Thursday, July 29, 2010

On Happiness

There is a story behind this. In Brooklyn we visited lots of friends, including Ryan's friend Brett. I'd never met Brett but from all accounts he is a fun and lively guy. Apparently just three short weeks before we made it to New York, he was biking through the city when a police car ran a red light, causing a garbage truck to slam on its brakes in the middle of a busy intersection. You might guess where Brett was when that happened.

Needless to say, he split his kneecap, had emergency surgery and now has a full length leg cast. All things considering, he seemed to be doing well when we stopped by his apartment, which is (rather frustratingly) on the second floor. My drawing skills are amateur at best, and so when I showed him the portrait I said, "I didn't mean to make you look so sad. Say something happy and I'll write it down."

I realized as soon as I'd said it how annoying that request must seem -- hey, be chipper! -- and to his eternal credit, Brett's response was "I have nothing happy to say."

Happily, he seems to be recovering well.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What I think of, when I think of the Americans with Disabilities Act

This week marks the twentieth anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a landmark law that afforded people with disabilities the same civil liberties as everyone else. In the past two decades, many building codes have been reformed to improve accessibility and be mindful of physical obstacles. However, recent polls indicate that the disabled are still at a significant disadvantage in the job market. I heard a great interview with Sid Wolinsky, co-founder and director of litigation for Disability Rights Advocates, and Judy Heumann, special adviser for international disability rights with the U.S. Department of State, on Forum this week. Let me put this in perspective.

The first job interview I ever had was for an organic kitchen. I was to work as a dishwasher and cashier. Prior to this job I had worked mostly for people that I already knew. Before my interview, I reviewed the Americans with Disabilities Act to remind myself that I had no obligation to explain my insulin pump or excuse the fact that I was diabetic because it had no pertinence to how well I'd do the job. It seems like such a small detail now that I've worked several different workplaces and interviewed for hundreds more positions, but back then I was barely 19 and was still a relatively new diabetic. What exactly were my obligations to my employer? And, conversely, what were their obligations to me?

These are important questions for anybody to ask. One of the best things about living in the United States is that these are questions we are allowed to ask, if not expected to. If there's anything I've learned, it's that part of being a healthy human is knowing your rights and asserting them.

And there is one right I'd like to assert here, now: that students with diabetes in California schools have the right to authorize another responsible person to administer their insulin. As of last month, the Third District Court of Appeals in Sacramento has officially prohibited non-nurse personnel from helping students take insulin on campus. What does this mean? This means that schools are worried about the liability of having other staff members (or, heaven forbid, the students themselves) give the incorrect dosage and risk harming the kid. This also means that many fully capable type 1 diabetics must wait for an available nurse (which, in this county at least, means one or two personnel per district) or for one of his or her parents to leave their work and come to school to administer their shots. All this, so the kid can eat his or her lunch and have a "normal" day.

I understand the risks that miscalculated insulin has on diabetics, which is why I think the more the individual understands about his or her body, and the more they educate their friends, family, classmates and educators, the less they risk when treating themselves. This is a lot harder to do for a five-year-old than it is for a seventeen-year-old, and the fact remains that insulin is a potent substance. There is no easy fix for an issue this complex. I don't offer a solution, nor do I agree with what's been suggested so far. I just hope that kids of all ages are aware of their rights to understand their own bodies, and ask the people they trust to help them when they need it. The state needs to recognize that sometimes those very people (school nurses, parents, the child's doctor) can't be available every day at lunchtime when a kid needs a shot. That's why the kid and his or her family should be able to train and appoint a responsible administrator or friend--as backup, at least.

The ADA has achieved a lot in its twenty years, and it is projected to achieve much more. The path to civil rights seems always to be checkered, but at least along the way we can see the value in our experiences and create a platform for discussion.

Monday, July 26, 2010

End of an Era: the Cardinal Lounge

The funny thing was that she'd never heard of catnip! How outrageous!

This is in honor of the Cardinal Coffee Shop & Lounge in San Jose, a 24-hour diner decorated in red vinyl that has been serving coffee, pancakes, shakes and bloody marys for many years. I went for the first time on Valentine's Day 2009, when my (now) boyfriend insisted that this family-friendly diner, all lit up in neon, was the single best place to be. He pointed out the bullet hole in one of the taller windows, a blemish in the otherwise well-groomed parlor. We later returned with friends on my birthday, and one of them explained that the secret to his academic success was their all-night coffee service.

At the entrance to the restaurant are the statues of two black leopards, their paws meeting mid-air. It oozes of Reagan-era cheese in a way that makes the watercolors of waitresses look historic. I stopped before a big painting today, one of a smiling waitress with a platter on one hand, her nametag reading "Lucy."

