Happy Accidents/MBFA

“Seriously. If you think you know what’s going on and why, you might be wrong.” – Martha Kennedy

My friend Martha wrote of “a bizarre concatenation of events” and reminded me of how often what happens has nothing to do with our plans. Bob Ross (the painter) says there are no mistakes in painting, just “happy accidents”. Everyone who has ever lived with anyone else has roommate horror stories. Together, those reminded me of a story…

Most of the roommates I have lived with were friends (before, during, and after). I lived with strangers after returning from Nicaragua. I left my car with a friend in Los Gatos, CA while I spent 6 months studying in Mexico, working in Nicaragua, then traveling in Guatemala and Mexico. He generously let me stay with him while I figured out what was next.

I found a job plumbing in San Francisco. That being 50 miles from Los Gatos, I had to find a place to live – and fast. I went to a place called “Roommate Referral” and collected some numbers to call. As it was nearing dinnertime, I decided to eat first, then call a few places. I ate in a Chinese restaurant in the Haight and, after eating, opened my fortune cookie. It was oddly specific – “You will be married in less than a year.” That seemed weird enough to stick in my wallet for future reference, or at least to laugh over with friends.

There was a phone booth right outside. I spread out my stuff in the booth to make a few calls. The first one was not someone I moved in with. It was someone I married and raised two children with. We missed the cookie deadline by a few years.

The someone I moved in with was charming. I learned that “charming” is often a synonym for “sociopathic”. It was a very cool house, atop a steep hill overlooking Market Street. When the 49ers won the Super Bowl, we had a bird’s eye view from our deck of the impromptu parade and party below. I lived in a garage – not a room above a garage – an actual garage. There was a bathroom and tiny sleeping loft in back, so the bulk of the garage was a sitting room, with a futon couch that I could use as a bed if someone slept over. The night I looked at the room, they offered to let me stay in it so I wouldn’t have to drive back to Los Gatos and then back to SF in the morning to continue my house hunting. They even laid out towels. It was the only place I’ve ever been evicted from. The story is not worth retelling. Suffice to say I think my rent money went up that charming person’s nose rather than to the landlady. I won a judgment in small claims court; but that and a few bucks will buy you a cup of coffee.

I found a new place in answer to an ad that I misread as “we are women in our 40s with a toddler”. I figured I was moving in with a middle-aged Lesbian couple. They were offering reduced rent in exchange for maintenance work. Being a plumber and former maintenance director of a large housing project, I figured I fit the bill. The house was a beautiful Victorian. My bedroom ceiling was 14 feet high. The first floor ceilings were higher. What does 14 feet mean? I hung my bikes from hooks in the ceiling. I needed a system of ropes and pulleys to get them up and down. I hung one bike over my bedroom door and the door swung with feet to spare.

It turned out to be one woman and a toddler, but I got to live with a delightful child with whom I continued a relationship after moving out, and I visited them again when he was 20 or so. It was also the experience that convinced me that I did not want to raise kids in San Francisco.

We lived around the corner from the Castro Theatre, which featured old movies with a majestic theatre organ. Each night, the organ would rise from the floor for a pre-film concert. As the lights went down and the film came on, the organ would slowly sink back into the floor as the organist played “San Francisco (Open Your Golden Gate)” with a rousing sing-along. Since much of my work was in the Castro, it was perfect.

When our child was born we decided to move (back, for me) to Wisconsin. I called a friend to tell her and she asked, “Do you remember M’s house?” I didn’t really, but it was across the street from my friend. I called the landlady and she was highly skeptical of a “young couple” (we were in our 40s) with an infant, moving from San Francisco without jobs. It was looking bad until she took down my name and asked, “Are you related to G?” [my father]. When I said yes, we were suddenly okay. She had known (of) him 50 years ago. Clearly we were not fly-by-nights if we were related to someone still in town after 50 years. We rented the place sight unseen. When I arrived with the truck, towing the car on a trailer, my neighbor met me with a beer and said “Dinner is in ten minutes.” We lived there for two years until another neighbor, tired of shoveling snow and here it was only November, put her house up for sale. It had been in the family for 80 years. We moved out the back door of one house, across the street, and into the front door of the other. We’ve been here for 25 years.

MBFA (Make Bicycling Fun Again)

Since last Sunday’s fiasco, in which I cramped nearly every muscle in both legs, I’ve ridden about 150 mostly hilly miles; and I had fun doing it. It helped that it’s 20 degrees cooler. We climbed about 5000 feet today. Between Wednesday night and today, we hit most of the hills that make people tremble. Again, I let the fast group go, and fell in with a group of 10-15 heading out of town. After a few climbs, I didn’t see most of them until we stopped to refill bottles about 40 miles in. Once we left the rest stop, I saw two people the rest of the way. That’s what being half-fast does to you – too slow for the fast folks, too fast for the others. Since I’ve ridden mostly alone since the pandemic, it was pretty normal. I didn’t get lost until heading into Middleton, which has grown so much in the last 10-20 years that I can never find my way in or out of it. Luckily I found someone to follow.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, And had to backtrack when I got lost. (With apologies to Robert Frost)

Happy Birthday, Lawrence Ferlinghetti (belated due to technical difficulties)

New Directions Publishing

I still remember the first time poetry made an impact on me. I was probably a high school freshman. I was reading Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Today (March 24, 2019), Mr Ferlinghetti turned 100. (If my mom were alive, she’d be a couple of months older than he…beyond that, I can’t think of anything they’d have in common.) He is not only a great poet, but runs one of the world’s great bookstores – City Lights, in San Francisco.

It was the day I learned of the power of language and the economy of words. The poem also became the climax of my best radio show: a 3.5 hour program called “Music and Poetry of San Francisco”. I showed up at the studio with a stack of books and records, a loose outline in mind. Each piece led to the next. I found the momentum building. Songs and poems started to choose themselves. The show ended with the Jefferson Airplane’s “Volunteers” and Ferlinghetti’s “Tentative Description of a Dinner Given to Promote the Impeachment of President Eisenhower”. As usual, the show wasn’t recorded, so you’ll have to take my word for it.


Try as I might, I can’t manage to upload the poem in a legible manner. The link above will take you to the poem. As for the Airplane, I already linked to that song in https://halffastcyclingclub.wordpress.com/2018/12/10/

You can go back there to hear it again. To recreate that experience from 1977 or so, pull up the poem link, read, and fade from one to the other.

And I think we just had our last snow of the season; five months after our first snow of the season in this odd, split polar vortex year. I was in La Crosse, WI for the weekend. There was snow on the ground and on the roofs up there. As we entered Madison, flurries welcomed us home. Crocus poking up through the snow look like spring. Daffodils through the snow just look sad.

get outta town!

Most of my riding for fun is on back roads. When I lived in California I tended to ride up narrow, poorly-paved, switchback-laden roads that cars tended to avoid. At climbing speed, poor pavement wasn’t a big issue. I rode down well-paved highways with broad, sweeping turns.

Sanchez St
Dead end of Sanchez Street, one of the ways you can’t get to Cumberland Street.

In Santa Clara I could ride a very short distance from home and be climbing in the Santa Cruz mountains. I just tried to get a photo of one of those roads on Google Street View –  there are no photos available, so I guess they couldn’t get their car up or down it. The other images on this page are from Google Maps. In San Francisco I discovered urban riding. I lived at the top of a hill that was steep enough that, on three sides, the streets dead-ended in steep stairways (left). There was only one street that made it up the hill to my house. I didn’t ride my bike when I first moved there, thinking it was too steep.

Vermont St
Vermont Street, less famous than Lombard Street, but no straighter

One day I couldn’t take it anymore, so I rode to work. Coming back up that hill was fun and easier than anticipated, so I started riding a lot more. I found streets in the neighborhood where you had to park perpendicular to traffic (bottom) due to the steep grade. I discovered the not-so-famous second crookedest street in the world (right). I had to be on call for work some weekends, so didn’t want to leave town, but still wanted to ride my bike. I realized that I could ride the “49 mile Scenic Drive” (below) and get in a 50 mile bike ride without ever straying more than about 10 miles from work or home.

The 49 mile scenic drive

I later tried venturing farther afield on weekends, as I wasn’t getting many calls. I had a great ride out on Point Reyes before I found there was a paging dead area out there. Had I been paged I would have ridden blissfully unaware all day. (Since I headed this “get outta town” I thought I’d better put in a word about riding out of town. Really, I guess the point of this post is that you don’t have to get outta town to have a good time on a bike.)

Hill St
Hill Street, one of the steeper streets in the neighborhood

I’m not sure why I’m writing about San Francisco this week – maybe it’s because the temperature has been below zero for most of the last two weeks as I write this in early January. San Francisco, by comparison, is fairly warm this time of year. (Though not so much in the summer. You have probably heard the line misattributed to Mark Twain: “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” While there is no evidence Twain said it, and it was apparently initially a reference to Duluth, I can attest that it can get pretty cold in the summer in San Francisco. I made note of the date one evening when I went for a walk in the neighborhood. It was July 29. I was wearing my winter coat, hat, scarf, and gloves, and was chilled to the bone. A cold ocean fog was blowing in and a wind tunnel had formed down my street. I knew what Twain, or someone, meant.)

P.S. Signs that it might actually be spring: the loons have headed north, replaced by coots;

terrace chairs
John Hart, Wisconsin State Journal

hyacinths, daffodils, and irises finally blooming, a dozen hammocks hanging behind Kronshage Hall; tables and chairs are back on the Union Terrace!