In time you’re gonna pay

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I started the day still thinking about a couple of difficult losses.

Then I drove up to a popular scenic route in the East Bay hills where a guy got fatally shot three years ago after breaking up a fight. His mother and sister were there as police announced a reward for information leading to a suspect.

Then I drove to the office and walked past one of the more reliably happy places and moments I know: the Paramount Theatre on Broadway on one of the monthly Wednesdays that it hosts citizenship ceremonies.

Then I got to learn about a particularly difficult request, presented with the illusion of choice, strictly as a stopgap measure and under color of opportunity.

Then I went home and ate the healthy dinner my wife made and paid some bills and petted my poor sick barely-eating cat.

Then I went to an open-mic night at an Alameda bar, where I didn’t get drink because the bartender couldn’t see me despite ten minutes at the bar, with an older guy perched on a seat insisting on shaking my hand, saying “no offense” and launching into a conversation about race, his father’s war service and bigotry toward the Japanese, and his father’s Japanese-American friend.

Then I got to listen to my bandmate’s lovely set, followed by an acoustic duo, followed by two guys on electric guitars, singing to a girl, who ended their set early when one guy whipped out a ring and proposed (to the girl).

Then, after a few more acts, I got up and sang, missing the fight that broke out next to where I’d been standing.

Then I took myself home, following and then losing the detour signs meant to guide folks safely to the highway.

Some day, all in all. I could be laid off, dead, starting all over in a new country, told what to do at work (like last year) instead of asked nicely, unable to pay bills, divorced, caught up in a conflict, unable to sing or drive or write. But I’m not any of those thing, not yet and not today.

Up in the air

We deserve better than we’re getting. Better arrivals, better departures, better in-flight meals, better snack and drink menus, better this-is-your-captain-speaking banter. Better seat reservation, better check-in processes, better security-theater stage direction. Better pre-flight safety videos, better exit-row volunteering, better seat-pocket magazines. Better flight plans.

And if you still think I’m talking about the airline industry, well, you must be in airplane mode.

My neck, my back, my thighs, my bike rack

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Ow ow ow ow ow.

I asked one of my editors: so long as I’m starting at 11 a.m., why don’t I bike over to the press conference outside the sheriff’s office and see how it goes? Sure, she said.

I hauled my road bike inside, inflated its tires, and headed down my avenue, around Lake Merritt and over to Lakeside Boulevard. A little over an hour later, I was feeling good about things. Some of the marchers were heading west on 14th Street to City Hall, followed by an Oakland police SUV, and I figured I could trail them slowly along 14th and make it to the office before the top of the hour.

Then my editor called and said there were boats on fire on the waterfront, off Fifth Avenue and Embarcadero. I turned around on 14th, barreling back around Lake Merritt Boulevard and onto East 12th Street. Turning right at Fifth Avenue, I went down to Embarcadero. A couple of officers were waving cars around, but I was able to go through and into the marina. Somehow the bike drew less attention than the couple of television station reporters and cameramen who barreled in around the same time. For some reason, a kindly boat owner decided to walk me out onto the dock where he could see the burned boat yards away from his own. Then I was able to pedal back from the marina and over to the newsroom, file and then slowly make it home.

I’ll be sore tomorrow, and that’ll go away. Some things will stay: the feeling of freedom, the sight of the road under my tires, the effort of balancing my satchel and a bag while dashing around.

Car me maybe

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Today I decided to call trunk. When a planned meet-up fell through, I figured I would go open up my car and see what there was to organize and get rid of.

As it turns out, I found something I’d ordered online, placed in a box for safekeeping, and then forgotten about. Not as good as giving myself a gift from the past, but close! I also managed to separate several dozen books and maybe around 150 CDs, trash-bag a bunch of debris and broken glass, and figure out what’s still good out of the other stuff (water, a cigarette-lighter-powered pump, some tea and add-water “iron rations”).

While I took some cleaning solution to my dash and cupholders, I looked around for newspaper for my windshield, thought about room for a few other slightly worse-for-wear pieces of equipment, and listened to They Might Be Giants’ “Flood.” As long as months begin, opportunity to help them begin well should be met with sincere effort.

How to head home

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I still feel like I’m testing things out, but vaguely optimistically and less with the panic and desire to burn things down. Some of it comes from acceptance of certain things, like how long some things take to fully fall apart, how long other people take to come to their own perspectives on reality and options, and how rewarding it is to act on even small things like a tiny, timely joke before a receptive audience and to see returns in the way of positive feedback.

About what changed

 

imageFive years ago, I apparently wrote text for an about page and promptly about it. What’s the only thing that matters less this year than a blog?

In that text, I linked to my name site because I had it, and I thought it might make sense to put a portfolio there or a business card-plus-other stuff. What’s in a name? These days I get up and clear out sp*m from whoever creates fake emails for the express purpose of scamming bank accounts, rewards points programs and looks-like-a-mailing-list no-way-to-opt-out clickbait. These are the perils of a common name, and privileges of having had that name for a little while.

In that text, I called myself a journalist. These days, I say reporter. What’s shorter than that? Writer? Hack? 📰📲?
I know it’s about five years old because my job title was different then, and because the masthead went away two weeks ago. I’d express sororities that the company name hasn’t changed, but why tempt those who handle these things?

