Morning Notes newsletter, previewing the stories we’re planning to cover that day.
Paul Kiendl doesn’t even remember what happened.
It was early August and he was on his bike, making his way to work via his regular route on the Custis Trail in Rosslyn. He recalls being stopped at a traffic light near the intersection of Langston Blvd and Fort Myer Drive.
Then, memories come in bits and pieces for Kiendl. Lying in a patch of poison ivy, in the back of the ambulance, and then being in the hospital.
It’s been about a month since the bike accident, which left Bluemont resident Kiendl with a severe spinal injury and nerve damage. He’s begun to piece together what exactly happened, believing he clipped another cyclist when it sped ahead of him at the traffic light.
“I think that was just a bicyclist that was trying to run a red light on Fort Myer Drive,” Kiendl tells ARLnow. “And I just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Scanner: Two cyclists collided near the intersection of Langston Blvd and Fort Myer Drive in Rosslyn. One is being taken to the hospital with minor injuries. pic.twitter.com/Ov483I4GKA
— Arlington Now (@ARLnowDOTcom) August 9, 2022
But knowing exactly the cause of the accident has proven to be very difficult. That’s because Arlington County Police Department didn’t prepare a crash report, as it would when a driver of a car hits a bike or pedestrian.
So, there’s no account of what happened, no identifying details, no interviews with witnesses, and no diagram of the crash.
The information about Kiendl’s crash was so sparse that a family member reached out to ARLnow, after seeing our brief post on Twitter, above. We did not have any information beyond what was in the tweet, however, and at the time the injuries involved were reported to be minor so no reporter was sent to the scene.
The lack of a crash report in keeping with police protocol, ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage notes. The county police department does not put together crash reports for bike-on-bike or bike-on-pedestrian incidents.
“ACPD follows Virginia law and guidance by the DMV for reporting crashes,” Savage said in a written response to ARLnow. “In Virginia, a crash report involving a bicycle is required only when the bicycle is involved with a motor vehicle in transport.”
Bruce Deming, the “bike lawyer,” thinks this is a very bad policy. He’s been practicing law in Arlington for more than 30 years, exclusively representing injured cyclists and pedestrians.
Deming notes that by not taking a crash report, there’s no information or official documents one could use to pursue any sort of civil compensation or insurance claims for help with medical bills.
“Why should the Arlington County police treat injured cyclists that are involved in a bike-on-bike collision as second-class citizens?” Deming rhetorically asks. “They’re badly injured and they need the information to pursue their own civil claims just as much as a motorist would need it.”
Per Savage, a crash report is taken in accordance with Virginia Code § 46.2-373 which says one must be prepared when a “motor vehicle accident” results in injury, death, or property damage of $1,500 or more.
As defined by Virginia Code § 46.2-100, the term “motor vehicle” does not include bicycles, scooters, e-bikes, mopeds, electric personal mobility devices, or motorized skateboards.
Deming recounts another situation back in 2015 when a client of his was severely hurt colliding with another bike in the Rosslyn/Courthouse neighborhood. Deming says the police showed up, but wouldn’t take any witness contact information or interview the other cyclist.
“Bike-on-bike crashes often result in terrible injuries. You’ve got two bodies and quite often [it’s] a head-on type of situation,” says Deming. “It doesn’t take a physics professor to understand the type of force that happens when you have two bodies collide at any kind of speed. It’s a terrible policy.”
(Updated, 4:10 p.m.) It hasn’t been a perfect ten months, but Mir is happy to be alive.
It was nearly a year ago when he, his wife, and his young son were forced to leave their native Afghanistan due to the Taliban’s occupation and made their way to Northern Virginia.
As he told ARLnow back in January, Mir believed that if he had stayed in Afghanistan he would have been killed. We are withholding his last name at his request because of safety and privacy.
Once here, though, the members of Arlington Neighbors Welcoming Afghans (ANWA) Facebook group helped turn his new barren Alexandria apartment into a home.
ANWA was a grassroots effort started late last year by military veteran Ryan Elizabeth Alvis to assist newly arriving Afghan families adjust to Arlington and Alexandria.
Since October 2021, ANWA has assisted more than 100 families and raised over $30,000 to buy household items, and groceries, Alvis tells ARLnow. In that time, about 85 people have become “team leads,” as in they are directly in charge of helping the families.
