Pacifica side trip

After work I went off with seelight to have a sandwich and catch Pokémon at the beach. We looked for whales (none) and discussed geography, geology, clouds, games, and she told me there is a novel about magical BART. Or something. I only found this decolonized BART map so will ask her later about the book.

A woman standing by us at the cafe counter when “Funkytown” came on the radio sighed and said “You just want to put on those roller skates!” and I had just been thinking the same thing and remembering myself swinging about the roller rink with my feathered hair, my blue eyeshadow, my metallic weave buttondown shirt, white jeans with my name embroidered on the pocket, and a skinny stretchy gold metal belt (you know what I mean? sort of snake textured, like a cord where one side is flat). The belt buckle was a green roller skate. Probably, I was also drinking a “suicide” which was getting a soda with all the soda flavors mixed together. The junior high mocktail of my people. You felt badass skating up to the counter, like the fucking Continental Op but 3 feet high and on skates, leaning on one elbow to mutter to the bartender, “I’ll have a suicide“. I had mentally put the lady at the counter in a “older person” category as she had long grey hair and was leaning on a cane; go figure, we are likely less than 5 years age difference; my hair is half grey and I’m in my wheelchair. I enjoyed the moment of our gentle mutual reminiscing. The song is so perfectly evocative of a specific time.

A walk down the pier, where we watched fishermen, the sunset, the waves, the fog, the stripey layers of clouds that looked like both Jupiter and lasagna when photographed with my phone camera up to one lens of my binoculars.

sunset through a rounded lens

On the way back to land, Claire was like omg there is a … Grundleoot or …. I’ll be damned if I know what it was, but some powerful pokemon I had never even heard of, as the pier debouched into the street. We decided it was too tough for the two of us. But right around the corner a little knot of people were under the streetlights in a familiar configuration, a half circle, thumbing their phones with fervent concentration – they were catching the whatever it was, in a raid. We joined the stragglers and caught it too. The group then went off to reconvene at a church somewhere to the south to get a Kyogre, hitching rides with strangers and timidly Friending each other on the app. Tempting but…. I was tired. Yay now I have, well, one of those. Grundhorn? Groundlarg? I don’t want to get up and look at my phone.

NERT Herding

Off soon to class #2 of NERT training. San Francisco has Neighborhood Emergency Response Teams, with free 6 week classes where you learn about disaster response & then graduate with, I don’t know, a certificate and a hard hat. Then first responders can call on local teams if they need backup in disaster situations. Though, I think the main idea is to encourage people to be more prepared for earthquakes, fires, whatever, I’m sure local crews are also useful in a pinch!

I appreciate the accessibility of the class locations!

The website has a bunch of the NERT class materials, including PDFs of the class handbook and a disaster preparedness checklist in English, Spanish, and Chinese. I’m thinking of printing some of those checklists, laminating them, and putting them up in my free bookshelf on the sidewalk.

24th St Mission BART station report

Starting my BART station report series with my home station, 24th St Mission. Sometimes the St is spelled out so it’s 24th Street Mission, and sometimes it’s abbreviated in station signs. You can get some overview of the neighborhood on the Calle 24 Historic District site in English and Spanish. Get ready to ramble! I’m going to just write everything that comes into my mind from my notes, memories, and researches. I hope that you will enjoy reading it and then will see this (or some other train station or place in your city) with a new perspective.

Though I can go the half mile from my house to the station under my own power, this time I got there on the bus, debouching directly in front of a bench where a guy with a 49ers jacket was sitting holding a bug-eyed chihuahua on his lap, passing by him to scoot into Taqueria El Farolito since the line was very short.

El Farolito has a narrow corridor along the kitchen where you order and wait, and small picnic tables along the wall. I can make it in there in my powerchair to order, turn around by the jukebox after I order, and make it back out, but there is nowhere my wheelchair can fit for me to sit and eat inside. No big deal. As is usual in SF taquerias you get a number and lurk around the counter listening for your number. Bonus if you understand numbers in Spanish. I got a carnitas super burrito with everything and a mexican coke to go, which comes with a little bag of chips and some napkins, in a plastic bag with handles. The handles are so useful and important for hanging the bag on the arm of my wheelchair. Mexican coke is nicer and tastier than US coke because it uses cane syrup instead of corn syrup and it comes in a pretty glass bottle.

If you can see over the counter as you wait (I cannot in this particular location) then please admire the efficiency of the burrito-makers and study their workflow. It is instructive to compare the workflow of different taquerias, for stunning speed, La Taqueria; for complexity (sometimes as many as 14 people behind the narrow counter) Pancho Villa. Keep in mind that THESE BURRITOS ARE LOVE. You are going to be nurtured by your delicious and amazing burrito. Appreciate it properly.

At some point over the years I wondered what possible connection there was between burritos and lighthouses (Faro = lighthouse in Spanish and in many romance languages from the famous Lighthouse of Alexandria on the island of Pharos). I think it is from the “home of the Mission burrito” being Febronio Ontiveros‘ El Faro taqueria. So maybe El Farolito is an offshoot of the original El Faro at 20th and Folsom.

