“Take me for a ride in the car car”*

Driving in the San Francisco Bay Area is a nightmare for me.  There are very few hours in the day when the roads aren’t packed with moving vehicles.  People aren’t nice.  They all seem to be in a hurry.  If you are in their way or they perceive you as an obstacle, you’d better not be having a bad day.  You will be honked at, be given the finger and many other things that if you are thin-skinned might make you cry not to mention have severe doubts about the humanity of Californians.

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When I first moved out here in the early 70s, traffic was a breeze.  People were nice.  They might pay your way across the bridge just because.  Of course, many of us were stoned but better stoned and nice than whatever this is and frightening.

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I was driving home from Albany the other day and the traffic down Marin Avenue was slow but moving.  Someone was turning onto Marin Ave from my right.  S/he had clearly waited as long as s/he was willing to wait and turned onto Marin missing me by centimeters.  I could feel my heartbeat skyrocket.  I’m in a rental car as I don’t own a car, don’t need one in Paris. Incidents like that turn me into a person I don’t like: angry, judgmental and scared.

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When I was 16 going on 17 and learning how to drive, my father used to say to me “Sara, always drive defensively”  Being thin skinned, I thought he was criticizing me and I kept telling him I was a good driver.  I wasn’t.  I drove offensively.  I knew all the techniques for passing, driving in the snow, turning corners and did them well.  I drove like I was the only car on the road.  Now, being bullied and abused on the road here in the Bay Area, I know how absolutely correct he was.  I breath deeply.  I let anyone in who wants to go in front of me.  I stick the speed limit and pray the person tailgating me stays the one foot behind me.  I’ve noticed that I do arrive at my destination more times than not, feeling calmer.

You may be asking yourself “Why doesn’t she take public transportation?” and I’d say back to you “you clearly don’t live here or been here for any length of time”  There is very minimal public transport here in the Bay Area.  Where I live in the lower Oakland Hills, there is a bus that stops about a block away twice a day: to take children to their various schools and to bring them home.  A variety of very powerful people have been fighting building a high speed train from the Bay Area to Los Angeles, even though the money was there, successfully.  If I don’t want to drive, I call Uber or Lyft.  End of story.

Oh but I miss Paris transport.  If it’s not the best in the world, it has to be close to the best.  Where I lived on Git-le-Coeur, I was 3 blocks from the M10, 1 block from M4 and across the street from RER B and C.  I could walk across to the right bank and be at M1 and on and on. And there were sidewalks everywhere.  I could walk if I wanted.  Here there are often no sidewalks so walking puts one in the street–with those drivers I’ve been talking about.

Not only do we not have public transport, when you drive and look in other people’s cars, 80% of the cars have one person in them, the driver.  The United States has always been a car nation, the idea of the Road Trip was born here.  The suburbs as an idea became a reality when New York expanded it’s roadways and people could easily get out to Long Island.  Now to drive from Oakland to San Francisco, a trip of about 10 miles,  often takes an hour and sometimes two hours.  Two friends of mine had moved to Oakland many years ago because they could get so much more house for their money.  Two weeks ago, they announced that they were moving back into the City.  The commute was ‘killing’ them.

Well, you get the idea.  If you love driving, don’t live in the city or it’s suburbs.

A bientôt,

Sara

*song by Woody Guthrie

Happy New Year—-from Oakland, Ca.

In France, one has the entire month of January to send out New Year’s greetings.  Sending cards for the new year is popular, sending Christmas cards is not.

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So I’m wishing every one of you a wonderful 2017.  What I wish for us all is an ability to navigate our world, our politics (or their politics as the case may be) and to be the best citizen of this world that we can possibly muster without bringing in more anger, more hatred and bitterness than already exists.  It’s not a new concept but imagine if we did one good, kind deed a day and it spread like “The hundredth Monkey Phenomenon”.  Well, I’d like to imagine it!!!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hundredth_monkey_effect

Yesterday, I got on a United flight to San Francisco to return to my California home for 4 months.  I was taken by surprise in mid-December when I was told that I needed hip replacement surgery.  Actually, I was given a choice.  It seems that doctors today cannot actually say “you must have…..” without fear of litigation.  One of my choices was surgery.  I went to all my friends who have had hip or knee replacement surgery and asked them one question: “In retrospect, if you had had the surgery done when you were first told that you might need it, would you have done it?”  Without exception, they all said yes.  When I was talking to the orthopedist and he was telling me the pros and cons of cortisone shots, I asked him straight out “is there any reason to delay it?”

The answer, not so surprisingly, was “No”

So I’m scheduled for surgery in mid-February.  The curious fact about me is that I have never been in a hospital since I was born.  My father used to joke “Sara, you were born in Garfield Hospital in Washington, D.C and they immediately tore it down”.  Yes, of course, I’ve been in many doctor’s offices and had two one-hour procedures (that I can remember) but to have a serious surgery and spend the night, that has been my sister’s realm.  And to say I’m a bit anxious would be an understatement.

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View from my bedroom window

Now, the window I get to look out of is my westward-looking windows here in Oakland.  I can see the San Francisco Bay, the Bay Bridge that spans from Oakland to downtown San Francisco (4 miles) and the Golden Gate bridge.  Many evenings, there is a sunset that cannot be rivaled.

California has been suffering a terrible drought for going on six years.  There has been rain, quite a bit of rain, in the last couple of weeks.  As my Uber drove me up my street from the San Francisco airport, the landscape looked strange.  It hit me that everything was Green.  Really Green!  And because it rained on and off yesterday evening, the green was sparkling like itty bitty diamonds jumping around on leaves, on new grass. Now sixteen hours later, it is pouring cats and dogs, as we like to say in English, or I’d go outside and inspect the gardens and see all the changes.

My cat, Bijou, stayed in Paris.  She is living with a friend who has a larger apartment than I did and also has children who love cats.  When I said good bye to her on Thursday evening, everyone had a bit of a hesitant smile.  Bijou was moving around carefully, looking around each corner before she let herself into a room.  W and E looked excited but not sure how to react to her.  I taught them to clap their hands very loudly when Bijou jumps up on a counter or somewhere she shouldn’t be. As if by direction, she immediately jumped up on a kitchen counter.  I clapped very loudly, she jumped down and scampered back to the laundry room which is her temporary quarters.  Then I left and felt my heart thudding with sadness.  It didn’t seem right to make her fly two long plane flights just because I have to have surgery.

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Bijou (photo by Fatiha Antar)

Banya, on the other hand, who grew up in Oakland and moved to Paris with me is in kitty heaven.  She was an indoor/outdoor cat, became an indoor cat in Paris and never seemed to adjust.  Now she is home after a long plane ride.  She must have known she was coming home because she stayed calm and hasn’t stopped purring.

 

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I wish I had a smart closing line like Garrison Keeler and could say “and that’s the news from Oakland where all …..”  If anyone can dream up a really punchy line for me to close with, there is a small Thank You coming your way.  Until then,

A bientôt,

Sara