People come to San Francisco, still, in pursuit of the technoutopian dream, but also they like to pay homage to an idea of “Silicon Valley”. Now that the Mozilla monument has gone to storage, there aren’t a lot of public monuments out there to visit. We really need enormous, beautiful public monumental art to celebrate Internet and computer history!!
But we don’t have that. So, where to go on your nerd pilgrimage? I have a list of recommendations for the computer nerds with a romantic soul!
The Computer History Museum heads the geek tour list of course! It is in Mountainview and the public transit options aren’t ideal, but are doable. You can take Caltrain to Mountainview and look for a city bus or a shuttle bus, or just take a cab/rideshare for the last leg of your trip.
The MADE – The Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment – is a hands-on video game history museum where the retro games are all playable, often on incredible and well maintained old hardware! It’s in downtown Oakland, a few easily walkable blocks from the 12th Street BART station.
The Exploratorium, while a broad tech and science museum, is gorgeously hands on and participatory. There are actual experiments you can do (not like so many science museums where interactivity means pushing a button or watching a video). And the techy things are elevated to really beautiful art in many cases (look for the creations of Ned Kahn, for example!)
Noisebridge hacker and maker space is open daily in the afternoons and evenings, and it’s basically a long running, large, donation supported and volunteer run, workshop. It is free, but cash or online donations are very much appreciated and needed! It’s a bit like going into a giant, messy, anarchic, collaborative garage. People are generally friendly, you can show up any time, and someone will give you a tour. If you feel like soldering something, or using the 3D printers, or learning a new skill, or just want a co-working space for an afternoon, this is a great spot to meet new people and hang out. Check the meetup page for classes and workshops!
San Francisco Railway Museum – this is a tiny but fabulous museum near the Ferry Building along the Embarcadero in SF. It tends to appeal to computer geeks!
Historic Ships at Hyde Street Pier – Now, this has nothing to do with computers but if you are the sort of nerd who like me, enjoys transit and infrastructure and history, you might like this very quiet park on the waterfront at Aquatic Park (avoid the Fisherman’s Wharf maelstrom). Seriously you will be the only person on some of these ships. Giant pulleys and block and tackle arrangements! Lie down in an actual ship’s bunk! You can walk onto the sailing ship Balaclutha and onto a huge paddlewheel steamship and a couple more interesting ships. Notably — the Balaclutha is wheelchair accessible, with a (very steep) ramp onto the ship, and a scary-fun lift down into the cargo hold!!!
The US Army Corps of Engineers Bay Model in Sausalito. Nerd heaven if you like this sort of thing. It’s a giant relief map of the entire Bay Area with its waterways, the size of two football fields, and you can walk around it to learn geography and history. Sadly there is no longer water flowing in it because it is now cheaper to run computer simulations of the water flow in the Bay. You can take the ferry there and walk (a fairly long walk but doable) to the Model!
Google! If you’re walking along the Embarcadero in San Francisco, the Hills Brothers Building plaza is a nice place to sit, and you can take a picture with the Google sign if that appeals to you. Coming up soon in October 2023, the Google Visitor Center will be opening up in Mountainview – maybe good to combine with a visit to the Computer History Museum!
Apple Park Visitor Center in Cupertino is an hour or so away from San Francisco by car. If you’re already down there or in San Jose and you’re a huge Apple fan then maybe it’s worth going to see. I’ve never been to it, but I see people asking about it often in the bay area subreddits.
The Intel museum in Santa Clara! If you want to read some corporate stuff about how chips are made, this is for you, but I am not sure if I actually recommend it since I’ve never been there and it seems to be mostly for school kids.
Hiller Museum of Aviation in San Carlos. If you love planes, or you kind of like them and you’re already on the Peninsula south of SF, this is a fun and cool little museum. Also great for little kids as they can run around very freely, and there’s entire sections of planes they can go into and climb around in.
More transit! Historic aircraft! Moffett Field (ie, the Bay’s own little part of NASA!) offers tours led by a docent and they have a small visitor center.
If the Mare Island shipyard museum ever opens up again, i highly recommend it because it is HUGE and super old fashioned and sort of clearly beloved by the people who used to work there and created a lot of the exhibits. They used to build nuclear submarines ! There’s a little periscope in the cockpit of an old nuclear submarine (or whatever you call the spot in a sub where there’s a periscope) that you can look up into Vallejo from!
There must be more. And there should be more! Add suggestions to the comments and I’ll add them to the post!
A bad incident on the bus in June led me to file a formal complaint. I described the incident as it unfolded on Twitter, and then gathered the tweets about it here on Storify: Screaming wheelchair-hating SF MUNI bus driver. I routinely go through moments where bus drivers resist the idea of letting me on the bus, or just pass me up, or act a little rude or horrible. In those cases, I have sometimes filed a complaint, and sometimes not, and let it go at that. Life isn’t perfect, neither are people, and I don’t expect my encounters with everyone to be ideal. But this was over the top. Here is an example of how to file a complaint about San Francisco bus service. My goal in explaining this at length, and in filing a bus complaint in the first place, is to improve bus and public transit service for disabled people in the SF Bay Area.
First of all, I twittered the incident as it happened. This gave me a written, public record of my memory of the incident, while it was fresh in my mind. It gives me the date and time stamps of when I got on and off the bus, as well. Afterwards I collected the tweets on Storify because I wanted to be able to refer to them later. For a person without a smart phone this could be done with pen and paper.
Second, I noted the time, bus number, and driver’s badge number. Noted on paper, as I carry a small notebook and a pen in my vest pocket from long habit.
