Trip to Whistler for Mozilla’s work week

Our work week hasn’t started yet, but since I got to Whistler early I have had lots of adventures.

First the obligatory nostril-flaring over what it is like to travel with a wheelchair. As we started the trip to Vancouver I had an interesting experience with United Airlines as I tried to persuade them that it was OK for me to fold up my mobility scooter and put it into the overhead bin on the plane. Several gate agents and other people got involved telling me many reasons why this could not, should not, and never has or would happen:

* It would not fit
* It is illegal
* The United Airlines handbook says no
* The battery has to go into the cargo hold
* Electric wheelchairs must go in the cargo hold
* The scooter might fall out and people might be injured
* People need room for their luggage in the overhead bins
* Panic!!

The Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 says,

Assistive devices do not count against any limit on the number of pieces of carry-on baggage. Wheelchairs and other assistive devices have priority for in-cabin storage space over other passengers’ items brought on board at the same airport, if the disabled passenger chooses to preboard.

In short I boarded the airplane, and my partner Danny folded up the scooter and put it in the overhead bin. Then, the pilot came out and told me that he could not allow my battery on board. One of the gate agents had told him that I have a wet cell battery (like a car battery). It is not… it is a lithium ion battery. In fact, airlines do not allow lithium batteries in the cargo hold! The pilot, nicely, did not demand proof it is a lithium battery. He believed me, and everyone backed down.

The reason I am stubborn about this is that I specially have a very portable, foldable electric wheelchair so that I can fold it up and take it with me. Two times in the past few years, I have had my mobility scooters break in the cargo hold of a plane. That made my traveling very difficult! The airlines never reimbursed me for the damage. Another reason is that the baggage handlers may lose the scooter, or bring it to the baggage pickup area rather than to the gate of the plane.

Onward to Whistler! We took a shuttle and I was pleasantly (and in a way, sadly) surprised that the shuttle liason, and the driver, both just treated me like any other human being. What a relief! It is not so hard! This experience is so rare for me that I am going to email the shuttle company to compliment them and their employees.

The driver, Ivan, took us through Vancouver, across a bridge that is a beautiful turquoise color with stone lions at its entrance, and through Stanley Park. I particularly noticed the tiny beautiful harbor or lagoon full of boats as we got off the bridge. Then, we went up Highway 99, or the Sea to Sky Highway, to Squamish and then Whistler.

Sea to sky highway

When I travel to new places I get very excited about the geology and history and all the geography! I love to read about it beforehand or during a trip.

The Sea to Sky Highway was improved in preparation for the Winter Olympics and Paralympics in 2010. Before it was rebuilt it was much twistier with more steeply graded hills and had many bottlenecks where the road was only 2 lanes. I believe it must also have been vulnerable to landslides or flooding or falling rocks in places. As part of this deal the road signs are bilingual in English and Squamish. I read a bit on the way about the ongoing work to revitalize the Squamish language.

The highway goes past Howe Sound, on your left driving up to Squamish. It is a fjord, created by retreated glaciers around 11,000 years ago. Take my geological knowledge with a grain of salt (or a cube of ice) but here is a basic narrative of the history. AT some point it was a shallow sea here but a quite muddy one, not one with much of a coral reef system, and the mountains were an archipelago of island volcanoes. So there are ocean floor sediments around, somewhat metamorphosed; a lot of shale.

There is a little cove near the beginning of the highway with some boats and tumble-down buildings, called Porteau Cove. Interesting history there. Then you will notice a giant building up the side of a hill, the Britannia Mining Museum. That was once the Britannia Mines, producing billions of dollars’ worth of copper, gold, and other metals. The entire hill behind the building is honeycombed with tunnels! While a lot of polluted groundwater has come out of this mine damaging the coast and the bay waters, it was recently plugged with concrete: the Millenium Plug, and that improved water quality a lot, so that shellfish, fish, and marine mammals are returning to the area. The creek also has trout and salmon returning. That’s encouraging!

