I'll Walk. No Really, I Don't Mind
IT'S NOT JUST THAT a car bumped into me this morning as I ambled up Freeport on my way to work, nor is it a case of vehicle envy. I really don't care what you drive--it's how you do it that bugs me. To be fair, I was looking into the treetops and thinking about the 1983-84 San Francisco 49ers' ability to contain the redoubtable LA Ram's running back Erick Dickerson, rather than actually watching where I was headed, but I was on the sidewalk moving at a moderate speed when I suddenly discovered a small blue Honda Civic backing into my arm.
Luckily, it wasn't moving fast, but, the way I understand the rules, the pedestrian always has the right-of-way on a sidewalk, to say nothing of the crosswalks, where the guy in the wheelchair was run down and killed yesterday. Thus, the guy backing the car out of the garage had the responsibility to make sure he wasn't going to pick off any unwary pedestrians before he hit the gas, not after. It's bad enough when I'm on foot, dodging traffic coming at me from all directions--this morning was neither my first such encounter nor the most threatening to my health--and it's somewhat worse when I'm on a bike, which apparently makes me invisible as well as improving my physical fitness, but, on those rare occasions when I am driving, for instance down highway 80 to the Bay Area, it's clear that we are not headed for a social calamity, we're already there. Way, way, back when I was first learning to drive, there was a certain shaky social contract between drivers which ensured, among other things, that the people in the biggest hurry stuck to the left lanes and fought for supremacy while letting the slowpokes in the right lanes move forward in relative safety. That's all over now. All six lanes, or eight, or four, are reserved for flat-out, illegal, dangerous raceway activity right out of Old Sneelock and his patented Life-Risking Track.
This not only increases bloodshed for no good reason, with severe financial consequences for everyone, but it also adds to the overall level of incivility, not only on the highways, where it is well documented and regularly boils over into road-rage assaults, but even after you have parked that silly thing. People are ruder, shorter-tempered, stupider. We'd all be happier on foot.
...read more (2/3)On Drinking
The rip-roaring blur of time I spent in my green 69 Chevy van at Cleone beach with Jake Reed downing a case of Schlitz Malt Liquor while rocking out to Chuck Berry tapes and trying to get seagulls to snap up burning cigarette butts was probably the best two hours of my life. We were still youths. Jake was off to a Marine corps base that night and I was still a red hatted beginner at the mill. We had had a few laughs already since high school but it was plain to see that great things weren't going to happen. While that alcohol burned through our systems and we carelessly tried to act tough, there were no nagging worries, only a clean sense of triumph if, for instance, a coarse-featured gull stabbed at one of Jake's tossed butts with his tough beak and swallowed without pausing to taste it. What might have served more alert people as a lesson was mere entertainment, but what of it. We assumed our right to behave foolishly because we were resilient enough and we proved it. I drove back to town and went to work and managed to wobble through a strenuous evening of labor. The worst effect was probably the headache. The First and Last First and Last Days
The first last days I recall directly came during the 1972 Olympics, when American TV preachers began foretelling worldwide catastrophe based on tensions in the Middle East, dated from the abduction of Israeli athletes by Arab extremists. During lunches at my grandmother's house, I learned the details to expect, including fire in the sky and plagues of pestilences. We weren't expected to last more than three or four years, five at the most, as the world's armies massed for Armageddon's pivotal battles. She had the whole scenario figured, from cracks in the earth which would swallow people up, to trumpeting angels wearing robes and smiting people my grandmother, which is to say the TV preachers, didn't like. I worried a good deal about being smitten, but it got no worse than innocent crushes. ...read more (3/3)Somehow, we got through that crisis but I quickly had to deal with my family's adherence to my parent's religious doctrine, which fixed the date for destruction as 1974. It was a tough year--the Giants finished in the cellar with Sam McDowell coming over from Cleveland in the Gaylord Perry trade, and my high school football team, the Timberwolves, suffered a grievous defeat on a 99-yard interception return under the lights at St. Helena. I'll never forget the bus-ride home, a pretty empty feeling, but at least the world didn't end. After that, predictions of utter doom have come along about as often as baseball season. Amazingly, after each uneventful "close call", the next prediction, no matter how specific, or scientifically preposterous, is taken seriously by somebody, sometimes with tragic results including mass suicide linked to comets or other purely physical phenomena. You'd expect, as a clear-thinking realist, that all this pitiless exposure of faith-based science would have made some inroads into the ancient stranglehold of faith on science. To the contrary, what happens instead is that people take up belief systems, alter them, and "believe in" them to the point of expecting life to come to an end on a specific date, such as 2012. What a load of crap.