That all crucial three dollar check

So, disabled people in theory get to ride public transport at a discount rate in San Francisco and in fact in the entire Bay Area. To get my disabled rate card for the bus I had to bring my accessible parking placard to an office in Downtown SF and pay some nominal fee for a card. This proves I’m disabled I guess. Most transit cards, you can just buy at a Walgreens or in the train station.

That errand took nearly a whole day for me to take the bus, wait around in this office, get sent to the DMV for some reason I couldn’t fathom, spend hours at the DMV, get back on my 4th bus of the day to the Regional Transit Center office on Van Ness. Pay my 5 bucks or whatever it was and be done. I got a plastic card with my photo & an RFID chip. But this is already bullshit. How much proving I’m disabled do I have to do here for this petty benefit? Can’t DMV make it known upon request that yes, in their eyes, I’m still disabled?

Once I had the card – maybe a month later — I could get online to refill the card and even set it up to refill automatically once a month. That part was nice.

In July, I got a badly xeroxed form with a handwritten note saying I needed to check a box to say I was still disabled, and write in the number of my parking placard. I also had to enclose a check for $3.00. Ridiculous!

So I sent this form in a couple of weeks ago. Today my bus pass suddenly didn’t work.

I called the Clipper card people who told me to call RTC which is run out of some company called Cordoba. They said they were getting tons of phone calls, because many people hadn’t gotten their renewals yet.

The phone call with RTC was just frustrating. They acted like they were angry with me and were very condescending. “Well, did you SEND IT? Did you send it to (po box and address.) How do I know? I sent it to the address it said. “Well did you enclose a check for $3.00? If you put cash in, that doesn’t work.” Yeah I’ll bet it doesn’t. They haven’t gotten my renewal letter, and didn’t have any suggestion about what to do other than wait.

The whole process is so silly and inefficient. They need to recognize that lots of people aren’t going to become magically un-disabled, and save themselves a lot of petty paperwork. I wonder what actually happens to that piece of paper I got mailed? No one needs that damn piece of paper! And I don’t think they need any yearly check for 3 dollars either, isn’t that what we pay taxes for?! Really you are gonna hassle every single cripple in the Bay Area every July for a check for $3.00?

I bet that has bad results especially for all the people I see downtown who might not have their shit together to the degree I do. I doubt the intended service manages to serve this population well.

/end rant.

Bugs and sheriffs in London

Travelling Bugmaster update! I am in London with a bunch of the automation tools team for a work week. Ed, jeads, Chris, Ryan, dave, and mauro have been neck deep in making decisions about the structure of a new version of TBPL. By eavesdropping in their conference room I have learned a bit about how Ed and RyanVM and others watch the tree (sheriffing). Also, dkl and gerv and I met up to talk about bugzilla.mozilla.org and I got to bounce some ideas off them about possible ways to tweak the incoming bug triage workflow.

The London office is right between Trafalgar Square, Chinatown, and Covent Garden. It’s very accessible. If you come to Mozilla London offices and are a wheelchair user, you should know that the Tube stations near the office are not accessible. Give up and take the Heathrow Express to Paddington and then a taxi.

Lanterns sky

The BMO and IT teams (glob, dkl, and fox2mike, mostly) are planning to upgrade bugzilla.mozilla.org on March 8th. You can give it a test drive here: bugzilla-dev.allizom.org. This brings Mozilla’s implementation in line with the upstream version of Bugzilla 4.2. In theory, the new server hardware and architecture will also make BMO much faster.

I’m mostly excited about the user and product dashboards in this release. They look extremely cool — great for people who are doing bugmaster and triaging work. Someone who wants to drop in to triage Firefox bugs, or to get a mental image of what’s happening with bugs of interest to them, will be able to do so easily, without having set up a sort of pachinko palace labyrinth of bugmail and filters.

Bugzilla user dashboard 500

So if you would like a sneak preview of the user and product dashboards, take a look on bugzilla-dev.allizom.org and poke around! You can talk to us on #bmo or #bugmasters on irc.mozilla.org if you have feedback. And do please help us by filing bugs!

Besides the upgrade and move, and the archictecture of bzAPI current and possible future — gerv, dkl and I discussed the re-framing of early bug triage as “Bugmaster” or bug management work. We kicked around some ideas and it was very helpful to me to get their advice.

I am adding links to current wiki docs into the show_components.cgi descriptions and dkl has promised to expose those descriptions in show_bug.cgi views of individual bugs. My thought is that within the bug itself, the reporter and triagers, or an aspiring new developer, will have multiple ways to dive deeper into the bug.

We talked about adding common reply templates, which I am collecting in the Bugmaster Guide but which would work well, I think, built into Bugzilla. It turns out that dkl already has an extension started, canned comments, to do exactly this. Very intriguing!

Another thing I’d like to see is something that invites extra information when a bug is filed. This can be context sensitive, so that, if you file a bug in Firefox for Android in a particular component, there can be a link to relevant support forums, wiki pages, the irc channel, and the module owner information. This landing screen could also invite the bug reporter to add bits of information they have not included. If they haven’t attached a screenshot or included a url there could be an attempt to elicit them, or a few “next steps to help make this bug more reproducible” suggestions.

I am still thinking about the READY status flag and other ways to mark “early triaging is happening, or should be happening” vs. “in the hands of dev team”. That is a fuzzy boundary and different conditions would lead to it for different products/components. In this discussion we looked at Gerv’s and Jesse Ruderman‘s proposals for BMO workflow:
* Workflow Proposal 1 which simplifies the status chain.
* Workflow Proposal 2 which more radically changes the flow and statuses to a “next action” framing.

I can see benefits and drawbacks to both models.

It would be helpful from a triaging point of view to be able to declare, in an obvious-to-all way, that a bug is as triaged as we can get it for the moment and it either is ready for a developer to look at or is in some sort of Bug Limbo waiting for later re-assessment. We can do that with some assortment of existing tags and keywords but it may lack clarity and ease of use.

We brought up the idea that if I am doing some triage on a bug but don’t feel it is “ready” yet — for example perhaps I have identified its component, but not reproduced it, or vice versa — I can list myself as the QA contact. What would that indicate, though? Would it keep away other triagers? That is not what I’d want, of course. We could end up with some sort of “needstriage” checkbox, or make a tagging taxonomy that is well documented and evangelize it.

On Sunday I spent some time wandering around in a rented mobility scooter. It is possible now in London to hire a scooter for 70 pounds a week. Very much worth it not to have to push myself over thousands of cobblestones. I have only run over one person’s foot so far in the swarms of tourists, theater-goers, schoolchildren going to museums, and Londoners purposefully striding around in overcoats staring at their mobile phones. Though the scooter delivered is bigger than most cars in this country. It is like an enormous Mecha Gundam Wing suit on wheels so my adventures in the London streets are reminiscent of the Pacific Rim movie trailer.

