Remember When

The other day, I was driving in my car, listening to my radio, when a song sung by Alan Jackson was played. It was entitled “Remember When” and Jackson used that phrase to hasten back to when he was married and how life had changed so much for he and his wife since then. For me, it made me harken to time when life was pretty easy….at least for me. I was simply a kid going to school, breezing through my homework and looking for ways to get out of the house. My first bike helped me achieve that.

At that time, Schwinn came out with a revoluntionary bike called the Stingray. Man, it was to die for and I would have given all of my marbles and toy soldiers to have one. You could do wheelies with it, it had ape hanger type handlebars and it didn’t have coaster brakes. It was the cat’s meow. Plus, it came in really cool colors. It was what every boy my age wanted. Unfortunately for my twin brother and me, my parents thought that bike was too radical. As much as we begged, pleaded and cajoled, it was not going to happen. In fact, bicycles did not enter our lives until we were in 8th grade…13 years old. We may have been the last in our grammer school class to get a bike, but once they arrived that 8th grade Christmas, my brother and I made up for lost time.

I couldn’t tell you what else I received that Christmas in 1965, but I’ll never forget my glee when my parents told us to go downstairs into the garage to receive our present….the big present. As a kid, we always had presents…but one big present that was suppossed to be the granddaddy of them all. usual…that present always came last, building to an excitement crescendo second to none for a grammer school kid. And what a crescendo it was: there sitting in the middle of the garage were not one, but two shiny new Schwinn 3 speed bikes. It had to be a big deal because my dad left the red 1964 Chevy Malibu station wagon with 3 on the three and rear seat that faced backwards (remember when?) parked in front of our house that night. To this day, that may have been the only time my father’s car was left outside over night. We couldn’t wait to get on them and take them for a test ride all over the neighborhood.

What we discovered almost immediately is that those wheels could take us places our feet couldn’t. More importantly, we didn’t need a ride from my dad any longer and could manuver in our graphical territory without the use of a bus pass. Life was good…very good. Of course, no sooner did we have the bikes in our hands then we wanted to modify them as much as our technical abilities and paper route earnings would let us. I remember disassembling the 3 speed shifter on the handlebar because Iwanted to put 3 speed shifter, like that on the floorboard of a car, on the top tube of my bike. And darn if I didn’t do it, much to the chagrin of my father. I thought the old man was going to kill me, but deep down inside, I think he was proud of the fact that I managed to do it myself and get it to work. At least that is what I thought then and so that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!!

Once summer rolled around, we had graduated from grammer school. We were ready to roll into high school that fall and feeling our oats, we decided to explore the city on our bikes. Of course, my parents were not going to be privy to this plan. We would feign staying in bed until we heard the garage door close, dress as quickly as we could, dismiss all thoughts of eating breakfast and head out on our daily adventure. Time was of the essence because we knew that my parents would be home at 5:30 and we needed them to see our smiling faces when they got home from work. (I’ll make this pitch now…having both parents work did not ruin the family institution as some would make you think today. We knew we had to be home to have dinner with the family…not because we had such a huge sense of family, but rather because my father had a huge sense of leather belt).

We decided that we wanted to ride to the other side of the city, but didn’t know how to get there. So we grabbed one of my father’s maps and formulated a route. We knew we would have to do some climbing, but with 3 speeds, there were no hills in San Francisco that were a match for us!! So off we went….over Silver Avenue, past Alemany Blvd and finally, our first real hill: O’Shaughnessy Blvd. From the base of Alemany Blvd, it would lead you to the top of Market Street, where given your choice, you go one of three ways and see totally different parts of the city. But no matter which way you turned, the view from the top of O’Shaughnessy was always the same: breathtaking. Even as a young boy, I was always awed by the view and even more so, that I was able to climb that hill on my three speed. From there, it was downhill through 7th Avenue until we crossed Lincoln Avenue and made our way into Golden Gate Park. We no longer had views of houses and buildings, but rather, we rode beside lush green fields and trees that seemed larger than life to us. Sometimes we would stop and watch the radio controlled boats that skimmed across one of the many ponds in the park, but mostly, we needed to get to our destination so we could then return home.

From 7th Avenue, we needed to ride to the Great Highway to get to our destination. Once inside the confines of the Park, traffic was light enough for us to really let those bikes fly and fly we did. Traffic back in the mid 60’s was nothing like it is today, so we pretty much had free reign on the road, especially during a working day. It didn’t take us long to get to the beach once we smelled the salt in the air. We couldn’t wait to see the tips of the blades of the windmills that were once used to pump water into the park, because we knew then that we were moments away from our destination. Breaking past the green, lush vegetation laid the longest stretch of beach my brother and I had ever seen. We couldn’t even see the end of it, no matter how hard we strained our eyes. To us, it was heaven, even if we couldn’t (and wouldn’t) enter the cold water. That didn’t stop us from taking off our shoes to feel the sand between our toes. Looking back, it really wasn’t much, but to us then, it was if we had died and gone to sandy heaven.