As I was waiting two mariachis came in, one with accordion, another with guitar and an amp on a hand truck. They set up and started playing in the back of the tiny narrow restaurant. I got my own salsa in containers and headed out to eat in the BART plaza. I shared one of the square cement bench blocks with a friendly tamale lady and a couple who were discussing their plans for the day in Spanish; staying in my comfy powerchair but using the bench corner for my coke bottle and bag of chips and also putting my feet up on there from time to time. One bench over, I noticed the Raccoon Guy (a white haired and bearded grizzled older man who has hung out in this plaza for years but recently achieved viral fame for bringing a dead raccoon into the nearby McDonald‘s.) From this we can deduce that 24th and Mission is a pretty good raccoon habitat, barring accidents.

orquestra de 24

OK so this plaza, the one on the Northeast corner. I am pretty familiar with it and it is one of my favorite hangouts, sort of refreshing and beautiful to me in a special way. Yes I realize sometimes it smells like pee. Try to bear with me. When it doesn’t smell too much like pee, it’s so nice! Lively, full of action, so much to look at, excellent food for the flaneur’s soul! On weekends there are often loud preachers or a band of old dudes playing mostly Cuban music. If I get there for the music then I hang out for a few songs and put some money in their donation bin. It is a lovely scene on a sunny day with families stopping to watch, people dancing, the tall washingtonia palms far overhead against a blue sky. Even without those very organized musicians, there are frequently other musicians playing in the plaza or coming up from the BART stairwell, and music coming from someone’s portable speaker or cars or the market in the southwest plaza that’s catty-corner across the street. The buses fwoosh and beep, the distinctive train car sound swells up from underground, Norteño or salsa music comes and goes, lots of Spanish and Chinese spoken all around. It is a lively soundscape that I absolutely love.

Facing north from this plaza, you’ll see a mural on the wall of El Farolito. This is by Michael V. Rios and shows a geometric cityscape, and some determined, rather grim people shouldering train rails with a shining metal BART train riding on top. It has a nice socialist realist feel to it, as it honors the workers who built and maintain the city’s infrastructure. The gleaming futuristic train is carried on the backs of the people! Maybe the people who built it or the people who paid for it with their taxes!

Facing west, past the stairwell, there is a giant mural on the side of the Silverstone cafe in addition to the super funky and cool coffee and tea sign of Silverstone. Sorry I don’t know much about the mural and forgot to take pictures but it says something like “SOCKS” on it. More later if I go investigate, or find info about this mural online. The Silverstone Cafe itself is quite nice, and has wifi and – I didn’t know till this week’s exploration – A pretty nice patio in back! And good, low priced, (large) pastries and breakfast and sandwich type of food. The interior is beautiful with a giant wooden… bar back or mantelpiece sort of thing. Because of the TV I didn’t try to work from this cafe, though I might in future. (Instead I ended up a few blocks down 24th, at Haus, which also has a lovely patio and an accessible bathroom.) If you go that direction you could also stop by Precita Eyes and learn more about the neighborhood’s murals.

I didn’t hang out today at the southwest plaza but can say it has a pleasant street market with booth selling jewelry, souvenirs, shopping bags, belts, phone cases and chargers, headphones, shirts (often ones embroidered huipil style) and ponchos (wool). There are also sometimes flower sellers and a booth for vitamin type of things, phone plan sales. Sometimes events in the far corner under the Coffee & Mission mural like, breakdancers or rappers. This mural is on Osage St. and is by Mark Bode, Mel Waters, Dino, Nite Owl, Dagon, and Free. You may notice Mel Waters‘ distinctive style in like, a zillion other murals all over the Misson and the rest of the Bay Area. There is a big metal ventilation tower here that, in Ingress and Pokémon, is a portal named Lipstick Tube after the shape of the tower. The way the plaza is shaped in the back by the stairwell entrance makes a pretty good stage for any sort of street events. There is also a dark green kiosk-style public bathroom in this plaza. I have never used it, opting to buy a coffee or something instead to use a bathroom!

Did you ever notice the “two totemic posts” of this plaza? I hadn’t. Hang onto your hats as I want to paste in a hefty quote from the designers.

The two totemic posts in the foreground were placed to formalize a stage area already used as such by the community. Otherwise, most vertical elements were removed to open up the plaza.

The plaza was originally designed along with the underground station in 1970. The basic configuration is an open plaza paved in a concentric brick pattern that radiates out from a large circular opening in the center. The opening comprises the main station entrance, containing a stair and escalator column with recessed semicircular planters on either side.

The circular opening offered the design team a powerful theme. The circle form not only ties together design elements throughout the plaza but attempt to also communicate universal notions. The circle is an ancient form used by many civilizations. It was universal and almost always represented the sun and thence fecundity, society and important values.

Eliminating the security fencing revealed the existing great circle—being able to enter and emerge from such a shape is an unusual experience even in a famous city. The cylindrical tower (necessary to protect the existing spiral stair) acts as a beacon for the station and recalls an ancient Maya astronomical observatory. It has a south-facing skylight through which the sun illuminates colored portholes. Emerging from the circle passengers will catch a glimpse of colored sunlight—but the light will not again appear in the same spot for an entire year. Of identical shape to the tower are shiny bollards (necessary to prevent vehicle intrusion from the alley) that are positioned in various angles to reflect sunlight at different strengths when seen from a distance. Throughout the plaza can be found variations on the theme of circles, light and totems.