Third, I quickly filed a complaint through the SFMTA feedback form on the web. You can also do this by calling 311. You have to choose a complaint category. The categories are a bit confusing. I believe I filed this as “Discourteous Driver”. I asked for an in-person hearing, and checked the box that said it is an ADA complaint. I got an email response within a few days from SFMTA, saying that they got my complaint and assigning it a reference number. (There may have also been a snail mail letter.) I then got a email asking me to call a local number to schedule the in-person hearing.
Fourth, I emailed the local Independent Living Center, the ILRCSF and asked to talk with their lawyer, thinking maybe they could explain what happens at, and after, these hearings. The center staff were very helpful and nice, and met with me to chat about the incident. It is possible to ask their lawyer to go with you to this kind of hearing.
Fifth, I called to schedule the hearing with SFMTA. As the hearing date approached, I had to reschedule it because of illness. You are only allowed to reschedule once. I have to mention the person I talked to on the phone was super nice and helpful. I got letters from her almost immediately, confirming the hearing time and date, with clear instructions how to get to the hearing location. That email’s contents were in a Word document so likely the staff has a template for responding.
Sixth, I looked at the Americans with Disabilities Act, wondering if I should file a complaint through ada.gov. My conclusion was: No. That is more for a group complaint about systemic and sustained discrimination, that a local government doesn’t respond to. What I’m describing here is one specific incident. If there were such a complaint it would be under Title II of the ADA. Anyway, I am a busy person and this is already taken up far too much of my time and energy.
Seventh, I filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the video and audio from the bus’s built in surveillance system, since the bus videos are public record. On the web, I found clear instructions on how to file a FOIA request to the SFMTA. I used this template example of a FOIA request in California for my letter. I was able to file this request by email, and regular mail was an option too. I got a response very quickly, I think the same day, by email. Just yesterday, I got two DVDs with video and audio clips. They played on a Windows machine, with the viewing software built into the DVD, showing 8 or 9 different camera angles in different parts of the bus, with one audio track.
Here’s the video. It’s a little over 4 minutes long, and includes 3 segments edited together. When I switched to footage from a different bus camera, I backed up the video a little bit, so some segments repeat for a few seconds from the different angle, for continuity. (edited to add, I realized last night that the 3rd segment was missing, so I added it as a separate video below)
First the driver refuses to let me on. He then pulls the bus up to me, and we argue further. His arguments included, that he isn’t allowed to let people on except exactly at the stop; that he has inspectors watching him; then, that there isn’t room. He then lets the ramp down. I get on, he yells some more, then he gets up again to tell me I can’t sit in the bus seat but must sit in my scooter. I refuse. The bus then moves on and the video jumps to when I get off the bus, the last person to get off near the end of the line downtown. I ask the driver for his badge number, he gives it, then he yells at me some more.
The complaint hearing is this Tuesday.
Interesting information from the hearing confirmation:
Hearings last approximately 30 minutes and include a professional neutral hearing officer, the transit operator, and customer. After the hearing officer reads the complaint, the customer and the operator (or his/her union representative) are offered opportunities to comment and ask follow-up questions. Afterward, the hearing officer evaluates the evidence, and a written decision is forwarded to the customer within seven days.
Please note that your attendance at the hearing is required in order for the hearing officer to make a decision regarding your complaint. Please bring photo identification (such as a Driver’s License, State ID, or Passport) so we may confirm your identity.
I wonder how many policies or public transit operator the driver broke in this incident. From watching the video, here are some possibilities:
1. The driver does not pull up to let me board. I was clearly indicating I wanted to get on the bus. In the best practices I’m familiar with, bus drivers pull up just beyond a bus shelter, to let a wheelchair or walker user board, asking other people to board at the back of the bus. This is efficient and fast.
You can see in this photo still from the video, from 8:28:11am, that there was room for a person in a wheelchair to board and ride the bus. There are empty seats. No one is standing in the front section of the bus. It is very clear.
2. The driver refuses to pull up to let me on.
3. I ask him again to let me on the bus. He refuses and tells me to catch the next bus, several times.
4. The bus driver then moves the bus up about 10 feet, stops, and gets out of the bus, to stand over me and yell at me. Surely this is not supposed to happen at all.
5. He tells me that there inspectors watching. It’s unclear whether that’s his excuse not to let me on, or whether he’s using them as a kind of threat. He tells me he’s going to get them to deal with me.
6. The driver then tells me the bus is too crowded. It isn’t. Also, as time went by during our argument, more people boarded.
7. The driver then tells me that I should not be demanding to get on the bus.
He continues yelling as I board.
8. After I was seated, the driver got up to stand over me and yell some more. He claims that I have to sit on my scooter and can’t sit in a bus seat. This is not true.
9. The driver then complains to another passenger that my wheelchair is blocking other people. It was not.
Here is a photo of my scooter on a bus in exactly the configuration I had it on the #14 on June 2.
10. As I exit the bus, the driver insults me by saying that disabled people complain all the time and “that’s how y’all live”. and calls my wheelchair a stroller.
11. The driver tells me “be there tomorrow” meaning, I think, be at the stop on his line and see what he will do. I assumed that meant he will not let me on the bus next time or will be hostile in some other way.
So much to unpack.
It is a little sad that no one else on the bus said or did anything to help me. I can understand that they may not have been paying attention until things went badly. By that time, who knew what was going on, and who was at fault. And getting involved might make things worse or mean more delay. Everyone wanted to just move on! However, I would have spoken up as a passenger to say that the driver should have let me on the bus and that it wasn’t right to yell in my face the way he did. I encourage anyone reading to think it over and do what is right.
Sometimes, it is other passengers who start to yell at me out of their perception that I am a parasite on society, that I shouldn’t be allowed on the bus, or out in public, and so on. This happens once in a while, and I will explain to any such person at length about the law, the 504 sit ins, how people blocked the buses in Denver, and any other piece of defense of myself and all of us that I can think of. It is certainly upsetting and enraging. I try to keep my cool.
