Infrastructure

12 October 2017

Dear J—

Guy in a Santa Cruz hoodie just walked by, looked at the destination chart, and went through the doors between cars, followed closely by a conductor. The process of buying a ticket is simple and quick, but there’s always people who don’t want to do it, I suppose. So be it. This is the whole point of infrastructure and the rules that apply.

I haven’t noticed the changes along Railroad Avenue here in San Mateo. Before you had a bunch of little operators attracted by the lower rents facing the tracks; roll-up doors were accompanied by signs that were inevitably some variant of initials and automotive or service or mechanic; now they have the cheekily-named Super Evil Megacorp and a set of identically-groomed brogrammers debating the merits of Philz or Peet’s Coffee. It’s … demand and supply, I guess. In the four years that we’ve been in this town I’ve already seen a change in the character, though, and it’s a little like what’s happened in San Francisco, isn’t it?

Mike

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Unready

9 October 2017

Dear J—

I smelled smoke this morning which was surprising by itself, though it woke all kinds of the wrong sorts of memories. This is fire season after all and as long as we’re in California, fall means fires. The Santa Ana winds (we called them Chinooks back home) come sweeping down, a bone-dry blast following the hills and fueling whatever small spark into a greater conflagration. This time, it’s not close – Napa and Sonoma Counties – but folks are being evacuated and we’re keeping an eye on things because between the smoke and the flying ash that’s just visible, you could swear it was much (much) closer.

Mike

Hungering

3 October 2017

Dear J—

On the Mondays I come home and have a great hungering for snacks, although I know it’s not the ideal, based on the concept of vanishing caloric density: you feel like what you’re eating is so insubstantial that you never get full, even after you’ve shoveled several hundred calories down your throat. I realize that I’ve been lucky enough to be able to ride more often than not which makes my burn rate high but could I get rid of this persistent small flab by reducing snacks in the afternoon too? Not eliminating – going cold turkey is a sure way to return to conspicuous acute consumption – but reducing. Limited portions. Lots more water.

I’m also interested in seeing what the new/old ice rink is like, speaking of hunger. It’s close enough to bike to, which is almost as good as the rink that was across the street when I was in Boston, and I’d go there every lunch in lieu of eating.

Mike

Quiet Time

2 October 2017

Dear J—

In some of these days, in some of these ways, we have quiet periods of reflection before various storms erupt; I keep telling myself that this is the week, the day, the hour, the very minute that changes everything and yet … nothing. I get to work, I decide to take a little break from the reality of everything and before you know it I’m stuck and done for now, having already frittered away half the day on something nonproductive (but boy, has that Douglas Tilden article improved, hasn’t it? Or the Vaillancourt Fountain? Or … ?)

I love learning, but the small things I can be doing are much more substantial than just educating the world in how to use the various vintage news searches. The drama that begins isn’t nearly enough to sway my head lately, and that’s the real problem; if there’s a thousand punitive misdemeanors that I should be feeling instead, but no, there’s only the dreams of children slowly crushed as parked and waiting.

Mike

Familiar and Not

29 September 2017

Dear J—

This feeling and memory – boarding the train, tying the bike onto the rack, and then sitting down to write – it is at once familiar and distant. It’s how I spent most of the first year on the train commute before I worked up the gumption / courage to actually speak with the other riders and it was a fruitful time, though one marked perhaps with some more loneliness than I’d have liked to admit. I miss my morning friends and the social aspect of talking about the night’s events, or did-you-see-the-game.

Paraphrased, Capa said that if the picture isn’t good, it’s because you’re not close enough and that fits in to so many different aspects of life, from photography to our social networks. You can follow as many people as you want, as long as you actually follow what they’re doing, at least closely enough that you are familiar with the little aspects of lives.

