A Pauper’s Cemetery At Santa Clara Valley Medical Center

Pauper CemeteryConstruction workers at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose discovered 15 pine coffins from a pauper’s cemetery during excavation that halted work on a new medical building in February. The cemetery was established when the county hospital was built in 1875, marked on a 1932 map as a cemetery and unmarked on a 1958 map as a parking lot. An estimated 1,450 coffins might be in the way of another new medical building to be built. The county is taking legal steps to remove the cemetery. If they can’t identify the next of kin, the the remains will be cremated and scattered over the ocean.

I wasn’t surprised that an old pauper’s cemetery was paved over by progress. Paving over the old for the new is de reigueur  in the San Francisco Bay Area.

After I turned 18-years-old in the late 1980’s, I worked in masonry construction with my father in San Francisco since I had nothing better as I was a high school dropout. We had this one job in Chinatown where a backhoe operator digging a trench broke open an old sewer line made from red clay ceramic pipe. We gathered around to see this buried piece of ancient history four feet below street level, standing across from an alley that ran behind a bunch of Chinese stores that smelled worse than an open sewer. My father and the other superintendents discussed the history of using ceramic pipes in sewer construction.

After El Camino Real was re-routed around Santa Clara University, construction crews tore out the roadway that divided the campus in the half. Underneath two feet of asphalt were old railroad tracks. I mentioned this to my father. He told me that a trolley line used to run down the middle of El Camino Road from San Francisco to San Jose before World War II. Prior to the modern freeway system being built after the war, El Camino Real was the only the way to San Francisco.

Sometimes it’s not always the old that gets paved over in the name of progress. After San Carlos Street that ran through San Jose State University was torn out for a grass meridian, the county transit authority had the concrete foundation for a east-west light rail line built down the middle and buried underneath six inches of dirt. Unless money pours from the sky after the Facebook IPO, the half-dozen east-west light rail lines to connect with the existing north-south light rail lines will never be built. We’re still waiting for the BART extension to San Jose to be built a generation later.

Before my father passed away a few weeks ago, I started a new tech job at a different hospital to replace old computers. My work area is located around the corner from the morgue. Whenever the scent of vanilla hangs heavily in the hallway outside, a dead body was delivered to the morgue. These days I see dead people everywhere.

The Mayor Of E Street Is Dead

Late Father (circa 2006)
Late Father (circa 2006)

Three weeks after the doctor declared him terminally ill with less than six months to live, my father died from lung cancer at his trailer home in Sacramento County on Sunday night. After smoking for 30 years and not smoking for 30 years, the last six years was difficult for him after having half a lung removed, chemo therapy, several extended stays in the hospital, and a two-month stay with me (part 1, part 2 and part 3). The battle was finally over.

My relatives gave me a lot of grief over the last three weeks as I refused to take him in. A massive guilt trip that I was an irresponsible son, threats to call the cops on me for elder abuse, and accusations that I stole $7,000 USD out of my father’s checking didn’t make me budge. (If I was such an irresponsible, abusive and thieving son, why did they want me to take care of him in his dying days?) I followed my father’s instructions to leave him in the care of his neighbors as he wanted to die in peace at home.

My father was the mayor of E Street in the trailer park that he called home. Everyone knew him and he knew everyone. This was small town America that he grew up in and wanted to die in. As I became the de facto executor of his estate—he left no will—and had control of his bank accounts (relatives are much nicer now that I have his money to spend), I started learning who my father really was as neighbors and friends talked to me.

My favorite story was my father buying a $40 USD crock pot for $15 USD at Wal-Mart. He already had a nice crock pot and didn’t need another one. When he heard that the heating element in a neighbor’s 20-year-old crock pot had finally died, he took the new crock pot and gave it to her. He then went out to get another crock pot. When I came up to visit one weekend and mentioned that the $5 USD crock pot that I got on Black Friday at Wal-Mart years ago finally died, he gave me the new crock pot.

