Uber Alles

This one time, before I had Uber, I am in San Francisco and I want to go to a fabric store and I don’t have a way to get there.
So I decide to get off my high, high anti-Uber high-horse and download the app.
I arrange a ride to the fabric store from my hotel. I’m into it. The app is like a game, with a map and a tiny car you can see arriving, When I step to the curb in front of the hotel, I look up to see the driver, J– driving by, his head and elbow out the window, calling, “Hey, Maggie. I’ll pick you up right there. Lemme turn around.”
I ask to sit in the front, explaining that I get carsick.
J– playing serious hits of the late 70s and early 80s including Billy Joel and he smells of weed.
This other time, when I was in Seattle, I got the best haircut of the last few years and when I was done and trying to change out of the little kimono they give you to wear when they’re coloring your hair, but someone was in the bathroom and taking for-fricking-ever and when he came out he reeked of pot, I mean reeked, and I was like, oh, ok, that’s legal here now, but, like, seriously, wait a minute, because scissors are heavy machinery, right, and I have an expectation of sitting down in a salon and having a sober person do my fucking hair, right? 
So I started thinking that everyone in Seattle was going to have to deal with a period of adjustment and bad haircuts as they adapt to having legal weed, and I felt a little sorry for all those people walking around with bad haircuts. Maybe they’d all be stoned, too, so they’ll all chuckle and be, like, whatever.
So anyway I didn’t even need to go to the fabric store in San Francisco at all, really; it was just one of those things that I do when I’m in a place with an afternoon to kill, go to a cool fabric store. I went to the fabric store in Hawaii once and it was full of Japanese fabrics priced like the American-made ones and I was so new to the quilting thing that it didn’t mean anything to me, but, in retrospect, I should have bought a lot of it because Japanese fabric is twice as expensive in the rest of the U.S.
Little stores like small fabric stores are the kind of thing you really have to check to see if they’re open, especially in like New York where shopkeepers seem only vaguely aware that oh, people might want to know some shit about a store, like where it is and when it’s open, and the internet would be a place to put that information. But, like, you know, I was in San Francisco, where they practically invented having the Internet to do more things than email. So, I assumed.
So I get picked up by J** my Uber guy who smells just a wee bit like weed and I ask to sit in the front because I get carsick. Straight away, I ask him how he likes being a Uber driver. He tells me he loves it. “How long have you been doing it,” I ask.
“About four months.”
“And what did you do before?”
“Drove a limo for six years. This is much better.”
That settled, we headed to the Upper Richmond.
We talk about race relations in the U.S., and gay marriage, and progress. He refers to “his generation” saying that he was born in 1968, and I wonder which generation he believed me to be a part of, since I was born just a couple years before that. But I don’t ask. My mother comes up, and I talk about her like she’s alive. I like talking to strangers, and I especially like telling lies to strangers. Like if I tell them the whole truth they can steal my identity or cast a spell and give me whammies.
The best thing that J— says is this: “I always say, life is like 1% what happens to you, and 99% how you handle it.”
When we get to the fabric store, J__ says it looks closed. It is closed. I tell him that’s ok, but I’ll walk around the neighborhood anyway. I am disappointed. It was supposed to be so cool. I go next door and try on some jeans.

Then I walk around the neighborhood for a while and drink a Mexican chocolate mocha with a tiny bit of cinnamon on top. There is a guy in there loudly FaceTiming, his babby and nanny nearby. As he leaves I see he has a chain on his wallet. I didn’t know guys still did that.
When I get the email from Uber confirming the payment, I accidentally give the guy, J~~ 4 stars instead of 5. I feel a little bit funny about that now. Are you just always supposed to give 5 stars? Is it like one of those things with the car dealer, where if you can’t give five stars they will call you and ask what they can do to improve their service? Is he going to know and rate me poorly as a customer, and am I going to have trouble getting Uber cars in the future because the very first guy I ever had thought I was a bitch for giving him only 4 stars? I might have to give up Uber and try Lyft.
Oh, wait, but I forgot the best part. After I tried on some jeans at a store near the fabric store that wasn’t open, I went next door and bought some charming and snarky hipster greeting cards with the f-word on them. They had stacks of ironic t-shirts, and real metal Slinkies. There, a quiet, reserved guy sat behind the counter and mildly murmured an encouragement about my jokes, but I’m pretty sure he had a wilder side, because he was playing the Dead Kennedys, “CaliforniaÜber Alles.”

