Journal: 2003

Grand Opening

The Ferry Plaza opening was gala. The place is beautiful, and I cannot imagine what they were thinking when they covered over that magnificent, 600-foot skylight decades ago. My vendors were at their finest. All the folks visiting were at their finest. Chris was wonderful in his role as bearer, at midpoint making a run to the car to unload purchases made thus far. It was a bit coolish, but still a pretty day, all the more appreciated as it had rained on the previous days and more is expected in the following. Yerena came through, so this afternoon I made tayberry jelly from bespoke under-ripe tayberries. Modesty forbids my describing the taste, but I can note with complete objectivity that Chris and I made little grunting noises as we painstakingly licked the pot, the spoon, the spatula, and the measuring cup that I use as a ladle. I put them all in the dishwasher anyhow even though no visible trace of the jelly remained.

Jars will be distributed in order of niceness. You know who you are. Then again, ratings remain fluid and thus upwardly ratchetable.

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Broken Down

There I was beside the road putting the key into the ignition and getting a weak little chime but nothing else, no little happy face on the indicator light. In fact, no indicator light. The crowd watched silently as I tried the intermediate key…and the measly beginner key. And then, mercifully, they began drifting away, not gonna be nothing to see here.

I was out eclipse chasing. I should, of course, have followed through on my original plan to drive over to Mt. Diablo in the early afternoon with a hamper of delicacies and a good book. But I’m back on my meds and sick and just didn’t feel like doing that. Here in the City it was a bit too hazy for a really good show, and I saw in the late afternoon that driving up to Twin Peaks would be pointless.

Alas, I’m so damn gaga that I couldn’t even get it together to set an alarm, so of course I lost track of time and didn’t think about going out to the top of Dolores Heights until the best part of the show had already passed. But I went, anyhow. All I had to do was grab my field jacket and jump on the Segway to get up 21st Street.

At 21st and Sanchez a house was blocking the view, but as I balanced there speculatively, a passing woman volunteered, “There’s a good view of it at the next corner,” pointing south toward Hill Street. Sure enough, a pleasant little crowd of locals was watching the eclipse, and I glided up and casually performed my flying dismount to join them.

We stood there and talked of previous astronomical phenomena as the eclipse became more and more ordinary, and we all pretty much simultaneously began to leave. This was when I discovered that the Segway wouldn’t start.

Good thing I was only a block and a half from home. Even better thing that after a very gentle upgrade during the first third of the return trip, it was all downhill.

So I dragged the dead Segway ignominiously behind me. It didn’t deserve being pushed ahead of me. Got it inside and took the Handle Bar/Control Shaft assembly off so I could check whether the two wires in there were still connected. They were. Still wouldn’t start. So I plugged it into the wall, thinking, why not? It shouldn’t need a charge, but who knows?

I woke up in the middle of the night and had to pad in there and try the key. Still dead.

This morning, it was still dead, so I called Segway Technical Support and got this excessively cheerful young woman. When I told her the symptoms, she inquired whether I had by now had the Segway long enough to start messing around with flying dismounts, not that she called them “flying dismounts,” but that’s what she meant.

Good grief. The Ayatollah Ashcroft’s measures are sure not necessary for this Subject. The most ordinary customer service rep off somewhere in New England can read me like a book and catch me trying to get away with things I didn’t know I was trying to get away with. How was I to know that flying dismounts could involve dangers other than scraped knees and humiliation.

But now I’m clear that if I wish to perform flying dismounts, I must unobtrusively but scrupulously perform the Standard Shutdown Procedure described on page 43 of the User Guide. Otherwise, I will confuse the Segway and get some of that humiliation without even falling to the ground.

Unconfusing the Segway requires violating it with a #4 hex wrench.

I’m thinking a little chrome-plated model hanging on a chain around my neck. Ummm, naw, matte black. All the guys’ll have ’em.

