May 2020

Good Neighbors

I fear the Cybertruck won’t catch on because there’s no place for a headache rack.

I’m sure an enhanced neighborliness is now being found in other cities in this country just as it is in Italy with folks singing off their balconies. But I certainly see a lot of it in San Francisco, where the great majority of citizens are willingly cooperating with the shutdown and, moreover, are doing things in their neighborhoods to lighten the austerity. This is happening all over the city, but I’ll mention a few instances.

Let’s start with the Page Street professional cellist who puts on a two-hour concert on Tuesday afternoons for folks in the area. Yes, he puts out a tip jar because his income has plummeted, but still, it’s neighborly.

Then there’s the Sanchez Street bagpiper who plays one song every day at sundown from the roof of his apartment building. He has a considerable following enhanced by his natural amphitheater location at the bottom of Eureka Valley that lets the sound carry for quite some distance.

How about the Russian Hill neighbors singing Happy Birthday to a four-year-old, maintaining social distancing, of course.

Or the opera singer who performs around 5:00 most weeknights from his balcony on Ripley, between Folsom and Alabama.

And just this afternoon I was taking a scenic route to Folio’s window to pick up some books they’d ordered for me and discovered that Muni had closed Sanchez Street to through traffic from 30th to 23rd. What a pleasure it was to glide along on my Segway maintaining a safe distance from the kids playing on bicycles and scooters as I swerved from side to side on the street to cover up the bottom line truth that I was, in fact, through traffic.

There are of course countless other examples of neighborhood joy, but I’ll end with Josh and Joe on Coleridge Street every Thursday at 5:00 playing covers of (mostly) Beatles and Simon and Garfield songs. Josh on accordion, Joe on guitar, both on vocals. These guys are not only good musicians but also delightful and generous neighbors who have a karaoke mike for anyone who can sing with them. A surprising number of my neighbors have turned out to be quite competent singers. As a token of my appreciation, I give Josh and Joe a jar of my preserves whenever I attend. By now for the folks gathered on the sidewalks, the handing over of the jam has become an integral part of the concert, so they applaud it. Oh wow.

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Pinus palustris

When the quarantine is lifted, I’ll take off the mask and reveal my clandestine mustache and goatee.

It sure is interesting, getting old, because I keep learning of ways in which I’m connected to others. A case in point is my discovery that my dear old friend Spike, whom I met when we’d both matriculated at Texas Tech in 1959 and were residing in Sneed Hall, was now living near Plano and had developed a passion for the longleaf pine, Pinus palustris. I also have an interest, if not a passion, for this handsome tree.

My interest goes back to my childhood when, in the late forties or early fifties, my mother took me with her from her mother’s home in Garrison, north of Nacogdoches, to visit friends fifty miles south in Lufkin who had a specimen in their yard. My mother couldn’t keep her hands off it, running her fingers through the foot-long needles as if she were stroking a cat.

This made a profound impression on me, and she went on to deplore the fact that these trees would not grow in Garrison. People there had tried, only to have the tree grow vigorously for several years until there came a once-in-ten-or-twenty-years hard freeze sufficient to kill it. I didn’t think about those trees for seventy years until Spike emailed me he’d planted some.

What! Doesn’t he know they won’t survive that far north? I delicately inquired and was reassured that yes, he knew he was out of their traditional range but figured he’d take a chance. Here they are, freshly planted.

Never willing to leave good enough alone, I couldn’t resist digging around on the Internet, and what I found caused me to question what Mother had told me. It was an article about Greg Grant, a most extraordinary gentleman who now lives in Arcadia, TX, pop. 20 and has, among many other things, planted a stand of longleaf pines. Click on that link and scroll down to see early and late photos of some he planted a number of years ago.

What this tells us is that my mother must have got it wrong about their not surviving because Arcadia is on Texas Farm to Market Road 1645 immediately above its intersection with FTM 138 halfway between Garrison and Center. During the years when I was spending a lot of time in the area helping Mother in her decline, I traveled on FTM 138 between Garrison and Center on numerous occasions and thus passed a stone’s throw from Arcadia. Not that I could have seen Mr. Grant’s longleafs since my last visit to the area was in 2001, when the trees would have been mere seedlings at most. But still, since they survived this long it’s clear they’re not being frozen.

Oh, but wait. Maybe Mother wasn’t wrong about their being frozen. After all, it was sixty years ago that she was telling me this; and the deaths she reported would have taken place decades earlier when winter temperatures in the area might have been considerably colder. Moreover, a close examination of maps depicting their range puts the northern extent of it in the county just to the south of my mother’s, which is where that tree she fondled was.

