July 2004


I’m going off Saturday to help my friend David save Mt. Diablo. Actually, he’s enlisted a few other people in case we can’t do it by ourselves, it being, after all, a pretty good size mountain for the Coast Range.

But like so many things, this is not as simple as it might at first seem.

David brought me in because he felt that a useful mountain-saving tool would be a Segway. All our great leaders are visionaries, so David is not unique. Still, I would never have thought of using a Segway, which of course underscores my failure as a leader.

On the other hand, I follow well, so I eagerly came on board, only afterwards thinking of the consequences.

The Segway was beaten up pretty badly by Air France to and from Amsterdam, and, to be fair, I had also skinned it up while learning to avoid potholes, jump curbs, and keep from being doored….all the hard way. One of the fenders was cracked, both fenders were covered with scars, the kick stand was broken, and the mode change cap and charge port cover had been torn off.

Also, it was filthy, especially places where the Air France Securité stickers had been pretty much permanently plastered.

So I ordered replacement parts, which sat patiently in their wrappings while I tried to figure out the tools I needed. See, I didn’t really know what a T-15 Torx wrench was, and I didn’t know what the difference was between this and the other torque wrench I needed for the wheel nuts except that the T-15 needed to be capable of 1.5 Newton-meters while the other had to pinpoint 50 Newton-meters.

I also figured it might be useful to know what a Newton-meter is, sensing that it’s probably not the size of petard required to hoist Isaac Newton one meter.

I went online to Griot’s Garage, thinking I might figure something out by looking at T-15’s and other torque wrenches. I just got more confused. Clearly, this was going to require my going to some auto supply place and humiliating myself.

So, I put it off. Time passed. I tried to drag my friend Bob into this, and he was helpful. In fact, he bought a 16 mm. deep socket for me and lent me some other tools. His doing this somehow nerved me up, and so I went to the Kragen out in Westlake, knowing nobody would know me way out there and I’d never have to go there again. Besides there’s a 99 Ranch in Westlake, and I’d been wanting to shop one of those since I started reading about them last year.

Hey, it wasn’t all that bad, and I proudly brought home a regulation torque wrench. But then it fell out that my pride was premature. However, since even I am bored by the details of how many trips to how many places it took to get everything I needed, I’ll cut to the workshop area…the dining room floor.

Segway modification

Frankly, I was astonished at how easy the whole thing was, particularly since I had got so wound up over it, and I ended up having a good time blasting Dan Bern’s New American Language while I replaced both fenders and the kickstand, scrubbing the wheels in the kitchen sink while they were off.

This morning I wheeled the Segway out onto the front sidewalk and detailed that sucker with a toothbrush. Are we ready for our screen test or what?

And if it weren’t for David I’d still be running around on a filthy Segway with a cracked fender and a broken kickstand. Thanks, David.

OK, there have been inquiries.  My landlord saw this pic and immediately jumped to the conclusion that I had been, in effect, repairing a motorcycle on his third-hand, already soiled rug brought up from his basement.  Actually, there’s no dirt or grease inside a Segway since the motors for the wheels are factory-sealed units.  Furthermore, as evidence that I wasn’t, in any case, repairing the thing on his rug, a casual glance at the precise arrangement of the tools will reveal that the photo was staged.  Furthermore, I luckily didn’t frame the photo well enough because you can see at the bottom edge the newspapers that i had spread out against the contingency of any road dirt falling from the Segway and then moved before staging the photo.  And finally, that wood saw was not actually used. I just put it out in terrorem, to soften the Segway up.

And why not? Here’s what we’re trying to save.  This is a view from the area where we picnicked:

Save Mt. Diabolo

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Over It

OK, folks, it’s over. Done. Finito. I have finally seen them as the beasts they are.

My love affair with the SUV is over.

It happened quite suddenly day before yesterday afternoon when I was out looking for some California Bay soap. See, back in the spring I had bought a bar from this charming young woman in a stall in the left arcade in front of the Ferry Building.

I kind of felt sorry for her because nobody was even looking at any of her stuff, which was a collection of fancy-schmancy, new-agey, alternative, back-to-the-landy, hand-made things in which my interest level is negative. But my eye alit on a normal-size bar of soap wrapped with a very simple band of paper showing a California bay leaf (Umbellularia californica), and I immediately thought of Rina. Of course, you don’t see too many bars of California Bay soap in Amsterdam. So I bought it.

When I gave it to Rina, she ripped off the shrink-wrap and sniffed it. I did, too, and immediately wanted it for myself. I don’t like perfumy things, but this was quite nice. Hmmm, I thought, it’ll be like I was rolled vigorously in a bay leaf pit until I smelled good, plucked out, brushed off, and sent on my way trailing a faint whiff of the forest.

So when I got back I looked for the nice young woman’s booth at the Ferry Building…on Saturday, and then Tuesday, and then Thursday, and finally, in desperation, on Sunday. I’d have looked other days if there’d been an exterior market on them. Alas, she was gone.

Day before yesterday it was a really nice afternoon and I decided to look for the soap in some of those fancy unguent places in the Castro. I swear, I saw soaps made out of every other aromatic on the planet, but no California Bay.

I had given up looking for it and was about to stop in at Cala for some bread when an SUV driver flung his door open at just the right moment for me to discover that the space I have been allowing so that cars couldn’t “door” me was inadequate for an SUV. But of course. It stands to reason that the doors on an SUV would be proportional, so they’d stick out farther when you fling them open. No point in looking, since you’re invulnerable.