During this incident, I did not outright lose my temper, swear, or anything like that. I stated my rights and told the driver there was room on the bus and room to put the lift down. Repeatedly. Frankly I was mad as a hornet that this driver was probably going to pass me up for no reason. And likely as not, so would the next one. My power is not in my body. It is in my mind and voice. You can see that from how I never shut up and kept telling the driver to let me on.
The time I found the most upsetting was when I was on the lift, and the driver got up to stand over me, yelling that I should stop talking. I stopped talking. I finally felt intimidated. I wanted to get to work. I wanted the confrontation to end. Fine. I was on the bus. I did not feel good about shutting up when told to. However, it seemed practical. So it was shocking that the driver then came again to yell at me and stand over me. It seemed best not to argue, but to passively resist. I decided I would not get off that bus till I was at my stop and if he called the police to throw me off, he would be very much in the wrong. Luckily, that did not happen. The driver finally realized he should leave me be, and move on and do his job.
My memory and the tweets mostly match up with the video. I don’t hear the part I remember where I said, it is the law you have to let me on. I think it’s in an inaudible part, but I know I said it. That’s what the driver responded to when he says “That’s a rule, too”. I did not remember that he got out of the bus to stand over me on the sidewalk and yell. Wild. I still don’t. But there it is in the video. Also, I described the driver as “screaming”. After seeing the video I would not say that. I’d call it “yelling” instead. We both had to yell to be heard. As I exited I thought that he had said something like, “Be here tomorrow and see what happens.” But in the video it’s clear he said “Be here tomorrow… ” twice, and then closed the bus door. So I was extrapolating the end of the sentence, but that’s not actually what he said. Otherwise my memory is pretty accurate.
So, I did eventually get on the bus, got off the bus at my stop, and got to work on time for my meeting with my boss. Great. But….
I believe that the driver was discriminating against me because of my disability.
I don’t look forward to confronting this man in a hearing at his workplace. I also don’t like the idea I will be riding a bus with him any time in the future, but that seems likely to happen. Hopefully if it does, we will not need to interact beyond the minimum of politeness.
Bus drivers work hard and have to put up with a lot of bad behavior from the public. Clearly the 14 (and 49!) are no picnic to drive. I can see that I was annoying to the driver with my persistence and my insisting that he let me on the bus. However, he should have let me on in the first place. I would have paid my fare and thanked him, asked for my stop, and we both would have had a fine day. For the middle of the ride, I observed the driver be friendly and polite, chatting with all the other riders as if trying to prove to himself that he was a nice person. Or, perhaps to show to the other riders that he was “the good one” and that my behavior was bad, in other words, to try and show me up. Maybe both at once. The point is, I could see he knows how to do his job well.
My expectations from this complaint are that SFMTA will take the complaint seriously. I hope they will appropriately train the driver to interact with wheelchair users and how to let them onto the bus in a normal and efficient way. I believe they should also look at their training process since it is not uncommon for me that drivers refuse to let me on the bus, or simply pass me up without stopping. Passing me and other wheelchair users up is particularly a problem on the MUNI train level boarding stops above ground. Drivers are also often hostile and rude.
The drivers who are nice, or simply businesslike, I very much appreciate.
I like to get around town, by myself or with my friends or my kids, without being yelled at and humiliated in public.
Feel free to tell stories about accessibility and bus drivers in the comments, if you like.
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!
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.
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.
On dress rehearsal nights the San Francisco Opera lets school groups in free. Milo’s high school choir class came up to see La Cenerentola, armed beforehand with scripts and analysis and background about opera. I was super excited to get to go along because I can’t make it very often to Redwood City to his school events, which is sad….. I miss out on a lot. But I can’t drive — and it takes 5-6 hours of cab/bus/train to get there and back even though it would be 40 minutes one way by car. So, I can’t show up as a parent at his school very often. Bah.
It was a fabulous night out. A bit hard to try to keep up with everyone and manage wheelchair, crowds, elevator, stairs — winging it all the way, and it worked out well. Milo and Danny and I sat together with the kids and the choir teacher. I could tell Milo and I were both enjoying the music and you can see our excitement from the picture…. We were feeling inspired!
It’s been a while since I was at the opera house. We saw Nixon in China (which I loved a LOT). And some years ago a friend of mine took me to various operas because she had a box and season tickets. I can hardly remember which ones but do remember the fun of dressing up, the box itself being awesome, and thinking about all the books I’ve ever read where people go to the opera and have a box and a complicated social scene. Very fancy. I also have a lot of thoughts about how rare and splendid this kind of music must have been a couple of hundred years ago, and how amazing it is that there were beautifully designed music halls before there was electronic amplification. Imagining what the experience would have been like back then makes me feel like I’m traveling in time or am seeing eveything on more than one level at once.
The entire night was extra fun because of the energy of the whole audience, all the kids very excited to be there and commenting to each other on the theater, the show, their unusual formality (many kids were dressed up) and their commentary on the songs. I liked hearing from the cheers and appplause which characters and songs appealed to them. Basically anything that was comic. They were more fun to be in an audience with than the usual rather uptight overly quiet and suppressed/suppressive classical music audience!
My own favorite bits of the opera were the arias where there are 4 or 5 characters singing at once and the notes and lyrics interweave in a complicated way. This is one of my favorite things in any kind of music. I go into a trance trying to pick out separate parts and then add them all together, hearing them separately and together at the same time. I get very excited and want to bounce around in my seat. I may have done this and punched Danny and Milo in the arm a bit or squeaked with excitement.
A nice break to end my month and a half of arthritis flare-up, not going out except for doctor appointments or physical therapy. Could not tell if I was going out foolishly or if it was going to be ok. It was more or less ok!! With lots of painkiller though. It was physically gruelling but didn’t set me back any in my ankle rehab.
