Monday, August 29, 2011

Three First Names

I don't know about the rest of you, but Hurricane Irene has thoroughly exhausted me. There was the build up for days, then the non-stop pre-game show and like so many Superbowls that have come before, it ended up being a bit of a letdown. That's easy for me to say, being three thousand miles away, but frankly it just didn't live up to the hype. 

On Tuesday Allie was scheduled to fly back to Connecticut on a redeye. I was watching the coverage of the uprising in Tripoli when the breaking news of the Virginia earthquake cut in. Wow. How exciting and unexpected. And those cell phones being dead for twenty minutes. What's that all about? In California we're a little dismissive of quakes in other places, but I'm sure it was very scary.   

The airport delays in the East were temporary and Allie flew out on schedule. I explained that a hurricane would be arriving on Saturday so she needed to be prepared. Saturday afternoon she told me she and her roommates were at the store and there were no more batteries. Well, duh. We crossed our fingers the power wouldn't go out. 

Although Saturday was a  beautiful day here and I needed to be outside playing lots of tennis, I checked the news every chance I had. Those windblown reporters standing on the beach in their hooded jackets were hilarious. Kids, don't try this at home. During dinner Saturday night we watched Mayor Bloomberg give his press conference. I love him. He's so New York and straight shooting. One of the questions was about whether all the people who live in the subways had been taken to safety. Bloomberg says that first of all, people shouldn't be living in subways and that they would get the services they deserved.

Sunday was another very pretty day and we had to play lots more tennis. I sent messages to several people and they were doing fine. Of course, Allie has no power and Sally in New Jersey has no water. I carefully read over the list of deaths caused by the Cat Five downgraded to Cat One downgraded to Tropical Storm. Falling trees seem to be a major hazard in a hurricane. The advice about staying home really made some sense. One poor woman drowned in her car and many other had trees fall on their cars. There was so much warning. Why were they going anywhere? 

I'm not too fond of earthquakes, but at least there IS no warning. You dread them in a low grade, ongoing way. All the time. Whenever I'm in a tunnel or a tall building I think about earthquakes. There's a certain type of quiet anxiety, but we don't find out on a Tuesday that there will be an epic quake on Saturday. Now that would really be scary.      

So East Coast, settle down there. You're starting to fray my nerves. Also, we've had our own excitement recently. Our local universe was gridlocked and traffic ground to a halt when a guy fired a shot towards the freeway. Holed up in a hotel with his girlfriend as a hostage and plenty of ammo, this dead bang loser inconvenienced thousands. The hotel was evacuated, local businesses were affected and the freeway was shut down. We're talking epic traffic jams, like when the Bay Bridge was closed after the earthquake in 1989. 

After an extended standoff, the suspect was found dead, his girlfriend unharmed. How could such a freak even have a girlfriend? He was on the lam from being on the lam. Most recently sought for shoplifting and stabbing grocery store clerks, the guy had a lethal record. At thirty-eight, he'd been incarcerated in multiple locations. I told Allie I don't want her to ever go out with a guy like this. She promised to avoid men with guns. That's a relief. 

The man's name was released and it confirms my long held theory. I'm not sure why, but I've noticed that men with three first names often have a propensity for violent crime. This guy's name was Peter James Thomas. Like Brian David Mitchell (Elizabeth Smart's abductor), Richard Allen Davis (kidnapped and killed Polly Klaas) and James Earl Ray, he didn't have a chance. And Sirhan Sirhan. Is that two first names or two last names?  And what about Jack Ruby? Ruby is a first name and it's definitely not a man's name.        

There have been studies done that indicate a guy with an unusual first name is more likely to be part of the juvenile justice system. In 2009 Time magazine online published an interesting piece by John McCloud. He concluded that parents with less schooling were more likely to give their kids unusual names. Also, guys with common names like Michael or David are more likely to be successful. 

McCloud also gave an interesting fact about girl names. Women who don't finish high school rarely name their daughters Allison. It's reserved for offspring of women with seventeen or more years of education. I have a daughter named Allison, but how many years of education do I have? Hmm. Seventeen sounds like a lot. Counting on my fingers and including kindergarten and college, yes, I qualify. Her name can stand. I haven't read any studies that confirm my three first name theory, but guys, don't take any chances. You can't help it if your surname is say, Mason or Gordon, but if you have a son, be sensible. Give him a strong middle name like a family name. Or maybe Irene.   

Monday, August 15, 2011

Summer SAD

Complaining about the weather is one of my best traits. It's not the best thing about me. I'm just really good at it. I can deal with cold in the winter and hot in the summer. What I can't handle is cold in the summer. I grew up in New York. Part of the time we lived by a lake. Part of the time we had a sailboat and sailed across Long Island Sound.

To me, summer is waking up on the boat, sitting in the cockpit eating cereal in a bathing suit. It's not wearing real shoes all summer long - rarely wearing shoes at all. It's eating dinner outdoors every night and only closing windows if a rain storm is blowing sideways. It's the smell of raindrops on hot pavement. Swimming in the rain. Running around in the grass chasing fireflies. It's those nights that are so sweltering you keep standing in a cool shower and it's so humid you never dry off. I have never once lived with air conditioning, but somehow we managed.

Thirty six years in California and I still deeply miss East Coast summers. I miss not having to layer clothing throughout the day. It's on. It's off. In real summer you put something on and it stays the same until you go to bed. When I was in New York recently I left the apartment at eight a.m. in a summer dress which I was still wearing when we went out for a walk at ten p.m. I flashed on the trunk of my car at home. A blanket, a down vest, a jean jacket. All very much used in summer to keep me warm.

The problem is, we're quite close to the ocean. As the crow flies it's probably less than five miles, but driving there takes thirty minutes over a treacherous mountain road. The other problem is the ocean is the Pacific Ocean, which is bitter cold and not very user-friendly. Unless you're a surfer and want to wrap yourself in neoprene from head to toe, what's the point? On the rare warm day it is truly gorgeous to lie on Stinson beach. Just don't expect to go swimming. The water is 58 degrees.

Personally, I don't get much benefit from living near the ocean and there is a LOT of negative. It's called fog. Simply put, fog ruins my summer. It sometimes feels like its ruining my life. In the best case scenario is we'll we have a few "hot" days in a row, then the fog will barrel back in with a vengeance. To punish me. The more likely pattern is like this summer. For five weeks we did not have a single sunny morning. Gray, drizzly skies every damn day. Some days the fog would burn off by eleven or two, but it was back in every evening. It's probably just me, but I need a sunny morning once in a while, especially in "summer".

It's been well documented that in winter people can suffer from depression caused by a lack of light- Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. I recently decided I had summer SAD. My sister, Laura, who lives even closer to the ocean than I do, buys special ultra-violet lightbulbs to sit near in August. It's to ward off her depression due to a lack of sunlight. It's not just sun you don't get to see, it's also the moon and stars. We went through a whole phase of the moon and I never saw it. So there you go. It's the disgruntled rant that my family has lived with for so long. It's time to stop complaining and find a solution.

I've been hoping to inherit a cabin on a lake, but so far, none have been forthcoming. If I could just pick up our town and move it over the next range of hills, the situation would improve dramatically. Alas, that's just not practical. After much careful thought, I've concluded we need to change the calendar. We get our best weather in September and October. It's usually quite warm. Just when the kids go back to school. It's the closest we get to consistent beach weather. Of course, the water warms up a little and the sharks come out. We only personally know one guy who's been attacked by a shark, so the statistics are in our favor.

The calendar just needs to shift two months. July will now be September and August will be October. No more drizzly Memorial Days and weirdly warm Thanksgivings. The kids can have their vacation when the weather is best and I can have my summer. We won't expect the weather to be nice in June and July, because it will really be May and June. Everything will be so much better, but I haven't figured out what to do about the leaves changing on the Fourth of July. I can't really think anymore about it now. We're having a sunny morning. The second in a row, but who's counting? I even saw the moon last night.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Home Air

Air travel isn't what it used to be. Obviously. It's gotten even more confusing and unpleasant since September 11, 2001. The decade since then has brought one indignity after another, so, in a sense, terrorism has worked. Most people are happy to comply with airline security measures. If we can just figure out what's expected. Being in so many airports in different countries made for some special experiences. Very special.

When we left SFO I went through the all body scanner. After it was finished, I smiled at my scan worker and told her it was my first time. She laughed and agreed that I was no longer a virgin. So far, so good. I must not be very metallic, because I have NEVER set off the metal detector, even when wearing jewelry and a watch. This trip was no different, but I did get held up by an eyelash curler. On the way from Barcelona to JFK, there was a stopover in Dublin. My carryon bag got flagged, then searched. The technician kept putting it back into the x-Ray machine so he could identify the threatening object. Since I had five hours to wait, I wasn't concerned, but it was funny when he finally pulled the eyelash curler from my cosmetics case. It's not something I actually used on my trip, but who knew?

The most stressful part is adjusting to the local customs. Some airports want shoes off. Some want shoes off and in a bin. Some want shoes off and on the conveyer belt, not in the bin. Some security workers like to yell at passengers when they aren't doing it right. Passengers who are frazzled and rushed and have just had to pay a surcharge for their luggage and need to bring their own food along. Don't yell at us. We are not the bad guys. I loved it (not) when I got to JFK and had to go through customs. There were no declaration forms in English - just Spanish.

After switching from Pounds to Euros and back again, New York City was a piece of cake. I understand the language and the currency. And I also know when I'm being bullshitted which is most helpful anywhere. Efficient Allie had sent me explicit directions for the shuttle from the airport. She had to work that night so she left the key with her doorman. It was so good to be in a home rather than a hotel. After traveling, it's a luxury to just open a refrigerator. One doesn't think of Manhattan as the place to go for rest and relaxation, but it worked for me.

On the 4th of July we decided to have a little picnic in Sheep's Meadow in Central Park. We went to the Whole Foods near Allie which is in the basement of the Time-Warner building. My god. Talk about huge. There were thirty six check stands and employeees who kept the lines moving. The lines really did move and we were out of there in no time. A quick tour through the rooftop bar where Allie was hostessing part time and it was back to her apartment to watch the fireworks over the Hudson. Just spectacular. I love the 4th, especially the fireworks. I hadn't been in New York on the 4th of July since 1976, the Bicentennial, when the Tall Ships sailed up the river.

One day we took the train out to Long Beach, Long Island. It was fabulous to swim in the Atlantic and get burned to a crisp. No, that part wasn't so fabulous. It WAS entertaining to watch a group of guys next to us get busted for drinking on the beach. I couldn't believe it was illegal to have a beer, but they got a ticket. Ouch. When we walked by the boardwalk I remembered being there in third grade with a friend. We visited her grandmother for the weekend and I was SO homesick. My mother still talks about how they dropped me off on Sunday afternoon and I inhaled deeply and said, "Home air."

Even though I have many friends in the New York area, I kept a low profile on this trip so I could have some mother-daughter time with Allie, which was wonderful. One exception was a lunch date with an old friend I hadn't seen or spoken to since I left Hollywood thirty-three years ago. I had been nanny to her little two boys. Little boys who, at thirty-nine and forty-one, are fathers themselves. That makes me feel very old, but it was really fantastic to see Bibbe and catch up on all the years. It's strange that so much time can go by and you feel just the same on the inside.

I wasn't a bit homesick on this trip, but it was finally time to head back to California. The last night I took Allie and Sasha out to Tao New York. They'd both forgotten their ID's and couldn't be served, but we had fun anyway. I especially love the image of Allie walking on Central Park South in her high heels and pink dress, looking like a modern day Audrey Hepburn. This is the girl who was afraid to go on sleepovers for years. She grew up and kicked New York's ass. For me, it was time to go back to home air.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Central Park South

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Fashions Across the Pond

Spotting trends, as well as noticing differences and similarities, is part of why I love to travel. We noticed a few trends in Europe. Burlap totes are in for both men and women. Lots of men in London seemed stuck in 1965. Suits that were just a bit too small with short, peg legs. What gives? Nothing is hotter than a guy in a great suit. Even a guy in a Speedo can't compete. (Just kidding! Women hate Speedos.) A lot is hotter than a man who looks like he's trying to fit into his eighth grade graduation outfit. Black, lacy stockings are popular. Happily, I only saw one pair of Uggs. The worst fashion mistake we saw on women and we saw it quite a bit, was black skinny pants of an undetermined fabric. Not leather, but shiny like plastic or nylon. They are most unforgiving. Almost as bad a fabric as satin, which doesn't look good on anyone. Think wiggle when you walk, but not in a good way.

Long summer dresses for women are either in still or back in, but at least people dressed for summer, even in London. Springy dresses, florals, bright colors. It was that way all through Spain and New York. People dressing like summer in summer. Imagine that. Fast forward to my first time back in downtown San Francisco. It could have been November in Chicago. Boots, scarves and lots of black clothing. I know it's foggy and chilly, but why so drab? Couldn't you at least break out a colorful sweater?

The oddest observation in England came from Eric. He began to notice a lot of tall men. Extremely tall. Once we began seeing them, they were everywhere. We saw loads of them at Wimbledon, then Oxford. I'm talking men well over six five, some obviously more than seven feet tall. I kept trying to find an explanation for such an anomaly. How did so many British men get to be so tall? Possibly there was some type of gathering or convention? No explanation was forthcoming. The photo above shows a couple walking down a side street in Oxford. A typical English couple with a gigantic English man.

Next stop: New York, where you can be ticketed for drinking on the beach.

Green Europe

London had several innovations in energy conservation that were new to me. They had a wonderful bike rental/borrowing system sponsored by Barclays Bank. There are bike docking stations all over certain areas of the city, and once you have registered you can just take a bike from one station (authorized bike rack) and return it to another. The first thirty minutes are free, so if you just need quick transport, grab a bike. Prices after that are extremely reasonable. "Barclays Bike Hire" has just celebrated its first anniversary and there are great plans for expansion with generous subsidies by Barclays. Such innovation.

Solar boats are available to rent in Hyde Park if you want to ride around the Serpentine. The solar shuttle runs every half hour and costs five pounds per adult. Twenty seven glass modules collect solar energy which is stored in panels and power silent electric engines. And this is in England which isn't known for abundant sunshine.

Our most personal experience with the greening of Europe started in the hotel near Gatwick where we stayed after missing our flight to Spain. You cannot use the electricity in the hotel room unless you insert the room key into a slot by the door. When you go out you remove your card and all the power goes off. When you return, you turn it back on again. We wanted to charge things while we were out so we asked for a second key. They gave it to us reluctantly. It was the same situation in the Spanish hotels. I've never see that in the United States, but I wouldn't be surprised if we do soon.