October 30, 2000

"You know, secretly I hope the power stays off."

I'm sure it was an innocent mistake. Whenever I've driven a large truck (moving truck size), I've been a nervous wreck. The truck is so very huge, and I'm so very unsure of where its edges are, where the edge of the road is, where the other cars might suddenly appear from.

Perhaps this driver was a novice; perhaps he was an expert. Perhaps he was sloppy, perhaps it was a true accident. Either way, when he drove away, something snagged, then caught. There was a loud, dull thud, a sound the newly arrived rain made me briefly confuse with a thunderclap without the rolling reverberation. Outside, the truck stopped, a length of support cable trailing behind, while inside the lights blinked off and a room of computers spun down to silence.

Power failures don't faze me much; small town, rural childhoods will do that for you. We could be electron-less at my house on an otherwise unremarkable day, while more populated areas would see no interruptions. If a storm dropped a tree over the lines near us, my family could be days without power, waiting for PG&E to attend to businesses and those closer to cities then us.

When I was small, if the power was out for much more than an hour, school would close, and everyone would be sent home early. Before long, my classmates and I learned to greet flickering lights with cheers. Getting out of school was a treat, one we always conveniently forgot would cost us an extra day added to the school year before summer break. By the time I was in high school, students were never sent home for something as inconsequential as a power failure. Growing up, we discovered, meant that the expectations remained, lights on or lights off. Open the curtains, open the door; the only places too dark for anything were the restrooms.

Perhaps it is this training that taught people to resent the power disappearing in the snap of a cable. This morning our dark hallways are not a thing to be enjoyed for the novelty it is but roundly cursed as an interruption and a detriment to business. Someone uses two cellphones simultaneously, canceling this conference call, rescheduling that meeting. If the power is out all day, I doubt Warner/Elektra/Atlantic will be beyond recovery.

How much of our lives are enabled by electricity, and likewise, how much of our living is crippled when the power fades. My CD player is silent, my computer dark and uncommunicative. There will be no faxes and no copies. Over half the offices are unusable since they have no windows. Even the phone system is useless without the power to drive the call routing and the voicemail.

I sit in the lobby and watch the people walk by on the sidewalk outside. Some hurry in from the rain, some stand and stare at the truck and the broken cable in the road. A woman with a walkie-talkie wants to know how long the power will be out. I don't know. Perhaps if it is out long enough, the office will close and I'll be sent home.

October 20, 2000

"If they stole my parking lot for some show, I'll have to go out there and kick someone's ass... "

The parking lot outside my window is empty of cars, surrounded by a chain-link fence and crawling with men in hard hats. They are raising a large canvas overhead, a feat requiring poles, guy ropes, and perhaps the tractor that keeps driving in tight circles underneath the partially erect tent. The plywood wall that will encircle the lot soon enough is going up in stages. A worker was painting the public side yesterday, careless of her brush in the breeze, splattering passers-by with blue latex. When confronted, she claimed to see no damage.

Rumor runs wild among those who gather at my lobby windows to appear at the workers through venetian blinds. A circus? A show of some sort? Construction? Of what? The rumors are laced with bitterness, for everyone here, until just last week, used to park in this lot.

I like the construction theory best; the tent is to shelter what happens there when the fog drip gets thicker. But I'm not sure how much sense this makes, especially if they have to dig to lay a foundation. What will the tent supports rest on then?

Actually, what's the purpose of sheltering a construction site? Should you really be building if your materials can't survive the local elements? Wouldn't it be wiser to reconsider location and materials before building something that will need reconstructive maintenance before it's officially completed? No, I think they're sheltering the area because they are about to launch an archaeological dig. There are significant historical remains under the cracked and faded pavement of this parking lot by the Giants' home stadium.

They will use pick axes and shovels to remove the blacktop; jackhammers might damage delicate artifacts with the vibrating. After the power tools will come armies of graduate students and local labor crawling through the dirt with trowels and wire brushes; they will turn up the usual archaeological treasures for California, and what they find will go to a small museum corner in the stadium lobby.

