Conversations With Cars


Some of us talk to ourselves, some of us talk to cars.

As in a recent parking episode, at the intersection of 9th Street and Bryant in downtown San Francisco. It happened at the precise spot where traffic from the Hwy 101 off-ramp muscles its impatient way into the mainstream maelstrom of 9th Street. I was late for a lunch meeting on Bryant.

“I don’t think I want to go into reverse,” said The Volvo.

I was, at the time, pretty much parallel to the far-right curb in a metered space on one-way 9th. But I was interested in getting a little closer so as to reduce chance encounters with cars making reckless right turns. This required only the slightest maneuvering back and forth, but The Volvo, as I mentioned, was interested only in forth. I eyeballed the off-ramp traffic on the left, and the rather aggressive Bryant traffic dead ahead.

“Oh, please,” I said, inching ever farther into Bryant every time I tried the reverse gear and The Volvo chose not to reverse.

It should be noted that The Volvo, which went only by that uninspired name from the time my husband purchased it, new, was a 1977 two-door stick shift. We had had similar conversations before. “I am, after all, Scandanavian…” it would murmur on days when, left alone in hot sunshine, it would refuse to restart until the cool of evening. Or, “Do you realize you are confirming my image as an old geezer lady,” I would say, gently – well, sometimes not – when it choked up in front of two Yuppies driving BMWs.

Eventually, at 9th & Bryant, I put the thing in neutral, got out, pushed it more or less into a parking place and went to my meeting. Thence I drove it, in forward gears, a few blocks to the Popular Mechanix Volvo place, with which we have a long and intimate relationship.

“I can get home on foot or on the Muni bus,” I said to Jon the P.M. guy and the assorted Volvos hanging around, “but if you by any chance have a loaner it would simplify my day.” Jon understands both Volvos and Volvo owners in distress. Out came a lovely little ’98 number named True Blue. Wayyy fancier than Popular Mechanix’ regular loaners Goldfinger and Black Beauty, True Blue boasted all manner of things I had long coveted: right-side mirror, four doors, automatic everything, functional radio… the works. I sensed right away that we might communicate well.

En route home, while True Blue was beginning a sort of sexual identity epiphany which would lead to knowing herself as The Blue Iris (my favorite flower), we became ardently conversational.

“I could be yours,” she said. And lo, there, affixed to her dashboard was a small card proclaiming, “This Car Is For Sale.” Jon is no dummy.

The next day I signed the adoption papers, and two days later we delivered the ’77 – now fully repaired and running like a Rolls Royce – to the auto dismantlers, where the State of California paid us $650 to get it off the road. I felt a little like I was leaving Great Uncle Philemon at the county home for the indigent. But The Volvo said, “Don’t you work all the time with end-of-life issues? Didn’t you provide palliative care? Doesn’t the time come for many of us when physician-hastened dying is the best choice?”

And Iris said, liltingly, “Hmmmmmm….”

Reading about it in the morning

What with the Olympics, the conventions and other breaking news these days, there seems an awful lot of TV-watching going on. I don’t do TV very well. For one thing, the Comcast people – whom I actively loathe and despise so I hope your mother doesn’t work there – in their infinite wisdom furnish us with 82 channels, which is 76 more TV channels than I could ever possibly want. There are, of course, one or two I would like to have that are somehow not on the Comcast radar, but in order to get them I would need to add another 40 or 50 more, and my poor old curved-screen TV would collapse of its own weight.

It appears that everybody who is not following the news on TV is checking in on her iPhone or Treo or laptop. I can’t handle that kind of newsgathering either. My assorted home pages and RSS feeds do indeed give me headlines at every turn – and I appreciate that and congratulate you if your mother works for iGoogle – but I am not inclined to zip right over and read the whole story and this is why:

Nothing will ever beat picking up the morning paper, sitting down with a cup of coffee and finding out what’s going on around the globe. Even if it went on 6 or 8 hours ago. The sky will fall if you miss knowing about the invasion of Svenghalistan by 6 hours? Under the old morning paper system the universe unfolds in proper time. You catch the first line of the big head just below and to the right of the New York Times’ “All the News That’s Fit to Print” box as you’re picking up the paper, and the adrenalin kicks in, ever so gently, even before the caffeine. Maybe your candidate won! Or you glance at the smaller typeface just below the slogan and get an instant clue about who’s beating up on whom around the globe. Then you settle down, let everything else wait while the day gets underway, and digest the news and a piece of toast at your own speed. This is good not only for the digestion, but also for the blood pressure (your candidate didn’t win?!) and the furniture that ordinarily gets in the way when you throw things at the TV.

