I wanna go home: a snivel for the 21st century

I grew up in the suburbs, in Marin County, CA, a suburb of San Francisco. In Mill Valley in the 60s and 70s, we had a downtown, with markets, taverns, restaurants, a 5-and-dime store, a hardware store, a great old deco movie theater. You could walk pretty much everywhere because we had these things called sidewalks. We had parks, a library, and there pretty much wasn't a street in town where I didn't know at least one or two people. A lot of the downtown businesses had people living above them, either renters or the owners of the ground-floor businesses. As a teenager, I hung out downtown with an almost religious dedication. It was a place to meet your friends, talk about other friends (and enemies), share poetry or lists of favorite songs, and watch boys. Oh, yeah. It was our central HQ, and from there we could spread out all over town, playing or getting in trouble. It was our After School Program, before such things were moved indoors and away from the "bad influences" like us.

I moved away to San Francisco in the early 80s, but by 1987 I had gone further north, to Sonoma County, and lived in several places before finally settling in Rohnert Park, which was close to the college I was attending (Sonoma State). Rohnert Park was my first experience with a suburb that was built as a place for people to sleep between commutes. It's not a place where you'd want to hang out. Everything is spread pretty far apart, and for the first time in my life, at the ripe old age of 28, I found myself forced to learn to drive and own a car. You simply could not exist without one. Rohnert Park had parks, walking paths, and a library. But there was no downtown, no mom-and-pop stores, no central gathering place. The megagoogleplex theater was across the freeway, the hardware store was Home Depot, and strict zoning laws firmly segregated business owners from their businesses. The town's center, if you could call it that, was a mall, ironically called the Raley's Town Center, named after the supermarket that anchored it. "Town Center" my ass. Nobody hung out there except surly little sparrows, pecking at french fries in the parking lot. Rohnert Park was truly the cliche of the "soulless suburb," and as far as I can tell, it still is.

I felt bad that, because of my circumstances, my daughter was missing what I had as a child. But after I finished college (as a single parent it took me ten long and bloody years), we moved north yet again, but not far, to Santa Rosa, a small city that is the hub of Sonoma County. My daughter was just about to transition from middle school to high school, so I figure I got her out of soullessville just in the nick of time. We both loved Santa Rosa, and she still lives there (she is now 25). It's a tiny city by most standards, but much larger than Mill Valley. It has a downtown, with shops and bars and restaurants and theaters. There are places for kids to congregate and get into trouble, which is good. They should at least have the choice. You can get around without a car if you have to, but these days it seems that not many people do. It has sidewalks and parks and a sense of history, something I was definitely missing in Rohnert Park.

In the fall of 2001 I found myself moving across the country to Bowie, Maryland, a suburb stuck about halfway between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. Bowie was affordable (we bought our 4-bedroom Cape Cod style house on a quarter-acre lot for 165k, which is the price of a crappy parking garage in the Bay Area), but once again I found myself in a suburb that lacked a heart. Once again the center of the community is a shopping mall (the Bowie Town Centre, ha) surrounded by big box stores and little neighborhoods of houses that are all one of three basic designs: Cape Cod, Colonial, or Rambler. Each little "neighborhood" has streets that all start with the same letter (I am in the M section...Rohnert Park has this same peculiarity, but there I lived in the C-section and the D-section, both good for a few laughs from my punnier friends), but there are few sidewalks here. Rohnert Park was modeled on the suburb of Levittown, but Bowie tops that, having been actually designed and built by Mr. Levitt himself, who apparently thought sidewalks were too old-fashioned or reminded him of the awful time before there were cars. Walking is not encouraged, and even if one wanted to walk around, where would you go? The strip mall down the road? Yuck. A lot of people I know and love disparage the suburbs, but it's not Mill Valley they are talking about, it's Rohnert Park and Bowie.

Rohnert Park was pretty vigilant about discouraging "bad influences" and the fine art of Hanging Out, but Bowie has made it a freaking crusade. There isn't a single bar, pub, or tavern here. It's a dry town. You can't even buy liquor on Sundays, nor is alcohol of any kind available at the grocery store. Plenty of churches and golf courses, but I'm not religious and I don't play golf. There are no restaurants here that are not part of a chain. I am no longer within walking or even easy driving distance of Indian, Thai, or Mexican food (Chevys does not count!). If I want organic produce or a larger selection of groceries, we have to drive to Annapolis, MD, to get them. We have taken to driving around with a cooler in the car, so that on the long drive home, our groceries don't melt. I rarely leave the house now, because without a car, I simply have no place to go.

If I don't go batshit crazy before my husband retires (requiring him to just stick me in the nearest looney bin and be done with me), we will get the hell out of here eventually, and where we go there will be a vibrant downtown, with pubs and restaurants and access to ethnic foods and maybe some actual scenery to look at and enjoy. There will be parks and trails and beaches and people out in the street, enjoying themselves or maybe just hanging out. There will be gangs of bored teenagers draped over public benches and I will not resent them being there or fear for my safety. I will smile, and then I will head over to the used bookstore or maybe go get some Thai takeout. And I will be home again.



Run, Al, run!

Congratulations to Al Gore, who won the Nobel Peace Prize today!

Please go to http://www.draftgore.com and sign the petition! It's not that I dislike the candidates we already have, it's just that I love Al Gore and want him to be our president. Again.

In the meantime, hip hip hooray!






Plastic or...else

We mainly shop at the local Safeway, because although there are Trader Joe's and Whole Foods stores in the area, it's quite a long drive to get over there, and with the price of gas going higher every day, sometimes it just seems, well, easier and cheaper to stay here and go to Safeway.

After I returned from a long trip to California this winter, I realized that something was missing from the local Safeway: paper bags. They didn't have any, and hadn't for quite some time. I use paper bags to recycle the newspapers--that's the sanitary workers' preferred way to dispose of paper--in other paper that can also be recycled. It makes sense to me. We have a separate truck that just picks up paper for recycling, and they won't take any other material.

We were out of paper bags and the newspapers had been piling up, so when we went shopping, I checked to see if they had gotten any paper bags. They had not. I asked at the Customer Service desk, and was told that the "order was on its way" but hadn't arrived yet. I was asked to fill out a Customer Complaint card, so I did.

Next week, still no paper bags. And the next, and the next. I can't be the only person who prefers paper to plastic, or uses paper to recycle...paper. In California there's a movement afoot to ban plastic bags and have ALL paper. But apparently not here in Maryland.

I gave up checking every week, but last week I asked at the Customer Service desk again, to see if the order had finally arrived. It had now been over four months since they had any paper bags and our newspapers were getting out of hand. I asked the woman at the desk "Do you have any paper bags yet?" and she looked at me like I was from Mars. "We've always had paper bags," she said, "we keep them locked in the back. You just have to ask for them." WTF? I asked her why, which was when a short woman standing there piped up. "I'll tell you why we lock them up," she practically screamed at me. "We lock them up because people come in here, grab a paper bag, and walk around the store stealing stuff. Then they just walk out!" Turns out this woman is the manager, and she was a bit het up. Her voice rose higher and higher as she explained that last year, they had lost $193,456.79 worth of product to shoplifters. I'm not kidding, she had the exact figure in her head. Then, in one last blast of righteous indignation, she yelled "People STEAL!!!" I actually jumped back, feeling like I was being accused of thievery. "I don't want to steal anything," I said, "I just want to recycle my newspapers."

I was told, more calmly, that I could simply ask the checkers and they would get them for me. So when we were in line checking out, I asked the cashier if we could have some paper bags. She rolled her eyes, sighed, and then said she'd go get them. She had to go get special keys, go upstairs, fetch them and bring them back. While this was going on, I could feel the hot breath of the customers lined up behind us, and could practically hear them seething at the delay. I felt like a guilty obstructionist, holding up the entire line just so I could recycle my stupid newspapers. It also occurred to me while I was standing there that the guy who told me that the "order just hadn't come in yet" was lying. Rat bastards.

Every other grocery store, including the small operations, offer their customers paper bags. Yet here is the huge national giant corporation, Safeway, denying customers this option. Why? Because they are too cheap to hire a couple of extra workers to roam the aisles, helping customers locate items and keeping their eyes open for furtive shoplifters loading stuff into paper bags. Wouldn't the smart thing, the logical thing, be to put on extra staff? I'm sure it would cost them less than what they were losing from thieves, and the customers who can never find anything would appreciate the help.

Or maybe they were lying about the whole thing, and are just too cheap to buy paper bags?




How low can he go?

According to the new Newsweek poll, it's 28%, an all-time low in a major national poll. Bush is now the most unpopular president since...his dad. Whatever happened to the American dream that our children will do better than we did?


Rowan and Martin's Creep-Out

Yesterday the Queen of England got to tour Virginia with Deadeye Dick. Our apologies to the royal family.




The Bush administration are a bunch of losers, and I mean that literally--they lose everything. E-mails, documents, records, evidence, and a war. Last night on "Real Time," Bill Maher joked (and I'm paraphrasing because I don't have a transcript) "Today Senator Harry Reid said that the war was lost, and Bush replied 'Maybe it's with Karl Rove's e-mails?'" Which is funny, but also frightening.

The sheer amount of documents that have gone missing in the past 6 years proves one of two things: either the administration is horribly incompetent and staffed by people who couldn't get a job at McDonalds, or the administration is lying, and the documents aren't missing, they've been purposely "disappeared." Probably the answer is a combination of both--incompetence and chicanery, which scares me even more.

At this point, the only documents left to fill the Bush Presidential Library will be a copy of My Pet Goat and a video of the president choking on a pretzel. How in the WORLD am I ever going to explain this to my grandchildren?



Oversight overload? I think not.

I've been gone for quite a while, visiting my family in California, and returned to Maryland just in time for the Storm of the Century. No, it's not snow or ice that's keeping me locked indoors, but the shitstorm of oversight going on over in D.C. And brother, am I enjoying it.

I've lost track at this point of just how many committee hearings I've seen since I got back...let's see, there was the Valerie Plame one, two FBI hearings about the abuse of National Security Letters, Al Gore's global climate crisis hearing, various and sundry hearings into shady dealings at DOJ, and today the investigation of wrongdoings at the GSA. Tomorrow? More DOJ shenanigans, as Kyle Sampson testifies in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

I'm exhausted, I'm out of popcorn, and I'm getting pale. My eyes are flickering from too much C-Span (is there such a thing as C-Spanitis?). I've forgotten what exercise is. But as worn-out as I am, just think how tired Henry Waxman and Patrick Leahy are. I wonder what they eat that keeps them in fighting shape, so keen and energetic and incredibly focused? I'm pretty sure it's not Sobe Life Water and toast, which is pretty much what I've been going with.

I said I was enjoying this, and I am, but not really in a schadenfreudy way. I feel like I'm learning a ton about how our government works (or doesn't work), and that I'm watching history, live, just minutes down the road from me. I feel oddly connected, if that makes sense. I also feel angry, quite a bit, at what's been going on for the past six years, and the attitude of entitlement and the sheer smarminess of the Bushies who've been caught out.

But they're being caught out, finally, after years of a do-nothing congress, and for that I am extremely grateful. So I'd better go oil the recliner and order more popcorn, because, to paraphrase Bette Davis, it's going to be a bumpy ride. And deservedly so!

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