Monthly Archives: January 2008

Magic Lane

Back before 9/11, I went to work at a cable TV channel in San Francisco. The work day started early — 5:30 or 6 in the morning. The day of the attacks, I was in the newsroom already when the first puzzling news about a plane hitting one of the World Trade Center Towers came in. But that’s a different story.

Kate started work very early, too, so she would get up when I was leaving. Somehow, I prevailed on her to drive me over the Bay Bridge to work one morning. She decided it was fun, I think, and we did that many mornings, including the morning of 9/11.

Driving back and forth to the city during the morning rush hour, a rush hour that begins very early, would not be a lot of people’s idea of fun. I remember that one of the things we did to make the trip fun was to listen to a sports talk show with a guy named Tony Bruno. We’d listen to Tony and his sidekick, Andrew Siciliano, cracking each other up with their own jokes, and the ride through the 17-lane toll plaza to get on the bridge wouldn’t seem like such a big ordeal.

Still, there was the driving: legions hurrying to destinations that for most would be a fifth- or sixth-choice destination, after Purgatory, if there wasn’t a paycheck involved. But maybe there were more people than I would guess enjoying sports talk and taking in the spectacle of the drive over the bridge as the day came on.

Kate would drop me off in the relative quiet of a street way out where the South of Market area ends and Potrero Hill begins. Then she’d turn around and head back to the East Bay. I’d always be a little worried about her. I guess I believed the trip, with everyone whipping along so fast, would be more perilous without me in the car.

But she managed to find a way to make the trip simple. One of the first mornings she drove home, she discovered that there was a way to drive from the freeway entrance near my office all the way to Berkeley without changing lanes even once. The ramp put you into the left lane of Interstate 80, in its first mile on the way to New York; by following that, what with lanes appearing and disappearing to your right and left, you’d wind up in the middle of five lanes crossing the bridge; on the other side, the lane merges into another eastbound lane on what the locals call the Berkeley curve; following that around through Emeryville, you’d wind up at last in the right lane approaching the University Avenue exit in Berkeley. So if you follow me, without changing lanes, you go from the leftmost lane to the rightmost; that’s a feat of traffic legerdemain.

Kate told me about this feat, and we called this strip of roadway The Magic Lane. From the 8th Street onramp in San Francisco to University Avenue in Berkeley, it stretches for about 10 miles. Occasionally, on drives back to the East Bay, Kate has asked me, or challenged me, to use it. I’ve never been able to. Think about the way you drive on a freeway, then speed things up by 10 or 20 mph and add a dollop of impatience. That’s me driving the freeway. Whenever I come upon a vehicle going slower than me, I pass it; on the right, on the left, it doesn’t matter. And as everyone who drives knows, one lane change begets another and another and another.

Tonight I was driving home from another media job pretty close to the neighborhood where I was working back when Kate discovered The Magic Lane. I get on I-80 at the same onramp she used. I pulled onto the elevated highway, took one look at all the traffic hurtling toward the bridge, and thought, tonight’s the night to do it. The only drama came at the same point for everyone, negotiating the twisting, narrow temporary approach to the bridge’s cavelike lower deck. After that, it just took a little determination to just let traffic in front of me do what it was going to do. I found myself wondering how much faster I might have gotten home if I had done my usual jamming in the fast lane; getting off the freeway and heading up the frontage road to the back way into North Berkeley, I realized there was no difference I could tell. I was getting home in one piece, and that was that.

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The Dribbling

You know, The Dribbling. Kind of like “The Vanishing,” except with no coffin. And no one speaks French. Or freaks out because the story is so scary or morbidly perverse.

The Dribbling concerns my brief absence from The Blahg. I’m busy reading about categorization and editing radio news shorts about tarballs. And also possibly coming down with some sort of flu-ish illness, which is the first time in I can’t remember how long.

A fuller report is forthcoming.

Dribble.

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Weekend Roundup

School news: I’m already behind on my reading. And now that I’ve gotten there, I’m sure I’ll probably stay there.

Weather update: Wet this weekend. After a dry winter last year — it pretty much stopped raining after New Year’s 2007 except when I was out riding my bike, is how I remember it — and a dry start to this rainy season, everyone here was thinking drought. But suddenly we’re in the middle of one of our classic mid-winter wet spells, where it rains day after day after day until you have seven or eight days in a row of water gurgling along the curbs or seeping down retaining walls or bubbling up through the sidewalk; or 12 or 13 or 14 days, who knows. I’m sensitive to the fact I have readers further north, where 14 straight days of rain is part of the civic charter. But here, it makes an impression on you. It saturates the ground under the house; you can smell the wet soil in the house when you come in. It causes sump pumps to startle you with gushes of water into the the gutters. It makes you appreciate a light drizzle in place of a downpour, and it makes you look forward to the day a month or two from now when it will seem unnaturally sunny and warm and everything here will be green and growing and on its way to summer brown.