Lion unicorn palace

In London, when confronted with a giant wheeled exoskeleton, people generally give a tiny gasp and start (theatrically), mutter apologies, and make a show of getting out of the way while looking bewildered. They are relatively good at not acting shocked that I exist. That’s kind of pleasant really. Some buildings and restaurants are somewhat accessible. I get along here as long as I don’t think too hard about how I can’t use the Tube at all and I can afford the glorious taxis.

In Vienna, I used my manual chair. Almost nowhere is accessible even when it is declared to be. People there would loudly gasp, almost a little shriek, and leap forward to grab me, which reminded me of how people act in Beijing when they see an independent person using a wheelchair. They scream, and they leap, like kzinti. More details on hilarious wheelie adventures in the Hofburg, coming soon. Travel is lovely but I’ll be glad to be back in San Francisco at the end of the week.

To Vindobona! and beyond

I am leaving tomorrow for Vienna where I will be speaking at the OSCE Internet 2013 conference. They had asked me to write a chapter for their 2013 book on Internet freedom — on the Amina hoax, identity on the Internet, and journalism. For the conference, I’ll be on the Social News panel along with Christian Möller, Anna Kachkaeva, Leonard Novy, and Filip Wallberg. I’m looking forward to meeting people at the conference! I’ve never been to Vienna. In preparation I read some histories on the net and a very boring book called Vienna: A Cultural History, and also I raced through Man Without Qualities and Young Torless to give me some atmosphere.

The only interesting facts I got from the Cultural History were that Marcus Aurelius probably died in Vindobona and that Austria’s first writer was Ava of Melk. I have found better book recommendations now! The conference will take up most of my time but it would be nice to wander around the Inner Stadt and find the Museum of the Romans on Marc-Aurelstrasse. It was completely engrossing to study maps of the city and try to orient myself before getting there. I am trying to practice useful phrases like “Wo ist die Fahrstühl?” and “Eine Melange, bitte, danke schon”. My other ambitions for Vienna are to go to Metalab (the hackerspace) and the Frauen Cafe (the feminist cafe and I think bookstore). Metalab is not very accessible sounding but they have written me lovely email basically promising to haul me up there.

I will keep the glories of the Austrian Year firmly in mind as my hands freeze in my manual wheelchair rims and I cough my lunghs out with asthma from the cigarette smoke that will surely be everywhere. At least this way (languishing in Vienna) I’ll be in solidarity with Marcus Aurelius.

vindobona_map.jpg

Next Friday I will be heading to London and working there for a week with other people on the Automated Tools team and dkl who does a lot of work on Bugzilla. Probably will meet up with my friend Bryony, Danny’s niece Ro, cdent who I used to work with at Socialtext, and other friends. I would like to have tea at the National Portrait Gallery, go to Forbidden Planet and some interesting sounding political bookstores along with Foyles which seems to have eaten the feminist Silver Moon bookstore. Then will go to the Cafe in the Crypt at St. Martin’s in the Field which I think sounds hilarious and amazing. It sounds wheelchair accessible and plus it is described thusly:

Once inside the Crypt there is a warm welcome awaiting you with beautiful 18th century architecture brick-vaulted ceilings, historic tombstones beneath your feet and delicious home-cooked food to feast your eyes and stomach on.

That sentence is so wrong; so perfectly wrong. The warmth, the brick, the tombstones, and the mention of several body parts in conjunction with the word “feast” make it sound like a sort of Zombie Pizzeria. All this and Bach fugues too for 26 quid. It really can’t fail.

I am vowing to slink off at lunchtimes to take virtuous naps while my coworkers from Mozilla go to fascinating pubs, but am not sure that will ever really happen. In London it will be super tempting to go lots of places because I’m renting a mobility scooter and it won’t be hurting my hands and shoulders to push my chair around town.

This is going to be fun though I’m worried about being in pain especially on the plane trip, but then also in pain and alone much of the time, which can be a little hard to take. So I really need to slow that mustang down and be patient, rather than trying to do all the things I would like to do. Luckily I really enjoy reading and learning about places so that it is like I get to do that much more, just by reading later about where I’ve been.

This weekend we went to Tom’s house for a Ping Pong Deathmatch and I sat watching the kids and other lively people playing. The garage with the ping pong table was cold so I was huddled in my huge woollen scarf/shawl. At one point I began imagining how things would go if we were in a Three Stooges skit. I could see the old fashioned font with a title like “Ping Pong Gone Wrong” or “Kings of the Ping”. Larry, Curly, and Moe would be in the garage to do some menial job and in the garage there would be a new invention of an automatic ping-pong ball launcher. Milo and I started describing all the things that could happen as the garage came apart catastrophically, with a really good bit where Larry goes head first into the washing machine which spins his legs around and around like a drill. Someone would be folded into the ping pong table and the whole skit might end with the garage door opening and the table (with all 3 on it, plus the automatic launcher) racing uncontrollably down a hill. Again I felt lucky that I can enjoy things without leaping around. I am like Des Esseintes except (usually) not filled with loathing. Also, how lucky that my son loves to go on these imaginary voyages too!

Then we played an excellent and clever resource management/politics board game called Chicken Caesar, which we didn’t fully get into the swing of because we needed to get home, but I might like to buy it and play it for real!

Other than that the kids played Minecraft *all weekend*. They are completely obsessed.

Off to Kiwicon!

I am preparing to go to Kiwicon 6 in Wellington, New Zealand! I’ll be speaking on hacker communities. I’m super excited to meet people, hear all the talks, blog about everything, scoot around town, and see lots of people I know from geekfeminism.org, linux.conf.au, and DrupalSouth. I’m also speaking at the Geek Girl Dinner along with Laura Bell of in2securITy!

Kiwicon 666

It is the end of days; the sky has torn asunder, for it is Kiwicon six hundred sixty six.

Organised by and for the NZ hacker community, Kiwicon brings together hackers, their whitehat chums, and curious bystanders who are interested in the very very thin veneer of robustness spackled over our technological world.

