Road Blog: Berkeley to Butte


This morning I took a 6:35 flight from Oakland to Seattle–the packed zoo-ish Southwest Airlines variety–then, in the company of my son Eamon and daughter-in-law Sakura, made a sharp right turn (if you’re looking at the map with north on top) and headed over the Cascades and well beyond on Interstate 90. We wound up in Butte at nightfall. I figure the day involved about 750 air miles and another 600 on the road. All set up with two hours of sleep, the result of a push to get some work done yesterday evening. That seems like a long time ago.

From out of the overload, one image that there’s no picture for: a pair of sandhill cranes winging across the Interstate, somewhere in that last hour on the road, an apparition in the long light of the last day of May, after crossing the Cascades, the Palouse, the first low passes of the Rockies, with rivers in every valley running full, the higher peaks all gleaming mid-winter white. Kind of hard for me to figure what season we’re in. The cranes have a bead on it, though.

Tomorrow? There’s talk of the Little Big Horn and Deadwood. We shall see.

Two much more prosaic snapshots go into the book for today, though. Above: On the Palouse, west of Spokane. Below: Serious advice from the state of Washington for a certain class of drivers and their friends.


Memorial Day

By way of my friend Steve, this piece of World War II reporting from Ernie Pyle: “This One Is Captain Waskow.”

“I was at the foot of the mule trail the night they brought Captain Waskow down. The moon was nearly full, and you could see far up the trail, and even part way across the valley. Soldiers made shadows as they walked.”

The dispatch was written in Italy in 1943,during the battle of San Pietro Infine. The filmmaker John Huston, who was somewhere between making “The Maltese Falcon” and “Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” was there, too, shooting a documentary about the battle. The battle isn’t widely remembered, but I remember seeing the movie in a film class in the mid-70s. From that, and from reading some Ernie Pyle dispatches someone handed me in high school, what I remember was that U.S. troops had been given the job of dislodging German forces from a nearly impregnable strategic position on a mountain. That, and that a lot of men died.

Go read the Captain Waskow piece. You won’t forget it. It makes me reflect on whether any of the wars in our era–and for me, that stretches back to the beginning of the Vietnam War–has produced a voice like Ernie Pyle’s. Someone who served so authentically as the chronicler of soldiers’ lives and deaths for the public back home. I think some great writing has emerged from our later wars–thinking about books like those by Michael Herr (“Dispatches“) and Tim O’Brien (“Going After Cacciato” and all the rest). But I can’t think of the journalist creating a contemporaneous record of the war as it unfolded the way Pyle did.

I think maybe the difference is partly that the nature of our wars have been different–conflicts with either no clearly defined enemy awaiting us on the battlefield (“Global War on Terrorism,” anyone?) or those that were elective affairs (Vietnam, the Gulf War, “Operation Iraqi Freedom”). Maybe the difference is partly due to the fact most Americans living today have grown up in a nation that doesn’t require military service; we give the most strenuous lip service to the importance of sacrifice, but we don’t live it and the reality of it barely touches most of us. Maybe that accounts for a fundamental divide between our soldiers and the men and women sent to report on them (see “When the Bodies Don’t Want to Be Shown“). And maybe the difference is that media and communications have moved far beyond the reporter filing from the front “by wireless”; our news/entertainment outlets create an illusion of immediacy, not to mention lots of light and noise, that can drown out the written word.



A friend writes:

“Dan, do you know what the little monument is on Shasta just above the first Tamalpias intersection. You are my Berkeley expert. Thanks.”

In fact, I knew nothing about a monument in the locale he named, which is in the Berkeley Hills about a five-minute walk from the Rose Garden. But the appeal to me as a “Berkeley expert” sent me in search of an answer.

Walking up from the bottom of Shasta Road, which begins at Tamalpais, I thought maybe I’d see a little plaque or statue along the way. Nothing. On the south side of the road, an old set of concrete stairs led upward to some ivy and brush, but not to a monument of any kind. A little further along, just past a house for sale with an asking price of one million, three hundred ninety thousand dollars (six bedrooms, five thousand square feet, canyon view), I spotted the creation pictured above. I didn’t investigate further–this must be the monument my friend was asking about.

There’s nothing written anywhere to indicate that it commemorates anything. But there was something–someone, actually–better: the woman who owns the property and put up the piece, which she calls “The Monument,” about ten years ago. I interrupted her while she was doing some gardening next to the site.

She did it just to do it, she said, “to create a window onto the garden” that she’s built in the canyon below. “It’s whatever you want it to be,” she added. She also cleared the path to The Monument’s base, and said the site attracts people who have left a variety of offerings, including, once, a large boulder. I asked her about the central piece, the framed cloverleaf. It’s ceramic and came from Ohmega Salvage in Berkeley.

Our conversation ranged further: to the history of her house (built in 1911) and its mis-matched banks of windows, the history of the canyon above her home (formerly owned by the quarry company that worked the site of the current La Loma Park until 1910; a couple of the houses on the uphill side of Shasta at this point are built around elements of an old quarry office and the operation’s stone crusher), the year-round creek at the bottom of her canyon (the South Branch of Codornices Creek, which flows down a five-foot culvert from the west edge of La Loma Park; at that point, smaller pipes carry water from nearby springs and storm runoff from nearby streets into the larger culvert).

Conclusion of the foregoing: That’s the story of the Shasta Road monument and its immediate environs as reported by a reliable local source.

Friday Night Ferry: Sunset


Last night’s variation on the theme: Sunset’s late enough now that the trip back to Oakland from San Francisco is a light show. Another variation: Kate met me at the radio station, and we walked over Potrero Hill, then up Third Street, past the ballpark, and up The Embarcadero to the boat.

