Back in the Saddle

Moonrise over Mendocino, California.

Moonrise over Mendocino

It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged — a LONG time. A bunch of seemingly important projects and commitments, during a particularly busy spring and summer, got the better of me… or the worse, depending on how you look at it. In retrospect I’m not sure how important all that stuff really was but… the cost is sunk.

So, I’m back in the blogging saddle. (Yee haw.)

This resurrection post features photos taken on a trip to one of my favorite California destinations: Mendocino County. I drove the 160-ish miles north last weekend to kick off what I’m calling my #BayAreaBucketList tour. I’m taking in new places and events that have always sounded amazing, as well as some old favorites like Mendocino.

I’ve got no plans to pull up stakes right now. I’m just making a conscious effort to better partake of the opportunities that exist around me in one of the biggest — and prettiest — U.S. states. We Californians often pay handsomely to live in the Golden State, so why not get our money’s worth? Or at least try to…

There’s no better time to visit Mendocino than around Labor Day – the unofficial start of the Bay Area summer.

One of the Family

Puzzle photoMy friends and family know I’m a genealogy wonk. Some nights I become engrossed in researching one ancestor or another, until I finally look up at a clock and realize I’m famished and exhausted because… I’ve been head down for hours without a break. I promise myself I’ll eat or drink something, just as soon as I finish one last census search…

Like I said, I’m kind of a geek about this stuff.

I also love television series like “Who Do You Think You Are” on TLC, and “Genealogy Roadshow” and “Finding Your Roots” on PBS. These shows often (but not always) focus on celebrities, and zero in on just one or two ancestral lines that reveal Civil or Revolutionary War connections. Occasionally, a celeb will have a ne’er do well, bigamist great-great grandfather or something – but that’s not the norm.

Smiles, everyone. SMILES!

I’m fascinated when celebrities are clueless about their lineage. In other words they’re JUST LIKE THE REST OF US, bless their hearts.

When I dream about how I’d spend a Powerball jackpot, top of my list is hiring baby-faced genealogist D. Joshua Taylor to document my family tree. Knucklehead celebrities would apparently rather blow their loot on tiny dogs that fit in their Prada purses, or gold-plated Cadillac Escalades. Go figure.

Today I read about Ben Affleck’s alleged attempts, during a 2014 guest appearance on Henry Louis Gates’ “Finding Your Roots”, to suppress that he descends from slave owners. (This was exposed by WikiLeaks. I can only assume the group has run out of serious transgressions when it targets PBS.)

According to leaked emails, Gates felt pressured to ignore Affleck’s slavery connections, and worried about his own professional integrity and credibility if he did so. In the end, he chose to focus on a more illustrious Affleck ancestor who fought in the Revolutionary War, and whose discovery made Ben “very proud”. Maybe the patriot ancestor had a better narrative than the slave-owning ancestor — but now we’ll never know.

Researching your family tree is a crapshoot – emphasis at times on “crap”. Too bad Ben didn’t ask me for pointers:

  • Genealogy is not for the faint of heart: Most of my family discoveries have been fascinating and exciting, but a few make me cringe a little. Each of us has 32 three-times great grandparents. (That’s the Civil War generation, in my case.) Odds are they won’t all be Union war heroes and captains of industry. Get over it.
  • Descending from slave owners or criminals feels crummy: I get it. Even though YOU didn’t own slaves, rob a bank or abandon your family, an ancestor doing so can make you feel guilty. If the prospect of uncovering a black sheep is very upsetting, family research is probably not for you.

Let Ben Affleck have his revisionist history. I see my family tree as a jigsaw puzzle to solve. I didn’t choose it – it belonged to someone before me, and I just found it on a shelf in the attic. Some pieces are missing, and I may NEVER find them. So I complete what I can, and celebrate my ancestors – even the cads and rogues — because without them, I wouldn’t be here.

Cartoon of Darth Vadar in front of a computer screen, researching his family tree.  He exclaims "So, Luke has a sister!"

Spring Training: In the Ballpark

SF Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford

SF Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford

Another Spring… another Spring Training in Scottsdale, Arizona. As usual I went bipartisan, splitting things right down the middle: three San Francisco Giants games, and two Cleveland Indians games.

