I was driving into work yesterday when the KGO 810AM traffic report on the radio mentioned that traffic was light throughout the San Francisco Bay Area because of the Columbus Day holiday. That didn’t make any sense. The northbound traffic on the 280 came to a crawl because of an accident in Cupertino. Not surprisingly, the accident was long gone when I drove by and the next traffic report mentioned the slowdown. As for Columbus Day, who celebrates Columbus Day anymore?
The last time I celebrated Columbus Day was in the second grade in the 1970’s, where the boys wore Indian feathers, painted red “war” paint on our bare chest, and ran around with rubber tomahawks to menace the girls in their “settler” sundresses. I didn’t want to be an Indian. I wanted to bring in my cap rifle and guns to shoot the Indians dead (I had grudges against several of my classmates), but there were no cowboys around when Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492.
I inquired with a co-worker if we were supposed to be at work since Columbus Day was a holiday. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that kind of a holiday. This paleface wouldn’t be driving back home to go back to bed. This was Monday, work had to be done and I needed the paycheck. Getting up late in the morning was for the weekends and real holidays.
My co-worker also told me that Columbus Day should be called Indigenous Day of Remembrance—not to be confused with American Indian Heritage Day in November—for all the evil things that Columbus did when he set foot in America: the slavery and small pox epidemics that decimated the native populations. All the stuff I wasn’t taught about in the second grade. No surprise there. I didn’t learn anything about American history until I took courses in college.
I’m not even sure if Italian-Americans celebrates Columbus Day. At least, not in Silicon Valley. None of my relatives from that side of the family invited me over for spaghetti and meatballs last night. Considering that the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s are reeling in the playoffs, no one was in a celebratory mood. Forget about some dead old white guy. Another “Battle of The Bay” world series may not happen this year.
But for some residents in South L.A., the excitement of the shuttle rumbling through their neighborhoods quickly faded when they learned that 400 trees will be chopped down to make room for the behemoth.
Many worry that the replacements — young, wiry trees that will provide little shade — will pale in comparison to the mature magnolias that line the Crenshaw corridor. Others are concerned that the bare streets will further depreciate property values.
Cutting down mature trees reduces the amount of shade that keep buildings and sidewalks cool during the summer. Replacing mature trees with double the number of young trees won’t replace that missing shade for a generation. Which is why most communities have made it difficult for homeowners and developers to cut down mature trees. Cutting down even a single mature tree can be a substantial loss to a neighborhood. Multiply that by 400, the loss becomes an environmental tragedy.
Like a very young Ron Howard, I went through a Hollywood movie making phase during the late 1970’s. (Except my father refused to get me a Super 8 movie camera as developing the film was expensive for a wannabe George Lucas without an allowance.) That an old oak tree could be sacrifice for a Hollywood movie—or “progress” under different circumstances—was a disturbing idea to me then. Sacrificing 400 mature trees for a spacecraft relic is a disturbing idea now.
MAD Magazine was notable for defying the Comics Code Authority that restricted the content that could appear in comic books by switching over to the larger magazine format. Although that was a risky move in itself, MAD survived and paved the way for the underground comics to flourish in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The only censor for controversial comic material today is your own taste—or, lack thereof.
My favorite MAD cover was the March 1984 cover, where Alfred E. Newman pissed “1984” into the snow. My friends and I had a running First Amendment battle with the vice principal at John Steinbeck Middle School in San Jose over this magazine cover. We made sure that he caught us reading the magazine in the school library before classes, he would come over to confiscate the magazine without explaining why it was inappropriate (of course, we all knew why but wanted him to tell us), and the librarian would put the magazine back out the following week. The magazine got worn out from this constant tug of war.
My birthday came and went without notice. Always a good thing. After I turned 42 a while back, it became increasingly difficult to remember exactly how old I am. (A friend told me I was 43-years-old this year.) We went to Hooters in Campbell for my birthday dinner, watched the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s play baseball on different screens, and talked about the sweet young things who waited on the tables.
Hooters has always been a difficult place for me to enjoy eating food there. Besides being too loud when a major game blared from all the screens and the bar brimmed with louder drunks, I don’t have a favorite menu item. If I go to Pasta Pomodoro on The Alameda or at Santana Row, I always ordered the tortellini. But at Hooters? Meh. (My favorite new word for this year.)
I keep trying something new. The western BBQ burger was a top contender for several visits, but that’s something I normally get at Carl’s Jr. The boneless chicken wings fell flat with the Parmesan garlic sauce. This time I tried the buffalo chicken sandwich with Parmesan garlic sauce and liked it well enough to try it again on my next visit. This might become my new favorite—or maybe not.
As for the Giants and the A’s, I don’t think anyone cared. This was a regular game, not the playoffs. Everyone wanted to watch the London Olympics. I was shocked to discover that the Munich Olympics massacre took place 40 years ago around the same time as my birthday. I had vague memories of seeing that on TV at the time. The resignation of President Richard Nixon in August 1974 made a stronger impression as I was destined to be a political news junkie.
