Thursday, May 23, 2002

Emerging from the clouds

I'm sure all of you are sitting there thinking "here she goes again, another novel !!!" Yes, I realize that my not-periodic-enough updates are a little difficult to read all in one sitting. I do apologize in advance for any inconvenience this email may cause. Perhaps I should make it into a books-on-tape or something.

I am ecstatic to report that we have confirmed our tickets to Toronto for the end of this month. Like last year, we have planned our summer trip around Scott's yearly car club get-together, picnic and car show. We will be landing at the disgusting hour of 6:25am on Friday, May 31st. Because Scott is only entitled to 1 week of vacation per year, he will be departing at 4:55pm on Monday, June 3rd. I will be staying until 4:55pm Saturday, June 8th. I will send the Toronto folks our schedule so far so we can arrange to hang out. We are looking forward to seeing you all again !!

Just when you thought it was over, I have made another modification to my outward appearance. My hair has always been dark brown at the roots, and a light golden brown at the ends. I have dyed my hair slightly lighter than the color of my ends. In effect, it's the color my hair turns if I've been out in the sun for a number of days on end. Ironically, most of my coworkers haven't noticed. I figure it's either the interior lighting, or the fact that most of them are male and never notice these things anyway. You'll still recognize me, I promise.

It has been a long few months since we returned from Toronto after New Years. I have lost track of how many nights and weekends I have worked since the beginning of the year. Some of my coworkers have worked 16+ hours straight on occasion. In the year and a half I have been with this group, the population has shrunk from 12 to 8 people (all voluntarily of course). It doesn't take a genius to figure out that less people and more work equals lots of late nights. I'm not complaining however; I consider myself lucky to have a good job that I actually enjoy. Some of my friends have been laid off in the last several months, and all of them are having trouble finding work in their fields. One friend of mine, who is a copywriter, is working as a record store manager and a bouncer at a club to make ends meet.

They say that the economy is improving, and that things are looking up. If they are, I don't see it yet. My company is only hiring internally. Lots of valley high-tech talent is still out of work. The ridership on the train I take is up, the traffic is getting a little worse, but I still don't see too much of an improvement. I suppose it will take time, but I hope it is sooner rather than later.

The big news on the job front is that my job responsibilities have changed. I'm still working long hours, but I'm working only on the stuff that I enjoy most. I am blessed.

We recently signed the papers to refinance our house. We first bought the house in December of 2000, at the height of the interest rate boom, and shortly before the full brunt of the recession hit. Because of some great work by Richard, our friend and broker, we were able to lock in at an interest rate 1 1/5 points below our original rate. This alone has resulted in considerable savings in our payments.

You may recall that we bought the house for about $20k less than market value due to its ruined paint and carpeting. Since the recession hit, the market value of our house has gone UP by over $30k. Our current market value, at the lowest low of the recession, is a full $50k more than what we paid for it. As a result, we no longer have to pay mortgage insurance. In total, including rolling the closing costs into the loan amount, we are saving about $250/month on our payments. Not too shabby.

Scott's job is progressing very nicely. His stress level has completely vanished since he started working for this dealership last June. The people there are laid-back, and they honestly believe in good quality work, a view that Scott wholeheartedly shares. I never thought I'd hear him say he was happy at his work, but that is exactly what he is.

The new love of his life is his remote-control monster truck. We initially bought it last fall, and after several engine defects and failures, and many correspondences with the manufacturer, it is now running like a dream. Our friend Valdi has an identical truck (without all the problems I might add), and the two of them often run them together. Half the fun is to drive around and find a construction site with many large hills for jumping and tricks. They both have a blast, however the hobby can become very expensive. At least once every two outings, one of them breaks something, and for a while there, I was afraid that thing would put us in the poorhouse. But Scott is an honest man, and true to his word, he sticks to his monthly allocated truck budget.

In the months since her surgery and subsequent recovery, Tiger is like a new cat. She still limps, and always will, but she has found a new lease on life. Previous to her illness, she would get frisky every couple of weeks or so, and we would play with her, flick her speaker wire around and let her chase it, and so on. In the past few months, the frequency of her friskiness has increased tenfold. Almost every single night we find her chasing her mouse and coil toys around the house and running around like a maniac. Every night we flick her speaker wire around, and she goes nuts for it. She's even taken to chasing us around the house as we drag the wire behind us, hiding behind the couch or speakers and jumping out at the wire as we pass. It's like she is 3 years old again. I don't regret one bit spending all that money on vet bills. Just seeing her enjoying life like this is worth more than anything money could buy. She's living life like a queen, as she should.