For us back then, life really was a beach. No worries, just getting up in the morning and loving life. Those were the days. Remember when?

The H Word

Oh hell. You probably thought this is what this post is about, don’t you? C’mon…fess up. You did. I know you did and you know you did. Don’t feel bad. I’m sure my past postings would automatically make you think I wanted to say hell when I mentioned the H word. But truth be known, that isn’t the case with this post.

You see, one of my good friends recently told me I was becoming a bit cranky in my advanced age. If you think I’m going to disagree with him on this post, you’ve come to the wrong post, my friend. I am cranky and more importantly, I admit it. I’m old…I’ve lived a little…and certain things in society are beginning to bug the living bejezus out of me. But that isn’t why I created this post. I created to discuss those H words.

I ride my bike through a small section of the city when I use it to commute to work. Normally, this section, which sits under a freeway overpass, is full of older men and women who are Homeless and use this section as their encampment. Just as the sun rises every day, they rise with it, repack all of their belongings and begin their migration into the heart of the city. And as the sun sets every night, like swallows to Capistrano, they return. The area, day in and day out, smells of feces and urine and I can’t wait to get my bike through that two block section of my commute. The nomads, however, gather and huddle, as if to plan which section of the city will provide them with more opportunities that day. Faces become familiar. Shopping carts, filled with their worldly possessions, line the walkway.

Today, I drove my car past that encampment because the weather has been so miserable, I dare not ride my bike; but for them, they aren’t allowed the pleasure of hot air blowing from an automobile heater or the taste of warm food fresh from an oven. Unlike you and I, they are not given the opportunity for a bowl of hot soup to contrast such a dreary and drab day. No…simple things for us; pleasures for them. And today, as I past that encampment, I saw many of them standing across the street, straining for perhaps a final look at one of theirs, as the San Francisco Coroner unit was about to remove a body to its van. I pass this spot almost every day on my way to work. Maybe I knew that face. Maybe once I said hello. Maybe once I should have stopped and offered a bit of cash so that this person could have enjoyed a warm meal. Maybe…. Homeless

A few weeks ago, I went on a fairly long ride, roughly 60 miles. I hit my target destination at about the midway point in the ride and as usual, had not eaten properly before the ride. I simply got out of bed, changed and hit the road. I had a bagel when I stopped, but on the way home, at about 45 miles, I needed to stop to refill my tank. I was so hungry, my stomach ached and to try to forget the hunger, I let my mind wander. And wander it did. I thought of people starving throughout the world, of children who had pains in their stomach worse than mine, knowing that they would have them again the next day, while I could stop and take care of mine. I stopped, ate quickly and took off for home. And while the hunger pangs were gone, my thoughts weren’t. As I neared home, I stopped at my local hangout, Starbucks and settled outside with my cup of coffee. A street person came up to me and asked for a quarter because he was hungry and needed something to eat. Guess you could say right time; right words. I dug into my pocket and gave him everything I had, which totaled seven dollars and some change, apologizing that I couldn’t give him more. He looked at me as though I had just landed from the moon, but soon gave me a huge smile, a loud thank you and headed across the street to the grocery store. Giving something to homeless people is not unusual for me; I do it all the time, but for some reason, this seemed special. There is a very old lady who, each night, stands on the corner of Larkin and Geary, leaning on a 4-legged walker, hunched over and holding a cup out to the passing cars. Whenever I pass through that corner on my way home, I make sure to be in the lane closest to her so that if she is there, I can give her some cash. She gives me a toothless smile as she ambles over and never fails to say thank you. I worry when I don’t see her and wonder how many meals she eats each day. Hunger

I was born and raised in San Francisco and have gone through numerous rollers in my lifetime. The most famous for me was the Loma Prieta quake in 1989. I was in the stands at Candlestick Park, awaiting the start of the World Series game when it struck. The memories of that day will never leave me. And while we can think of the immense tragedy of that day, we simply cannot imagine the tragedy currently subsiding in Haiti. There is no way we can even begin to fathom what those poor people are going through right now. I’ve given to the relief effort and I know you have also. Their pain is huge; their loss even larger. Haiti

There you have it, my three H words: Homeless, Hunger and Haiti. And truth be told, all three equate to another H word: Hell. I guess if we never have to walk a day in their shoes, we will never know what any of those H words truly is like. What I do know is that as I get older I want less of the material things I needed when I was younger, but more of comfort my friends and family provide for me. Because when it really is said and done, family and friends are truly all that matter, even to cranky old fools like me. And, unlike the poor soul today at the homeless encampment, I won’t die without my friends and family surrounding me.

