Tuesday, April 15, 2008

No Torch Hide & Seek

The Olympic Torch was in San Francisco in 1960. I guess that the leaders of Squaw Valley, CA wasn't as mired in human rights controversies as the current leaders in Beijing.

Thanks to our friend the Super Fabulous Pretty Librarian (SFPL) for the photo!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Globalization, Irony, Passion

The Olympic Torch was carried through SF yesterday, not without controversy or irony. I went down to the ballpark to shoot some video - see it here.

What really struck me was the enormous gap in thinking between the Pro-Chinese and other protesters (Darfur, Burma, Tibet, Human Rights, etc. etc.) When I talked to a few of the Chinese (who had enormous red flags), they universally expressed these thoughts:

1. The Dalai Lama is a liar and is using naive westerners to make China look bad. (Nobody could explain why.)
2. Tibetans are better off under Chinese rule.
3. The Western media is biased against the Chinese, and westerners are naive for believing what we're told. (Given the ridiculous television coverage of the protests, I kind of agree with the latter statement.)
4. The Chinese do have free speech, but they don't need it because all is well in China and they're better off than they used to be.

Nobody that I talked to seemed to have any clue about why the Darfur people were protesting. One man did say, "Darfur is a liar."

Globalization isn't going to bridge vast cultural differences. It will make a lot of money for a few people though.

Natch, there were a few moments of humor. I especially liked these kids.

Like I said, the day was not without irony.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Teen Jesus

When I saw these excellent Holy Family figurines at Community Thrift yesterday, I started to think about what kind of teen Jesus would have been. My friend Mary Jennifer Hewett tells me that there's a story about teen Jesus acting up in a temple or something. I haven't heard it, but it sounds about right.

Here are Teen Jesus and his parents at the Sunday afternoon wine tasting at Castro Village Wine Shop.

I like thinking about what Teen Jesus is saying:
"Shut up, Joseph. You're not even my real father."
"Sure you like that Downing Family Zin, but it's not like it's imbued with the Holy Spirit."
"Can we go now."

Look for more Teen Jesus in upcoming entries.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Passing Through the City

When I decided to start walking to work every morning, one of my main concerns was what would happen to my blog. Initially, it was a vessel for my complaints about my morning Muni ride. While my evening rides home continue, my irritation level is generally far lower in the late afternoon. Perhaps it's that I go home to my family, or maybe it's the passage of time. Petty irritations seem less word-worthy the next morning when I turn to the my blog.

Now, with the daily morning walk (about three miles) through the city streets, I'm starting to develop theories about the reliable activities on certain blocks, the cyclical nature of the city's psyche, and how the delivery of general assistance checks impacts the mood on the street. There are a lot of things that are predictable (like that I'll see at least three people spit during my walk) and some things that are surprising, like the couple in this picture.

I was touched by their casual affection and their little backpacks.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Channel Surfing vs. Reading

Today's revelation:
Riding Muni is like channel surfing and walking to work is like reading a novel.

On Muni, everyone's kind of in a hurry, sort of irritated. We're crammed underground and at the mercy of the driver. The day is good when you get the smooth-voiced Johnny Otis-sounding guy and there are no back-ups. The day's not so good when you get the silent driver and some guy with a backpack flailing about.

When I walk to work, the city unfolds in different ways. There's time to take in the details and to exercise the imagination. Today I actually followed a woman who has caught my eye this week as she made her way through the Civic Center farmer's market. She's got sparkly gold and pink glasses, but she always looks pissed off. She blasts her way up the sidewalk, arms akimbo, like some aging Red Rover player. I didn't find the cause of the disconnect between her glasses and her manner, but I did see her buy a whole lot of potatoes. Maybe she's in starch shock. More on her tomorrow.

I also scored two delicious tamales for lunch. Does glasses lady feel my gratitude?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Is Walking Faster?

Yesterday, my boy just missed his train. He decided to run to the next stop and see if he could pick it up there. When he got the stop, he was still well ahead of train, and decided to run to the next stop. After four stops, he was still ahead, but he decided to climb aboard so he wouldn't have to cross a busy street.

He marveled at his ability to go faster than Muni. This is how I know he hasn't spent a lot of time in Chinatown where your 90 year old granny can dust the 30 Stockton even if she's carrying a big bag of prickly pears.

Me? I walked to work today. All the way. I'm feeling righteous.

Check out this article in today's Chronic. Why does Muni need drama? Incremental change with preplanned success metrics, people! How hard is that!