Now, onto the updates.

[see next post]

Think Green

Approximately 1.5 years after our first arrival in the US, we are in the last and final stage of our Green Card application. The last step before approval is the fingerprinting, which we were called for in March. We had heard horror stories of huge lines at the INS offices, long waits and endless frustration, so we showed up 20 minutes early for our appointment. We would not do anything that could jeopardize our progress now.

The place was deserted. There was one kid sitting in the vast sea of empty chairs, and us. The workers were just sitting around picking their noses, so they took us early. Upstairs, they introduced us to these funky scanning machines that take an optical scan of each finger. The software in the scanner tells the operator if the scan is successful or not. No more messy ink.

Scott is an automotive technician. He wears gloves these days, but his hands are beaten up quite regularly. I am a software engineer. I type all day, every day.

Well, darned if Scott was out of there in 5 minutes flat, while my technician took forever scanning and rescanning my fingers. The machine failed my scans over and over again – not clear enough ! Put more lotion on ! Roll it again ! I swear he did my middle finger on my right hand 15 times before he got it right.

Occupational hazard, I guess. Those keyboards are a killer. I wonder if I can get worker's compensation for it ?

[see next post]


Monday, March 25th started out as just another day. I got up at 5:07am, got ready, hopped in the car and started my 2-hour morning commute. Scott got up at 6:45am (lucky guy) and headed off to work shortly thereafter. It was as normal as any other day, until Scott arrived home after work.

The first thing he noticed was speaker wires sitting on the floor of the garage. What were those wires doing there ? He had installed a four-speaker surround-sound stereo system in the car for when he works on vehicles, but he never left wires on the floor. When he approached the door, he saw the horrifying truth staring him in the face. The frame of the door from the garage to the outside was completely destroyed. The door from the garage to the house was splintered and broken, and was sitting, partly open.

We had been robbed.

Without hesitation, Scott retreated from the garage and called the police. Guns drawn, the cops searched the house for any sign of the perpetrators. There was none. They must have known that we worked during the day, as they were long gone by the time Scott arrived.

The thieves took almost all our electronic equipment. The receiver from the garage was gone, but not the speakers, as they were bolted in place. The cable box, receiver, VCR, DVD player, laserdisc player, center channel speaker and amplifier were all taken. A stack of CDs, and almost all our DVDs were gone. Upstairs, they took a receiver that was sitting in a closet, a pair of car stereo speakers, the Sony Playstation, and all the games (except for my favorite, Dance Dance Revolution). They checked out Scott's laptop, but since it was a 6-year-old Pentium 133, elected not to take it. They went through my underwear drawer (EWW !), but didn't touch the gold necklace sitting right there on the dresser.

We were beyond shocked. We live in a full 60 miles from both San Francisco and San Jose. It's a quiet, middle-class neighborhood, not a town of thugs. Even the cop said that this stuff just doesn't happen here, and yet, two other houses were also hit on the same day. So why did it happen to us ? Why were we targeted ? What did we do to deserve having our home and our lives so brutally disrupted ?

The feeling of complete and utter violation is something that can never be shaken. Someone was in OUR HOME, looking through OUR things, invading OUR lives. They entered our home with the purpose of hurting us – whether physically or through theft. And for what ? Thrills ? Drug money ? I guess it doesn't really matter why they did it. But they did – and to US – good, law-abiding people that care for and respect others. I don't get it.

I wonder if I will ever feel safe in my own home again. First, my country was attacked by terrorists, and thousands of people lost their lives. And now this. I'm not safe in my country and I'm not safe in my home. Am I to live the rest of my life looking over my shoulder and suspecting everyone of having malicious intentions ? Two days later, we installed a state-of-the-art alarm system with every bell and whistle you could possibly imagine. Two keypads, two motion detectors, door/window alarms, remote controls, remote panic button, hook-up to the police, telephone dial-in controls, indoor alarm, outdoor bell. The next person that dares step foot in our house without our permission will get an earful – and a quick visit from the police. Nobody messes with us again.

I am thankful that they did their homework and broke in while we were away at work. I am relieved that Tiger was smart enough to hide and wasn't harmed. For the most part, the stuff that was stolen can be replaced. The only exception is the laserdisc that was in the player (it belonged to Valdi's wife and is out of print), and the custom-built car stereo speakers. But the rest is just stuff.