"I wonder who that is," I said.

"Oh, it's nobody," a waitress laughed. "Although they say she looks like the owner."

This story takes a sad turn, however: the Cardinal Lounge is closing this month. Ryan and I were on the road when a friend back home gave him the news, and I'll never forget his reaction. We might have been watching a World Cup game, or perhaps planning our next destination, when out of nowhere he lowered the cell phone from his ear and said slowly, "They're closing the Cardinal Lounge."

A seminal moment, I'm sure. Allegedly the owners are hosting an auction next week. I won't be around but I half expect a crowd of twentysomething skateboarders to show up and bid on all those vinyl barstools or the cardinal mugs. I didn't grow up with this place, and thus don't have quite as visceral a reaction, but we all have places that represent as much of ourselves and our adolescence that I understand as well as any. You can't help feeling that once the place is gone, so then is a part of you.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Bathroom Stall Series, #5

Originally uploaded by Julia_h_j

I don't know what's sadder about this: the fact that someone young enough to be in college is so worried about loneliness, or the fact that she was worried enough to write it on a bathroom wall.

Marriage has been in the air these days, although it might be more appropriate to say weddings are in full bloom. Even without the social crutch that is Facebook I can tell that so many of my peers and classmates are getting hitched. Don't get me wrong: I love weddings and am all for stopping to celebrate healthy, long-lasting relationships. I hope to marry someday too, but for reasons different than the ones captured here. But there was something about this particular piece of accidental poetry that pinned down my internal skeptic when it comes to marrying young.

"I don't want to get married but I don't want to be alone for the rest of my life."

I wonder who she meant to read this, who she might consider marrying, and how soon she thinks she should settle. More than anything, I wonder if a few years from now, she'll find herself in a different place, maybe with a different partner, realizing that whatever race she thinks she's losing is not really a race at all.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The musician at Checkpoint Charlie

This is the drawing that made us friends at the Frenchman Street bar Checkpoint Charlie's, in New Orleans. This skinny bearded singer was the first to take the stage. He kept beating his narrow little cowboy boots against the floor, and sang with an intense, Southern twang, but when I went to ask him to autograph my drawing, he was calm and demure. The bartender loved the little sketch, but added that he needed more hair. At one point she even wandered over with a bottle of White-Out, which she dabbed across the beard, insisting that I draw it darker and curlier. I did my best.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Kabbalah, Air Conditioning: Same Thing, Right?

Kabbalah, on the side of an AC van
Originally uploaded by Julia_h_j

I spotted this Hebrew genome on the side of a van advertising air conditioning services outside a tapas restaurant in Chelsea, New York City. I won't lie; it warmed my heart. There's a certain magic in witnessing that hybrid of business and personal belief painted on the side of an otherwise nondescript white van. A different approach from the Christians who lined Bourbon Street in New Orleans, passing out literature on how to save your soul printed on what looked deceptively like drink tickets. But both actions sum up an essentially American experience: the freedom of expression, hidden in the guise of a business enterprise.

Williamsburg is evenly split between Hasidic Jews, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans, and bonafide, tight-pants-wearing, fixie-riding hipsters. I couldn't help remembering the cheer of "There are NO CATS in AMERICA" from Fieval Goes West, wondering if each one of these disparate groups came to New York with a different city in mind.

On the way home, we crossed Nevada from Zion National Park en route to Yosemite. Bathrooms are few and far between on Nevada freeways, and so we were grateful to find a rest stop in a tiny, seemingly nameless town. The building was oddly familiar, and a memory came to me as we drove past the saloon doors to its other entrance, one advertising cherries and women. I'd been here before as an eight year old girl on a family trip, desperate for the bathroom. The door to the restaurant was locked, and so I walked around to the other little building, where fancy looking people waved from the windows. I had just reached for the door handle when my father pulled me back to the car.

"Julia, you can't go in there," he said.

"I've got to pee!" I wailed.

"Squat by the car," he said. "Nobody'll look."

Confused, but with no other option, I acquiesced, and it wasn't until we'd driven another sixty or seventy miles til my parents agreed to tell me why I couldn't just use the bathroom with the pretty ladies in it.

This time, the saloon was open, and we went in. While in the bathroom, I found a small comic book entitled "The Assignment." Intrigued, I pocketed it, and as we drove away, I was reminded again of the American desire to infiltrate personal beliefs into the greater world. The little flip book told the story of a man who didn't believe in Jesus, and his gnarly end. It ended with a short prayer to help newcomers enter Jesus into their lives, an act which, its authors promised, would be a matter of heaven or hell. The little notebook was strategically placed in the bathroom of a saloon-come-brothel, and I, a traveling agnostic Jew-at-best, took it home with me as a souvenir of the insistence of American expression.

