Bring On Self-Drivers!

Not only do I own what I am sure is the last station wagon in America, but apparently I am among the last drivers to be unfamiliar with push-button cars. I learned this on a recent four-day trip to Colorado where I attended a funeral for a friend of long-standing, followed up by a quick visit to Nieder family relatives.

I’d ordered a Volkswagen Jetta but at the Denver Airport’s car rental facility I was presented with an upgrade at the same price, “a white something-or-other parked at the curb” but as a lifetime VW owner, the names of other makes and models is meaningless to me. I did remember “white” and “parked at the curb.” It was evening so as I made my way out in the dark in the indicated direction, I headed for a white vehicle avalon-front.pngsitting at the curb with the motor running. The driver side door was unlocked so I put my bag on the back seat and got behind the wheel. That was when I noticed no key in the ignition. Where a key should be was a button with the words “push to start or stop while keeping your foot on the brake pedal.” I’m paraphrasing there but since the car was already running, I eased away from the curb and headed toward the exit, stopping at the gate to get pointed in the right direction,

I set the mobile phone’s GPS to lead me to the mortuary. I had very little time before the visiting period ended and sure enough, one missed turn or two and the required backtracking and reasserting of myself on the dark unfamiliar highway, and I quickly missed the visiting time altogether. Okay, so I told the GPS to take me to the motel. Once there, I couldn’t figure out how to turn off the headlights; I went inside and played the first of what would be several days’ worth of “old lady cards.” The nice young man behind the desk came outside in the cold – Did I mention it was cold and I’d just flown in from Southern California? – and walked in his shirtsleeves with me toward the car. Just then, the lights went out on their own. “Oh, that’s one of those cars that keep the lights on long enough to get you in your building,” he said, “My car does that.”

I didn’t tell him my car at home doesn’t do that. If you forget and leave the lights on, you will be greeted in the morning by a dead battery. So passé.

Other old friends of the deceased arrived a little later, having “UBER-ed from the airport, and we agreed to meet at breakfast the next morning. There, they accepted my offer of a ride to the funeral later that morning, albeit pointing out that if I hadn’t made plans for a visit after the funeral, I could have done without the rental car. (My shared-ride company of choice is LYFT, so yes, I could have LYFT-ed everywhere, but didn’t.)

At the agreed-upon time, we met at my car and headed for the funeral, which was in a chapel at the mortuary located at the edge of the cemetery. Armed with individual mobile phone GPSes, each shouted directions at me, but we nevertheless arrived shortly to take seats in a pew at the last row. The chapel was lovely with tasteful flower arrangements and our friend’s flag-draped coffin at the front. A large glass window overlooked the cemetery beyond, a natural setting without headstones and other statuary. Shortly after the minister began the service, a flock of wild geese flew past the window, wheeled and circled again, as if on cue. Could Hollywood do any better? I wondered.

At the indoor service’s conclusion, we were informed that those who wished could follow in our cars to the gravesite where prayers were offered and the coffin lowered into the ground. A bagpiper stood off playing, and at the final conclusion, continued to play as he walked off into the distance. It was all very moving and beautiful. The snow boots I’d purchased especially for this instance were in the trunk of the car but it was alright.

Back at the mortuary, a reception was underway with refreshments and a slide show of photos from the life of our friend and his family. Deep in conversation with someone, I caught a glimpse out of the corner of one eye, of a picture of our friend sandwiched between two of our giant dogs. I smiled to remember when we moved next door to that Bismarck at fencefamily, our friend’s consternation, not only that we had a giant dog but that we planned to completely fence in our yard, placing one side up against that neighbor’s driveway. It took hardly any time during the brief year-and-a-half we lived there, for the dog and our friend to develop an early morning ritual, the dog on his hind legs looking over the fence and our friend calling a greeting on his way to his garage.

Snow started falling the day after the funeral, and I headed – wearing my newly purchased snow boots – up the 65 miles to Fort Collins. I quickly realized I didn’t know how to work the windshield wipers, except to do it manually with one finger each time I needed to clear snow away. The same was true of defrosters; as the clear visual area became smaller and smaller, I put the palm of my hand to use. But what to do about the heat blasting out at my midsection? I pushed every button I could reach in an effort to make some of these functions work. Why don’t rental car agencies keep a copy of the car’s manual in the glove compartment?

There was no place to stop, no one to ask and so I just kept driving straight ahead for 65 miles until I pulled into my sister-in-law’s driveway. The bright white car was a mess with splatters of slush and mud and gunk. The next morning I drove to a car wash where I played the “old lady card” once again. When a young employee noticed me puzzling over the start of the drive-through, he approached and showed where to insert my credit card. “When I get through,” I said, “do you suppose someone could come out and show me how to work all these various buttons on this rental car?” “Oh sure,” he replied, “I’ll meet you in the parking lot. I have a car just like this.”

 

It’s Our Nation: Please Pay Attention

The New York Times wants to hear from women about the whole Kavanaugh debacle, and my first thought, after all those days in front of the TV for the Supreme Court hearings was, what’s the point? The time to hear from us (and the many, many good men who stand with us) is Nov. 6 and dear God, do I hope we make our voices heard then. We need to overwhelm the ballot boxes from one end of the country to the other because we simply cannot continue in this direction much longer. It’s more than a matter of showing our displeasure; it’s to save our democracy.

 

How Dare You!

The images have been haunting from the start of our current government’s outrageous treatment of asylum seekers. And you knew it was only get worse.