Just blogging a bit frivolously to break my trend of not writing anything because I feel like I have to say something super meaningful or well thought out. Screw that, right?
What a gorgeous day! I could feel the vitamins shining into me! While it may be boring to read I would like to record how much I enjoyed the last two days back in SF and getting over my jet lag. I was in bed all weekend wondering if I had ruined myself forever and would never get to do anything nice again. Though it was so cosy to be home, to have Danny to talk everything over with, and to have Milo here and a cat to cuddle. Then . . . of course . . . by Tuesday and after a lot of sleep, everything was fine again. I feel lucky (and a little silly for panicking).
Yesterday Val came over and we worked from my house with several pots of tea and conversations in between our meetings and moments of fierce concentration. Yatima walked in around 4:30 to join us. It was like a fabulous dream come true to have my house full of feminist friends who can just drop in. At some point Val and I headed off to dinner at Balompie with Danny. Then to the Noisebridge meeting and elections. I shelved some books. Thus ends my dutiful stint on the Noisebridge board, where the main job is to practice not wielding authority.
Today, hazelbroom picked me up at 8:30 after dropping off her son at school. She hoisted my scooter for me and left us outside Haus on 24th street. I adore 24th street with its trees shading the sidewalks, the million Precita Eyes murals, the bakeries, excellent mercaditos, new bookstores, and lively community life. It makes me happy just to be there. Worked really well from Haus, which had peaceful music and rows of somberly dressed laptop people with big headphones and knit caps, facing each other across the room, with the light from the street streaming in. Outside a group of guys in orange vests were digging up the street and I wished that someone would courteously bring them coffee and pastries on a tv tray. Usually the window tables in Haus are taken first but today no one seemed to want to be on whichever side of the aquarium windows it may be with the guys up to their knees in red clay dirt glassed off from the cleanness of the insides. I enjoyed my chocolate croissant and cappucinino and felt all fired up as I triaged some Firefox bugs, wrote email, and planned a screen reader bug day.
Then I beetled over to Garfield pool. The entry guy recognized me which was nice but guilt-inducing since I have not done any pool/swimming physical therapy since October. There is a new push button door opener, which is very exciting and awesome for me in the scooter! And the women’s bathroom, which previously was like one’s nightmare of a state hospital circa 1955 where they hose you off or whatever, with no door to the “accessible” stall and many other horrors, and I had planned to bring a shower curtain to at least have privacy to pee — now it is all fixed up with a higher toilet seat, handrails, large stall you can get a powerchair into, and bench. They took out 2 sinks and just totally fixed the problems. So great! While I don’t know what else they did in the renovations, everything looked a little less skanky, and all the things I was emailing the SF parks and rec dept about last year are fixed.
I strapped on some arm floaties and rode the hydraulic lift into the pool. It was reasonably warm!!! My upper back and neck are kind of “stuck” right now, one of those things where I can’t look all the way up and to the right, a bit hunchy-over . . . so I was moving very cautiously. I also didn’t want to over do my activity on my first day back in the pool. So it was gentle thrashing about in the 5 foot deep area like slow water treading while leaning back and a bit of walking back and forth and doing leg lifts.
Got to chatting with a guy who asked me if I had back problems and told me about his. He has to have some vertebrae fused and is worried about it.
As we gently flailed I felt I was making a really nice friend and now look forward to hanging out with him in the pool some more. He is a garbage collector in my neighborhood (but not on my street) and lives over near the pool. We talked about places we have traveled (him: south africa, greece, italy, mexico, me: london, vienna, beijing, greece, mexico) and places we want to travel. He told me about his ranch in the country and his grown children and the young visiting Sicilians who came to stay temporarily and then became renters in his house, and what his village was like where he came from in Mexico (near Guadelajara, with lots of river and underground water for wells and springs, near ocean, very relaxing, good restaurants, nothing happening ever) And how his co-worker retired there by him buying his aunt’s place by the river which has a spring-fed swimming pool and now all the children and people love him because he helps everyone with his truck. We agreed about some of the things that are nice in life. We agreed on our love of pick up trucks (I had one for 13 years.)
I love a fellow extrovert . . . With the distraction of talking I stayed in the pool the full 50 minutes. It really helped to get a ride there, too.
Then went to hazelbroom’s house nearby where she gave me an amazing massage. The stuck bit of my back is still stuck. (I am icing it.) And she fed me the most amazing lunch. I love my friends. Trout (?) on rice with broccoli and then jars of kim chi and japanese seaweed seasoning and soy sauce and pickled things. delish. I got to hold her son’s new hamster. She invited me to ride out to the VA hospital with her where I could work while she went in to have a physical for her new job there.
I worked from her car on the way there (with 4G on my phone giving me internet) but paused to gawk at golden gate park and try to take pictures as we drove through. The pond was especially pretty. A guy was just bending over to sail his model sailboat. It was like some idyllic scene out of Stuart Little.
I felt so happy to be in the moving car in the warm sun, seeing trees and water and flowers and birds.
Got a hot chocolate from the VA canteen which had ramps to the outside picnic benches that overlook Land’s End with a great view of the golden gate (the opening of strait, not the bridge) and Marin headlands. There is a wheelchair accessible table right next to the Battle of the Bulge Memorial Trail. There was good wifi with 4G reception and it is a quiet, good place to work. I felt a little funny going through the VA on my scooter getting the “special smiles”. No – I was not blown up in combat. I did have a pretty great race with a guy in the parking lot who had a super huge scooter engine. He kicked my ass. It wasn’t as big of a scooter as the one I had in London though.
Showed the marine traffic site to hazelbroom when she was finished with her physical and came out to join me. She also loves cargo ships and we saw one come in in real life and on the screen.
Then she drove me past Sutro Baths. I wanted to believe that the lump we saw way down there was Sutro Sam the river otter who is eating all the goldfish in the pond. But now that I see the photo magnified on my screen sadly it is just a rock. I felt like it was the otter sleeping in the sun and was happy. Who needs reality. Anyway we knew he is there.
As if this weren’t enough she then drove us down Irving and got us bubble tea. I had ginger milk tea with ENORMOUS tapioca bubbles. The ginger was so strong it made tears come to my eyes and cleared out my sinuses. I will sweat ginger for days. Cannot remember all the things we talked about on the way home but it was lovely.
If anyone in SF feels like giving me a ride to pretty much anywhere on a nice day, I am very portable, and as long as I have wifi, power, or decent phone data reception I can work from wherever. I spend so many days working from bed (because of pain or mobility issues) that a quiet outing on a good day cheers me up amazingly. I miss the times when I used to be able to drive all around town, going to random places off the map and settling myself in a good cafe or in a parking lot overlooking the beach.
Now am going to put in a little more work (collecting email addys of people who report screen reader issues in bugzilla, to invite them to a bug day). Danny will come home soon from the EFF office and tell me all about his day and my sister is going to drop by.
The only way this could be nicer is if the kids were here. Ada’s birthday party is this weekend so that’s going to be great, and then Milo’s party is in a couple of weeks. I plan on making him a cake that will be a block from Minecraft – three 9 by 9 pans should get me a block shape, chocolate cake, and then green frosting on top and chocolate frosting on the sides. I think that gummy worms in the layers will be a good touch. If I can find the frosting spray paint in varied colors maybe I can pixelate the cake surface.
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.
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 #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.
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.
I’m at the Quiet Lightning reading in a VERY CRANKY mood ready to liveblog. It smells like pot in here and I’ve had a gin and tonic and about 100 hipsters with scarves on are blocking my way to the bathroom so get ready for me to bitch like hell and become even more unpopular. So far halfway in I’ve wanted to slap everyone except Bucky Sinister. The format is a nice idea, rapid fire switching readers with no introductions and MC-ing or writerly apologias for work to come. The writers hop up on stage and read in order as declared on the event’s handy postcard flyer. At least in theory. The organizers make a tiny perfect-bound anthology every month and as we all know, the perfect-bound book published by someone who isn’t actually yourself is the Holy Grail, and regular readings are good, so I guess this is a literary scene now.
Alia V. read a very annoying memoirish “fiction” about being the Spanish-English interpreter in a doctor’s office while a mom explained that her physically and developmentally disabled 9 year old son has a huge penis and is hitting puberty early. Alia intermittently rambles about her own teenage son and how they don’t talk about anything, then goes back to obsessing on and sniggering about the 9 year old’s huge penis and laments with “irony” that Pablo will never have a lover so his gift is wasted. The audience actually “hmmmmed” as if she had said something profound instead of bigoted and ignorant. Whatever, heinous ableist HIPAA-violating wench, even if it’s “fiction” you can blow me and I see why your teenager doesn’t talk to you. What a waste of ink.
Bucky Sinister read a sweet amusing well structured piece of prose, Grey Side of the Moon, about leaving arkansas on the tornado and saying Fuck You Dorothy for going back to your grey land while meth girls with homemade tattoos and dudes with cat whiskers die for technicolor. He did not quite say that but close to it. “Dorothy walks into Rainbow Grocery wearing ruby red Doc Martens. I’m looking for the good witch. Everyone raises their hand.” Oh Bucky you are so punk rock and I’m sorry your friends fucking died from ODing and AIDS. The audience laughed in all the wrong places. I even liked the Fake Tits Haikus in the middle. You know how some people can write about their lives like “Oh, I did so many drugs. Body fluids. The end.” and it’s so pretentious because the bit past “the end” is probably “and now I am a Ruby developer and complain loudly if my pumpkin latte is not quite right”? Bucky’s stories don’t do that. Instead they make me feel the world right here is simultaneous with the rest of the world. Bucky is good. You should go to his Wednesday night comedy show at 8pm at the Darkroom.
Jonathan S. earned my instant tired loathing for some kind of fake-ass audrey hepburn Bostonian theatre class accent mixed with other accents all horribly dominated by jim morrison-like doggerel recited in the portentious tones of the Slam Poet as the audience Hmmmmmmmed. Humdrum poets! Quit that! go start a band or something! Fuck! People Hmmming all over like something deep was expressed. OMG someone just shit out a little rabbit pellet of emoto-philosophy in rhyme! Quick! Everyone hmmmm!
Ian Tuttle. A sweet poem to the road, like a route 66 paean, too young and earnest to be annoying. I liked his Death Valley poem and think he has a nice line break once in a while. Suddenly I worry that some MFA program will ruin his soul. He could stand to go listen to my friend Arntsen’s bursts of geographical brilliance. And either pack more density of ideas into a long poem or take it somewhere; ie think of it as a narrative.
Ali Liebegott did the forbidden intro about being a paleontologist or something. The sweetest dinosaur that ever lived. I pretend he was a cardigan wearing painter, an effeminate dinosaur, a friend. When people weren’t assholes, because there weren’t any people. Okay this is fucking great. Hahahhahahah. Got me. Then an excerpt from a novel called “Cha-ching”. About her boss that called everything “you fucking faggot”. The faxed prices of semiconductors entered on a prehistoric computer. Reminds me of zines about “unworking” from 1992. “I pretended to be Nawal El-Saadawi….” Ahahaha . I just snorted out loud. That was pleasing. Insane bookkeepers and swishy nylon sweatsuits with a booger-eyed white terrier and the desperation of scarfing breakroom donuts. Dude I’m flashing back to my 80s and 90s temping days. “My life was sad in Yonkers.” Not like fake-edgy, but actually reality-bending! Someone remarks that Leibegott is the poor man’s Michelle Tea, which seems a bit unfair. Anyone who pretends to be Nawal El-Saadawi while being oppressed by data entry is good enough not to be compared all the time to Michelle Tea.
Kim A. gets a lot of frat boy cheers from the crowd. Her poem is called Blues for Robert Johnson. That inspired dreamy voice. I swear i will never fucking do that… shoot me if so. It’s an okay poem. With harmonica. Why does everyone read in that VOICE? Shooooot me. What if people just went around always talking like that? It’s like I imagine the elocutionist sounded from Anne of Green Gables. I could read this paragraph like a slam poet elocutionist and people would applaud it. She plays the harmonica charmingly! I applaud the harmonica part. Then a poem about the great penis famine of 2008 and a dick-tater joke. Penis blues. I feel impatient for this audience. This poem would get an A in a creative writing class. I feel fairly certain she’s grownup enough to have written something much better than crowd pleasing BS. Now a train song on the harmonica, very good! Awesome! Robert Johnson would approve.
Intermission. Starved-for-pussy 60 year old silver foxes in black turtlenecks with 20 years out of date pickup artist techniques consider me and back slowly away. Correctly spotted, old dudes! I do not get invited to any tantric zen sex poetry workshops by any of the facelift set. They found other prey. Instead I talked with Monica Storss my new neighbor & a poet who just moved into a boat called Bohemia and who was sporting an epic tiny velvet hat with peacock feathers and jewels on it, and her awesome cleavage; talked with Sara Moore who is also a literary translator, and Charlie Jane. I gave them all inside-out books. Saw Stephen Elliot but did not manage to get across the room to say hi. People were talking vigorously and having a nice time! Books were for sale at a table near the bar.
Andrew D. A chapter from his novel about a homeless man on ecstasy. Written in 2nd person. “You can feel the ocean. This is the moment. This is home. Not where you grew up in Montana.” If you go back to Montana, turn to page 37. If you stay here by the ocean, turn to page 129. The elocutionists’ intonation. I wonder what this would sound like if I just read it out loud as I do books at bedtime to my son. That might improve it. The intonation stretches out vowels and weirdly de-emphasizes the ends of sentences. It’s half an octave higher than people’s normal voices. It has a little sing-song to it as if an echo effect is about to repeat each line for a disco chorus. Anyone who writes about “The Homeless Man” as a sort of metaphor character should be fucking slapped. It’s like the magical negro. But metaphorical homeless guy. When did “homeless man” become this particular placeholder rather than “hobo” which had something a lot different to it while perhaps over-romanticizing the jumping on boxcars aspect of poverty at least you could make a good blues song out of it yourself, rather than hanging out on the sidewalk waiting for some haight street aspiring novelist to dehumanize you in immortal, boring prose.
Lauren B. “First, do not be beautiful.” Trauma! Drama! Dating! Do not be a nice young writer lady who dates married guys while you both pretend not to be damaged and maybe sort of don’t have an Affair. We are not all Anais Nin. We mostly regret this. It’s fine to try. I will never understand heterosexual women.
Peg P. Nice boots. Yes… yes the protocol IS that you are supposed to launch into your reading. OMG, not kiss ass on the organizers. We already applauded them. Okay read something. We applaud the organizers for her again. Whatever. Shut uuuuuuup. Read it! Story about some young heterosexual college people in some town somewhere smoking weed. I think they are about to go bowling and have some trauma on a lacy bedspread or a backseat. The mic has screwed up and half the audience is rowdily unconcerned while the other half, who have produced their own readings and shows and music for untold ages, itch and sigh that it is not rocket science to run a mic. Uh oh! What will happen at the bowling alley! Check, check, one two. Check. Start over! Tony and Joey down by the schoolyard, redux. Here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson. Exposition. Exposition. I expect someone will be named Vinnie next. Scenery description. Glass ashtrays. We are in a pizzeria’s back room smoking some weed. Rather than some kind of saturday night live gang rape scene in the back seat of a car we are suddenly in a conversation about Jane’s poetry. Existential moment. Sex is mentioned only obliquely. The mary sue insertion college student is still talking about her poems. Mary Sue Waspy Snotbag is now gawking at some working class italian lady’s house decor like she’s never seen a cut glass candy dish in all her born days. Maybe you had to be there. I’m glad I’m not a writing teacher. I have lost track of who Courtney and Zach are but I so don’t care. OMG Tony will not have sex with her right in the bedroom while his mom is calling from downstairs. I was right about the lacy bedspread. Write what you know I guess! The end!
Charlie Jane reads a story about Audrey and her unrentable donut-shaped apartment after her breakup with Mary. The chain of their broken promises. “We’ll only eat candy we make ourselves!” Not. Audrey sits down at the computer to search for new roommates and is addicted to internet porn. She finds “master doug and lady bee” who want a live in part time sex slave, french maid, and nanny. Her vanilla ex doesn’t understand. “Maybe you should go to a Munch!?” says Mary as they continue to codependently call each other, post-breakup. The suburban squalor of Master Doug and Lady Bee’s cul de sac house in Alameda. I didn’t think you’d have so much stuff! I hope you can fit it into your hutch! Sara and I are cracking up. The maid uniform is from the Halloween store. Audrey longs to be subsumed in lifestyle D/S and scoured clean of her doubts. But suburban slavery doesn’t transfigure her. At least not yet. Creepy and funny and sad!
Charlie Getter. He likes to yell. We’re radioactive! I prefer the yelling to sing-song daydream twee-land. He’s preaching it. Walls fall. A couple of people call & respond and go “Yeah” at the right points. Gravity! Why is this place so messy! Rant on! This man has been in church with some snakes. Or can fake it from watching it on TV. I don’t care if your stock options have risen to 300 dollars a share because we are on a mountain and gravity expands and contracts like the heaving chest of a sleeping puppy! And we might be its dreams. Yes you heard me. A puppy. You probably heard Mr. Yelly too. New poem. (recite-yelled.) The ocean. Landlocked places. The audience attends! Bolivia… well actually Bolivia is sort of not landlocked or it wasn’t and it does have that one patch of beach. He does not like Kansas either and is probably Bucky’s friend. At least this is not boring, and has an Idea. I like more density of ideas though, and something that is more of a new idea. Or at least one new idea slammed into an old idea. However, cannot help but clap for walls falling and the awesomeness of oceans. Unless you’re Bolivia.
Thus ends my critique.
I’m curious to go back to Quiet Lightning and see what new writers pop up! I wish for this event to take its own format more seriously. The publishing venture is impressive & a good thing. I enjoyed that many of the stories and poems were San Francisco-centric with recognizable Bay Area landmarks and culture at their heart.
Next reading of any sort that I go to, I’m going to record the “hmmmmm” noise so as to make fun of it better.
As I was reading up on the controversy about Blue Bottle Coffee putting a generator-drive truck with espresso machines into Dolores Park, I came across this mock documentary by “Kenita Burns” about the battle between Ritual Roasters and Blue Bottle coffee hipsters in San Francisco:
The quote at the end about Joan Baez and the song for the closing credits were the funniest parts to me, because while I love listening to boomer hippies tell stories about the olden days and I admire their many accomplishments, they’re really fun to parody.
I came into reading about Dolores Park and the coffee controversy from Chicken John’s giant rambling rants on his mailing list. A Blue Bottle employee wrote to him and he went into a full blast of rhetoric on the subject. You know who else promised us solar power? GEORGE BUSH. And probably Hitler. I liked Annalee’s suggestion that Blue Bottle power its espresso machines by bicycle. Earnest park-goers would pedal away helpfully and the company could also hire bikers to generate the power necessary for expensive coffee. This would turn the whole concern from a PR debacle into a total PR win and Blue Bottle would end up beloved of all (except for people who notice, like Chicken John, that it’s still an incredibly bad idea to sell off public park space to private businesses.)
Annalee and Claire Light and Charlie Jane and Annalee’s friend Lynn sat there for hours in Cafe Petra working quietly, reading, writing, and coding. I was messing around with some problems in Drupal for work, while I think everyone else was writing their novels or blogging for their day jobs. Later that night I read one of Charlie’s stories which blew me away completely. Timmi wrote me really nice email about my long essay about the connections between women writers and thinkers, which made me swoon with happiness.
Yesterday I also spent some glorious hours reading about Drop City in Colorado, Zome which started as a dome construction thing and has morphed into alternate power systems and Zometool toy construction kits; the Hog Farm and Black Oak Ranch, the Whole Earth Catalog folks, and other utopian movements in Northern California, inspired by my visit to the geodesic domes of Oz Farm (former utopian commune home of SF State computer science professor Lawrence Kroll). Tim Miller seems to have written some interesting books on utopian communities. I ordered some of his books, the TC Boyle Drop City book, and Peter Rabbit’s book which sounds like a very DIY zine style “history”. It is difficult to find much mention of the women of these communes and they often go by pseudonyms and then change their names a couple of times anyway, as with much of my research into women doing — well, pretty much anything. I will be making a list though once I have some books to go on. The web sources suck for figuring out who the women were in these movements and what they might have been thinking. Certainly they were thinking some bitter things about dishwashing.
As I read and researched I thought over some of the poems I have cooking. I’m still on a long-poem kick after 10 years of thinking about long poems and what can be done in them with ideas. I still like short poems, but am not the sort of poet who sits down to look at a lake and writes a poem about a lake. How dreary!!! How middle class! I despise most poets’ aesthetics. They can take their gardens, their analysis of their relationships with their dead parents, their constipated little emotions they applaud as they’re finally pooped out, and their glurgy thoughts about bombs, and shove them.
Enough with the cranky poet. Here’s what I’m thinking about.
Anyway, it was pleasant to swim around in the shape of the unwritten poem, with words and phrases popping into my head and going onto the page. The big idea and combination or juxtaposition of ideas and images and things starts to take form. Oddly – this is almost a non-verbal process. The shape or form or echo or feel of the poem, as a poem, forms before there are words to go into the poem (or while there are only a few words or a phrase as the keystone or touchstone.) Poems begin to separate out from each other as it becomes clear what ideas go with which other ideas and how they all interrelate. So before I have much of anything, I know that I’m writing a long big poem about daylighting a San Francisco creek, with a hefty dose of wistful critique of eco-liberalism; or about the Whole Earth Catalog’s history, utopia, the Internet, broken skeletons of dreams and the homes they morph into, Alia and the God Emperor of Dune, and the torturer Autarch Severian and the way we treat (and eat) information and cultural memory.
The stuff I’m writing now and have been writing for the past couple of years is part of a slowly evolving book called “Unruly Islands” and while I know mostly no one else cares what a book of poetry is “about” or how its elements are related, I care deeply about the meta-narrative of a poetry book as a thing in itself.
The alchemical process of distilling language out of this inchoate stuff puts me into an ecstatic trance. I feel a little bit insane. It’s hard to turn off. It’s hard to switch gears back into real life, real language, and linear thinking. That switching gears is part of what I feel I’ve learned over the years to let me have a fairly comfortable life in society and still stay a poet. Of course the sleeping pills also help.
Here’s the kayak full of trash I picked up early this morning at low tide in Redwood Creek. It was a short, leisurely voyage in a glassy calm that made it easy to spot floating plastic bags and bottles.
The big glass bottle looks old to me, so I’m going to wash it out and keep it.
During unusually high tides there’s usually a lot of fast food containers, plastic bottlecaps, and styrofoam packing peanuts as well as a lemon or two.
Most of the time I forget to take a photo, but here’s another day’s worth of trash:
The most fertile grounds for trash are right up Redwood Creek past Highway 101. It’s only good to go there during a high tide at slack water.
On Valentine’s Day this year the Peninsula Yacht Club at Docktown led a big effort to pull trash from the creekside. In one day, they hauled out almost 2 tons of junk!
I think in the summer, Beth from Fake Plastic Fish might come do a trash collection voyage with me. Her blog is pretty cool – take a look. She lived for a year without consuming more than 5 pounds of plastic and she’s basically an activist against unnecessary plastic. After collecting trash from the creek, and during moments like watching seagulls fight over a coke bottle screw top and then one of them eating it, I can sure see where she’s coming from. The plastic bags in the marsh look like jellyfish floating.
In the Maldives there is an island made entirely of trash, Thilafushi Island. It’s built out of garbage and looks like an interesting place despite surely leaching out pollutants and hosting some industrial processing plants.
The island has grown to such proportions that it now has a café, a restaurant, two mosques, a barbershop, a clinic, a police station and rather unexpectedly, a makeshift zoo.
If we had a floating trash island in the San Francisco Bay, its growth would need to be limited, but it could be a very interesting place for eco-tourism or trash management tourism. I picture this floating trash island as a step further than Forbes Island or Spiral Island II, but smaller than Thilafushi. It could be a colony where people come stay and camp for a month and do volunteer Bay cleanup work with Trash Island as their base. There should also be a coffee cart and a nature center. It would be way more exciting to visit than Yet Another Bike Trail with Dogwalkers And Joggers In A Landfill. The price of admission would be that you take away a bag of trash. Okay, this is a half-baked idea… While I like the vision of seasteading as places for independent states, I tend to come up with slightly less ambitious ideas for cooperatively owned marinas or coastal cities with floating platforms that share some common purpose or radical politics — ecological cleanup and monitoring, public coastal access, and maybe some really cool art. In fact, I think that seasteading colonies will need to foster marinas with progressive politics in order to be viable. Seasteading needs a sort of marine-stuff-ecosystem in order to be viable. That might mean developing a close relationship with a working port city, or buying up and running its own port.
Speaking of public access! You should go to the Alviso Public Boat Ramp re-opening! Free kayak rides for kids and I’m sure a great party in a place with a long, interesting history.
Today’s random expedition led me to Potrero Point and Warm Water Cove, a tiny, gritty park one step above a vacant lot in an industrial wasteland. It’s a vacant lot in an industrial wasteland with a bench! I love this park. Right now it’s full of wild mustard, radish, dock, mallow and other great edible plants. The remains of a creek ooze out of a scary tunnel. It’s all surrounded by warehouses, parking lots surrounded by barbed wire, and off in the distance, rusting ocean-going cargo ships. Apparently there used to be weekly punk concerts there run off generators and lots of campers. While I was there today a woman and a dog in a very DIY camper van were doing some housekeeping and enjoying the late afternoon sun, so the camping, or homeless-person-occupancy, probably continues despite the recent community makeover, graffiti cleanup and daily policing. A few years ago people were still fishing from a pier to take advantage of the warm water coming from the power plant outfall (which attracts fish.) The pier’s gone now.
Sounds like a lot of piers have been closed over the last few years, including San Mateo Pier, the longest fishing pier in California.
A block or two north, little alleys wind around the decaying buildings of Pier 70.
* The Noonan Building
* Map of Pier 70 structures – a great map with notes for each building.
* Irish Hill This hill full of houses and apartments for the iron and steel mill workers and their families was leveled and the rubble used to fill in the Bay. I saw a tiny bit of the hill left – you can tell it’s not just a pile of dirt because it looks like a roadcut through serpentinite.
Underneath these industrial buildings is a tide-washed labyrinth of slag pits, cisterns, waste dumps, and wooden pilings. I can’t even imagine the giant amounts of toxic junk still leaching into the Bay.
Building 104, an office building from 1896:
Building 21, from 1900.
Building 11, The Noonan Building, 1941. People obviously live there.
During wartime this shipyard churned out countless ships. Thousands of people worked there in round-the-clock shifts. As the shipyards closed the area became neglected and used for storage for old cars, MUNI trains and buses. It sounds like then there were decades of concern from people in the Dogpatch, Potrero, and Hunters Point communities, plans for redevelopment, toxic cleanup, reclamation, preservation of the historic buildings, and industrial customers who still might use the land for power plants, and ship building or repair. The largest floating dry dock facility in the world was sold to the City in the 1980s for one dollar — probably because the massively polluted land (and ongoing pollution of the Bay) was clearly a liability and someone was going to have to *clean it up* before it got seriously used again.
As I mulled over What Is To Be Done here’s what I thought up. While it’s not being used for much else and it’s polluting and dangerous, full of crumbling buildings and broken glass and probably more asbestos than anyone can imagine, make it a public Dangerous Park. Just let anyone do whatever the hell they want in there and graffiti it up and have punk rock shows and photograph the roofs of falling-down warehouses. But let them know the dangers to their health and safety — just as you’d put up signs to say that a seaside cliff is dangerous because of erosion and high waves. The conditions of entering the Dangerous Park should be agreement that you’re not going to sue the city for whatever injuries result.
Some of the Historic Buildings would be graffitied and fucked up, but maybe some would be improved, cleaned up, cared for by artists and colonized in interesting ways.
I realize this isn’t going to happen and instead it will end up being a squalid industrial center for a while longer until some asshole buys it and Develops it, because the only way that people are “allowed” to be in or live on a toxic waste dump is if some bunch of developers makes an obscene profit off it while covering up any risks with massive lies. But people using crappy in land in some less centralized and profitable way, with accurate information about the problems of that use, is, weirdly, never okay.