After several days of sleeping in isolated campgrounds in some of the most tranquil natural settings almost totally devoid of people and also after traveling on backroads through the Sierras, I am now in the thick of the South Bay of SF. I am sitting in the noisiest, most crowded Starbucks I have ever visited which, strangely enough, has only one small dirty bathroom. I arrived last night after exploring historic Placerville. On my drive I followed my GPS obiedently and, as I approached Berkeley, the "voice" asked me to turn off and circumvent the Bay Bridge, which was probably no more than 15 minute from my destination of San Bruno. Instead, it urged me to cross the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, hook up with Hwy 101 and drive over the Golden Gate. The traffic Southbound was limited to two lanes and the Friday traffic heading to the City like marauding hoardes caused a backup of five miles. Two hours later, feeling withered and blinded, I arrived.
I guess I am not accustomed to the millions of people, cars lights, stores etc.... I know there is great value in the amazing energy and cultural diversity. There are so many Asians, Hispanics, Blacks and Caucasians, its like living confetti spread over the Earth. Strangely enough, with all of this blaring information, there seemed fewer interesting items to photograph. I saw the same stores, signs, shops, blah blah blah, thus my vision became blurred and my inspiration dulled.
Earlier I had been on a beautiful back road passing small farms and cabins and going through little towns, when I flipped on the radio. ABC news spoke of the Occupy Oakland group shutting down the Port of Oakland, blocking entrances and breaking windows at a Wells Fargo and an announced that some city employees and teachers failed to show up for work. The contrast was so dramatic as golden and red leaves blew across my path on the road and resident ducks bobbed serenely on adjacent ponds. The report reminded me of years ago, when I had been part of similar Oakland-Berkeley protests. The "people" believed that revolution was around the corner. Then, when I left Berkeley and hit the road driving out of the big city and into small-town California-America, I discovered a much different mood.The same could be said today. In these small towns I saw lots of empty store fronts. There were huge mills which had been pivotal to the economy abandoned and deteriotating. You'd think there would be anger or resentment, but I didn't get that feeling. Maybe the angry, disappointed people had left or had become resigned and used to the kind of hard luck immmortalized in country-western songs. In any case, I didnt get the sense that the local people were playing the "blame" game or touting their victimhood. I saw little cottage industries sprouting from many houses. There were signs advertising taxidermy, scrapbooking lessons, beauty work, tool sharpening and the usual antique sales. To be sure, these weren't great-paying jobs with benefits, but showed perseverance and the bulldog tenacity of Americans to succeed by their own wit, independent of large outside forces. Was it enough to make car payments, house payments, and pay for necessities, I don't know, but I didn't see a lot of foreclosure signs. I stopped in one small town market along the Pit River and spoke with the owner, who made excellent deli sandwiches. She told me she and her husband had left the "rat race" of the Bay Area several years ago and had bought a dilapidated general store. When I asked her about being part of the 99%, she knew the expression well from watching the demonstrations on the news. I am paraphrasing her, but she said something like, "Most people around here can't stand those protesters. They've appointed themselves to represent our interests just like many of those fat cat leaders in Washington, but they really aren't like us at all." I didn't pursue what she meant, but felt by her facial expression her repugnance with the noise, the slogans, and the manner of behavior of those people "back there" in Oakland. The disapproval of those actions clearly overshadowed any disillusionment she may have had with the system. Perhaps she felt that fresh country air cured all ills!
Now I am staying in a building of approximately 500 apartments where giant jets from the nearby airport roar almost at rooftop. Instead of on an air matress under the stars, I am sleeping on a couch in a breezeless livingroom. This stage of the trip may not seem like much of an adventure, but it will have its moments, just you wait.