Gray Areas or “Would you rather?”



The space between the gray areas.

At the Red Canoe Cafe in Hamilton, Baltimore City, the tip jar is always a “Would you rather…?” situation. You vote with your tip—highly motivational. It’ll be something like apples or bananas or Barney and Friends or Sesame Street, maybe a day at the beach or a day on the mountains or waterskiing vs. snow skiing. They’re easy choices that people feel unwarrantedly passionate about.

When I am traveling with Chas, I find myself in these “Would you rather” situations quite often. First off, Chas is our vice president in charge of planning but he also always asks for my opinion and when we’re traveling we have so many more choices than we typically have in everyday life. This begins when we select our destinations, though for our current trip, we allowed that to be almost completely dictated by finding the lowest flight prices for a desirable location during this week I have off from school.

Choice is a luxury, right? If we have the ability to choose things, it’s often because something is going right for us. I’m not talking about apples vs. bananas here (though bananas are cheaper) rather, choice comes when we have enough money to choose one mode of transportation or another, we have the ability to choose one journey or another, selecting a university, being able to choose where we live and in what type of house.

I’m increasingly more aware of the luxury of choice with the more time I spend with my kids from school. If you grow up in poverty, choice is limited. Choice in schools, choice in transportation, choice in housing and free time and so many more ripple effects that result from those absences of choice. The lack of these “black and white” choices are why I see so many things in gray, especially the older I get. As a child, everything is black and white. Strangers are scary. Adults are stable and always choose right. History books are trustworthy. Politicians are smart. Airplanes on crash over bodies of water. The more life you live, the less things are black and white. Gray becomes home.

For example, to bring it back to poverty in Baltimore: it’s not one’s simple choice to remain in poverty or to rise out of it. It’s not a simple choice to trudge through high school with mediocre grades, making it to the end of twelfth grade with one class standing in the way of a diploma or to launch one’s way through high school with straight As and into a great college with a scholarship. That’s not one easy choice. It’s not black vs. white. The cycle of poverty is as gray as an elephant’s back. Those diverging paths include thousands or millions of tiny choices influenced by one’s family and friends and the people on the corner who she walks by on the way to school and the boyfriend and her boyfriend’s mom and so on. But this blog isn’t about those gray areas. I think we should live there in that gray area most of the time and sometimes, it’s kind of fun to take a break.

So, here’s a pretty black and white “Would you rather” list ala Amandy. I’d love you to weigh in too.


Airbnb or hotel/hostel

I should paint this picture from a recent experience first, or the choice is unfair. I prefer Airbnb. Almost always. I love seeing the homes, the neighborhoods, talking to the people, getting reviewed, seeing the maps, looking at the fine touches. Also, quite simply, the Airbnb website makes sense to me. Actual humans respond, there are photos, it’s a bit like shopping for real estate.

This week, Chas and I have been in various places in Scandinavia and have mostly stayed in Airbnb spots. We did stay in one hostel. A former prison, turned hostel. Put your thoughts on just that aside for now because this is more about booking than anything. Because of the random nature of the site I used to book the prison hostel (a typical hotel finder website), I booked the wrong prison hostel in Sweden, meaning there are at least two prison hostels in Sweden and I selected and paid for the wrong one. This would not have happened with Airbnb. Fair preference? Maybe not. But I prefer Airbnb.

Still or sparkling

Absolutely still. Sparkling water is a nice treat when I am hungry but it’s too close to dinner time. But in terms of refreshment and replenishment, sparkling has nothing on still.

Red white or white wine

Seventy five percent of the time, I choose white wine. Red wine looks bad on teeth, feels weird in my belly, and is significantly more likely to give me a headache. Give me a sauvignon blanc any day.

Manicure or pedicure

This is tricky. For self-care, definitely a pedicure. Pedicures feel nice and include a mini leg massage. Manicures are more about walking away fancy. Oddly, I think I prefer walking away fancy and choose mani over pedi. While it’s a time and financial commitment, both is best.

 The Bachelor or The Bachelorette

While I shamelessly watch both and have for years, I prefer watching The Bachelorette. Not only does it come out in spring, a happy time generally, I love seeing all of the bros in incredibly vulnerable situations. I like watching them pick one another apart and lose their patience and lie and then get caught. It’s a great case study in good looking idiots.

Fiction or nonfiction

Obviously, I write nonfiction. When I try to write fiction, I think I sound ridiculous. Nothing seems real or believable or authentic. Nonfiction just feels right to me. And this world offers plenty of stories.

When I read, I have a slight preference for fiction. For listening to podcasts or watching TV, nonfiction hands down.

Tea or coffee

Coffee is my lifeblood. It makes the world make sense. It softens my sharp edges, gives me power, makes the world make sense, at least enough.

Ketchup or mustard

I hate ketchup. It’s so distant from the tomato, so sugary, so unnecessary. How long ago were those tomatoes grown? At Oriole games during the condiment race, I will always root for mustard or relish. Given the choice between ketchup or mustard, mustard every time.

Window seat or aisle seat

I get why people prefer the aisle, but I want the window. I want something to lean on for naps. The aisle offers no rest for the weary and planes make me very weary.

Kevin Costner or Kevin Bacon

Kevin Costner has been my older man crush for years. Think For the Love of the Game Kevin Costner. He’s a baseball pitcher who’s unapproachable and hard-edged but certainly soft and cuddly on the inside. Think Message in a Bottle Kevin Costner. He’s a waterman, gruff, and alone. Okay, okay, so he always plays the same character. But it’s a character I love.

And something about the space between Kevin Bacon’s nose and top lip weirds me out. All I can do is stare at it. Costner has got my vote.

Right or left side of the bed

This is a trick question, my choice will always be wherever the reading lamp is and wherever there’s a side table for my water.

Doctor or Dentist

If you’ve met my dentist (and an strange number of you actually have), you’ll already know my answer. I will take dentist over doctor any day. The doctor includes all sorts of unknowns and chances. The wait at the doctor is always head-scratching-long to me too. I mean, why bother having appointments? At the dentist, Dr. Bryan always takes me right back. The dentist lasts a predictable amount of time and there are a predictable set of activities. With the doctor, the clock is irrelevant. There could be shots or blood draws or maybe you lost an inch of height. I’ll take the dentist any day.


The gray area is mostly where I’ll stay. But when I get to choose black or white, I’m happy to and I can be pretty polarized. Would you rathers are a luxury, though. And while I stay in the gray, I promise to remember that.


2 thoughts on “Gray Areas or “Would you rather?”

  1. When I ran the Moving To Opportunity (MTO) in the late nineties/early aughts the goal (aka agency choice) was always finding a better neighborhood for the families. The families themselves had the responsibility of the ultimate choice of where (or sometimes, if) they would move from public housing to a new neighborhood. The families almost always followed our counselors’ advice on the “best” place to go. And most were successful and thrived because their options/choices in the new community were so much better than they had in the old one.
    And yet, several families ended up choosing to move back to their old neighborhood. Bad choice? The official agency position was “yes”. However, who could judge? Perhaps those families also thrived but in a different way, one not identified as “the right choice” by my agency. Judging choices can only happen in hindsight and the only true measure of “rightness” must be determined by the chooser.
    So what lesson am I trying to impart from that rambling narrative? Black or white is overrated. Gray is life. LOL, D

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have never been to an airbnb, but I sure love hotels! The beds, many pillows, the blankets, the thermostat that you can adjust, the big bathrooms with nice lights and showers and free shampoo and lotion, the unfamiliar TV channels, the fitness centers, ice machines, little coffee machines, mini-refrigerators and mini-microwave ovens. Guess an airbnb would have a lot of that!
    I prefer sparkling water and I agree on the white wine. I prefer fiction but I am developing a HUGE appreciation for non-fiction these days. I like ketchup and mustard, but mustard is more versatile: it can go on pretzels and hot dogs and lunchmeat sandwiches and hamburgers.I like the aisle seat if I have a neck pillow, or any seat if Emma is in my row. I agree totally with you on the mani and pedi…best to do both in the summer, but gel is needed for hands if you are in a profession where you wash hands a thousand times a day. Never thought about those Kevins. My choir director is Kevin. I prefer the dentist also, because of who he is and all the talk about politics (he’s very liberal!) and bicycles and our kids’ weddings and Baltimore neighborhoods. On the other hand, the doctor really rushes me and I am afraid if I forget to ask something I will have to wait a year for the next chance.
    So that’s my black and white. The rest is pretty gray. I also see a minimum of known choices with the families of my students. It’s our job to give them more choices. I see you doing that with your girls all the time!


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