I was dreading calling State Farm and reporting the robbery. I was envisioning hours and days and weeks of headaches and fights with them. I know now that we made two very smart choices when we took out our homeowners' policy – one was choosing State Farm, and the other was paying extra for replacement value coverage. The default coverage for any homeowners' loss is depreciated value. If you have a television set that you paid $1,000 for 5 years ago, and it is stolen, they'll pay you depreciated value depending on its age. So perhaps you'll get $700 for it, even if it'll cost you $1,000 to replace it. With our extended coverage, we are entitled to replacement value of an equivalent item. If the exact item is no longer available, we get the next-best thing – even if it's an upgrade. And if we decide to upgrade to a higher model, we still get replacement value of the equivalent item towards the upgrade.

We'd been talking about replacing the VCR soon, as it was on the fritz. Our home receiver was only adequate, and not capable of everything we wanted it to do. Scott has wanted a Playstation 2 for ages, but how could we justify the expense when we already had a Playstation 1 and all those games ?

We never could have received anywhere near the money we got from the insurance if we had tried to sell these items on eBay and upgrade. But because the stuff was taken off our hands, we were 'forced' to upgrade. What a tragedy that was.

To be honest, we're not replacing every single thing that was stolen. We don't need the laserdisc player, that was given to us by a friend and didn't cost us a penny. Replacement value? $700. Added to the settlement of all the Playstation games, we came out quite far ahead.

In one trip to Frys Electronics, we had an absolute blast – we ompletely filled the trunk of Scott's car replacing the missing items. We bought a new VCR and DVD player, a Playstation 2, some games, and a receiver for the garage. At Good Guys, we found the deal of the century – a previous top-of-the-line Yamaha receiver for our home theatre, open-box, for almost half the original price. We found some incredible end-of-line Jamo speakers, also for over 50% off regular price. Because of this, Scott has built a home theater system with sparkling sound quality that rivals that of a movie theater. With someone else's money.

Perhaps this was the best thing that could have happened to us.

[see next post]

Silver Screen, Here I Come !

Ever since my success with Weight Watchers, I have discovered a self-confidence that I never had before. I've been reaching out and attempting new sports and activities that I never had the guts to try. One of these activities has been a latent passion of mine since I was a teenager - acting.

I've always loved acting, but never pursued it. I (mistakenly) thought that nobody would want a fat person on their TV screen. How wrong I was, but at the time, my low self-esteem would have sabotaged me anyway. Confidence anew, I started taking screen acting lessons in January.

The lessons are taught by a man by the name of Dennis Sakamoto ( He has been in the acting business for decades. His classes teach students how to be themselves in front of a camera, how to audition, how to give casting directors what they are looking for, and how to deal with stage fright. The focus is auditioning for commercials and other such TV spots. Although I've always loved theatre, TV is much more glamorous, and that was my choice.

To my surprise, he does not teach us how to 'act'. The biggest lesson I've learned is that acting is not about pretending that you feel happy, sad, angry or surprised. Acting is FEELING happy, sad, angry or surprised in front of a camera. It was a profound realization, but it makes so much sense. A very good actor is believable, because their work is from within themselves.

I am having the time of my life. While the lessons themselves are hard work, I don't feel intimidated by the camera or by being recorded and evaluated. Many of my classmates have found it very difficult to hang loose and let their personalities come out in front of the camera. Me, I'm always the first one to volunteer to do a new skill or present first. I was the one who busted out into dance moves in front of the camera, completely spontaneously and without prompting. When the others in the class saw me make an ass of myself, they were much more inclined to do so themselves. That made me proud.

For the first time since high school, I have had to buy makeup. Yes, MAKEUP !! (I can just see my mom in a dead faint right now !) I went into the makeup department at Macy's, feeling like a complete fish out of water. I went up to one of the blonde bombshell workers and simply said "I'm an absolute dunce with makeup, I know nothing about it, haven't worn it in a decade, can you help me ?!" She giggled and helped me pick out a zit concealer, lip balm, translucent powder and a makeup bag. My very first makeup bag. I didn't realize until I got home that it had a picture of a crazy woman and the words "Go Gabbi Go !" scrawled all over the front. Oh well.