I ate too much animal protein and soft serve ice cream, and indulged in plenty of people watching. (The latter wasn’t always pretty. I don’t claim to be Stacy London, but come on baseball fans – even I can see it’s time to up your fashion game.)

I took in a few new ballparks this year, and discovered that — like snowflakes — no two are the same. Camelback Ranch (home of the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox), is fairly new and fancy, with the biggest, best bratwurst I’ve seen at a stadium. The meatball sub was tempting, but dangerous in the midday Arizona heat.

Despite its relative swankiness, Camelback Ranch has no cup holders – which I found astounding. How does something like that happen, in a place where temperatures top 90 degrees in the shade by April?

Foot glovesSpeaking of cup holders… at the Seattle Mariners’ beautiful stadium in Peoria, my seat mate shamelessly STOLE mine. I don’t mean she mistook my cup holder for hers. Nope, she used her cup holder for her water, and mine for her coffee. I let this slide because she was wearing foot gloves – in my opinion a far more heinous crime. If she could wear those in public, who knew what else she was capable of?!?!

At Maryville, parking is atrocious. I had a ticket to a Brewers’ game on day one, but after circling the park for at least 30 minutes in search of a garage or lot with space available, I finally called the game on account of extreme vexation and headed to the mall for some retail therapy. (Baseball’s loss was Anthropologie’s gain.)

At Scottsdale stadium (the San Francisco Giants vs. the Cincinnati Reds) I sat in front of two hard partying women in their 50s, who delighted in photo bombing their neighbors’ selfies. They also found the common baseball expression “can o’ corn” exceptionally entertaining, and dedicated an entire inning to listing other canned vegetables that could have been featured in the metaphor. They finally ran out of steam with “hearts of palm”.

“Can o’ corn” vs. “Can o’ hearts of palm.” Discuss amongst yourselves.

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TV’s Sunday Best

Black and white photo of three women watching a small television, probably 1950 - 1960.Sunday is my favorite night for TV watching. That’s in part because I prep for it. I am generally well-rested and relaxed on Sunday evenings, after two days off work. I’ve spent time outdoors. To do’s like laundry, housecleaning and meal prep are checked off, and I can sit with a cup of tea or glass of wine in my hand, feeling accomplished and caught-up.

Really, though, it is quality programming that keeps me a Sunday night shut-in. Sunday has, at different points, been home to Mad Men, Homeland and NBC Sunday Night Football. And for the past few months, it has offered a buffet of anglophiliac delights on PBS.

Two favorites had their season finales last night: The Great British Baking Show, and Downton Abbey (Season Five).

A set photo from the Great British Baking ShowThe Great British Baking Show is exactly what it sounds like: a reality show in which 12 amateur British bakers compete by whipping up (pun intended) exotic creations, such as Kouign Amann, Schichttorte and Povitica, as well as standards like tea scones. Timing is always tight, and the judges are always uncompromising.

I scoffed initially, and ignored the first few episodes. What could be more boring than watching a bunch of people baking things – especially for someone like me, who is more partial to savory than to sweet? But the desserts were beautiful, and the contestants were so supportive of one another — if they were any nicer, it would have been called The Great CANADIAN Baking Show. One of the bakers, Martha, was just 17 years old and preparing for her A level exams while competing. When she fell behind during one of her final bakes, competitor Richard helped her finish in time.

So Shark Tank, it was not. It has been such a hit in the U.S., I expect we’ve not seen the last of The Great British Baking Show. Until then, bakers… ready, set, bake!

Next up: Downton Abbey. I’ve watched the show from the first episode, thus witnessing trials and tribulations of the Crawley family spanning decades. (For the past few seasons, those have felt like some long decades.) The plot often drives me nutty, but… I AM NOT A QUITTER. I know I should cut my losses and walk away, but just can’t shake the hope that the next episode will be better. (I blame Mad Men for this possibly false hope.)

Creator Julian Fellows is well-known for his adherence to historical details. Formal table settings and hemlines at the fictional Downton match the rigid requirements of the day, but social mores are all over the place. Lord Grantham freaks out if his tie is the wrong color at dinner, yet when daughter Edith has a baby out-of-wedlock, then “adopts” her from her foster family, he greets the news with a shrug better suited to Parenthood.

edith-marigold-downton-abbeyPoor Lady Edith. She was left at the altar by fiancé number one, then impregnated by fiancé number two, who was killed by Nazis before he could make an honest woman of her. Also, Poor Edith is sad because she has the meanest sister in all of England.

What is there to say about Lady Mary? This season, she cut her hair short, and took up the same cold, opportunistic ruthlessness she abandoned when she married Matthew. She juggled two suitors, tearing one (Lord Tony Gillingham) away from his betrothed, and sleeping with him… then deciding he was boring. What’s-her-name could keep him after all.

Mary even invited herself to their wedding!

And, she was mean to Poor Edith, who is a better mother to her fake foundling than Lady Mary will ever be to her legitimate, little…um… baby boy Crawley. (Just kidding, I know his name is George but that has a lot less panache than “Marigold”.)

Yes, Tony Gillingham was boring, but so was the other guy courting Mary, whose name really DOES escape me. He resembled Tony so much that I couldn’t keep the two straight. He went from potential second husband material, to a sidekick in Mary’s schemes to dump Tony, to… just… gone. Mary is not one to hang on the vine, though, and last night we were introduced to a third charming, dark-haired (naturally) man at a fancy shooting party. He likes Mary, and driving fast cars. I smell trouble.

This is all standard stuff at Downton. Hapless, mundane storylines run on and on, but they don’t resolve themselves in a satisfying way. They fizzle out, long after the audience ceases to care.

Lady Edith is pining for Marigold!

The village is building a war memorial!

Daisy likes reading!

Let’s just hope we’ve seen the last of the Bates family’s legal woes. Neither of them murdered anyone, OK? That storyline was the biggest, smelliest rotten tomato (or should I say toe-MAH-toe) of them all.

Downton returns in 2016, and despite my misgivings I’m sure I’ll be watching, if only to enjoy the sight of Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson flirting! Score one for the old folks!

For now, I’ll get my Sunday night “Masterpiece” fix from the much-hyped Grantchester. James Norton plays a dreamy country vicar named Sidney Chambers, who spends far too much time loitering at the local police station. He solves approximately one crime per week… but his sermons are usually crap, because he doesn’t have time to write a good one.

Also, he has the meanest housekeeper in all of England.


Fancy Meeting You Here!

Two bored meeting attendees balance pencils under their noses to kill time.While walking to work on Tuesday, I listened to a news story about meetings that has been popping into my mind ever since. At least once each day, I find myself thinking, “Hey this reminds me of that piece on NPR….”

I work for a large company. So, I go to a lot of meetings. A LOT. I guess I should consider myself lucky, though, because they usually last no more than 60 minutes. If I worked at the Ohio Department of Transportation, where meetings often last two hours… well, I guess I would be 50% grumpier by 5 p.m., and my red wine consumption would increase at a corresponding rate.

Steven Rogelberg, who teaches industrial/organizational psychology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, says there are telltale signs that a meeting you are leading or attending sucks, starting with everyone at the table doing something completely unrelated when they aren’t talking, like surfing the web on their phones, preparing for another meeting, or updating Facebook.

I am bit subtler; I put the cap back on my pen. It’s a meager act of protest, but its mine. I’ve never slipped on headphones, but I’ve been tempted.

Most bad meetings have at least one person who dominates, and that windbag completely tunes out only after he/she is exhausted. Like, “I’ve said what I came to this meeting to say, now if you’ll excuse me… TMZ is calling.” Later, when his or her engagement is required, it’s “Can you please repeat the question?” I’m not sure you can blame the meeting leader for such bad behavior.

At the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, I bet there was a guy who played solitaire during negotiations (the old school kind, with playing cards), and swore up and down that he really was listening. Solitaire just helped him relax and concentrate.

“Seriously, I can do both!”

Hey low-level-self-centered-civil-servant, isn’t that a little disrespectful to whomever invited you here? You accepted the meeting invitation, so pay attention.


Rogelberg also contends that many meetings are too long (duh!) and cites Parkinson’s Law, which states that tasks will take us as long as we allow for them. (I have a similar theory about handbags, briefcases and suitcases. Big or small, I’ll always fill them to capacity.)

Parkinson’s Law seems logical, but in my experience it has its limits. Some humans are incapable of resolving any issue – no matter how straightforward — in 30 minutes. They are efficiency’s White Whale. (Actually, I went to a 30-minute meeting on Friday that lasted just 10, and ended with resolution and next steps. The participants were positively GIGGLING with excitement.)

Cartoon: Are you lonely? Tired of working on your own? Do you have making decisions? Hold a meeting!Rogelberg argues that many meetings are not INTENDED to end quickly, or bring about decisions or resolution. In large organizations, they are often used to “diffuse responsibility” and delay making tough choices.

Remember the time you scheduled a meeting for a small team to come to a decision, and the invitation kept getting forwarded? And you eventually had to book a bigger conference room to hold everyone? Yeah, me too.

Bob: “I don’t think we can make this decision without Group A at the table. And Group B will definitely want to listen in.”

Joe: “If members of both Group A and B attend, we’ll need to invite Mary or she’ll be FURIOUS.”

Bob: “But if we include Mary, we should probably also invite her boss. He’s super hierarchical.”

Joe: “Yeah, but he’s on vacation for two weeks.”

Bob: “Guess we’ll have to push the meeting out until next month, then.”

I’d like to believe that someday, corporate America will crack the meeting nut. We’ll establish a magic set of rules for how often meetings can occur, how long they can be, how attendees should participate, and how many people should attend.

Let me guess. To get there, first we’ll need a cross-functional task force that meets weekly…

Dilbert cartoon. Let's have a premeeting to prepare for tomorrow's meeting.

Storm-ocalypse Now

Image of the Bay Area Storm, December 11, 2014.

Photo: Michael Macor/The San Francisco Chronicle

The West Coast was hit by a winter storm this morning – the biggest in years: howling winds, flooded streets, downed trees and power outages. It was chaos in the Bay Area.

It’s not as if we weren’t warned. We’d been hearing about stormageddon for days – in plenty of time to fill sandbags, replace flashlight batteries, charge cell phones and stock up on food that doesn’t require cooking. Modern technology can help humans predict the weather with astonishing accuracy, yet when it comes to CONTROLLING nature’s wrath we’re no better off than the Donner party. That’s humbling, when you think about it.

Grand Teton National Park. Jackson, Wyoming.

Grand Teton National Park. Jackson, Wyoming.

I participated in two photo shoots for work this year – both of which were weather dependent. In September, I traveled to Jackson, Wyoming, where the goal was to capture mountains and fall foliage in the background of every shot. Photographers and production coordinators arrived two weeks in advance, scouting locations and tracking the progress of the Aspens’ changing colors.

Each golden leaf that fluttered to the ground sent a shiver down the scouts’ spines. But they couldn’t do a thing to stop them. Leaves gonna fall.

(Despite the angst, our shoot went great. The weather was exceptional and the photos are amazing, in case you were wondering.)

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta 2014

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

I also visited the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in October, when breezy conditions and thunderstorms often kept the balloons grounded. (Lightening and propane used in hot air balloon burners do not mix!) We didn’t get all the shots we wanted but again… what can you do? Visitors took plenty of photos anyway, and chatted with balloon pilots and their crews. Kids chased each other all over the place. Everyone ate too many corn dogs and breakfast burritos… and smiled the whole time.

So while battling the effects of today’s storm, I found myself astounded by the level of grumpiness, frustration and impatience I encountered. I watched otherwise rational-looking people in meltdown because their plans were being disrupted. By weather. How dare… IT? DAMN WEATHER!

My apartment and office buildings both lost power, so a neighbor and I met for breakfast at a local café that inexplicably had electricity and Wi-Fi. Unfortunately what it DIDN’T have was spare outlets for plugging in laptops. As a remote workplace, its utility was therefore limited. No wonder we could get a table!

A woman entered the café with her husband and young daughter. She circled the interior of the place five or six times, getting more worked up with each pass. “I need an outlet. I have so much work to do,” she exclaimed. Meanwhile hubby stood in line to place their order, with a list of his wife’s special dietary needs as long as his arm. The kid sat alone, looking forlorn.

Admittedly, I don’t know the woman’s story. Perhaps she’s a scientist, thiiiiis close to discovering a vaccine against Ebola. (If so, I apologize. Get her a power source, STAT.) More likely, though, she’s a harried working mom in need of a little perspective. Could she not have seen the storm as a happy circumstance, and enjoyed a leisurely few hours with her family before rejoining the rat race? Would that have been so crazy? So destructive to her career?

