Monthly Archives: October 2009

New Ho Ho

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A sighting on our weekly Friday night stops in Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood. One of many restaurants in the area and part of an almost equally large group we have not yet tried. “New Ho Ho”? Somewhere, there’s an original Ho Ho Restaurant, I guess. And the “Ho Ho” part? The Chinese version shown below, shot with exceedingly slow shutter and excessively moving hands, gives a hint. The character for “ho” is repeated (you can just make that out in the red characters above the awning). “Ho” apparently means “good.” I don’t know whether doubling it means “extra good.” Or maybe “greasy spoon.”

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News Tales: ‘You’re Still a Kid’

Sometime back in the rich Early Middle Era of my news career — 1987, I’ll call it, at The San Francisco Examiner — something awful happened at about 5 o’clock in the afternoon. A wire-service bulletin said an airliner had gone down somewhere down the coast. I was new on the city desk, and had just started my shift. I had been part of many newsroom scrambles for big stories on deadline, but I was never really in charge of the response. I wasn’t, really, on this night, either. I remember that the senior city editor grabbed a reporter who was just about to leave for the evening and told him he needed to fly down to the crash site. Done. I think my fellow editor collared two or three other reporters who thought they were going home and told them to stand by.

Just recounting the incident revives its horror for me, though I don’t think of it often. What made a more conscious impression, one that still rises to the surface whenever I’m in a newsroom–every working day, now–was the way the editors and reporters reacted to the simple suggestion that a story was happening, that game was afoot.

I’m thinking about that now because my current newsroom, at KQED Public Radio, is in the midst of trying to respond to this week’s problems on the Bay Bridge. Circumstances are a little different now. Much smaller newsroom–which means much smaller staff. No one to stop at the door on the way out and say, “Hey — wait a minute. Big problem on the bridge.” In fact, when the incident occurred the other night, I was winding down from our evening newscasts and getting ready to edit a feature story, a guy wandered over from an adjacent (non-news) department and asked if we knew what was happening on the bridge. When it came down to it on night one, it was me, the local traffic reporting service, and our evening announcer who held the fort. (One of the bosses said to me, “These all-hands-on-deck situations are fun.” I didn’t reflect until later that at first, mine were the only hands on deck.) I had started work before noon and sent my last new email of the night after 1 a.m. I complained mildly on Facebook that it’s harder for me to do those long news days and come back the next day to do it again. The very same editor I was so impressed with that evening back in ’87 responded to that note: “And yet … you’re still a kid.”

Not so sure about that. But some old news reflex is still there.

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The Reward

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A basic Berkeley bike ride: Start at my house, 120 feet above sea level. Take your favorite route up through the neighborhoods towards Spruce Street, one of the main roads into the hills (I ride up the north, purely residential end of Shattuck Avenue to Indian Rock, then to Santa Barbara, then the short, sharp climb up Northampton to Spruce). At the top of Spruce, roughly 2.2 meandering miles from home and at an elevation of about 800 feet, turn right on Grizzly Peak. The direction you’re conscious of going is up; you may not perceive until looking at a map later that you’ve been riding mostly north on Spruce and that as you climb the ridge on Grizzly Peak you’ve doubled back south. After the first quarter-mile on Grizzly Peak, you get to a long stretch where the climb is pretty gentle. You’re around 960 feet or so when cross Marin Avenue and just under 1100 as you approach the Shasta Gate into Tilden Park. Then you plunge down past the intersection with Shasta Road and climb again to the city limits and cross Centennial Drive where it tops out on its ascent from the UC-Berkeley campus, elevation about 1250 and about 5 miles from my front door. The road then climbs more twistily, steadily and steeply–though far from punishingly steep–for another 1.7 miles or so to the top of the road–a shade under 1700 feet.

So if you’re keeping track of all that, that’s a climb of something like 1550 vertical feet in 6.7 miles right outside the front door. Again, the way it unfolds with its long, gradual stretches is not a killer. But it’s not a bad workout, either.