In that text, I made sure to link to the Wayback Machine’s version of my site which was a good idea then and is still good now. Then I followed that with a list of interests: “culture, technology, race and ethnicity, cities, journalism, media, power and aesthetics.” But they’re just words and they don’t reveal how I feel about these things, where I think they’re going, who and what matters to me. I think I figured I could fill in the blanks with tag clouds and folksonomy stuff, but now there are algorithms for that.

In that text, I wrote around the choir I was in, the one that everybody slowly turned out the lights on. Nowadays, when I sing other people’s songs in public, it’s a nice blend of gigs, busking, rehearsals and karaoke, with the occasional themed DJ night.

In that text, I said I was a fan. Now there are now more useful tools and spaces and things happen faster, and the words have improved, if not the people.

In that text, there was an email widget and a spelled-out version of my address and the likelihood that If be on Twitter or some other network/platform. I guess one out of three isn’t that bad.

The recombinant city

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All starts are false, just as all identities are mistaken. Writing this post means re-writing the “Hello world!” default post in a fresh WordPress one-click install on my host (still Dreamhost after all these years). Choosing to write it at all, in the spring of 2016, is silly. Just the same, here I am.

I thought, sitting in the living room and finishing the evening’s second can of beer, that If get up and look for my paperback copy of Brian Eno’s “A Year With Swollen Appendices” for some hint or suggestion about how best to spell out the basics: most online bios still have me calling myself, among a few other roles, a blogger; most of the people I used to read who called themselves that have moved on to other titles or responsibilities or platforms; most of what might matter to me is less wieldy and share-friendly than it used to be. Things done changed, yo.

Instead of Eno, Samuel Delany’s “Dhalgren” caught my eye and, remembering William Gibson’s 1993 foreword “The Recombinant City,” I picked it up off the nearest of our groaning bookshelves and ran my eyes over it. I’ve never finished it and I have a few things to finish reading this month already (including Cixin Liu’s latest couple of books, so I can talk about them with A. at least), but I might have new motives, what with the ongoing/upcoming/oncoming Bellona Times-ization of the local masthead, and the company that distributes it.

Oakland is not an autumnal city (not even in April), but it is wounded. No amount of happy talk from elected figures or corporate communiqués can conceal it. Band-Aids don’t fix bullet holes, T.S. elegantly said, and she’s still right. Living here, then, means figuring out what works: keeping up with flows of information and filtering for utility, amusement, and for others’ benefit, not just one’s own. It means experimenting. I should try that here as well, whether or not I decide to import all the posts I wrote and the un(der)written drafts, or decide to rely on my just-renewed Flickr Pro membership when its parent company may sell it down the river before midyear, or decide to upgrade my still functional phone for something slightly faster and perhaps more easily secured (or compromised).

The other thing the foreword reminded me of, of course, was the difference between Gibson’s descriptions of the city and America, and how the city he knew, just as the one I used to blog in and about not longer exists, but instead blended together in some eerie and uncanny biological process. Well, it me. So let’s see.

Five years later

I'm sitting in a conference room on the first floor of a building near downtown Oakland. Afternoon sunlight slants down from clear blue sky onto sidewalks and streets and windows. Buses groan and cars sigh around corners after waiting impatiently at signals.

A new co-worker was at my desk when I arrived. She didn't look anything like me, so I was worried about crossing paths with my doppelganger (or worse).

Another co-worker's recommendation of a social search engine brought me here. This LJ account was among the first page of my own results, so I figured I'd better log in and change my password and blow the dust off things.

Two towers, ten years

Toward Oakland City Center

There was a post-apocalypse theme party in honor of one Oakland Soft Rock Choir member moving out of a building and another member moving in. The party started yesterday evening and ran into the wee hours. Attendees were invited to dress up (“Tank Girl,” zombies, steampunk) but the only costume that made sense to me was to dress down, don all black, carry a Good Book (the King James version of the Original African Heritage Study Bible that my mother gifted me with for Christmas in 1993), walk up on people and ask if they’d accepted Jesus Christ as their one true Lord and savior — not that there aren’t people doing that sort of street-preaching now, just that it seems like a post-apocalyptic growth market. After about ten choir members performed a brief set, some of us wound up on the roof quietly talking. I couldn’t help noticing the Elihu M. Harris federal building sitting just blocks away from us.

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Fleet Foxes

The Walkmen at the Greek Theatre

The other stroke of luck in the last two days came from a rarely used Twitter account and a contest thrown at regular intervals by a certain transit agency. I had no ideas those tickets were going to be waiting for me at will-call, honest! But there they were, and there I was, after I’d somehow parked all the way in the rear of some lot above the Greek Theatre downhill from a Hearst Avenue-intersecting driveway and then rambled downhill in the noisy dark past clumps of young adults in blankets and warm clothing taking in the genteely sublime stylings of opening band The Walkmen. “I need a ticket to hear these guys?” I thought. “Doesn’t look like it!”

Fleet Foxes at the Greek Theatre

The only annoyance? The guy squeezing in between me and his date who leaned over when he saw me and asked if I was a Fleet Foxes fan. “Yeah,” I replied. “Are you?” Ask me again if I’m a fan again, superchill beer-sipping indie-rock bro. Ask me again, I dare you, I double-dare you. Ask my Last.fm queue, why don’t you? sigh