First priority, fixing my scooter. So I want to talk about that before talking about the con and non-hardware hacking! Zach from the hackability list helped me again, bringing over all his tools. I have a tiny travel multimeter now, but am probably not going to have a tiny soldering iron before the trip. After 3 separate things broke on my scooter on day 1 of my trip to Mexico, I swore never to travel again with a scooter without the stuff to fix it! Though I was very smug that my Spanish was good enough to have a long conversation with an electrician that went far beyond “No sirve” as we opened up my dashboard. Fortunately guessing words like “voltímetro” worked well.

potentiometer and its lever

One problem was that a diode blew. It is in between the two 12-volt sealed lead-acid batteries and once Zach and I had tested everything else we opened up the heat shrink tubing and found this giant useless diode. I think (after discussion with Susan, Zach, and some very nice engineer from the fab lab in China that makes the scooters) it may in theory serve to stop you from draining your batteries by accident. In practice it underpowers the motor so we just snipped it out and didn’t replace it. The hacked smart charger we made for the scooter may have blown it out.

Another problem was that some wires came loose in the dashboard from the cruise control potentiometers despite that I had covered them in tons of hot glue. (The electrician in La Paz and I fixed that bit.) The third thing wrong was that the main throttle potentiometer shaft, which is very long, was out of whack or bent, so the scooter just wouldn’t start, because the motor controller checks to make sure the controls are centered before it will let you start. The driver who loaded my scooter into the back of his van in Los Cabos for the drive to La Paz did not take the seat off the scooter’s frame before bending down the dashboard on its pole. So the acceleration lever (forward and backward) and thus, the throttle pot shaft, was resting directly on the seat and got screwed up. I had a great time in La Paz anyway in a janky rental Everest and Jennings manual chair pushed by Oblomovka and spent the rest of my time in bed (properly as I should, but boringly), on the beach 50 steps from the hotel, or in the tiny front sidewalk table of the hotel cafe writing and sketching.

The Malecón (walkway or boardwalk along the sea) of La Paz was lovely, nicely paved for wheelchairs or scooters, very flat, and very long. It is level in some places with the beach and in others looks out over riprap or extends to piers. At the Science Expo we saw this otherworldly sculpture of a ballena tiburon, or WHALE SHARK. I think of WHALE SHARKS in all caps, always.

on another planet with 2 suns!

Also awesome in La Paz: All of La Paz and the people I met! The lovely, fascinating, kind, people of the Hotel Mediterrane, a small LGBT hotel in La Paz that felt like a bed & breakfast. And the beaches, especially Tecolote and Balandra!

Then Hurricane Sandy happened and I contributed a little bit to this massive group effort to help out and felt a lot of love for the extended “cripfam” of my friends.

We continue our Anarchafeminist Hackerhive meetings at Noisebridge and are looking closely in what’s happening at HackerMoms, LOL, and Sudo Room! Everyone should read Jenny Ryan’s article on co-operation amongst Bay Area hackerspaces:
Hacking the Commons: How to Start a Hackerspace
as it conveys the fabulousness of the Bay Area hackerspaces & the synergy that is building these days.

Oh, and I made up a version of The Internationale to sing at Noisebridge and other hackerspaces, The Hackernationale, for a hackerspace anthem, because the Free Software Song is a bit hard to sing and play. The Hackernationale is especially suitable for singing to sleeping hackers, and I plan on writing many more verses for it!

So, Kiwicon! I will talk about mildy subversive things which hopefully will not sound like “buzzwording buzzword for buzzwordists” since I could not call the talk “How to Conspire to Do Illegal Things”. It will be thought provoking, odd, scary, and wildly entertaining for 9:15 in the morning as I bounce around a stage in the Wellington Opera House ranting and waving my arms wildly like a tiny wheeled Wizard of Frobozz!

Bootstrapping InfoSec for Hacktivists
As hackers and activists, we have a lot of power and many vulnerabilities. And as we act not just as lone hackers but in working groups, our infosec practices can expose not only ourselves but our associates. Acting with power, responsibility, and as much safety as possible means we need good operational security for whole communities, whether they’re publishing citizen journalism and leaked information, challenging censorship and copyright law, or taking direct political action locally or internationally. This talk will walk us through some cultural frameworks and technical tools created by and for emerging hacker communities. Who are we? Who will dislike our actions? What channels might they use? And how can we treat them as bugs, and route around them?

Before giving that talk on Saturday morning I will be at the Arduino thing on Friday, then maybe the Surviving Kiwicon orientation if I’m not falling over from jet lag, then the clambake Geek Girl Dinner, then the speakers’ party. On Saturday I’m especially interested in Alex Kirk’s talk on Master Phishing, Leigh Honeywell’s talk “Firehoses and Asbestos Pants” on the security incident & response life cycle, the web app recon talk and the talk where 3 guys with ponytails talk about security. On Sunday, I really want to go to Open Source Security Response, The tale of a Firefox bug by Thoth and the Wi-fi attack cycle talk which I believe will actually take place with the souped-up motorcycle on stage and which MAY INSPIRE me to stuff more electronics and another large deep-cycle battery into my mobility scooter. Also this seems like the quintessential Kiwicon talk since their Secret Cabal clearly LOVES METAL. This is the best conference talk description ever!!!!!

War driving has been around for a very, very long time, however it has been missing a few key things. Mainly leather, Judas Priest and Motorcycles. ‘Ghost riders in your LAN’ is a talk based around overclocking the wardriving game by introducing gasoline, angle grinders, cheap wifi gear and a build price smaller than your slightly more exorbitant weekend bender. This talk is a collaboration between Security-Assessment.com and Stray Rats Custom Motorcycles. I will be covering the details of how to build a wifi-attack-cycle from ground up – from electronics and cheap-and-cheerful heads up displays to the bike modifications required to mount all the tech and look awesome while terrorizing your local neighborhood TP-LINKs. Ride the metal monster, breathing death and fire. Closing in with vengeance broadcasting high. This is the WifiKiller.

OMG! I want a ride on this beast!!!

Actually, Sunday has more talks than I can possibly sit up for, so if you see me lying down in the back of the theater please don’t be alarmed, I am just resting my back, or have taken too many muscle relaxants. Carry on!

After the con I am going to veg a lot and go to the indoor swimming pool for some physical therapy and hang around Wellington for a few days. Maybe with Joh and sundry, maybe with hyp4t1a if she doesn’t disappear off into some sort of skiing, rock climbing hinterland!

Say hello if you see me, I look like this and am on a little blue scooter or hobbling slowly around on a cane:
new shirt

Gadget love

I found the best cable ever. It has ends for an iPad, miniUSB, and microUSB. Instead of having 3 heads on different necks like a hydra, the three ends plug into each other on jointed hinges. When you bend it, it looks like a cute little scorpion or like horrible alien mouthparts!

I love this cable!!!

The bits where it plugs into itself are very sturdy. The cable itself is thick and very short.

The best cable ever!

Here it is in action plugged into my phone! It is a “Magic 3-in-one” cable made by Innergie and handles data as well as recharging. As long as I manage not to lose this beast, I’m going to do away with carrying 2 or 3 different cables in my backpack (and never having the right one). If it ever falls apart at the hinges, I’ll still have the useful converter plugs.