When I first went up Grizzly Peak, in 1980, I think, I was stunned by the views. The road clings to the western slope of a very steep ridge, so you have a pretty much wide open view across Berkeley to the Bay and beyond. About a quarter-mile or so before the top of the road, where the pops over a last little rise before leveling out and pitching down toward toward the Claremont/Fish Ranch saddle, there’s a nice turnout with a stone wall. I used to stop there every time I went up the road to take in the view. I thought of it as my reward for working to get there. It was also a good place to take a breather. Then at some point I became more focused on getting up across the top as quickly as I could, and I didn’t stop there much anymore.

Today I did. For a minute. To see the view. To drink in the warmth of this amazing October day. To take a couple of pictures. It was a good reward.

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Guest Observation: Howard Nemerov

Kate’s a teacher. We talk a lot about school around here, and everything that happens there, and all that should or might and doesn’t. We brought out this poem this evening and read it aloud: “A school is where they grind the grain of thought,/And grind the children who must mind the thought.” Wow–what a description of the institution. (And who was Howard Nemerov? Here’s a good writeup from the American Academy of Poets.)

September, the First Day of School

I
My child and I hold hands on the way to school,
And when I leave him at the first-grade door
He cries a little but is brave; he does
Let go. My selfish tears remind me how
I cried before that door a life ago.
I may have had a hard time letting go.
Each fall the children must endure together
What every child also endures alone:
Learning the alphabet, the integers,
Three dozen bits and pieces of a stuff
So arbitrary, so peremptory,
That worlds invisible and visible
Bow down before it, as in Joseph's dream
The sheaves bowed down and then the stars bowed down
Before the dreaming of a little boy.
That dream got him such hatred of his brothers
As cost the greater part of life to mend,
And yet great kindness came of it in the end.
II
A school is where they grind the grain of thought,
And grind the children who must mind the thought.
It may be those two grindings are but one,
As from the alphabet come Shakespeare's Plays,
As from the integers comes Euler's Law,
As from the whole, inseperably, the lives,
The shrunken lives that have not been set free
By law or by poetic phantasy.
But may they be. My child has disappeared
Behind the schoolroom door. And should I live
To see his coming forth, a life away,
I know my hope, but do not know its form
Nor hope to know it. May the fathers he finds
Among his teachers have a care of him
More than his father could. How that will look
I do not know, I do not need to know.
Even our tears belong to ritual.
But may great kindness come of it in the end.

(Used without permission, but in a noncommercial spirit.)

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A Stroll in Berkeley, or The Hostile Inebriate

For the late afternoon dog walk, we took a fistful of bills out to mail and walked downtown. We stopped at the PG&E office, then the post office. Then we decided to get what’s going to pass for our dinner tonight at Top Dog, just up Center Street from downtown Berkeley. Lots of Cal fans were walking the other way from the football game; the home team had given the visitors from Washington State an ugly thumping (the score was 49-17, but Cal, coached by a local gridiron millionaire, repeatedly committed stupid personal fouls and during one stretch appeared to stop playind defense).

Anyway. As The Dog and I waited outside Top Dog, a young woman wearing a Cal sweatshirt and seated at the open front window repeatedly sang, “We beat the Cougars! We beat the Cougars!” During her fifth or sixth round, I finally responded. “Yeah — everyone does.” Washington State’s known mostly for the big scores its opponents run up; its unofficial mascot is the crime-scene silhouette. She looked at me and said, “Yeah, isn’t it wonderful?” She explained that she’s from Seattle, which is University of Washington. She loves it when Huskies maul Cougars.

Kate came out of the restaurant and we walked up to the west entrance to campus to eat our hot dogs on the steps up there. It was a nice open-air repast as the sun got lower. Along the drive leading into campus, I heard someone angrily say, “F—!” I looked over, and a wiry guy with long hair and a beard, maybe in his early 40s, was walking toward us. He got to the top of an adjacent set of steps about 30 feet away and asked if we had a cigarette. Neither of us wanted to engage the guy, and we both shook our heads no. “What?” he said, and started to walk toward us. “No,” Kate said. He stopped and looked away. I had taken out my camera to take a picture of the sunlight on the steps. “What’s that?” he asked, and started to walk toward me again. He wasn’t menacing, exactly; more like drunk and challenging. “A camera,” I said. When he got to within about five feet of where I was sitting I put up my hand and said, “Back off.” He advanced another step. “You taking a picture of your dog?” “Yeah,” I said. “See?” I pointed the camera at him and took a shot. Simultaneously, he flipped me the bird, then stalked off cursing. Kate said, “Let’s get out of here.”

If things had gone any further than that, I would have called the cops. As it is, I have a nice likeness of my new friend as a keepsake.

We walked toward home, careful to take a different route from Mr. Finger’s. A large, fluffy cloud floated south over downtown. The setting sun illuminated it, creating a soft top-lit glow. Just another evening in the city.

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Berkeley: Friday Night Light

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From the Martin Luther King Middle School yard this evening. A lovely, long sunset and red dusk. So far, this has been some kind of ideal October: lots of rain for an early end to the fire season, and plenty of warm clear days. It’s just a little cooler and a little darker day to day, though, and we’re just a couple of weeks away from having to push the clocks back. Late twilight: love it while you can!

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All Star Hotel

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On 16th Street near Folsom in the northeastern corner of the Mission. I walk by the place at least two or three times a week. The setting says “dive,” but it’s surprisingly un-divey-looking from the outside. On the strength of two reviews, TripAdvisor.com ranks it 179th out of 248 hotels in the city. Room rate quoted in one of those reviews: $150. A week. Here’s a 2004 piece on the hotel from the alternative online news site BeyondChron.com.

(When I took the picture, a guy on the sidewalk said, “You with the movies?” I didn’t I’d heard him correctly and asked him to repeat what he’d said.

“You making a movie?”

“No, I just liked how that doorway looks.”

“If you’re making a movie, I want to be in it.”

“OK–I’ll be back when I’m making one.” We both laughed. )

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All Class/No Class Crete-Monee Reunion, 2009

The big event of the late weekend was a small gathering, at our house in Berkeley, of folks from Crete-Monee High School, from which I graduated in 1972. This was sort of an informal reprise of an actual “all-class” reunion held a couple weeks ago in Crete, a town about 30 miles straight south of downtown Chicago. About 700 people showed up for a catered event at the racetrack on the edge of town. The Crete-Monee diaspora includes at least a handful who have landed in Northern California. A few of us who have stayed in touch or who have happened upon each other on Facebook began talking about a West Coast version of the Crete event. And so this weekend’s All Class/No Class Crete-Monee High School Reunion, 2009 was born.

Who showed up? Anne Kaufman, ’74, right off the plane from Chicago. Mike Rodgers — ’74, too, I think, and Wendy Seehausen Rodgers (not sure what class). Jimmy O’Donnell, who blasted down from his creekside paradise near Mount Lassen in Shasta County; he’s an honorary graduate of the Class of ’74 because his family moved after his sophomore year and he was forced to complete school in the snowless suburban sprawl of Contra Costa County. His sister Laurie O’Donnell, who was in my class (’72) but who I never really talked to much until yesterday. Linda Stewart, who as a German teacher to many of the assembled was in all our classes; she came down from Truckee, the town just across Donner Pass on Interstate 80 in the Sierra. And then there was Kate, my wife, who grew up Crete-less (she’s from the northern Jersey shore, sort of) and me.

So eight in all. More would have been fun, and if we could teleport people I can name several friends (Randy, Ron, Mike, Dan–you listening?) I would have beamed in in a second. But yesterday eight was enough, to coin a phrase. Linda remarked that everyone talked to everyone else, the group kept forming into small groups, breaking up, and reassembling itself into twos and threes of engaged conversation. The food was good. The weather was beautiful. There were some funny memories, some warm recollections, some scary and sad stories about classmates and friends. Most of us ended up taking a walk through our neighborhood just after sunset, and that was the way I imagined the day ending.