Mike

Get It Done

27 September 2017

Dear J—

Where I used to work we had a group called EWIN; nuclear plants are fond of their acronyms and that one was Engineering Work-It-Now, and they were a crack team of engineers and designers who got little fix-it projects implemented. In procurement engineering, we worked with them quite a bit as there were a ton of rapid responses required for obsolete parts and what’s-in-the-warehouse-that-we-can-use questions. I think about them sometimes when I’m mired in long-term projects that require more than a week of attention.

On the other hand, I’m able to get things done soone enough this week, so far, and I’m confident I’ll be able to keep it up and finish what I said I would. The work will not wait for my schedule, will it?

Mike

Durable Routine

26 September 2017

Dear J—

It’s funny, no matter how much of a habit you think you have engrained or process or route or procedure, there’s always an opportunity to switch it up. Case in point: whereas on most Tuesdays I’d be chatting with the folks who come through on the same train as me, Pete and Nirav, today it’s just me and the guy who calls me bud at Burlingame station, and I don’t talk to him. Not that he doesn’t seem like a nice guy, it’s just … well, I don’t. But meanwhile that’s that: the routine of weeks upon months upon years, blown up by happenstance.

I begin to realize how fragile our health is and what needs to be done before we become too ready to dismiss those who would try to help us out. Meanwhile … there’s a lot remaining that has yet to be done and not enough time to do it; you can put off certain things for only so long before it all comes due, and that the routine is broken actually isn’t a bad thing at all: it means that I don’t have to be stuck doing the wrong things all morning.

Mike

Recap

25 September 2017

Dear J—

So what does that mean? Another weekend spent not doing precisely what you wanted? The reality of having to get out of the house every so often means that we’re not going to do everything exactly the way I want it, so can we just spend that being decent to each other instead of pitching a fit (and teaching each other that’s how we solve issues)? If and when you are disappointed – and you will be, sooner or later– at least you can honestly say that you had a decent interaction. Nope, instead, with the cold shouldering and crying and anger that’s what you’ve taught them is effective, and the immediate move to placate, the warning that we’ve got to do something makes me wonder what lessons have been imparted and if it’s too late to change. 

I could also talk about all the things I meant to do last week and compare it with the list of things I actually got done for a laugh – a sad, ironic sort of laugh to amp up the guilt, that is. One thing is cemented, though: after a weekend of sports uprisings in politics, as it were, it’s clear to me the Pittsburgh Penguins aren’t interested in the near-uniform resistance.

Mike

Driver

20 September 2017

Dear J—

I can count the number of times I’ve driven to work on one hand, which is more about me being selfish than good, as I suppose it would have been much easier if I had done this in a more thoughtful manner: maybe I need a car to do ___ at work, although often, filling in that blank means “go to lunch” or “buy something that I don’t need” so let’s not, all right?

I need to remember that there’s lots of people who don’t have the luxury of time to spend off and out of traffic. It is still a fabulous, charmed life and I should act like that, shouldn’t I?

Mike

San Francisco

18 September 2017

Dear J—

My earliest memories of San Francisco are from a trip we took when I was fourteen; my dad was having a college reunion and it was a big deal: weeklong tour of the City, harbor cruise, dinners, and awkward early-teen flirting with other kids who somehow had the same hair and coloration and eyes as me (you remember that Cheney, according to the 1990 census, was 95% Caucasian, J—?) which was enough of a shocking revelation.

I’m sure we went before 1989, though; we would have gone to visit California before then, and no trip would be complete without a visit to Chinatown. With the store, there was no place we went without checking out their Chinatown; I still have vague memories of the Hinode tofu factory (in Fremont?) and watching those cakes come off the line, my parents somehow convincing them that the five or so tubs we moved a week was worth giving us a tour.

Meanwhile I’m trying to work up the courage/excuse to go back again, so soon after I went the last time: I need to walk around the Chinatown there; I need to walk through Vaillancourt Fountain, with its white noise and baptismal sprays; I want to remember what it was and where it was I fell in love with the City, nearly thirty years ago and why, as well: why that one and not another, and whether that particular magic has disappeared or not.

Mike