Well, that’s that.
My thirty-eight day campaign swing across the United States and Canada is done. Over breakfast I considered the previous evening’s Festival of Vision, the first debate between the numerous and vociferous Republican presidential candidates. My original reason for joining the Republican race was to enable me to say, without evidence or reason, all manner of things about anything — including the USA itself — with impunity. It was gratifying to hear last night’s landslide of support for this approach from my rivals.
I won’t keep you in suspense. In consequence of the incomparable performances of my rivals, I have suspended my candidacy for the Republican nomination for the presidency of the United States.
[It is traditional for you to groan in disappointment here. Alternatively, a cry of “No!” reflecting shock and disbelief is appreciated.]
I have nothing to offer the American people that can compete with the ingeniously simple solutions to non-existent problems offered by the statespersons of the day. Nevertheless, you may have noticed through my previous twenty-six tantrums that I have a lot to say about the United States. That is probably because I understand it so well — and so little. Continue reading 27. Greatest Again
I woke up feeling great. At the age of 54, that doesn’t happen too often, at least not to me. Except walking and drinking, I hadn’t done any exercise for a week. I told Frank I was going for a run to Golden Gate Park, just over Seventeenth Street. I regaled him with a vivid description of my favourite San Franciscan run, over the hill, through the park, past the de Young art museum and the Japanese garden, around the Botanical Garden to the polo field, down the to the mighty Pacific and the beach, within view of the famous Cliff House. “D’ja wanna come with?”
“Sure….” Frank responded, leery. “How far is that?”
“I used to do it in an hour. Or so. Each way.” I chirped.
“Uh-huh. When, exactly, was the last time you ‘used to do it’?”
“Oh, well, let’s see — probably 1995.” Continue reading 26. Over The Hill
San Francisco and I get along better now than when we first met in 1985. Then, I was visiting my boyfriend who had just graduated from Boston University. He found himself jobless and penniless in Boston, so retreated here to live with his mother in an uncomfortable silence.
Then, it was pretty clear that with me living in Boston and him living in SF, after this trip we’d probably never see each other again. We didn’t. He cinched that by playing a cassette tape of “Don’t You Forget About Me” every time we got in his car. Sean was a good man, but I do not react well to needy.
Then, the AIDS epidemic was in its early stages, with San Fran leading the way in diagnoses, community reaction, enlightenment, fear and loathing. At the time, I knew no one HIV positive — indeed “HIV” had not yet entered the lexicon. Continue reading 25. Brave New San Fran
Back at Yosemite’s Curry Village, we found the adjacent cabin had no fewer than ten occupants. Their cabin was identical to ours which had a double bed for two, with the theoretical possibility of a roll-away creating a capacity of three. There were four children in their group who I must presume would be stashed in a closet overnight. Even so, it must have been tight quarters for the rest of them — three men, three women, one couple with apparent grandparent status. A close family.
For the rest of the evening, we sat on our veranda drinking wine, watching them drink various forms of pre-mixed hard liquor concoctions while watching us drink wine. Groups of them would come and go. The wives went to the general store, and upon their return, the husbands headed to the bar. The children, having scavenged a couple cans of pre-mixed hard liquor concoctions, dashed into the woods — which may explain why the husbands headed to the bar. Continue reading 24. Parched
Yosemite National Park attracts about four million visitors a year. Like America itself, they keep closer track of who is entering than who is leaving. I presume Yosemite repels as many visitors as it attracts, as otherwise it would fill up.
August is peak season, drawing a disproportionate number of tourists, with an average August day seeing over twenty thousand enter the park. Many of them are day-trippers, a necessity since when every bed and campsite in the park is in use it accommodates only about fifteen thousand overnight.
During our stay there were about were thirty thousand nature lovers driving through the park each day, most generally following the rules established to preserve their lives and protect the park’s very existence, with a small few running down the wildlife, littering the roadside, and improperly disposing of lit cigarettes. Spread over the park’s twelve hundred square miles, thirty thousand works out to only twenty-five people per square mile. That is about the same population density as the State of Vermont, which does not seem particularly crowded. The reality is, though, that almost all thirty thousand visitors remain in the eight square miles of the central Yosemite Valley floor. This yields a population density of 3,750 per square mile, which is about three times more crowded than New Jersey, the most densely populated US State. Continue reading 23. Yumpin’ Yosemite
Sometimes it can be difficult to avoid renting a car. This is particularly true in California, the birthplace of the freeway traffic jam. It is ironic that one cannot access the natural splendors of the American West without driving a carbon-spouting fossil fuel guzzler through a few hundred miles of former natural splendor on ribbons of asphalt surrounded by fields of shopping malls.