Then you will see huge granite cliffs and Shannon Falls. The giant monolith made me think of El Capitan in Yosemite. And also of Enchanted Rock, a huge pink granite dome in central Texas. Granite weathers and erodes in very distinctive ways. Once you know them you can recognize a granite landform from far away! I haven’t had a chance to look close up at any rocks on this trip…. Anyway, there is a lot of granite and also basalt or some other igneous extrusive rock. Our shuttle driver told me that there is columnar basalt near by at a place called French Fry Hill.

The mountain is called Stawamus Chief Mountain. Squamish history tells us it was a longhouse turned to stone by the Transformer Brothers. I want to read more about that! Sounds like a good story! Rock climbers love this mountain.

There are some other good stories, I think one about two sisters turned to stone lions. Maybe that is why there are stone lions on the Vancouver bridge.

The rest of the drive brought us up into the snowy mountains! Whistler is only 2000 feet above sea level but the mountains around it are gorgeous!

The “village” where tourists stay is sort of a giant, upscale, outdoor shopping mall with fake streets in a dystopian labyrinth. It is very nice and pretty but it can also feel, well, weird and artificial! I have spent some time wandering around with maps, backtracking a lot when I come to dead ends and stairways. I am also playing Ingress (in the Resistance) so I have another geographical overlay on the map.

Whistler bridge lost lake

On Sunday I got some groceries and went down paved and then gravel trails to Lost Lake. It was about an hour long trip to get there. The lake was beautiful, cold, and full of people sunbathing, having picnics, and swimming. Lots of bikes and hikers. I ran out of battery (nearly), then realized that the lake is next to a parking lot. I got a taxi back to the Whistler Village hotel! Better for me anyway since the hour long scooter trip over gravel just about killed me (I took painkiller halfway there and then was just laid flat with pain anyway.) Too ambitious of an expedition, sadly. I had many thoughts about the things I enjoyed when I was younger (going down every trail, and the hardest trails, and swimming a lot) Now I can think of those memories, and I can look at beautiful things and also read all the information about an area which is enjoyable in a different way. This is just how life is and you will all come to it when you are old. I have this sneak preview…. at 46…. When I am actually old, I will have a lot of practice and will be really good at it. Have you thought about what kind of old person you would like to be, and how you will become that person?

Today I stayed closer to home just going out to Rebagliati Park. This was fabulous since it wasn’t far away, seriously 5 minutes away! It was very peaceful. I sat in a giant Adirondack chair in a flower garden overlooking the river and a covered bridge. Watching the clouds, butterflies, bees, birds, and a bear! And of course hacking the portals (Ingress again). How idyllic! I wish I had remembered to bring my binoculars. I have not found a shop in the Whistler Mall-Village that stocks binoculars. If I find some, I will buy them.

I also went through about 30 bugs tracked for Firefox 39, approved some for uplift, wontfixed others, emailed a lot of people for work, and started the RC build going. Releng was heroic in fixing some issues with the build infrastructure! But, we planned for coverage for all of us. Good planning! I was working Sunday and Monday while everyone else travelled to get here…. Because of our release schedule for Firefox it made good sense for me to get here early. It also helps that I am somewhat rested from the trip!

I went to the conference center, found the room that is the home base for the release management and other platform teams, and got help from a conference center setup guy to lay down blue tape on the floor of the room from the doorway to the back of the room. The tape marks off a corridor to be kept clear, not full of backpacks or people standing and talking in groups, so that everyone can freely get in and out of the room. I hope this works to make the space easy for me to get around in, in my wheelchair, and it will surely benefit other people as well.

Travel lane

At this work week I hope to learn more about what other teams are doing, any cool projects etc, especially in release engineering and in testing and automated tools and to catch up with the Bugzilla team too. And will be talking a bunch about the release process, how we plan and develop new Firefox features, and so on! Looking forward now to the reception and seeing everyone who I see so much online!