I find myself wondering about what was here before the city. When San Francisco was a small town, before the miners came searching for gold, what was the landscape like? Before the Spanish came building missions along the Pacific Coast, who lived here? How did these hills look in the sunrise before they were covered with cookie cutter houses? Was there a beach along the waterfront or was the line between short and bay blurred by marsh reeds? Before the sound of jackhammers and dot-com stocks rising and falling, before the sounds of hammers and miners' charges, how long could a bird's call echo in the fog overhead?

October 18, 2000

"What is up with this weather? Yick!"

I love autumn. That is reaffirmed for me every year as soon as the last dregs of summer fade. Of course, as soon as the flowers start to appear at winter's end, I will proclaim, just as loudly I'm sure, that I love spring. I must have driven everyone around me nuts this past spring, exclaiming over every flower, from the flats for sale outside the Bad Breisig florist to the orderly tulips in the Netherlands to riots of unchecked growing in private Cinque Terre gardens.

But it is autumn in San Francisco now, and I love it. I love the wind that messes my hair and lifts my cloak as I walk from the train station. I love the crispness of the air and the scent of moisture in it. I love the broken clouds skittering across the moon, casting the night in pale, flickering light. I love the proliferation of warm drinks, the ready acceptance of soup and stew, the shift to darker colors and bulky sweaters. This is the season for brisk walks, crunching fallen leaves (the few there are here), then retiring to a warm corner with a mug of cocoa or spiced wine and a blanket to wait for the sensation to creep back into chilled fingers and toes.

It is a season of retreat. Vitality shrinks away from the hints of winter, hiding away until spring's returning warmth lures it back. If you are patient, you can watch the retreating. The leaves fall from the trees so slowly that I fear I have missed it entirely this year. Those which are not evergreens already stand bare, their tangle of branches finally exposed.

Perhaps what I love best, perhaps the reason I love all the things I do about fall, is the sense of transition. Autumn is a season of change, of movement. This is the dithering period between summer and winter.

What a shock it would be to finish one day at the height of summer and begin the next in the deeps of winter! The plants would have had no readying period and likely would go all sickly soft and mushy with decay. Entire wardrobes would suddenly be beyond inappropriate and, without a fall shopping season, the rush of people to stores would probably decimate the economy. Wildlife would be caught unmigrated and without heavy fur. The instinctual hoarding evoked by fall and harvest time would have never materialized, and instead we would all be trapped in a season of scant supplies after our summer carelessness.

It's interesting that people have fallen so out of sync with the natural rhythms. The seasons change with the same regularity they always have, sometimes treading lightly, sometimes heavily. Still we act as if a new season is a thing unseen before, expressing amazement and dismay as the sky clouds over and rain falls, marring the weekend car wash. We shiver rather than put on a sweater and cuss at the increase in the energy bill. Strawberries and watermelons give way to pumpkins and winter apples; we mourn the passing of the first without celebrating the arrival of the second.

What is so upsetting about the changing of seasons, about the fading of summer? Is it a reminder of Time's ceaseless march? Is it a fear of aging? Of changes we can't control? Of endings?

October 13, 2000

"Who let the dogs out?
Woof! Woof! Woof!"

They started coming before 11, clogging the street and filling the parking lot, then streaming toward the stadium. Despite the early fall chill in the air, they came in summer clothes, T-shirts emblazoned with the Giants' black and orange logo, caps covered in buttons. There were some with jackets, with the required emblems and colors of course, but mostly they came as if the sunlight wasn't filtered through a high haze of fog.

I sat in my windowed office space and watched the parade stream past. The air conditioning was turned up too high for my taste and even in my turtleneck sweater I felt slightly chilled. A strange sort of homesickness settled on me, a longing for small English towns and a pub-lunch of soup and cider by the fireplace after a walk in the rain. My mind full of turning leaves and the scent of autumn, I watched summer incarnate walk by.

The final weeks of the season have arrived; playoffs are well underway. Even the part-time fans have become rabid supporters with the possibility that the local team may make the World Series.