Nifty! (What spiral stair?! Is that what the Lipstick Tube is?! I assumed it was for ventilation!)

Back to our BART station. I did not get even halfway through the burrito. I can live off a burrito for like, three meals at LEAST. While I was sitting there a mad-eyed disheveled dude asked me and everyone nearby for change. He eventually settled down elsewhere in the plaza. Being accosted for money is likely but just take it in stride. If you like to help people you might keep some dollar bills in a pocket ready to dole out (that’s what I do) and know how to set limits on the interaction, and how to say no. It may make you uncomfortable though especially at night. Personally I feel perfectly comfortable here day and night as it is very public and well lit with tons of people around. Anyway, I sat through many buses pulling up, people walking by, tamale lady calling out her wares (tamales de pollo, de carne!) and selling some from her ice chest on wheels. She’s super nice, I see her there a lot.

I waited for the elevator with a sweet family who had been shopping (grandma, mom, and teenage daughter with her backpack worn frontways across her stomach). Three dudes were just nearby playing very loud Cuban music (excellent taste) and cat calling us (Ay mamacita!!! que estás bonitaaaaaaaa!!!!) But not like hostile cat calling, basically a . . . non-hostile routine social interaction. I looked over at them and nodded, breaking all the rules of such things, being a sucker for good music and since their piropos weren’t gross or anything. But me and the older women also side-eyed each other in mixed annoyance and amusement and then when we got in the elevator kind of burst out laughing.

The elevator had the horrible smell of pee and industrial cleaning fluid. I always kind of long to tackle the gross walls of this elevator where someone tried to write, or paint, and then it was ineptly and incompletely sprayed with cleaner, so there are horrible drips going down the wall and it looks filthier than if they had just left the graffiti alone. There are also times when there’s… food smeared on the wall? I dunno! The thing with the smell is, the pee must run down through the mechanism of the door to the elevator well below, and just fester there for years. There need to be more bathrooms, open all hours, though, I think the Pit Stop bathrooms do help and in recent years the stench has been ameliorated to some extent.

The elevator from the northeast plaza lets you out in a sketchy feeling nook in the north corner of the concourse. The stairwell there (and, same on the other side) has 2 stairways and an escalator, with abstract concrete bas reliefs by the English sculptor William George Mitchell. If you get up close to the walls you can feel the rough (even sharp) corrugations which are the background to the broad smooth planes of the cement geometric shapes. I wonder if they give the Mission stairwells some of their nice acoustic properties. There are often musicians in them, and while I explored on this day there was an excellent guitarist, Ángel Rodriguez from Banda Sin Nombre, in one stairwell and then later in the day, a saxophonist in the other.

The concourse has a beautiful arched design that makes me think of 70s futuristic things, or maybe particular airports, with the concrete arches overhead soaring like an airplane hangar, and more interesting corrugation in between creating a fairly beautiful line. If you don’t look up, or look at the shape of the buttresses of the arches, you are missing out. The lighting is also really not bad for an underground area. If you do have a look at the ceilings you may also notice a lot of anti-pigeon spikes. (Ow!) Speaking of ow, as a small accessibility note I would say there is an archway pillar between the north stairwell and the entry ticket points where, the slope of it as you might be coming out of the ticket area is such that for a blind cane user, it would be easy to run your head right into the underhang of the arch. Same goes for the pillar by the southwest stairwell as you come out of the ticket area there and turn right – headbonking opportunity. That could be prevented by a small guard rail in both areas.

There’s a ticket entrance by the elevator and the northeast stairwell, and another on the south side of the station, by the agent booth. This south entrance is where the wheelchair and stroller accessible entry and exit point is. In some other stations, the elevator to the platform is outside the pay entry cage so you have to specially remember to reach over the barrier to tag yourself out (even though you’re already out!) Once you’re in the paid area, there are 3 stairwells from south to north; the first is an escalator coming up from the platform, and some bike racks. At the far north end of the paid area you’ll find the elevator to the platform (call button on the left). Like most elevators in the system this one has buttons marked C for Concourse and P for platform.

Platform 1 has the northbound trains, Platform 2 has the southbound. If you traverse the length of the platform you will see the 3 stairwells; the furthest one from the elevator is the escalator going up. In between the escalator and the middle stairwell are some big block style cement benches, and between the second stairwell and the 3rd, there’s a big map and schedule. The median walls (on the stairwells) are tiled with brown, orange, gold, yellow tiles with an occasional black one, which I think of as a kind of nice Painted Desert effect or like the backgrounds for Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner. There are mysterious little rooms in these areas too with numbered doors (as there also are on the concourse). I expect these will factor into my BART text adventure game in some way. On the walls to either side of the platform tunnel you can see the same buttress looking cement things as you see above in the concourse. Between those, there’s plain beige tiles and a space for ads.

So, I’m going to return to my game-writing now! This isn’t an exhaustive Guide To Things To Do near 24th and Mission station, though, I do recommend you get a great burrito and admire the murals while you’re here. There is also excellent grocery shopping at many small latin american stores, a middle eastern grocery around 26th, bookstores nearby down 24th and on Valencia and 20th, and several import stores with a standard selection of things like cheap suitcases, backpacks, socks, SF souvenirs, jeans, trinkets, and I don’t know what all else as it’s been a while since I was able to fit through their aisles!

