Monday, September 29, 2008

grains

I love this place. It’s going to be another exceptional morning. The sun is rising over the sound for the beginning of another amazing warm fall day. I love Monday mornings at the beach and I love my coffee. The little blond boy is bopping around in here again this morning, but this time he’s attached to the long arms of a very tall human. It was exceptionally busy when I got here. The line was to the door which was very odd for this time of the morning. It didn’t take too long to realize the reason it was so long.
We seemed to have more than our share of high maintenance Seattlites exercising their perceived right to bizarre, never intended to drink, coffee made to order. One of the groups of people that I most admire are the baristas in this town. They have the privilege and opportunity to gracefully serve a clientele of some of the most sophisticated coffee palates on the planet……… Whatever……… It at least seems as much to those who consume their idiotic concoctions of choice. Sometimes I’ve heard the comment that a Starbucks is just another type of bar. Are you kidding me? If patrons of a bar all came into their neighborhood watering hole, all making up their own drinks and expecting each bartender to have a clue what they were referring to, there would be some things broken…. Bottles, noses, stools, whatever…something would end up broken. No self respecting bartender would be putting up with high maintenance, unless they were in some wine cellar. They’d be tossed out like George and Clarence in “It’s a Wonderful Life”.
I do want to clarify that this doesn’t apply to everyone. But it only takes a few to screw up everyone else’s life. One woman ahead of me was sending her drink back repeatedly, first for more foam, then less foam, then it was 3 degrees cooler than she wanted. If you’d have just taken it and drank it in the first place, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. The woman directly ahead of me was ranting that she wanted the “9 grain” bread and not the “multi-grain” bread. Excuse me, but last time I checked, 9 was multi. Then she had to add to it some venti, soy, double, extra this, not too hot (can we be a bit more specific”) latte. First of all, she was in her pajamas…. Go back to bed. Secondly, my apologies to those who are lactose intolerant, but I don’t think that “soy” constitutes as anything you should be arguing over. A latte means “milk” and if you can’t drink milk, then don’t get a latte. Whatever……..the end of the conversation is simply this; they never, “they” being the high maintenance privileged class in their bedroom slippers, think to even leave the change for a tip.
So the result of these horse’s behinds wreaking havoc on what would have normally been an exceptional day, is that I and others like me, feel compelled to give an extra tip to these baristas who get this kind of abuse heaped on them. Someone needs to let them know they’re valuable. These girls were here this morning @ 4:30 am to get ready for some people to crawl out of bed, put on their slippers and stumble in here ranting about the grain count in their bread. It’s a coffee shop, not a bakery….wake up!. Anyway, my drink, a grande drip, cost me a bit extra this morning. But it was worth it for the ongoing social experiment that I get to witness. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I love this place.

Monday, September 22, 2008

reserve

I’m running on reserve this morning. Actually, it’s the reserve tank on my daughters car, which I’m driving because I’m in a dispute with the State of Washington. My car failed its emissions test on Friday. Except for the fact that my car is easily the nicest and best running vehicle that I’ve taken through this ridiculous test in 8 years, and the only one to not pass, I’m not bitter. It is what it is. If they say that it’s a rolling case for global warming, who am I to argue. After all, I wouldn’t expect any less from the great green state of Washington than to be on the prowl for noxious offenders like me. I could even respect them for it. Until….
Until they gave me the explanation and the “packet of approved mechanics” which they recommend taking the offending vehicle to. Apparently, if you take your car to one of the mechanic mafia, spend “at least” $150 and it still doesn’t pass the test, then they will take pity on you and pass you anyway. My first question is, “what kind of solution to global warming is that?”. My car would still be driving around burning a hole in the ozone and making Seattle look more like L.A. everyday. Apparently it’s more about economics than environment. The important thing is that there would be $150 more out there in the economy. My second question is “who really gets my money?” My wife, who is a far better accountant than I am, seemed to have a quick solution to the problem. She offered to “cut out the middle man” and just give the $150 to the testing station. They weren’t biting though. Apparently at least some of the cut needs to go to the mechanic mafia, and I’m sure there would be hell to pay if they thought someone was skimming from the top.
One explanation given, which I can believe since I’ve lived here long enough, is that the law wouldn’t really be fair to lower income people who can’t afford more than $150 to have a repair done so we shouldn’t penalize them for destroying our environment. I wonder if that applied to the guy next to me, who passed by the way, in a car that obviously burned more oil than gas. Apparently, it’s not the choking black petroleum based smoke that will kill you, it’s the unseen vapors leaking inconspicuously from a smooth running engine. Those are the ones you can’t trust.
So I don’t get mad, I just get even. I’ve parked my offensive purveyor of pollution until I can get it in to see my mechanic who, by the way, is not a member of the mechanic mafia. In the mean time, I’ll drive my daughters car, which I was supposed to sell two months ago. Apparently God knew this day would come so He blessed my procrastination to provide me with a state approved “clean running vehicle”. Her car, which did pass while often times idling like a big diesel rig, is in desperate need of new Oxygen sensors which are pretty important in the emissions department. But don’t worry about the smoke and the fumes, the state says it’s just fine. The only problem with it this morning is that it’s still running on reserve.