I’ve never once gone to one of my class reunions. It’s been 10 or 12 years at least since I’ve been part of a high-school-centered gathering; the last one was at Linda’s when she lived in San Francisco. People are talking about it happening again next year. We’ll see what comes. Meantime I’ll work on my teleportation skills.

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‘Please Help Me Find Him’: The Resolution

A couple of days ago, I wrote about seeing a particularly eye-catching missing persons poster in the Mission. It appeared to involve a promising young science student from San Diego. So: I did call the numbers on the poster. The home phone had an answering machine in Spanish — the only thing I understood was the family name, Trujillo.

The listed cellphone was answered in Spanish by a man. I asked whether he spoke English. “Yes — who’s this?” He asked. I explained I was calling from San Francisco and had seen the poster. He said, “I already found my son. Everything’s OK. He’s back home and back in school — everything’s OK.” I was tempted to press him for the circumstances that led to him posting the flyer. I did manage to ask whether anyone else had called with information after seeing the poster. But he was clearly a little uncomfortable–speaking English and talking to a stranger–and I let it go. Anyway, that’s the outcome. A happy one, I’d say, and I’m all for happy endings.

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Bay Area Storm Numbers

The storm came, and now it has gone, mostly. It was advertised as the marriage of a Gulf of Alaska storm and some typhoon remnants. Watching the rain pour down here, and seeing the totals mount on the National Weather Service statistics pages, I believe the typhoon part. It was the heaviest mid-October rain for most locations since 1962, when the World Series–Giants and Yankees, at the still-new Candlestick Park–was washed out by rain.

Some of the more amazing 24-hour totals, midnight Monday to midnight Tuesday: Mount Umunhum in the Santa Cruz Mountains, 13.07 inches. Ben Lomond, Santa Cruz Mountains: 10.58 inches. Mining Ridge, a remote recording station at an elevation of 4760 feet in the Santa Lucia range above Big Sur: 20 inches even. The totals of 5-plus inches at lowland locales in the central Bay Area seem semi-arid by comparison–even though they represent anywhere from 15 to 25 percent of what those locations get in an average rain year.

It’s not easy to get apples/apples numbers just casually browsing the Weather Service sites. But the service did publish a record report for 24-hour rainfall (the standard here is from 5 p.m. to 5 p.m., I think).

Location New Record Old Record
Kentfield 6.14 4.20, set in 1957
Oakland Museum 3.86 0.37, set in 1988
Richmond 3.38 2.47, set in 1962
San Francisco Airport 2.64 2.62, set in 1962
San Francisco Downtown 2.49* 1.80, set in 1962
Santa Rosa 2.74 (tied) 2.74, set in 1962
King City 1.65 0.30, set in 2007
Monterey Climate Station 2.66* 1.14, set in 1962
Salinas 1.05 0.39, set in 1992
Santa Cruz 3.16* 2.49, set in 1957

*New unofficial record for 24-hour rainfall in October.

For several days before yesterday’s storm, the Weather Service office in Monterey was highlighting some of the highest October rainfall totals for stations in its forecast area. Here they are:

Location One-Day Record Two-Day Record
Santa Rosa 4.67 (10/12/1962) 7.41 (10/12-13/1962)
Napa 4.66 (10/13/1962) 9.32 (10/12-13/1962)
San Francisco Downtown 2.29 (10/15/1969) 3.72 (10/12-13/1962)
San Francisco Airport 2.62 (10/13/1962) 4.56 (10/12-13/1962)
Oakland Airport 4.53 (10/13/1962) 5.85 (10/12-13/1962)
Livermore 2.17 (10/13/1962) 3.45 (10/13-14/1962)
San Jose 3.22 (10/13/1962) 4.56 (10/12-13/1962)
Santa Cruz 3.15 (10/20/1899) 3.35 (10/20-21/1899)
Monterey 1.80 (10/26/1907) 2.09 (10/26-27/1907)
Salinas 1.50 (10/30/1982) 1.50 (10/30-31/1982)
King City 1.88 (10/29/1996) 2.18 (10/29-30/1996)

Source: National Weather Service, Monterey, California

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