OCTOBER 5, 2007


It's been a quiet week on the Island, our Hometown set here on the edge of the San Francisco Bay. There are other islands plopped into the Bay, but none quite like this one. In other parts of California, signs of the impending weather changes occur great and subtle, but here we note the high fog staying longer each day and all the staffers who hail from SoCal refuse to put away their shorts and huaraches. Mr. Peepers, the tree squirrel, has been digging up the yard like some avid 49er hunting for El Dorado, as if the weather really might change for the worse. Better to be prepared just in case.

Down in Pasadena, all the maples and oaks along the drive to the Huntington have started to turn remarkable colors, but -- pause to check -- the maple across the street still appears a robust green and all the oaks along Santa Clara still wave their leafy bundles, even though piles of brown scatters are collecting for the street sweeper to take up and the evenings get a tang in the air as folks fire up the hearths. Boxes of Presto logs have appeared at Wongs Drugs, replacing potting soil, and the entire gardening section vanished one night, to be supplanted by racks of bats, skeletons and webby ghosts.

When you live in a place like California, and on an Island set in the Bay, the changes of the seasons are subtle. It takes a certain kind of soul to pay attention, and pay attention we must, otherwise time passes, the sky clouds over and suddenly rain pelts down with divine vengeance, washing you and yours away. Some people think that California is a lotus land of ease and shallow contentment, lax values and moral decay. Well, like many places there is some of that. Sally, a dark-haired girl moved away one year to go live in New York City, there to become an investment banker.

Oh to be young and live in the World Metropolis where men move darkly with neatly pressed powerful suits, patrician heads among the marbles. And women wearing the latest mode from Paris, holding long stemmed cocktail glasses containing fluids of neon red or blue, talking about smart, intelligent things. In New York City, when you are young and have a job, something is happening every hour of the day and the world is far more interesting than that dull provincial place where the common language is Spanish instead of elegant French, where the unruly democratic masses trample elegance, where people are so into recycling plastics, where Uncle Joe parks his fishing boat on the street to irritate the neighbors, where people actually reuse trash-bags.

But something happened to Sally in New York City. When we saw her last, she had rings under her eyes and looked pale. She was thinking about moving back, she said. Seems one day, quite in the middle of the day, she was walking along near the Avenue of the Americas when she tripped and fell down. Quite hard in fact. A young man stopped and she thought to herself, how nice, he is going to help me up.

He didn't help her up. He grabbed her purse and ran off with it. And when she struggled to stand up, someone walking by brushed against her and she fell down again. And the person who brushed against her just kept on walking. And she sat there while people walked by her, each going about his and her business, not paying any attention to the woman on the ground there and she thought about her life in New York City up to that moment.

Truth was, her squalid 10th floor walkup apartment, cost so much she had not the money to go out and do the things she had imagined she would do. Instead, she spent most of her time, seven am to nine pm each day working to pay for the apartment which had seven bolts on the door. The only parties with colored cocktails she had been to had been business affairs in which the conversation had been about the exchange rate, the market and the evils of the Democratic Party. And instead of a stream of wonderful lovers, she had had one single affair which had ended in a shouting match in a restaurant, at the end of which, she had been stuck with the bill.

She got herself up and hobbled over to a bench. And right then she started to cry.

In the National Statuary Hall Collection in Washington D.C., each state is allowed two statues of important people who stand there to represent each respective state, its founding and its character. California has a statue of Junipero Serra, the Franciscan friar who established the Mission system that helped to colonize California for the Europeans. The other statue is that of Thomas Starr King, a person many do not recall, but a man who best exemplifies California over all others, and a most wise choice, although this choice might not stand for all time.

Mr. King was a man of rectitude, hard work far beyond anything the hardest worker knows today, a great orator, and a kind heart. He was a Unitarian Minister. He is there because he threw himself into the cause of preserving California as a state free from slavery, and as a solid member of the Union of the United States of America. He is the only man who still possesses a public grave in a cemetary in San Francisco. It's right there on Franklin Street, near the heart of downtown at Geary/Van Ness. Rev. King essentially saved the Union during the Civil War, by defeating the Southern Copperheads with persuasive language, and was acknowledged posthumously by Abraham Lincoln for having done so. King knew that the way to capture California was to go to the heart of the common man, and so he wore himself out travelling up and down the Sierra foothills, to Sacremento, and down to Los Angeles, stopping only when his heart gave out.

Thomas Starr King is a far more appropriate symbol of the Golden State than any other Ronnie Come-Lately pretender.

It is night now. And the House of Blues is coming to an end, with Joan Armitrading on as guest. From far across the water comes the ululating wail of the through-passing train as it wends its way from the Port through Jack London Waterfront. All is peaceful for a short time as the fog wisps around the stanchions of the Fruitvale Bridge with the dark towers of the attached train trestle ramping upwards.

The trestle is an anachronism, for neither end connects any more to tracks. Oakland tore up the last feeder lines a few months ago on its side, but our Council refuses to do away with the old trestle, hoping some day that the trains will run again as they did that day when the celebration train rolled across after the transamerican railway got completed before the Oakland terminus had been completed. So for a short time, our humble Island held the honor of Western Terminus of the Transamerican Railway -- a floating fixed point binding the Union together.

Its rather like us to hang on to these anachronisms: Edwardian Houses, art deco signs, bridges to nowhere, antique fantods that travel from garage sale to garage sale and so house to house, ties that bind.

From far across the water, regular as clockwork, the late night express horn ululates across the estuary from where it travels through the dark and shuttered streets along Jack London Waterfront, right past Heinholds Last Chance Saloon, calling and calling again and again like a distant ghost.

Come on home, Sally. Come on home.

That's the way it is on the Island. Have a great week.