Baseball, to me, and I'll confess to knowing about 2% more than nothing about it, somehow seems synonymous with summer. "The boys of summer," someone once labeled the players standing in the middle of a field of mown green grass and lazily shifting dust. Hot dogs, the summer food of fairs and carnivals, are handily available at the games. And when else is there a time for dusty backyard games, with the dog playing catcher, than the summertime.

So baseball in the fall is backwards looking. I'm ready for autumn, for warm drinks and cozy sweaters, and all the people streaming by my windows, in their short-sleeved shirts and logo'd caps, are mourning the passing of a season. It seems a desperate, clinging reach for the ease of vacation, the bliss of grass under bare feet, the simplicity of ice cream dripping from the bottom of the cone. Going to the playoffs, and maybe the World Series, means you can hang on to those long, lazy, golden afternoons just a little longer, pretend that summer vacation isn't over, that the gray of winter isn't making its entrance.

By one o'clock, the crowds outside had thinned, and, shortly after, a roar erupted from the stadium as the game began. The voices of so many crowded together merged into something distinctly other sounding. It's an inhuman roar, sounding more of water falling from a great height or wind in the palm trees, not thousands of screaming fans. I imagined the stadium as a place of transformation; if I were to glance inside, I would not find people there.

Three and one-half hours later, the deed was done, the home team victorious, and the parade resumed, retracing its steps. The fans spilled from the gates, flooding through the parking lot, their hands filled with souvenirs free and purchased, reliving the highlights. The conversations were animated, joyful, and in the secret language of baseball fans, a code of names and statistics and abbreviations.

I pulled my cloak up close around me in the chill of the evening and the fog offshore. They may keep the barking dogs of the ninth inning soundtrack, the smell of hotdogs and beer, the dying season. I'm going home to a bowl of soup and fresh bread, to a cozy corner to watch the rain streak the windows.

October 04, 2000

"I've been around the world..."

A year ago today, I woke up in Germany for the first time. If I close my eyes, and tune out Sting on the stereo, I can still picture that morning.

We had arrived at our hotel in Andernach quite late. I remember standing at the window the next morning looking over the biergarten below our room and admiring the age of the stone gate across the road. The light was golden in an early fall sort of way, gilding my nervousness for this adventure with a fierce excitement. Despite the long day of travel and the bewilderment of a foreign language in a strange land, or maybe because of that, I bordered on giddy. It shows, I think, in the pictures Ian took of me that morning.

That morning feels so long ago; so much has happened since then. Yet, somehow, it seems as if I should have more to show for this past year. There were three months of apartment living in Bad Neuenahr, followed by three months of castle living in Rheineck. We brainstormed reams of ideas for a company still in its infancy and crawled our way through the entire castle listing out all the items that needed attention: light fixtures to replace, hallways that smelled of swamp gas, walls that had lost their grip on the plaster. I went through the building again to determine its actual square meterage.

We then spent two months wandering Europe. Two notebooks, 50 rolls of film, a bottle of limoncello, and two prints by Subirachs later, we returned to the States. The first months back saw us moving around constantly before finally landing in our own apartment in San Francisco: Seattle, Boulder Creek, Oakland, four suitcases, three backpacks, and the two of us. There was the trip to Santa Barbara to fetch our stuff from storage, then the joys and frustrations of moving into our very own space. We no longer wake up wondering, "Is this the day they'll tell us to move?"

My sister got married; Ian's sister came to visit for week. My father continued to decline; we said a final farewell to Ian's mother. We have readjusted to the sheer size of the most ordinary of American streets and the general shoddiness of American public transportation systems. I have a hard time remembering I can turn right at a red light. (It's illegal in Europe.) I miss pedestrian culture and riotous flower boxes and Italian style ice-cream.

It seems so slim. I can sum up an entire year in three paragraphs. But there was so much while it was happening that if all I have is three paragraphs, surely I must have forgotten something. What becomes of the little details that add that soft patina to my memories? The butter cookies served with Killybegs' Irish coffee? The ducks that spent a frigid winter stubbornly diving in the swollen Ahr? The halo behind the mountains as the sun sets on the Lake District? The almost-smile my dad wore when he danced with my sister on her wedding day? How do I measure these?