What Sun-Faded Signs Don’t Say

They stood together, angled to enclose me like a pair of blonde parentheses. “We feel like we know how great you’re doing because we see you on Facebook,” said one.
“I look at all your pictures,” said the other.
I wanted to tell them the verb people use for that is “creeping,” as in, “I creep on all your pictures.” I didn’t. I wanted to tell the other one that what people see on Facebook is only the good stuff. Facebook is for graduations, job promotions, new babies, softball tournaments. Facebook is not for rehab, dropping out of school, cancer scares, incompetent bosses. It’s like a roster of all the delicious desserts you’ve gotten to eat, and none of the disappointing frozen dinners.
By way of being honest with old friends, I said, “My constant presence on social media is a reflection of my loneliness and isolation.”
This elicited light laughter. It wasn’t unsympathetic laughter. It was appreciative, and only a little uncomfortable.

My husband and I had come a long way, back from New York, for the wedding of a mutual friend. Since we moved from Seattle, our friend had bought a farm, moved her business there, and rescued a bunch of animals. Now she was getting married, having planned a big wedding, marrying her best friend of a number of years. It was a circus-themed affair, and because of who it was, we weren’t scared away by a circus-themed wedding. Maybe somewhat hesitant, but we were going anyway.
Getting to Vashon Island had included a ferry ride from West Seattle. Our morning had been gobbled up settling a monetary crisis for another friend, but we had thought we had enough time to park, walk on the ferry and be met by the shuttle bus. The Washington State Ferry system is a glorious relic of the days when government was big and had an important role in getting people and goods from place to place. People voted for that, and paid for it with their taxes. The white and green-trimmed ferries are huge, with several decks for cars and trucks and other decks for passengers. There is never enough parking at the smaller, neighborhood ferry terminals, but we followed the lead of other cars parked on the street. Though the neat, small clapboard houses near Fauntleroy Dock look just like the rest of West Seattle, the streets are painted with special striping, and the street signs erupt with multiple placards of all sizes and colors, facing the street in erratic angles. The signs we could see and read described the many times that parking was not allowed, during the week, overnight, but we felt we’d found legal parking for the day.

After a short wait in the small terminal, we bought two $5.20 tickets and walked on. We climbed the stairs to the front of the ferry to spend our short crossing as we knew we had always loved to: in the wind and sun.  It was so much as it had always been, engines thrumming, waves slapping, gulls circling that we had not so much a sense of nostalgia but one of stasis, that Seattle was unchanged and unchanging.
The gloss on our feeling of expertise dulled when we walked off the ferry and saw no shuttles anywhere. We wandered around for a bit, and the Bacon Provider called for a cab. Vashon Island isn’t really the kind of a place with cabs per se. There was just a guy you could call, his name was on the Internet, and he’d send someone to get you. Our driver refused to charge us the agreed-upon $25 fare, accepting only $15, but taking the $20 offered her anyway.
So we were late to the wedding, though we didn’t feel late, but we missed the ceremony in the mossy, wooded grove of giant Douglas firs where the beloved old dog was buried, and missed the entrance of the bride on horseback. So be it. We were greeted first by one old friend, and then another. People were happy to see us, asked after the kids. It was easy and pleasant.

The farm is wooded and lush, presided over by tall firs and carpeted in moss and ferns. There is a trim house and neat barn and the circus-themed decorations were joyous rather than jarring. There were too many people to catch up with and not enough time. I spoke to the pair of blondes, toured the property with another friend. Someone mentioned a small nugget of real gossip, but then explained to me, in a whisper, “Another time, over a beer.” It was as close as I came to a real conversation, and it ended as soon as it started.

After the trapeze act finished, the dancing began with a samba dancer wearing a tiny costume consisting of three green sequins working the room. Then, the whole barn crowd from our Seattle years reassembled outside for a group photo. After the photo, one of the blondes confronted me again, this time with the question, “So do you miss Seattle?”
Looking away I said, “Almost every day.”
“What do you miss the most?” she pressed.
I did not answer her.
Later, when we got off the ferry, our rental car was still there, but it had a parking ticket on it. Apparently one of the illegible, sun-faded signs said, “No Parking Weekends or Holidays.” The ticket was $47. We saw it and both laughed: cheap parking by New York City standards.