If you fix 20 things at once, how do you know what's working and what's not.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Clean Up Muni

Check out this photo, courtesy of Jen.
She says, "The Sunset is so weird."

I don't think this is any weirder than those stupid wifi buses.

Wifi and Van Ness, or Somewhere Near Van Ness

Check out this article about wifi on Muni.

Too bad they didn't have wifi this morning. I could have checked to see if there was another train in sight so I didn't have to put up with the guy who pushed me into the crowded car using his entire torso. I can understand pushing when the trains are crowded, but dude, don't push your groin into my ass. Just push me with your hands.

Today's conditions were heinous. Crowded train. Lots of umbrellas and five mysterious mid-tunnel stops without any explanation from the driver. After we'd been stopped for about 3 minutes in one tunnel, the canned voice announced, "Next Stop Van Ness."

Yeah, right. Or about 100 yards short of Van Ness.

Today's messages:

Muni Gods: I'm begging you. Take care of the basics before you bring wifi to buses. Just get the drivers to say, "Traffic. We're going to be sitting here for 2 minutes." Just get the booth attendants to admit it when there's a problem at Embarcadero. Then we can go home and use our wifi there.

Pushing guy: Really, just the hands. And don't call me honey again or I'll kick your ass when we're stuck in the dark.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Higer Customer Satisfaction, Stronger Economy. It's Simple.

Last Thursday evening, we Muni riders experienced a classic Muni Meltdown. Upon entering the station at Montgomery, we heard:
Next Train - LL - two minutes
Two minutes passed. Nothing.
Then another announcement: Next train - NN - two minutes; followed by NN - two minutes.
Groans erupted.
A steady stream of trains were heading into Embarcadero, but none seemed to be coming out. Another few minutes passed, and still no trains appeared on the outbound platform. I've seen Muni meltdowns before and this was a classic symptom. I went up to the booth and asked the worker, "Is there a problem with the trains?"
He pointed to the traffic screen, apparently not noticing that there were more than a dozen trains queued up at Embarcadero. "Next train in two minutes."
"It's said that for past ten minutes," I protested.
"No problem," the agent said. He turned away and picked up the phone. I swear he wasn't talking to anyone.
I headed for the F train.
The F train driver, seeing the river of people emerging from underground, immediately understood that there was a problem and began allowing passengers to board in the front and the back. He, apparently, was the only Muni employee with a back up plan when problems erupt.
It took about 45 minutes for us to get to the Castro, but the irritiation was diminished by the good humor of our driver. He joked, cajoled step standers, complained about traffic, and generally improved what was a bad situation.
When I got to the Castro, I bumped into my friend Jesse, just emerging from the Muni tunnel.
"You took the train!?" I exclaimed.
"Man, it was practically empty," he said. "Everybody's taking the F today."

Here's the thing:
I figure that there are maybe two or three reasons that trains get backed up at Embarcardero. (Including the hilarious, "We don't have drivers for the trains" excuse I heard a few weeks back.) Why doesn't Muni have a standard backup plan in place. It could be something as simple as an announcement:
"Trains are backed up for the next 15 minutes. Go ahead and grab a beer at the House of Shields and then come back."
Irritation levels drop, the local economy is boosted, the platform becomes less crowded and we all arrive home at the same time anyway. How hard is that.

Monday, February 4, 2008

A President Like My Son

I walked to work today so no Muni news. I did pass lots and lots of folks out campaigning for Barack Obama. Here are my thoughts:

Caroline Kennedy recently endorsed Senator Barack Obama in a New York Times opinion piece, “A President Like My Father.”

I agree with everything Ms. Kennedy wrote, but when I look at Senator Obama, I see a president like my son. Like Obama, my son is biracial. Unlike Obama, my son, born in 1995, is not unique in his multi-culturalism, or in his brownness. His is a world that is increasingly interconnected.

My son learns alongside children from Mexico, Central America, South America, Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa. He belongs to online communities in which borders, race and geography are meaningless. He regularly communicates with people from around the world. Much of his food comes from Central and South America, his clothes come from Asia, and the fuel that heats his home comes from the Middle East. He lives in a global economy in which some reap the rewards of this interconnectedness, but in which too many people are viewed as “human capital.”

My son is growing up in a world in which health care, food and even home mortgages are commodities traded by wealthy at the peril of the poor. By the time he is of college age, tuition costs will have inflated to ten times that paid by his parents, and his student loans will also be considered tradable commodities – potential profit centers for those who will never have to take out a loan to pay for a child’s education.

