A Musical Interlude

After the crowded halls of the Con and the crowded streets of Chicago, the walk down the platform from the train to the stairs is eerily empty.   Every 20 seconds or so an empty eyed urbanite wanders past me, unsure whether to wobble left or right as though they have never seen someone come into town.  As if all-knowing, the Genie in my iphone cued up one of my favorite songs.  It had been a while since I had heard it.

I pulled out the phone to look at the iconic cover.  I smiled even as the tune evoked sadness, but echoed hopeful strains.  I wandered to my favorite Peet’s, lost in the melodies, not the lyrics.  At various points in the song, hope is given over to despair.  Even with my caffeine fix in hand, the song resonated within.  And it struck home.

     You gotta keep one eye looking over your shoulder.
     You know it’s going to get harder, and harder, and harder as you get older.

There is something about getting older that hits you at strange times.  I don’t feel 50, but I am.  That age when society starts thinking less of you.  We all joke about AARP and their invitations that start arriving shortly after your 49th birthday.  Life seems more about what I’ve done than what I can and will do.  That’s hard.  It takes a concerted effort to change those thoughts and subsequent actions.

A week ago I had a great exchange with a fellow Cal grad.  His eyes sparkled when I talked about being in Memorial Stadium on November 20th 1982.  That was the day that Cal held John Elway in check for 59:56 only to see him single-handedly take the Cardinal (who names their team a color? I think of them as the Robber Barons, which did win the student vote) to a seemingly game winning field goal.  Stanford 20, Cal 19.  Dismay reigned.  Once again the Cal team of my tenure grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory.  What could happen in 4 seconds?

Quite a bit as turned out.  2 million people will probably tell you they were there.  I was one of the 60,000 or so in the stands, sitting in the middle of the Big C in the student section with my poker group, a junior among graduating seniors. It was about to be the saddest of the games I saw as student.  It was to be the last game I saw as a student.

4 seconds – a lifetime in slow motion. 5 laterals (one disputed, one blindly over a shoulder), a band on the field and crushed saxophone player later, Cal scored. I was in shock.  The stadium erupted.  My friends all ran down the bleachers to run on the field.  A bit shell-shocked, I sat there and guarded our belongings.  I know, even though you think of me as mischievous, I am generally the responsible one.

I’m talking to my fellow alum.  There is joy in my reminisces and his eyes light up a bit as I relate my memories.  It’s a important moment in our shared history. It’s a party and even I know I’m drunk and slurring just a bit.  That doesn’t mean my mind has seized up. Of course as I recreate this day to my new friend, I realize he was still in diapers as my 20 year old self sat in that stadium. The song is right, it’s getting harder; he’s not a kid.

     Gotta stay awake, gotta try and shake off this creeping malaise.
     If I don’t stand my own ground, how can I find my way out of this maze?

Again, the lyrics echo where I’m at.  Don’t get me wrong, I have a great life and much to be thankful for.  There is a transition that has been going on for some time.  We spend our younger years working, striving, motivated to achieve.  As we grow older, especially past 40 and then 45, workers have become disposable as jobs are off-shored and employment for life becomes a distant memory.  I believe I understand why it’s called the rat race.  Malaise sets in as what we focused much of our efforts on previously, is no longer within our reach. Life becomes a cycle of paychecks and sustenance. Our egos and self-image need to find new things to hold on to, simpler achievements to find joy and continued rebirth in.  Perhaps that is why I spend so much time in my garden.  Even if my plants suffer, I can try again; the sun will rise, the plants will grow and there is no pink slip at the end of the rainbow.

At this point, I often feel as out of place as beast of burden in the industrial age.

Dogs – Waters and Gilmour

Animals. Pink Floyd, 1977


Chicago: Day 1

As we flew into Chicago’s Midway Airport, I noticed the landscape was very different from home.  Green open spaces and small forests, covered with trees unfit for lumber filled my view.  Then houses and more spaces.  But no real hills or mountains.  I thought it odd that the genie in my iPhone didn’t jump to Liz Phair’s “Stratford-On-Guy”

In 27-D, I was behind the wing
Watching landscape roll out like credits on a screen

</required song quote> Of course I was in 22-C, so there was some logic to the Genie’s decision.  Looking across the row out the window by Lambchop, the description was apt.