Half Japanese

On the left is a weekender’s house, like a tree-house built on piers and usually seems empty. Their grass is mowed infrequently and mostly has tassels on top. Parked on the driveway and shrouded in a car cover is one of those mini-SUVs that are popular in Westchester.  On the right is the colonial, like a life-size doll-house, with a pool and a two-car garage and two girls in the local school. Their grass is short and plush and uniform like a golf course.  Our grass is tended to by a team hired by the landlords, and is a mixture of manicured and wild.
A few weeks back we woke up to a hot, humid morning and it quickly went from “too hot” to “much too hot” to the kind of hot that elicits groans. The dogs were walked perfunctorily, up the driveway past the doll-house and the tree-house and down the driveway again. It was the birthday of the youngest boy, and a not insignificant one at 15. He had planned his camp sessions around being home for this birthday. What did he ask for? Not a thing. He was asked and again and again, before, during and after his trip to camp, and his answer was always, “I’ll think about it.”
Azuma Sushi in Hartsdale
In the end, we had a quiet day, to the extent that an afternoon punctuated by a thunderstorm is quiet, and a bustling early evening: losing internet when it was most needed for research, racing to the art supply store 40 minutes away before they closed, almost running out of gas, finding a gas station where none of the pumps worked, picking up the Medium Cheese at a Different train station, circling round and round in a vain effort to park, having to call the restaurant to let them know we’d be late. Finding good food near North Dreadful sometimes means compromising on either proximity or quality, and on birthdays that seems unfair. So we put on smiles when we sat down for sushi in Hartsdale.
Back in the 80s when we lived in Burlington, Vermont, we ate at Sakura on Church Street almost once a week. Before then, neither of us had ever had sushi, but a friend worked there who taught us what to eat and how to eat it. Since then, we typically find a favorite sushi place wherever we live, and eat there regularly.
In Seattle it was Aoki, at the top of Broadway. Of course there is the over-the-top Nishino on Madison for special occasions, but for the weekly Japanese food feed we preferred Aoki. The very first time we ate there, it was a hot summer day in Seattle and we were looking for cold air-conditioning.  Aoki has some decorating quirks, including benches that seem to be made from sample pieces of laminate and a framed rising sun flag.  Sometimes we would surprise them by showing up with extra people or with fewer when kids went off to college, but they always recognized us and greeted us warmly.
Last summer in mid-town we ate at a couple of different sushi places, finally settling on one where the giggly wait-staff summoned up the courage after a great deal of consultation with her co-workers to ask one of us if he was half-Japanese.

We order a lot of food when we go, and we eat it all.  My favorite sushi story of all though involves the time the Medium Cheese and his not-half-Japanese son went to sushi while the rest of us were out of town. They ordered all the usual things, in all the usual quantities, and realized, as they struggled to finish, that the two of them together had eaten as much as they normally eat with two or three more people helping.

Another Day

Two weeks ago, news of my husband’s resignation from Microsoft came from Brier Dudley’s article in the Seattle Times, and included correct and incomplete information about what he is doing next. Yes, he has accepted a new job. No, it is not in Seattle. No, it is not at a start-up. No, it is not in California.  The job is in New York City.

Some of my friends are disappointed we are not moving to California. Before we lived here we lived in California, and we loved it. What’s not to love? A thousand miles of beaches? Nicer produce in an average Safeway than is available anywhere in Missouri? Yeah, yeah, earthquakes blah blah blah, mudslides blah blah, wildfires blah blah. I have reasons to admire San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento and Los Angeles.  I think the people who have that mentality that “Northern California is great but Southern California isn’t” need to go find someone to argue about Klingon grammar with and stay the hell away from me. Oh, yes and they have traffic but you can’t name a real city that doesn’t have traffic.  
Given what Otto has done in his career, we were right in assuming we’d be moving back to California.  It just happens that we’re not. 

Despite an endless, damp, gray 50F degree winter in Seattle this year, I have few complaints.  We raised three kids here. We learned to ride horses here. We enjoyed a ridiculous amount of great music here. We lived on the very best street in the whole entire city, walking distance to four great restaurants.  We made some incredible friends here.

Of all the many places I thought I might live someday, New York was not one of them.  Nineteen years ago, I would have said the same thing about Seattle. Twenty-seven years ago I would have said the same thing about Salt Lake City.  