Dennis' company will be putting up a website over the next few weeks which serves as a directory of local actors. Not only will our pictures and acting resumes be online, but a short video clip of urselves as well. This is a groundbreaking idea. All other actor directories just have headshots and resumes. Video clips allow casting directors and agencies to see the personality of the person they're looking at, as well as their face.

I participated in two video shoots for this website. On my way to the first one, I decided to take a different route, as I was coming from my house. (Normally I go there from my work). Wouldn't you have it, I got so hopelessly lost in Fremont. I eventually found my way there, over 40 minutes late, and got a bit of an earful from my instructor. After taking some time to calm down and cool off, I shot the video. I made the camera operator laugh out loud, when I said "Hi, I'm Andrea. I love cooking, I hate cilantro, and I love Brussel sprouts !"

Finally, with this ordeal over, I went out to my car and started to leave. Then I heard the most dreaded sound from any car's driver – WHOMP, WHOMP, WHOMP. I stopped the car and got out. Sure enough, there it was. Flat tire.

As IF this day couldn't get any more complicated !!! Here I was in my nice clothes, with a tire as flat as a pancake. But, Scott had taught me many years ago how to change a tire, and I never forgot that lesson. I started working on it.

One of the guys helping out with the video shoot heard the whomp of my tires and offered to help. We had an animated conversation while replacing my tire with the dinky donut small-sized spare. I am proud to say that I got dirt on my nice khakis (nothing some laundry soap couldn't fix), and a nice black smear of dirt right across my translucent-powdered face. More laughs from the camera crew when I went back in the studio to clean up.

There was just one more snag in my effort to get home. I was in Mountain View, a good 75 miles from my home. You can't go more than 55 miles/hour on a dinky donut spare. (Speed limit on the freeways here is 65, my cruising speed is 75). It was going to be a LONG drive home. So I used my 10 cents/minute long distance card and called my family from the cell phone, while driving 55 miles per hour, in the far right lane, with my hazard lights on.

Vasco Road is the road leading from the 580 freeway north. It is a 17-mile, winding mountain road with no cross streets for the first 15 miles. The speed limit is between 50 and 55 miles per hour. Most people (myself included) cruise around 65, and many others who do 70 or 80.

I HATE people that do 55 on Vasco. They piss me off. I have a name for them – 55ers. There are two passing zones in each direction, and whenever I get behind a 55er, I always, ALWAYS race past them. This day, I had to be a 55er.

What a blow to my ego ! How could I handle being the very thing that causes my blood to boil and my hands to grip the steering wheel until the knuckles turn white ? Oh, the agony !

I handled it the way I wish every lame-arsed 55er would handle it. When people started stacking up behind me, I PULLED OVER and let them pass. What a novel concept ! California regulations require huge shoulders on all major roads, and Vasco is no exception.

I was a 55er, for that one day, but there were no white knuckles on anyone who got behind me. I made sure of it.

But I digress. I have been taking acting lessons for a few months now. A couple of weeks ago, I got my first job !

The job was at the Sony headquarters located about 2 miles from my office. Once every few months, Sony holds professional writer/director/producer courses. People fly from all over the country to attend these classes. Over a one-week period, students write some scenes, then direct and produce them. When it came time to shoot the scenes, they needed actors. I was called by my acting coach to participate.

Strangely enough, I wasn't nervous in the least. Acting is not about faking or putting on a show. It's about being yourself, just in the context of the scene. The students talked to each of us actors for a while, then cast us in appropriate roles for our scenes. Would you believe that I was cast in every role that involved someone having either a strong personality or someone that got excited and happy ? I wonder why !!!

It was hard work. We had only a very short amount of time to memorize our lines, and were put on a very strict schedule. I believe I handled it well. A couple of times I blew my lines, but just kept on going and didn't let it get to me. It's kind of like taking a piano exam, except in acting, you can always cut and redo the scene.

I ended up giving one of the student directors my business card, and the instructor of the course said that I had 'spark', and that I would 'definitely' be back for future courses. And heck, I got a video of all the scenes, free lunch, and a small stipend to boot. What could be more fun ?

In the coming weeks, I plan to have professional headshots done and seek agency representation. This might end up being a fun and interesting hobby to take up some of my spare time. (Not that I have much of it to start off with, but what the heck !) Maybe someday I'll be coming to a commercial near you. Stay tuned.