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Pedestrian Poopheads

I’ll start this in full disclosure: I’m not sure if poopheads is a word or not and I’m assuming it’s not because my Word program has it underlined in a very nice shade of red. Now, I’m not sure who actually installed all of the words on the Word program, but it’s very clear to me that they simply missed placing poopheads (little red line again) in the vocabulary section of the program. Maybe it’s because their life is fine. All of their stars and moons are aligned. Their dog wags its tail and fetches the paper, along with the sandals, when they arrive home. Maybe they own a jzillion shares of Microsoft stock. Maybe they had a great burrito at lunch right before they installed all of those words into the program. Who knows? But this I do know: when I ride my bike, all of those pedestrians who attempt to cross in front of me are poopheads (lrla…see above) or better yet, become poopheads (lrla) as soon as their feet leave the sidewalk and hit the street.

When I was a wee lad growing up on the mean, cold streets of San Francisco, I was told many, many times to make sure I looked both ways before I decided to play frogger and venture across the street. Like it was yesterday, my mom would say “look left, then right, then left again.” Now folks, you know why you look left first and then again? Because it doesn’t matter where you are when you cross a street, if you are going to get hit first, it will be from a car coming from your left (unless, of course, you are in England…and then, you need to speak to an English mother). And..if you then look right and step out, a car may miraculously occur from the left and you will get hit if you do not look left again.

Pretty simple, eh? So simple, it has stayed with me throughout my 57 years on this planet, but I may not make 58 years if pedestrians continue to blindly step off the curb. Pretty much every morning, after my early morning bike ride, I like to stop at my favorite Starbucks and grab a quick cup of Joe. I sit outside, rain or shine, cold or hot and just watch both the foot and car traffic in front of me. I am simply amazed at two events that happen every day: 1.) not all cars stop at the stop signs on the corner and 2.) not all pedestrians notice that not all cars stop at the stop signs on the corner. Which, I might add, make for some pretty interesting driver/pedestrian interaction; certainly interaction enough to give the pedestrian more of a jolt than the caffeine that is in the cup they are holding in their hands. Pedestrians simply make the mistake of thinking that everything and everyone are going to stop for them, regardless if they are in the intersection or crossing the street midblock. And, if you don’t believe me, one day, when you are sitting outside on a busy street having coffee or a donut or smoking a cigar, just watch what goes on in front of you and I guarantee you would rather meet Osama Bin Laden in a cave than cross the street without looking. And for the record, Osama drives a cab in San Francisco. Why the Feds don’t know this, I’ll never figure out.

I bring all this up because on my daily commute to work on my two wheeled steed, I pretty much have a near accident with a pedestrian every day. Not because I’ve run a red light (and again, under full disclosure, I have done that every now and then) or because I’ve run a stop sign (another full d: yep, have done that) or because I was exceeding the speed limit (those of you who ride with me know I don’t ride fast enough to break any limit….speed or otherwise…ok, maybe the weight limit for my frame, but that’s another story best saved for when I’m on a sugar high), but because some poophead (lrla) decided he/she wanted to step out into the street from behind a parked car while chatting on their cell phone with Uncle Ned from Arkansas (you can deduce what you like from the Arkansas comment…it probably will be right) or gazing into the sky to see if any additional liberals are parachuting into San Francisco at that moment. Of course, if it weren’t for my exceptional bike handling skills as well as my outstanding eye/hand coordination, at least two pedestrians would be dead each day. At least…..

Just like automobiles, pedestrians come in all shapes, sizes and colors. And just like cars, some are faster than others. Unfortunately for me, I never seem to encounter the gazelles, who could quickly elude the bike (and me) as we bear down on them, ready to leave road kill in our wake. Nope….I always get the pedestrians who every year attempt to become finalists for the Darwin Awards, better known as The Stupidest People in America. They wait for me…every day….along every inch of pavement I courageously cover…until they find the exact right time to step in front of me as I attempt to break the land speed record. I don’t live near a forest, but I’ll bet you I’ve seen more “deer in the headlight” looks than Elmer Fudd.

I’m going to close this out now because I need to get to the printers and get some new business cards. I’ll disburse them at the scene of every near accident for every poophead (lrla) to read:

Among the