Movie news: Saw “The Weatherman.” From our Netflix queue. Liked it, a lot (come on: Chicago. Weather. Ice in the lake. TV meteorologist continually pelted with fast food. Semi-realistic family dysfunction). I know Nicolas Cage isn’t to everyone’s taste. No matter what he does, and I guess he has a lot to answer for, in my book he’s got a lifetime pass for “Raising Arizona.” And “Moonstruck.”

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Weather Friday

Storm’s brewing. For connoisseurs of the National Weather Service’s Monterey, California, area forecast discussion, today’s early-morning report tends towards “War and Peace” in terms of length, though in all capital letters and without quite the mastery of dramatic language one loves in a good non-Harlequin novel. An excerpt:

“AS INTENSE FRONTAL CONVERGENCE APPROACHES…INCREASING PRECIPITABLE WATER PLUME SWINGS UNDERNEATH. THIS WILL SET THE STAGE FOR PERIODS OF VERY HEAVY RAIN WITH RAIN RATES PROBABLY NEARING 0.75”. TRICKY PART OF FORECAST IS HOW FAR EAST THIS BAND GETS BEFORE IT BECOMES QUASI-STATIONARY FOR AN EXTENDED PERIOD. WHERE THIS BOUNDARY ALIGNS ITSELF WILL MARK THE LOCATIONS WHERE HEAVY … FLOODING RAINS WILL PERSIST FOR AT LEAST 12 HOURS. ECMWF/GFS HAVE BEEN REMARKABLY SIMILAR IN TARGETING SANTA CRUZ MOUNTAINS SOUTHWARD TO BIG SUR FROM ABOUT 18Z FRI THRU 06Z SAT. IF THIS WAS TO OCCUR…WE WOULD SEE AT A MINIMUM SERIOUS URBAN AND SMALL STREAM FLOODING AND AT WORST FLASH FLOODING. SLIGHT CHANGE HAS BEEN NOTED ON 06Z GFS…AS IT LIMITS THE INLAND INTRUSION OF THIS INITIAL

CONVERGENCE BAND AND ALIGNS IT PERILOUSLY CLOSE TO SHORE … THEN LIFTS IT NORTH DROPPING A LARGER MAJORITY OF THE RAIN IN THE OCEAN. CERTAINLY NOT CONFIDENT ENOUGH BASED ON ONE MODEL RUN … BUT THIS INDICATES HOW DANGEROUSLY CLOSE THIS SITUATION CAN EVOLVE FROM SERIOUS FLOODING TO A LESSER THREAT.”

In layperson’s terms, what the forecaster is describing is a storm that the weather models can’t quite decide will sit right over the coast, which would cause flooding, or linger offshore, and dump into the ocean. The very good CBS/Channel 5 radar has a good picture of how things look now: There is lots of rain happening, but mostly just off the coast; unlike many storms here, the rain is moving from south to north instead of west to east (a result of the storm center being well off the coast and the Bay Area being on the “right” side of ; the place that’s experiencing the heaviest soaking so far is north of the Golden Gate, on Point Reyes, not far to the south as described in the discussion. I’m hoping we’ll dodge the worst of this.

[Update/Saturday night: We did get a good long soaking all through the Bay Area from midmorning Friday until nearly midnight. Around here and in San Francisco, where I was working, lots of water running in the gutters and sometimes ponding on the streets and freeways. A little more excitement to the north of here in Marin County, where creeks rose very quickly and threatened to flood out some of the tonier suburban downtowns; nothing came of that threat, though, aside from some streamside gawkers and excited newscasters. Stopped raining late, and then we had an unexpectedly beautiful, warm day today; a long bike ride involving the randonneuring freaks got a miraculous break in the weather, too — instead of 125 miles in a windy downpour, the riders, however many there were, got the mildest, friendliest conditions for a January brevet in several years. And then tonight, after the ride was done, it started raining again.]

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Two from the Road

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As mentioned in a road-addled state earlier this week, I drove up to Eugene on Monday, then drove right back. Not that it was a world-class ironman stunt or anything, but still: 512 miles up there, 512 miles back. We were actually rolling at 9:14 a.m. (projected start: “8 o’clock at the latest”), and we pulled into Thom’s driveway near the University of Oregon at 5:37; that was with one fairly long stop (40 minutes) in Ashland gas up and then sit down and have lunch (Pangea; wraps highly recommended). I got another tank of gas in Eugene and was driving south again at 6:12 p.m. There was no traffic to speak of all the way south, but it started to rain when I got about halfway down the Sacramento Valley. It started to rain, and I started to get tired. Along the way, I experimented with some night-time windshield pictures. The one above is from southwestern Oregon, north of Glendale, Grants Pass and Medford (as the road sign indicates several times). The one below is from Interstate 80 in Vacaville, just after leaving i-505. Things were starting to look a little fractured at that point.

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Notes from Day Two

The schedule as it stands this evening:

Cognitive Sciences/Linguistics: “The Mind and Language.” Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11 a.m.

History: “Modern Ireland” (“modern means from 1600 till now). Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 11 a.m.