[see next post]

Emergency Response Lifestyle

My volunteer work with [my company's] Emergency Response Team has evolved from a side activity to a full-blown lifestyle. The lessons I have learned with this team have enabled me to quickly and efficiently deal with medical situations and accidents, both on the job and off.

In February, I was proud to be appointed team leader for my site. Since then, I have participated as a lead in several medical and injury calls. Our job is to take down the patient information, take vital signs, make the patient comfortable, and treat them as best we can until the fire department and ambulance arrive. It can be downright scary, especially when the patient is someone I know. However, just knowing that I made a difference in someone's comfort level while in need is the greatest feeling in the world. I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Since being appointed team leader, accidents seem to have found me. There is a saying in the firefighting world that a new person is either a white cloud (no fires follow them), or a black cloud (fires follow them like crazy). I believe I am a black cloud for road incidents. Since February, I have witnessed and assisted in three of them.

The first occurred when I was driving the 237 freeway on my way to meet my friend Meredith for dinner. We were going to eat Thai food, then proceed to the park for our softball game. As is typical during rush hour, the traffic on this freeway slowed significantly. In front of me, a chain reaction occurred in a blink of an eye. In total, four cars were involved.

The first two cars were damaged, but not overly so. The third and fourth cars in the chain were completely totaled. The laws of physics state that since the fourth car in the line was likely driving fastest, he would have the most damage. But in this case, the third car in the line was the one with the radiator sitting against the firewall.

It was a Toyota Echo. A tin can, as Scott calls it. The Civic that ran into the back of him was able to limp off the road, although it was obvious it could not be salvaged. The Echo was completely undrivable. The California Highway Patrol officer had to PUSH this piece of junk off to the side of the road using the ramrods on the front of his patrol car. If any of you are ever considering buying an Echo, please don't. One accident will be the death of it !

Luckily, nobody was hurt. As it was dark, I lit up my little 15-minute flares and placed them on the roadway. I directed everyone away from the traffic and ensured their engines were turned off. When CHP arrived, he told me he didn't need my statement, as it was pretty clear what had happened. I asked him if he had any flares to replace the little candles I had placed on the road. Sure, he said.

He reached into his trunk and pulled out these HUGE, nightstick-sized, 30-minute CHP-issue flares just for me. Five in total. These flares were just teeming with testosterone. They made my dinky little Wal-Mart flares look like birthday cake candles. I felt like such a tough guy walking to my car and placing these babies in my trunk. Aw yeah.

A few weeks ago, I witnessed a second accident. A young woman in a Honda was sitting at a red light. I was getting ready to turn right onto Calaveras Blvd, when I saw a mid- to late 80s car just slam into the back of her at a relatively high rate of speed. He must not have noticed that the light was red. She went straight on Calaveras, and he turned right onto Milpitas Blvd. I followed her as she pulled over.

She was extremely shaken. She asked if I had hit her, which of course I hadn't. She didn't even see the guy that hit her. I told her to follow me, and we flipped a U-turn and returned to Milpitas Blvd.

The guy that hit her was gone.

The police were already looking for him by the time we arrived. I gave them my statement and my description of the vehicle and its damage. The motorcycle cops toured around the area, and found him in the parking lot of the plaza across the street. They asked me to identify the car, which I did. If I hadn't stuck around, they probably wouldn't have found him. She was very grateful for my assistance.

Not even a week later, a third incident occurred right in front of my eyes. I was driving along a farm road that morning, on my way out of [my city] and to the train station. It was dark, and I was still half-asleep. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something bright flashing along an adjacent road. It was a white pickup truck, with a bright light spewing from its underside.

The truck was on fire.

The driver saw the reflection of the flames in the grass and pulled over. Knowing I had a fire extinguisher beside my seat, I stopped my car and grabbed it. The fire was burning underneath the truck on the passenger side. I dove under the truck, positioned myself, and detonated the extinguisher. Within 4 or 5 seconds, the fire was out.

Scott believes that it was an oil fire. Sometimes, if a vehicle leaks oil on hot areas such as the exhaust, it causes fires. That is likely what happened here. The driver was very grateful that I had acted so quickly. Because it was windy and cold, and he was well over 3 miles from our town, I gave him a ride home. Just as we were getting in the car, he remembered that he owned a fire extinguisher. In all the excitement and stress, he had forgotten he had one! He very kindly gave me his to replace the one I had used on his truck.

After all of these incidents, I believe I should be given a new nickname. One of the ERT leads has named me s@!#% magnet. How very appropriate.