A friend had recommended we take the L into town rather than a cab.  A $4.50 train ride beats a $40 cab ride most of the time.  We had two large rolling bags, a duffel bag, a computer and my murse.  I know it’s a messenger bag, but since my niece named it, I always hear her voice when I think of it.  Had we been on a Sunday stroll, it would have been a nice walk. It went on.  And on.  There were elevators and hallways.  Ups and downs.  Lambchop was a trooper and didn’t complain, but I knew she would have been happier in a cab in traffic. Take a  cab on the way back

A few years ago, they added an extension to BART that ran to SFO.  My current position allows me to commute on the train (but of course by now you know this.)  About half the trains I take to work end at SFO and half I take home come from there.  The amount of luggage and neophytes on those cars  make the journey harder than it used to be. Somewhere along the way people decided their luggage should block the aisle and empty seats. Commuting etiquette has gone the way of the dodo. As we wheeled our luggage into the L  and looked for ways to be out of others way, I realized the cost of cab ride made me “that guy.”  I guess everyone does have a price.

As we rode into town, I saw what a different place Chicago is from San Francisco or Oakland, my local urban references.  Flat.  Lots of brick.  Houses, then industrial areas, followed by more houses.  And then, looming to the right, a large skyline.  As much as I love San Francisco’s skyline, it is just a cute puppy compared to Chicago’s Polyphemus – awe-inspiring and, perhaps, partially designed by gods.   We were speechless.  As we drew closer on the train, I think we both noticed each other’s smiles broadening.

Finally getting to our hotel, we quickly checked in and kidnapped our Aussie friend Neal for some <food!> Chicago Style Pizza </FOOD!>and to begin drinking. There was a larger group going out later, but evil forces had scheduled a fantasy football draft at 8pm local time and it was 6pm.  We really hadn’t eaten other than the crackers and pretzels on the plane.  Football and famine demanded a meal then and there.

Dining alfresco was fun, but the humidity did take some getting used to.  We caught up on the last year and enjoyed the cocktails and beers.  I had a chocolate stout that just blew my socks off.   The pizza was pretty good too.  The final crescendo to the meal was our waitress; explaining we were in town for a convention, I asked her for some recommendations.  She came back with a 3 page hand written list that looked like it came from a laser printer.  Such penmanship must delight the kitchen staff.   Mine isn’t good enough to be a doctor.  My favorite Chicago spots were on that list including 1 I had not heard of yet. But one I was to learn to love.

After dinner we headed back to the hotel and my football draft.  Later, we headed down to the bar where we knew our friends would be.  There they were, in the bar almost, but not quite, waiting for us.   We squeezed in to hang out with our friends.  New friends were made and there were copious drinks all around.  Then, there was more drinking.  I had a few cocktails and discussed the “Cheezborger! Cheezeborger! Chip! Chip!” SNL skit  with the guy  that wrote The Song of Ice and Fire books.  Did I neglect to mention we were in town for the World Science Fiction Convention and that is basically the only sectioned event for the Brotherhood without Banners, the George R.R. Martin Fan Club?  I may be a Knighted Ser of that group, but I learned early on that I couldn’t drink like Jebus or schmooze like Ser Cam.

It was a great start to what was about to become a most excellent week.

The Ruling Class

The sun was shining and the street was clear.  The Catholic school next door isn’t in session in July, so there was no unending line of cars to try and break through leaving my drive way.  The drive to BART was easy, traffic was light.  Normally, there is a ton of traffic and it can be difficult to make the right turn onto the main artery and drive the 2 miles to the station.  But today is Friday and Friday has its own rules.

