Labor Day

620Kate teaches in Oakland, and her union is in some tough negotiations with the district over its next contract. Since the district, like nearly all the urban school systems in California, is in serious financial trouble, the teachers agreed to a 4 percent cut in salaries last year. Now the district wants to cap health-care contributions in a move that would cost most teachers something like 250 bucks a month. Doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but 1) that’s $3,000 a year and could cost teachers another 5 percent or 10 percent of their wages; and 2) that $250 a month is just for starters — the cap would limit the district’s cost and make teachers eat the inevitable future health-care costs. A neighbor who lives across the street teaches in Fremont, a city between Oakland and San Jose, and teachers there struck that sort of deal with the district a few years ago; he says he’s paying $10,000 a year now to insure himself, his wife, and their two daughters. (Gee, where is this issue in the presidential campaign?)

Anyway, the Oakland teachers are gearing up for a big labor fight, and today they held a rally and march from Lake Merritt to downtown. It was probably the first labor event I’ve ever attended on Labor Day.

Today’s Teens

A couple of kids, a boy and a girl, both about 16, pass me on the sidewalk. The conversation snippet I hear, from the girl: “The only history we have is killing a bunch of people, and we’re continuing today. That’s American history.”

The Commander

A few weeks ago, Kate and I were walking someplace in the neighborhood and she suddenly exclaimed, “Look, there’s the Commander.” Yes: a well-known local character. It’s a wreck of an old RV spruced up with red paint. It patrols the greater North Berkeley flatlands in search of parking places where the neighbors won’t raise a stink. It graced our street and others nearby last December. Then on Christmas Eve I saw the Commander chugging slowly away; I thought it looked kind of sad; but maybe it was off on an Xmas mission, delivering its own Yuletide treat to a soon-to-be-surprised homeowner.

Now, with winter long behind us, the Commander, which apparently hails from a Canadian RV maker, has migrated back to our block. Not all the neighbors are pleased with its reappearance. The police have been called. The Commander has been ticketed and towed. One guy up the street says he had an angry face-off after following the Commander’s commander to try to figure out where he lived (the owner doesn’t live in the RV, apparently, but ventures out from a more conventional domicile and moves his vehicle from place to place). Tensions run high in a place where some people have a deeply proprietary feeling about their native asphalt and others just can’t give up the romance of the open road. (Though now that you ask, no, I wouldn’t be especially thrilled to have this thing dumped in front of my house, either).

Tour de A.M.


That’s our neighbor Marie, who with close confrere Steve and another cyclistically inclined neighbor, Christine, came over at 6 a.m. Sunday to watch the final live broadcast of the Tour de France. They all were over to watch Stage 1, too, on the Fourth of July. Hey, there’s nothing else to do that early on a Sunday morning in Berkeley.

Murder in Berkeley


Well, not murder exactly; or not a murder, to be exact. Kate and I were walking near home and saw crows gathering near the local middle school. Intentions were unclear. Were they about to go Hitchcock on us? Apparently not. I went home and got my camera. When I got back about half an hour later, only a few stragglers remained, including this one, who was sort of gurgling as if it really wanted to sing.

Declaration Day

“When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected it with another and to assume among the powers of the Earth the separate and equal station which the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect for the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the Separation.”

Kate and I and a neighbor, Jill Martinucci, read (or maybe performed is a better word) a slightly abridged version of the Declaration to the assembled multitudes at our street’s annual Fourth of July picnic today. The main event at the gathering is a watermelon-seed-spitting contest (a new neighborhood record, 43 feet-plus, was set today), so I was afraid reading this, even with our little interjections, would be seen as a little preachy. But several people came up to us later to day they hadn’t read the Declaration in a while and it was good to hear the words again.

Graduation Day

Just one small thing: Today, my son Eamon graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, one of 36 students in the East Asian Languages department who got their bachelor’s degrees (Eamon’s major was Japanese). I forget the exact words, but after the diplomas were all handed out, the department chair congratulated the group and said something like, “You’re now part of the community of educated men and women.” What a great accomplishment for Eamon. And the rest of the group, too. But especially Eamon. Did I mention he’s my son?

Diary of a Commuter Jerk


Tuesday: I walk up Eighth Street to the Civic Center BART station after work. Nightmare scenario: I need to buy a ticket, which means I have to stand in line behind other patrons trying to figure out how the ticket machines work or who have decided to buy a five-buck ticket by feeding in nickels. Sure enough, I wind up behind three or four other people. The first person deliberates over the bewildering array of two or three choices before purchasing a ticket. Then the next guy approaches the machine. He feeds in one dollar bill, then another. The machine won’t take the third one. Instead of just buying a $2 ticket and paying whatever he owes at the other end, he hits cancel, gets his dollar bills back, then repeats the process. His third bill still won’t go in; exasperated, he looks first to the right, then to the left, for help that’s not there. Then he hits cancel again, gets his bills back, and feeds them in again. One. Two. No go with the third. He looks right, then left, hits cancel, and starts to try again. At this point — I want to get home, man! — I lean around the woman waiting in front of me and say, "Dude, what’s the problem?" Except, I don’t say "dude" in the friendly "hey, dude" way; "dude" comes out in a tone that clearly signals it’s a substitute for "moron." He turns toward me. He’s a short guy, maybe 5-6, with neatly trimmed brown hair and beard; he’s wearing a short-sleeved yellow button-down shirt; he’s wearing olive green shorts and dark street shoes and socks that he should wear with long pants. I recognize him from somewhere. He says, "It won’t take my goddamned dollar." Simultaneously, the woman in front of me — tall, 5-10, and kind of lumpy in a Joan Cusack way but younger than Joan Cusack — turns around and looks at me and says something. I hear, "Shut up." So I tell the guy he’s holding up everyone in line and I ask the woman, "Who the fuck are you telling to shut up? You shut up." She says, "I said, ‘Chill out.’ And you need to." I sputter something winning; perhaps it was "you chill the fuck out."