He also became the center of a semi-illegal recycling center (the trailer park shut him down). One neighbor brings home old vending machines to dismantle and disposes at the county dump as part of his business. My father takes all the materials from the dismantled vending machine, saving the neighbor a small fortune in dumping fees. The metals were separated into different bins for recycling, which earned my father a small income for his work. The wood from the dismantled vending machines and pallets from another neighbor were given to a different neighbor for free to build chicken coops at $400 USD a piece. Anything that he couldn’t use or recycle went into the trailer park dumpster. My father did this to help his neighbors and keep himself busy.

As many people told me over the last few days, he was a good man and neighbor.  As my father and I did with my mother’s ashes in summer 2004, I will be taking his ashes up to Idaho to be buried with his family this summer.

The Return of Flicks Chocolate Candy

I came across a curious display at the local drugstore: Flicks chocolate candy.

Flicks Chocolate Candies

I haven’t seen these since the early 1970’s when I was little boy. I often played with my candy before eating them and Flicks did double duty. After coming home from the grocery store with my mother, I would go to the end table in the living room, open the wrapper at the end of the tube, dump the chocolate drops out and count each piece out aloud. If I didn’t know what the next number should be, my mother would count off of her fingers to help me along. After I ate all the chocolate, I took the wrapper off the cardboard tube and used it as a “telescope” for my imagination.

At some point I stopped eating Flicks and started eating M&M’s, sorting and counting the colors. Along the way Flicks disappeared from the store shelves entirely. According the company’s website, Flicks stopped making the candy in 1989 after the 100-year-old production equipment was damaged when moving to a new city. A new owner acquired the recipe and brand in 2004, and painstakingly reconstructed the original machinery to produce Flicks chocolate candy in 2005.

What’s the new Flicks chocolate candy like in the 21st century?

The biggest change was the packaging. Before you could open the wrapper at the end of the tube and spill out the chocolate drops. Not with today’s food safety regulations. The chocolate drops are now in a plastic bag. That killed half of my childhood memories when I opened the new Flicks. As for the chocolate drops, they still melted in my mouth and tasted the same as I had remembered from all those years ago.

Alas, the display bin is dwindling down to nothing after being available for a month. I doubt that the drugstore will stocked them with the regular candies. For a brief moment, I found and lost my childhood again.

Essay eBook Excerpt: The 1970’s Hells Angels

This is an excerpt from my new 3,635-word essay ebook, “Death At A Hell’s Angels’ Funeral: Driving Past The Memories,” now available at Amazon and Smashwords.

One evening, not long after my brother moved out to get married and start his family, my parents and I noticed the sheriff cruisers zipping past the huge picture window of our living room, dome lights flashing and sirens blaring. We wandered outside with the rest of the neighborhood to see what the commotion was about.

The cruisers formed a half-circle in front of the two-story house that the Hell’s Angels were renting down the street, where the front lawn had gone to seed and motorcycles filled the driveway. The deputies took up position behind their cruisers with pistols and shotguns drawn. The deputy-in-charge held a bullhorn in one hand while the other hand rested on his holstered pistol, shouting for the Hell’s Angels to come out or else. The expectation for violence was high, but not from the Hell’s Angels. The deputies were eager to crack some skulls while making lawful arrests under a court warrant.

Five men came out to form a line on the dead grass in front of the house. They were big guys with motorcycle tattoos on their arms, sweat-stained T-shirts covering their big beer bellies, and torn blue jeans tucked into knee-high motorcycle boots. Some looked like Vikings with their long, braided beards. One guy looked like Glen Hughes, the original biker from the Village People disco band, sporting a horseshoe mustache and long sideburns, and ready to break out in the YMCA song. But they didn’t put up their hands as the deputy demanded. With the deliberate cockiness of being outlaws, they unzipped their pants, hauled out their man handles and urinated on the parched dead grass.

The deputies, pissed off by the long-haired motorcycle freaks, holstered their weapons to tackle the Hell’s Angels to the ground and brutally beat them with their night sticks. At that point, my mother brought me back into the house before I could witness the bloody result of law enforcement in action.

I recalled the bright lights of a TV news crew on the opposite end of the street, which may explain why I remembered the incident so vividly even though I was too far away to see it. The violent arrest of Hell’s Angels made the evening newscast. If the Internet and YouTube were available back then, what happened next would have gone “viral” for everyone to see. I don’t recall if anyone screamed police brutality or the news anchor regarded it as business as usual as someone getting a jaywalking citation. The justification for this raid was that the Hell’s Angels were involved with fencing stolen merchandise, which was probably true among the many other things that they were commonly accused of.