What are the odds that, when she finally did log on, she found her email inbox nearly empty because every other local colleague had been in the same boat?

At lunchtime, my office was up and running so I braved the elements, carrying with me a sack of Christmas cards to mail. Most shops and office buildings were still without power and remained closed. I crossed my fingers that I’d find a post office that was open for business on my way home.

Indeed I did, and the line was short! I basked in my good fortune, until a modern-day Ebenezer Scrooge got in line behind me. He had stopped first at a different downtown post office that was closed. He was incensed because other businesses in the area had power, and were open. Why not the post office? I told him the street had NOT had power when I walked past a few hours earlier. He did not like this, and glared at me.

He griped and groused until someone suggested he go to the front of the line. Fine with me. Maybe the others had a touch of the holiday spirit, but I just wanted him to shut the hell up. No luck. He continued to complain from the front of the line. Finally, I could hold back no longer.

“Well, I’m just happy I found an open post office so that I don’t have to carry these cards around in the rain anymore.”

He launched into a lecture about his long history of working for government organizations, and his deep experience with customer service. It was simply inexcusable, he explained, that the manager of the other branch had not posted a note on the door listing alternative locations.

I considered reminding him that the manager had probably been busy and harried by stormageddon. I also thought about pointing out that OUR branch had been open for less than one hour. What would have been the point of sending cold, wet customers here when it might have been closed too? Can you imagine how berserk this guy would have gone, in that situation?

But trying to change Ebenezer’s outlook would have been like trying to stop the rain from falling. No point to it.

It’s still stormy outside, and I’m digging it. This is as close as San Francisco gets to wintry Christmas weather. My tree is lit, and the room is toasty. Cue the holiday DVD.

Nobody is gonna rain on MY parade.


Mountains and fall foliage around Jackson, Wyoming,


Go Dutch, or Go Home

A view of a canal in Utrecht, the Netherlands


I returned home from the Netherlands one week ago, suffering from mild food poisoning. The culprit: taramasalata, a Greek dip made of cod roe, bread crumbs or mashed potatoes, lemon juice, vinegar and olive oil. I’ve always loved the stuff slathered on crunchy French bread, and I usually binge on it when I’m overseas, where it’s much more widely available than in the United States. Oops.

Based on my 20-year aversion to gin, after one night of extreme intemperance at university, I suspect my love affair with taramasalata may be over. I have yet to even toe dip back into seafood since my return because just the smell of fish knocks me back a step.

So, on Thursday I will give thanks that the holiday is known as “turkey” – and not “flounder” – day.

Luckily, the second half of my trip involved nicer hotels (especially the Grand Hotel Karl V in Utrecht) and fewer hours on my feet than Amsterdam, so feeling a little crummy didn’t louse up my itinerary.

I decamped Amsterdam, and headed to The Hague by way of Leiden — home to the oldest university in the Netherlands (founded in 1575), and temporary refuge of the Pilgrims. Leiden is a beautiful, quiet town with canals, one windmill (my first) and an impressive collection of antiquities at the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden – the national archaeological museum of the Netherlands.

The Hague was the most cosmopolitan and sophisticated destination of the trip. I stayed in the Noordeinde neighborhood – the royal palace was right around the corner – and shopped until I nearly dropped. The city offers a fine mix of upscale chain stores and high-end boutiques, all surrounded by cobble stones and centuries-old gable houses. Unfortunately it was here that I patronized Marks & Spencer, purveyor of the offending taramasalata – hereafter referred to as “the dip that shall not be named”.

Of course, I didn’t JUST shop and eat. I visited The Hague’s greatest gem, Mauritshuis – a tiny museum chock full of works by Dutch masters. (Tip: If you go, be sure to invest in the audio tour. It covers close to 50% of the artwork.)

I also toured the Museum de Gevangenpoort, a 15th century prison complete with a hostage room for debtors (this predates workhouses), a torture chamber with tiled walls to make post-interrogation clean up easier, and a “farewell” chamber where prisoners sentenced to death ate their final meals, and said goodbye to their loved ones. I got chills picturing the place after dark.

My final stop was the university town Utrecht, with a side trip to ‘s-Hertogenbosch (“Dem Bosch”) on my second-to-last day. Both towns have lovely old market squares, nice shops, a pretty canal or two and – in the case of Dem Bosch – a magnificent church. St. John’s Cathedral (Sint Jan) was a highlight of the trip.

One week later I am curled up in my comfy chair, watching football while sucking on my fifth Tums tablet of the day. It’s fun to reminisce with these photos.

It’s also good to be home.

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As an aside, the Dutch speak great English and therefore have an knack for clever English shop names. I think “Knit Happens” could be my favorite:

Dutch Treats

Row of canal houses in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

It has become a tradition that I take my biggest vacation of the year around Veterans day in the United States (early-mid November). It’s an opportunity to enjoy chilly fall weather, without much risk of a freak snowstorm stranding me somewhere. The timing also means fewer tourists generally, and fewer school-age tourists specifically.

This year I chose the Netherlands as my destination. The start of my journey was not promising. A United Airlines drama nearly eighty-sixed the whole adventure.

At San Francisco International Airport I was informed that my frequent flyer ticket to Amsterdam was missing the Frankfurt-to-Amsterdam leg in the computer system. Two United agents who spoke terrible English discussed my plight in Chinese, while I stood by helplessly. Despite having an email confirmation on my iPhone showing an SFO-Frankfurt-Amsterdam reservation, the agents told me there was nothing they could do beyond checking my bag only as far as Frankfurt. I’d have to work out the rest by calling the MileagePlus 800 number.

Whaaaat? Do I look like a complete idiot, novice traveler to you??? Checking my bag just to Frankfurt, where I had a two-hour layover at best, while my hotel bookings were all in Amsterdam, would have been the DUMBEST MOVE EVER. The agents were quite insistent about checking my bag, but eventually conceded that the ticketing counter might be able to help me.

As far as I’m concerned, the United check in staff at the SFO international terminal are woefully inadequate and lacking in basic English language proficiency… except for one Gabriele Bugler — a no-nonsense lady (German, I think) who waited on hold with MileagePus for at least 30 minutes, while triaging several problems brought to her by other flummoxed United agents. She sorted it all out, no obsequious apologies but no excuse-making either.

Hey, United Airlines: Gabriele Bugler deserves an enormous raise. Give her one. Oh, and if you are going to push people toward your online reservation system, you might want to fix some pretty serious, glaring bugs.

Never mind, I’m now safely in Amsterdam which is so full of English speakers and beautiful architecture, I have deja vu moments of thinking I’m either in London, or French Canada.

My first stop yesterday, following a harrowing and very pricey taxi ride to my hotel, was the Anne Frank House  The line was 45 minutes long, but visitors are provided free Wi-Fi to help pass the time. Where in America can you get Wi-Fi while waiting in line outdoors?

No surprise, the museum was respectful, tasteful and moving. I reread Anne’s diary (the unsanitized version) before coming here, but despite her detailed description of the group’s living conditions I could not picture their accommodations. The size and the darkness of the rooms took my breath away.

I often joke about the tiny dimensions of my first Manhattan apartment; Anne’s mother, father and sister Margot shared a smaller space for more than two years without any respite. No office or school to escape to. No gym. No walks around the block. The room that Anne shared with her nemesis Fritz Pfeiffer was the size of my current closet in San Francisco.

The walls of Anne’s room still display a few photos she pasted from movie magazines, as well as a childhood photo of Queen Elizabeth. I’m sure the Queen knows this. I wonder if she’s ever seen it?  I imagine it would break her heart. It broke mine.

If you ever have a chance to visit the Anne Frank House, be sure to tour the entire museum — including the top floor, where documents around the deportation of the Frank family are on display. (Nazis kept meticulous records, it turns out.) Exerpts from Anne’s diary are there, too.

I waited in line for the museum behind a very nice couple from Sacramento. The wife made me laugh, though. When I told her this is my first trip to Amsterdam, she gravely informed me that smoking marijuana is legal here, and that there is a flourishing Red Light District.

REALLY? Hey, maybe I DO look like a total idiot, novice traveler. I mean, who on earth goes to Amsterdam knowing SO LITTLE about the city, that they are unaware of coffee houses and legalized prostitution?