By the way…. tomorrow is the 18th Annual No-Pants Bart Ride Day! Are leggings cheating? I get cold!

A small travel plan for the year

One of my plans for this year is to ride BART to every stop. I’ve always wanted to do this but have not felt energetic enough to do it! I’ll plan out my excursions beforehand, marking cafes with wifi and nice lunch spots near the stations if they exist. Then I can haul myself out there for an afternoon and work from a cafe, getting to know the entire Bay Area more intimately & scouting for future excursions!

BART map

It would be nice to do this with the ferry, too.

I’ll get VERY ridiculously excited about going to Antioch, or Union City! And I’ll report back with the results of my travels!

Do you examine places on maps and mark down spots you’d like to visit? I had a great virtual tour of Sicily’s north coast near Messina (Villa Terrafranca, Bauso, and Serro) where some of my ancestors lived, walking along the village streets and the waterfront in Street View.

Whenever I’m going to a new part of town just within San Francisco I have a look on the map as well, to mark anything that might be interesting and study the accessible MUNI stops & best routes to go there and back.

Like Des Esseintes’ journey sometimes this map-journey is all I get. The real journey never happens and I am reasonably content with the imaginary one! If it does, then the imaginary journey deepens the enjoyment of the real journey. I learned something about this from how, when I was a little kid in Detroit in the 70s, my dad would write away to parks and chambers of commerce, get back a lot of maps and brochures, and we’d learn stuff about the history and geology of a place before we went.

Along with this knowledge is a sort of errand geography, so that I have buckets of errands to be done and if I’m going to a particular place I’ll know “And while I’m there I should do everything that needs doing in a hardware store since there’s one right next to the BART stop”. Very handy when you don’t drive (much) and have limited energy.

Enjoying all the paths

Took a bus and BART to my sister’s in Oakland last night, then went to a party, then BART home before midnight. Once again I was struck by how easy it was for me, when it was clear it would be 20 minutes before the next late-night bus, to just wheel on home from BART without even noticing the ride, because my new powerchair is so awesome and comfy. Though, an extra mile or two per hour of speed would be so perfect for times like that.

Then this morning I did the journey again. I saw the guy who lives on the street a couple of blocks from my house and we had a chat and then he followed me to the bus, getting on through the back door to flip the seat up for me very sweetly. An older lady on the bus got off at the same stop and told me how she was once stuck in the 24th St. elevator for 5 hours and now is too afraid to use the elevator.

At the 24th St. station (and I think the 16th too) I always marvel at the strangely inconvenient path for (wheeled) elevator users. The elevator lets you off a few steps from a ticket entry point, the midpoint of the concourse. But the only wide ticket entry point suitable for wheelchairs is at the very far end of the station. Then, you have to go all the way to the extreme other end of the concourse to the 2nd elevator to get to the train platform. If they would put a wider entrance at one of the entry points in the middle of the station it would cut 5 minutes out of my navigation of that station. No one cares and I don’t really care since I am motorized but if I were in a manual chair, it would matter since it is a long extra distance to push yourself! Still, seeing it be so non-optimal bugs me every time I’m in there!

On BART I noticed an ad for some bed sheets that promised the sheets are good for more than just sleeping. The picture in the ad showed three people’s feet, with socks on, friskily entwined as if they were having a fabulous, but dorky (naked except for their socks) threesome. Why you would want to be under a sheet in that situation is beyond me but maybe it helps them forget they’re wearing their socks during their strange orgy apparently happening on an ugly beige 70s shag rug. The socks were somewhat masculine coded for one pair, more polka-hearts femmy and with smaller feet in another, and then the 3rd pair of socks seemed more ambiguously gendered (yellow, medium size, non-hairy) so I guess that is a win for bisexual threesomes everywhere, even on a giant ad on the BART. (P.S. to the ad author: no one says “throuple” in real life.)

frisky advertisement

A man sitting under the amazing ad for kink-positive sheets reacted with miming exaggerated shock when I moved my right leg to wiggle my foot and ankle around as if he had just caught me in my extreme naughtiness of faking the need for a wheelchair. Dude! You caught me! I can move my legs! I’m totally not paralyzed! He stared at me, grinned, stuck out his leg, and waggled his foot around while raising his eyebrows. It being 9am after New Years Eve I didn’t really have the energy to engage so I played Threes on my phone and didn’t look up any more till he got off the train at Oakland West.

I varied my trip it a little by going to 19th Street Oakland and taking an AC Transit bus. My sister was saying that downtown would not be “exciting” on New Year’s Day, but it was just because it was so empty, fresh, and sparkly, and also because I am not often there and I like to explore all the pathways to get to a place at my leisure when there’s no time pressure, which comes in handy sometimes in the future when I will appreciate knowing exactly where the elevator and bus are at 19th St.

Downtown Oakland looked so pretty, clean from the rain, everything looking green as well, art deco buildings all shining in the morning light. I was at the bus stop near the Oscar Grant mural, across from a building with coppery green panels, amazing windows with sort of pointy arrow motif, and these black tiled and scuplted columns at either end. It was just gorgeous! I could hug that whole building!