Other than that, they were good neighbors and didn’t really bother anyone during their brief stay. Although their drunken fist fights occasionally spilled out on to the front yard, where the dead grass soaked up the blood and the neighborhood got free entertainment. My mother—probably all the mothers in the neighborhood—made sure we walked on the opposite side of the street when heading out to the stores. Just to be on the safe side.

Being At Work On The Day Steve Jobs Dies

I read about the news of Steve Jobs passing away five minutes before everyone else did at work.

As a PC technician doing a Windows 7 refresh at a Fortune 500 technology company in Silicon Valley, I was waiting for the data transfer from the old system to the new system to complete before I moved on to my next task. Sitting in the chair of the user whom I ejected out of his cube, I turned to the laptop on my cart and, seeing no work-related emails that required my immediate attention, started browsing the Internet to kill time.

Mac Rumors reported the death of Steve Jobs via the Associated Press announcement that more details were forthcoming. Unlike the false report a month before that appeared on the CBS Twitter feed, this one looked like the real deal. With every refresh of the web page, Mac Rumors kept adding more and more details to their article.

An immense feeling of sadness overcame me as the news sank in.

I immediately recognized that this was a “where were you when this happened” event. Like the Space Shuttle Columbia burning on re-entry (2003), the 9/11 Twin Towers bombing (2001), the Loma Pieta earthquake (1989), the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion (1987), the Iran-Contra scandal in Washington, D.C. (1986), the Iranian hostage crisis (1979), President Richard Nixon’s resignation during the Watergate Scandal (1974), and the Apollo 11 moon landing (1969), I can remember all those events with sparking clarity. Except for the moon landing since I wouldn’t be born for another three weeks, but even in utero I was with my family watching history being made on our ancient black-and-white console TV.

“Holy, shit!” an engineer cried out unprofessionally from a nearby cube. This was the payroll department, not the men locker room in the gym next door. ”Steve Jobs is dead!”

“Who died?” an engineer asked from a cube further away, sounding bewildered as if someone had assassinated the Pope in Rome or the Republican Party found an electable Tea Party candidate for the 2012 presidential election. Unthinkable.

“Steve Jobs, founder of Apple and inventor of the iPad!”

All at once the engineers in the surrounding cubes stopped working to browse the Internet. The major news websites started reporting the death of Steve Jobs from pancreatic cancer, throwing up their prepared obituaries about America’s most beloved inventor since Thomas Edison. My favorite obituary was from the satirical website, The Onion, with the headline: “The Last American Who Knew What The Fuck He Was Doing Dies”. A hushed silence fell over the cubes as mouse clicks followed the links.

An engineer wept quietly.

An email popped in to announce that the data transfer was completed. I pulled the old system and went on to my next task. As I walked through the other buildings, the death of Steve Jobs spread like wildfire and the hushed silence took hold everywhere. This particular technology company already had a quiet intensity to daily work was now so quiet that you could now hear Death chortling over the grief of a creative visionary being dead. As I browsed the Internet during those brief moments of downtime while waiting for my tasks to complete, there was no escaping the obvious fact of that day.

Steve Jobs was dead.

Then a horrible feeling overwhelmed me. This felt like the death of Elvis all over again, where he died of a drug overdose two weeks after my birthday and my mother cried for three days straight in August 1978. I can imagine some poor kid coming home to find his engineer mother weeping uncontrollably over her iPad, wondering why she was more in loved with an international celebrity than her husband, and later find a black velvet painting on the living room wall. Rather than seeing the bloated Elvis in his white suit and red scarf making love to his microphone, the mercurial Steve Jobs would look out through the lenses of his glasses with a fist to his bearded chin underneath a knowing Mona Lisa smile. I shuddered at the thought of another childhood tragedy was in the making.

Note: This post will be the unrevised introduction to my forthcoming essay ebook, “Experiencing The Death of Elvis: Another Childhood Tragedy,” about how the death of Elvis impacted my family in the late 1970s, now available at Amazon and Smashwords.