Monday, September 15, 2008

bus stop

This morning has to be one of my top 10 morning experiences since moving here. It is the start of a cloud free 80 degree early fall masterpiece of a day. The sun was rising red over the eastern mountains while a gigantic moon was fading over the snow topped western mountains. The ferries are steadily gliding over calm waters and there are even two tug boats already hard at work. The breeze is still cool and my grande drip is still very strong. I even seem to have missed the retirement club here. On my way down here I passed one of the neighborhood bus stops where people wait dutifully for metro to carry them off to the start of a new adventure in the world of the employed. I don’t know if it was the season that inspired me or the bus stop or a combination of both, but I had a flashback to elementary school and bus stops of my own.
When I was growing up in upstate New York, I lived in a neighborhood sub-division, housing development kind of land. It was one of those places that sprung up in the 60’s with ranch style homes and 1 car garages and just enough yard. It was the burbs. In that environment, for an elementary age kid, the bus stop was a landmark. It took the form of some lucky family’s driveway. I’m sure, now that I am one, that the adults who owned the “chosen” driveway were less enthusiastic about their acquisition than the kids who resided there. It was kind of cool, in a dorky sort of way, to own the driveway where the bus stopped. This was of course in the innocent days before the school bus became more about survival than social experiment.
It seems to my memory that there were about a dozen of us at the stop in the middle of our street. It was more than waiting for the big yellow limousine with the socially graceful driver to whisk us away to public school nirvana. It was a social event. It was where we all “checked in” with each other. It was where life moments were revealed; who hated who, who loved who, who was sick, whose family was in crisis, and who was moving out or moving in. It was also the sight of some of the best amateur sporting contests that I have ever witnessed or participated in. There was the “Great Lunch Box Jump”, where we’d line up our lunch boxes, in ever increasing distances and then, with a running start, see who could clear the most. Give me a break, this was in the glory days of Evel Knievel, someone had to carry the torch. Woe to the kid whose lunch was in a brown paper bag. In the winter we had the “Great Dress Shoe Slide Off” which was similar in nature but involved icy driveway, running starts, and slick soled dress shoes….for distance of course. Being naturally gifted, I myself claimed many titles.
We were loud and obnoxious, I’m sure. Although at the time it never seemed so to us. It was a lawsuit in motion most weekdays, although it was still in the time of innocence, even for adults, where we’d never think of suing our neighbor for allowing stupid kids to do stupid kid stuff in their driveway. We just dealt with the pain, the blood, the missing teeth, and torn school clothes. It was life.
The thing I’m noticing about bus stops nowadays is that they are quite the opposite of my memories. First of all, these ones that I’m seeing have adults at them. Most of the kids I’m acquainted with either are driven to school or ride the metro. The big yellow taxis have become demilitarized zones. It’s dangerous to be a 3rd grader on the bus now. When I was in 3rd grade, the only danger was when the kid in the front of the bus threw up on the floor while we were going up a steep hill. The bus stops that I see around here, even in the middle of neighborhood streets, are not very social places. The one I passed this morning had 4 people all spaced about 10 yards from each other. Not a word or a glance was being exchanged amongst any of them, and not a lunch box in sight. They all seemed pretty self absorbed. I wonder if they saw how beautiful the day was. I wonder if they’d miss each other if one of them weren’t there. I wonder if they have memories of bus stops past.

