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An Open Letter To AC Transit

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During the months of January and February I traveled back and forth from Oakland to Alameda nearly every day. Although I don’t have a car and use public transportation on a regular basis, and I’ve had many reasons to complain before now, riding the bus every single day to the same destination, under difficult circumstances and time considerations, caused me a great degree of psychological and physical stress.

My disabled adult son was in a rehab/nursing facility in Alameda, having been hit by a car that necessitated surgery on his broken ankle; I went to visit almost every day. The situation was highly stressful, especially since the facility was not all I would have hoped for. AC Transit, however, contributed greatly to my emotional upheaval.

I had to take two buses, and at first used a route that took two hours, until I discovered a way to go that took half that time. On the longer route, the driver of the second bus took a 15-minute break when she arrived at my stop, and then, upon arrival at the Fruitvale BART stop, ended her shift, to be replaced by another driver—a process taking anywhere from five to fifteen minutes. I cannot for the life of me figure out why someone who is about to end their shift in ten minutes needs to take a break (and this is partly why the trip took so much time).

Besides this daily annoyance, every few days there’d be some disaster: once a windshield cracked and they had to send another bus; another time the relief driver didn’t show up for over 20 minutes. Also, drivers completely ignore passengers who misbehave—for instance, on the way home one day three teenage

kids fight

girls stood in the front of the bus and danced around during the ride, until one of them actually fell on top of me. The driver never told her and her friends  to sit down, and I was left to fend for myself. I got the distinct impression the driver was afraid to exert authority, and he’s not that unusual among AC Transit drivers. (Because of this, I try to time my trips so as not to be on a bus at the same time teenagers are let out of school.)

I recently read in the newspaper that AC Transit is planning to reduce fares for a few months in order to attract more riders, and then raise the fares even higher after that. Such manipulation is almost as disgraceful as the level of service the company provides. It astounds me how little they care about the people who use their services. Believe me, I have a lot better things to do right now than write this letter, and if I didn’t feel strongly about how abused I was by AC Transit I wouldn’t bother.

As I said, I ride the buses regularly, even though it takes four times longer to do anything than it does when using a car. I come from New York City, where bus service is excellent. I felt good about getting rid of my car back in 2005, because I was no longer contributing to the destruction of the planet. Besides, I would much rather read, or listen to music, than fight traffic. I believe in public transportation. For environmental reasons everyone ought to ride public transportation whenever possible—but with this kind of service, I ask you, how can we be expected to do it?



Just Another Rant

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Cover of "Back to the Future"

Cover of Back to the Future

Inhospitable. I’ve been chewing this word around lately: it best describes the world in which I find myself. I really do mean “find myself,” with all the implications of that phrase: confusion, surprise or even shock, a daily sense of “how did I get here?” or, more accurately, “How did this place get to be like this?” How did the planet become so inhospitable in just 65 years? It was different in the years during which I grew up, and even when I first became an adult. I cannot, of course, pinpoint the moment or year that the planet turned from a somewhat challenging landscape into one of absolute inhospitability: it occurred gradually. I am only partly speaking of environmental change; that’s not the only aspect of life that’s become inhospitable.

People like me, born many decades ago, came into an environment very different from the one we’re currently surrounded by, and therefore we are experiencing, to varying degrees, culture shock. Maybe this happens to every generation – I certainly saw it happen to my mother – but now the changes are speeding up. Some of my peers – I’d say maybe half  —  hide from the new: they still listen to “the oldies” from the 1950’s and nothing else, have carved out lives as similar to those of their parents as they could possibly manage, have little or nothing to do with the Internet much less “social networking,” and are bewildered when forced to confront anything outside the zone of comfort they’ve created. Who can blame them? It’s scary as hell out here.

Remember the scene in Back to the Future, when a car pulls into a gas station and three uniformed guys run outside to cheerfully provide service? Funny it was – but it was no joke. On one level, the scene signifies the novelty of the automobile at the time, but on another level that scene captures precisely what I’m talking about. I wonder if younger people can even begin to imagine what a mindfuck this can be – although I must admit that even those in their 40s are going through it too, what with the culture changing so rapidly. Culture shock keeps hitting us in waves, rolling over one generation, then the next, with barely a pause in between.