Oakstop Building

I just had a look to see if I could find info about it online. LocalWiki to the rescue! It is the Bowles Building at 1715 Broadway. As always when I come across LocalWiki I think of when I just randomly met one of its creators, Philip Neustrom, in Ritual Roasters in like 2005. I was sitting across from him on some couches near the window, noticed his excellent laptop stickers & asked what localwiki was. From our conversation I ended up inviting him and Arlen to speak at Wiki Wednesday and I think later on in some similar wiki-ish context I met Britta Gustafson and Marina Kusko who both love wikis and hackerspaces and are awesome.

At my sister’s I kibbitzed on a game of Settlers of Cataan, ate steak and some gingerbread with apple butter, showed some details of nethack to my nephew, and demoed Inform7 for my sister who immediately started messing with it. It was fun to see them both jump in. When I left, my nephew was gleefully falling through trapdoors in the Gnomish Mines and I’m about to play some more nethack with him today. At the party at Susie’s house nearby I ran into a lot of people I knew. Polythene Pam was playing when I arrived & people were singing along to a song that was incredibly familiar but that I don’t know the words to. I had one of those pre-crone moments where you see someone dressed in YOUR EXACT OUTFIT FROM 25 YEARS AGO and freak out a little in a happy way because they are SO ADORABLE and ‘my’ cultural aesthetic has not died. Seriously this girl was in my same outfit and even in my haircut and middle-of-the-nose-ring and it made me want to cry and also want to hug her but that would have been weird. Sat with Katherine and Nabil, we petted Nabil’s reversible sequin pants (!!!!) talked with Emily a bit about how strange chronic pain or health issues can be, I met some people who were super nice, then I ended up talking with Asheesh in the kitchen, Yoz showed up, Gina showed up just as I was leaving early for my middle of the night journey home.

On BART a guy started yelling a lot but the woman with him (wife? sister?) was composed and philosophical. She rolled her eyes a little once in a while or patted his knee calmingly and acceptingly. I moved up to be right across from him because I thought he was not dangerous, just agitated, and I figured I could apply my de-escalating presence usefully (or deflect his attention from the teenagers he was yelling at) He had a few themes and varied them from Jesus, the bible, cops who kill people and their families which is tragic, homosexuals (could not tell if positive or negative) and how he loves us all (even if he sounds angry) and wants the best for us. I listened and actually so did a drunk guy nearby though he was more laughing at the yelling man, but he kindly called him brother and agreed with him I think doing the same de-escalation technique as I was. The woman next to him in an elegant headwrap carrying a cane then sort of cajoled him off the train. Mostly I felt worried about him and not the people around him (you could easily see someone taking him the wrong way and calling cops on him) So I wish them luck and hope they got home safe.

Home with quite a lot of motoring around, at 30% battery, wishing for just a bit more hefty of a powerchair battery or even an entire spare battery as insurance. Instead I am going to get an extra charger cord and carry it on the chair at all times in a little pouch. Though I don’t usually name cars and wheelchairs or my own body parts, I have decided to call the chair ‘Mr. Beep’ (borrowed from Ahmet the Blind Captain‘s kayak navigational system, because it’s just such a great name and makes me happy to say it).

Wine tasting

I have a vague memory of once being at a winery tour and maybe seeing some barrels and being in a big room drinking a glass of wine with a group of people but this may be completely imaginary. My sister took me today to Quixote Winery where we had an appointment for a wine tasting. I had no idea what to expect, maybe a tour of a cellar where I would not want to go down a million steps so would sit and read on my phone while a tour guide took other people around?

Instead it was just a very quirky interestingly built house and garden. As we went up the flagstone path to the weird looking house on top of a small hill we noticed & were commenting on the patterns of the paving stones which were set in rivery random looking designs, brick, stones, and I think maybe also tile. The building had a lot of tile mosaic bits – outside and inside – and a gold leaf covered tower like a minaret. I kept muttering “quirky Alhambra” to myself….

We sat in front of a fireplace and this lady explained about 5 or 6 kinds of wine to us as we tasted them. Mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Syrah. We were there basically because my sister has a book about the architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser. I gathered the building has no right angles. Even the bathroom was really beautiful and had a sort of tile path across the walls, over the doorways, hard to describe. And, fat, chunky, bulbous columns in somewhat Minoan colors, orange and turquoise and gold and purple. Tiles or other elements were cracked and re-assembled or seem like they are flowing into one another. I like this guy’s aesthetic. The building fit the hillside, it fit the idea of California, it fit “Quixote” in a particular way, and it made me feel happy, dynamic, sort of mind-explody in a good way, comfortable (the movement and chaos feeling very homey, like how I think). Laura talked about how even when you have a strong vision (like this) of how you want something to be it is very hard to get it across to others and to get them to actually do it or to accept your vision to the degree that it takes to overcome the various tendencies to do it the way you (the other people) want (like the clients) or how it is easiest or most convenient (for you the workers digging holes and laying tiles and cement and so on) and about the ways sexism plays into that dynamic.

hall and column of winery

We sat in the patio for a while for Laura to sketch. I was taking notes for my text adventure game and then just gazing around to appreciate things, looking at the gold and green hillsides and the distant cliffs (Stag’s Leap… part of the terroir or the viticultural district. I had just been reading in my Roadside Geology book about how dark volcanic soils and oceanic crust soil makes for good and complicated red wines. Pretty cool! While I’m not sure I really know one kind of wine from another, everything we had there tasted interesting, complex, and delicious. 15 minutes and Laura had made a super cute sketch. She will probably do more from photos later.

