Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Getting into the Holiday Spirit in California

Searching for the holiday spirit anywhere, especially in an economy gone south, is no easy task. But, in a state with double digit official unemployment and countless more only partially employed, Santa would get the DT's going down the chimney here.

Christmas has always existed in a kind of time warp in the land of perpetual sunshine, a state which has experienced biblical flooding lately. Even Noah would need to use sandbags to keep his arc from slipping away.

Generally, in Southern California, the palm trees are in full bloom, if there is such a thing, and one looks forward to going on mid-winter jaunts in a tee shirt and sweats.

On the other hand, here in Northern California, you need a ski jacket and wool-lined boots for a late December walk, and "accessorizing" often involves the umbrella you carry.

So, while the sun was trying to decide whether to come out, and after a week that averaged a monsoon a minute, I went for a drive figuring I'd enjoy the sights while I could still see them.

First stop, of course, was to fill up the tank as, now that the holidays are here, gas prices are bound to go higher and higher. At my local station, the price per gallon for 87 unleaded is now a whopping $3.29 a gallon. As one intent upon looking at the cup as half-full rather than half-empty, I think, not bad; it's down six cents a gallon from the last time I filled up. Not that it matters, of course. If you need a car to get around, gas is one of those items you have to buy like milk. So, I shell out twenty dollars, and the engine starts purring again.

Ready to embark on the rest of my journey, I head towards Main Street which is like every other Main Street you'll come across. Realizing that, after shopping for a few odds and ends, and buying gas, I was out of cash, I decided to stop off at the closest ATM; a task that requires making a left turn at a busy intersection.

Right behind me is a young lady in a Range Rover with a plastic Jesus on her dashboard. She starts getting a bit antsy and, frankly, if she were any closer, she would have sodomized me, but I keep my composure anyway, signal and, as the light turns green, wait until there are no cars coming before making the turn. From her vantage point, she's unable to see a car coming through my windshield, but that doesn't seem to bother her in the least. She blasts me with her horn, and then true to holiday spirit, she flips me off mercilessly.

Undeterred by what they like to call "aggressive driving" in these parts, but what they call "pushy" if you happen to be from New York, I manage to make it out of the bank parking lot in one piece despite the best efforts of the young man clearly text messaging while sticking the nose of his sports car in beween my car and the one in front of me, even though no cars were coming after mine as far as the eye could see. In Washington, they like to call that "triangulating."

I decide to close him out. He doesn't feel a thing, and goes back to text messaging while I move on to my next stop, the post office, to send a package priority mail. As I'm making out the label, the woman directly behind me in line starts to cut in front of me, but she is beaten by another woman who cuts me off from the other side. I mumble something like "WTF?" under my breath, and one of the women turns to me and says "this is a hectic week." And, so it is.

Well, I think, instead of getting indignant, my default position, why not have compassion for those who are less patient, but that would mean having compassion for myself which seems like a redundancy. Somewhat confused by what had quickly escalated from a line in a post office to a metaphysical conundrum, I headed home thrilled at having made a serious attitude adjustment from one who would pull the wigs off both ladies in the post office to one who would rather take a long walk.

Some might think it courageous thing to choose outdoor exercise on a day when the clouds look like they'll burst any second, but I needed the work-out.

I took the usual trail through omnipresent parking lots past the "No trespassing" signs hanging from trees like lost leaves, and down the back streets where I came upon another sign, one I hadn't seen before. This sign was apparently posted by local law enforcement, and read simply, "State law requires drivers to yield to pedestrians." At last, something that reminds me of my youth, and the "Please don't feed the pigeons" signs posted in Central Park. For the first time in my life, I empathized with pigeons. And, being intent on finding the bright side, I thought--well it could be worse. At least they put up a sign.

But, for a state so strapped for cash, I wondered, why aren't pedestrian laws being enforced? Is stopping for pedestrians at crosswalks in California like feeding the pigeons in New York? Is there an abitrariness to how we view life? Why is there even need for a law to tell someone in a vehicle that weighs thousands of pounds that they have to stop for a pedestrian weighing a hundred pounds in the crosswalk. What if the pedestrian isn't in the crosswalk? Are they then fair game?

As I was preoccupied thinking, a car came barreling through and, instead of veering over to the right to avoid me, it came right at me forcing me to stumble and fall into a puddle of water. Oh good, I thought, using my best Panglossian logic, at least now I know those new boots are waterproof!

Undaunted, and resolute, I finished the walk, successfully avoiding getting hit by a pizza delivery truck, two teenagers on bikes, an overzealous skateboarder, and yes a trailer with a poignant American flag draped around an "I support the NRA" decal.

Whether you want to look on the bright side or not, getting into the Christmas spirit sure ain't what it used to be. These days, it might even get you killed. But, some might argue that's appropriate considering what Christmas is about, the fellow born in a manger. And, surely the irony wouldn't be lost on him.