The Facebook group now has more than 1,800 active members, many regularly chipping in to buy such things from school supplies to kitchen pressure cookers.
In the seven months since we last talked, Mir says he and his family are adjusting. It hasn’t been easy, but he’s forever grateful to the group, Alvis, and his “team leads” — Karen Penn and Christy McIntyre.
“I’m creating a good career in this country,” he says. “I’m very happy I’m here and that I’m safe.”
Probably the most difficult aspect has been job hunting, largely due to the fact that the degrees and certifications he earned in the information technology industry in Afghanistan do not apply here.
Mir has worked, though, first at the Alexandria City Schools as a substitute teacher and, now, as an assistant general manager at a hotel in Chantilly.
Penn, who still works with Mir plus several other families, says this is the case for many other Afghan refugees. Looking for a job in their trained industry is the biggest challenge since the schooling and training they did back home often isn’t accepted by employers in the United States.
Gary Shulman has only lived in Arlington for about three months but has created a popular Facebook group all about the warm and wonderful feelings the county evokes.
Shulman, a retired early education specialist and published poet, was already using his outreach and advocacy skills to connect with Arlington residents in the Facebook group, Arlington Neighbors Helping Each Other Through COVID-19 after he moved to Rosslyn in April.
Without even realizing it, that page became the “Gary Shulman Show,” he said, where he would post all of his and his partner Marc’s adventures. The intention of the page was not for it to become the “blog” of one user. So, others encouraged Shulman to begin a new Facebook page — a page that could remind Arlingtonians what makes the county special.
He started Arlington Through the Eyes of a Newbie on May 13 and gained more than 600 followers within the first day. Now, he has over 700 members that follow his and Marc’s day-to-day life, as well as share helpful tips and suggestions. Shulman and Marc have been able to discover nitty-gritty information — where the best dermatologist is, allergist, dentist, even barbershop.
As he’s explored Arlington, members of the group have recognized him, as if he’s a local celebrity. Some stop and take photos with him to share on Facebook.
“There is a wonderful and caring network [in Arlington] and in many ways, reminds me of my early days in East NY and Canarsie Brooklyn where a sense of community was in every fiber of every neighbor. They all cared,” Shulman posted on his personal Facebook account.
Shulman always fantasized about living in Mayberry, the setting of “The Andy Griffith Show,” where people care about each other, garden, have beautiful homes, and enjoy the simple pleasures of life, he told ARLnow. His Facebook page reminds Arlingtonians to look on the ground and take in their (and others’) neighborhoods, places they pass daily.
He and Marc enjoy trying new restaurants, like Brass Rabbit, and Guajillo, where a post shows them trying out one of its “sangritas.” They also like finding beautiful parks and neighborhoods like Bon Air Memorial Rose Garden and Lyon Village and meeting new friends (especially dogs). Shulman sometimes shares some of his published poems.
Shulman and Marc had only moved to Arlington a month before he started his Facebook group. They spent two years and eight months in Palm Springs, where they had originally thought they’d spend retirement.
However sitting in their Palm Springs home, outside temperatures reaching 120 degrees with 0% precipitation, the COVID-19 pandemic trapped Shulman and Marc inside.
“When it’s 120 degrees, you can’t go any place — you’re a prisoner,” said Shulman. “Something was happening to my mental health. Covid happened, and then everything closed down.”
Since moving to Arlington, they’ve been able to get out and about.
It’s no doubt that Shulman’s “fans” know him and Marc to be walkers. Most of his posts begin with some form of “a stroll through…,” “our goal was to walk…,” or “just a short 3 miler today… .” Shulman explained that walking is good for his health and redirects his brain.
As he walks, he appreciates the beauty of people’s gardens and neighborhood homes. He stops and smells the roses. Talking with ARLnow, Shulman emphasized, “the small things are the important things.”
Now, after making a move from Rosslyn to their Ballston apartment in June, Shulman sees his Facebook page as a way to showcase how wonderful Arlington is and bring Arlingtonians together. It is a mix of Brooklyn, New York, and Palm Springs, California, with a close community and liveable climate.
Shulman and Marc hope “people will get off their behinds to start walking,” Shulman says. “Just learn and appreciate what Arlington has to offer.”