Why Do I Hate The Bee Gees? It’s Walt Disney’s Fault!

This came up in Twitter last night: Why do I hate the Bee Gees? Simple, it’s all Walt Disney fault. During the disco craze of the 1970s, my parents gave me a portable cassette recorder for my birthday that was smaller than a shoebox. (The iconic Sony Walkman wouldn’t be a must have item until the early 1980s, and I never got one until the late 1990s.) I was still young enough to appreciate Walt Disney storybooks that had a sing along cassette tape, like Robin Hood and Pete’s Dragon. But there was one cassette that I had played over and over again because I had nothing better to listen to: Mickey Mouse Disco. That, plus watching every re-run of the Bee Gees in Sgt. Pepper’s Loney Hearts Club Band on cable TV, and getting The Beatles album, sour my taste in music for years to come.

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Not that I ever had much taste in music. Although I was born a Californian native, my parents came from Boise, Idaho, where hard work on the farm and smuggling on the road went hand in hand. My father and his brothers used to smuggle untaxed cigarettes from Oregon and sold out them of the trunk in Southern California in the 1950s, and a distant cousin is serving time in the Florida state pen for smuggling cocaine from Cuba in the 1990s. Since my father’s truck only had two radio stations—country and talk—I grew up on classic 1970s and early 1980s country music (i.e., Johnny Cash, John Denver, Willie Nelson, The Oakridge Boys, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, and Hank Williams, Jr.). Needless to say, country wasn’t very popular when I was going to school with all the wannabe Duran Duran and George Boy running around. Bad enough that I was a normal student misclassified as mentally retarded by the school system, I was considered a freak among the retarded for liking country.

Unlike some of my friends, I have a modest music collection on my iPod. Over the last 20 years I grew to like the top hits from the 1980s music that I never got into when growing up, especially Cyndi Lauper and Joan Jett. I listened to Hootie & The Blowfish, Jane Monheit and U2 in the 1990s. These days I’m listening more to the early The Rolling Stones, especially the recently remastered Exile on Main St. album. The only disco song that I still listen to is “I Love The Nightlife” from the theatrical release of “Love At First Bite”, which is my favorite vampire movie of all time.

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But I don’t listen to today’s country because it sounds like crap, trying too hard to be half country and half rock. Beside, the only real country music radio station in the San Francisco Bay Area, Radio Keen, went off the air in 1992. When the current country radio several years ago decided to switch to Mexican music—their last English song was “Mexican Radio” by Wall of Voodoo—and switched back to country music three months later, I never bothered to listen to them again. The only thing I listened to while driving in the car (which used to belong to my father) is talk—KGO Newstalk 810AM—or the old Dolly Parton cassette tape still stuck inside the player.

The iPad Generation Rediscovers The Ancient Typewriter

Must have been a slow news day for both The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times to feature articles about typewriters. Yes, Virginia, typewriters. Those ancient devices that physically impacted black ink on to white paper that supposedly were swept aside in the great digital age. Like vinyl record players in recent years, the typewriter appears to be making a comeback. Surprisingly, the biggest fans for typewriters might be the iPad generation that grew up in a mostly digital world. Maybe they are steampunk fans, where pre-digital computers in the 19th-century were mechanical devices and dressing up in Victorian clothing is a cool trend. Although a manual typewriter cannot compute, it does share the mechanical attributes of pre-digital computers. For those digital users who don’t want a typewriter to be simply a typewriter, there is a USB-compatibe typewriter to plug into the iPad. I’m sure the younger generation will get a kick out of famous writers in front of their typewriters. But those of us in the business of writing, a typewriter will always be a typewriter.

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I fell in love with the typewriter when I was in kindergarten. My parents were attending a conference to discuss my future, the principal rolled a piece of paper into an IBM Selectric typewriter, showed me what keys to press, and the little silver ball spun to type out my name like magic. Fully distracted by this wonderful device, I kept typing out my name as the principal and my kindergarten teacher erroneously inform my parents that I was MENTALLY RETARDED (which was how it was stamped in my records that I saw ten years later) and needed to go into the special education program. Actually, I wasn’t. I had an undiagnosed hearing loss in one ear that made it difficult for me to distinguish between similar sounding words (i.e., glass and grass) and skewered my speech patterns for years. Learning how to read and write made it easier for me to distinguish the differences between similar words. At that moment, I knew I wanted to be a writer.