No one at Hooters knew it was my birthday. I didn’t want a bunch of sweet young things singing the Hooters birthday song and giving me a heart attack at the same time.
I find it difficult to be enthusiastic for sweet young things that are more than half my age and whose ultra-thin waists are smaller than my hand. I’m a big guy with big hands who like mature—but still younger—women with “hips made for babies” (my favorite description of Aviendha in Robort Jordan’s The Wheel of Time fantasy series). These sweet young things had neither maturity nor hips for they are still babies themselves.
The sweet young thing who waited on our table made the evening more melancholy for me. She reminded me that if my life had went differently when I joined a Christian campus ministry group 20 years ago, I might have been married and she would’ve been my daughter. I’m old enough now to have regrets.
My friend, however, had no qualms about dating a sweet young thing half his age. Until I pointed out that these sweet young things were probably living at home with a father who owned a shotgun. He frowned at me, I smiled back. Nothing curbs the enthusiasm for a sweet young thing than a shotgun.
Picture this: Hundreds of thousands of people are crammed shoulder to shoulder on the Golden Gate Bridge when suddenly the bridge’s gentle arch begins to flatten out. A metal groan then echoes across San Francisco Bay as the majestic towers begin tilting toward each other.
As the towers hit their breaking point, the 3-foot-thick main suspension cables slacken and the roadway splits open, dropping waves of pedestrians more than 200 feet to their deaths.
That almost happened 25 years ago today, at least according to urban legend.
On May 24, 1987, 300,000 people were stuck in human gridlock for hours while getting a rare chance to cross the 1.7-mile bridge en masse on foot to celebrate the bridge’s golden anniversary. Officials quickly closed the bridge, so a half-million other people waiting to cross never got the chance. Still, the enormous, unprecedented weight caused the middle of the bridge to sag 7 feet.
Engineers were kicking themselves that day for not anticipating this historic event and putting sensors on the bridge to measure the flattening out effect. The current generation of engineers have a hard enough time maintaining the bridge throughout the years.
As my father liked to tell me when I was growing up, the Golden Gate Bridge could never be built today. A worker died for every one-million-dollar spent was the norm back in the 1930’s. Although today’s safety and environmental laws could prevent a worker’s death, a barrage of lawsuits that could delay a project indefinitely could come about before the project even gets off the drawing board. The California high speed rail is a good example of that.
What the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge means today is that America has become a nation of small ideas, where the big ideas like a building a bridge across the treacherous Golden State Strait is a monument to our past.
Although I saw the “Cheech & Chong” movies when my family got cable TV in the early 1980’s, I didn’t quite remember their comedy routines and wasn’t really a fan. After attending WonderCon in San Francisco, my friend and I drove across the Golden Gate Bridge to see their revival show at the Wells Fargo Center for The Arts in Santa Rosa.
Chong’s re-interpretation of the Bible with God being the ultimate stoner was hysterical. The scripture says God is Lord of the MOST HIGH, who created a GREEN earth to get stone on the seventh day, spoke to Moses from a burning MARIJUANA bush, and led His people with a column of fire and pot smoke in the desert. The ancient Israelis kept asking Moses if he was high enough while wandering the desert for 40 years, and Moses wanted to find the land of milk and honey because everyone had the MUNCHIES.
Chong pointed out that Mexicans and pot are everywhere except for one place. Cheech comes out as a janitor who takes a joyride on a rocket to the moon with the theme music of “2001: A Space Odyssey” movie playing in the background. The video screen at the back of the stage showed Cheech in a spacesuit getting into a lunar rover on the moon to jack the front end up-and-down on hydraulics like a 1970’s low rider.
I have a very indirect relationship with the pot culture.
My older brother was a 1970’s hippie/stoner who grew pot in the backyard. When he told our mother that the pot plants were tomato plants, she believed him until the plants got really tall without any red fruit appearing. After a pair of FBI agents came by looking for him one day, my parents cut down all the weeds behind the house. For the next ten years, I was forbidden by my mother from growing tomatoes plants from seed since she was afraid that the FBI agents would come back.
On the other end of the legal spectrum, I took care of a roommate dying from Lou Gehrig’s disease for four years in the late 1990’s. He had a prescription for medical marijuana, which I didn’t know about until I told him that his “special” brownies looked like horse manure and made the connection. After paramedics failed to revive him from a cardiac arrest, I was busy dumping his stash down the toilet while a sheriff deputy waited for the medical examiner to pick up his body. Depending on where you are in the medical marijuana debate, my roommates were either heroes or criminals for helping to ease the pain of a dying roommate.
A thousand joints lit up at once when the show ended, as a huge cloud of pot smoke appeared above the audience. We got out of there as quickly as possible. Secondhand smoke from pot always gave me a pounding sinus headache. That kept me awake on the two-hour drive back home.