Monday, April 24, 2006

The First 'Last'

Yesterday, I said goodbye to Miwok Livery, the stables where I have ridden horses for the last four years. As I prepare the move to Denver, this is just the first of many lasts. Soon, there will be the last day at work (!), the last bus ride, the last Presidio hike and then it will be time to hit the road, me and all my crap.

This morning, as I rode atop Teddy, a very timid, complacent Appaloosa, I watched two young bucks bound across our trail and pondered their budding velvet antlers. Wildflowers were popping out everywhere; bluebells, orange poppies, irises, yellow daisies all framed the muddy trails, still sore after all the rains. I looked out across the slate grey ocean and realized, again, that for the first in my life, I will be landlocked.

When I came to Miwok in February 2002, I was an emotional mess. I'd been terribly hurt in an affair gone awry and needed some immediate healing. I clearly remember driving from the Oakland Airport, sobbing heavily, directly fleeing the source of my pain. In a panic, I began running through the myriad of things I could do to salve my open wounds: Call a friend? Get drunk? Rent a movie? Get blazingly high? Go dirty dancing? Off myself? Read a book? Jump out of an airplane?

The list went on and on and my insides responded to none of my self-suggestions. By sheer process of elimination - somewhere between "robbing a bank" and "origami" - I finally came to "ride a horse." Deep, deep inside my guts, something clicked. ‘Yes,’ I thought to myself, ‘that just might do the trick.’

I’d immediately called my dear friend, the late Jack Smith, who always had an answer for everything and if he didn’t, he would find it. He told me about Miwok, a place just down the road from him in Marin’s Tennessee Valley, just six miles from me. I went home and called them immediately.

The very next day, I went out on the trail with Linda Rubio, the owner of the place. I was on Teddy (we’ve come full circle, he and I) and Linda on Kaleen. I was a giant ball of emotion, ready to cry at any moment, but tried to keep that factoid on the down-low.

Making our way through the Marin headlands, I finally began to get a whiff of peace – though still far from it. A coyote watched us pass and later, a young buck moved out of our path, but only as an afterthought. “These animals have never been hunted so they have very little fear of us,” Linda explained.

As we come over the grass meadow, I spotted the top half of the Golden Gate Bridge. We trotted for awhile and the conversation turned to life’s unpredictability. I did not mention my recent confirmation of this but only nodded in the affirmative. We discussed the path to happiness, how it is clouded for so many in their quest. “I think that most people just end up with a lot of stuff,” I offered.

“Too many people are looking for answers,” Linda said, shaking her head as hawks flew above us. “And the answer is: There is no answer,” she laughed.

“Yes,” I agreed, “and the more you look, the more questions you’ll find.” We rounded a lush, green bend and crossed a wooden bridge … clippity-clop, clippity-clop.

Suddenly, I felt like the luckiest woman alive.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A Century Later in Shaky Town

Back in the old days - let's say spring 2001 - the biggest threats to America were a terrorist attack, a major hurricane disabling the Gulf Coast and a catastrophic earthquake in the Bay Area. As of today, 2006, it's two down and one to go.

Living amidst all the earthquake centennial hoopla and press coverage, a San Francisco citizen can easily become paranoid. You get an eerie sense that the nation is watching The City closely, waiting for a violent tectonic tantrum so that television programming can hurry up and get back to what it was immediately post-Katrina – horrifically real, tragically entertaining and brimming with good ol' fashioned anarchy.

After the long-awaited shake-up, all that's needed is a somber word from Brian Williams, maybe a heartfelt tear-up from Anderson Cooper, and out comes the popcorn and beer. Americans will hastily gather in their living rooms, ready to 'tsk-tsk' our unfortunate situation and mutter to one another, "Those poor people" and "I could never live there. I'll take blizzards/tsunamis/floods/hurricanes/locusts any day but not that."

In red states, there'll undoubtedly be a lot of talk about how we deserved it – Sodom this, Gomorrah that, etc. And while the rainbows of a gay pride flag will not protect human flesh any more than the stars of a Confederate flag did, Mama Nature has very little interest in human politics. When She stretches, yawns and/or farts, we're all at Her mercy. As I heard recollections today, one old woman said: “Rich or poor, we all shook the same.”