When I grew up in the 1970s, typewriters were still king of the technological hill. When my family shopped at Gemco at Hillsdale Avenue and Ross Avenue in San Jose, my father and I would moon over the 20 typewriters on display, starting with the cheap manual typewriters and ending with the electric typewriters. Alas, no IBM Selectric typewriters since they were business typewriters sold only at business stores. Gemco went out of business to be replaced by a string of similar stores until Target came in. Typewriters were soon phased out when home computers became king of the technological hill.

Over a handful of birthdays, I got a toy typewriter that typed in ALL CAPS, a blue Brother manual typewriter with a black-only ribbon, a white Brother manual typewriter with a black-and-red ribbon that I kept for a dozen years, and, in the early 1980s, I got an electronic typewriter with film ribbon, correction tape and daisywheel cartridge that I also kept for a dozen years. I was still using my typewriters in the early 1990s while in college even though I had a Commodore 64 and a near letter quality dot matrix printer. When Macs and laser printers became more prevalent at the college library and computer labs, I would enter my final draft into the Mac and print out a clean copy since instructors were threatening a failing grade for handing in a dot matrix print out. I eventually gave away my typewriters because I kept moving around too much and relied more on computers to get my documents done.

My father and I parted ways when home computers came around in 1980s. He was strictly an analog guy and I became strictly digital guy. Later, when he gave me his old car as a birthday present several years ago, he grew frustrated at my apparent lack of mechanical knowledge when repairing the car. I had to pointedly remind him that my brother became the auto body specialist and I became the computer tech. After my mother passed away from breast cancer in 2004 and I saw a counselor a few years later, he was amused that I got a new manual typewriter that was identical to my old white manual typewriter (except the new one was made in China and a piece of junk). I was rediscovering my passion for writing and spent many evenings typing away on my balcony. Surprisingly, the neighbors didn’t complain about the tat-tat-tat and ding noise. Then again, they were too stoned to care.

Although two-thirds of my first novel was written behind the steering wheel of my car, the other one-third was written on a Brother GX-6750 electronic typewriter. I still use the typewriter for writing the rough drafts of manuscripts. If I’m having a problem writing a short story from beginning to end and have an outline of all the scenes, I would use the typewriter to write the scenes in reverse order. As most writers who uses typewriter knows, you really have to think before you start typing. Writing scenes in reverse order requires some serious thinking. After all the scenes are written and revised with a red pen, the pages are typed into the computer for further revision.

The typewriter is dead, long live the typewriter!

All Those Little Nuclear Reactors In The San Francisco Bay Area

After the earthquake and tsunami damaged the nuclear reactors in Japan, the safety of the nuclear reactors at Diablo Canyon and San Onofre in California became an immediate concern. KGO Radio had Dr. Bill Wattenburg and other leading nuclear experts on the air for one hour in the mornings, afternoons and evenings for the first several weeks of the crises to reassure listeners that what happened in Japan couldn’t happen in here in California. I’m not sure if that reassured anyone or not. No one cares about nuclear power when its produces electrical power without incident. But once an accident happens because of an unexpected eventuality—Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and now Fukushima—everyone goes into knee jerk reaction mode and run screaming for the hills. What many people don’t know is that there are many smaller test nuclear reactors tucked away in plain sight, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Indeed, the most common type of test reactor – called TRIGA, for Training, Research, Isotopes, General Atomics – was designed to be safe enough that university students couldn’t screw it up. Nuclear engineering students often train on the small reactors before landing jobs at big commercial power plants.

When I was attending San Jose State University in Fall 1994, I took an introduction to chemistry class and the instructor gave us a tour of the science building. Down in the basement behind these locked doors, we were told, was a small nuclear test reactor. We joked about the possibility of the nuclear reactor blowing up or melting down. The instructor reassured us that the test reactor would shut down long before reaching dangerous conditions.

