Friday, November 03, 2006

I'm just playing along

I recently left a comment on MetroDad's post on the Left Coast that was unintentionally ironic. To begin with, I was a bit pissed that he, like so many East Coast denizens, painted the entire left coast with a brush dipped in the color called "Los Angeles." That's like saying Miami and Bar Harbor are just like New York because they're all on the east coast.

The other gripe I had, which I commented on, is his repetition of the refrain that a world full of people who say "Fuck you" rather than "Good morning" is a more enjoyable place to live. Bull.

That's what New Yorkers tell themselves to rationalize living so close to so many people, which puts everyone in cramped quarters and increases their tendency to be assholes on a more regular basis than if they were living in humane conditions. However, I'm not saying that the self-deception is limited to a tiny island in the Hudson River.

Los Angelenos sit for hours on the freeways, which are too crowded for anyone to drive on anymore, even though they're 16 lanes wide, because they're so clogged with beautiful people in beautiful cars in a city with a climate that's guaranteed to be warm by the greenhouse effect of all the smog those beautiful cars produce, which is also slowly killing all of those beautiful people. "But it's such a beautiful place," they say. "How could you live anywhere else?" Then they load another clip in their Glock and continue using the drivers stuck next to them as target practice.

So, of course, I responded by gently extending my middle finger back at MetroDad, stating that

Those are the realities if you live in NYC, but if you live somewhere else (in what we left-coasters refer to as "reality based reality"), there are different realities, like hikes in the woods rather than visits to the doctor for hypertension and bleeding ulcers, and even, god forbid, pleasant conversations with people we've just met. It's almost enough to make the world a pleasant place to live.
Yeah, that's a great way to show everyone how nice we left-coasters are.

Not like I think it will affect him. He's a New Yorker, with skin as thick a rhino's. However, I think that it's only fair to recount the pleasant conversation that I had with the stranger who works at the corner coffee shop in Palo Alto when I was there for Mom's burial and memorial service.

Although she knew at least as much about computers as I do, and was constantly emailing people and doing geneaology research online, Mom never did get broadband. So as we were putting plans together, doing research, and trying to stay in touch with work and friends back home, many of us hit a brick wall. How do we do these things without the web? This led Brother #2 and I to go DSLumming--his term, not mine. Being more diurnal, I was getting my online mainline from the corner cafe, while Brother #2, being nocturnal, was stuck going to Denny's--now you know how he came up with "DSLumming." (On the other hand, Google and YouTube tied their $1.6 billion dollar knot at a Denny's.)

It had been years since I'd been to this place, however, and in addition to needing the WiFi hookup, I needed a power outlet, since my laptop's battery is five years old, which means it's good for about 10 minutes. So I had a few questions when I walked in.

This is how it went . . .

Man Behind the Counter: Hi. How's it going?

Papa Bradstein: Good. How are you doing?

MBC: I'm really tired, and I've just had this really long day. I'm exhausted actually.

(Long pause while PB peers behind every table and chair for a power outlet.)

PB: What I really need is a power outlet. Without one, I can't really stay.

MBC: (gesturing) There's one here, by the bar, and one over there, at the corner table.

PB: OK, great. Can I get a small latte and a bran muffin?

MBC: I'm not really sure.


PB: These things are hard to tell.

MBC: Probability is a tricky business.

PB: There are a lot of variables to consider. But is this a question of probability or capacity?

MBC: Right, that's another variable to consider. I'm just too tired to concentrate on all that.

PB: It's a good thing that you're not at work or anything, because that can be exhausting.

MBC: I know. And all day, people have just been asking me all these questions, talking to me, just going on and on. And I don't really like people.

PB: It's good that since you don't like people, you don't work anywhere that you have to deal with them very much, because you're right, people can be so irritating.

MBC: And they always want all these definite answers: "Yes" or "No."

PB: Things aren't always so certain.

MBC: There are a lot of variables to consider.

PB: I heard that somewhere once.

(long pause)

MBC: You never know what could happen.

PB: The answers aren't really that clear. Even if it seems like it's definitely "Yes" or certainly "No," that might change as soon as you answer.

MBC: But nobody ever wants you to say, "I don't know." So I always feel this pressure to give a definite answer.

PB: That's probably why you don't like people very much. There's a lot of pressure.

(Woman enters behind counter, tying on apron.)

MBC: And it doesn't help that I've just had this really long day, and I'm exhausted.

Woman Behind Counter: (to PB) Did you need something?

PB: What I really need is a power outlet.

MBC: I showed him where those are.

WBC: Did you want some coffee or something?

PB: Sure, can I get a small latte and a bran muffin?

WBC: (to MBC) What are you doing?

MBC: Me? I'm just playing along.

Epilogue: Twenty minutes later two older couples come in. They're clearly regulars, and as they're chatting up the MBC, one of the women says to him, "You're always so nice. Where did you grow up? Because you know, all these kids who grew up in Palo Alto are so snotty." The MBC replied, "I agree, they really are." In spite of her husband's protests--I think he could see where this was going--she pressed on, "But you're so nice. Where did you grow up?" MBC replied, "In a small town, a really small town, you've probably never heard of it--Palo Alto."


If you're ever in my hometown and want to know where to get a free WiFi hookup, a tasty cuppa, and a pleasant conversation with a stranger at a place that effortlessly switches from Van Morrison to Einsturzende Neubauten, let me know.


  1. fabulous.

    and, although i LOVE metrodad, i couldn't agree with you more.

  2. I'll make a few remarks here.

    First of all, I've used that corner power outlet. Incidentally, the last time I was there, since it was a warm day (a week ago, that is), I asked for iced coffee, and the person behind the counter said she couldn't make it, because they buy ice from the liquor store next door and they were out and she was the only one working there, so she couldn't make any iced drinks until her friend got there later on. The customer before me wanted an iced drink too. The customer after me asked the same question. She'd been repeating this story all day.

    I've lived in New York. Now I live in the part of California people call "L.A." And I've lived in Northern California.

    I drive to work every day. It takes me about twenty minutes each way. There's almost never traffic. On the freeway. I drive a car that meets California air quality standards, which means it's smog-tested every couple of years or I can't register it. California's emissions requirements are generally stricter than those anywhere else in the country (or the world). We can see the mountains, most days. You can measure (and see, and feel, and taste) the difference made by 30 years of air-quality rules. We don't have the benefit of being surrounded by water and cold wind, but we do pretty well with what we've got. And no, I don't drive with a sidearm. So that's one thing.

    I've lived in New York. I never owned a car there. Walking, public transit, and the occasional taxi got me everywhere from work to park to restaurants to the George Washington Bridge so I could go bike riding in the New Jersey Palisades. I could walk from my front door to several grocery stores, hospitals, museums, bars, and friends' homes. I rarely found anyone surly, even New York cops. New Yorkers are generally friendly and supportive, and--particularly the non-natives--they came to New York to get somewhere, to do something, so they're generally interesting and motivated and dynamic. You're in a sea of movers, which is a terrific environment. Just keeping up in New York means you're growing and learning faster than most other places in the U.S.; to get ahead you have to really be in stellar form.

    I can find rude people--and I can be rude myself--anywhere in the world, including New York and L.A.

    Anywhere I've lived, I've also found great conversationalists, folks with a sense of humor, people with sharp insights. (And, yes, people who have hypertension and ulcers and drive SUVs for no reason at all, which is even more pathetic on the small streets of New York than it is on the wide highways of L.A., but it's no fun to drive behind anywhere.)

    As far as the "incredibly attractive" people MetroDad complains about, he'll find them in New York too if he just hangs out in the right spots, and he'll find us ordinary looking people in California once he gets out of whatever neighborhood he landed in. Keep in mind that the people who hang out in any city's tourist areas are paid to present a good image. (And by the way, it's sure funny to see MetroDad complain about the writer sitting next to him as he settles into his seat on the plane and cracks a collection of short stories. Where did he think those came from?)

    It's the pot teasing the kettle for its long handle--they're both more similar to each other than they are to anything in the cutlery rack. The real cultural difference comes when you get out of both overpopulated zones, with the problems and benefits that come from having so many people around, and you get out into the countryside, where houses are miles apart and fences are a formality. Yes, you'll find the same range of human beings there, because humans are the same everywhere--happy, grouchy, clever, slow-moving, hungry, artistic. But the difference between Chicago, IL, and Itta Bena, MS, is bigger than any difference between New York and Los Angeles.

    Of course, since national TV networks came around in the 1950s, even those differences are blurring.

    So I asked the coffee server if she wanted me to go over to the liquor store and get some ice for her--something you can't do in New York, by the way, since liquor stores there sell nothing but liquor and wine, not even beer--and she said no, she'd wait. I sat in my corner, plugged in, and was off and running.

  3. Anonymous10:06 AM

    Ouch, dude.

    And for the record, half the people in Bar Harbor in July ARE New Yorkers, so they can actually be pretty similar...

  4. Anonymous11:29 AM

    Man, that MetroDad guy is such an asshole. Good thing he lives in NYC with the rest of them!

  5. No offense to the left coasters, but that conversation was very left coast. Personally I think everyone thinks where they are from has the best people. I thought left coasters were nice, but then I spent time in the midwest, now those are nice people. Now when we go back to the Bay Area everyone seems so full of themselves and snobby to me, I think it just depends on where you spend your time.

  6. OK, was that a real conversation or are you writing a screenplay for "My Latte with Andre"?

    Here's my 2 cents, having lived in So Cal, No Cal and NY:

    Generally people in So Cal are nice, but very materialistic and concerned with physical appearance. They are not so nice, however, in their cars, where the rule is definitely "me first because I'm driving 75 mph no matter what." On the other hand, I met PB, Papa Hunt and many other long-time friends there.

    People in No Cal are nice also, and seem to be less materialistic (though this is based on Sacramento, not the snootiest of towns). The pace is much slower and people aren't aggressive in their cars, they're just clueless. Perhaps people are just stupefied by all that 100+ degree weather.

    People in NY are nice as well, though the rudest people I've met so far were not in NYC but in the suburbs where I live. Customer service in the retail industry has evidently not penetrated this part of the country. I can't even begin to explain the horror of being a front seat passenger in a car in NYC, it tops So Cal driving stress by a wide margin.

    That said, I agree with Dear Wife in that it depends on where you spend time, who you spend it with, and your tolerance for/ability to notice behavior that doesn't fit your expectations.