My son has visited developing countries where a lucky family lives in a two-room dwelling with a corrugated tin roof and a single water spigot in the front yard. He’s seen small children working barefoot in hot, crowded streets, selling food and trinkets to tourists from the U.S. and Europe. He has seen pictures of melting polar ice caps and families stranded on roofs in New Orleans. His world is one in which wars rage on several continents and millions of people are displaced.

His world is increasingly bifurcated – with the gap between a small population of extremely wealthy and an impoverished majority grows ever larger. And yet, at 12, he believes that individuals can make a difference. He has raised money for Darfur and New Orleans. He has made an effort to understand the slaughter of monks in Myanmar, and wants to know why Kenya is erupting into unthinkable violence.

His is a world in which policy and politics will make only a small difference in the lives of the disenfranchised. Social and human engagement on an unprecedented scale are required to change his world. With our global economic engines, technology and staggering wealth, the people of the developed nations are already equipped to effect massive change. Now we must reject the commoditization of humanity, and utilize our advantages to create a more just world.

But to do this, we need a president who can mobilize individuals on a global scale. Barack Obama’s family ties reach from Kenya to Kansas to Jakarta. He inspires hope and has already mobilized hundreds of thousands of people of all races and backgrounds in a campaign that was considered folly only a few months ago.

When I look at Barack Obama, I see the face of my son, and millions of young people like him. They are not defined by their race, but by their potential. Obama understands this. He is the man who can inspire us all to restore hope and humanity to our global world.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Hot & Mysterious

It's been a while since I've felt compelled to write. This is actually good news. Despite the crap weather, Muni has been running well lately. Until today.

Mysterious and hot are adjectives best used to describe the potential date you spot across the aisle of the train, or a great film noir shown at the Castro. They are not the adjectives one wants to use to describer her commute to work. Unfortunately, today they are apt.

I entered the crowded T train at Castro and was immediately blasted by the dry, smelly heat emanating from the vents on the ceiling of the train. The doors closed, and we sat in the tunnel. The driver didn't alert us as to the reason for the delay. After a couple of minutes, the steamy train proceeded to Church. Same drill there. People were becoming hot and grumpy.

The bald guy with the iPod blasting what sounded like the End Up's greatest hits from 1998 didn't help. (Is there anything more annoying than the tinny sound of bad disco coming from ear buds? I take consolation knowing that he'll be deaf within five years.)

The stalls and heat continued as we made our stately, steamy way to Van Ness and then Civic Center. Throughout, the driver said nothing. I got off the train at Montgomery, wondering what the hell he or she might be doing up front, but the train sped away immediately after the passengers disembarked.

Then I spotted the driver of the N Judah that had just entered the tunnel. His full concentration was given over to scratching an instant lottery ticket. Perhaps it's Muni lottery day today. I hope that the driver of my train wins so he or she can retire.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Text Alerts Would Help!

This morning, Muni was plagued with "computer problems" as the p.a. announcements explained. The result was very slow traffic in the tunnels. The good news: Once again, frequent announcements kept riders apprised of the issue and warned of longer waits. The bad news: very crowded trains and long waits.

Which brings me to my frequent refrain: Why can't Muni allow customers to sign up for text alerts? That way, if there's trouble that they know of, riders can choose to either gut it out or to take alternative transit - BART, cab, bus, etc. On days like today, if just 15% of riders chose to take alternative transit, the slow trains would have been significantly less crowded and the experience would have been more pleasant.

Speaking of pleasant, I had an amazing customer experience over the holidays. We traveled to Nantucket for Christmas via JetBlue. The outbound trip was fine. Coming back, our connecting flight from Nantucket to Boston was delayed because of icy conditions. We were pretty much resigned to spending the night in Boston before proceeding home. Instead, an agent met our small plane on the tarmac. He opened to the door and requested that my family come with him immediately. He led us across the tarmac and up some stairs, maintaining a brisk jog the entire time. We followed him down a passageway and through the terminal where our JetBlue flight was waiting just for us. The gate agents whisked us past and the flight attendants had seats and water waiting for us.

Apparently, the plane was held up for 10 minutes for deicing and they decided that the three passengers with the late connection were worth a little extra effort. The most amazing part was when I saw the CapeAir van pull up to the side of plane as the de-icer was finishing up. An agent tossed our four heavy bags up to a waiting baggage handler, so that our luggage arrived in San Francisco with us.

This is why I love JetBlue.

Today's Stats: