Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Last week, in mid sentence with my boss, the earth a-grumbled and shook. Less a terrifying tremor and more a gentle nudge, but a genuine, 100% Californian Earthquake. Especially ironic is that it happened the same day as the Great California ShakeOut earthquake drill, in which everyone who signs up is supposed to all jump under their desks, pop themselves in a doorway, duct-tape themselves to the floor, or whatever it is one does during an earthquake. I of course, in my vast earthquake experience, knew exactly what to do: I kept talking and felt the building shake but didn't mentally register it until my boss said "that was an earthquake." I think it's a defensive mechanism, like the time in the middle of the night that I had a rat run between my feet, felt the fur, and told myself it was the cat. But we didn't have a cat. I'm comforted that, in a state of emergency, my mind will clearly and forcefully evade reality and I'll enter danger in a state of complete blissful unawareness. It may limit my survival chances, but at least I'll be happy.

Speaking of survival, I started biking to work last week. Now, I've commuted for some time and consider myself relatively hardcore. But let me tell you: Rather than feeling (and looking) like this on the road I more felt and looked like this (complete with that abject look of terror at seeing the next five blocks of hill) whilst struggling up on my lowest gear. Most of my bike-based encounters with San Francisco have gone something like this:
Me (to myself): "Oh, this hill doesn't look so bad"
five minutes later
Me: "Okay! Made it up the first two."
five seconds later, upon seeing the next hill
Me: "holy mother of blessed #&@*@)!"
approximately 15 minutes later, while cars, people walking, dogs, squirrels, and old folk with walkers, all of whom race by me while I go slower than the speed of retreating glaciers impacted by climate change.
Me: "ouchouchouchouchouchouch!" Then there's usually some self-pity, almost crying, almost throwing up, and utter despair. But when I do make it, oy, what views! I'll get pictures up eventually but the vistas are simply spectacular.

While it is difficult, it's not as bad as it seems. I bought an incredible bike map with great, more flat routes on it, and the left wing commie pinkos in the city have made it surprisingly bike-friendly. So much so that the cab drivers, rather than deliberately cutting you off (as they do in Ontario), actually give you plenty of space, as do the other drivers. No one honks at each other (for the most part) and people are really patient. I think there are two reasons for this: 1) everyone is stoned, as per west coast tradition and 2) everyone is incredulous that people bike here, and hold respect for those making it up the hills by bike. Or maybe they just think cyclists have completely lost their marbles and so give them plenty of space to avoid any psychotic incidents from people happily torturing themselves on two wheels.

But I'll continue to grind along, anticipating breathtaking climbs and even more breathtaking vistas, and appreciating the strength in my body that allows me to push so hard. And also, once in a while, taking the bus.

Next time...a new abode, a new adventure.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Of progress, connectivity and drug deals

One of the things I've been lacking of late is the motivation to go to lectures and presentations. In my first year in Ottawa, I did this quite a bit and was always touched/angered/saddened/inspired in some way at the end. In my second week in San Francisco, I got an ultra-immersion in mind-expanding lectures, and has helped me realize what I can access in this amazing town.

The first event I attended was at Stanford (oooh, fancy!), with an incredible organization called World Pulse. World Pulse is a global media voice for women - they produce a magazine featuring the stories of women around the world. But perhaps most incredible is the online platform they offer for women to globally connect with each other, pulling themselves out of isolation and supporting each other. One particularly resounding story was told by one of the guests at the lecture, one of their "citizen journalists" from Uganda. All her brothers have died of AIDS and her mother was a widow. When the last brother died, the village elders planned to come round (as per tradition) and take her land, as a woman is not allowed to keep property. Despairing, the citizen journalist posted on World Pulse that this was happening and received a flood of emails of support from women all around the world, some of whom offered to come down and sit in front of the house in protest. She told her mother, who stood up to the elders, and said "I am not giving up my land and I have 100 friends from around the world who will come here and support me." The elders reluctantly backed off and she got to keep her house. This incredible evening was topped off by a meal at Calafia , a restaurant founded by the original chef who ran the kitchens at Google, and who now serves awesome mostly local and organic food.