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After a breakfast of toast with a whole stalk of young green garlic sautéed in duck fat with a couple of bites of leftover duck breast and three eggs, I Segwayed out to mail packages and stopped at Bi-Rite and picked up, among other things, a quart of Strauss Organic Low Fat Chocolate Milk since I had never tasted this brand. It was so tasty that I chugged half of it right out of the convenient glass bottle immediately upon returning home.

I hadn’t thought about it, but a real selling feature of the glass containers is that they have a much better mouth feel than does the spout formed when you open a cardboard carton. Hard to get your mouth comfortably onto those pointy things, but with a glass jug I get a good seal that will prevent more of the spillage stains that have built up on the floor in front of the refrigerator. Actually, the seal was so good that I had to go back in there a few minutes later and test it again, finishing the jug off in the process.

I must say that I experienced a great deal of oral satisfaction, of a kind that I’d not really had previously since cardboard milk cartons came into prevalence before I got old enough to be so depraved as to drink directly from the milk jug.

But wait, I just remembered that night in the ninth grade when I had padded into the kitchen, removed the water jug from the refrigerator, and was about to pour myself a glass of water when I suddenly realized that a Great Labor-saving Shortcut was available when Mother was not in the kitchen. Tastes better that way, too, being one step closer to the source.

Mother never caught me guzzling from the jug. I was a pretty stealthy kid.

But back to the chocolate milk. After I finished it, I hardly had room for lunch except for a quarter of a smoked eel, three nectarines, and a double handful of Brooks cherries.

I just flashed on what’s wrong with me. Why I’m so voracious now and go into binges of eating. It’s because I’m not smoking. Hell, I keep forgetting that I stopped smoking sometime back in February! I would never have imagined being able to write that sentence, but it’s true. It was on the 3rd that I got the test results confirming that the doctors were just kidding back in December when they told me that I had lymphoma, and I distinctly remember not having to go to all the trouble to go outside on cigarette breaks during the Siebel Open, which started on the 10th. So sometime during that week I admitted to myself that I no longer had an excuse to smoke, dammit, and stopped again.

(See, when they told me I had lymphoma, I was so delighted to finally see dark at the end of the tunnel that on the way home from the hospital I got the taxi to stop at a convenience store for a pack of cigarettes and joyfully resumed smoking.)

Yesterday afternoon I experienced a sudden rush of nicotine craving and it took me a couple of minutes to recognize the feeling for what it was since it happens now so infrequently. How strange it is.

People say that if they had their choice, they’d prefer to die suddenly of a massive heart attack or stroke. I just thought of a better way: If they still come with a last cigarette, I want a firing squad.

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Have I talked about my late-winter toy? No, not the Segway. This was just before the Segway, sort of a warm-up. I had read with great enthusiasm Jeffrey Steingarten’s It Must Have Been Something I Ate. Steingarten observes, regarding those folks who avoid the skin of chickens for fear of the fat it contains, “If you can’t stand the skin, stay out of the chicken.”

During his chapter on the development of the perfect pizza-cooking technique, Steingarten mentions acquiring a Raytek Minitemp non-contact thermometer, using as an excuse his need to closely monitor the temperature of his oven.

I somehow glossed over this instrument in my excitement in reading of Steingarten’s gourmandizing. But then somewhere else I ran across a mention of it and did a little Internet shopping and in no time at all for a mere hundred bucks or so had one of my very own.

We all know it’s just a guy-gadget thing, but it’s so much better when you can spin the acquisition as a practical necessity. Like this morning when I gathered myself together and went on an adventure downtown to the Grand Restarting Ceremony for the recently-restored, original, turn-of-the-twentieth-century clockworks in the Ferry Building. I stuck my vehicular handicap placard in the exterior breast pocket of my field jacket, not wanting to get hassled for riding the Segway on the paved concourse area in front of the Ferry Building, since it might be construed as a sidewalk and the Supes have made it illegal on sidewalks even though I can legally take an electric wheelchair capable of the same speeds and weighing several times as much onto the sidewalk.

Well, nobody hassled me. And having that placard partially in sight attracted large numbers of folks my age and older who had disabilities or were developing them and were interested in the Segway as an aid to mobility. I told ’em all about the woman in front of the cheese store on 24th Street and dilated upon the practical aspects of zipping around the city darting in and out of traffic at 12 MPH balanced on a 13×16″ platform eight inches above the asphalt.

But yes, the Raytek. The best use of the Raytek by far I’ve found is to aim it at the heart of a visitor and pull the trigger. He sees the red light of the laser pointer and knows that he’s been somehow zapped. Then I tell ‘im his temperature and say, “The next setting is Stun… don’t make me use that.” They know, of course, I’m just kidding…of course. But then, it does have a distinctly weapon-like look to it.

Everyone relaxes when I point out its practical uses. Like for example just aiming it at any window to take the temperature of the inside surface of the glass, which you can use to instantly estimate the exterior air temperature without bothering to go outside.

The clock, by the way, is big and loud, qualities we appreciate in clocks on towers.

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You Be the Judge

What’s that old line about how sometimes the fears of paranoids are real? Well, I know I’m a bit demented. Certainly there’s ample evidence. But it may be jumping the gun to accuse me of delusions of grandeur. Here’s the situation, you be the judge:

For the past couple of weeks, San Francisco has experienced summer with a vengeance, by which I mean a seemingly uninterrupted cold wind off the ocean bringing with it daily overcasts that barely burn off even in the middle of the day and make it unwise to venture from one’s home without a coat.

Yesterday, I announced that I would be going out this morning and purchasing multiple flats of berries and conducting jelly testing all day today. Over a hot stove.

Consequently, dare I say, this morning dawned bright and clear and still. No fog. No wind. Shirt-sleeve weather. I went to the market for the first time this year without a coat, and just as I got there at 11:00 the Ferry Building clock performed a stirring rendition of the Westminster Chime and sounded the hour. What I really must do is memorize the words and sing them joyously and full-throatedly the next time I’m down there and the clock plays the chime.


Lord through this hour

Be thou our guide

So, by thy power

No foot shall slide.


Bong, bong, bong, bong…..


Then again, considering how my foot has slid….

As I swooped down upon Moua’s beautiful young okra and Bruin’s Brandywines I experienced perspiration. As I gathered nectarines from four vendors I wiped my brow. When I spotted the first haricots verts (painstakingly labeled “Haris Coverts”), I was gasping for breath although that may have been the signage.

By the time I got all this stuff plus some cherries, squash, onions, almond butter, and flats of tayberries and raspberries halfway back to my car on Drumm Street I was nearing heat stroke.

When I stopped at Safeway on the way home to pick up some canning jars and some dill for pickling the Coverts, the parking lot was broiling in the sun. In Safeway, I found the dill, $1.49 for a miserable sprig but not one of the vendors at the Ferry Plaza had any, so what could I do?

Well, I came home and napped all afternoon. It was too hot to work.

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If you were nicer to my friend Robin, you’d get tales from her like the one she sent me the other day telling about how when her son was a youngster he got sick in the middle of the night and she groggily took his temperature and was trying to read the tiny little bar when he said, “I thought that was the cat’s thermometer.”

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After the Fall

I went out yesterday afternoon on the Segway to Dr. Fong’s, where we grossed out (in a fun-loving way, of course) her totally blonde and vegetarian assistant by discussing the Brain Masala at Shalimar, the new Pakistani/Indian restaurant on Polk at Pine. (The assistant was at first desperately trying to believe that a masala was perhaps related to a mandala and that a brain masala was thus some kind of Eastern study to improve one’s mind.) On the way home I stopped in at Whole Foods to pick up some Bingham Hill Blue, an award-winning and ultimately somewhat disappointing Colorado cheese I’d read about, and while I was there delighted the garage attendant by giving him an intro lesson on the Segway.

I continued on my way home via Pacific Heights since the outbound trip competing with grumpy commuters on through streets had been a little too, well, competitive. Early on I got stopped by this alternative transportation nut for a too-long conversation about the politics of Segways in San Francisco, and shortly after that I hit a pothole on Steiner that threw me for my first significant spill. As I was picking myself and the Segway up and dragging us between parked cars to the curb to collect our wits, the woman driving the car behind me slowed and called out, “Are you hurt?” Since I could speak, I of course said no. Actually, I had forgot how much it hurts to scrape the skin off a six-inch patch of your forearm. But for the first few minutes that took my mind off my bruised butt, which seems to have absorbed most of the impact.

It’s becoming clear that this thing is really quite dangerous to be running on heavily-trafficked streets, but it’s opened my life up so much that I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

And yes, I knew about potholes, but for a moment failed to watch for them. And my goodness, was the fall abrupt. The very first warning came as the Segway and I were doing an arabesque, during the first part of which our only contact with the ground was with one of its wheels. Then, I momentarily lost touch (in a couple of senses) with the Segway as I hit the ground. One advantage of a top speed of 12 MPH, though, is that you don’t skid far.

And yes, I should drape myself with accessories like knee and elbow pads and a helmet and such, I really should. But they’re so uncomfortable. I say that without ever had any of them on me except for a motorcycle helmet decades ago because they look so dorky that even donning them is unthinkable.

After I got home and scrubbed the street dirt out of my scraped arm, ow, ow, ow, I started discovering other minor contact points. The good thing about privately administering your own first aid at home is that you get to whimper as much as you want. I seem to have bounced a couple of times to get so many little minor contact points. Then, for a couple of hours, I was distracted from my discomfort by watching Andy Roddick prance around on center court at the ATP Masters tournament in Montreal.

But then bedtime came and I discovered that my scraped arm was not the really the problem. I seemed to have bruised my tailbone, as finding a comfortable position in bed was difficult. Luckily, I have my stash of leftover pain meds from various surgeries, so I sampled a 1995 vintage hydrocodone. It still worked, at least enough to let me sleep for several hours.

Hmmmm. It’s several days later, and my butt still hurts when I lie down. Definitely may have to look into some kind of padding to wear when I’m riding the Segway…or better yet, when I’m trying to sleep.

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Oh, I have whined.

I have whined about how swiftly my sins are often punished. Well now, I can unwhine, as a good deed got an incredibly fast reward. Here’s how it went down:

Some weeks ago I had finished packing one of my friend Jim’s inheritance items, but then I checked on the web and discovered that if I drove across town and took it to UPS instead of running down to the local post office, I could save lots and lots of money, easily ten dollars.

And then I realized that hey, I should just wait until I’d finished packing the remaining two items and take all three packages to UPS at once, thus saving several cents worth of gasoline and maybe an hour’s worth total of my precious time.

A no-brainer, actually.

Well, until as the weeks went by with no further packing action, modest crumbs of guilt began accumulating at the edges of my consciousness…and continued to accumulate until they had reached feast proportions. So this morning, gorged on guilt, I actually sat down and filled out the address labels and the shipping form and placed the package conveniently beside the front door in anticipation of taking it to UPS on the way home from the Slanted Door after lunch.

And then I jumped in the shower to get ready ahead of time for lunch so that I could watch Andre play this Canadian upstart in the ATP Masters in Montreal until the last possible moment before I had to depart.

And God looked down upon me and thought, hey, why not now? And He caused a rain to fall upon Montreal, thus delaying Agassi’s match this morning by fifteen minutes. And then He caused the producers at ESPN to think, hey, why don’t we fill that fifteen minutes with coverage of the end of last night’s match between Lleyton Hewitt and Max Miryni. So I got to see Lleyton llose, one of my favorite activities!

And to sweeten His gift, since I took that time to get the package ready, I did not get far enough in this morning’s paper to discover that Lleyton had lost, so I got the agony of the drama, too.

Now I’ll probably choke on a chicken bone at lunch, but that’ll be alright.

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Segway Accessories

I’ve been doing some thinking about Segway accessories.

Cup holder. Inspired by my journey this morning from Tully’s (cafe) to Walgreen’s holding a cup of hot coffee in my right hand. Yeah, yeah, Dubya fell while trying to Segway with a tennis racquet in his hand, but I got extensive practice at my summer retreat while holding a can of soda in my right hand, so I now have the knack. And it sure was a great crowd-pleaser when I rolled away from Tully’s holding that coffee.

Mobile phone. If the pedestrians and motorists can go down the street shouting into one, so can I. Unlike the motorists, though, I can’t steer with my knees. So I need the cup holder to free up the left hand for steering.

Horn. One of those with the bulb that go, “Ah uuuuu gaaaaa.” Either that or one of those Dutch bicycle bells that quickly wear out so all you hear is a faint “scritch, scritch, scritch” as the bicyclist vigorously thumbs it.

Radio aerial. Suitable for attachment of a small pennant. Radio optional, but in no case to be used without earphones in sophisticated neighborhoods.

And on a related concept: I find it somehow unfair that society deems it perfectly reasonable for children to have imaginary playmates, but yet at the same time declares it a symptom of encroaching senility when, without the aid of a cell phone, I carry on conversations with persons invisible.

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I can’t believe I’ve become such a vehicle technology nut, but I have. How many other people do you know who have two electric vehicles?

Here’s the latest development. Sarah is the woman at USAA who manages all my affairs; Becky is my sister; today really is her birthday; but no, I didn’t plan this ahead but just acted on inspiration.) Becky got back to me immediately, and since she enjoyed it so much, I thought I’d pass it along.

—– Original Message —–

From: Louis Bryan

To: Sarah Reinbach

Cc: Becky

Sent: Tuesday, September 30, 2003 11:26 AM

Subject: money




Please don’t take this as an indicator of increased dementia, but I’m gonna buy a new car.

Yes, we all know that with significant guilt I went out last year and bought a Prius when my old car was only nine years old and had lots of life left.

Well, I’ve been looking at the web site for the 2004 Prius, and the technological advances are so enormous that I’ve just gotta upgrade.

Besides, I tell myself, the trade-in value for my 2002 ought to be high since the demand for the Prius is so great in the Bay Area. Furthermore, even though the 2002 is certainly the most entertaining automobile I’ve ever owned, it has three flaws.

First, it’s a struggle to get the Segway into the thing. It won’t fit into the trunk because the opening is too small, and getting it into the back seat is a serious hassle. The 2004 has a hatch back, which will simplify using the Segway when I’m out of the city.

Second, its high speed handling leaves a great deal to be desired. It feels quite unstable over 75 or so, not that I routinely go that fast, but even at legal highway speeds I don’t feel like I have as much margin as I’d like. The 2004 specifically addresses this issue.

Third, and most importantly, it’s the wrong color. At the dealer’s I’d told the salesman, “I’ll take that gray one there.” Even though to persons who are not a little color blind the vehicle appears a lovely lavender, the salesman was clever enough to know that the customer is always right.

A last word about the new Prius: One of the hot new features is a little module thing that you can have in your pocket and when you get close, the car senses your presence and unlocks the driver’s door for you and turns its ignition on so that you don’t need anything so vulgar as a key and can just reach out and touch the Start button to activate the propulsion system. The gasoline engine would of course not start yet since it’s now trained not to come on until after you’ve reached a certain speed and actually need it.

I’m thinking that that little module thing could be pried open and the teeny chip taken out and then, after a quick visit to my veterinarian, yipe!, I’d never have to worry about misplacing my car keys again.

The only problem with this plan is that I don’t seem to have enough money on hand. So could you celebrate Becky’s birthday by taking 20K out of her inheritance and putting it in my checking account?


Happy Birthday, Becky.


Many thanks, Sarah.



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