Tag Archives: San Mateo

Monday evening en route to Millbrae

I’m trying very hard to cut down on my driving, so when I needed to go to Berkeley last night, I decided to take CalTrain commuter rail to the Millbrae station, and transfer there to BART for the rest of the trip.

After we left the San Mateo station, we were scheduled to go express to Millbrae, so I got up to stand near the doors. Not far from the San Mateo station, the train came to a dead stop. I looked out the window, and we weren’t near any station.

Then one of the train crew made an announcement over the public address system: “Ahh, we are stopped here because the train has just hit a white male,” he said. His voice sounded a little unsteady. “We’ll have to stay here until the police come….” The man was under the fifth car of the train.

I sat back down again. Years ago, I was on the train heading into Boston when the train hit someone, and we had to wait for over an hour before we got going again. I remembered hearing then that the police treated the train as a crime scene, which they had to document before the train could move again.

I sat and read a book. Every once in a while, a member of the train crew would walk up or down the aisle with expressions that ranged from blank to unhappy and sick at heart. After a while, I saw police and EMTs walk by. They did not hurry, so I assumed the man was dead. A member of the train crew announced that we would have to wait for the coroner to come and make his investigation. We waited. A couple of southbound trains passed on the other track; there had been no trains moving at first, but now the dispatcher was letting the southbound trains go. I saw more police walk by, and a couple of people with the word “Sheriff” on the back of their shirts. We waited. I saw Amtrak personnel (I guess Amtrak had the contract to run CalTrain’s service) walked by, wearing hard hats and carrying clipboards.

Around me, people were talking. You could tell that we were all thinking about the recent spate of CalTrain suicides, and we were all thinking that this must have been another suicide. Some northbound trains passed us on the other track. Finally, more than an hour after we had stopped, the announcement came that we had a new train crew on board — presumably the other train crew had to stay to answer police questions — and we got underway.

I felt crummy the rest of the evening. It was like passing a really bad accident on the highway, only worse because I was pretty sure that whoever had died had committed suicide. In a way, committing suicide by throwing yourself under a train is an incredibly selfish thing to do — from the expressions of the CalTrain crew, you could tell that they were sickened by what had happened. And what a horrible way to go. I couldn’t get rid of the bad feeling all evening.

Cell phone conversations

Standing waiting for the train this morning, I became aware of a young man walking towards me, talking on his cell phone. I glanced at him: in his twenties, long black t-shirt with a fanciful design over his belly, long black shorts down to his knees, a set weatherbeaten face with a little bit of facial hair, intense dark eyes with bags under them.

He was speaking quite loudly and forcefully into his cell phone: “…and she’s on probation too, and she’s like, oh my God I’m going to jail I’m going to jail, and so I…”

Fortunately he walked by me so I could stop listening to his story.

A word about practicing

The people next door to us host a drumming group. The drummers are practicing tonight. They are not very good. They are trying to do polyrhythms, but when you’re doing polyrhythms you have to be really precise or your drumming drifts in and out of chaos, which is what they’re doing. I understand that this is what one has to do when practicing, and I understand that drums are loud, but the least they could do is close the windows so the rest of the neighborhood doesn’t have to listen to their mistakes. But too many amateur musicians are so enamored of themselves that they forget how excruciating their practice is to others.

I experienced this phenomenon this past summer at a summer conference. A young man was trying to learn a guitar part from a recording. He sat in one of the common rooms of the conference center. He played little bits from the recording, and then tried to work out the guitar solo. I’m sure that inside his head it all sounded so wonderful, but to me it was just painful to listen to the same little recorded bits over and over, and then hear him make the same mistakes over and over. Most amateur musicians are considerate and practice in private; but the ones who aren’t, and don’t, are really annoying.

On the sidewalk

I’m sitting in a coffee shop in downtown San Mateo. There are two young women with clipboards standing just outside the door, accosting people as they walk down the sidewalk. They probably have some petition to sign. No, I take it back, they are giving out some kind of brochure or newsletter. One of the young women has stopped someone, and she is talking as fast as she can, making lots of eye contact, opening her notebook.

I can’t quite read their t-shirts, but I have this feeling they are asking for donations. I’m ready to leave, so now I must plot my exit strategy. I’ll wait until one or both of them is talking to someone, put my head down so my hat brim hides my eyes, and stride purposefully out the door. Now if I were with Carol, she would make a point of talking to them, because as a former newspaper reporter she is always curious about things like this. But I’m a soft touch, and I know it, and I don’t want to give any money to any more causes, so I will try to get out of here without making eye contact with these two young women.

Wish me luck. Here I go.


We put up a hummingbird feeder a couple of weeks ago. I had been hearing hummingbirds calling all around our apartment, I had even seen a few whiz by, but I hadn’t really seen any up close. I filled the feeder with the sugar solution that is recommended to attract hummingbirds, and hoped that maybe one or two would come once in a long while so I could better look at them.

This morning, I sat at our kitchen table reading and looking up at the hummingbird feeder. There was at least one hummingbird there every five minutes. A couple of times, two of them came at the same time, and then one would chase the other away — even though there’s room for three hummingbirds to feed at the feeder, they apparently don’t like to share.

Although it’s hard to see the hummingbirds clearly enough to identify them because the light comes from behind them, the ones I could identify clearly have all been Anna’s Hummingbirds (Calypte anna). I’ve seen at least one female and at least one male. Anna’s Hummingbirds are supposed to be year-round residents in this part of the world, so with luck we’ll have hummingbirds visiting our feeder all year long.


I’ve been reading Weather of the San Francisco Bay Region by Harold Gilliam, who says that in this area, if you don’t like the weather, you can walk or drive a short distance to find weather more to your liking. “Fishermen along the fog-shrouded coast of Marin County on a summer day may be shivering in the low fifties while people in San Rafael, ten miles east, bask in comfortable 70-degree weather,” writes Gilliam, “and residents of ranches at the edge of the Sacramento Valley, another 40 miles east, mop their brows as the thermometer hits 100 — a temperature difference of 50 degrees in 50 miles.”

I have noticed that it is generally cooler at home in San Mateo than it is at church in Palo Alto. At our apartment in San Mateo this morning, it was perhaps 60 degrees, with low stratus clouds overhead, and a chilly breeze blowing. I put on my fuzzy fleece jacket and walked over to the train station. After a 30-minute ride, I got off the train at the San Antonio station in Palo Alto, 17 miles to the southeast, and it was sunny and in the 70s.