Now all I need to do is find a van that advertises comics for Jesus, but in reality sells insurance.

Friday, July 9, 2010

America: Consider Yourself Discovered

In the past week, we've outrun a tornado, met the latest and greatest of the Jackson family clan (Jolee, daughter to Greg and Carolee), watched the sunrise over Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park, and climbed both Angel's Landing and the Narrows in Zion National Park in Utah. Okay, so technically neither of us wanted to risk that final half-mile death march on Angel's Landing, but we made it all the way to Scout's lookout, and were back down at the base by 9 am this morning. Not too shabby.

It is hard to believe how far we have gone in one month. We plan to be home by Sunday night, which means we can change our clothes and unpack our bags and sleep in our own beds, but it also means that this little mini reality we've been daydreaming through is coming to a close. We'd say it would be hard to pinpoint favorite places, foods or experiences, but in the end the same things stand out: the jazz in New Orleans, the rivers in Tennessee and North Carolina, the happy and fun Pittsburghers and their Pittsburghese, the fried artichoke salad at Tia Pol in New York City, where Mr. Dave Peterson works...

Our trip back west has been a bit of a hustle, with its own unexpected adventures. We zipped in and out of Iowa's ugly Lake Manawa, where the water had rumors of E. Coli and it appeared that whomever didn't live in Omaha proper came to live in the park. Nebraska was surprisingly beautiful and about as chock full of historic sites and places as one could imagine, including the Pony Express Station. We had hoped to camp at Wildcat Recreation Area, about 30 miles outside Sidney, and the park was stunning, but about half an hour after we'd parked the car, we saw the clouds brewing overhead and overheard tornado warnings on the radio. So instead of visiting Chimney Rock, we drove north through Wyoming in the driving rain, and spent the night with Julia's cousins in Colorado. From there we have zigzagged through Utah's five phenomenal national parks, and are now staying at Julia's fifth grade buddy Sarah's house about two miles outside Zion National Park. The view from her backyard is easily worth as much as whatever it is they pay in San Francisco's Pacific Heights or Malibu. With a lot less people, and a lot more wildlife.

Tomorrow we make the long drive to Yosemite, for one final night in our trusty tent before heading home on Sunday. Home--where is that again?

Many thanks to Team HJ, the Alpers, Pat & Dale Bibee, Rim Vilgalys & family, Allie & Toya, Jes Consiglio & family, Cleve & Lindsay, Adam Taylor & Dave Peterson, Coleman Hamilton, Greg & Carolee, Zion expert Sarah, and everyone else who made this trip and its subsequent excursions possible.

Happy summer...

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Dateline: Chicago, on America's Birthday

Well, it's official. We proved Ryan's mechanic wrong. We made it to New York City, and after driving through Ohio and Indiana, are now enjoying a quiet evening with Mr. Coleman Hamilton in Chicago.

We have traveled through about 19 states so far, and reckon that by the time we make it home, we'll have seen at least half of the United States.

We started last week in Pittsburgh with Mr. Cleveland Motley IV, where we visited Fallingwater, the Frank Lloyd Wright house, as well as the Andy Warhol Museum and Trader Jack's flea market. Our final evening in Pittsburgh we went to an awesome tiki bar located on Neville Island on the Ohio River. There were fake neon palm trees and a parking lot full of vintage cars out front. Waterskiiers criss-crossed before us on the beach. It felt like home.

Ryan's birthday was Wednesday, and we spent most of the day driving to New York City. On his request, we blasted Frank Sinatra's song, "New York, New York." We met up with Adam Taylor in Brooklyn, and are happy to say that we are the first successful New York City campers. We set up tent on their back patio after a rousing birthday barbeque. During our three days in New York, we went to MOMA, saw three World Cup soccer games, ate delicious food with the darling Angie McKee and Ryan Schrock, visited the AAA store by the Lincoln Center, and picnicked at Prospect Park for a reggae concert. Ryan also got his haircut by Alberto, an Italian barber at Astor Place.

Our only mistake in visiting New York was trying to depart Brooklyn on Saturday afternoon. It took us well over an hour to get from Dave Peterson's apartment to the Holland Tunnel, but that had the added advantage of making New Jersey look amazing in comparison. We made it as far as Richfield, Ohio, before settling down for the night.

Today we left bright and early for the beautiful Windy City. We had no idea how large Lake Michigan is! In a few short hours, we managed to enjoy some pretty solid deep-dish pizza, walk through Wrigleyville to Wrigley Field, and enjoy the fireworks over Montrose Harbor.

Tomorrow we start the long drive through Iowa, with later stops in Nebraska, Colorado, and Utah. We've got a lot of miles to cover. Luckily, we like to cover them. ;)