You know how in action movies they slow the motion down so you can see everything? Well, I keep noticing during my little events that the motion seems to be speeded up. I mean, one minute, I’m just gliding along so gracefully, describing a clean arc toward my destination when WHAM I’m meeting the ground. Hello again, ground.

One thing for sure, my rendezvous with the ground have all been different. This time my right wheel was stopped abruptly by the end of the SUV’s door and I kind of pivoted to the left. Something got me in my right ribcage, probably the upper part of the door, but that was incidental. My feet were knocked out from under me by the instantly pretty much stationary Segway and I landed, hard, on my left side.

The driver was out of the SUV and hovering over me before I realized what was happening, and he dragged the Segway over to the curb after I had suggested to him that I needed a moment to collect my wits before I started moving. Actually, I was stalling in hopes that things would stop hurting so much.

But of course you can’t just lie there in the street, so I experimented with gingerly small movements, resting various parts of my body on the pleasantly warm asphalt and then finally was able to stand even though the lower half of my left side did not seem to be working very well. Still, as I kept moving things I decided that nothing was broken and that I hadn’t even lost much skin.

At about this point I noticed the SUV driver inspecting his door, so, keeping my best light tone, I observed that if he were concerned that some damage to the vehicle might show up later, perhaps we should go ahead and call the cops to get a proper report written up to establish the facts and make sure he could contact me. This caused him to feign a loss of interest in his vehicle, darting only a couple of surreptitious glances at it before I left.

After I’d tested the Segway to make sure it would still work so I could get home, I bid him goodbye. On the way home I stopped in at the corner grocery at 19th and Castro to get another carton of milk, the previous one having ruptured in the fall and rendered its precious fluid in a thin stream to the gutter.

Thanks to a handful of 1995 vintage hydrocodone left over from some dental surgery, the night passed pleasantly…as did much of yesterday, which was mostly napping except for a couple of obligatory excursions. Today I’m covered with sore spots and scrapes, but it hurts only when I take a deep breath or laugh. Back into the fray!

Helmet, schmelmet.

Then again, I had an aha moment this morning as I was trying, unsuccessfully, to slither out of bed without flexing my ribcage: My second adolescence is turning out pretty much like my first, but so far without the prudence and common sense.

Oh yes, I finally found the folks who make that wonderful California Bay Soap. They’re at the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market on Saturdays, southeast end: Juniper Ridge.

And here’s a Prius silhouette on I-5 somewhere near Arbuckle:


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Sundial Bridge

Last Wednesday I set out on the drive to my summer camp. The idea was that I would drive a couple hundred miles up I-5 to Redding, arriving in time to get some good shots of Calatrava’s Sundial Bridge in the afternoon, stay overnight and take some night shots, and then take some morning shots before I set out for Saratoga Springs via a scenic route due west of Redding to US-101 and then down to the cutoff for camp. A fine plan, but not thought through.

Unfortunately, I didn’t put enough effort into thinking through my packing. So about halfway up I-5 I started thinking of things I’d forgotten, and thought of more and more as I pushed on northwards at 74 and 3/8ths MPH. I mean, surely they wouldn’t give a ticket for less than 75, especially to a vehicle as public-spirited and essentially innocent as the Prius.

So I got to Redding, parked in the bridge lot, rolled the Segway out the back, and spent an hour taking pics from every angle, including from underneath, which provided some entertainment to a bunch of guys drinking beer under an umbrella at a little table about fifteen yards frun a dirt embankment of which I was rolling back and forth along the edge, looking for a route down that would combine the least possible slope with the minimum loose gravel, which was what it seemed to mostly consist of.

Even at that distance, I could tell from their body language they were on my side. They were rooting for me. They wanted me to succeed. And somehow I also knew that they, like me, clearly understood that failure was a very real possibility and that if Fate (or lack of skill) so willed it, they really did want to be watching when the wipeout occurred and the Segway and I slid, perhaps even tumbling dramatically over and over each other, until finally we came to rest at the bottom and they could make their way cautiously down as the dust cleared and either render aid or, I being beyond aid, put me out of my misery and make off with the Segway.

So I picked my spot, eased over the edge…. and started losing traction immediately. So I had no choice but to increase the speed of the descent, limiting the increase as much as possible in hope of attaining the bottom in an upright position. Knuckles were white. My audience permitted itself a mild murmur of what I took to be approval when I finally came to a stop on the flat, dismounted, and took a few deep, thanksgiving breaths.

After taking a few pics of the underside of the bridge on this shore, I was ready to attempt the ascent back up the embankment. This time, of course, I needed to be going as fast as possible when I hit the incline so that I could decrease speed as I started losing traction. By the time I made it to the top, I was barely moving, and on the ascent I was no longer quite so sure that all of the observers were wishing me success since a loss of control near the top had such high entertainment potential.

So then I rode over the bridge and down around the smooth concrete ramp beneath the other end, taking pics all along. The glory of this bridge is that just about anywhere the camera happens to be pointing, you’re going to get a good shot. Actually, after seeing this bridge, the phrase “amazing grace” has new meaning for me. That bridge enraptures me. It just jumps in front of the camera and exposes itself.

Sundial Bridge

After basking in the glow of this awesome engineering and precise beauty for an hour, I had to turn around and blast back down I-5 home so that I could get a good night’s sleep and pack the car with everything I’d forgotten before I set out up 101 to camp Thursday morning.

Oh yeah, camp turned out to be great fun, as always.

Late note:  To see an expanded version of this post that includes a bunch more shots of the bridge, click here.

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