Terrorism wasn’t a consideration back then as it is now to worry about the 500 or so pounds of spent nuclear fuel being used for a “dirty” nuclear bomb. For many of us who grew up during the Cold War, we had long lived with the fact that Silicon Valley was a secondary target for a nuclear strike by the Soviet Union, either for a ground burst to physically destroy military infrastructure and/or an air burst to fry out the electronic industry with an EMP blast.

During the introduction to chemistry class, I learned about half life and isotopes. I never got far enough in chemistry to conduct nuclear experiments with the test reactor. I made the mistake of enrolling in general chemistry the following semester. Everything I knew about chemistry was reviewed on the first day. I was totally lost within six weeks and eventually kicked out of the university for having a lousy semester. (If you’re junior or senior, you are not allowed to have a lousy semester; the university changed this policy a year later when 20% of the student body was at risk and threaten to significantly reduce the university’s income.) When it came to mathematics and the sciences, I could only go so far before hitting a wall that prevented me from going further.

I had a friend who worked in 13 years at the General Electric plant at Monterey Road and Curtner Avenue in San Jose (now the location of The Plant shopping center) in the nuclear division. He never did say what he worked on, or if he had a government security clearance. When pressed on the subject, he would say nuclear medicine and leave it at that. He might have been telling the truth—or maybe not.

Another friend told me he was hiking through the Mount Diablo area in the east bay when he stumbled upon a top secret government nuclear research facility. He noticed that the radar equipment was oriented differently to track intruders on the ground, and wasn’t surprised that a squad of soldiers showed up to escort him off the premises under  gunpoint. He might have been telling the truth—or maybe not.

Military installations are everywhere in Silicon Valley. Besides the more obvious Moffet Airfield and the Cold War-era radar building on top of Mount Umunhum, the famous Blue Cube (an Air Force satellite tracking facility) was visible from the 101.

When I worked in construction with my father in 1989, we built some block walls at a building next door to the Blue Cube. It was a very tense work environment. We were searched at the gate under gunpoint and armed military police with German shepherds patrolled the perimeter a dozen feet from where we were working. My father, a former Army captain who babysat tanks in West Germany in the early 1950s (the engines had to be turned over every four hours in the winter to avoid freezing over), thought building sound walls on the 280 with cars whizzing by two feet away was safer in comparison. A recruiter told me last year when I interviewed for a Lockheed position in that same area that the military was long gone after the base was decommissioned in 2007.

What’s the going to happen to nuclear technology after the disaster in Japan?

Probably the same thing that happened for the last 30 years: the nuclear industry will stay at standstill with no new major design breakthroughs for smaller, safer and efficient nuclear reactors. The environmentalists will scream, the politicians will knee jerk, the people will worry. Within 30 years there will be another crisis point when gas becomes too expensive to import and non-nuclear electricity won’t keep up with the demand to power electric cars. Don’t be surprised if Hollywood remakes all the disaster movies from the 1970s. The only reason that nuclear power is unsafe is because the electrical utilities and government regulators allowed safety to be compromised to save money in the short term. Until safety becomes the cornerstone for nuclear technology, accidents will continue to happen.

Rolling 125,000 Miles On The Old Speedometer

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Today I rolled 125,000 miles on the speedometer for my 1994 Pontiac Grand Prix. Not that I had driven all those miles. My Dad bought this car from a little old lady 12 years ago when the speedometer had 50,000 miles. (Why a little old lady would drive the descendant of a classic American muscle car  still baffles me after all these years.) When he abandoned the car in my carport three years ago as a birthday present (he told my brother that the car was worth $1,000, but not the way he meant: the Blue Book value was $400 and it cost me $600 in insurance, registration and smog), the speedometer had 13,000 miles. I drove 7,000 miles since then, half in the last year from driving to and from Sacramento where Dad lives. Since he got out of the hospital and stayed with me for two months before going back home, the social worker required that someone from the family pays him regular visits to help him stay out of the hospital. I was in Sacramento when the speedometer turned over.