There was, of course, the one that landed on the cover of TIME and gained worldwide notoriety (and lampooning) — the wailing toddler standing at the knees of her manacled mother, the armed border agent alongside. It was gratifying to learn later that mother and child were reunited and safe. But what about all the other images that slid across my consciousness and vanished? I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time scrolling in vain through online photo archives for the images that remain forever lodged in my mind.

For me, it was one of two very small boys walking hand-in-hand alone between two rows of men’s knees in what was obviously some kind of waiting facility. The children were vulnerability personified. I hope there was a parent nearby; I hope everyone is safe.

And then there was the photo of a small clutch of girls walking with a chaperone on a dark New York City street toward a shelter. The caption noted they’d just landed from a flight halfway across the country. The mother in me wanted to scream (and maybe I did) “How dare you put my child into an airplane for what could well have been her first plane ride? How dare you!”

Or now that children and parents are beginning to be reunited, what about the heartbreaking video of a mother trying to embrace her little boy who kept breaking loose from her arms and running off? “What is wrong with my son?” the shocked mother shouted. And I wanted to shout along with her, “What have you done to him? How dare you!”

Except for being stuck in my mind, these images are unavailable for me. But today, and before I lose it, is a front page story in the Los Angeles Times about a Guatemalan family’s reaction to the changes they see in the 12-year-old boy returned to them after four months.  While in detention, the boy was hospitalized and treated for depression. Among his belongings, the family found a powerful prescription medication used to treat bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. They knew about his hospitalization but had never given permission for him to be administered medication. Again the parent in me wants to shout, “How dare you!”

We’re just at the start of this horror, you know. If our inept officials manage to put every child together with every family and allow asylum petitions to resume, there will still be the matter of long-term psychological harm that was inflicted on the children. Whose responsibility is that? And, not to be crass, but what about the money families scraped together to finance what is an internationally legal undertaking just to be sent back to the dangers they were trying to escape?

How dare we?

It’s Been 17 Years

World Trade Center

Photo: theatlantic.com

Last night on MSNBC’s “11th Hour,” Brian Williams mentioned that incoming college freshmen today have no memory of 9/11. That startling fact sent me back to my past posts to see what I wrote and wonder how I could commemorate the date this year. Others have observed that 9/11 held in our time the same significance as Pearl Harbor did in our parents’ time.

I trust those college freshmen will have the opportunity in their lifetimes to visit the various commemorative installations that have been established in New York City, at the Pentagon and today, in Shanksville PA, along with others in this country and abroad. They are poignant reminders of the sacrifices of individuals made in the face of unspeakable evil.

But the most significant 9/11 reminder I read today was an op-ed piece in The New York Times by Joe Quinn, an Army veteran whose brother’s death on the 102nd floor of the World Trade Center spurred him to military service and tours twice in Iraq and once in Afghanistan. It took him 17 years to be able to face the realization, he wrote, that our country is doing just what Osama bin Laden strategized: “to embroil the United States in a never-ending conflict to ultimately bankrupt the country …(and) to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note.”

 

Forking Over Some Facts

Pasadena fork (new)It’s something I usually do not have time for – it’s all I can do to get a couple of posts up per month – but today’s daily word prompt from WordPress was irresistible: Fork.

First thought: Pasadena’s 18-foot wood fork in the road, erected on a traffic island in the dead of one night in 2009 as a gag birthday gift between two friends. It was subsequently taken down and then approved by all the proper authorities including the state transportation department whose land it sits on. (When that happened, the Los Angeles Times headline read “A Fork Whose Tine Has Come.” No end to the puns here.) Today Pasadena’s fork warrants mention and directions on travel sites such as roadsideamerica.com and atlasobscura.com, and provides the setting for food and toy drives, as well as special events like a visit from a touring 6-ton potato belonging to the Idaho Potato Commission.

Since my husband Ed and I are at the stage of life where visits to medical facilities tend to overwhelm our social calendar and since many of those facilities are in Pasadena, we pass the fork frequently. It always makes me smile.

yogi berraIt also reminds me of another fork in the road, this one up the street from the home we moved away from in Montclair, New Jersey 11 years ago. That home was up the street from the now late, always great Yogi Berra whose malapropisms delighted baseball fans and everyone else throughout his life. Hearing him say, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it,” they’d smile and say, “Oh that Yogi,” but what many didn’t realize is that a lot of Yogi’s supposed malapropisms contained much truth. That was certainly true of the fork-in-the-road comment, made while giving someone directions to his home on our street. It was reached by traveling up a hill on a road that divided – a fork – that led either way to Yogi’s (and our) street.

(Our younger daughter trudged up that street every day after fourth grade, muttering curses under her breath toward her parents and their penchant for living on hills. It was just that year, after which came middle school and buses, followed by high school and cars. After college and graduate school where presumably some walking was involved, she moved to Los Angeles and never had to walk again unless she really wanted to.)

Is It Over Yet?

Masochist that I am, I watched every single candidates debate so far in this already interminably long presidential campaign. Both parties. Even those featuring the so-called undercard or which Rachel Maddow snarkily and delightfully refers to as “the kids’ table.” Strangely enough, those candidates, whose low poll numbers had relegated them to that position, seemed to make more sense than the ones on center stage. Not that I’m going to vote for any of the Republicans but still, it makes you wonder why many with the most experience and apparent decent judgment are the ones being forced to drop out. If they didn’t know it before, the rest of the world must think we’re crazy.

So the voting begins with the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1. And then there will be more debates and more voting and finally 313 days from now, on Nov. 8, there will be a general election and the United States will have a new president. And poor, beleaguered Barack Obama will be able to take the gray hair we all gave him off to a well-earned retirement.

Happy New Year!