Looking down

Denver comes into view. Los Angeles comes into view. Oakland comes into view.

We sit on the porch in Colorado, people taking turns playing the guitar. We sit on the deck in Oakland telling stories of the past year and discussing chickens. We sit on the beach in Los Angeles and talk about learning to throw and to hit.

You called all the way from America” Joan Armatrading sings, as I drive 580 to meet an old friend. It can feel so far away.

Lifting off from Hong Kong after midnight the lights are muted but the city still bright. We pull up through the clouds and into darkness, amazed to be in flight. It has been some time.

Swimming in a pool with a friend’s seven year old I dive deep into the clear water, hunting colored plastic rings. He beats me to two of three and I am happy, surfacing to the bright Malibu sunshine and a view of the other side of the Pacific. Home is that way,” we joke, hanging on the pool’s edge and pointing west past the horizon. The gesture is a simple definition of distance, something everyone can grasp. Yet we are comfortable here, on freeway and in pools, in a way hard to remember from far across the ocean.

In an Oakland back yard I watch twins chase Tara around, and her them, in small circles. These are old friends, and younger ones, and we are glad of hours in each other’s company, with each other’s memories. There are good times to revisit, on beaches far from here, and sad times too. It’s been a year.

In another backyard some of our beach frisbee team reunites. They have all moved since our last visit, out of San Francisco to these hills and others. We are glad to sit and share tales of fires, of houses, and of children. There may not yet be disc to reunite us on a beach but backyards and hot tubs are more than enough.

In Colorado the house is clean and the puppies now old dogs. One limps slowly in and out of doors, following the humans he adores. He’s done well to survive to this visit, more than two years since the last. We are grateful to all be together, to show new songs learned in the time apart and hear old favorites once again.

And as we descend each time to new cities, to old haunts almost forgot, I marvel again at the ability to be aloft, to look down on the world and recognize even small spots from above.

On location

The Alameda Tidal Canal

His stand, on the corner of Livingston and Embarcadero, is high traffic only in the loosest of terms. No sidewalks reach his chosen corner. There is shade, barely, from a single tree. The corner is mostly abandoned, an old section of railroad cutting across the block has kept it from any development.

The neighborhood has kept it from any development.

Across the street, towards the bay, there is a small park, a couple of piers that seem mostly abandoned. On nice days, which is most every day in Oakland California, I take my hot dog over to one of the benches and sit watching the water, watching Alameda across the water. It’s a slow area. Usually I finish before anyone else comes by, on foot or on bicycle. Occasionally a boat passes, but not frequently. Sometimes a homeless person has a tent set up, over towards the bridge underpass. Once, over a course of weeks, someone built a home-made boat. Every day it was different, secured to a rock by an old blue rope. One day it was gone, the owner hopefully adrift down the channel and into the bay. Away on an adventure, I imagine.

He opens the stand every morning around ten, this white haired and mustached man. How old is he? Fifty? Sixty? He is well-dressed, usually in a sweater and newsboy hat. He carefully sets up a small table and set of chairs in the shade, and ties down the tent that will give him shade. Pulling the drink coolers out in front he smiles at passers by, potential customers in an hour or two. At lunch time the stand is busy, sometimes five or more people in line. Construction workers in trucks order several, for the crew, driving back to a job out of sight. On hot days the table and shade are appreciated, and men cluster behind the stand, beneath the single tree, eating and avoiding too much interaction.

Like the street vendors in New York this is a migrant’s tale, if a long one. Based on Yelp and personal history, he’s been running this stand for fifteen years. I wonder how it began. Listening to him, I remember learning words for foods in Shanghai and think of him learning the English words for each condiment, each combination of meat and vegetables. I remember working in the service industry in China, happy to make money, happy to pay rent. I wonder what he thinks of this corner, of Livingston and Embarcadero. I wonder what he thinks of Oakland, and of hot dogs.

One day I’ll work up the courage to ask him.