Towed away

Yesterday Ned and Judy, who belong to a congregation I used to serve, were in town visiting relatives. I was supposed to meet them for lunch at the church down in Palo Alto. Bay Area traffic being what it is, I allowed an extra ten minutes beyond the usual twenty-five minutes driving time. But when I walked down from our apartment, I saw that someone had parked their car at the end of our driveway. I couldn’t get out.

I called the police. They wanted to know what kind of car it was, and I told them it was an older model Toyota Camry, dark green, and gave them the license plate number. I didn’t bother telling them about the statue of the Virgin Mary on the dashboard. They said they’d send someone right out.

I called the church, and Debra said she’d leave a note on my office door saying that I would be down as soon as I could get there. Then I stood there waiting, and hoping that whoever owned the car would come along right then, and I’d tell them that they really shouldn’t park in someone’s driveway, and they’d look embarrassed and drive away — that would be the fastest solution to my problem.

After about fifteen minutes, one of the city’s little three-wheeled traffic enforcement vehicles rolled around the corner. The traffic officer, a pleasant, soft-spoken young man, shook his head when he saw where the car had parked. He radioed for a tow truck. Continue reading “Towed away”

Memorial Day

Carol and I went to Wisnom’s hardware store across the street. I had to get some supplies for this Sunday’s Judean Village project in the Sunday school, and she went just because it’s an interesting place.

One of the guys who works there who knows us asked if I was finding what I was looking for. I said I was, and then asked why there were so few people in the store.

“Maybe because Easter was Sunday,” he said. “Maybe because school vacation’s this week. Maybe because Chinese Memorial Day’s tomorrow.”

“Chinese Memorial Day?” I said.

“April 5,” he said, “solar holiday, so it’s the same day every year. On Chinese Memorial Day, everyone goes to family graves. I went yesterday.” He bowed to an imaginary grave. “There will be lots of people up at Skylawn cemetery tomorrow. Flowers everywhere.”

We started talking about visiting graves, from a New England and a Chinese perspective. I wanted to hear more about Chinese Memorial Day, but Carol had to get back to work, so we cut our conversation short.

Ching Ming Festival

Click the Chinese characters above for photos of this year’s Ching Ming Festival in Skylawn cemetery.


I like the contrast between colors that occurs at dusk when the sky turns a deep blue at about the same time that yellow-orange sodium vapor and incandescent lights turn on. I was enjoying this phenomenon a couple of evenings ago when I noticed that a nearby traffic light periodically turned some of the shadows red:


The implications of living in a multiethnic neighborhood

Carol and I live in a multiethnic neighborhood. Based on income, class, and cultural attitude, the people in our neighborhood are just the kind of people who would come to a Unitarian Universalist congregation. I’ll give a brief description of our neighborhood, and then based on our experience of living in our neighborhood I’ll tell you why I think they wouldn’t be welcome in most Unitarian Universalist congregations.

The people across the street are white, and the family has been living in the same house since it was built in the 1890s. The house next to us on one side was recently purchased by an immigrant Russian couple, and we often hear them speaking Russian to their Pug dog. Down the street are several houses and apartments with Latino families; the ones we know about are Mexican. There used to be a couple of African Americans living down the block, but I ahven’t seen them for a while. We see east Asian people walking down our street, and based on their looks (an unreliable way of determining ethnicity), I’d guess some of them are probably Filipino, Chinese, and Japanese.

The people in our neighborhood have a variety of professions. We know there are several gardeners in the neighborhood not just because our landlord hires one of them to take care of the yard, but also because they park their pickup trucks on the street. We know of an architect, an artist, a college student, and a test driver who tries out new cars. We all learned there was a child pornographer, but he’s in jail now. There’s a stay-at-home mom, a school bus driver who parks his bus on the street when he comes home for lunch, and several people who walk to the Caltrain station dressed in business casual. Continue reading “The implications of living in a multiethnic neighborhood”

In the train station

Carol and I were walking through the San Mateo train station late at night, on our way home. It was very quiet. I looked down, and there was a playing card on the platform, face down.

“A playing card,” I said. “Let’s see what it is.”

I bent down and turned it over.

“Five of clubs,” I said. “That means good luck.” That’s the kind of thing my mother used to say: she’d see some random thing, and say that it meant good luck.

“You just made that up,” said Carol.

“Not me,” I said.


Last night, Carol and I were out for our nightly walk. We were talking about the various challenges and problems of the day, when we heard a crash behind us. We both spun around, and saw something had happened two or three blocks back along San Mateo Drive.

“Dan!” said Carol. “Do you have your cell phone? you better call 911.”

It looked like a motorcycle had crashed. It looked bad, but I was reluctant to call 911, only to have them get mad at me because it was only a fender bender. We started jogging towards the crash; I punched “911” into my phone and was ready to hit the send button; but before we had gone a block, we could see that a police car had already arrived at the site.

By the time we got to the crash site, we could see a cop standing over someone lying on the sidewalk, shining a flashlight on whoever it was. Her police car was parked so as to block two and a half of the four lanes of San Mateo Drive. The motorcycle was lying on its side a hundred feet down the road from where the person was lying, and pieces of it were scattered across the roadway. Then it looked to me like the cop stood up suddenly and took a step back.

Soon, another police car arrived and parked next to the first police car, and the first cop moved her car and parked it across the other end of the block. Then two more police cars arrived. We started walking away, wondering why there were so many police cars coming. I called out to the first cop as we walked by, “We heard the crash but we didn’t see anything”; and Carol added, “But there were no other cars.” The cop, in a shaken voice, replied, “No, it was a solo.”

As we walked home, we talked about what we had seen. Why had that cop arrived at the scene so soon? Had she been chasing the motorcycle? It looked like they were treating it as a crime scene; was the motorcyclist dead? Two fire engines went down San Mateo Drive towards the crash; then another police car; then, at long last, an ambulance. We had completely stopped talking about the various problems and challenges of the day; the crash had put things into a different perspective.

There was nothing in the news about the crash. Tonight, we walked by the crash scene, but we couldn’t see anything. We’ll probably never know what really happened.


My friend and fellow blogger E wrote a brief post on the magnitude 5.8 earthquake that hit Washington, D.C.: nothing was broken, the cats were scared, a few things fell. And as I started reading her post, sure enough Carol and felt a small magnitude 3.9 earthquake* here in San Mateo: there was a little bit of a noise, the house shook noticeably for about five seconds, and it was over. E ends her post by saying: “What a great reminder that we cannot change much of what happens, but we have a choice in how we behave in response.”

* Later downgraded to 3.6.


I had to drive up to San Francisco early this afternoon. When I left Palo Alto, it was sunny and warm. Heading north on highway 101, when I got to San Mateo I started seeing low clouds to the north. By the time I got to San Francisco, the sky was gray, and some people were driving with their headlights on.

In San Francisco, it was cloudy, damp, and down to 60 degrees, a good ten degrees cooler than it had been in Palo Alto, with a bracing northwest wind. You could sense the huge old mass of water in the Pacific Ocean just a few miles away.

At 4:30 I drove back to San Mateo along Interstate 280, around the Pacific Ocean side of San Bruno Mountain, and then up into the hills of the Coastal Range. Fingers of fog were creeping over the mountains, winding down through the tree-covered hills around Crystal Springs, but the sun evaporated them before they got very far.

When I arrived home in San Mateo, it was sunny and warm. But almost as soon as the sun set, the fog drifted over the Coastal Range, and became low clouds that now cover the sky above us. The temperature is down to 60 degrees, and outside it feels like it did in San Francisco this afternoon: cloudy, damp, and cool.

Summer fog

The summertime morning fog has begun rolling in again. I came vaguely awake early this morning as a morning bus turned the corner at the traffic light below our bedroom. The light was dim and diffuse, and I knew that the fog was hanging a few hundred feet over San Mateo, blocking the sun. There’s cold water welling up from the depths of the Pacific on the other side of the Coastal Range,. It’s making a huge fog bank every morning, and every morning some of that fog drifts inland. In San Francisco, and on the coast side of the hills to the west of us, the fog might be at ground level, but here in downtown San Mateo it hangs above us as low clouds. I love the summertime morning fog. By mid-day, the fog will disperse, exposing us to the relentless California sunshine, and most afternoons the San Mateo Gale will start whipping through town. But summer mornings are dim and cool.