Traffic is lighter on Friday.  People work from home.  People take the day off and start a long weekend.  I look for patterns and rules in everyday life.  I understand the Friday commute and traffic patterns.  Of course, since it is July, the rules vary in my favor.  Generally the main parking lot at BART fills up by about 7:40 am and 8:00 am on Friday.  It’s July, so I knew there would be spots for me at 8:15.  There we about 20. Score one for the good guys.  There is always plenty of parking on weekdays, as the auxiliary lot a block away fills about 9:00am.

The weather was perfect at 8:20 as I made my way down to the end of the platform.  The sign flashed that the next train would be in 5 minutes and was an 8 car train.  I always go to the rear of the train as it is always the least crowded.  Knowing that an 8 car train centers itself on the platform, I walked to where the rear door would be and stopped.  There is one train that generally breaks the rules.  It stops at the extreme front of the platform, leaving 2 empty spaces in the rear.  This is the exception and I believed it was THIS train.  I smiled and walked to where I believed the end of the train would be, not where it should be.

I was third in my line and all the lines grew to the opposite side of the platform and curved back.  Seeing the lines to my right grow, where there would be no train, I realized they’d need to be on my car.  Shrug. It would be crowded, but I’d have a seat.  Suddenly I noticed a woman to my left approaching.  Talking very loudly on her cell phone in a language I didn’t recognize.  Let’s go with something Eastern European.  She walked toward the front of the line, and then circled away.  By now our line had more than 15 people in it.  Perhaps 20.

A moment later the train approached.  She circled back again slowly walking toward the line  As the train stopped a bit short of our line, she was to the left – the door to my right, we line waiters turned slightly toward the door. As the door opened and we walked to enter, she shouldered me out of the way, never missing a word in her unintelligible conversation and pushed her way on to the empty train.  That right this train starts at our station.  Everyone was getting a seat.  Beyond my contempt for this rude woman, I had 2 thoughts.

First, why does she think the rules don’t apply to her?  Ok, there are no rules but there are social conventions and etiquette.  It made me thing of the Seinfeld episode with the squirrel and George yelling “we have a pact!”  I wanted a car so I could break my pact with her.  Violently.

Second, “Mob Boss’ Wife.”  I’ll keep the pact.

She kept on talking when the train started.  Luckily it was so crowded I couldn’t hear her by the 2nd stop.  I was hoping that the people around her would stone her.  Luckily for her, that’s against the rules.

Walking from Bart to get my morning coffee, I saw a table on the corner.  They were selling Krispy Kreme donuts as a fundraiser; $1 each or $10 for a dozen. “There were these  3 cute coeds holding signs and selling donuts,” sounds like the first line of letter to the Penthouse Forum.  What confused me was that nowhere was there any indication of what they were raising funds for.  I guess that is unimportant when girls want your money.

The other day, my Ex dropped my son off because he wanted to visit.  6 Flags, not me.  He’s an adult and doesn’t drive and clearly roller coasters outweigh Dad.   They live about 100 miles away.  Unsurprisingly her car had significant trash in it and it was her good fortune that it was garbage day in Concord.  The recycle can was empty and so was the yard clipping can.  The garbage can was half full, with an 8 foot outdoor blind the wind had obliterated sticking out.  Of course she threw her papers, food waste and assorted yuckies in the yard waste can.  I’m guessing the 2 additional feet she’d have had to walk to put the trash in the trash was too far and the rules written on the can didn’t apply to her.  I think this factual recounting (as told by my son) explains quite a bit.


The Portable Zoo

Sometimes, riding a BART train during commute hours is like going to the zoo.  You see all sorts of creatures that you might not normally see.  Taking the escalator up, I could see the platform was more crowded than usual.   My first sighting was the quickly becoming common, Obliviatus Chaosator.   The middle age woman on the step above me to my right, exited left basically forcing me back into the people behind me.  The common Obliviatus Chaosator generally pays no attention to those around them, knocking them over by owning all the space they can see.  Sadly they have tunnel vision and often dress in ways that functioning fashion senses avoid.  Sadly, this creature is becoming far more common.   I seem to stumble, and I mean that literally, across them several times a day