Bad Neighbors

I am a bad neighbor. Before we left for Hawaii I realized should have cut the grass.  Seattle has two seasons: Wet and Dry. The Season Dry in Seattle is three months long, and if you time it properly you can get away with mowing your grass only once a month or so. By mid-September it will be thoroughly yellow and dormant.   October will be punctuated by the raking of wet leaves which will continue until mid-November. Until mid-March you should be able to get away without cutting your grass, but once April is in full swing, there will be a new crop of dandelions and moss to deal with.
We got back Wednesday, and Thursday I cut the grass in the rain. My husband asked me why I did not check the weather forecast before starting, but he does not cut the grass and so does not understand that waiting for a nice day means waiting until July. He helps with yard work if he comes home while I am still doing it and I have not yet finished. He is much better at yard work than I am, having infinitely more patience for proper sweeping and thorough raking.  He also does not succumb to fits of giving up like I do.
People walk around in this neighborhood, and sometimes I have to talk to people while I am doing yard work. Usually, I pretend that I cannot hear them saying hello.  Sometimes they can tell I can hear them. Also, sometimes people will say things like, “Nice job,” which I believe I am supposed to be gracious about.  If I cannot muster a real “Thank you,” I give them the bright-eyed, pissed-off grin for which both my older brother and I are famous.  Once, a yard crew made the mistake of telling me that they’re hiring.
Thursday, I found that while we were gone, the neighbors’ dogs have been pooing in our front yard. Evidence includes small assaults from the white dog to the north and epic bombings from the enormous St. Galumphin three doors to the south. In both cases, the dogs are walked by teenagers who carry neither a bag nor a leash. The white dog to the north belongs to a family with a single dad  so I cut him plenty of slack. The St. Galumphin is the first dog the neighbors to the south have ever owned, and somehow they still do not know that when you have a 700 pound dog, it makes poos of a note-worthy size. Or maybe they do know.
When I was a kid, we lived in a suburban sub-division with a triangular traffic island directly across from our house.  People used to let their dogs poo there, and my dad and brother liked to play catch from the island to our yard. I once heard my father tell a neighbor that if he let his dog poo there again he would “come and shit in your yard.”  I think he would have done it, too.
I can take a bit of dried poo, I guess, in comparison to the much more horrifying situation with our immediate neighbor to the north. While we have lived in our house since 1994, she has lived in hers since the early 1970s. A widow who lives alone, this neighbor is someone I actively avoid running into outside. A good neighbor would know her comings and goings, and check on her from time to time, rather than wondering silently why her house was dark for a few months this winter.
Our houses, built starting in 1909, are about 12 feet apart, and three stories high. This is typical of Capitol Hill. Homeowners get to choose between being able to see into each others’ homes year-round, keeping their curtains closed, or planting something tall and skinny that can grow with virtually no sunlight.  It turns out that a Washington native species, the vine maple, is perfectly suited to this job. Multi-trunked and skinny, these understory forest dwellers do just fine in the narrow, dark alleys formed by tall, closely-set houses. We have four on one side of the house and four on the other.
My neighbor believes that these trees are an invasive species.
Every time I see her, her voice rises higher and higher as she explains that the roots are taking over and killing all her grass, that the trees are not trees at all, they are vines, sending runners. They are bringing insects into her home, leaves into her gutters, and she really needs me to remove them.
I have tried to explain that they are trees, not vines, and that we like them, and that we will happily cut back any limbs that are too close to her house. I am willing to help pay for the leaves to be cleaned out of her gutters. Once a year I have a tree guy who trims our monstrous laurel hedge and removes any offending vine maple limbs, and every year he, too, has to have this same the same conversation with her.
The neighbor’s adult son supervises the care of her yard. He has two young boys, who were taught to push the gas-powered lawn mower just as soon as they were tall enough to reach the handle. I cannot bear to watch, only able to block out the vision of the bleeding, footless child from my brain by pretending I do not know what is going on. The neighbor’s son also regularly prunes her enormous and beautiful hydrangeas to a mere cluster of sticks, and they manage to rally every August. Once a year, he will treat her lawn with a moss-killing compound, which turns her yard a startling shade of black for a number of weeks. While we were in Hawaii, the new spring crop of broadleaf weeds (like dandelions) emerged. I have a cool tool that you use to pull them out without bending over. The neighbor’s son seems to have sprayed their weeds with weed killer, for they have turned a strange purplish gray.
If you walk three houses down, slightly down hill to the end of the block, there is a storm drain. You can see the faint outline of a salmon painted on the pavement, with the words “Dump no Waste Drains to Lake.” All the moss-killer and Round-Up washes here, where it travels through the ravine near my house, and does indeed end up in Portage Bay. I guess some of it also sticks to the paws of the dogs to the north and south of us who poop regularly in her yard. I do not ever let my dogs out in front of the house anymore, but that is another story.


There is fresh dog-doo in my front yard.  It is close enough to the sidewalk that it might have been deposited there by a dog on a leash.  Given what I have seen of the white dogs that live two houses down and across the street, I will assume this poo was not deposited by a supervised dog.  This brings me to the subject of the sign across the street.