Related posts:

Armor a mile thick today

This story starts out boring but bear with me, it gets funny and there is a punchline. So, there’s construction in my neighborhood on Misson as they dig up the street and repair some sections of sidewalk. Over by the Big Lots there were a bunch of barriers and hastily constructed ramps to the street and back around some of the work. I went out around the giant orange barrier things and found an SUV blocking the ramp up. I could go back out into Mission or go even further out into Mission. Both not good choices.

Sidewalk construction barriers

I ducked half under the SUV’s bumper and got onto the ramp while holding onto the corner of of the car so I wouldn’t tip over. As I got onto the sidewalk clumsily an older lady with a little kid came up and I asked if it were her car. (Yes). I said, Well hey. You are blocking the ramp! There’s construction so it was hard to get up. She started yelling at me. I can’t remember what! But it was mean. “You should go on the other side of the street then!” At one point she said that I should read the sign — if I could even read! Because the date wasn’t for today and she was parked at a meter! Arrrrrgh. Thanks for the implication I can’t read!

I finally yelled back, “All you had to do is say, sorry for blocking the ramp, BUT NO, you had to be a huge screaming bitch!” And zoomed off filled with fury and sadness.

SUV blocking the ramp

Hahahah! So much for my composure and wisdom from yesterday! Some days no bullshit happens and some days it does. Some times I can handle shit and sometimes I fly off the handle. I got over it and laughed at the whole thing before I had gone another block.

So, I got to the notary office and hauled myself painfully over the non accessible threshold. The notary guy was helping someone else and kept giving me sort of dirty looks like I should not be there. The dude he was helping had to go get some extra documents from his car a few blocks away. As he left, the notary told me to wait till he finished with the first guy. I said something neutral like, it’s good to finish with one thing before you move onwards. All fine so far but I could feel that he didn’t want me there.

Half an hour later he filled out my form and got my thumbprint and everything. Another dude came up and …. unbelievable… he told me to wait until he helped Dude 2. I thought about calling him out on it. Calmly asking him, did you notice that you asked me to wait for you to finish with that first guy? But then, did not ask the next person after me to wait for you to finish with me? Why was that? I looked at him and thought about how his tension would then turn to outright anger. It wouldn’t matter how I asked him to discuss it, he would be hostile and would escalate, 99.9% certain.

Decided it wasn’t even worth it. People sometimes assholes, life not always fair, minor inconveniences happen, we all have annoying things. I just hope he did the form right, unlike notary #1 a week ago.

I headed home. (Negotiating the crumbling, soft, rutted ramp with no problem now that there wasn’t a car blocking it.) At the corner of my street, a tall white guy with very close shaved grey hair started yelling at me. “You almost hit me on that thing, it’s dangerous! You’re not even sick! If you are sick, you’re a waste of space! The problem with you people….” (That again!!!!!) “The problem with you people is you just don’t think.” I said that I was sorry I nearly hit him. And was glad I didn’t run into him. (Sincerely.) (Though he was rude and mean.)

He continued yelling. I then said (we were going the same direction, him next to me) Ah, you maybe didn’t hear me, I just apologized for not seeing you and nearly hitting you. I’m glad I didn’t run into you.

(More screaming)

“OK. Well. I hope your day gets better….”

“I hope your LIFE gets better!”

“My life is pretty great actually.”

He responded, “Well the problem with YOU is, you get all the pussy, and I don’t get any of it!”

I am sure I cracked up laughing at that point but I only remember staring at him incredulously.

“You know, you are right! That is completely true, man!” I couldn’t tell at this point if he was joking! What the fuck? But I’m laughing, maybe he’s joking?

“You steal everything. You stole all the pussy and that’s UNFORGIVEABLE. The rainbow is for everyone. YOU STOLE THE RAINBOW!”

“Oh, wow. You are 100% right. The rainbow IS for everybody! I mean, rainbows! They’re great.” Now I’m just resigned that he’s not at all joking, and I’ve incorrectly started fucking with him and he’s going to punch me in front of my own house. And yet my mouth runs off. And his saying that I stole the pussy and the rainbow also weirdly made me crack up while it was also super sad.

“Yes it is. The rainbow means something. It’s from God. It’s got a purpose to exist. And you don’t. You shouldn’t exist.”

It is funny that you can’t tell if people are going to hate you more if they think you’re not “really” disabled, or if you are! Sometimes, a stranger’s gaydar, lavender hair, and maybe wearing your kid’s My Little Pony Rainbow Dash t-shirt trumps disability completely! Jeez, first they came for our curb cuts but they couldn’t stop there, they had to steal the pussy from the men and the rainbows from God!!!!

Somewhat spooked and really, I thought I could defuse his anger with a little conversation, right up until the point of no return. Now he knows where I live!

Deep breaths, carry on, blogging it because I feel the impulse to share — though now it’s like I’m horrible for making fun of this poor messed up dude. I’m so tired! How can all those things happen in just going 3 blocks from my house and back?

Rainbow power!!!!!!!!!

Rainbow butterfly unicorn kitten

Related posts:

On a ramble in the city in the sun

Up betimes and to the office, where I had a lively time in various conference rooms and having lunch. Milo brought Minecraft and a book; we hung out talking about role playing games and science fiction with my co-worker Marc and my team’s intern Kate; then had a strangely nice time (for a day when a lot of technical infrastructure broke and we had to flail around to get things to work). I remarked to Ritu and Kate in our free form working-on-things meeting that I was so happy they are both interrupters. If only one of us was, it would be awkward. But with three rapidly thinking juggernaut talkers we jostled ideas and work around them, getting a lot done and building a group understanding of how we’re reading bugs and documentation, looking at metrics, and making decisions. My other team members are also like this. We can listen too — it is a comfortable mosh pit.

As usual I am wildly impressed by the deep knowledge of so many engineers at work. Stuff breaks or we have conflict and yet so much happens. My goal in going after a job at Mozilla was to be in a huge collaboration to make things bigger than I would ever know how to make on my own (after years of mostly lone projects, from zines to book editing to being a lone developer grubbing away in a dark corner). I am still obsessed with what collaboration can be and how it can be structured, and see interesting traces of generations of idealism echoed in our tools. (insert imaginary digression into c2 and meatball wiki history and LambdaMOO…. ) The answer to “why can’t you delete your bugzilla comments?” is actually this giant wild ride into epistemology and communication and truth but you would not necessarily suspect that if you weren’t there. So many things are like this. You look at a bridge, and if you know what ideals inspired the engineers of the time you understand why it is the way it is. Looking at every object, you have to assume that may be the case, just as every person has a deep background from which they have constructed themselves and been constructed. I was feeling this a lot today. This engineering perspective is why I love reading Henry Petroski….

I did promise a ramble! Milo and I went out along the Embarcadero, playing Ingress. I wanted to go down to the end of the pier near the Ferry Building, on this rare warm day when I had the (faked) energy to be out of the house. The sun baked us, we looked at the painted tiles and poetry quotes along the pier, talked to fishermen (who were catching two foot long sharks) and watched a giant cargo ship (in real life and on MarineTraffic.com) go under the Bay Bridge. Oil tanker, Maltese flag, coming from Benicia. Without even trying, we spent an hour loafing around the pier. Pelicans were diving. People asked me about my mobility scooter. Water sparkling, ferries zooming around, someone in a bathing cap swimming around in the freezing ocean! I love waterfronts because they make me feel like I’m in a Richard Scarry Busy Busy World page!

San Francisco waterfront

My plan was then to adventurously take a MUNI train from underground instead of doubling back to get on the F, then transfer to the J to go home Instead, we braved the confusion of underground. The plan: go to the Castro for comic book shopping and dinner. Everything worked out. The train was crowded, but no one was awful. The smellavators, I mean elevators, all worked. We speculated on what it would be like if they just made the lifts into actual toilet stalls. Milo now unfazed by all this chaos while 5 years ago he would have been miserable to be dragged around, needing to check out and daydream or read in order to tolerate it.