laura sketching

watercolor sketch

Somehow all day she was asking me phrases in Spanish which will help her communicate with her landscape crew (she is a landscape designer/architect) so it was stuff like I’m not ready to plant these yet, Put them over here, No, over there, I’m still thinking about it, The tall ones go here, the short ones in front, How are you, How is your family, I’m sorry, Excuse me, I had a nice weekend how about you, and a lot of variations on Fuck these fucking fucked up plants, because everyone needs to be able to swear to express their personality properly.

liz in front of mosaic wall

Flaneur time

Loafing around. Swimming. More swimming. Scootering around. More writing (notes for the text adventure I’m writing with Milo) and gossiping with Laura. Playing Ingress and Pokémon around the resort.

Mud bath in the spa (a strange sequence: shower, mud bath for 15 minutes, then another soaking bath that was mildly sulfurous, with a little wooden ledge to rest your glass of cucumber water on), then, clutching our faceclothes wrapped around an ice cube (?) into a steam room with the MOST amazing gurgling noises which must be the 1882 steampunk plumbing straight up from the geyser) then we were sort of tucked into bunks like burritos with towels carefully folded around us and cucumbers on our eyes. There should have been a step where we got to scrub ourselves in the mud bath since we were floating in a sludge of almost uncomfortably hot ash and pumice.

In the mud bath I pretended to be gradually waking up from a thousand year sleep, floating peacefully in low gravity in my nutrient slurry stasis chamber, about to step off onto a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri. Also, a Roman empress (alternating, though, I should really have combined the two.)

I also bought some boutiquey stuff in “downtown” Calistoga. Now the proud owner of a metallic gold vest with a lot of zippers on it, and a skirt with excellent pockets, printed with books and cats. This has been a nice mini vacation!

Petaluma, petrified forest, Calistoga hot springs

At a hot springs resort !

liz in bathing suit

My sister and I had a good leisurely trip up 101. Lunch in Petaluma – on our way to find a riverside cafe we were accosted suddenly by some really nice people with film equipment who asked if they could interview us about the women’s march. They’re organizing Petaluma’s first women’s march this coming January. I agreed (my sister did not) and they fussed with lighting and screens and sound for a bit, and then said something nice about how I marched with my kids and a disabled women’s contingent with huge banners at the Women’s March in 2017 in Oakland and it was not going to immediately fix anything politically but it is great for feeling solidarity, hope, and love which are all important for giving us strength to keep working to improve the current bad situation.

Somehow, I just thought it was hilarious that we were in a kind of deserted corner of Petaluma downtown and out I pop like a magical funny haired wheelchair gnome to do a reasonably competent off the cuff sound bite. But then I really needed to run off and find a bathroom and some food!

We noticed during lunch that across the river there was a strip mall with a Merle Norman makeup store. “Jesus! That still exists!?!” “Pretty much if you’re wearing that makeup you’re likely to be nearly dead.” I suddenly wondered who Merle Norman was. Wikipedia save me! But no. She’s not in there! The rest of the internets inform me how she started her business in the 1920s, blah blah blah. It was almost interesting… But not quite….Maybe if I read up a little more I could write Merle Norman’s wikipedia entry. But why?

Onward to a 3 story antique store in a giant old bank building complete with vault! It was amazing! I recommend it! I got a nifty chinese medicine chest sort of thing with tiny drawers. I’ve always wanted one! Need to translate the characters. One of the ladies in the bank vault elevator told me they have a ghost in the building. There was other gossip which I’ve forgotten already but I told another lady at the checkout (who told me a little of the history of my medicine cabinet) about a book I read where a girl goes to stay with her stern great aunt and there is a chest with dozens of tiny drawers each holding a different object, and when she opens the drawers and looks at the thing (like a pair of gloves or a locket) she is sucked back in time to different days and then realizes that the old timey girl she makes friends with is really her great aunt. I could be remembering the story wrong and I’ve never found this book again, but the point is it would be so cool to have a card catalog-ish cabinet and put things in the drawers…. Which I will soon do.

I read a little bit out of Roadside Geology of Northern California, about the Cotati Valley and the volcanic ash all over this area.

We stopped again at the Petrified Forest in the hills just west of Calistoga. The giant sequoia and redwood trees were blasted flat by a Mount-St-Helens-like explosion & covered with hundreds of feet of ash (I think several million years ago but am too lazy to look it up to check right now). We went on a loop trail up a steep hill. Model CI took it like a champion and I had a blast just being able to do that at all. We went backwards around the loop since I thought the end of the trail being paved looked easier for going uphill. Robert Louis Stevenson was here! I am his huge fan! Now I have to read his book The Silverado Squatters which is apparently set in this area and maybe mentions “Petrified Charlie” (?) There was a grotesque statue of Petrified Charlie and his burro. Also a lot of fire damage to the trees from last year’s wildfires but everything still very lovely, the buildings were saved (we learned later from the guy at the front desk) by the volunteer fire dept. coming heroically to fight the fire. The petrified trees were truly enormous, some of them half excavated from the hillside of cemented ash flow, with huge live oak trees growing through cracks in their petrified trunks. Satisfyingly, near the top of the hill as we went down, there was a sign (facing the other direction) that said “Suggested Wheelchair Turnaround. Thank you”. You can imagine how I got a huge kick out of this!

liz-turnaround-sign

The hot springs place is super nice, we had some free wine and cheese, unpacked, laid in the hammock out back of our room under some palm trees, then wandered around, had dinner at their restaurant, and went swimming. Perfectly clear night so we got to float around in the hot pool and look at the stars, just as I had hoped.