And so, like any civic-minded insomniac, I headed downtown in the dead of night to join in the commemoration of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. At nearly 3:00 a.m., the corner of Third and Market was abuzz with activity - folks in period costume, cops in their finery, network anchors getting make-upped, fireman and firewomen practicing ladder pulls and everything lit up expectantly. The porta potties were lined up, the JumboTron was getting fired up and the news vans all propped up their erect satellites – ready for action.

Arriving early has its advantages; I simply picked out my spot and watched as police barricades were set up around me, keeping the commoners at bay. I live by the rule: If you look like you belong, eventually, you will. Consequently, I ended up sitting in special seats reserved for families of 1906 survivors. I mean really, aren't we all just one big family of survivors?

Beyond the celebration of San Francisco itself, it was great to see an occasion where the arrival of really, really old people brought the biggest cheers. These folks came in beautifully restored antique cars and were greeted like royalty. Out came the walkers and sloooowly up the ramp they went - the oldest at 109. There were a dozen survivors in all and some could hardly remember what day it is, let alone what happened a century ago.

Individually, they were interviewed by our beloved mayor, Gavin Newsom, and every year, the old ladies flirt shamelessly. Norma Norwood, known as The Earthquake Baby at 100 years of age, was conceived in a tent in Golden Gate Park, after her family was displaced after the disaster. Norma evidently inherited her parent’s randy nature and let Gavin know she'd be happy to keep him warm, if duty calls. Norma also offered stories about her childhood and how she was raised by prostitutes. “Norma, I could talk to you all day,” cooed His Honorable Hunkiness.

In various speeches, there was talk of Hurricane Katrina and how San Francisco can be an example to New Orleans (no mention of Mississippi, dammit.) No matter how devastating a blow, a strong and passionate citizenry can bring a city to its feet again and thrive in a way it couldn't before. It is well known that pre-earthquake and fire, San Francisco was an opium-dependent, red-light town – violent and greedy on its best day. You simply did not come to town unarmed for fear of getting Shanghai-ed. Suffice to say, there was no tourism.

The City came to be rebuilt stronger and more confident than before the quake. (And yes, we blamed the authorities for not doing enough back then too.) As I watched the wreath being placed on Lotta’s Fountain by Fire Chief Joanna (a tough Irish chick with five boys) and our Police Chief (a tiny Asian woman named Heather) I was down right vuhklempt. At the time of the 1906 quake, 5:12 a.m., there was a moment of silence and then slowly, one by one, sirens rang out from all corners of The City.

People cheered to our survival and the determination of our ancestral city dwellers. The swelling crowd was led in a rowdy rendition of “San Francisco” – no one seemed to know any verses, just the refrain, “Open up those Golden Gates!” I was bursting with love for my city, especially as I prepare to leave it.

Then someone came to the podium announced that the bars were now open. It was 6:00 a.m. and we were all still alive.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

A Burned-Out Fried-Day Rant

Today at work, I read a report on the technology lifestyle of "tweens" (ages 9-14 year-olds) and came across the following sentence: "Watching TV in the car is primed for primetime."

While I understand that DVD players have been implemented in vehicles for fear that a child not be digitally stimulated at all times, I have to wonder what happened to simply looking out the window? After all, that's where life is actually happening. When did this stop becoming good enough? Do I sound like I'm 93? Did I mention that I had to walk to school uphill, both ways, in the snow? With no GPS? And no soundtrack?

With every minute of every day filled with the expectation of being connected, does any daydreaming get done? My pal, Jennifer, comments: "I think you should learn to be bored as a kid." I doubt this wired generation will understand what this means but I do think they are going to sport some incredibly muscular thumbs from texting non-stop. Eventually, they will start. To speak. The same way. That they. Like, instant message. In short. Choppy. Sentences. Perhaps, newborns will soon start to disembark from the Mothership already sporting iPods, Blackberries and Bluetooths - just charge 'em up and send 'em off.

Okay, maybe its living in San Francisco, a town teeming with hipsters, that is skewing my perspective. Still, there is something unsettling about walking into a coffee house and looking at everyone sitting silently, staring into their laptops and surfing the Craigslist dating section in hopes of maybe, possibly meeting the cute girl or boy currently sitting across the room.

During the dotcom heyday, when the town was swarming with overpaid post-grads from Boston, the cell phone was in full bloom. MUNI was teeming with incessant gabbers who openly discussed their one-night-stands from the previous evening, gave out their credit card numbers to order from (I shit you not) and wantonly discussed proprietary company strategies as if they were merely going over baseball stats. I marveled at their naked ignorance and wondered when they would either go home or shut up.

Eventually, the pretend money dried up, the foosball tables were auctioned on eBay and the kids went back home to live with their parents. We had our city back. It was quiet again. A little too quiet, actually. Now, everyone exists in their silent worlds - plugged into little white boxes, texting manifestos, and checking email on their phones.

Guess it's ironic, me getting so worked up about technology on my blog. Still, I have to wonder if being so connected all the time to another thing, another person, another place keeps us from living in the moment, drinking in the details of the present and just plain old looking out the window.

Monday, April 10, 2006

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's . . . Love?

Okay, time to fess up.

Any regular reader of this space - and you could probably all fit into my bathroom - may have noticed that the posts have been less frequent lately. It just so happens I have an excellent reason for that, the best excuse I could possibly hope for.

I've fallen in love.

Not the kind of love that grows over time, after many dates and then, one day, dawns on you. No, this is more like walking down the street minding your own business when suddenly a chiseled caped hero flies down from the sky, lands in front of you, shoots powerful laser beams out of his perfect blue eyeballs and then whisks you away with him, up into the sky. You think about saying something appropriate like, "Hi, my name is ______" but instead you just mumble something about the incredible view. The air gets thinner. You are not used to being this high up. You pass out.

When you wake up, he's still there and now you are addicted to the laser beams. Resistance is futile.

Mere days later, you find yourself standing in a forest watching him kiss your fingers. Suddenly, your airtight plans for a new life in Austin, Texas seem irrelevant. You've spent maybe 15 hours with this incredible Man and when he asks you to move to Denver - a place you've never been - you can only ask, "Colorado. That's one of the square ones, right?" Happily, willingly, you agree it’s the best idea in the world and then you remember the date:

It’s April Fool’s Day.

It may just prove be my smartest decision yet.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Confucius Say Wrong Bus

It happened again this morning and every time, it just breaks my heart.

I board the Yuppie Express which looks amazingly like the regular slow bus. Really, to tell the difference one would have to be an expert in symbols or, at the very least, speak English. Hence, the problem.

I saw her immediately, an old Chinese woman hunched over her Cantonese-language newspaper, oblivious to the fact that nearly everyone on the bus was dressed for success and not the vegetable markets of Chinatown. Plenty of iPods and Wall Street Journals and not a pink plastic bag in sight.

Immediately, I wanted to warn her, to tell her then that she was about to a make a significant transportational mistake. But doing so would be what some would call 'racial profiling' or assuming that because she is an old Chinese lady, she is going to Chinatown and not some high rise office building downtown.

So I kept to my novel and waited for the inevitable distress to come, as it always does.

Sure enough, after several blocks with no stops and the bus sliding straight down into the cement jungle, she looked up. Her face began to twist in confusion and alarm settled across her brow. She searched faces on the packed bus and realized that we were strangers. As a whole, we had felt it coming because we'd seen it so often before.

At this point, one of two things happen: There is frantic caterwauling in her native tongue or there is quiet whimpering, a resignation to her fate. (It is always a woman, never a man.) This morning, it was whimpering and it touched my heart. I decided to bring out my best Chinese and explain to her the obvious.

"Ba see. Mmm-hoy. Tong yun fow," I said. This bus does not go to Chinatown. After many episodes of this sad little scenario, I'd finally asked a Chinese friend to teach me this one phrase. It has come in handy before and again, today.

She was grateful someone spoke her language and looked to me for more information. Sadly, I only knew the one phrase and just kept repeating it. Once the bus finally came to a rest at Montgomery and Sansome, I steered her petite frame in the right direction and sent her off in the rain. Poor thing.

I realized then that I need to learn a new phrase: "Please, tell your friends."