If any of you are considering taking a first aid and/or CPR course, I highly recommend it. One hopes that you never will have to use it, but if there comes a time that you do, will you be prepared ?

[see next post]

Home Decorating

With our surprise tax refund, and our windfall from the robbery, we finally have the means to buy some furniture. We have never owned a dining room table or a curio cabinet. I have so many beautiful crystals that are all sitting in boxes in my kitchen because I don't have anything to display them in. Our kitchen table set used to belong to my parents, and is approximately two decades old. The base started splitting in half at one point, and Scott had to glue it back together. Understandably, it's showing its age.

Just over a year ago, we went looking around for a dining room table set. We knew eventually we would want to buy one, but we weren't looking to buy at that time. I picked a beautiful one out of a catalog that I completely fell in love with. Black and silver with a glass top and a funky design. I'm really into that contemporary look, unlike most. In that store, we also picked out a kitchen table set that was absolutely perfect for our kitchen. Our cupboards are a light wood; our countertops are white tile. This kitchen table was made of light ood, with a white tile top. It even matched the napkin holder I got at Bed Bath and Beyond. It was destiny.

We went back to the same store 2 months ago, all ready to order the dining room set and kitchen set. To our complete shock, the dining room set was discontinued.

Oh, the horror ! I was devastated. That dining room table was so unlike anything I'd seen in our many travels around furniture stores. It was unique and funky. Perhaps that is why they discontinued it. We tried in vain to locate it at the manufacturer's warehouses. The hunt would have to begin again.

In that visit, we picked out a curio cabinet, and also found the kitchen table we had our eyes on from before. When we went back three weeks later, we were shocked again. In that three weeks, the curio cabinet was also discontinued.

Back to square one ! We wisely ordered the kitchen table at that visit, and then went on the prowl for a dining room table and curio cabinet. I didn't hold out much hope, as the contemporary styles I prefer are pretty sparse. Everyone likes these traditional etched wood designs, which is just not my style.

My friend Meredith and I went to Breuners, a chain furniture store in San Jose. I described to the salesman the sort of thing I was looking for, and he explained that they didn't carry that kind of thing and that I would have to look at some specialty shops. While he was saying this, Meredith spotted something out of the corner of her eye.

It was an absolute beauty. A steel base, with an etched glass top. Gorgeous chairs to match. It was exactly what I was looking for. This company, Design Institute America, custom-makes every piece with custom finishes to the buyer's tastes. It welds every single joint, and constructs only the highest-quality pieces. Every single piece in heir collection is designed by artists. Some of their stuff is completely off the wall, reminiscent of Marvin the Martian. Check out the DIA website and you'll see what I mean. Unfortunately, one has to pay quite a bit for this artistry and quality. I was prepared to do so, as this is something you very rarely have to buy.

The dining room table was perfect, and I also saw the funkiest console table for the entranceway. I called around other places that carried this particular brand, and found one that quoted me a lower price than Breuners. I took this information to Breuners, and they matched the price without question. (Little did they know, I gave them numbers that were $200 less than the place actually quoted me. I know the 20% rule with furniture. hehe).

As DIA's curios were unremarkable at best, off to the Internet I went. I searched for hours looking for the perfect curio, and found it at a store that runs out of New York. This curio was absolutely beautiful. Teardrop-shaped, all glass with black lacquer. I called them up and asked them for a quote. They quoted me a number which included shipping all the way from their manufacturing facility in North Carolina.

In an attempt to defray shipping costs, I found a store in San Francisco that also carried this manufacturer's line. I went in, and to my surprise, they were unable to beat the price quoted by the store in New York. The best they could do was $20 more than the New York price – PLUS shipping ! Needless to say, I ordered the curio from the New York store.

All we need now are chairs for the dining room table ! I have some in mind, let's hope they're not discontinued if we decide to buy them.

[see next post]

Softball Update

Our winter season was a long and cold one, at least by California standards. Some games, especially the later ones, were met with temperatures in the 30s and 40s, (single-digits in Celsius). With my newfound lack of insulation, and my lifelong lacking of cold tolerance, I required some greater ammunition.

I went to Wal-Mart and bought a heavy-duty, frosted blue Aladdin thermos. This thing keeps drinks warm for 6 hours straight, even in the coldest of California evenings. I filled it with piping hot water from my office's coffeemaker, stuck in some Sweet'n'Low and a teabag, and off I went.