The sign itself is smaller than a sheet of notebook paper. It is mounted on a stick so that it rises just a few inches above the grass. It is wordless. Wordless signs are excellent for very small children and international travellers, but are no more meaningful for dogs than signs with words. Only the most vivid imagination would lead a person to think a sign could discourage a dog from pooping on that particular grassy spot. Furthermore, the presence of something unusual on this patch of lawn might even increase the odds that a dog linger there and add a few new drops of pee before moving on.

Assuming this is a rational neighbor, we can only guess that he believes the person walking the dog would see the sign and intervene before the dog defecates in that spot. For some dogs, a simple tug might communicate the message “this is not where you should poop.” For other dogs, a simple tug, a furious yank, a loud scream and full body tackle would not interrupt the imminent arrival of dog doo. Sled dogs can actually relieve themselves at a dead run. 

Another set of signs on another street adorn the bushes of the parking strip. On one end is a water-damaged laminated card attached by a wire twist-tie encouraging dog owners to have their dogs pee elsewhere, with, “PLEASE: NO PEE IT KILLS US! THANKS!” At the other end of the bushes is a matching sign, and behind it hangs the weather-faded head of a Dora the Explorer piñata.  Dora’s face has another warning attached: “PLEASE NO PEE! IT KILLS PLANTS.”  

I have met the owner of this home. She claims that she has a dog, although I haven’t seen it. She clearly does not understand that a male dog will urinate on almost everything outdoors that is lower than the height of his pelvis, and that once any dog has dropped even a few drops of urine in that spot, every other dog will similarly leave his calling card there as well. Adding signs may actually only serve to slow down the human holding the leash, encouraging a larger than normal deposit.

In both cases, these homeowners live on desirable streets of beautiful classic older homes. In both cases the homeowners are frustrated by what dogs can do to their plants. In the case of the woman with the piñata head hanging in front of her house, I think she has more problems than an ailing boxwood hedge. In the case of the homeowner across the street from me, I think he can take down his sign and go have a word with the his next-door neighbor.  This neighbor owns a small white dog that is seen regularly out on the block, no leash or human in sight. 

Parking Meters and the Window You Shouldn’t Open

The city of Seattle installed its first parking meters downtown in 1942. By the end of 2005, the city was about half-way finished switching from normal, old-fashioned stand-alone meters to high-tech kiosks.  I was quite surprised to see the same kiosks near Venice in Italy when I was there a few years ago.
The new kiosk takes coins or credit cards, which is very convenient when the kiosk actually works. Some seem to suffer from vandalism. Others seem like they don’t get enough sunlight on their solar panels to function properly.  You tell the machine how many minutes you want by hitting the “Add More Time” button or the “Max Time” button, but the machine feels a bit like it’s just not going to work every single time you use one.  Once, the “Add More Time” button was so laggy that I added way too much time and had to cancel and start over.   When a unit is really not working correctly, you get a strange error message like, “Card Unreadable,” or “Bank Unavailable.”  Every step of the process seems to take at least twice as long as it should. Worst of all, I’ve paid and had no sticker come out.  The point of the transaction is to get a sticker, which is printed with the time the parking expires.
Sometimes, when people leave before using up all the minutes they have paid for, they will stick their ticket back onto the kiosk. Once or twice I have driven to another park of the city and been able to use the rest of my time. Drivers are supposed to display the sticker on the inside of the passenger side window. 

I drive a 2002 BMW wagon, with about 130,000 miles on it. I bought it new, and I am responsible for putting essentially all of those miles on the car. Typically, my passengers have been some combination of my three children, all boys, now 20, 17 and 13, and my dogs.  This car is my favorite car ever, and even though I bitch and moan every time it needs another $1100 brake job, I love how it drives.
If you are familiar with Seattle at all, you know that it is a dependably wet and muddy place in all but the months of July, August and September. If you have experienced children, you know that they are mud magnets who climb into the car, touch every surface with their dirtiest appendage, wrestle into place and then swing their feet until arrival, depositing a maximal amount of dirt onto the door, seat-back, seat and carpet. Dogs do all of these things and also touch the windows with their open mouths.  It rains too much in Seattle to keep the outside of a car clean. And it rains too much in Seattle to keep the inside of a car clean. But life is not for keeping one’s car clean, as far as I’m concerned.
If you ever come for a ride in my car, I will not let you open the passenger window. It is not because the window will not open. It is because someone along the way opened the window with a parking sticker still attached. Down went the window with the sticker, and when it came back up, the sticker was stuck inside the door. Now when you close the window, it comes up very, very slowly, as if this time might be the very last time it is able to close. If a brake job for the BMW is $1100, how much do you think it will be to dismantle the door and get that sticker? I don’t want to find out.