The daily newspaper may be condemned to die, leaving hard news analysis and investigative reporting to the bloggers and the Wikipedes and perhaps some good hearted nonprofits, which many friends of mine believe will work out just fine. I’ve got my doubts (and Newshour still, at least.) But the need to know everything that happens everywhere at the moment of its happening is not high on my priority list.

I want to read about it in the morning. Over coffee.

Writers Blogk

In the virtual world of the blogosphere there are those who suffer guilt over failure to blog. This despite evidence that the world manages to get along just fine without our daily contributions. I hear of this guilt about infrequency and irregularity, though, from my more gifted and committed blogger friends, and certainly stress out about it myself when one of my several readers says, “Umm, you haven’t put anything new there in a month or so.” It is the curse of writers blogk.

Writers blogk is identifiable by several symptoms:

The syntactical blogk: Those of us born into the Chicago Manual of Style and raised by Strunk and White are just emotionally unable to write in incomplete sentences or phrases. We wish we could. We desperately envy those who can dash off a post and send it instantly into cyberspace with confidence. You know them. Their blogs are breezy and witty and wonderful – and frequent. We of the blogked are still sitting at our computers searching for the perfectly-crafted phrase, wondering if our gerunds are proper.

The grammatical/punctuational blogk: In another generation this blogk will be simply quaint, as there will be no texting-impaired people still alive. But for now, we unfortunate blogkeders cannot abandon our commitment to capital letters and words spelled all the way out. Some things are daggers into our literary souls, u no wt i mn? So we sit around doing our own spell-checking until we’ve bored ourselves into a doze.

The sheer envy blogk: Who are all those people posting perfectly spelled and punctuated, well crafted sentences and paragraphs of informative materials day after day and whose freshman composition class were they in? Ohmygoodness, did I just end that sentence in a preposition?

The insecurity blogk: It seemed like a good idea… but no, how could I possibly write about that…….

I’ll try to get back to you soon.

On getting along…

It was a special treat recently to attend several sessions of the 20th annual meeting of the North American Interfaith Network, happily held this year on the campus of my MFA alma mater, the University of San Francisco. Ever alert for a good story – especially a publishable one – I e-mailed my friend and Beliefnet.com editor to see if they’d be interested in a report. (I wrote a piece for Beliefnet’s start-up issue, and am proud to have contributed that and a few other articles for what I think is the best site around for issues of spirituality and ethics.) She replied, with kindness but candor, should anything surprising or newsworthy come up that would be a possibility, but such is seldom the case at these conferences. And I guess she’s right. What warms the heart does not necessarily make the news.
Still, it was hard not to feel a little wistful, as I sat in workshops and gatherings, about the fact that an extraordinary coming-together of so many wildly divergent faith communities, many of which are behind the splitting-apart of the world, is not newsworthy by today’s measure.
In my ice-breaking group, for example, were a woman rabbi, a former Catholic priest whose partner is a Wiccan, an avowed atheist, and an ordained United Methodist minister who works full-time with an interfaith organization (in Wichita, KS!, America’s oldest interfaith group, founded 1885 if you please.) And assorted others, including a Japanese Christian who had married a Korean politician but is now living in the U.S. because, as you might guess, that didn’t sit well with Korean politics. Stories were everywhere. In subsequent gatherings I encountered Muslims, Buddhists, Native Americans, Brahma Kumaris and others, all with wonderfully rich traditions and a yearning for peace.
There were questions – How can humanitarian needs be addressed without compromising political/religious neutrality? Is every declared faith a legitimate faith? – for which no answers were found. But there were exciting tales of answers that had been found and of possibilities for finding more. Tiny steps toward a better world were confirmed.
So OK, one group Om does not a treaty make. And the multi-lingual singing of “Love In Any Language” won’t make ancient animosities between speakers of all those languages disappear.
But has anyone come up with a better idea? That would make news.