Day Trip


I took yesterday off. So did Kate. We did a mini-road trip to Mendocino County with The Dog. Though it’s late May, and we like to think we ought to be well into the dry season, it rained on the way north and then sporadically all day. Beautiful, though. And we were home by dark.

Above: That’s looking “southbound” (actual direction may be east) on Highway 128, along what I think of as the “true summit” area just north of the Sonoma-Mendocino county line. Heading north, you climb a grade of about two miles or so and are briefly rewarded with the impression that you’ve reached the top as you head down a little descent. Then the road pitches up sharply again before you cross a higher crest and start downhill toward Mountain House Road, which connects to Hopland. This Interesting aspect for me of driving roads in this area is that I’ve ridden them in all sorts of conditions, dry, wet, in the middle of the night. The constant: I’m usually pretty tired, because this stretch of Highway is located deep into some long brevet routes I’ve done–better than 100 miles into most, more than 200 miles into a couple of them.

Below: mini-slideshow of scenes from the highway.

Bees in Berkeley: A Theme

vanishingofthebees.jpgWell, maybe it’s only a two-day theme, but a neighbor who saw Tueday’s post about the bee hive-let in a local utility pole sent along an announcement to an event tonight at Berkeley’s Hillside Club: the showing of a documentary called “Vanishing of the Bees.”

The essentials:

The film will be shown tonight (May 25) at 7:30 at the club, located at 2286 Cedar Street (at Arch) in beautiful, bee-friendly North Berkeley. Admission is $8 (or $5 if you’re a club member. A discussion will follow the showing. Advance tickets available from (800 838 3006), a service that charges a small service fee.

Description from movie site: “Bees are responsible for apples, broccoli, onions, cherries and a hundred other fruits and vegetables. Commercial honeybee operations pollinate crops that make up one out of every three bites of food on our tables. Vanishing of the Bees follows commercial beekeepers David Hackenberg and Dave Mendes as they strive to keep their bees healthy and fulfill pollination contracts across the U.S. The film explores the struggles they face as they plead their case on Capital [sic] Hill and across the world.”

The movie is narrated by Ellen Pageof “Juno” and “Inception” fame.

There you have it.

Berkeley Infrastructure Notes: Apiary Edition

beepole052211.jpg beepole052211a.jpg

A sharp-eyed dog-walker of my acquaintance (I’m married to her) spotted something a little unusual near the bottom of a utility pole a couple blocks from our place. Bees were flying in and out of a cavity about three and a half feet above the sidewalk. A honeycomb was visible. They had a full-fledged if rather small hive going, right out in plain sight. My acquaintance took my out to the scene so I could document the scene. (Click the images for larger views of the pictures.)

An unaddressed question: Does this little insect colony pose a danger? The pictures show evidence of boring, probably by powder-post beetles. Is the pole going to snap off? Except for this one area, it appears pretty solid. (The question brings up some interesting issues, such as who’s responsible for fixing or replacing a damaged pole. A friend who works for the city and is generally pretty well informed tells me that the last utility that attached something to the pole generally bears responsibility.


Shakespearean II

A quote ripped off from a well-done blog called The Obit Patrol: “The poetry of history lies in the quasi-miraculous fact that once, on this earth, on this familiar spot of ground, walked men and women, as actual as we are today, thinking their own thoughts, swayed by their own passions, but now all gone, one generation vanishing after another, gone as utterly as we ourselves shall be gone, like ghosts at cock-crow.” That’s from a 1949 essay by the British historian George Macaulay Trevelyan.

One night at work last week, I had a conversation with a colleague that started on public radio fund-raising, traversed the difficulty of asking strangers for money, and led to an exchange about homeless people on San Francisco streets. I said that it had crossed my mind that I’d have a hard time if I were forced to panhandle because I thought I’d find it hard to ask passers-by for help.

“Yeah, I hear people say, ‘Hey, get a job,’ ” my colleague said. “They don’t know what they’re talking about. It’s hard out there.” He went on to say that an acquaintance of his, a man who had once been the director of the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, had wound up on the streets and had died there.

I knew who he was talking about. I’d run into the guy myself, about two and a half years ago, lying on the street near a supermarket. I bought him a sandwich. We talked briefly, and he had come out with some of his personal history. He even recited a couple of lines of Shakespeare. I had not heard that he had died.

Later, I went looking for an obituary, and came across The Obit Patrol. The site featured a story by a critic in St. Petersburg, Florida–the hometown of the man I’d met. It can’t help but be heart-rending: It’s the story of Charles McCue, a promising, brilliant, talented, handsome, charming young man who ends up dying on a sidewalk at age 51.

After my first encounter with Charles, I ran into him once more, about a week after that first meeting. It was a Friday night after work. I was walking down 16th Street toward BART in a drizzling rain and had reached the tough blocks between South Van Ness and Mission. He approached me and asked for change. He didn’t recognize me, but I mentioned that we’d met before and that he’d told me about his theater work. Maybe he remembered, maybe he didn’t. He was trying to hustle up enough cash to buy a can of ready-to-eat soup from a little market across the street. He said it was his birthday. I think I gave him twenty bucks and asked him where he’d go to get out of the weather. He had a place he could stay dry, he said. He said maybe it was time he got off the streets with another wet season coming on. He had a sister in Florida who had offered him a place, but only if he stopped drinking. I had a sound recorder with me and thought about breaking it out while we talked. But it was raining, and I didn’t want to go through the whole song and dance. Besides, I wanted to get to my train. “Florida doesn’t sound bad,” I said. “You should go to Florida.”

Berkeley Humor, or The Dead-End Kids


Delaware and Grant streets. Yonder is Ohlone Park, including the section we used to call the Experiment Dog Park–you know, for experimental dogs. In foreground is a piece of neighborhood art that wouldn’t have been possible had the sign said “Dead End.”