In this inhospitable environment, each day is a struggle. The smallest task – paying the cable bill, ordering a prescription refill – takes hours, despite the ability to accomplish them by pushing buttons on a telephone. That’s because, after all the button pushing, it turns out that the cable company lost your phone number and declares you don’t exist, or they think you’re another customer, or…any number of mixups. The refill needs your doctor’s permission, or the insurance company won’t pay for the scrip anymore, or the pharmacist decides it’s too soon for a refill. The first hour of the day, at the very least, is eaten up with these hassles, by the end of which you’re in no condition to sit down and write as planned, so you decide to go out to do the food shopping and write when you get back. Except that the bank won’t cash your check until tomorrow, and the store is out of your brand of whatever, or the car won’t start, or the bus doesn’t come, and the temperature takes a sudden dive and you’re freezing and can’t stay outside in your shorts and sandals one more minute.

Everywhere we go we run into mobs of people. We jockey for parking places, or we wait half an hour for a bus with no empty seats. We wait on long lines to pay for things.The people paid to wait on us are idiots or annoying or nasty. We make a phone call and are put on hold before we even say hello.

Most of these problems are connected to overpopulation. Too many of us compete for fewer and fewer resources, and our poor depleted planet is less and less able to accommodate the hordes of hungry humans. Why we never talk about overpopulation as Ground Zero of the planetary crisis I don’t know, unless it’s because we’re so busy trying to protect our right and access to birth control and abortion. O, the supreme irony of it all!

Coda: After I posted this, I left my house and proceeded to have one of the worst days of my life, which included several of the above named hassles. I almost deleted this, afraid I’d spooked myself. Then I figured, nah: I’m not superstitious. But if tomorrow isn’t better, it’s comin’ down!

Pity The Pedestrian

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I Pity the Pedestrian
(To the tune of  “I Pity the Poor Immigrant,” with apologies to Bobby D.)

I pity the pedestrian
who wishes he would’ve stayed home
who uses his feet to go everywhere
and ends up tired and alone.
That man who must outrun the cars,
who’s always out of breath
who passionately hates traffic
and likewise fears his death.

I’ve said it before, I’ll probably be saying it until the day I die: walking around these California streets is a dangerous business. We’re never going to resolve the carbon emissions problem until everyone gets out of their cars – but they won’t get out of their cars as long as walking and public transit remains inconvenient and dangerous.

I have many pet peeves relating to drivers, traffic, and the organization of a state and society geared towards the pleasure and efficiency of individual travel by wheel. One of these is the practice of parking a car at the end of a driveway so it takes up the sidewalk, forcing pedestrians into the street to pass. The other day I was on my way to the bus stop in the rain when a man parked his car, blocking the entire sidewalk, just as I approached. When he got out of the car, I asked, “Do you have to park on the sidewalk?” I admit this wasn’t the most tactful way I could have put it – but it wasn’t the nastiest either. Certainly it did not warrant his immediate response, which was : “Fuck you! Fuck you! I got kids in the house! Fuck you!”

Is this any way to speak to a lady? An old lady, at that? And what was he implying? That he didn’t want kids to have to walk in the street, I suppose – but the hell with the old lady? Fuck him! “Pig!” I shouted back.

Other threats to walkers are bicyclists who ride on the sidewalk. I’m reluctant to ‘dis bicyclists, who are doing their part to save the planet – but they’re supposed to use bicycle lanes. True, not every street or road has a bicycle lane – another travesty – but plenty of bikes have whizzed past me, grazing my arm or leg, even in places where lanes were clearly defined. Bicyclists are considered a vehicle, like a car, and subject to the same traffic laws. The Oakland Municipal Code, Section 10.16.150, prohibits sidewalk riding:

“No person shall ride a bicycle which has wheels of twenty (20) inches or greater in diameter or a frame of fourteen (14) inches or greater in length on any sidewalk within the city.

This prohibition shall not be applicable to Oakland police officers operating a bicycle while engaged in their assigned duties.”

(Note that state law does not regulate bicycle riding on sidewalks—this is left up to individual cities.)

To report violations, call the Public Works Agency at (510) 238-3983 or visit their website.