Walking down the platform, amongst the crowd, was Gothika PastMeByicus.    This breed only appears after the age of 40.  She appeared to be in her late 40s or older. This was a great specimen, all in black, too much leather for summer, ass length black hair, which was three shades too dark and too even for, as Lambchop would say, a woman of certain age and he outfit was topped with jet black sunglasses.   Clearly uncomfortable with sunlight, this aging vampire breed is highly uncommon on BART, but this specimen has been tagged and I recalled seeing it on numerous occasions.  I had often assumed their habitat was in nightclubs and vintage clothing shops, but some must travel to Macy’s or Sax to work the cosmetic counter.

As I settled into my seat on the train, I was joined at the next station by the extremely rare Overstuffed Coffee Clutcher (genus undefined).  This creature never travels without a cup of coffee and generally has a backpack stuffed to gills, making it hard to drink and impossible to maneuver.  Often they share their coffee with their seatmates, but spilling copious amounts on them.  Luckily, I was spared this unnecessary ritual, but there was significant bag shifting to allow for the coffee consumption.  This breed always ignores the signs and recordings about no food or drink on the train or platform.

Soon after, I was able to see a prime example of the Bicycle Doofus in full glory.   The Bicycle Doofus is rarely seen without a two wheel accessory.  This one jumped like a baboon when His bike fell, flinging his bag across the aisle to free his hands and pick up his bike.  With exaggerated motions he moved the bike and tied it a rail with great aplomb.  All that was missing was his red ass protruding for the all the females to see.  I wished I had a banana to give him, as a reward for his show.  They do react well to positive reinforcement, when not riding their bikes.

Ten minutes into the commute and I was already exhausted.  Had I been at the zoo, I could have wandered to the concession stand for a soft serve ice cream cone or over to the penguins for some relaxing levity.  Instead, more and more exotic breedw crowded in the car, heightening my awareness of so many odd creatures.  At least the TooMuch JeanNateRequried that choked me on Friday was missing.  The joy of unimpaired breathing is too often taken for granted.  Perhaps this would be a good day.


No Sense, No Sensability

The train was crowded and overly warm. The BART Operator kept apologizing for stopping in the wrong spot. It was cute the first time. After the third time her girls giggle and nervous manner became annoying. We knew the train pulled too far forward and she knew the train pulled to far forward., So what that a few people were left in the lurch and had to walk 25 yards to get on? The train was not leaving without them. I think she’d have been better served apologizing for not having the Air Conditioning on high enough. Luckily, I put on a 2nd and 3rd coat of deodorant. See, I do care about my coworkers.

When I finally got off the train, crawling over piled in commuters, squeezing past the guy with the bike — I know you think you are helping the environment, but how many people rip their clothes on your mountain bike, requiring them to drive to the store and buy new clothes or have the old ones repaired? Not so smart now, are you? – and made it to the platform, calm, empty and remarkably cool.

I had gone less than a 50 yards , when I saw her, barely in the train, clearly uncomfortably perched too close to the door.  You know her, the corporate accountant, trying to balance her “I’m a low-level manager , respect me!” with her need to be a woman (yeah, I’ll flirt my way out of this situation). Black business suit, hitting her nicely just above the knees.   A white blouse that was ready to have one more button undone. Make-up that can play both sides of the fence (I’m guessing her lunch date was on her mind more than that budget meeting at 11).  Dark hose that said evening wear.  And — wait for it — sand colored Uggs. 

Seriously? My stomach flopped. In what world did she think should walk down Montgomery Street in San Francisco and not stand out like the tanning mom?   This was worse than Lisa Rinna’s latest lips. She was a fashion crime for all to see.  I’ve long ago given in to the specific disappoint of commuting women wearing flats and tennis shoes on the train.  I know  my mother would be appalled at that, but this was horrific.  A color faux pas layered with a serious fashion belly flop.  What, is this LA?  I know they wear crap like this there and call it fashion.  I guess there are clueless people here too. I walked away hoping Joan Rivers would scream at her and throw her under the train.