<3 <3 cable love

On bus lifts and complaint forms

Now that I am using a mobility scooter and can’t drive, I ride a MUNI bus about 4 times a day in San Francisco. Most of the time I get on the bus and everything’s fine. A non-trivial amount of hte time, there is some hitch to accessible MUNI travel and either I cope with that gracefully or I get quite angry.

Most of the time in the last few months I get too discombobulated to document the incident. But I’m resolving to do so consistently from now on not for my own desire to vent but as a political act that might benefit many people and might help us act together to improve things.

When I talk about, or twitter or blog about access difficulties on the bus, people tell me “well you should report it”. I found that reporting it is quite complicated. Also, while dealing with mobility issues and a lot of pain and all the demands of my daily life, even on medical leave from work, it’s been daunting to consider this.

I would like to describe some of the aspects of MUNI transit with a wheelchair and to take a good look at the process of making an official complaint. The complaint process is fairly clunky and off-putting. I’m thinking about how to improve that process and make it productive and useful. Meanwhile, I’ll make a policy for myself of not only going through the formal complaint process, but also twittering the bus number and situation. For my own data tracking, I will take a photo of each bus I ride, with the bus number, uploading it to Flickr. I’ll then take notes on access in a paper notebook. For each Flickr photo I will type up my access notes, and tag the photo with #accessMUNI, the bus number, approximate time of day, details of the experience, and #fail or #win. That will give me some data to work with personally.

I wonder how many lifts break on MUNI in a day, in a month? How many complaints about bus access are there? Is that or should it be public information? Could I build a work-around, an end run, basically an alternate complaint system that has intake from paper forms (mailed to me personally), text messages, and a phone app? Or a simpler web form for complaints?

Here is how a smooth bus-boarding goes:

* The driver sees me and immediately tells the apparently able bodied people on the bus and the people waiting for the bus to use the back doors. The driver extends the lift.
* I get on the lift and it brings me up onto the bus
* The driver or other passengers flip up some seats to make room for me and the chair
* I settle in and we’re good to go (meanwhile, everyone else has gotten on or off.)

Keep in mind the wheelchair seating areas, two on most buses, are midway back in the bus, so to get on or off, I have to go past three to 5 inward-facing seats which might be full of people, some of them with shopping carts, strollers, walkers, and suitcases.

bus-diagram.jpg

In a bad situation, here is what can happen:

* The driver does not know how to operate the lift.
* The driver tries to extend the lift, but it doesn’t work.
* The driver claims the lift is broken.
* The driver says the bus is too crowded and won’t let me on.
* The driver lets all the other people get on the bus through the front door, filling up the seats, then extends the ramp, but now the bus is so full it is very hard to get to the wheelchair seating. People have to get up or move or stand on the seats to let me pass. The people on the bus sometimes get angry and impatient at the fuss and delay.
* The driver does not stop for me at all.
* There are already two wheelchairs on the bus, so the driver won’t let me on.
* Driver has not pulled up to the curb in a place where I can get on or off, and then has to reposition the bus to extend the lift.
* The lift breaks in such a way that the bus can’t move because the doors won’t close.
* I get on the bus but the lift won’t work again to let me off.
* The lockdown clamps either don’t work at all, or lock in a wheelchair’s wheels and won’t release. (I don’t use the locks anymore so I won’t go into this.)
* There is no button for me to push to indicate I want to get off the bus and need the lift, so I have to shout to the driver or get other passengers to let the driver know. (This doesn’t always work: I can miss the stop, or it can mean the driver yells at me.)
* Many other bugs in the system that I haven’t thought to list.

As a more minor complaint I have noticed that all drivers get me to come onto the lift, then lock the front flap upwards so I can’t get off again. Then the driver will sometimes get up to clear passengers from the wheelchair seating area and flip up the seats to make room. In that situation I am sometimes sitting in the rain waiting. I always wonder why the driver doesn’t move the lift to bring me onto the bus, and out of the cold and rain, first? Don’t they think? But, whatever, at least I’m on the bus eventually.

Another detail that would improve courtesy is that when the drivers (correctly) ask people waiting to get on or off to use the back door, and they begin to extend the lift, they almost always overlook obviously elderly and disabled people using canes or simply very frail. It would be much more in keeping with the spirit of things if the driver would encourage these folks to get on the bus through the front door, then deal with the lift and wheelchairs. I often tell the driver, “I’m sitting down — that lady isn’t! Does she need the bus to kneel, first?” But it usually doesn’t work and the driver continues yelling in some elderly person’s face for them to “use the back door”.

I wonder about the training the drivers go through. Most of them can competently operate a lift and are resigned to helping get wheelchair users on and off the bus. A very few are kind and treat disabled people with human decency as a matter of course. I see them deal with difficult people and situations gracefully. It might improve things in general if the drivers had some basic consciousness raising about people with disabilities. Drivers may assume a wheelchair user is paralyzed (they often assume this for me, yet I can walk ) They shout, or condescend, or pat me, or bring in a lot of assumptions to our interaction, and then I see them repeat that pattern with other disabled people who get on the bus. You can’t make people be nice and I don’t need my ass kissed because I’m disabled, but maybe some of that bad attitude feeds into the access problems that I see happen, especially with drivers who regard us as an inconvenience and want to use any excuse to pass us up and who seem to want to make us feel it.

When a lift is broken and a bus passes me up, I always wonder what happens. Does that driver just continue on for the rest of the shift, passing up an unknown number of people who needed a lift? Do they report the broken lift right away? What happens?

Here is a #49 bus, number 8195, that passed me up yesterday at Van Ness and 26th, claiming a broken lift:

49 bus with broken lift

So, moving onward to the complaint process and the forms online. Basically this is the bug reporting system. San Francisco uses the 311 system. Here is the 311 page that leads to the complaint form. People with compliments or complaints can use the web forms, or can call 311 or a full phone number to give feedback. There is a link to an accessible form, but it isn’t really an accessible form, it’s instructions to call the 311 number if you can’t use the web form.

Here is screen one of the complaint form. It asks for an email address and a repeated email address confirmation. You have the option to skip this step.

MUNI complaint screen 1

Then I get a screen that either adds my address to the 311 database, or tells me it’s already in there. It tells me to call 911 in a real emergency and gives me a disclaimer about privacy. There are Back and Next buttons.

MUNI complaint screen 2

Screen 3 is a beauty. It’s 26 fields, 8 of them required.

SF MUNI complaint screen 3
Here are their fields. Required fields are marked with an asterisk. Just for fun, I bold faced the options that I need to complain about most often.

1. First Name
2. Last Name
3. Primary phone
4. Alternate phone
5. *Email address (never remembered from one session to the next; no login possible)
6. Address
7. City
8. State
9. Zip code
*10. Request category — a dropdown menu with these options:
a. Conduct – Discourteous/Insensitive/Inappropriate Conduct
b. Conduct – Inattentiveness/Negligence
c. Conduct – Unsafe Operation
d. Services – Criminal Activity
e. Services – Service Delivery / Facilities
f. Services – Service Planning
g. Services – Miscellaneous

11. *Request type. This dropdown changes depending on which Request Category was selected in field 10.
a1: 301 Discourtesy to Customer
a2: 302 Altercation: Employee/Customer
a3: 303 Fare/Transfer/POP Dispute
a4: 304 Mishandling Funds/Transfers
a5: Refused Vehicle as Terminal Shelter
a6: General Unprofessional Conduct/Appearance

b1: 201 Pass Up/Did Not Wait for Transferee
b2: 202 Ignored Stop Request
b3: 203 No EN Route Announcements
b4: 204 Inadequate/No Delay Announcements
b5: 205 Offroute/Did Not Complete Route
b6: 206 Not Adhering to Schedule
b7: 207 Refused to Kneel Bus/Lower Steps
b8: 208 Did Not Ask Priority Seats to be Vacated
b9: 209 Did Not Pull to Curb
b10: 210 Refused to Accomodate Service Animal
b11: 211 Unauthorized Stop/Delay
b12: 212 Did not Enforce Rules/Contact Authorities
b13: 213 General Distraction from Duty

c1: 101 Running Red Light/Stop Sign
c2: 102 Speeding
c3: 103 Allegedly Under Influence of Drugs/Alcohol
c4: 104 Using Mobile Phone or Radio
c5: 105 Eating/Drinking/Smoking
c6: 106 Collision
c7: 107 Fall Boarding/On Board Alighting – Injury
c8: 108 General Careless Operation

d1: 501 Altercation: Miscellaneous
d2: 502 Larceny/Theft
d3: 503 Fare Evasion/Transfer Abuse
d4: 504 Disorderly Conduct/Disturbance

e1: 601 Delay/No-Show
e2: 602 Bunching
e3: 603 Switchback
e4: 604 Vehicle Appearance
e5: 605 Vehicle Maintenance/Noise
e6: 606 Lift/Bike Rack/Securements Defective
e7: 607 Track/ATCS Maintenance
e8: 608 Station/Stop Appearance/Maintenance
e9: 609 Elevator/Escalator Maintenance
e10: 610 Fare Collection Equipment
e11: 611 Signs, Maps, and Auto-Announcements

f1: 701 Insufficient Frequency
f2: 702 Lines/Routes: Current and Proposed
f3: 703 Stop Changes
f4: 704 Shelter Requests

g1: 801 NextMuni/Technology
g2: 802 Advertising/Marketing
g3: 803 Personal Property Damage
g4: 804 Fare Media Issues
g5: Muni Rules and Regulations

12: Expected Response Time (7 days)
13: checkbox for Disclaimer
14: * Vehicle number
15: Employee ID
16: Employee physical description
17: * Line/Route (Dropdown of all the routes)
18, 19, 20: Date, Time, am/pm
21: Location
22: * Cross Street
23: * Details
24: Do you want a response letter?
25: Was this an ADA violation?
26: If it was an ADA violation, do you want a hearing?
(If “Yes” is selected, and the operator is identified, a telephone or in-person hearing will be scheduled to address the issue)

Sometimes the form returns an error message!

muni complaint form error page

When it works, I get a confirmation screen with an option to go back or to confirm the info.

After confirmation I get an issue tracking number, and if I’ve given my email, an email with all the information I submitted plus the tracking number. So, if a person goes through all these screens successfully, the tracking system seems pretty decent.

My main criticism of the form is that it requires the user to decide on a taxonomy for their complaint. The complaint must fit into one of the dropdown menu options, but the possible options are shown only after the user decides what category it should be in. The complaintant should see all the options and should have a clear “miscellaneous/not included in these options” possibility from the start. THey shouldn’t have to put the complaint into a category at all. The computer can assign a category for it based on the user’s choice from a single dropdown. Uncategorizable complaints, or complaints from people not patient enough to read through the dropdown options, should be accepted too, because they are potentially useful data points. I don’t care if someone just wants to say “Fuck You MUNI” — that is not super constructive, and yet it still gives useful information in that someone was dissatisfied.

The MUNI complaint form appears to be designed with an official bus inspector in mind as the “complaintant”.

I have never seen a bus driver put the restraint system on for a wheelchair user, by the way, though some drivers have tried to get me to lock myself in with the wheel clamps. I’ve actually only seen one guy in a cheap E&J chair with no working brakes use the wheel clamps and never seen *anyone* use the belt system. It is unrealistic and not very workable. I’m sure someone out there uses it and likes it, though.

The “compliment” form is much simpler than the complaint form.

I can picture many other ways to collect this data. Maybe by building a system to take simplified complaints by text message from a feature phone (like Krys Freeman’s Bettastop prototype), or from a phone call. Paper complaints should also be possible, maybe by postcard. Complaints should be collected to figure out where problems may be clustering.

There could be a variety of useful smartphone apps as well. Though how many other disabled people on the bus do I ever seen with an iPhone? Take a wild guess. None! (That number will grow as GenX ages.) Accessibility problems should be reported via smartphone by able bodied people routinely, rather than that issue being left to the people with the least energy and resources.

It is hard to know what details you will need in making a complaint. Bus number, time of day, route number, location of the issue are the main details. I could make preprinted notepad forms and distribute them to other people on the bus, asking them to collect data.

I could see what my experimental data collection on Flickr leads to and if I can get anyone else to do the same and use the same hashtags.

And I could certainly go to one of the MUNI accessibility committee meetings to see what they talk about. Mainly at this point I’d like to know what happens with the data collected and how I can obtain it. Do particular lines have more wheelchair users, or more lift breakdowns? Particular times of day? What could be done about that?

Ideally, lift breakage or other issues would be reported in as close to realtime as possible, and hooked into a great open source system like QuickMuni? What about an app that knows what bus I’m on already, and for which I can just hit a few buttons to give simple feedback?

The thing that pisses me off most of all is trying to ride the bus during a busy time. Drivers then sometimes let 20 other people get on the bus first through the front doors. Good drivers tell everyone to board from the back door, and lower the lift immediately. Bad drivers delay everyone if they let the able bodied people go in the front, then don’t get them to move back, and then the driver refuses to let me on the bus. Leaving me in the dust is just the logical, reasonable thing to do in those driver’s minds. I had one driver on the 24 line yell at me for not *thanking him* for explaining why he wouldn’t let me on the bus. You can imagine my incandescent rage as I am deemed inconvenient and it is as if I have no right to take up space, while every other person, their shopping bags, strollers, and so on are given as much convenience as they could wish. It is for those moments that I’m going to take a photo of every bus I attempt to board, even before there is a problem.

Tourist in the library

I am on vacation in England visiting Oblomovka’s relatives and have about 100 blog posts to write, about books I’m reading, the Occupy Wall Street movement, and my trip, and some things about music that have been building up & that I need to write about. And I owe an update on my book coming out this winter from Aqueduct Press. But until that happens… here’s today’s burbling!

Today we drove to Oxford (from Essex) and I was super happy it was sunny & everything was gorgeous. I enjoy driving on the other side of the road as it feels like a superpower to concentrate and master it — just a tiny bit scary.

We went to look at the exhibits at the Bodleian Library. A page of Frankenstein! Hooke’s Micrographia! Sappho! Kalila and Dimna!!!! Suffragette flyers! The Whetstone of Witte, Book of Fixed Stars, amazingly beautiful Urashima scroll, Marco Polo, Kalidasa, Chinese poems in jade book covers, Gutenberg Bible, Wilfred Owen poem which I enjoyed b/c I just read 2 of the Pat Barker trilogy about WWI poets & conscientious objectors …. Well, I beamed happily over too many things to list and had a fantastic time. When I come back someday I’ll find something here that relates to my research and dig into their reading room!

Description of a flea: “But, as for the beauty of it, the Microscope manifests it to be all over adorn’d with a curiously polish’d suit of sable Armour, neatly jointed, and beset with multitudes of sharp pinns, shap’d almost like Porcupine’s Quills, or bright conical Steel-bodkins; the head is on either side beautify’d with a quick and round black eye….”

fragments of sappho poems

I thought as I looked at all the books and scrolls and fragments — this is what I love to do and what I’ll always do — even if I weren’t from this time I would have done something like this as best I could. I thought of all the people spending their lives doing this strange, esoteric, beautiful thing and felt like I loved them and I’m so glad for them that they got to make books and write whatever they wrote and that other people still appreciate it. A bit sentimental & simple really. And feeling like I could a message sent back through time to say “Hi Mary! I love how you made the moonlight shine in the monster’s hair as he convulsed! You’re awesome!” simply because her handwriting is real & right in front of me. Though I can’t quite approve on another level of the mystical fetishization of objects. Still, I’m swayed…

We then walked around High Street, Queen’s Lane, Broad St. and back up. I thought about how nice it would be to live right next to a little library/study hall and barely have to go anywhere and just write all the time. Hell yeah!!!!! Bought a notebook and pen & had cream tea.

Then I was going to go to a women-only Take Back the Night march and rally but realized I was far too tired and it was uphill both ways with cobblestones. Thought about maybe Taking Back the Taxi to the rally at the end of the march, and then wussed out. I am sorry, nice feminists of Oxford, that I missed meeting you and supporting your rally… Instead it is time for #occupymybathtub.

Driving through McFarland

Driving up from San Diego through Bakersfield, Fresno, and Merced to San Francisco I noticed a lot of decayed infrastructure. I guess the San Fernando Valley is still recovering from earthquakes. Over half the highway ramps were closed. It had a post-apocalyptic feel. Maybe it was temporary but it was hard to imagine a temporary situation in which one would close miles and miles of highway exit ramps on a weekday rather than work on them one at a time.

Then we were mercifully out of the L.A. traffic and over the mountains coming down into the dusty central valley. I wanted to stop in all of the small towns just to look around. It was just as beautiful to me as the drive down Highway 1 looking at the ocean, imagining life in these country towns and wondering what it would be like. I don’t know, man. The American Dream! We constructed a future where we retired to one of them (spinning out stories of each town as we passed from its general look, the billboards, the state of the train yards) Perhaps a computer-fixing store with that crazy old coot with his old-fashioned “Internet” and the stern civic minded old lady with the purple and silver hair. Oblomovka kept doing monologues in a cracked voice where he explained to the youth of the future what an ethernet cable was and what particular computer components were for, not like those jacking-into-your-brain nanotrons.

I pulled off the highway in a very small town called McFarland only to find that the gas station pumps had signs on them. “NO GAS”. Quiet and dusty. We looked in vain for the Business District pointed to by a road sign. I think we were in it. There was a tiny barber shop, a corner store, I think a pizza place and two huge churches, signs with pithy proverbs in Spanish, a big football field and then some cow fields. I wished for the time to explore McFarland and wondered even harder what it would be like to live there, the good and the bad of small towns, whether someone would just beat the hell out of me instantly or if I would fix everyone’s web sites, teach at the high school, and start a utopian beekeeping co-op despite being one of 3 lunatic atheists in town plus clearly the evil first wave of gentrification and if they would shave the sides of my head at the barbershop or not. Imagining the BBQs and perhaps a 4H auction or rodeo or two, church picnics, knowing way too much about everyone’s business, who could fix a car, who was an alcoholic, who is rich and who isn’t, and all the things that seem to go with small towns.

Later on as Oblomovka drove part of the way I was surfing around with the connection from my phone and looked up McFarland, still thinking about the impression it made on me many miles away. Aside from the boringest possible demographic info on its Wikipedia page there was one significant thing about McFarland: The Budweiser Story. In a glurgey post-sept. 11-2001 email forwarded around the Internets, McFarland was the scene of a Budweiser truck driver coming to deliver some beer to a convenience store and finding some Muslim guys in there celebrating the fall of the towers, really whooping it up. He took all his cases of Bud and left and the company will never deliver their beer to that town again. The end! This story and its million variants were debunked quickly, but of course that didn’t stop the natural life of the racist faux-patriot email forward.

sandow birk oil painting

Oblomovka and I then began to spin out the image of the oil painting of the incident, the Beer Truck driver guy haloed in a beam of light angelically pointing, the celebrating guys lit by red neon as if by the fires of hell, a globe knocked over on its side, an observing cat in the shadows, all the elements of composition in triangles. I can’t remember all the details that were making me howl with laughter in the car. In my mind it was as Sandow Birk might paint it and I wished for a whole series of meme paintings done in some classical style.

Blogging Against Disablism Day: How I bought a bike

This weekend I bought a folding bike. I’m still using my wheelchair sometimes, and cane or crutches most of the time. When I tried Danny’s bike, I found out that as long as my knee behaves, riding a bike is easier than walking, and certainly hurts less. So it seems like time to step up my rehab efforts — from walking around the warm pool to biking! Plus, folding bikes are just cool. For Blogging Against Disablism Day I want to write about buying the bike, and how it feels to be getting stronger physically, but being in between.

