Thursday, August 17, 2006

Badphairy's Here for the Argument

It’s easy to believe sometimes, that we live in a world hostile to us at every turn, outside of our close associates, and sometimes inside of them, too.

I have the dubious advantage of living/working in Oakland/Berkeley, each of which has its own, completely differing, reputation.

Berkeley is allegedly a haven for hippies, counter-culturists (WTF is that, nowadays, someone who does believe in global warming?) and general oddballs. Never mind that it’s basically a conservative college town with a median home price of $1,000,000 or so. That’s for a three-bdrm, one bath Victorian that needs a new foundation. Not very many beatniks, hippies, or panhandlers can afford that.

Oakland is an awful place, murder capital of the nation every couple of years, and just chock-full of black people, heaven forfend. White people have to be out by sundown (according to one dumbass Texan I had the misfortune to meet recently). This of course, is hogwash, since the black population of Oakland is at best, 40%. The other 60% is not made up solely of Asians and Hispanics, kids. Lots of white people live comfortably in Oakland. We have the first man-made wildlife refuge in the nation (Lake Merritt). We even have parks, and a world-class ice skating center. (I was there today, it was very nice. They need a new zamboni, though.)

The cities are right next to each other, share a county, and are likely more similar than different. Living in one or the other gives the resident its reputation. The other day I was attempting to make the point that there are many other social angles to the link between poverty/obesity than “poor people are lazy assholes”. Using pubtrans to get to the grocery store takes about eight times as long as driving, you can only carry so much, and when you get home you have to cook, and store leftovers. Or one could just go to McDonalds. Really basic sociological stuff like that.

I got a couple people talking to me about the joys and money saving of canning. In the city. Right. So, you take pubtrans ($3.50 round trip plus a three block walk each way), buy fresh vegetables at many times the cost of prepared foods (1 pound of asparagus $1.45, 1 pkg crappy hotdogs $1.29…which feeds you longer, hello) buy glass jars (can’t imagine where. There’s no Kmart, WalMart, anything within a five mile radius), pans to sterilize in, spend many hours a day (what job?) in a hot kitchen in the hottest part of the summer…heating things…

You know, my mother used to can our garden produce and I had to help. It had to be one of the crappiest jobs to have in late summer EVER. It’s hot as hell and humid as Florida, and you’re trapped in the kitchen boiling and steaming things (and yourself)! I’d rather shovel shit. At least I’d be outside.

However, I have reason to know that. The idiots offering “tips” assumed that since I said I lived in Oakland, I was some dumb ghetto whore who didn’t know a radish from a rutabaga. Never mind that I moved here three years ago, have a background in animal husbandry, and don’t routinely kill plants if I can help it. The sad part is, they didn’t bother to ask whether I knew anything, they were comfortable in applying their asinine generalities as if they were the actual fact. Thus does where one lives, and with whom one associates, rub off on other people as a predictor of one’s status. Books, covers, judgments by… Look it up, people.

Thus it is easy to believe one lives in a world hostile to at least one of the adjectives forming one’s putative “identity”.

Sometimes, rarely, there is that shining moment where one realizes that there are truly allies out there. Not just people who pay lip service to “we feel your pain”, but people who live by what they say.

In this particular case, a person with a good sense of humor, too.

So, to make a long story short (too late!) I’m arguing with yet a different set of people about gay marriage, (toward which my dubiousness has previously been registered) and someone else in the thread offered this gem about his not-upcoming wedding.

“We have quite a few gay friends, and we both sort of feel like inviting them to a wedding would be like inviting your black friends in the 60s to watch you eat your lunch at a restaurant. ”1

I nearly inhaled an entire mouthful of beer. I got enough to realize that the feeling of CO2 bubbles in your sinuses is not so jolly as one might surmise. I began to sing “What a Friend We Have in BunkoSquad” then realized I’d been an agnostic long enough to forget the actual words.

That one remark cheered me up for hours. We do live in a hostile world, but keep your eyes peeled for allies. You find them in unlikely places.

Speaking of hostile worlds, I’ll be in Oregon next week, where we currently plan to staff a booth at the Celtic Festival, go kayaking, and ride horses up a volcano. Umm, that last one seem odd to anyone else? I’ll write a dispatch from the road, if I live that long. 2

1. Quote authored by, alias Michael, last name, Johnson-Smith-Chen (not really)
2. I’ve been reading a lot of Bill Bryson’s belly laughter-inducing travel writing. I highly recommend him...

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Old Girl, Old Truck, Good Old Time

Last weekend I drove out to Drake’s Bay Lighthouse, which is on a long spit of land stretching out into the Pacific. The lighthouse was closed, so there was almost no one there. I saw brown pelicans, a hawk, several turkey buzzards, and found out there are several dairy farms out there, who’da thunk?

I had gone first to Muir Woods, but as I was vulturing around the third overflow parking area I thought, “There are too damn many people here.” So, I left for Muir Beach. Not only was it full of people, there were signs explicitly warning against not only going in the water, but letting it touch your skin at all. This did not dissuade anyone from frolicking in the polluted green waves, of course.

Stinson Beach was the same, so I kept driving north to Drake’s Bay. The road there is a hoot. Of course, I was driving a six-cylinder engine in a midsize frame. I didn’t even discover the overdrive til later. It’s one of those iconic California drives, cliff up on the right and water near road level on the left. Later, cliff up on the right, cliff down on the left, water far below. In places the road had eroded such that it was a single lane. Someday, I’m renting a Porsche and doing that drive at dawn.

There’s nothing so wonderful as the smell of a sun-warmed cedar and eucalyptus forest.

On the north side of the peninsula, there was a beach that was almost deserted. The sign said nothing about pollution but it did caution one against rip, sneak, neap, dry, wet, salty, brackish, luminous, and high tides. The surf was breaking about 50 yards out and looked nasty. It smelled great, though, I love the ocean. Thanks to my first ex, I even have developed an enjoyment for the scent of low tide, which few have and even fewer want.

Part of it was being far enough from the city to share the beach with only a couple of heterosexuals reading/snoozing with their backs to a driftwood log, and a child riding her bike in big ellipses in the parking lot as her somewhat anxious-looking mother watched from the car.

I parked, took a deep breath of salt air, and was so ecstatic I was teary.

Part of it was needing a new, weaker prescription for birth control (women, you know what I’m saying), part of it was just driving. It makes me happy. It’s terrible that I love it so much. It’s the quintessential Americanness of having an entire IC engine and stereo system to oneself, and believing for just an hour or two that you, too, are King of the Road. Mmmmmm. I was even enjoying FM radio. Sick, isn’t it?

I was bopping along to BTO when I had a sudden string of realizations that went like this:
1. The last time I heard this song I was in X’s car
2. The last time I saw X was 1978
3. The last time I heard this song it was on an 8-track!
4. I am now old.
Seriously, “classic rock” is now what I remember from my adolescence. Madonna’s early songs are now “classics”, and nobody under 30 remembers Karen Carpenter, or who Carnie Wilson’s dad was. (I felt vaguely nauseous typing that last bit.)

Speaking of classics and cars, next weekend I shall be test-driving what may be my third automobile. I hazily remember saying a couple of years ago (in this very column) that I wasn’t sure my next vehicle would be a gas-only engine.

I could not have been more wrong. Well, I could have, but it would have taken a lot of work. Recall that my first vehicle was an ’86 Ford Ranger XLT. Thus began my lifelong hatred of Ford Motor Co. I named him Elvis, because he was addicted to a number of expensive fluids such as brake, transmission, injector cleaner, oil; you name it, he needed it weekly.

His original flex plate (without which, you have no transmission, incidentally) still lives somewhere in Paige’s garage. It failed in Sturgis, South Dakota, three days before the beginning of Bike Week. During which, one does not want to be black and in Sturgis after sunset. Getting that fixed, with the tearful phone call to my dad, the parrots and the cockatoo…will have to wait for another column. Suffice to say, it’s a doozy.

Elvis was also the venue where I discovered the consummate joy of replacing drum brakes. Slightly less painful than passing a kidney stone, if I recall correctly. I still have a scar on my knuckle from when I “discovered” the special expensive tool was craptacular and switched to several Band-Aids, two screwdrivers and loud swearing. That did the trick…eventually. No, Elvis was not eventually abandoned by the side of the road…not that I didn’t consider it several times.

However, he did do me a world of good. How many women can say they’ve changed the starter motor in their vehicle while lying in three inches of rushing meltwater? It took three hours to get the feeling in my butt back. Had I not been ice fishing since the age of five or so, I surely would have died (thanks Uncle David, ya masochist).

Elvis was the first vehicle to take me solo from the Midwest to the West. I sat in the bed somewhere in Wyoming and played my guitar for me, some cows, and a lonely trucker who wandered over to say hi (and proposition me, but he was nice about my “No, thanks”). I laid on top of the cab, shivering in a damp, chilly, Nebraska night, watching stars that looked bright and close enough to touch. You don’t get that in the city, and sometimes I need it.

I want to take sea kayaking class, and get a sea kayak. It’s not gonna fit on my bike. Ergo, I need a car of some sort. Thus I polled my friends and lo and behold, someone was willing to sell me one.

The new-to-me car possibility was created when I was 2. It’s a white Jeep J-4000 4x4, with the nifty manual locking hubs (aargh). Apparently, I was born to drive ridiculously large trucks. I am not complaining, much. One of my friends drives an 18-wheeler, so this could get worse.

So, wish me and the albino thing luck. I may have to name it Moby Jeep, and take to saying “yarr” a lot. Alternate naming suggestions are welcomed.

By the way y’all, I’ll be applying to pre-med school this fall, so donations for application/transcript fees/student loans/beer (in the guise of birthday presents) will be gratefully accepted