The next day, I went to a conference of the Bioneers. What the F is a bioneer, you may ask (I sure did)? The Bioneers are "inspiring a shift to live on earth in ways that honor the web of life, each other, and future generations." What makes these guys different from most other world-saving groups is that they have managed to connect with folks all over the world and are taking a really multi-disciplined approach to social and environmental change. The conference featured interactive workshops, an indigenous rights and learning track, sessions on everything from young farmers to race in the environmental movement (a panel entirely of women of colour), current campaigns, the potential of mushrooms to save the world, and the BEST plenary speakers I've ever seen at any one event. This included the incredible, funny, super smart and seminal thinker and activist Gloria Steinem who broke (and continues to break) gender barriers and was one of the first women to talk about race in feminism. The other thing that was so neat was how many times the "occupy Wall Street" movement came up. Almost everyone in the conference mentioned it and cheered them on - there's a real feeling of energy that things may indeed be changing. This optimism and spirit was enthralling and for me, was absolutely contagious.

It got me thinking a lot about connectivity, both in terms of the fact that social movements are really understanding that every issue is connected and none can be addressed in isolation, but also, that internet and technology could really be a force for massive change (and not just porn).

Now, you may be saying, who cares about all this "inspiration" crap - tell me about the drug deals! Okay, okay. I may or may not have put that in the headline to attract attention, but it does feed in. During my search for housing, I've started to look at Residential Hotels, places where you can pay weekly or monthly. They usually (but not always) consist of a room, a kitchen and common space shared by the whole building and bathrooms and showers shared by your floor (a lot like university residence without the large amount of drinking and throwing up everywhere...most of the time). In visiting these places, I stopped at one in the Tenderloin which turned out not to be a residential hotel, but the kind woman said a) don't live in this area, but if you really want to, b) there is a place a few doors up which you can check out. So, I marched out, backpack on, smile on my face, and within about 30 seconds (this was around noon on a Monday), the following happened:
1) a dude walked by and said "Damn girl! What you been eating to look like that?"
2) about five seconds later, another dude pulled out a little bag of something and gave it to some other dude in exchange for cash. Drug deal!
Now, not that it's not convenient to have both potential dates with guys on the street and easy access to drugs, but something about that experience made me decide to keep walking. Maybe it was also the fact that a few nights before, in the same area, I walked by a guy squatting on the ground, smoking a cigarette, and wearing no pants. Seriously. I mean, I'm down with no pants dance parties (as some of you may know from a recent Ottawa event), but this was something else entirely.

Long (long, long) story short, I'm still looking for housing. I've seen places but so far haven't been offered anything (even the house that smelled like pot, had stained carpets and life-sized cutouts of Star Trek characters). So I continue to live in the hostel, where the people are mostly friendly and the location is convenient.

In the next episode: I got a bike! Ouch, my legs! Seriously!

Friday, October 21, 2011

As the dust settles

I ended my five year tenancy in Ottawa with a hurricane of activity facilitated by incredible friends who helped me move, stored my stuff and cleaned my apartment with gusto because I, once again, ran out of time. From there, had the longest rideshare of my life with a blazing conservative (not a problem) who got all is information from talk radio (a problem) and used expressions like "yippy skippy" (huh?), bragged about his IQ, and peppered his stories (and oh, there were many) with sound effects.

Arriving in my lil' hometown of Toronto, I got a big fat hug (both figuratively and literally) from family and friends before heading to the airport. Nervous about the border crossing (do I look like a terrorist? Should I avoid making bomb jokes?), I got all my documents in order and instead of having a grilling by the customs guy, instead got great tourist tips and a ringing endorsement that I should visit Seattle while I'm out west. Had great service from Air Canada (whoa) and arrived early in San Francisco.

I checked into my motel in the Tenderloin, a depressed area of town which, while relatively safe, is pretty heartbreaking to see. But the people in this neighbourhood, while not always in the best state, usually are pretty friendly, so I had lots of great chats on my way to get an awesome veggie vietnamese sandwich (and oh, the food here! This will be a reemerging theme in the blog).

I found out a place to live I had thought was pretty lined up had been taken, and this was my first indication that finding a roof over my head might be more difficult than I had originally thought (this will also be a reoccuring theme).

Two nights later, I checked into the hostel where I remain, sleeping in a room with three others. My studio in Ottawa is positively spacious compared to this.