It is no secret that I am not fond of driving. It goes back to a genuine and deep-rooted hatred of cars, which I consider to be the foremost culprit in the demise of civilization. Despite this, my first job in Australia was with a company that serviced automotive manufacturers – mostly Ford. What can I say? I needed a job.
After two years, I couldn’t stand it anymore, and quit. The CFO called me from Detroit to talk me out of it. I gave him all the usual “It’s not you, it’s me” reasons. He chewed up and spit back every excuse. Finally I said “Listen Fred, the truth is, I don’t like cars. I don’t like people who like cars. I’m not even very fond of people who like people who like cars.”
“Oh” said Fred. There was a pregnant pause. “Maybe its best that you quit then.” Continue reading 22. Managing Yosemite
Amtrak’s Coast Starlight runs from Seattle to LA, but today we were boarding in Portland bound for Sacramento, of all places. I have taken this overnight train before. It is arguably Amtrak’s best train, not only for its spectacular scenery, but for its Pacific Parlour car.
The Pacific Parlour car is the jewel in Amtrak’s daggy crown. It offers sleeper-car passengers a comfortable lounge and decent dining. Onboard, they undersell the parlor car menu offerings as “lighter fare” than that offered in the main dining car, which might dissuade one from making that special (free) reservation to dine in the parlour car. Do not be fooled! Continue reading 21. Amtrak’s Jewel
On the first Saturday of August the good people of Portland gather at the river for a celebration. The event’s climax is a competition of brave men and women that launch themselves off a stage in homemade flying contraptions powered only by goodwill. The law of gravity being what it is, each brief flight ends with a spectacular crash into the river. It is a very popular event.
So popular that tens of thousands of Common Folk gather hours in advance on the banks of the river and on the nearby bridges, hoping to assure themselves a good view. All morning the Common Folk waited and ate and drank and sweat in the blazing sun, discussing grandpa’s hernia operation and Aunt Annie’s new husband (she could have done better), while picking their favourite for the upcoming contest. Continue reading 20. Mean-Spirited, Powerful Justice
There’s too much cursing in this world, and I am part of the problem. For me, cursing is the natural by-product of trying to accomplish something or get somewhere. I’m always trying to get somewhere, and thus tend to travel in a blue streak.
One of these days I need to calculate how much of my life’s cursing has been:
A. As a pedestrian cursing at motorists and cyclists;
B. As a cyclist cursing at motorists and pedestrians;
C. As a motorist cursing at cyclists, pedestrians, and, well, pretty much everything.
Offhand, I’d guess my cussing volume, from most to least, would be C, B, A, — even though I’ve spent more time as a pedestrian than as a cyclist, and more time on a bicycle than driving a car. Maybe my propensity to swear is proportional to my desired speed of travel. Continue reading 19. The Curse of Portland
Four years ago, after a few drinks at a party, Frank Lee and I decided to take a taxi home, a fifteen kilometer ride across Melbourne. I was in the passenger seat next to the driver, as one does in Australia. Frank was in the back. The driver took an unexpected turn, in the wrong direction by my reckoning, causing me to query “Where the fuck are you going?”
That was a poor choice of words. The driver responded by shouting “Do not speak to me that way, you have no right to talk to me that way!” He was absolutely right.
Yet it didn’t stop there. He continued with lengthy passages beginning with phrases such as “You people think…” and ending with “…will get what’s coming to you!” He waved his arms about, several times taking both hands off the wheel, his eyes growing wild with fire as I cowered in astonishment.
After about five minutes of this, Frank shouted from the back seat “That’s enough, stop the car!” Instead, the driver hit a button that put us on the equivalent of a speakerphone. A woman’s steady voice identified herself as “Emergency Dispatch”. Continue reading 18. Street People