Finally, this isnt exactly a complaint, but I wish we had more trees in my neighborhood. Trees give us shade and improve air quality, especially helpful in the summer. It turns out that the city will plant a tree upon request, something most people aren’t aware of. Online I discovered that the City of Oakland will plant a free sidewalk tree to any homeowner willing to care for it. Visit their website for more information and to download the tree planting request form. Or contact Robert Zahn at Oakland Public Works Agency Tree Section, (510) 615-5852.

Let’s Make the World Safer for Pedestrians!

Apocalypse Now: Heat, Floods, Mudslides, and more

Wildfires: Deaths in Moscow have doubled to an average of 700 people a day as the Russia capital is engulfed by poisonous smog from wildfires caused by a sweltering heat wave.

Floods in Europe: Days of flooding have killed at least 11 people in central Europe and damaged hundreds of homes and businesses across Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic.

Floods in Pakistan: Millions suffer floods’ havoc, U.N. officials say. The number of people suffering….now exceeds 13 million, more than the combined total of…the 2004 tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, and the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

Mudslides in China: 1100 are missing as floods, landslides and misery rise. …hundreds died from landslides caused by heavy rain…Flooding in China has killed more than 1100 people this year…across 28 provinces and regions.

Flash Floods in Kashmir: The death toll…in the remote desert mountainsides in Indian-controlled Kashmir rose to 140…police said Monday.

Floods in North Korea: Some 10,000 people were sheltering in public buildings in the border city of Sinuju…due to flooding, the Red Cross said Monday.

All these headlines and paragraphs are from the first two pages of today’s San Francisco Chronicle. Yes, that’s right: the first two pages! ( in the print version; this links to their website so you might have to hunt.) I’m almost afraid to turn another page. When I read all this I thought, How can anyone deny a connection? I also wondered why my radio, tuned to NPR, wasn’t sending out the news of apocolypse now.

I switched to KPFA, and much to my relief, Amy Goodman and guests on Democracy Now were talking about the weather. (The Weather Channel is probably the most relevant tv news of the times.) One guest said straight out, This is the beginning. Another talked about the dismal failure of the Copenhagen Conference, and the refusal of the United States and other countries to take the necessary steps to stop this rush to planetary destruction.

I’ve said this before: Doris Lessing’s book, The Adventures of Mara and Dann, envisions a world that looks very much like what we’re seeing right now and what we can surely imagine coming down the pike.

The World As We Know It

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Warning: The following material is obscene, explicit, and depressing. If you have a delicate constitution and choose to read it anyway, good for you.

As Hurricane Alex, the first to hit since the oil spill, passes over the Gulf states, workers are frantically cleaning up oil from the beaches they just finished cleaning. I imagine every storm for quite awhile will be dumping fresh oil (if you can call this nasty stuff ‘fresh’) onto the sand, and this arduous, health-compromising cleanup will begin anew. Kind of makes you think of Sisyphus and his boulder, doesn’t it?

Depending on your age, it’s a very different planet than the one we knew as children. Deadly floods. Lethal storms. Devastating earthquakes. More bad air days than good. Mud slides, fires, tsunamis, outsized snowstorms, winter weather in May and summer weather in January. CancerCancerCancer. More babies born with physical and mental disabilities, more kids getting strange and debilitating illnesses from toxins in the environment. An ocean that might be ruined beyond redemption. Don’t expect oysters, or any fruits of the sea, any time soon.

No Comment Department: A video by John Walthen, shot from the sky, of the oil-covered sea and dying dolphins.

In addition to this planetary breakdown we predicted and are witnessing, the social structure isn’t holding up too well either. No work. No money. No housing. No health care. More and more people dying of poverty’s repercussions. More prisons, fewer schools, all part of a self-perpetuating cycle that’s both cause and effect of more violence, hatred and fear. WarWarWar. More guns let loose in our cities. A dysfunctional, vitriolic political system. Marx predicted that capitalism would implode on itself. It seems to be doing just that.

Meanwhile, we each focus on our little corner of the world and try to hold body and soul together. Yesterday I wrote on my business blog about my own puny concerns, the world of online writing. Today I seem to have returned to what is becoming an almost constant state of grief for our dying planet. I don’t believe in God and prayer, but I offer a kind of prayer first heard 35 years ago in Lily Tomlin’s The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe.