Do I stand a better chance at lessening frustration by driving out onto the 2-lane highway ( that promises delivery from ho-hum to exciting ) at the one and only light in town, or, take my chances waiting for traffic to clear the corners without the light?
I take the light. This traffic light affords structure and relative security — well, that is unless a big truck barrels down upon us, running the red. And by the way, that’s happened more times than I care to witness. I have no patience for the traffic coming off the bridge to clear in time to beat the ending of the song I’m listening to at that moment. It’s a contest really. The song has to outlast my wait-time for traffic to clear. If the traffic is ongoing and the last note has been played in the song, I have to re-play and hope that traffic clears on cue the 2nd go-round.
Go. A one-word metaphor for the method with which I attack life. Please, no barriers I can’t maneuver around or over the top of. I’m willing, however, to make one concession. The red traffic light serves a purpose. One can’t be on perpetual “Go” without eventually feeling spent. Stopping in measured intervals is necessary for the health and well-being of each of us. I know. Many moments of my life have been spent ignoring the signal to stop. My mouth runs on, my numerous thoughts make competing noise. A few blown fuses later and I must concede the value of the pause. A pause masquerades as a stop with lesser degree of interruption. I can’t stand interruptions. Let the momentum flow. A pause, therefore, is something to savor in small, congenial doses.
Songs. The merit of music. If it’s playing from a cd in my car, my commute is made much sweeter. I do the finger drums on my steering wheel. This is accompanied, of course, by my right foot tapping both gas and brake in concert with the choreography planted firmly in my mind. I do my best choreography while driving. I have to use time efficiently if I’m to arrive at the studio ready to teach. I teach tap dance. To say it’s my passion is to use a well-worn phrase. It is the be-all-and-end-all. Okay, so that’s another well-worn phrase. Tap is percussion with the feet. For me, nothing is more in keeping with my restless spirit than tap. Tap dance can make restless look pretty good. Back to songs. You know those Be Calm/Carry On bits of popular wisdom we see in the stores? I thought they were hokey and terribly un-beneficial. I do enjoy the tracks of classical music I purchased with the phrase printed right there on the cd. But, come one, I’m going to conjure up calm just because you say to? The upbeat music in my arsenal of tools ushers forth escape. I play music loud and my car speedometer registers my velocity at just slightly below what that kid in the Camaro next lane over is doing. I’ll let him win this time.
Commute. In California to commute is a lifestyle that is at times chosen and at other times it chooses you. While living in Orange County I traveled 15 freeway miles from home to my job and on most days I spent 55 minutes on the road, one way. Every minute seemed to matter. Now I spend anywhere up to an hour to an hour-and-a-half driving to my various part-time jobs and practice with a dance troupe of which I am a member. The jobs direct me to all points of the compass. It has to be this way. I don’t turn down any opportunity. So, look at the progress I’ve made since driving to work in Orange County. Here in Northern California I’m now taking longer commutes and gasoline is a trillion times more expensive than in ’78. Makes sense, doesn’t it? De-evolution.
FOOTNOTE: Mini Cooper. What to drive when you want to look like a sassy, sleek, smart, pseudo-European. Of course, around these parts there is a pick-up truck for every 2 people and a dog. Watch it sir ( pick-up trucks are usually occupied by sirs ) I’m right down here! Can you see my hand frantically waving at you up there? Still, the cute factor weighed heavily in my decision to purchase this car and I don’t regret it. It makes all my commutes much more in keeping with the pursuit of happiness, spelled F-U-N. Further note: I don’t recommend a mini to anyone with children under 12 years of age who would be prospective passengers. Of course if you have adult children they arent’ going to fit anyway. Either demographic works to give you a ride with no passengers at all! Bliss.
Ten years. That was the life span of my Mini. Ten years and 229,000 miles. I’ll miss the cute factor. On June 17th the guy (who shall remain nameless and faceless) hit my cute little car in a hit-and-run on the freeway. I spun. I mean the car proceeded to spin across all the freeway lanes. My hands were in a death grip on the steering wheel. Centrifugal force was…forceful! So, my Mini is no more. I now drive a 2002 Audi. I have initiated it on the highways and freeways that I cover on my way to work. It has been nearly two weeks now since I drove it home from the used car dealer in Sacramento. I am getting acclimated. Audi is the new Mini. Sigh.
Inconsiderate. Why do slovenly Americans ( I realize Mexico and Canada are components of America but I don’t live in those two places so I make reference to those of us in the states ) leave grocery carts hiked up on the planters, etc., in parking lots? Would it really kill you to walk your lazy a** over to the trolley designated for carts and place the cart where the design meets function? Would it? I roll my cart to where it belongs even while I’m being rained on. I have voodoo dolls whose use I call on when weak-willed shoppers don’t adhere to parking lot etiquette. Let this not be you.
Etiquette. We’ve all become quite accustomed to the universal “How are you?” as we are greeted by store clerks, etc. I hardly think it’s hearfelt. Every employee is trained to do this. Alright I’ll concede it’s better than stony silence at the cash register. Here’s what I employ to make it seem like the clerk and I are best buds. I always turn it around, asking the clerk how they are doing today. Sometimes I tailor it to reflect that the day is a holiday and the clerk is working, so, how does he/she feel about this. It’s amazing how this can elicit a bright response. You mean you care? Is how their reaction comes off. My thought is yes, I’m just shopping, you’re the one at work. These are sweet moments of humanity when in the space of a few seconds I can make a thoughtful gesture in my question and the other person can feel cared about. This is followed by the requisite, “Have a nice day”. It ceases to sound fresh and original after all the years you’ve heard it, right? But, what’ the alternative? Maybe clerks should be trained in multiple language use of the phrase. This would throw off the customer who would then be challenged to reply in kind. So, “Que te vaya bien” ( the have-a-nice-day part ) would summon up “Y usted tambien” ( and you too ). By the way, Spanish is the first language of the largest minority here in California. Spanish doesn’t trip me up as I come by it naturally being that both my parents used the language as I was growing up. When I was young my mom was preaching the value of bilingual ability. You know how your mom kind of bugs you when she gets preachy? Well, some part of me must have been hanging on her every word. I consider myself quite fortunate to have taught in both ESL and Spanish classrooms over the course of 19 years. Kudos to you mom.
Addendum: When did “No problem” become the substitute for “You’re welcome”? Seems to me the latter has gone the way of the dinosaur. I get it, I get it. One is supposed to convey the message that whatever it is has been done for your client, customer, son, daughter, student, teacher, friend — has not presented a burden in the doing. Like the time I passed a tip to the hand of a bell hop after he had transferred 18 pieces of my luggage to my room. Once he had expressed that it was “No problem” I was immediately impressed with his stamina and his choice of words. How nice of him to indicate that it was no trouble at all. But, I stand firm. What’s become of “You’re welcome”? Considering a fraction of the population even use that phrase. I think it was about the same time that the fraternal twin sisters, “hecka” & “hella” entered our stream of dialogue that “You’re welcome” may have made its exit. I’m just sayin’. However, in what I believe may be the most egregious infraction residing in our audible communication, a very strange expression was passed between one woman and her colleague on an evening I was walking down the hallway at Sac State. One woman offered her good-bye punctuated with this, “I’ll cc you later”. Which, of course, could only mean one thing. She stutters.
Lance. To bid someone a good day in Japanese would prompt, “O genki desuka”. I know this because my oldest son is finishing up a 3 year contract as English teacher in northern Japan. We are becoming a multi-cultural family. We are the richer for it. Arigatou gozaimasu, Lance. While we didn’t know for certain whether he was in the area consumed by the tsunami of 2011, that March weekend was spelledl H-E-L-L. Waiting for 48 hours to hear if he was dead or alive left me in anguish, and my husband took on the role of rock. A scathing rant aimed at God, with fist in the air yelling epitaphs did not yield a lightning bolt consequence for me. Sorry God. I think He knows all too well my vulnerabilities enough to grant me some measure of leniency. My son made it through the horror. As for the 25,000+ who did not, my heart was broken and I sobbed each time the imagery of that fateful day played out in the television coverage. After the 2nd day I stopped viewing the calamity. Calamity hurts.
Virtues. I once made the mistake of joining the line at the local post office ( our town population is roughly 8,000 ) on December 16. I don’t even send Christmas cards anymore since I deemed them unnecessary. The most important people in my life know I’m thinking of them without ceremony. I mean, come on! Don’t you just cherish the cards from your dentist office and your insurance agent? Well, they make good holiday coasters. Cards have taken on negligible sentimental value. Isn’t thrift an exemplary virtue? I exhibit thrift by eschewing cards and stamps. Except that I did lose my bearings and headed into the post office with a small package. The line was 5 people deep. That may not sound like much in the grand scheme of things, but here in our little nobody-is-going-anywhere hamlet facing a counter with one employee to process everything means a near life sentence of staring at the dreary walls. As I fidgeted and let out a big sigh of disapproval that my line compatriots could hear, the 2nd man in line turned to me and announced, “Patience is a virtue”. Hmm… okay buddy, I’ll fix you. I responded with, “I’ve got plenty of virtues, patience just isn’t one of them”. He then became mute and turned back around. I did an about face and headed home with my package. I would brave the post office tomorrow. Sure, I believe in the value of being virtuous. Buddy, how about we avoid laying on the guilt? Especially at Christmas. Laying on admonishment doesn’t seem very generous. Telll you what buddy, I’ll be at the door when the post office opens in the morning and my virtuous self will get first dibs at the counter. Problem solved.
Small. I’ve viewed it as a dirty trick, pulled on me when I wasn’t watching, that I have taken up residence in communities that are replete with limitation due to size, or, lack of resources, or, poor planning, or all three combined. I go kicking and screaming the whole way. The town may not be on “Go” — but I’m on high octane and I need to move it. Go on the green still implies I have to wait for the signal to change. I don’t speak for everyone, of course, but the wait time could be agonizing to me. I’ll go as soon as I get the light. And then, watch out. Don’t drive in front of me on the freeway at 52 miles per hour. I have a therapeutic view of freeways. They are my autobahn. And when I get to the parking lot, don’t leave your cart in haphazard fashion preventing me from parking my car with ease. See if you can manage to elicit a genuine smile from the store clerk when you ask whether she’s okay working on Mother’s Day. Yes, I advocate staying calm. I suppose some board room exec thought we needed to be reminded to seek out calm and carry on with life and then set out to market the reminder at $8.97 a pop and profit from it. Sigh.
Agenda. I’m going to get in the car now. I have work to do, errands to run, places to go. And along the way I’ll be met with humanity. Some folks will already be living by the little directives that I think could make a positive difference in our lives. Some will not. I’m not afraid to leave notes on parked cars to indicate that somebody’s Hummer, in the compact space, is clearly not a compact car. Yes, this has happened. By the way, if you’re going to drive behemoth cars, look out for the little guy. I have done this note-planting bit many times over. I never use expletives but I compose the message in my best passive-aggressive style. It brings me great pleasure to take command of parking lot faux pas.
Our ways. Keep in mind that foreigners from Europe or from Asian countries — I’ve taught students from these parts of the globe and professors at Sac State support this assessment — our cars, houses and portions of food are HUGE. If you don’t wish to take my word for it, I recommend the documentary Super Size Me by Morgan Spurlock. Much of our national consumption is scrutinized in this movie. The results are sobering. Cross-reference to the virtues section: Eat less, move more, read 3 new books* a year, and don’t feed feral cats–they’ll hang around your car and spray on it as they have done to mine.
*Here are a few you may enjoy as much as I did: The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls — if you come from a dysfunctional family this may be the only book you’ll need to read; The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio by Terry Ryan; What Teachers Make by Taylor Mali ( and it’s not about dollars & cents ); It’s Not About the Bike by Lance Armstrong; and finally, The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch — to get through this you’ll need ample supply of tissues.
Limitations. In my age-demographic, down to the floor in a squat or kneeling position to retrieve the errant pencil, earring, or bread crumb means the process of getting back up takes on the effort and commitment of reading a chapter book. One chapter at a time correlates with one degree of upright at a time. When did I turn into such a measured, cautious, arthritic individual? I apply a similar question to my 14 year-old lab mix. She doesn’t chase feral cats ( see ‘Our ways’ ) with the speed of a sprinter any more. Her gait is compromised by arthritis. I’ve considered helping myself to her arthritis meds to save a few bucks ( see ‘Virtues’ ). When did the commonality first surface between the two of us? What is the formula? It’s a bit more involved than I’ve believed. For the first 2 years a dog is 10.5 dog years/human year. After which it changes to 4 dog years/human year. I hate math. I’ll call her old for a dog, while I’m just, well, old. Actually, to read a chapter book means you make progress with each new chapter. And each chapter brings with it a sort of revelation. I feel wisdom coming on.
Math. Have you ever taken a college level statistics class? The professor will tell you it is not a math class. Right. Letters and numbers occupy space joined together with such appealing names like Crones Alpha. What said professor will NOT tell you is that you are in the Twilight Zone abyss of college classes. One professor was known to admit that no one likes teaching these statistics classes. Well, that’s good enough for me buddy ( see ‘Virtues’ )! Unless you are a freak, everything about the statistics class will leave you poised and ready to be admitted to the nearest psych ward. I will offer, however, that while I do see the vague connection to a major in Communication Studies and the business of gathering data using scientific methods, the event left me with fewer functioning brain cells. This was a night class for me. No, it was a night terror for me. It is said that children ( and some adults attending evening statistics classes ) experience what has been characterized as night terrors. A child may scream and run from their bedroom in fright. I went screaming and running from the building in fright after our first heavily weighted exam. How do I spell relief? By semester’s end I garnered two designer dresses and three pair of Steve Madden shoes all wrapped up in a trip to New York City. Most importantly, I passed the class with a B. Sublime.
Vices. Personally, I have zero experience smoking…anything. I have managed to log many, many hours laying prostrate in the sun. In the pre-SPF 45 days of the early 70s my friends and I considered the beach scene in Orange County to be our mecca. We received the calling to slather on the baby oil so we could fry our little buns–and all other parts. It was a rite of passage to see who could redden and blister to the nth degree, and do so without consequence. I always felt that I held a distinct advantage due to my Hispanic heritage. My Mexican-Indian forefathers would have been proud at how I paid them homage by my efforts to up the ante and sport a competitive shade of bronze. No porcelain complexion for me, no sir. By the way, I could have served as the model for that sweet, young girl having her shorts pulled down by that dog in the Coppertone ad. I frequented the warm sands of Santa Monica, Seal, Huntington, and Newport beaches. A day at the beach, and I mean a 9-5 kind of day, included eating those famous beach-side nachos and a soda. Throw all caution to the wind? Yes, we did. But I’m going to plead ignorance because at that time sun damaged skin on a 56 year-old face was inconceivable to an 18 year-old. 56? Are you kidding me?
Ignorance. So, if you’re driving the freeways of Santa Clara County, head back to wherever it was you began. You see I got pulled over by the highway patrol for driving over the two solid while lines on the freeway. These are the lines that divide the carpool lane from all other lanes. I am telling you, I did not get the memo! I was simply tired of driving in that lane and I needed a change. Where’s the barrier preventing me from doing just that? Are you kidding me? Those two white lines remain unbroken for m-i-l-e-s. I wanted out now ( see ‘Virtues’ ). Oh, look honey ( I really said something else, honey doesn’t start with ‘s’ ) the highway patrol is after us. I don’t believe I was speeding officer. Oh, you’re not stopping me for my speed? Yes, I saw the two painted lines. You mean what I did is illegal? Yep, it’s $529 worth of illegal! The worst part was that my husband and I were on our way to celebrate our 34th wedding anniversary in Santa Cruz. It became a weekend to remember for regrettable reasons. The decidedly sour turn our trip took all due to my pleading freeway ignorance. I told the officer I’m not from around these parts…I was completely unfamiliar with the layout…and those damn lines. He registered about as much sympathy for me as I do for the person who commits the faux pas of hiking his grocery cart over the planter ( see ‘Inconsiderate’ ) only in my case the lapse of judgment exacted a very steep price. I stand corrected officer. Over $500 to pay the fine and traffic school was quite a painful lesson in combating ignorance. I’ll not be traveling through Santa Clara County ever again.
Senior discount. I have gone through all my life hearing people comment on how youthful I look. When I was in my 20s, I passed for 15. I couldn’t convince others upon having reached my 49th birthday as they had me pegged for mid-30s. Now, in my 50s I’m enjoying the residual benefits. My young dance students were in shock and disbelief when I recently disclosed my choronological status. They responded with, “No way! We thought you were 35!” I love my students. So you can imagine my horror when while ordering a soda at Taco Bell, the young hapless clerk presented me with my drink saying, “With senior discount, that’s $1.35”. Excuse me! Senior discount? I asked her, “What makes you think I qualify for senior discount?” Okay, my crows feet are lining up in the double digits, but, I’ve always looked young, right?” She became flustered at my query and hemmed and hawed a bit. She then produced this lame attempt at a come back. “Well, you look young”. Oh no you don’t buddy ( a ‘buddy’ comes in either gender ), you’ll not attempt to pacify me. She ultimately pushed the drink closer to me and in a moment of fine surrender she made this last ditch conciliatory effort. “No charge!”
Decadence. I spell it S-e-e-s which of course stands for only the best chocolate sold in the cutest of venues. I think the trademark white and black stores complete with framed pictures of Mary See, and the outfits the clerks wear ( by the way, male Sees clerks look smashing in their crisp white shirts and black bow ties ) are what sets Sees apart from other chocolatiers. Not to mention their hallmark suckers. Oh, I know there is Godiva and Ghirardelli, but that’s not where my loyalty rests. I go way back with Sees. For nine years I lived in another state that didn’t even have Sees! Sacrilegious.
Have you ever tried Thai Iced Tea? It is the perfect accompaniment to a Sees chocolate. I’ve discovered a half-dozen different restaurants which I have patronized primarily to enjoy the liquid caramel – as I have come to identify it – sensation of Thai Iced Tea. If you like sweet you’ll hold the combination of Sees coupled with the tea on the same level of nirvana that I have attained.
College. While I don’t necessarily advocate investing 35 years of your life in an effort to earn your Bachelor’s degree, in the end it seems to have worked for me. To be precise, that’s 35 years attending classes on 6 diffferent college campuses in two states. Ultimately, my degree was conferred upon me after completing the requirements as a Communication Studies major at Sac State in 2008. When returned from commencement a surprise was waiting for me on our answering machine. A dear friend from my early college days left me a message that still brings me to tears. “You did it! You persevered!” Yes, my two year tenure at Sac State was my personal bliss. I don’t think they could have found a more joy-filled 53 year-old on that campus. Many of life’s circumstances seemed to dominate and dictate the course my college education would take in over three decades worth of living. I have arrived.
If you ever have a craving for Thai Iced Tea and you are in the vicinity of my ( latest ) alma mater you can find it at one of the campus eateries that I scoped out. I even introduced the beverage to a professor of mine. No, it didn’t result in a higher grade on a paper.
Who’d a thunk it. While attending classes at Sac State it was required of me to fulfill an internship. In the summer of 2008 I was hired to represent the promotions department of a ( sadly ) now defunct family theme park called The Nut Tree. The park was based in Vacaville, CA, but my job was to serve in a cross-promotion with Jelly Belly Factory in Fairfield, CA. It was at this site that I handed Nut Tree brochures and coupons to folks as they entered the visitor center. This was the hub of all activity sweet and nice as people stood in queue for the free factory tours and perused the tempting treats at the Jelly Belly store. After day one of my tenure I came up with a distinctly different mode of operation for my internship. I approached my supervisor about the value of my doing simple tap dance steps as people filed into the visitor center. I could get their attention in an unexpected way, and, by association, The Nut Tree would stand to benefit. Win win! My supervisor complied. “Grab your tap shoes” was her reply, and I didn’t hesitate. From there on I regaled all the Jelly Belly visitors with my footwork. One man, sensing ( I suppose ) that I was a fake, challenged me to do a soft-shoe. Happy to oblige, I met his challenge. He offered a smile and a, “Good job, you do know your stuff!”. I am sorry that the little theme park is not available to the public any longer. A more valued component to my college education could not have existed for me. Had it not been for my forward-thinking supervisor, Jelly Belly granting me the dance space, and my own two feet, this very unique opportunity would not have come to fruition.
May 25th. Represents a very special date for those of us who don shoes with metal plates affixed to the bottom. In 1989, the U.S. Congress designated May 25 as National Tap Dance Day. Bill “Bojangles” Robinson was a performer/dancer who back in the day tapped happily alongside one of our other icons, Shirley Temple. This day is set aside to honor him on his birthday. Perhaps the most memorable sequence in their partnered performances shown in her movies was the stairstep number in The Little Colonel. In this scene, Shirley and Mr. Robinson tap up and down a staircase. Very rhythmic, very impressive! And, so, we tap dancers ( and others who just appreciate the craft ) are honored to share this unique remembrance with a most gifted and talented hoofer, the namesake of our day.
And so I come full circle. To go on the green is my ticket out of town. Stationed at the traffic light, I get the go-ahead. Now I can have adventures in any city that I can drive to in my cute little car. Nothing stands in my way. Not even astronomical gas prices. If it were to come down to a choice between parting with cash for gas in my car, or, food to fuel myself with, I’ll go with the gas in my car tank. Oh, I’ve heard others say they’d just as soon be hooked up to a saline drip as they sleep then to have to prepare food and eat it. That’s radical but in keeping with what’s important. Gotta go.
Finally, surround yourself with what brings you joy. My colorful house is replete with just that. I am the decorator, as I suspect most women are, and my house screams me. That’s right, it screams in bright yellow, lavendar, burnt orange and 11 other colors from the color spectrum. My son has said that it had taken on the characteristics of a clown house. What better clown to live here than his mom! But, this is what I know for certain. Surrounding oneself with what makes you feel comforted is fundamental. Special photos such as a commencement snapshot displaying two toothy grins ( my classmate joined me in the frame ) heralding graduation status of a 53 year-old coed. When I look at that photo and the accomplishment it represents, joy doesn’t begin to cover it. There are collections of artwork created by my sister, my mother and my favorite cousin. Three of the most talented people I know. Mementos of my son’s involvement in the theatre. First rate actor on the way up. A picture of my other son and his Japanese girlfriend here to spend her first Christmas in the states as they visited San Francisco. These and many other meaningful statements of lives well lived are all about in my house. My joy.
Life gets real…and it gets real tough at times. I don’t profess to have all-encompassing wisdom to tell others how to engage themselves in this life. I offer observations and a few heartfelt suggestions of ways in which we might come out on top in spite of the mess that we sometimes make. I know about mess. I understand chaos. I’ve been visited by calamity. I would like to possess that sometimes elusive calm. But, most of all I intend to wait just long enough to go on the green when my turn is up.