Meantime, beard guy has given up his place at the ticket machine and says angrily, "You guys go ahead." I already have a twenty in my hand and say, "You held up the line for 10 minutes." "It won’t take my money!" "Here’s a twenty — it’ll work. Take it and buy yourself a ticket." But he doesn’t take it; he goes to the back of the ticket line while the "shut up/chill out" woman is at the machine. She’s buying something like a $5.85 ticket, exact change. She dawdles. I resist the temptation to say, "Hey, look, another rocket scientist." Then it’s my turn. Luckily, the machine takes my twenty on the first try and I get my ticket without holding anyone else up. Then I go down to the platform, wondering who among the people on the platform and the train home just witnessed my little display. I also realize that I recognized the beard guy from about 20 years ago; his name was John something and he was Kate’s roommate’s boyfriend when Kate and I first went out. Same beard and haircut and everything, though Kate’s roommate, Beth, moved on a long
time ago.

Wednesday (pictured): Back to Civic Center BART after work. I’ve left work a little early thinking maybe I can get a short bike ride in before dark. Armed with my dramatically procured ticket from the day before, I head down to the platform. There’s a train waiting — headed out to Bay Point, not my line. The Richmond train, to Berkeley, is due in 7 minutes. But the train at the platform doesn’t move, and within a couple of minutes, there’s an announcement that "smoke is emanating
from a train at Embarcadero Station" and all the East Bay-bound trains are halted for a few minutes. It’s about 5:10. More announcements. The train at Embarcadero has been taken out of service. The train at Embarcadero had an electrical overload. Or it might have hit something on the tracks. BART workers are walking the track to see if there’s a problem. The delay lengthens — 10 minutes, 15, 20, then 30. Finally, the packed train at Civic Center moves, slowly. Then a Fremont train, headed south toward San Jose from Oakland, pulls in. Then the Richmond train I had been waiting for. The operator announces that there’s another train with a problem at Embarcadero; but by 5:45, we get going, too. I managed to get a seat and fall asleep during a stop-and-go trip through the Transbay tube. We halt for awhile outside West Oakland station. The problem is that another train ahead of us has broken down at the platform there, meaning we have to cross over to the opposite tracks to get through the station. When we get to West Oakland, I’m surprised to see that the platform there (that’s the picture above) is filled with nearly no room to stand — people taken off a train waiting for another to come in; of course, their problem is that all the arriving trains are either already filled or using the opposite platform until everything is straightened out. So those people over there are as good as stranded. Anyway, my train makes it through, and after we turn north from downtown Oakland, we get to Berkeley with no more problems. I get home about 6:50 p.m., so the trip took about three times as long as usual. Surprisingly, no one complained. People even laughed when the train operator apologized for "this less than stellar commute. I guess that’s an understatement." This gives me, the commuting jerk, food for thought.

Friday: On my way into work by way of the casual carpool. Waiting in the Civic Center line at the North Berkeley BART station with three people ahead of me, one behind me. The three in front all get into a Toyota Avalon. So the next car will take me and the other person. One pulls up to the curb and honks. It looks like there are already two people in the car (you need three to take the carpool lane, so they would only need one more rider), and I’m confused when the woman who’s been second in line walks very confidently to the car, opens the rear passenger door and gets in. Just a minute! She’s the third person. She’s taking my spot! I say,"Hey, I’m sorry, I was ahead of you in line. You need to get out." She looks up at me, very puzzled, and says, "Yes?" "Yes," I answer. And she gets out. Then she gets in the front passenger seat, where no one had been sitting. Um — I didn’t see the front seat was empty! Really I didn’t. Did I feel kind of stupid? No — very. And also like I must be cracking up to get into these um, misunderstandings. My trip home was altercation-free, though.


Record heat
in the Bay Area today; 90 in San Francisco, in the low 90s in the East
Bay; several places in the region set their all-time record for the
month (and most of the records broken were set in 1935 or 1965, long
before the phrase global warmiing was coined). But the real thing the
heat makes you think about is whether the lights will go out. So far —
with Enron and Calpine and the rest of the energy criminals sidelined
— things look OK. Even with temperatures in the hundreds in some
locations today, the state’s energy network operator said demand never approached the available supply.

Bake Sales

Well, Kate and I spent a couple hours this morning walking around to MoveOn bake sales
in our general neighborhood. On one level, it seems like touchy-feely
naivete: Bake sales to defeat Bush? Yeah, right. On the other hand, it
was really encouraging to see the enthusiasm for the idea around town
and the determination people have that the small things they’re doing
in their own communities, and the money they’re gathering, could build
into something big. Of course, this is Berkeley, and you could get
people to do bake sales for nearly anything; at one gathering, someone
said there were 19 MoveOn bake sales around town; I’ll bet there were
even more. But I wonder how many there were in, say, Kansas.(I just
searched on the MoveOn site for future bake sales within 3 miles of our
zip code, and got five results. I checked for similar events coming up
within 300 miles of Wichita and got three hits. And actually, MoveOn has a map that illustrates where the bake sale hot spots were and weren’t) More on
this tomorrow.