Monthly Archives: March 2015

Alameda On The Move

Amblin’ Alameda

Alameda On The Move

Morton Chalfy

To get to an unusually early appointment this morning I was up and out of the house by 7:30 a.m. Okay, you can cut out the derisive laughter now, those whose days are well under way by that time, and try to remember that some of us don’t usually rise until a later hour and that we’re not slackers but retirees and the like.

At any rate I didn’t mind the hour as the sun was well up, the air was pleasant and the street I live on was full of kids going to school. Elementary school kids walking one way and High Schoolers the other. The arrival of spring and warmth is immediately greeted by the teens in high school with short sleeves and short pants, with lots of bare flesh hanging out and not getting goose-pimpled. Ah, youth and the warmth of the still-new internal fires of life.

Those are the walk-to-schoolers. Plenty of other kids are driven to school and the line of cars leading to the drop off points of those schools is always long and crawls slowly forcing traffic onto other streets if it wants to get by.

Many people are commuting to work or to transit points leading to work and those drivers produce a sort of pressure on the whole system to keep moving, “don’t stop, oh for goodness sake don’t stop there you’ll hold up traffic” sort of pressure. One’s wits have to be firmly in place and well focused to join this polite scrum.

My appointment lay west of my house so the drive there was unencumbered by the rising sun. The return home, however, was into the eye of our solar system’s power plant and as such was hampered by sun blindness as at that hour of the morning its rays beam directly down Central Ave. One learns to drive by feel, by squint, by peripheral vision and by luck and by great good fortune I got home safely.

And what a difference an hour makes! The kids are in school and off the streets, the cars that delivered them have gone back home or onto work, the work force that commutes has mostly left the island and what remains is the quiet village of mid-morning. If one doesn’t rise early or go out in the evening one could miss the vibrancy of life that Alameda has.

That morning scrum, that dance of awakening and getting out into the world to do one’s thing, that mix of cars and kids and workers and stay-at-home-moms (or dads) is the pumping life’s blood of the city. Like spring which is covering Alameda in sweet smelling blossoms right now that morning dance is evidence of the vibrant life that surrounds us.

Neighborly

Amblin’ Alameda

Neighborly

Morton Chalfy

For the past several weeks my sweetie has been reading aloud to her granddaughter from Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird” while I eavesdrop from my chair in front of my computer screen. The life described in the book, small town Alabama in the thirties, is predictably full of racism and ignorance and rife with the sort of “neighborliness” we tend to glorify in our re-write of the American past.

Neighbors know and greet each other, rush to help when there is a fire, help each other quietly or through church affiliates when there is a need and keep each other’s secrets when appropriate. Everyone knew everyone else. Idyllic seeming until one realizes that to kill a mockingbird is considered a sin but to falsely accuse a black man of rape is understandable within that town’s mindset.

The small town aspects of life keep coming into my mind as I walk around Alameda and look at its single family architecture and marvel at how unconnected are the lives we lead from those of our neighbors. After five years on my block I can only claim to “know” three of my neighbors. Past the houses directly next to us lies uncharted territory inhabited by unknown people.

I am not complaining. Modern life is atomized and our neighbors are often people on the internet in groups we also belong to. Alameda Peeps is a neighborhood and much more interaction goes on there and on other internet forums than ever takes place in my physical neighborhood. It does seem to be a fact that due to the greater population density of poor neighborhoods people there get to know each other directly whether they want to or not.

Social life has changed dramatically now that we no longer live in primarily tribal groups and when our connections to others are carried out over long distances. There was good reason to leave the small towns of our past with their small mindedness and resistance to change but it was a leap from the frying pan directly into the flames.

Alameda does offer a balance, however. Within town we have many friends scattered across the city who are our real neighbors. They are friends with whom we share our lives, often our meals, and with whom we like to (figuratively) chat with over the fence. Neighbors help each other when we can, act as trusted sounding boards for our ideas and can be counted on to be supportive in times of stress. The connections between neighbors are the building blocks of connections that weave throughout the city.

Today the backyard fence is electronic and friends may tweet or email or IM or whatever new thing is out and hopefully that will prove to be an improvement in some ways. The charm of Alameda is that we get a lot of face time with our “neighbors” scattered as they may be through the city, and that makes Alameda more comfortable and, really, more livable.

Vernal Equinox

Amblin’ Alameda

Vernal Equinox

Morton Chalfy

We’ve been altering our east-west route across the city to drive on Central Avenue as often as possible this past week. This winter has been unusually mild, even for the Bay area, and the plane trees that line Central have been emerging from their winter hibernation somewhat earlier this year. At first only a hint of light green was discernible on the trees but then day by day the foliage began appearing in its inimitable magical way. By this time next week we fully expect to once more drive down the road beneath a green and shady bower.

The transformation from bare branch to leafy arbor recurs every year and is our personal harbinger of springtime in our fair town. Just the softening of the scenery from the starkness of leaf-less trees which, regardless of the temperature, presents a harsh and wintery face, changes the atmosphere to one of coming delight. Spring, the time of renewal is upon us.

Another of its harbingers is the now archaic ritual of “springing forward”, changing our clocks to more closely comport with our ideas of what morning should look like. A relic of our once overwhelmingly agricultural past meeting our emerging industrial future, it is now an almost meaningless method of upsetting the internal time clock twice a year. It is no longer clear who, if anyone, this serves though I concede that in the winter it allows schoolchildren to wait for the school bus in daylight and gets them home while there is still time to play outdoors in the sunlight.

This fiddling with our clocks and the greening of the trees is all part of the annual celestial event of the Vernal Equinox when the solar energy received is equal in both the northern and southern hemispheres. At the solstices the solar energy is greater in one or the other hemispheres which means that our coming summer coincides with winter in South America. Somewhere on the internet there must be a working model of our solar system which demonstrates our movement around the sun and makes all the seasons understandable but I have yet to find it. Suggestions would be appreciated.

The concept of “seasons” is harder to grasp here in Alameda than in, say, the Northeast. There seasons proceed in orderly fashion clearly dividing the year into four parts. Here the divisions are less palpable. Our wintriest weather comes in July and our warmest in the winter. The geography of this area places Alameda in its most protected pocket and the mild climate does the rest.

As a boy “season” always had a modifying noun, marbles season, kite season, swimming season, sledding season and several more. Now it’s baseball season, basketball season and football season with other sports vying for attention. Such is citified life – mostly divorced from the seasons of the Earth and the Sun, mostly concerned with the seasons constructed by our cultures.

Driving along Central Avenue, under the growing greenery, keeps us in touch with the reality of the natural world. Hi ho, hi ho for springtime.

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