Sunday, February 27, 2011

Of Magic 8 Balls and the Oscars

Remember those Magic 8 Balls -- the Mattel toy that pretended to tell the future? You would ask a yes-or-no question, turn the ball in your hand and peek in the cloudy window to see your answer. Usually, the answer made no sense whatsoever.

Magic 8 Balls were developed in 1950. They are out, over, now merely nostalgic souvenirs, sometimes found in retro shops. I haven't used one in years. Now, late at night,  I sit at the computer and ask Google, “What’s the best way to get to the San Francisco airport?”

(Yes, this is crazy – but not as crazy as when I used to type, “When will the condo sell?” And “Where will I find an apartment I can afford?” And “Will the condo sell soon?)

In its way, Google is no more satisfying than the Magic 8 Ball. Does it tell me whether I should book a taxi, reserve a spot on a shuttle, drive my own car or take BART to the airport? No.

I know from experience that taxis do not always come when called. (See the Sept. 24 post.) On Yelp, I found reviews dissing every airport shuttle service in town, complaining about being stranded completely or, worse, being picked up on time but making so many stops en route to the airport that people missed their flights. Also, apparently no airport shuttle companies in town actually answer their phones.

If I drive myself – and I do trust me to leave home on time, park and make the flight – I am worried that when I get back home a couple days later, there will be no place to park my car. (See the July 21 post.) And I really don’t want to drag my bag and haul my backpack on two buses and BART.  I love riding the Muni when I’m out playing or even going to appointments, but making my way to the airport on public transportation right now sounds like a drag.

Is money an issue? Yes. And no. A taxi one way will be $40-$45. A shuttle will cost $17 plus tip one way. Driving and parking will be about $70 total. Public transportation would cost $10 round trip. I’m careful about my money, especially now that Lee Enterprises (publisher of the Post-Dispatch) helps themselves to half my pension each month as payment for health insurance I was promised would be free for life. (My life, not the life of Lee’s tolerance for unions.) But I also am willing to pay for convenience, especially when traveling.

“You’re over-thinking this,” says my son. Yep. That’s how I survive. I over-think and then make a decision and move on to the next problem to be solved. I’ve been taking good care of myself since I got divorced in 1980, and I don't apologize for my methods.   

Skipping merrily off to another topic here, I do apologize for setting aside this evening to watch the 83rd Academy Awards. Thirty minutes in, shortly after the excellent Morgan Freeman’s part of the show was over, I declared on Facebook that the show sucked. Somehow it got worse as the evening went on. And then even worse.

I played a few Scrabble games on line, tried to keep myself from being drawn in to the hideously depressing world and national news in the New York Times and chatted with a friend. Okay, I also looked up more reviews of airport shuttles.

Fast-forwarding through the Oscars show, I did find myself transfixed a time or two by the statue itself because earlier this week I met two actual Oscar winners. On the mantel in their living room were two Oscars and two Emmys. Ever cool and sophisticated, when I saw the statues, I blurted, “Wow! I’m looking at Oscars and Emmys!”

The occasion, part of an incredibly kind and generous “Introduce Pat to Our Friends” project undertaken by old friend Nancy and new friend Betty-Lou, was a visit to the home of two extraordinary people, gifted filmmakers and bright, fun individuals. We sat in their kitchen, drinking tea and nibbling on outstanding fig bread and cookies, talking for hours about our lives, movies, our kids, theater, our health problems, and books.

We laughed a lot, too, most unexpectedly when I mentioned my cat. Suddenly, the couple’s two dogs raced for the back door, barking and snarling and ready to protect their property from any marauding felines. I once had a dog that knew the words “bye-bye” and “walk,” but these dogs heard “cat” and went wild. When I realized what I had said, I immediately began to refer to the cat as an iguana, an elephant, even an okapi, in hopes of calming the dogs.

Anyway, it was a wonderful afternoon of leisure and delight that nicely leavened a week otherwise full of work -- and wondering how best to get to the airport. It’s just a transportation detail. I’ll get there.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A Play Date on Saturday

Saturday morning showed up clear, sunny and warm, so I hopped in the car at 10:30 and didn’t get home until close to 5 p.m. Where did I go? Everywhere – a mountain, a forest and a seaside town. All in a day.

That’s no miracle – here, it’s typical.

I look at Mount Tamalpais every day, as it is north of my wall of windows. Mt. Tam – whose profile is said to resemble a sleeping Indian maiden -- is 34 miles from San Francisco, in Marin County. The highest point is 2,571 feet. You may walk up, bike up or (thank goodness) drive right to the top. I headed for the East Peak Visitors Center, driving up a road that twists and turns for more than 10 miles at a time through redwood groves and oak woodlands.

At the top, I put on my hat, bought some fruit and nuts at a small snack bar and headed off on a paved .07-mile path marked accessible for wheelchairs. It was, but I quickly discovered that I was not entirely comfortable walking where no rail separated me from the steep drop-off. Halfway along, I sat down on a comfortable wooden bench and breathed in the beautiful day. 

Graceful turkey vultures and huge ravens soared below me. I pondered how small, how like a toy, the magnificent city of San Francisco appeared. The island of Alcatraz looked as though it were idling momentarily, and would head out under full steam any minute. On the trail once again, I watched a man teach another man the sport of rock climbing. I eavesdropped as a little boy (maybe 4) told his sister (maybe 6) that he, too, would learn rock climbing when he is bigger and stronger.

Only one spot along the trail was windy, and buena vistas surrounded me: Mount Diablo to the east, the Farallon Islands to the west, my home to the south and more of Marin County to the north. I didn’t know to look for this, but I learned later that sometimes you can see the snow-covered Sierra Nevada mountains, some 150 miles away.

Driving back down the mountain, I saw a sign for Bolinas. I headed west, driving through silent stands of redwoods and along rolling hills decorated randomly with carpets of purple flowers. Bolinas is a seaside town of about 1,500 and the adjacent estuary laps quietly above the San Andreas Fault. The people there are described as “independent,” and they have exercised their independence by removing all signs that tell how to reach the town.

I found it, only because Charlie and I had visited Bolinas a year or more ago. I parked and strolled down the street to the edge of the land, where kids and dogs splashed in the surf and people my age sat on benches staring out to sea, enjoying the day. On the way back to the two-block-long business district, l passed an art gallery, a museum and a shop that sold locally made cotton socks and plenty of items from Thailand and Nepal. 

Hungry, I took an outside table at the Coast Café, across the street from a 100-year-old saloon and hotel established in 1851. In some ways, the café seems lost in time, with stained oilcloth covering the tiny tables. The menu, however, is completely up to date, and emphasizes local produce. I ordered an omelet made with fresh local mushrooms, cheese and scallions. Then I settled in to watch people passing by – lots of people with young kids (one mom was barefoot, which didn’t look comfortable), lots of Serious Bikers in Serious Spandex, a handful of older folks.

Waiting for lunch, I glanced through the wooden trellis just to the left of my table. The trellis partly obscured a public altar to Yemanja, a goddess of the sea and an old friend of mine. Coins had been left on the altar. Everyone passing by was going along with the “Respect This Space” sign until a young couple plopped their crying baby on the altar and started rummaging through a cloth bag. I was worried that a diaper change was in the offing, but they simply retrieved a bottle and moved on. In some incarnations, Yemanja also is a protector of children, but still…

Walking to the car after my late lunch, I saw this sign: “Open Studio – Welcome.” Tucked back off the street was the door to Emmeline Craig’s one-room abode that serves as her home and her studio. A watercolorist, Craig is from Provence, France. She paints Provence but also Bolinas, where she has lived for 10 years. Her work is beautiful -- check it out at

Driving home, I passed though tiny Stinson Beach (half the size of Bolinas), waved at The Sand Dollar (where Beth and I had lunch last year), and caught glimpses of the sun sparkling on the sea. Mostly, I kept my eyes on the twisty, winding road, much like the one I took earlier in the day. What a grand Saturday!