Hey, for my fellow New Yorkers: Ever been bugged by a bunch of extra subway cards that you can’t do anything with because they have some odd amount of change on them, or because they are expired? They seem to pile up and are wasted money, because the MTA vending machines don’t allow you to combine the money on several cards. They only allow you to add money to your existing card, which in many cases may be on its last legs or damaged (unlike BART machines, which allows you to combine and issue new cards). The MTA sort of counts on this inconvenience I suppose, because they raise many millions of dollars every year from unused fares.
Fortunately, I discovered recently that you can get old cards combined at any manned booth. You still have the risk of dealing with a surly booth person whose tv watching, phone calls or newspaper reading you are surely interrupting with your petty service needs, but it can be done. They will, however, only combine four cards at a time, requiring you to go to another booth to combine more. (At least that was the story I got from the ill tempered man at the booth at 16th street the other day) So at the end, I had recovered about 30 bucks from expired or small change cards, not bad at all.
I watched the president’s state of the union speech last night, and couldn’t help but cringe at the heaping portion of American exceptionalism. Why has it been so impossible to get Americans to face up to reality and do something about it? Why is it politically untenable to say that we are anything other than the best, the smartest, the bravest, etc? Like a mother spoiling an only child, our political leaders fawn over us, stunting our prospects. It is rather like social promotion in schools, being passed along to a higher grade and told we are good, rather than holding ourselves to any standard or (heaven forbid) actually challenging us to change our bad study habits and become better. Take but one example (of many) from the President’s speech (referring to the military):
We gather tonight knowing that this generation of heroes has made the United States safer and more respected around the world.
Really? Do you read the news? Do you honestly believe that people around the world welcome the military of the US with open arms? Do you honestly believe that every military action we take makes us safer? How can you even peddle this fiction with a straight face? Why are we so emotionally needy and intellectually bankrupt as to accept this fairly tale? I expect this jingoistic bullshit from nativist Republicans, but I would like better from a Democratic president I voted for.
How about telling Americans the truth: that we have greatness in us, just like all people do, but to achieve that greatness we need to look at ourselves honestly. We need to look at our problems honestly. And instead of puffing ourselves up with empty and false flattery, we should use our resources to make our society better for everyone. I was glad the president mentioned income inequality and that it was central to his speech. But I wish he had been a little more honest about our shortcomings and stopped glorifying our worst impulses.
As I have a fairly bad memory about many things (although a surprisingly precise memory about series of numbers), I have recently become curious about the phenomenon known as Confabulation. I find it fascinating that we can fill in and make up details about our past without realizing we are doing so. Often times, people can get upset with others they believe have embellished or changed the details of a story they share in a common history, probably because they believe there is some intentional machination behind it. But how reliable are anyone’s memories about anything? Time and again it has been proved that human memory is deeply flawed. And it is deeply upsetting to people to realize that, because it calls into question the veracity of our experiences, and with that, our identities. On the other hand, if we accept from the outset that things are not perfect and our memories are somewhat suspect, perhaps we can be both kinder to ourselves and others, and more apt to live in the present. And anyway, no matter how many times I distinctly remember winning the lottery, my bank account it still empty, alas.
Nothing ever happens in the time one expects, does it? I took delivery of a new ergonomic desk today that needed a service call to get set up properly. They originally told me the guys would arrive in the morning, but they didn’t get here until 4pm. And my monitor and work area were all disassembled waiting for them to put the desk in place, so there went most of my productivity today. Oh well, it is now installed and I quite like it. I have been reading a lot recently about how bad it is to be sitting all day, or to be in just one position all day, and I had been researching standing desk solutions, but all of them were really ugly. Then I found this one (see below) and really loved the look of it. After saving for a few months and with the help of an Architect’s discount (thanks Bob!) I finally ordered it. So far, I love it. And it moves really smoothly from sitting to standing and back, all on the hydraulic support piston in the center (and with no electricity needed). I feel healthier already.