Not, of course, that freezing is the only peril they face. Spike is perhaps the most cautious man I know. He’d done his homework, and one of the things he found was that longleaf pine seedlings are considered a great delicacy by the feral pigs that abound in his area. You can’t see it in his photo, but before he planted them he surrounded the area with an electric fence. I suggested 240 AC so he could hear ’em sizzle, but he’s going with lower voltages for now.

Somehow I take great delight in discovering that the range of the longleaf pine has been extended considerably northwards by an old friend from west Texas even though he shot down my suggestion that he go with 240AC and also that he trade in his battered pickup for a Tesla Cybertruck, which would also serve to run down the pigs.

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Cacophony Comes to Bernal Heights

Trump is right. Bleach most definitely “does a tremendous number on the lungs.”

There I was, on my Segway waiting for the light at Mission and Virginia to turn when my reverie was rent by the sound of a full-throated Harley coming up behind me. How obnoxious, I thought, even though I couldn’t see him in my rear-view mirror.

He came closer and closer and louder and louder until finally he was beside me and I could see that the noise was not coming from a motorcycle but rather a fellow Prius, modified so that the driver had the option of sounding like a Harley or returning to stealth mode so he could sneak up on people. Horrible but still funny, and I laughed about it while thinking that getting a similar modification for my Prius would be the last step before getting the full “coal-roller” option.

I got great pleasure out of that encounter and worked it into conversations for weeks until finally everything got quiet while we all hunkered down at home in stunned oblivion unaware even of what day it was.

But then, joy of joys, something different. We normally have street sweeping every two weeks; but Muni announced that, owing to the shutdown, tickets would not be given. Well thank goodness for that, because Friday before last I was already so dulled by the shutdown that I neglected to go out and move my car. I realized with a start what day it was about thirty minutes past street sweeping time, ran out against the contingency that the sweeper might be late, and saw the entire block completely full of cars. Nobody had moved, the center of the street was swept, and nobody was ticketed.

A comfort on one level, but then a source of anxiety nearly two weeks later when I realized that the next time I use my car, there will be no place to park it upon my return. Oh well, let’s not start worrying too much in advance. No no, better to fret about more immediate perils, like that tomorrow is street sweeping again; and this time I want to move my car so that the little piece of the street under it can get cleaned.

No worry about getting my place back because my favorite is immediately to the right of the driveway down into our lot, and I can just back up into the edge of the driveway, wait until the street sweeper has passed, and then grab “my” spot before anyone else can get it. Then it struck me that the car hadn’t been used in a month and might not start. (This has happened before.)

So I just stopped the Segway beside it and jumped in it to test. Looked like everything was OK since the dashboard lit up like a Christmas tree, but just to make sure I pressed Start. Of course since it’s a Prius, it had to sit there for a bit after I’d touched the accelerator before it grudgingly turned the engine on.

Bam! Bam! Bam! Oh wow, there was this incredible racket and belch of smoke. What was going on? I raced the engine a bit in hopes that this was all a passing aberration, but when I let go of the accelerator I got this VAROOM, ba ba ba ba ba ba sound like a Harley.

And then it hit me.

Yep, an evil-doer had ripped off my catalytic converter and, worse yet, had failed to install a piece of pipe the correct length so that my exhaust would be sent straight to the muffler. That would have been the least he could have done, and I’d have been none the wiser, but these are difficult times and the quality of thieves has deteriorated.

And that was doubtless what was going on with that loud Prius I saw the other day rather than an installed option.

So anyhow, I filed a police report, set up an inspection with my insurance company, and booked an appointment with Luscious Garage for later that morning.

And since they were already under there anyhow, I went ahead and opted for the theft-deterrent attachment, which gives me sort of an advance Schadenfreude feeling as I picture the next would-be thief getting under there, seeing that prying the converter out is going to be too much trouble to be worth it, and skulking away. Either that or to vent his frustration, smashing all the windows in reprisal. Surely not, but at least I’ll still have my converter.

A neighbor asked how the theft deterrent worked, and I said, “Poison gas.” Blew it, though, because I couldn’t help snickering. It’s a clever cage called a “Cat Clamp”.

I went online trying to figure out how much a stolen catalytic converter is worth and ran into a lot of variables. In round figures the platinum and other precious metals are worth about a hundred dollars, but of course the purchaser needs his cut. So the bottom line is that stealing converters would not be an easy way to make a living. Well, unless you were just trying to supplement your income from Pacific Heights burglaries.

Meanwhile, since they seem to be going over well, here’s another San Francisco doorway.

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