Letters & Science/International Studies: “Global Transformation and Cultural Change: NGO’s, AIDs and Sub-Saharan Africa.” Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 9 a.m.

Subject to change, perhaps. I actually was signed up for a fourth class, but because of some work commitments, I’ve had to try to pack as much of my class time into the mornings as possible. What doesn’t show here is that each class includes at least one hour of discussion outside the lectures per week — that’s something new since I was last making out checks to the Regents of the University of California. I talked to my advisor in the history department today, and she said if she were in my shoes she’d take just two classes. We’ll see.

***

Without doing the Rip van Winkle thing too much, some impressions after waking up from my decades of academic slumber:

–My dog doesn’t know me anymore. The son of the man who used to run the CIA is now president of the United States.

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First Day of School

First day, first day back in class since 1980: Cognitive Science 101, “Language and Mind.” Despite Thom’s assurances that I might see at least one other gray head in the classroom, everyone else here seems to be honest-to-goodness first go-round undergrads. But since I can sit here and blog, I am not self-conscious (hey, you couldn’t do that the last time I was on campus). [Later: On mature reflection, and to set the record straight, what Thom was telling me when I shared my pre-first-day butterflies with him yesterday was that many of his classes at the University of Oregon have included one person my age or older; he didn’t imply that I’d have any other fogies as company, just that my appearance among students born just before or during the first Bush administration wouldn’t be as freakish as I assumed.]

This first class — it’s 11:08 11:13 11:18 and still no instructor — is something of a crapshoot. I’m waitlisted for it. The classroom is a good-sized one in Cory Hall, in the ever-expanding electrical engineering/computer science quadrant of the campus. The hall seats maybe 200 people. It’s packed. A quarter-hour in and people are still arriving.

(At the same time, I have another potential class happening, a Property and Law lecture, about a five-minute walk away. Right now, Cognitive Science 101 is becoming an exercise in waiting–how long till people just start to bail and go to whatever else they might have to do. Right now, I’d call my first day back an anti-climax.).

[Update: Instructor showed at 11:22, saying that unbeknownst to her, her room assignment had been changed. My education has begun!]

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Shasta Moon

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Monday into Tuesday: Drove up to Eugene (to take Thom back up to school) and back (to be in time for my first day of school). Full moon tonight. Overworked word: magical. But the moonlight on the mountains up north was just that, magical. Going over one of the higher passes, a meteor came down nearly directly in from of me in a long, green, sparking arc. Then, on the way down the grade to Yreka, I could see the clouds around Mount Shasta had cleared. I pulled off to the vista point that commands the view of the high valleys sweeping south to the mountain and tried a couple time exposures (not perfect because it was very windy and cold and I had to try to hold the camera steady on top of a railing). A couple of them turned out OK.

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The Fungus File, Redux



To be identified

Originally uploaded by Dan Brekke

Just gathered my modest collection of fungi pictures on Flickr. Here’s the link.

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Anchor Magnetism

Dennis Richmond is retiring after more than three decades on KTVU. Which makes me ponder the longevity of anchors, at least in the big markets. I haven’t lived in Chicago for more than 30 years, and I still seem to recognize some of the people reading the news. Same here in the Bay Area. The mystery is, the one thing about local news shows everywhere is the low esteem in which they’re held–at least among the cognoscenti in other media. So what accounts for the staying power of the same faces year after year after year?

The obvious part of the answer is that despite how shallow, superficial, hollow or misinformed a particular show or anchor is, the programs and personnel obviously develop a loyal following in all those anonymous TV-watching households. With my occasional serious journalistic pretensions and the occasional serious pretensions of my blog, I’ve been bemused to discover that the one subject over the past couple of years that draws readers day in and day out have been items dealing with Leslie Griffith, the former KTVU late-night co-anchor. I’ve noticed that plenty of visitors also arrive on my site after Googling Julie Haener and Sara Sidner and Gasia Mikaelian, Griffith’s successors. Part of the audience is obviously guys who really like hearing about traffic accidents and shootings and the Bush White House from good-looking gals. Period.

There’s got to be more to it than that, though. I think it comes down to the phenomenon of consumer habit. People like what they like, and just as most of us prefer a certain kind of car, a certain kind of breakfast cereal and a certain kind of toothpaste, most tend to stick with a favorite newscast. I think that group is the biggest group, and is very durable (even now, I can tell you which newscasts we watched when I was growing up in Chicago and why). But stations don’t go on hunches; they pay big money to figure out what the audience is doing and why; they pay top dollar to keep their brands intact by keeping a likeable lineup on the air.

The question I have is whether the phenomenon of the anchor who serves for generations, the way Dennis Richmond has, is passing or past already. We have different and many would insist better ways of getting the news now than watching someone in a studio someplace read a sliver of a complex story told better elsewhere. I guess it comes back to the habit: How much longer will we need that comforting daily presence coming to us over the air. When you look at it that way, the answer is maybe forever.

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