The people next to us in the restaurant seemed like they were dating. I wasn’t really noticing them much but when they got their food the lady in a fluffy white sweater was having halibut and she said with charming enthusiasm to her date, “Have you ever caught a halibut?” There was a sort of weird pause. “That’s a great question,” he said, in the tone of someone giving a talk who was asked something a bit unexpected and they need time to think of some sensible response. (I am not sure he really thought it was a great question. On the other hand, I enjoyed it.) “I can’t say I have.” “Well, they really put up a fight and then you just sort of spin them out [ed.: or some such fish talk – i’m a little hazy on the details]. Just like a flounder!” she said happily as if we all knew what it was like to catch a flounder even if we hadn’t been lucky enough to catch a halibut. “I’ll have to tell that to the boys,” said her hapless, square, not-knowing-things-about-flounders date. “Is it hot in here?” she later asked me. “Yeah it’s warm.” “I should just take my sweater off!” “Actually I already took mine off.” “Oooh! Well, I mean, I HAVE CLOTHES UNDER IT. THEY’RE CLOTHES! *charming laugh*” (she shimmied out of the fluffy angora sweater giving me a little eyebrow wiggle, which I returned.) I would totally fish with her.

My sister and I wrote lists of the things we did this year so that if we felt despairing and like we hadn’t done anything at some later point we’d be able to look at our retrospective of Things Done and feel comforted. They were good lists! I’ll write mine up soon!

Noisebridge circuit hacking

I’ve been helping out lately at Noisebridge during Circuit Hacking Monday. One week, some people showed up expecting the event and no one was there to run it, so I ran it for someone I knew from She’s Geeky, her friend and teenagers, and a couple of extra adults who were here from Norway and Denmark for Google I/O. I had just been pawing through the soldering supplies, organizing them a bit as I searched for what I needed for my project (messing around with a LilyPad Arduino), and had found a little bag of cheap LED light up badges shaped like teddy bears. So we used those tiny kits to make blinking badges. It was chaotic, but fun.

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I talked with Mitch Altman to find out where his kits for sale were and if it was okay for me to sell them while he’s out of town, and then send him the money. I might, though, just order some kits as cheaply as I can find them, and keep them independently to avoid hassle. As I end up giving tours to lots of new people, many of them from out of town or overseas, I could do them a favor by giving them something geeky to do in the space rather than sit and check their email!

The next week things were back to normal as Miloh and Rolf were at Noisebridge to run the class. Before they showed up, a teenage volunteer helped me set up soldering stations. More and more people kept coming in so the situation got quite chaotic again as we were giving them tours of the space and trying to find room. I realized that next time I would approach things differently — clearing the whole area of people who were working, and setting up 20 or more stations ahead of time, so that we weren’t doing setup and giving tours at the same time.

During the event Miloh and Rolf really took over the teaching aspect. I was somewhat trapped with my scooter in a corner because of the number of people, the table arrangement, the many chairs and the backpacks all over the floor. So I also would like to look at making the central area of Noisebridge less cluttered with tables, chairs, and stuff for the future so that I can participate. In my corner, I again hung with some kids and the teenage volunteer, and a guy who couldn’t hear well. The kid didn’t have a computer to look at the instructions for his kit, and needed a lot of one on one help as he was maybe a bit non neurotypical. The guy who hung out with us could not hear well in a situation with background noise. I’m in the same boat — I’m in my 40s and just can’t hear in a loud, chaotic situation. The kid fixed his Mintyboost and then made a tv-b-gone. The other guy made a blinky badge then was hooked and got one of those big name LED badges, I think. He appreciated the How to Solder comic book print out that I happened to have on me because he missed all of Miloh and Rolf’s explanations. I thought it was interesting that, marked out as somewhat different and disabled, I ended up doing more one on one work with people who had particular access needs.

Our volunteer also was super helpful in that capacity and seemed unusually alert to access issues, like that chairs or cables were in the way of my scooter or that it might be hard for me to get up to get supplies on high shelves. After the event when his dad came to pick him up I saw that his dad had one arm and walked with a cane. So growing up with a parent who has some mobility issues he might be more tuned in than others usually are.

I thought both those things were interesting! And figured it is a pretty good role for me at CHM. If you have particular access needs or are going to bring a bunch of 10 year olds to Circuit Hacking Monday (Mondays at 7:30pm) then feel free to email me with questions and see if I can be there & be helpful: lizhenry@gmail.com.

Basic supplies are running low. We have lots of soldering irons, including a bunch that I think Jake, Lilia, and MC Hawking won in a contest, but they’ve seen very heavy use over the last couple of years. So there are a lot of kind of crappy soldering irons and a few decent ones. We might be able to clean them or swap the tips cheaply. We have lots of snippers and wirestrippers. We need solder, weighted holders with alligator clips and lenses, more of those weighted bases with copper wool for cleaning soldering iron tips, and more de-soldering braid. Plus it would be so nice to have a supply of many kinds of coin cell batteries. After I talked with Miloh about that he shared a giant complicated spreadsheet with me. I haven’t read through it yet! But it would be great to get particular donations for restocking our electronics supplies.