The old guy at the park checking bags told me I wasn't supposed to bring any drinks in the park except for water. Undaunted, I did just that. The next week, I brought my thermos, full of nothing but hot water. When he asked what was in the thermos, I told him the truth.

He didn't see the tea bag and sweetener in my purse. Too bad for him !

Softball is meant to be played in warm and hot temperatures. Accordingly, my baseball pants are light and airy, allowing all wind to breeze right through it. This is not a comfortable situation when it is near the freezing mark and winds are furiously whipping around.

I lived in Canada all my life, and never owned a pair of long underwear. But this situation made owning one inevitable. The ones I found are black with stirrups – quite similar to the old professional baseball style of white socks with stirrups. Absolutely perfect. And my butt is happy and toasty as can be.

After many seasons in the recreational league, Blind Confusion has taken the plunge into the Corporate Co-Ed division. We had trouble recruiting enough girls to play the 5/4 league, so we signed up for the 7/3 Corporate league. We knew going in that the level of play would be tougher, but we thought we were prepared for it.

How wrong we were.

In five games, we have won once, been completely annihilated three times, and just mildly beaten up on once. There is a rule whereby if a team is losing by more than 10 runs after the 5th inning, the game is over. This rule, named the 'slaughter rule', has already been invoked on us twice, by the same team. I have a feeling this is going to be a long season, but I'm looking forward to it. I have always said that I don't play to win. Winning is nice, it's fun and uplifting. But it's not the reason I play. Softball has been an integral part of my life for many years. It is through this team sport that I have made some of my best friends. We don't just go to the field, play and go home. We hang out with each other afterwards, we go for dinner, we chat and laugh and share stories. It's not just a game. It's a social event with the added bonus of great exercise and a ton of fun.

Bay to Soakers

This past weekend, I participated in one of San Francisco's finest traditions – the annual Bay to Breakers footrace. This tradition started back in 1912, as a way to lift the spirits of the City's residents, battered by the devastating 1906 earthquake. The race made the Guiness Book of World Records in the 1980s for the largest footrace – 110,000 participants. This year, I joined 55,000 of my closest friends in this wild and wacky yearly event.

The total distance of the trail, from the Bay to the ocean, is 7.46 miles (12km). But it is so much more than just a run/walk through the City. The proceeds benefit local non-profit organizations dedicated to helping inner-city families. Participants dress in wild and wacky costumes, and compete for the best costume prize. Groups of 10 or more string together under a costume to form centipedes, and race one another like that. Many runners choose not to wear a costume – or anything at all for that matter. Only in San Francisco can they get away with it !

I arrived in the City on the BART train 10 minutes before start time. Already the streets were completely packed with hollering, cheering crowds in all sorts of funny attire. I walked beside a man in a wedding dress and veil, and another man completely covered head to toe in blue paint. For the occasion, I wore my purple and black jester hat with the bells on the ends of the tentacles, and a multi-colored polka-dotted jacket that Diana gave me about a decade ago. It fit right in with the craziness and mayhem of this crowd.

Many races start off with the release of confetti, balloons, and other such traditional items. The items of choice for Bay to Breakers ?

Tortillas !!!!

Yes, as the race began, thousands and thousands of people flung an endless supply of tortillas in the air and onto other patrons. As tortillas landed at our feet, we picked them up and threw them again, frisbee-style. When thrown right, these things fly like the wind. An unfortunate car got stuck in the crowd in the middle of the intersection of Misson and Spear. As a gesture of peace, would-be racers gently placed tortillas on the car's hood and windshield.

Tortillas fly REALLY well !!!

Because of the slow-moving crowd, it took half an hour for me to reach the starting line and meet with the Weight Watchers folks I had arranged to walk with. Together, we set out on the 7 ½ mile journey through the neighborhoods of San Francisco. We joined the thousands of others at the 'Back of the Pack Club' – the club dedicated to those who wish nothing more than a leisurely walk across the City, taking in all the sights.

We saw a string of people dressed in all white, with bathing caps, and shirts that said "Fallopian Tube Swim Team". There was a group of salmon who purposely ran in the wrong direction - upstream. One group had a Coit Tower, Golden Gate Bridge and Transamerica Tower sculpture and walked around as San Francisco. I saw quite a few groups with floats or shopping carts with kegs and even barbecues, obviously being dragged across the City for a celebration in Golden Gate Park. And of course, who could forget those who walked with nothing more than the smiles on their faces and their running shoes.