As it turns out, the Red Light District is just behind my hotel. I didn’t realize this when I made my reservation, but tonight in search of a specific restaurant, I walked out the back door and saw lots of red neon lights. I’m kind of embarrassed by how long it took me to make the connection: red lights = red light district. I saw a few lingerie-clad women in window displays, but otherwise… the neighborhood was remarkably quiet. Maybe I needed to walk farther to see the real action. Or perhaps this is what happens on the Sabbath, in the birthplace of Calvinism?

imageEarlier today I visited the Rijks and Van Gogh museums. I also ate a Belgian waffle drizzled with chocolate that nearly brought me to tears, and frites slathered in joppisauce that were pretty darn amazing. Now nodding off to the hypnotic sounds of the BBC news.

More soon from the land of the gouda wheel…

UPDATE: My hotel was NOT in the Red Light District, after all. I had mistakenly thought that all of Amsterdam’s prostitution takes place in that neighborhood, but it does not. The day after I wrote this post, I stumbled into the real Red Light District, and said a little prayer of gratitude that I wasn’t staying there. Peaceful, it is not.

Stacks of gouda cheese wheels

It Rained On My Parade

Madison Bumgarner Fathead on display at the World Series victory parade in San Francisco, CA. October 31, 2014It’s been a while since my last blog post. A LONG while. I’ve been traveling more than normal, and I guess I just fell out of the blogging habit. It’s easy to do when your trips happen every few weeks, and involve weekend travel. Then your beloved baseball team makes it to the postseason. As a wildcard. And goes on the win it all, playing five nights out of seven for an entire month.

Every other year, like clockwork, my October is ocupado, thanks to the San Francisco Giants.

I’ll blog about my recent travel – which involved plenty of photography – shortly. But for now, I’m still basking in the post World Series parade glow.

The parade route wasn’t as crowded as in 2010 or 2012 – hopefully because it rained all morning, and not because we Bay Area folks are taking World Series wins for granted. Whatever the explanation, I managed to position myself in the first row against barricades on Market Street… where I stood waiting for the players’ floats for 4.5 hours, without water (except for what was soaking my hair and shoes), to avoid the need for a restroom run. Under no circumstances was I relinquishing my ideal photo-taking spot.

Totally. Worth. It.

Cell Phones and Buses: This Is Where I Get Off

Man talks on his cell phone on a bus, while other passengers glare at him.I’ve written in the past about cell phone etiquette, and my belief that the evolution of social norms (and fear of the stink eye from others) have helped stem the tide of loud, intrusive, one-sided conversations in restaurants, elevators and other public places where less information about your neighbor is definitely more. Yet even now, not everyone has gotten the memo.

Early last week, I commuted home from work on a packed San Francisco MUNI bus. I had a seat because I boarded at the first stop, but when a bus is delayed by more than 30 minutes on a weeknight, even the lucky seated few feel penned in like veal.

The guy standing next to me — my face and his bait n’ tackle separated by only a few inches of air and a thin layer of khaki — was chatting VERY LOUDLY on his cell phone. Let’s just say this fellow had a face made for radio… but not a voice. And he had positively no social filter.

He started off explaining that he was still quite ill after a full course of antibiotics – EXACTLY what other passengers on a crowded bus want to hear, am I right? If things didn’t improve by the end of the week, he planned to go back for something stronger. He never disclosed exactly what was wrong with him, but I had enough details to be thoroughly creeped out.

(Why oh why did I stop carrying hand sanitizer in my briefcase, I wondered?)

It gets better. The patient began to discuss another physical problem he had posted about on Facebook:

Yes, well my friends told me that if I ever want to get back into the online dating scene, I should take down that post since my Facebook privacy settings are public. I really didn’t agree, but I followed their advice anyway.

I am not sure which was less shocking – that this guy is single, or that he posts sensitive, personal information on Facebook for anyone to read. Privacy settings? Privacy is for wimps, that much was clear.

He kept going:

Well, I had to have surgery so they could CUT it out. It was very big. Like a very large…. wart, essentially. I say “cut”, but they really had to GRIND it out.

And then — just like that — he was gone. I never even found out how many stitches he got, or what kind of ointment he was using. And while I know plenty about his physical infirmities, I don’t even know his name.

As he exited the bus, I couldn’t help but notice how other riders cleared an unusually wide path for him. Like me, they no doubt washed their hands with the vigor and precision of an ER surgeon as soon as they got home.

Ah, the joys of public transportation. In the words of Kermit the Frog… It’s not easy being green.