I am all packed and ready, we leave in a few minutes for the SFO airport. The last few days have been a great catching up period with my friends here in San Francisco (and I have no doubt gained a few pounds from all the over-eating). I will be glad to get back to the familiar surroundings of New York and my apartment, however. I have a ton of work to do, and haven’t been all that productive while here, although I wouldn’t trade the time with friends for it. At the end of our lives, no one regrets working less and spending more time with loved ones. These are the things that really matter. Outside of the friendship and reunions, the things that have impressed me about San Francisco this trip are how much the architecture and makeup of various parts of the city has changed; having my memory jogged about how amazing a place this always is with regard to food; and how very, very much colder 50 degrees can feel in San Francisco compared to any place else.
Both of you probably noticed that my site has been down/gone black for the past 24 hours or so in solidarity with other sites and in protest over SOPA/PIPA. (The action seems to have been a big success, btw.)
We now return to your regularly scheduled blogging…
When you are acquainted with a lot of people who move around a lot, it is always a good idea when arriving in a new place to see which of your friends still live or have moved from the place you are visiting. This is easily done with something like facebook, where you can search your friends by city. Sure, it leaves out people who aren’t on facebook, who don’t put in their current city, or who live just outside the city (yet still in the same general area), but it will give you a general list of who is there. For people like me with a lot of acquaintances and a terrible memory, this is a great tool. And sometimes one is surprised to find that friends from one city have moved into the city one is visiting. Such was the case with my friend Guillermo, who I met in Buenas Aires a few years ago, and have seen at various times in New York where I live and in Barcelona, where he lived until he moved to San Francisco (temporarily) about a month ago. We just had a lovely coffee at Fourbarrel and then lunch at Serpentine (another great SF restaurant). Guillermo is a bit of a nomad like me, and we have lived in a lot of the same places. He lived in Mexico City for a while and spent time in Mumbai, and we even realized we know a person in common from there this morning. All these intersections and commonalities fascinate me, it is so striking how small the world can be.
I am blessed to have friends here in San Francisco (+Bay Area) that appreciate good food, and San Francisco (+Bay Area) is blessed to have an amazing array of it. The only negative is that one’s first choices are often completely booked. So, for example, we were unable to get a table at Beretta the other night, nor Flour + Water last night (we went close-by to some still very yummy German place called Schmidts). And don’t even try to get into Frances, they are booked for months unless you are willing to go with only one other person at 5pm on a Tuesday. Still, tonight it is off to still more wonderful places no doubt. And I should mention that this past Sunday night Keith and Marites took me to a fantastic place called Ippuku (where they serve delicious chicken tartare believe it or not). There is absolutely amazing food in New York of course, but there is also a lot of crap. Whenever I am in San Francisco, I feel that the lowest bar is still set quite high compared to most other places. People are really conscious of what they eat, and the competition and creativity here are fierce. Now if they would just turn on the heat once in a while…
I write this from a coffee shop in San Francisco, working it mobile-office, old-style. The last couple days have been great, hanging out with old friends and eating well. Today I will do some work and rediscover a bit of old SF. The weather is cool but sunny. The only annoying thing is this overbearing asshole pontificating to his friend on the phone next to me. He keeps peppering his conversation with phrases like “You’ve got to OWN it, that is what I am sayin'” and “How he takes what I say is HIS responsibility, not MINE”. Then he goes on to tell the sad sack on the other end what he can do to improve his life, and it all sounds like pablum straight out of the self-help bookshelf at the local Barnes and Noble. I have to admit it is even more irksome because he is loud and has a southern accent, which gives to his haughty attitude and even more annoying tenor. He keeps talking endlessly about how he handled things with his ex boyfriend, how he knows what to do in every situation. He looks a bit like Colonel Sanders with those top horn rimmed glasses, if the colonel were a bit younger, gay and self-important.
Bidding farewell to my friends in LA, I boarded a plane yesterday for part two of my California Dreamin’ tour: San Francisco. After some chat and catching up with my friends Keith and Marites (and their wonderful girls, Anika and Teah), we met up with Kevin for dinner at a great restaurant in Oakland called “Plum“. We pretty much ordered everything on the menu and shared it all, and it was one of the most inventive and delicious meals I have had in a long time. One of the things that is so awesome about San Francisco is its food culture. On quality they easily compete with (and often surpass) any place in the world. And it doesn’t hurt that my friends are intense foodies, always on the lookout for great dining.