Since I started working as a disconnect/reconnect PC technician for a moving company on the weekends, I been driving all over San Mateo county (north-west of Silicon Valley). I started my day at 7:30AM in Palo Alto for six hours of work at Facebook. (Several weeks ago I actually walked past Mark Zuckerberg as I arrived for and he was leaving work; seldom do I walk pass Silicon Valley royalty, much less a bona fide billionaire.) When I drive to Sacramento from my apartment, I take the 680 up the east bay, the 580 into Stockton and the I-5 to Sacramento to avoid paying the $5 bridge toll at Benicia. On the way back I take the 80 to the 680 since there is no bridge toll going south. Going from the west bay to the east bay over the bay was something I never done as a driver, although I did drive over the Golden Gate bridge for a Cheech & Chong show in Roseville.

I took Page Mill Road out to the 101. There are no tolls for going east on the bridges. I could have taken the Dumbarton bridge but that wasn’t the most direct route to where I was going, and the rain storm passing through the region flooded out the connecting road. I drove over the San Mateo bridge into Hayward. The bridge itself goes up and over  from this side to allow small ships to enter the south bay. At one point in the 1920s, San Jose was supposed to be a seaport that would rival San Francisco, Oakland and Stockton. Never did happen because dredging the deeper channels for larger ships became too expensive. Once you’re over the bridge, a man-made road cuts across the bay. Being surrounded by water on both sides and pouring rain coming straight down made me wonder when a tsunami wave or sea creature would come over the road to wash everyone way.

Dad told me that I could take the 92 out to Jackson to drive through Oakland into the 580, but he haven’t driven in the area for over 20 years. The 92/880 interchange is currently being rebuilt and the Jackson exit no longer exist. I ended up on the 880. Fortunately, the 238 to the 580 was the very next exit and my stay on the 880 was brief. Traffic was horrible since a soccer game was scheduled to play at the Oakland Coliseum. The 880 is probably the most miserable stretch of freeway in the San Francisco Bay Area. When I used to take Amtrak to visit my parents in Sacramento, I always dreaded taking the train that ended in Oakland and continued on bus to San Jose. Those buses had unpadded seats and I had felt every vibration driving through pothole paradise.

Wasn’t long before I drove through Castro Valley for the first time, a place that I had heard frequently about from the radio traffic reports but never quite knew where it was, crossing over the 680 to take my regular route to Sacramento. There was no fog going through Altamont Pass, which can be eerily experience seeing a solid wall of fog and knowing that there was a cliff face on the other side of the guardrail. I would have preferred the fog over driving through every variation of rain. It got worst on the I-5. One moment it would be a light sprinkle, the next moment a near zero visibility downpour. When I got to Dad’s place in Sacramento, he told me it has been raining like that for the last two weeks.

Dad is doing quite well. He finds new ways to keep himself busy while helping out the neighbors. One neighbor works for a vending machine company, where he has to take old vending machines to the county dump that cost $30 each. Dad strips down the vending machine to salvage all the wood and metals, keeping the $10 he gets from taking everything down to the recyclable center. He takes the unused wooden pallets from another neighbor, pulls out the old nails for the recycling center, and gives the lumber to a recently retired neighbor who started building birdhouses and chicken coops as a part time job to keep himself busy as his wife continues to work. Everyone in the neighborhood is happy.

When he was still doing construction work, Dad was the ultimate road warrior. He had a one-ton flatbed truck that he drove for ten years before he and the truck both retired, criss-crossing the San Francisco Bay Area to turn the speedometer over after one million miles. Every year Dad and I would crawl underneath the truck to replace the throwout bearing in the transmission. One year, after the engine blew up from going over the Santa Cruz mountains on the 17 and was rebuilt at the repair shop, he was in a screaming fit because the mechanics had replaced all the American-sized nuts and bots with metric-sized nuts and bolts. We spent one miserable weekend replacing every single one of them since he didn’t want metric nuts and bolts in his American made truck. He eventually sold the truck to another construction company that had salvage the engine from a similar truck  that was totaled in a rollover.

My 17-year-old car is still running fine after fixing nearly every major problem that Dad had trouble with but forgot to tell me about. An oil change is three months overdue, the shocks needs to be replace, and a tune up is badly needed since the last one was ten years ago. Expensive repairs that need to be done as I soon as a get a regular full time job. The 1984 model year was a very good year for the Pontiac Grand Prix (although my car is half 1993 and half 1994 when it comes to finding parts). If properly maintained, my car could last another 125,000 miles. At $320 per year for car insurance, I just might drive it into the ground.