Four Stories

Dear J-

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We met up for dinner last night, four guys from the plant and now I understand why I keep getting emails filled with pictures from the SONGS Pit Stop reunions in Oceanside every month. These people were flesh and blood family — work family — for years and you don’t just give that up overnight, especially when you’ve worked at a place like a power plant, where you will have seen each other at less than your best (try out a rotating 12-hour shift once in a while and we’ll see how far your personal grooming takes you, and I have to say my snappy fashion sense hasn’t much improved since then, although apparently it didn’t stop two different people from propositioning me last night [1], which may just be me not looking like a cop), physically or emotionally, and I think it was best summed up as simply as: miss the people, just not the work.

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Six months gone and it was easy enough to slip into loud raucous conversation about people we know: where are they now, how are you doing, do you like what you do? Do you like it? Was it the right choice? There are a lot of potential choices [2] out there and you can’t know what was absolutely right. I lost a fair amount of sleep the first few weeks wondering if I made the wrong choice, if I’d ever be able to fit in and get along. In the end, though, I decided that I made the choice after asking the right people and ultimately, it depended on what my gut was telling me (besides run away, run away, I’m queasy, are you sure?). I don’t fault anyone for staying — at the site, with the company. I don’t know what factors led to those decisions. I wanted a choice that I knew wouldn’t make me regret having made the choice and if I’d have stayed, it would have been solely out of fear: fear of change, fear of the unknown, fear that this doesn’t last. It’s a true fear but it’s something I can control. That’s what kept me up at night: did I make the right choice? The answer is never obvious, but if I made my choice because I feared I was making the wrong choice then I already did. Grok it?

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In the end I don’t think anything has fundamentally changed in who I am, no matter what I do or where I live; I love seeing people outside of work because that confirms the people you love to hang out with at work are your friends because they’re awesome, not because you have a desk and a job for eight hours a day. I’m sure I’ll find that again, and we’re already making moves in that direction, me and my new “crew,” although I’m not sure if I can justify another night out in less than two weeks (c’mon, preseason baseball!). At the end of the night the three guys and I parted ways — they were going out with another friend from their new work and I had a train to catch [3], but I wandered off in a warm glow.

Mission Control, we have found life outside our comfort zones. Copy.

Mike

1. The place I picked, Fish & Farm, is on the edge of the Tenderloin — literally; there’s a Hilton on the east side of Taylor, full of shiny conventioneers hustling up for cabs and doormen chesty with buttons and whistles and on the west side, a line of the homeless out the door and around the block. When I got there a little early (6:15 or so) I figured I’d walk around the neighborhood and kill some time before the reservation. On Ellis a fellow in skintight clothes and a middriff-baring shirt was dancing by himself, and after he caught my eye he asked if he had a nice body, which I had to agree with — which sparked the small conversation, in passing, where he complimented my body and offered to give me his number so we could text each other. I declined, with a smile. San Francisco.

The other propositioner passed by as I was walking up Taylor — just after I’d spotted a lady with a stroller, making me think this was a family neighborhood, another lady passes by. She’s wearing a lot of makeup. A TON. We come close to each other and she raises her eyebrows: “Massage?” Maybe I read too much into that and she could see some tension in my shoulders, but I don’t think so.

2. Adam is the bartender in the lobby at the Hotel Mark Twain, serving both a lively group (six separate checks, and they questioned who got what bill) and what appeared to be a conventioneer at the other end of the bar, sipping her wine and waiting out potential conversations by aggressively eyeballing the TV, which was showing Australian Grand Prix pre-coverage and Sharks practice sessions. After his other customers cleared out we got to talking and I realized how your choices ripple out into life: he didn’t go to college, thinking that he’d just spent so long in school and now he’s been tending bar for seven years, about to turn thirty, multiple kids and wanting to change but can’t: who has the time?

I get it. That I even had a chance to reinvent myself, where we live, job, career, that’s a matter of luck and hard work and opportunities. He was excellent at what he does — I watched him mix two drinks (Wednesday night, slow night) while I was at the bar and was impressed by the flair he put into it: part entertainer, part conversationalist, all bartender. He’s got a meeting with a distiller today, which may give him an opportunity to change and I’d tell him to go for it, you take chances of course but you have to try if you want to change.

His girlfriend apparently had a offer to play ball for Cal but chose to go to San Francisco State instead; I’m not faulting that choice aside from the usual Cal-über alles mentality but again, there’s that theme of choices echoing down into today.

3. So I’m walking back to the BART station and as I approach a guy, sharp dresser, suit and tie, I can hear he’s on the phone angrily declaring to someone something; he hangs up with a stab to the screen. Which promptly makes me ask if everything is going all right tonight but no, it’s not. He spins his tale of woe: No one will stop to listen to his story and we walk on together towards BART as he’s telling it. He’s from Pasadena, driving north to Eureka but stopped in East Palo Alto for gas and got carjacked. Chevron station; big guys with revolvers and he got his wife and grandkids out of the car promptly: no one got hurt, thank God, and thanks be to LoJack, they got the car back. His family’s waiting at the 280. He’s been to travelers aid stations (at this, he brandishes a paper in his hand with a list of four indecipherable items) and no one will listen to him but I seem like a decent fellow, can I help?

So let’s get down to business. I end up giving him forty bucks for gas and a gas can, which he offers to repay when he gets back to his checkbook in Pasadena, shaking hands and telling me his name, Ronald. The story is worth the forty alone, and he sells it: the harried look, and yeah, no one is bothering to listen to what he’s saying. I’m the only one who can help and God bless, theVet has always said anyone can sell me on anything, which is true. So whether or not he sized me up and took a chance or if the story’s true or not, I believed it and don’t ask me if I checked if there were any carjackings in East Palo Alto yesterday, I don’t want to know.

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