On the Bay to Breakers website, it specifically states that running without clothes is not allowed and that violators would be cited. But who would really want to cite them? Running 'au naturel' is a B2B tradition. Unfortunately, it is usually only practiced by the old, wrinkly, overweight men. Never any women, and rarely any good-looking guys. I saw a guy with the Jack in the Box styrofoam head and hat, and nothing else.

I also saw a guy with only a Roots Canada hat, a cycling shirt, and running shoes. A naked Canadian – how cute!

I did see one guy that ranked pretty high on the eye candy level, but he scared the heck out of me. He had a piercing in a place that you don't really want to know about. Nobody seemed surprised.

As we processed through the streets of the City, and up the 6-block-long Hayes street hill, we passed rows and rows of 'painted ladies' – old Victorian houses, each painted a combination of beautiful colors. Many residents hung out on their balconies cheering on the parade. Several even had music piped out their windows for our entertainment. There was one particular balcony that stopped traffic for a short while – five Elvises, all grooving to dance music. What a sight to see!

Unfortunately, the weather was less than cooperative. It is very rare in this area for rain to appear after the month of April. Here it was, the middle of May, and an unseasonably cold and unstable weather front it the Bay Area just in time for the event. It was 15-20F colder than normal. What started as a light sprinkle at 8am turned into a complete and utter downpour two hours later. By mile 5, I was totally drenched through all my clothing. The wind was whipping around, and it was COLD.

The last and final stretch in Golden Gate Park travelled alongside the Pacific Ocean. A beautiful sight to look at, but the nasty sea breeze was unforgiving. I wanted to take pictures of the ocean, but I knew that I would probably sink into hypothermia if I stopped. I was already shivering, and my hands were so cold I couldn't open and close them properly. I took one picture, then hustled across the finish line.

I crossed the finish line, exhausted, but in one piece. I had walked 7.5 miles (with one potty break that I had to wait quite some time for) in under three hours. I had raised money for charity, and experienced the true spirit of San Francisco.

But I was cold. I decided I would pick up my free t-shirt then head back home. To retrieve my free t-shirt, I had to walk to the large gathering area.

Over a half a mile away.

Who was the genius who put the finish line over a half-mile from the concert, free t-shirts, port-a-potties and food vendors ? What utter cruelty ! Luckily it was mostly downhill to the site.

I made a pit stop at one of the long line of outhouses. I figured it would be somewhat difficult to pull down and up my pants, rather like a soaked swimsuit. Little did I know the difficulty would not lie in that action.

I couldn't undo the button on my pants.

My hands were so cold I couldn't clasp them properly to grab the button. I literally did not have the strength in my hands to manipulate the button through the hole. I stood there for about 5 minutes pulling and fighting with the darn thing, meanwhile my bladder was just BURSTING ! I even tried to RIP the button off, to no avail. Finally I was able to guide it through the hole and relieve my internal organs.

No, I didn't do it up again when I was finished. That darned thing stayed unbuttoned !

The bus shuttle service from the park took us back to the start line, which was a half-hour ride through the congested streets of the City. Standing room only, of course. The heater was on full-blast, but since all my clothes were soaked, I was shivering uncontrollably. When I boarded BART, I couldn't find a seat that didn't have the HVAC system blowing air on me. I shivered for the entire one-hour ride to the end of the line. Of course, my BART ticket was ruined from the rain, so the train operator let me go through the gates for free. How very kind of her.

I cranked the heater to maximum for the 20-minute drive home. When I arrived, I jumped in the shower, and literally ran the hot water tank empty warming myself up. A nice big bowl of my homemade soup (Mom's wonderful recipe) and a 2-hour nap, and I was brought back to life. A friend of mine who volunteered at the Red Cross station at the finish line told me that they treated no less than 80 people for hypothermia that day. Scary.

Bay to Breakers was so much more than a walk across the City. It was a view into the wilder side of the City's culture. It was a way to raise money for a good cause. It was a personal challenge to walk farther than I ever have before. And it was a lesson in perserverence through even the toughest of conditions. I have no doubt that this will be a yearly tradition of mine. But next time, I'll check the forecast first.
A professional company took photographs of all the walkers and runners at Mile 6. I will definitely be ordering some when they become available. Stay tuned !

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