I had never been in the Castro underground MUNI station. Weird huh? I knew abstractly that’s what those stairs must be for. But why would I ever go down them? I also have no clue how to get to the underground bit of the Church muni stop. Someday will pop out of it like a gopher and stitch those geographic manifolds.

Everything today was suffused with contentment. I could not stop just quietly enjoying the sunny warmness, the city, thinking on how we were in a place that other people around the world come to on purpose to enjoy.

Pain was terrible today honestly but I was in a state where I could ride it — And enjoy everything.

Liz on a pier in the sun

Cannot do that more than one day in a row. Tomorrow is for working from bed, ice packs on the ankles, and doing nothing more difficult than hobbling out to water the plants on the front porch.

I reminisced a bit to Milo about memories of past SF Pride parades and the Dyke March, and how I feel a little surge of the happiness of coming to SF every time I see the rainbow flags on Market Street. I said how the fact that I roller skated half naked down Market and the next year was in my manual wheelchair hanging onto the back of some strange guy’s motorcycle with my sister pulled along behind me, gives me this weird feeling of strength and history. And how I have been going since 1991, a long time now. We used to take Milo to the playground at Civic Center with my ex Nadine and her family and the kids would just be like, Mom… there is a guy dressed only in balloons. (Yes dear! He’s celebrating! How amusing! Many of the rules of life get broken today!) While I don’t often tell stories about my life to the kids I try to mention at least some of the facts or things that will make them think of their own experiences as existing in a story or history as well and to appreciate everyone around them has experiences as interesting to know as reading a good book. And, I think it would be weird to think of your parent as just your parent, and then 20 years later go, Oh, and by the way surprise she was flouncing around naked in the streets back in the day. Better to know up front so as to get used to the mildly scandalous facts. There is no need to go into details.

So our wandering around today was like my substitute pride weekend. I’ll be out of town this year for work, and anyway, have difficulty keeping up with the crowds. How much nicer to sit in Harvey’s on a mellow day like today — mediocre food but a nice spot to have a drink and gaze out at the rainbow crosswalks – people passing by in their shorts and tank tops. We read the little flyer about Harvey Milk while pondering injustice. Alas, the comic book store was closed on Monday.

Then to avoid the horrors of the 24 at rush hour (always full, passes me up regularly from that direction, rage-inducing) we flaneured down 18th to look out over the park and take the J train. I felt happy thinking of the excellent punk band J Church. Lovely view over Dolores Park. Pointed at our history pet, the Golden Hydrant. (Also, it is a portal, so, hacked it.)

I feel lucky my son can enjoy my quiet pace of wandering around the city and that he is such a good companion for observing and talking, chilling out and reading books in random places. Not for the first or last time I thought of that kind of cheesy sentimental Juana de Ibarbourou prose poem Diary of a Young Mother.

I will be old when my son becomes a man. And when we go out to walk together, I will pretend to be hunchbacked, so that he will seem, at my side, to be more gallant. I will be a little old woman full of crafty tricks. I will learn to stumble once in a while, so that he can support me. I’ll have to feign exhaustion, so that he’ll give me his arm, saying:
          “You’re tired, Mom?”
          And the girls, who surely will all fall in love with him like fools, will say:
          “That crippled old lady on the arm of this handsome elegant man — it’s his mother.”
          And I’ll walk on secretly swelled with pride!

Unlike Juana I don’t have to pretend! And yet am more likely to be the support, open the door, carry his books (since I have this handy sturdy exoskeleton).

Part of a plan! Teen fantasy/sf book and comic book club at Borderlands. I will help Milo make it happen this summer. Isn’t it odd that the libraries, despite having a gazillionty kid/teen events, don’t have just like… a get together for kids who love to read? Not an improving aspirational reading list for the summer or a workshop on origami but … talk with people who love to read for fun, who are your age. Milo remarked how it took him until very recently to realize that most other people don’t read for fun but see it as this special educational activity. It’s good to find your people. It boggles his mind that people would consider one form of culture or art or writing to be somehow elite and high and others, not, when obviously that changes over time anyway and with every new art form! The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in this case! But it’s like he gets to avoid my horrible childhood snobbery!

I thought of my nice day yesterday going out with Danny to eat oysters and weird candy cap mushroom creme brulee. We had just a day to catch up between two of his work trips and a ton of ideas to talk about, his talk at PDF, the general odd zeitgeist, what will happen with the elections and disinformation and astroturfing (my code for this is just muttering “venezuela” which if you followed the last 10 years of politics there and online arguments you will know means, you can’t tell what the hell is going on and everything is fucked). (Obviously that political situation is not special to VZ; it’s just that I was paying attention to it at the time.) We talked about writing projects. Gossip — ranging far afield — the psychology of everyone — ourselves — etc.

So, meanwhile, I complain about spending a lot of time just being in bed or on the couch. And sometimes resent that going to the drugstore 3 blocks away is my outside of the house activity for the week. How pathetic that little bit of happiness seems when I feel down or when I’m wishing to travel all over the world. But it isn’t really a bad thing and I think never will be. When I’m 90 I’ll sit on a bench feeling the sun, taking pleasure in that. It will be just fine.

A small but determined ambition: have periodic short writing times, with many different people, including Milo and Danny…. Some sporadic instances of Writing Together but separately time and talking over projects, rather than a regular habit which none of us can stick to because of the structures of our lives. How will I model sustainable feminist activism? This question my therapist posed has been a fine mantra over the past 8 months or so.

This last week I thought a lot about my friends and people in my life, thinking of them with huge affection. I want to write letters to everyone. What if I just write nice letters to people over this next year? But not “just”. The idea I was ticking over at this time last year was to do an anthology that is exactly to my taste of memoir and essay. I want to pull people together to represent this moment as intensely as possible. I am picturing this process and this artifact and will make it happen. I want to get out a lot of my books and stuff about diaries, and memoir, and feminist ethics, and jump from thought to thought to see what gets thrown into the mix before this project coalesces. Last year’s events made it hard for me to settle. Now I think I know what to do here. Think on history and activism. Riot grrrl slips into the realm of the mythical past. Moments flame up like comets. Collisions are bright shining. You know the Combahee River Collective didn’t last forever. But the people carried on their work in different trajectories. What they built still stands. The effort to collaborate that intensely is not failure because it’s ephemeral – Like all relationships.

Anyway, back to the day.

I felt content and good today. The good wishes of hundreds of people casually on Facebook (that exploitable butterfly) made me think fondly of everyone and I felt loved and appreciated for whatever it is I’m doing now, though it isn’t splashy or what I had planned. People are cynical about that “shallow” social interaction but I do love it. What could be wrong about thinking of another person for a moment, even if you don’t have them in mind all the time, or even for years?

Going across town is still a big deal for me that makes me happy. I do miss being able to get in my car and drive around exploring waterfronts and going all the places possible from the map. Instead: this is the time I’m in this city, in this way, and I’m going to enjoy it.

Small ambition!! Friday I am thinking to get a tres leches cake with pineapple whipped cream from Lelenita’s and invite a few people over. Cake time! Maybe… cake and poetry? Salon time; small private spaces. My feeling of not being ready to write a new different (poetry) book solidified oddly while Danny and I talked at our fancy Sunday lunch. I begin to see the problem there. It is our view of the failures of our collectives. Returning to our romantic idea of the End of Greatness. To get there I need to look further somehow.

Obligatory mention of books: Cixin Liu – just read everything of his that you can lay your hands. The novellas and short stories are beautiful. Read many of them in a row! You won’t be sorry.

Related posts: