Putting Myself Down

I Have Always Underestimated Myself…

When I was young, I was always one of the shortest kids in my class—and one of the sickest. The result was that I habitually underestimated myself. Everyone else looked taller, happier, and more accomplished than me. And that even after I was the valedictorian of my class at Chanel High School in Bedford, Ohio. In fact, it was not until I reached the age of forty that I realized what I had been doing to myself. That was the age at which I was finally able to drive. Before that, I was on a medication (Catapres) that made me fall asleep whenever I got into a moving vehicle.

Within weeks after I got off Catapres, I took driving lessons and passed with flying colors. But then something happened to my picture of other people: The moment I saw drivers who committed moving violations at the rate of once every hundred feet or so, I began to revise my impressions of the rest of the human race.

Politics also stepped in to lower my estimation of my fellow Americans. I first became aware of political conservatism during the 1964 election, when Barry Goldwater was trounced by Lyndon Johnson. Conservatism was to become my bête noire during the following decades, where now I regard most Republicans and Trump followers to be mental defectives. Now that so many of these so many of these Trumpists are advocating a return to normalcy during a dreadful epidemic, I now look at people such as the individuals in the above photograph as suicidal fools who would think nothing of infecting their friends, neighbors, and families with a potentially fatal disease.

Do I have any regrets for being so hard on myself all those years? Not a bit. I think that I am happier than most people and less likely to be played like a marionette out of baseless fears.

 

 

Bad Ass Drivers

Typically, the Bad Ass American Is Most Readily Found on the Road

A few days ago, I wondered why Americans were so intent on playing the role of the bad ass. Of course, the great theater of bad ass behavior is to be found on the streets and roads of your neighborhood. And you don’t have to go very far to find them.

Everybody is familiar with the over-aggressive goon who cuts you off in your lane with inches to spare. You can beep your horn at him, but that will only give him a warm glow that he not only got away with it, but succeeded in annoying you in the process. You can catch up with the louse and give him the finger or verbal abuse, but that could place you at risk. These are not nice people. Being not nice is a way of life with them and affords them some form of satisfaction.

On the other side of the spectrum is the (mostly) woman drivers who in their minds see stop signs at every residential intersection, even when there is none. Although there are hyper-aggressive women drivers as well, intent on proving their status as bad ass malefactors, most women do not fall into this category. Texting and otherwise driving distracted is not so much an instance of bad ass driving as it is an invitation to disaster.

Ultimately, the only way to deal with real bad ass drivers is to see them the way a Buddhist monk views venial sins: with complete equanimity. By reacting at all, you are in danger of allowing yourself to be distracted.

It would be nice if there were more police enforcement of moving violations, but I suspect that the highways of America will become choked with gory bodies before the men in blue could be lured from their coffee and doughnuts.

Los Angeles the Hard Way

An Old RTD Bus on Its Route

When I first came to Los Angeles late in 1966, I did not know how to drive. And now I was living in a city in which it is considered to be impossible to get anywhere on public transit. For the next nineteen years, I was to disprove that. It was then that I began to study the city’s public transportation network. At that time, there was no fast rail, no subways—only buses. I lived in or near Santa Monica, so I could take either the Santa Monica Big Blue Buses or the orange RTD buses.

Why hadn’t I learned to drive? In Cleveland, we were too poor; and besides, my father was too impatient to teach me. When he tried, every time I made a mistake, he swatted me, hard. I thought it would be better if I put it off.

And so I did. Then something else came up. One of my family’s medical curses caught up with me in my twenties: high blood pressure. For years, I was taking a medication called Catapres that gave me narcolepsy, especially when I was a passenger in a moving automobile.

Suddenly, in 1985, I was off Catapres. The narcolepsy, having left me, no longer kept me from taking driving lessons at the ripe old age of 40. So I called the Sears-Roebuck driving school, and a patient teacher by the name of Jerry Kellman taught me. I passed my driving test with flying colors. I purchased a 1985 Mitsubishi Montero with automatic transmission (most in that model line were stick shift) and hit the roads.

Although I am on my third car, a 2018 Subaru Forester, I still take the buses (and now the trains, which Los Angeles now has) from time to time to go where I want without having to pay exorbitant parking fees. My trips downtown cost me a total of $1.50 there and back, which compares well to the $20-30 parking fees in cramped lots which would lead to dents in my new car.

So now I’m ambidextrous, to to speak. I can drive or take public transportation.

 

 

 

Viejo Cuba

Our Boutique Hotel in Quito

Our Boutique Hotel in Quito: El Viejo Cuba

For almost forever, I have been in charge of planning the vacations for Martine and myself. My brother Dan knew that, so I thought I’d let him have the upper hand. As we tend to think alike on most issues, that will be no problem.

We will be in Ecuador together for two weeks, then he will return to L.A. by himself because of business obligations. I will have an additional week in Southern Ecuador all alone. For those last seven days, I will do all my own planning as before. I think that’s a good compromise.

One thing that will be different is that Dan wants to rent a car and drive. That gives us a much broader choice of places to stay and allows us a lot of flexibility. I keep thinking of the three all-night bus rides I took in Argentina and Chile. Although I rather enjoyed them, I don’t think that Dan would quite so much.

That puts me in the role of navigator, which is a role I enjoy. Whenever, as a child, I went anywhere with our family, I was the one hunched over a map and dictating directions.

Our first stop in Ecuador will be the Hotel Viejo Cuba (illustrated above).  It’s a few blocks north of the popular Mariscal Sucré neighborhood, named after Bolivar’s favorite general.

This trip will be different, but I like the way it’s shaping up.

K-Rails and Steel Plates

Prepare for a Bumpy Ride

Prepare for a Bumpy Ride

One of the problems with California’s apocalyptic drought of 2014 is that virtually every street is under construction—without fear of rain.Today, Martine and I visited the Grier-Musser Museum near downtown. On the way home, we must have run over two hundred steel plates on Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Drive, Fairfax Boulevard, and Santa Monica Boulevard. These were accompanied by perhaps a mile or two of K-Rails (known in the East as Jersey Barriers).

K-Rails a.k.a. Jersey Barriers a.k.a. Concrete Barriers

K-Rails a.k.a. Jersey Barriers a.k.a. Concrete Barriers

Now that California is beginning to recover from the Great Recession of 2008, driving the streets of Los Angeles is like going back to the early days of motor cars, with the roads being in a constant state of disrepair.