I went to Warm Planet near the Caltrain station in San Francisco where they seemed to have a big selection of folding bikes. They got out some Dahon bikes for me to try. I really appreciated that they didn’t act weird that I came into the store on crutches and went out on two wheels. “Go right, then two blocks down and you’ll come to the bridge across the creek”. I was only going to circle around the little plaza but the guys in the shop encouraged me to go further. No one acted funny about my crutches.

I rode off feeling completely terrified despite my bravado. I didn’t take my backpack with folding canes in it. Off into the city — alone! Away from my car, and my wheelchair, and crutches. Only my phone to help me somehow if I got stuck. Well, it’s been years. I got off the bike and adjusted the seat, then wobbled off down the sidewalk. As I rounded the corner and looked ahead, paused and waited for the light to change, I started crying like crazy. I realized how incredibly and beautifully invisible I was.

The road looks different

I love my wheelchair! It’s lightweight, it’s elegant and lovely, I have great joy in moments of going downhill or around corners and spinning, and best of all it gets me around. I keep the raggedy old gate tags from airplane flights on the chair frame where I can look down and see them any time, to remind me that the chair helps give me freedom and independence to go anywhere. Well, anywhere that laws attempt to force airlines to let me and my painful unreliable limping legs and my wheelchair on the airplane and anywhere my massive privilege and credit card pay for me to go.

It seems very unfair that a bike – just another metal device with wheels and tires – should mean something so different than a wheelchair. They’re on a sort of continuum! Or a graph with cars and couches and rolly office chairs! They’re just things that we use with our bodies! Why is everything so screwed up? Why are people such jerks? Why did Ruben Gallego spend ages in a Soviet nursing home and his friends die there when they should have been flying down the street, seeing everything and going everywhere, when people literally fly across the sky, and force others to be imprisoned by the structures we build and the ones we don’t build! Why is my friend Nick stuck without reliable home care barely able to go out at all (and “lucky” to have fought like hell to get out of being institutionalized) mired down in so many levels of bureaucracy it takes a whole team of people to dig out from under it? What will happen to my friends and family and to us all because of this ignorance and bigotry?

As I cried while flying down the street on this folding bike, I fell in love with it. I felt embarrassed for how I felt and hoped no one could tell, that the dudes in the store couldn’t tell and wouldn’t be thinking that I was having a sentimental or intense experience; I certainly wanted to hide that out of some mixture of anger at how other people let me know what they think I experience. Part of what I felt was really complicated sadness and anger and relief at realizing how *marked* I am when I’m visibly disabled, because I suddenly didn’t feel it any more, though I felt exactly the same in mind and body. That was unexpected. Part of it was like a little betrayal. I was *too glad*. I misplaced a bit of armor that I still need.

The road looked different. Distances shortened. I constructed a new map of here to there. Got out my phone, turned on My Tracks, and recorded where I was going.

I looked at a gravelly path and it wasn’t a barrier, all of a sudden. I could go down it, and wouldn’t be just stuck in the gravel. Crossing the street wasn’t a painful exhausting process of wheeling over cracks and bumps and gutters, bad curb cuts and the difficult crown in the middle. The roads all opened up. Completely surreal. Time and space folded. If you’ve experienced this shift of distance and effort, you should think of it as actual hyperspace. Your doors of perception get another doorway added on to the Winchester Mystery House of your brain and body.

Bike

At this point I was getting to be afraid again, not sure how far I could go. My bad knee hurt, and my not-so-bad knee hurt too. My calf and foot were basically freaking out and spasming so that I wanted to punch myself in the leg to make it stop. I got off the bike and sat on the bar that goes across from seat to handlebars, balancing and trying to rest and massage around my knee, staring at the 3rd street houseboats. Would I even be able to walk the half block to my car once I got back? What if I misjudged it all terribly? I turned around.

Rehab is difficult and slow. I’ve done it before. It took me from 1996 to 2000 to stop using a cane to walk and even then, I still ended up on crutches a couple of times a year. Seems like I should already know how to handle it emotionally, but it turns out not to be that easy. I swear I’m not complaining! I appreciate my good luck in this. I’m just saying it messes with my head.

I was waking up in a cold sweat lately wondering about my parking placard, which said “Expires June 2011” on it. I pictured going back to the DMV, and my doctor, and the DMV again to renew it. What if my doctor wouldn’t renew it? If she wouldn’t, then that was going to limit where I could go and what plans I could make for a long time to come. But would she think I was “disabled enough” or should be better faster? How would I explain? I cried when the renewed placard came automatically in the mail.

I’m on this cusp where, my hands and one arm are messsed up now too, and I can’t push myself very well in the wheelchair for long distances and am like, okay, I’m at this point where easily I could go for a powerchair just to get around, if my knees don’t get better. I’m not sure if my walking more is actually improving anything or just damaging myself more. I get through a day walking, but end up crying and desperate for painkillers.

Screen shot 2011-05-02 at 6.19.12 PM

At this point, I think I’m on my way to having more time walking, maybe walking without a cane. For a little while. I’m not sure of it. I can’t picture that it would last. I’d like to walk around San Francisco again and have that secret feeling where I go up a flight of stairs without visible effort and think “HA! My legs just did this THING! And no one KNOWS!” I remember classes at San Francisco State as being continual astonishment like I was whirling around in a sort of Escher drawing of stairs and endless corridors that miraculously, I could handle.

As I rode back to the shop I realized that now I could park further away. I could plan on going to a friend’s house in the city, and park blocks away and ride my folding bike to their door. What else? How far could I go? How far would I dare try to go? Can I even *think* that without making myself want to puke, as if caught in some horrible “inspirational” story!? I refuse to be in one, because I’m in pain and I’m politically conscious and I’m fucking pissed off!

Back at the bike shop. I pulled myself together and hoped it wasn’t obvious I had cried all over. I felt completely drained of energy. The bike shop dudes chatted and asked me questions and adjusted the bike for me. I bought it. I said how I had expected them to throw an attitude about the crutches and explained that I still use my wheelchair.

They then told me all sorts of stories of people using bikes for mobility devices, getting them certified, going on caltrain riding the lift because of not being able to carry it up the steps. One guy said he was unable to straighten his knee to walk well, but could ride his bike fine since it didn’t have to straighten. They began talking in a kind of visionary way about how more people who walk with difficulty could and should use bikes. I complimented them on their integration of the social model of disability. Maybe it was because of bicyclists’ radical politics? Are bike people not like general sports people? They’re like sports people who went through special consciousness raising? Why is it, really, that bike shops will fix a wheelchair, tighten my spokes, check alignment, give advice, without a lot of mystery and mystification, while wheelchair stores automatically act to take away disabled people’s power and act like the sleaziest sort of car sales con-men?

The Warm Planet guy shrugged. “We fit these machines to work with people’s bodies. And everybody’s body is different, that’s all.”

That seems very wise!

I’m going to have some more rehab time, I’ll screw up, exhaust myself, re-injure myself, lose some independence and gain it back, embarrass myself, not be able to live up to other people’s expectations, be an inconvenience, need to be rescued, cry on staircases, get stronger or sicker, but seems likely I get some more walking years out of this body. Things will get easier and easier. Obstacles will start to melt away for me, but they’ll still be there, I’ll still see them. I won’t lose my map of the world. I’ll keep my dual or multiple consciousness. It was hard to get. A lot harder than making my zombie leg move forward over and over. Everybody’s body is different and our bodies change over time in all sorts of ways, cyclically or not. We’ll fit the machines of the world to our bodies… that’s all…

Bike

Driving around, I waste more time

This afternoon we drove around searching for the building I’ve seen and wondered about for years. It’s visible from Highway 101, is topped with giant panels of stained glass, and says “STUDIO” on the side in white letters. “Studio” is not very google-able. It’s in a neighborhood in San Francisco called Silver Terrace, just west of Bayview and east of Portola. STUDIO, after we tracked it down and did some sleuthing, turns out to be Church Art Glass Studio owned (or formerly owned?) by Nick Lukas. Above the front door there’s an awning made of the same colors of glass as are on top of the building, throwing intense colored shadows. Framed stained glass panels were in the dusty windows. The hill was very green & lush. I love corners of neighborhoods that are mostly full of industrial buildings and warehouses for floor tile and stuff like that. This area has the added bonus of being mostly underneath a highway.

church art glass studio

The majority of windows at St. Michael [in Livermore, CA] were done by the Church Art Glass Studio of San Francisco, which has designed windows for the churches on the West Coast and Hawaii since the turn of the century. The original owner, Edward Lopolka, advertised as “artists in stained glass, German and English antique.” The business was sold in the 1940’s to the father of Nick Lukas, who continues to operate the business in the shadow of the 280 freeway.

I felt like I solved a mystery only to come up with several more mysteries.

Mystery #1: Is the Studio still open? It looked deserted. A post from 2009 says Lukas was trying to sell his entire stock of art glass. It looks like we only just barely missed a very cool art show hosted there, Virtuoso.

Mystery #2: What is the hill of Silver Terrace called? It doesn’t seem quite like it would be named “Silver Terrace” but that’s what I’m going to have to call it. (ETA: I think it’s Mount St. Joseph! Source: How Many Hills are in San Francisco?

Mystery #3: What is that funky deserted building at 432 Paul Avenue that looks like an old school next to an equally funky factory? It’s beautiful!

Silver Terrace was in the Rincón de las Salinas and Potrero Viejo Mexican land grants, sold off by the Bernal family in the 1860s. Actually it sounds like General Sherman foreclosed on the Bernal mortgage and then sold it off to J.S. Silver who subdivided it into lots, so it’s a very old San Francisco neighborhood. You can see from old maps that Bernal Hill is on one side of the bay inlet where Islais Creek was, that was eventually filled in to become Bayview, and the mystery hill that isn’t called Silver Terrace is on the other side, just east of Hunters Point Ridge.

San Francisco coastline and crreks

Here is a fantastic history of the area!

History of Bayview and Hunters Point (pdf)

We ended up going through McLaren Park which we had looked up beforehand – making fun of videos of hippies dancing to very boring music at Jerry Garcia auditorium – And pausing to look out over the valley below & trying to figure out what everything was. It was mostly Visitacion Valley, Bayshore, and the Cow Palace. I’ve never been there. We drove through and the most I can say for it is that I plan on going back to the huge Savers thrift store on Geneva. If there was a there there in Visitacion Valley I didn’t find it. I did wonder about what the Visitation was – something like the Annunciation which I do know is when Mary finds out she’s preggers – It turns out it’s when Mary’s pregnant and knows it, and goes off for a visit with another pregnant lady. I could rewrite that in my head to be all about pregnant ladies being supportive of each other instead of all the stuff about creepy babies leaping in the womb because of getting weird telepathic messages from other babies!

Back on Mission in the Excelsior neighborhood we were tempted by the Chicken Coop restaurant which looked amazingly retro. I couldn’t park though so we decided to go home and make omelettes. Signs informed me that Excelsior Welcomes the World. I will definitely return to work my way through all the small grocery stores on Mission. They look great. Anyway, we changed our minds about dinner again a few blocks later when we passed Joe’s Cable Car. Joe’s Cable Car turned out to be not the greasy cheap diner I thought it was. It is more the Dr. Bronner’s of Burgers. Everything at our table was covered in rambling, old-school sales talk and folksy wisdom about the magic of GROUND STEAK from, presumably, Joe. By the time we ordered our food I couldn’t bring myself to say the word “burger” because of the incredible amount of text about GROUND STEAK I had just read and all about the sharp knives, the way they butcher it all and grind it right there practically at your table, and how Joe himself and his jolly butchers were ready to Down-Home-ily bring a cow right to your house straight from the Gold Rush, and grind it up, unlike the evil fast food industry and its evil, evil breadcrumbs and midwest factory slaughterhouses, so please fork over 14 bucks for your Ground Steak while you enjoy the wolf-whistle of the doorbell and the singing santa christmas lights and the giant neon signs shaped like the Golden Gate Bridge, while sitting in something that in 1965 used to either be, or look like, a cable car. I had a great time and the burger was delicious.

The myth of the place and what I was about to eat had completely sold me on the restaurant before I had even sipped my coke. It was overwhelming especially to sensitive, neurotic artists who had gone to look for America and been driving around all day. It reminded me a little of the 1000 mile trip I took around the Southwest where through three states I saw billboards advertising “The Thing!” and then finally got to “The Thing!” roadside attraction and was so freaked out by its Americana-ness that I wrote several chapters of an autobiographical novel about it.

As usual, Oblomovka navigated and looked things up on his G2 while I drove and made a lot of spontaneous decisions which way to go, and we made things up about the stuff we were looking at and tried to imagine everything about all the neighborhoods and imagined our future hacker artist co-ops in all the funky old buildings. I have an especially good time because we can both get passionately attached to some imaginary and pointless goal, like figuring out where the headwaters of some cemented-over creek is, or how to get as close to the top of a hill as we can, but we don’t actually care that much and so are happy to change our minds and do something else as soon as what we’re doing isn’t fun anymore.