Monday, September 08, 2008

45

As long as I’ve been posting here, I am always wondering if I’ve already used a title for a previous post. Not today. I’ve never been 45 before so I’m kinda sure that this one hasn’t been taken already by me. Actually 45 came yesterday for me. I never really used to reflect much as these milestones passed. But I never really used to be this old before, no offense to those of you who wish for 45 again. It seems that lately I’m seeing more headstones than milestones. In fact, yesterday morning, upon reflecting on this new number, a black and white newspaper editorial cartoon kind of image appeared in my head, and the central focus of it was a headstone.
I’ll try to give you a mental image of it so you can enjoy it as well. I was posing the question to myself, while in the shower where all great philosophical questions are asked, “What constitutes middle age?”. 45 seemed to be one of those great halfway numbers. So this image comes into my head. There is a giant headstone in the middle of the page with a cartoon caricature of me standing on top peering over the edge. On the backside, the side with my backside showing, is a very large number 45 carved into the granite. On the other side, the one I’m peering over to is carved with two words; “the rest”. I’m not sure what it all meant, except that maybe I’d have a lower water bill if I’d start showering and quit hallucinating
On further reflection, all that I can say is that the message probably has something to do with the fact that “middle age” has only to do with the individual. None of us knows our appointed time, so instead of looking and waiting for a number to appear on the other side, we should be concerned with what we do with “the rest”. So this birthday I’m looking forward to “the rest”. I could also use some rest, but that’s for another day. I used to look backwards and reflect on all I’ve done or not done, on all those who’ve influenced me for the good or the bad, and everywhere I’ve been and the things I’ve seen. Now it’s time to look forward and consider all who’ve made the journey with me, and the new friends who have joined me, and as the great book of life changes claims… “Oh the Places You’ll Go”.
So it’s back to work, and back to school, and back to life. No matter where I’ve been I can’t imagine any place I’d rather be. It seems like a good way to celebrate 45, headstone and all.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

chariots

This may be my last Monday morning at Starbucks for awhile. Howard and Starbucks haven’t yet come through with their promise of at least limited free internet and my 3 year pursuit of higher learning begins tomorrow morning, much of which takes place in an online environment. Therefore I will have to find both decent coffee and free wifi elsewhere. But that is the subject of another day. Today I’m thinking about chariots and hurricanes. I know that may seem an odd combination, but in my life they have come together once again. I’ll attempt to make it a bit more clear, in case you’re missing the metaphors.
This morning, as I am writing this, another hurricane is coming ashore in New Orleans. My wife and I have spent two different weeks there after the last round in a limited attempt to help them rebuild their lives. It is still fresh like yesterday, walking through neighborhoods that will never be neighborhoods again and playgrounds where no one will be playing again. We worked alongside proud and resilient people who were trying to salvage what they could from the slimy muck that had overwhelmed their middle class existence. There were single moms who were trying to offer comfort to younger kids and there were retired couples trying to reclaim the remnants of their younger years. That was the first time that I began to understand clearly about where the chariots fit in.
In the Book of Books, there is an admonition of sorts that says “some trust in chariots, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God”. It was always kind of a random statement for me. I understood that somewhere in time it meant something to someone, but I generally had no clue. Two trips to New Orleans, sharing lives and hearing stories about loss and faith and determination began to clarify it for me. The chariots had failed them, chariots being a metaphor for all of the man made security that we have attempted to surround ourselves with that should prevent bad things from happening to good people. I stood at the foot of the levees in the 9th ward where the chariots failed and the people died and others wished that they had because everything that had been set in place for their well being had washed away in the flood. In many cases people were left behind because, literally, there were not even enough chariots to carry them from harms way. The chariots that had been created to support and provide for them in the aftermath have failed miserably.
The people that I was privileged to work beside after the storm, who still had hope, all had one thing in common. They knew the difference between faith and chariot. The chariots had been nice and all, but their faith was still in God. They didn’t blame, they just put their heads down and pushed on. Others chose to move on to other safer lands, realizing the limits of chariots. I greatly admire and respect them. They get it. There were and are, though, plenty of others who are still waiting around for someone to fix the chariots so that they can get back on with life. It’s those people that I am sorry for. I see many more like them in places outside of New Orleans. They have entrusted their lives to the chariot builders and that is just another disaster waiting to happen.
It is ironic to me, in a culture that claims evolutionary understanding and intellectual and technological might, that we can continue in our attempts to prove Darwin was right. We build towns in flood plains, million dollar homes in landslide zones and along fault lines, and cities in bowls within the seasonal track of the hurricanes. Yet we’re still surprised when the wheels fall off. The tragedy is that the people most impacted by this are the ones who have entrusted their lives to the chariot builders to keep them safe. My thought is that when God set the world in motion, he had little regard for the Army Corp of engineers’ ability to keep it in line. He wasn’t all that impressed with the tower of Babel and probably even less so in the concept of levees.
Now please understand that I am not trying to imply that God causes these disasters. On the contrary, I’m sure that it breaks His heart to witness the effects of a planet in decline. However, I imagine it much like a parent who watches a child continually return to the hot stove no matter how many times he’s been burned. There is not a chariot big enough or sophisticated enough to replace common sense, and that is a painful lesson for any parent to have to witness.