Bay, sighed

I live in Salt Lake City, UT. I do my best to avoid complaining about the city and the state because they are full of some wonderful people and good food. However, my spirit rarely soars in such a place.

Enter, California. More specifically, the Bay Area.

My partner is out here for a board meeting and I decided to join her for the trip. I am rethinking the round trip ticket.

Waiting for the BART to take us from the Oakland Airport to Berkeley, we meet a woman from Cairo who is doing summer semester at Berkeley in computer science. She studies computer engineering back home. She has not NOT seen the sun in 24 hours. We ride the train with her to Berkeley. I help her carry her heavy suitcase up the BART stop stairs.

We take an Uber to the Hotel Durant. The driver is from Tibet and he tells us the temperature sometimes reaches minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit in his home country. He gives us a thumbs up as he takes our suitcases from the trunk in front of our hotel.

The hotel lobby is striking. One can sit and relax there. The two men at the front desk are young and bond with us. One asks us if we are here for the Ed Sheeran concert. We are not. He loves Ed Sheeran.

Our room is a muted yellow with blue accents. A poster of The Graduate and a canvass painting of science-y artifacts adorn the walls. I will never want for anything more again.

We take Uber to the Downtown Berkeley BART station (fastest Uber ride yet) and take the train to the Powell Street stop in San Francisco. We join one other person. A man who smells of alcohol offers to give us directions to the Italian restaurant we seek. He has lived in the city 52 years and “should know [his] way around.” We tell him our destination and he says we should probably just walk up the street and turn left. He gives us “Veteran’s honor” that this is the way to go. We walk away and he follows, asking for money.

We take another Uber from the Powell Street trolley car turnaround to Washington Square Park. The driver is young and laughs in a deep voice at our jokes. See example:

K – What’s the name of that place downtown? They have stuff there. Um. It’s tall and white and iconic.

Me – Bill Nye?

Uber Driver laughs heartily.

We walk through Little Italy to a place one of us suggests. It is her family’s favorite place. The restaurant is boarded and has a warning on the door to clean up the graffiti.

We wander around Little Italy looking for the right place to eat dinner. Nothing strikes our fancy until we find one that is (a) within eyesight, (b) relatively cheap with a good menu and (c) open without a line. The place is Sodini’s and it is perfect.

The man who greets us is pure Italian stereotype. His hair is slicked back, his black shirt is open to reveal a gold necklace on a pillow of chest hair. He tells us we can eat at the bar and he shakes my hand as we walk to our seats. He tells us to enjoy ourselves.

Sodini’s is dimly lit. It has dark wood and the feel of a family restaurant. The bartender seems comfortable serving drinks to any member of the Rat Pack. He tells my partner they don’t have any mixes when she asks for a Mojito. I drink a perfectly-poured Guinness.

The server calls us all darling and my dear and tells us to literally yell if we need anything. We each order a different linguini dish (linguini with marinara, linguini with clams and linguini with seafood). The food is unimaginably delicious and the portions are generous.

A man and a woman sit at the bar next to us, each with a glass of red wine. The man begins speaking with us. He is Bruce. She is Ann(e). They have four kids between them. I am pretty sure he has triplets, one of whom is getting ready to go to Fort Benning, GA. She has a son who just graduated from college in Bozeman, MT. Bruce and Ann have been together six years, though they have known each other for eight. The conversation was light, fun and familiar. I want to bump into them again and buy them each a drink.

We get pastries and coffee and take another Uber back to the Powell Street station. The Uber driver is not familiar with the city yet, but does well. His left arm is in a bandage cast. I intend to ask about it, but choose not to do so.

We take the BART back to Downtown Berkeley. An Asian couple, the woman rubbing the head of the man in a gentle, loving way. A blond woman, already tall, imposing in high heels. A short, blond woman smartly dressed. A man with dreadlocks under his camouflage cap, he eats potato chips. A lesbian couple in matching San Francisco Giants attire. The city is alive. The city is magic. I will never go home.

We take our final Uber of the night from the Downtown Berkeley station back to our hotel. The driver is an Asian man who seems so young we ask if he is a student. He is not, but he gets asked that quite a bit. Once, he was in Reno. His friend was gambling and our driver was just standing there holding a beer. The dealer asked to see our driver’s ID. Our driver could not believe it. Our driver does not sleep much. Usually four or five hours a night, often falling asleep and waking at different times on different days.

The city is alive. It is full of people with families, lives, opinions and sleep patterns. I may never leave.

-JPR

*written at a desk in the Hotel Durant while looking out over Berkeley

Driverless karma

I’ve just read about the shooting incident that led to minor injuries for George Zimmerman. Much of the reaction I read on Twitter involved phrases like “[g]od is good,” “Yasssss, bitch,” and “[t]ap me when George Zimmerman is shot dead.”

One possible uniting philosophy in these reactions is the notion of karma; that what goes around comes around and what you put out into the universe comes back to get you.

I do not like the notion of karma. It all seems to easy, too packaged. Be good and get good. Be bad and get bad. I have doubts about a universal monitoring system that will make sure everyone gets what they deserve.

Another part of me does believe many of us have a choice on how we view events that occur in our lives. Sometimes we have the ability to alter our perception and see mostly positive or mostly negative from an event. I don’t doubt that is an option in some cases.

So what? Do good things flow to me because I put out positivity or is it a confluence of factors? Perhaps being positive is part of the process, but I don’t think it is all and is most definitely not something on which we should solely rely.

But this is not what troubles me at the moment.

I wonder what it says about us when we raise a cheer to see a villain get their due. Does a person deserve to get shot because they (allegedly or actually) shot someone else? What does justice really mean? What is a just punishment and does karma truly enforce our arbitrary idea of justice? Who deserves to be punished, why and how? What does it mean to rejoice in the suffering of anyone? Does it darken us? Or is it right for us to say, “Thank god this person finally got what they deserved, especially after all that they did and the sadness and irreparable harm they brought to others”?

Thoughts?

-J

Faces Down

“I think this song is about Jesus.”

“I wish it wasn’t.”

“Maybe it doesn’t have to be.”

She turns up the music and pretends the words mean more.

 

A spiky-haired woman stands at the bus stop. A teenage boy and girl walk next to her. The girl smokes a cigarette and walks up to the bench. She looks down the street to see if the bus is approaching.

“Oh, I’m sorry.” She apologizes to the two women sitting on the bench.

“I didn’t see the ‘No Smoking’ sign.”

“Sorry y’all,” the teenage boy says with a wave of his arm dismissing the smoke and the incident.

“It’s a surprise anyone can see it,” says the woman holding two bags of groceries.

“Next time, just tell us to walk away and get that shit away from you,” Spiky Hair offers. She discusses plans with the teenage girl who is going to work on finishing her schooling and getting her cosmetology degree at the same time.

“I can do both,” she asks. Spiky Hair affirms with a simple “yep.”

They all ride the bus for fifteen blocks. Spiky Hair finds a woman she knows from her days at a halfway house.

“Is Shelly still there?”

“Shelly Padalecki? She sure is.”

“I always liked her. Tell her I say hi if you see her.”

“I will.”

Spiky Hair and the teenagers arrive at their bus stop. The teenagers walk out first. As Spiky Hair walks out, she says goodbye to her bus seat confrere.

“Good to see you again. Don’t forget to tell Shelly.”

“I won’t. Ellen, right?”

“Elena.”

“Right!”

“And you keep going hon. You are worth it. You can do it. Do it for yourself.”

Spiky Hair disembarks and joins the teenagers in the public transit sprint to her connecting bus.

 

Jon Foreman exclaims, “There’s gotta be something more than what I’m living for.”

“You’re sure that’s about Jesus?”

“Yup.”

“Can’t it be about something more?”

“Than what he’s singing for?”

“Exactly.”

“I suppose.”

“Are we in the say anything safe space?”

“Go for it.”

“What if I don’t really want a TV or smart phone or laptop or car or nice clothes? What if that doesn’t make me happy? How can I be happy when other people barely get by? Should I spend my life grabbing and grabbing with no thought to anybody else? Who really gives a fuck if I only have two outfits? Who cares? And why don’t we care instead that some people have one or none or a minimal amount of food? Why should I buy new furniture for my apartment when people die every winter due to exposure? What the fuck?”

She sucks in the nicotine and makes a mental calculation of her possessions. Her mind drifts in the silence between songs just before The Mr. T Experience shout their love for Paula Pierce.