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Bay Area trip

We spent five days in the San Francisco Bay Area week before last. I grew up in Oakland, so coming back is almost always a good thing. The green of the hills, the sun bouncing off the bay, and the salt tang in the air all make me happy.

BART stations seem much quieter than when I lived there because everyone is listening to music, reading, or engrossed in something on a cell phone. I remember more noise and more discussions, so the silence was almost eerie. I may be misremembering, but I think people used to talk more. I’m not sure if it’s a positive or negative change. It’s nice to not have to listen to the drama of someone’s aunt’s sister-in-law’s two boyfriends, but at the same time I feel like some of what makes us human, our connections to each other, is getting lost.

I had forgotten how many people live and work here. There’s a constant hum once I step out onto the street. Traffic, footsteps, horns, construction, yelling, laughing, and the other noises made by thousands of people moving through the day are sometimes overwhelming. At home I go out running early in the morning and it’s quiet. There are few cars and fewer people. In big cities, there are always a lot of people moving and talking and out. I went walking at lunch, two or three miles, and my body started adjusting to the large numbers of people almost without having to think about it. Walk past someone, careful not to bump them, then slide abck into the flow. Head up, watching everything, though these days I’m watching out of curiosity rather than paranoia. The first day I felt off balance and out of step; by the second day I felt more like a fish in a school, not standing out as much. I still got funny looks, mostly for my shoes, but I didn’t feel out of place in this multicultural hodgepodge of people.

There are many reasons to live in a larger city again. I miss having a better art, music, and dance scene. I would love to have a wider variety of restaurants. I like the energy in big cities. At the same time, I like the relative quiet of where we live now. I’m not sure how we will balance that out in the future. I’d like Katja to grow up in a place where she doesn’t stand out a lot unless she chooses to, and the bigger cities can provide that. I’d also like to be able to expose her to a wide variety of experiences, which is easier in a city. I think an ideal situation would be to live within reasonable driving distance of a big city; we could go in to see performances and eat good food, but there would be a balance, too, of more space and fewer people. I would also really enjoy living in a high rise apartment in the middle of downtown, though, and visiting wide open spaces on weekends.

In other words, the future is wide open, but I think medium or small cities are not going to be places we will seek out in the future.

Hover factor

We just got back from a road trip. I really enjoy road trips because there is so much time to relax, talk, listen to interesting music or audiobooks, and, at least in my case, sleep. Xander is very nice about letting me sleep whenever I need to. By the time we go on a road trip, it has generally been so long since the last vacation that I am rather exhausted. Knowing that I will be able to doze in the car is comforting.

I will write about the good parts of the road trip later, but today I have a different subject in mind. Road trips do come with their own challenges, and one that I dread is the assignment of hover factor. If the drive is one we’ve taken before, I know where we can stop to avoid a high hover factor. This time we were driving a route with which we were not completely familiar, so there were a couple of very disturbing restrooms.

Hover factor is a measurement of how awful the bathrooms are, specifically how little I am willing to touch anything. If I look at the toilet and I am unwilling to touch any part of it with any part of me, that’s a high hover factor. If I walk in and my feet stick to the floor, even a little bit, the hover factor measurement ratchets up. If I have to look in more than one stall to find one without strange substances on the walls, that’s a very high hover factor. There have been a few times in my life that I’ve elected to drive an extra several miles to get to a place that doesn’t make me gag as I walk through the door.

I am not very picky. I do not require extreme cleanliness in gas station bathrooms, and I certainly do not expect it. I do, however, much prefer bathrooms which do not induce nausea or an urge to cover every possible surface I might touch with toilet paper and paper towels, several layers thick.

One bathroom from the most recent trip was actually quite nice. It was a restaurant (and before you say that restaurants generally have nicer bathrooms, be aware that I have been in a few restaurant bathrooms that made me decide not to eat at the establishment) and, when I walked into the bathroom, I was greeted with a faint scent of bleach. The floors were pristine, every stall had toilet paper, and I did not worry about touching the faucet handles.

I’m sounding rather neurotic, I know. All of this stems, I think, from port-a-potties when I was little. We would go to various events and I would have a very hard time dealing with the smell, the flies, the heat, and the splashes where other people either didn’t aim very well or were, um, overenthusiastic. One that I remember with particular horror had a handprint on the wall. I do not know what substance was used to make the handprint, but considering the color and the surroundings, I can make a pretty good guess. I can go into a port-a-potty if I need to, and I can use it, but that is where the hover factor measurement began.

When we are driving to Arizona, we almost always stop at the Death Valley Nut and Candy Company. We get gas, since that particular drive does not have many options for gas, and I use the bathroom there because they have a very low hover factor. I can walk in, do what I need to do, wash my hands, and walk out without even once being tempted to check the bottom of my shoe to see what foreign substance may have become attached.

If you are ever in a position in which you own a place with bathrooms, be aware that you will be judged on those bathrooms, and, if the quality is lacking, if the hover factor is too high, you will lose customers. There are a few places I absolutely will not stop for gas even if I don’t need a bathroom because my memory of the desperate wish to be able to avoid touching anything at all is so incredibly strong.

A good start

Today was the first step in something pretty neat. We bought tickets to the Nutcracker. That does not seem like a big deal, on the surface. We’ve both seen the Nutcracker before, and, while we do enjoy it, it’s May. Why would I get this excited about tickets seven months from now?

Well, because the tickets are for a performance at the Sydney Opera House.

We’re going to Australia. We’ve been planning this for a while, but this step is the first tangible evidence that we’re actually going. Now that we have Nutcracker tickets, I feel like it’s real. I know we will actually get there, one way or another, and I’m incredibly excited.

While I’ve been to Canada and Mexico, I’ve never been farther than that. I don’t even have a passport (although that will change soon!) and, for a while, I wasn’t sure I would ever get to travel much. We’ve started to get to the point, though, that we will actually have both the time and the money to travel. We have a long list of places we’d like to go, and we will probably actually get to most, if not all, of them. Possibilities are opening up, and I think I may actually get to see some more of the world.

Tonight I filled out my passport application, and I will send it in soon. It’s a new beginning, a piece of joy and exploration to look forward to. It’s a start.

I keep moving forward and I keep looking for joy. I’m finding it in unexpected and wonderful places. I am generally happy, and when the bad moments hit, I have these pieces to hold to help me through. My husband can make me laugh at the strangest times, our dog is always happy to see us, and the cats are always happy to have a warm lap.

It’s a good start.