We have shelves and shelves of hardware junk, in bins, and a wall of tiny little parts in tiny drawers meticulously labelled!

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Yesterday I spent some nice time in the afternoon doing a Dice Kit with my son. We couldn’t find any decent epoxy or glue, so went to the fabric store on the corner, but ended up getting a big tube of contact cement from the dollar store. I gave a lot of tours and hung out with my friend who came by to fix her headphone wires. We’re both going to help TA at Black Girls Code in San Francisco. She ended up also using the wood shop for another project – modifying wooden artists’ brush handles to make those long tapered sticks so useful for holding up long hair and especially dreadlocks. Claudia aka Geekgirl showed up too and told me about how she is going to Rwanda in September and has a job there teaching IT and computer programming to middle school girls. Nifty! Meanwhile, my son played with MC Hawking and read comic books in the library after he was done with the Dice Kit. Along the way he learned to figure out the values of resistors from the color code chart (and learned it is not hard to just memorize the numbers.) We looked at my LilyPad and he got to the point of comfort with the code to make a scale go up and down again and modify the time of the notes. I gave the world’s worst and briefest explanation of what a function is and what it means to pass it variables, but he caught on with no effort. I’m very spoiled as a teacher when I set out teach him anything! He gets the idea too quickly!

Anyway, I sat up far too long that afternoon, and sadly had to leave before Replicator Wednesday kicked off. It has been nice going out into the world a bit more, this last month, more than just for the grocery store and physical therapy.

One last note: this is what happens if you leave your bike blocking the elevator at Noisebridge!!! It gets put into the E-WASTE bin!

ewaste

Followup to SF Muni bus complaint form post

As a followup to my post about public transportation complaint forms: I filed a couple of complaints to test the system. It is fairly cumbersome, so though I had resolved to report everything that was a problem, I haven’t done it. I did take a few photos of buses that I ride before I get on, and took some notes so that I have the bus numbers, but that is hard to keep up consistently. I am usually focusing on getting on the bus smoothly and I’ve had my son with me a lot so I have him to think about too. This is with riding the bus 2 to 6 times a day.

I feel a little worried about reporting on drivers who are rude or can’t operate the lift well. Those drivers will still be there every day and I will have to still see them. They don’t always have their numbers showing on their uniform sleeves. I am not sure what their reaction will be when they see me photographing the bus number.

I would estimate that about half the time I have a problem getting on the bus. Most of the time that is the driver not asking people to board or exit at the back of the bus and so there is a delay in putting down the lift. That isn’t a big deal to me unless the bus is crowded, and 20 people push on in front of me, which means I have to get past them in the aisle to get to the wheelchair seating area OR that the bus driver doesn’t want to let me on. Three times in the last week bus drivers have been reluctant to let me on, giving excuses about their shift being about to end in 10 minutes, or about the bus being too full (it wasn’t). I had to argue my way on, each time. The driver in both cases tried to convince me that another bus was “right behind them” but I could see on QuickMuni, an Android app, that the next buses were 20-30 minutes away. One time, my son and I were completely passed up, at 10pm on Mission by a #49 bus going outbound.

On the complaints I filed, I got back email responses as attachments in docx format. Here is one of them:

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July 19, 2012

Dear Liz Henry:

Thank you for taking the time to provide feedback regarding Muni.

Our goal is to provide timely, convenient and safe service, and your input is very important. Your complaints have been forwarded to Cyndia Chambers, Potrero Division Superintendent for investigation and resolution. We will strive to resolve your concern in an expedient manner. 

If you have a follow-up question regarding your report, please contact us at 415.701.5640 and refer to Passenger Service Report # 413220, 413221.

If you would like to provide additional feedback regarding Muni services, we welcome you to provide comments seven days a week, 24 hours a day via www.sfmta.com or through the 311 Customer Service Center at 311 or 415.701.2311.

Sincerely,

Maria M. Williams
Manager, Muni Customer Services
San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency

Passenger Service Report #: 413220, 413221
311 Service Request #: 1160424, 1160418

Then I got a paper copy of this letter snail mailed to me. Both letters are the same, but one is dated July 16 and the other July 19th. That seems like a lot of effort on their part to say nothing.
I don’t know what my complaints were. I don’t know what is being done. I don’t have any kind of report on data they collect, whether there are ongoing programs for improvement, and so on. I’ll try following up on one of the complaints to see what happens next in their procedure.

When I go back to the SF Muni 311 feedback page, and click on the link to check the status of a complaint I have already filed, I get an error screen. Try it and see! When I put in the complaint tracking number and my email address, I get yet another error from the Lagan self-service online government app. As with all the other error screens I’ve gotten to with San Francisco’s 311 system, there is nothing to tell me where to report the error.

If the entire procedure is this opaque and difficult to me, a privileged person with incredible access to computers and the net and a fair educational background and a lot of experience dealing with bureaucracies, how does this process look to The Average Citizen? And specifically, will it work at all for other disabled people in San Francisco who want to hold the system accountable, and contribute to improving public transport?