Saturday, January 31, 2015

Inch Forty-Eight: Car Lust

I drive a beater.

My car is a 1998 Buick Century, dull purple in color, battered around the edges, terminal rust in the rocker panels, and, thanks to a faulty wiper motor common to this model, wipers that always return to the upright position when not in operation.  But the car serves its purpose (limited driving and running errands) and has been a low maintenance vehicle for the most part.

Then the heater fan went out at the start of a severe cold snap in early January.

To be fair, the heater fan has been going out over the last two years when it started operating only on High. This fall, when I turned it on, it would often make ominous squeals and groans, quit abruptly, then start again.

But two weeks ago it was dead dead dead.

That posed major problems for me as the combination of dead heater fan and frigid temperatures meant my windshield immediately iced up inside and outside the car. I found this out driving to the local middle school one early morning. I soon had zero visibility and almost went off the road more than once. Rolling down the window in subzero conditions, I managed to reach the school lot, then called Warren, ranting that the car could sit at the school all day, that I was walking back to court (two miles away) no matter what the temperature, and that I was buying a REAL CAR THAT WORKED.

Later, when I had calmed down, I reviewed the situation less emotionally. I'm working on a special project for another court, in essence a second job, and will have enough money to buy a decent used car for cash this summer. Nothing big, nothing flashy, just a small car made in the twenty-first century. In the meantime, I needed to fix the heater motor so I could finish this winter.

The car went off to the mechanic and I went off to Portland.

I rented a car in Portland. I had reserved a compact, but the agent offered me an upgrade to a Prius for only $80.00 more. Why not? My son Sam was with me and he agreed. Other than it took us both several minutes to figure out how to start the car (our first experience with a keyless car), the Prius was wonderful. It was new, it handled well, it was quiet, it had a great radio, it was oh-so-cool. Sam loved it, Ben loved it when he rode in it, I more than loved it.

I had car lust.

I drove that Prius for a week, reveling in its smoothness every time I slipped behind the wheel.

I wanted that Prius. I really, really wanted that Prius.

But even in my feverish, lusty state, my frugal side held me back. I am unwilling to take on a loan and make car payments. And I knew that once I got the Buick back with a working heater, I would continue to drive it.

But while I was out west, I pushed those thoughts aside and happily tooled around Portland in my little Prius.

After eight passionate days. I sadly returned the Prius to the rental agency and headed for home. Three days and $275.00 later, I had my battered Buick back with a working fan.

I am now able to safely finish the truancy season, a large chunk of which takes place in the winter. As I drove to various schools this week in my now warm Buick, I knew deep down that I continue to drive it into the ground, a course of action heartily endorsed by Sam. The non-consumer side of me will triumph, and I'm fine with that. Really I am.

But I'll still be dreaming of a Prius, longing for a Prius.

Car lust.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Inch Forty-Seven: The Immediacy of Now

I am not quite halfway through my Portland sojourn, trying not to dwell too much on the fact that after today my time remaining is less than the time I have spent here so far.

I have been immersed in family since arriving, sharing meals, sharing laughter, sharing hugs, sharing stories, sharing Ramona. I have had the satisfaction of seeing Ben stand taller and straighter within himself as he grows in confidence and maturity as a husband, father, son, and employee. I have walked with Sam discussing streetscapes, community fabric, and architecture. I have talked with Alise and watched her navigate her days with an ease I would have loved to possess when I was her age. I have been taken in and made welcome by Alise's mom, Mona, and sister, Jenna, giving me a home away from home. And I have had the wonder of spending hours with Ramona, marveling that the toddler I knew last May has been largely replaced by a confident, articulate, and utterly charming little girl.

The trip has been good for me in ways other than family and love. I have done more driving--at night, in heavy rain, on jammed freeways, across vast stretches of Portland--than I have done in years. This has boosted my confidence immeasurably, showing me how tentative I have become over the last few years. Striking across town from Sam's to Ben and Alise's yesterday, going on some sketchy verbal directions, minimal street signage, and gut instinct, I called Warren and crowed in triumph when I arrived.

I have stayed off electronic media for most of this trip (this being an exception) and have relished the disconnection. I have even set aside my camera for long stretches. I do not want to miss the immediacy of the moment trying to frame a shot. I want to soak in the vitality of Ramona and not look at her from behind a camera. Trust me, I've taken lots of photos of Ramona and there will be more. But there is also a time to set aside the camera and savor the real time I have with her.

When I was driving to Sam's yesterday, a brief shower came up despite the bright sun. I shouted to the empty car: "Portland rainbow weather!" I was not disappointed: a perfect arc soon shimmered across the sky.  It was a good omen for what has been a wonderful trip. All this love, all this family, all this now, and a rainbow too.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Inch Forty-Six: Leaving on a Jet Plane

I'm leaving on a jet plane, just like the song says.

I leave tomorrow for Portland, Oregon, to spend eight days with both of my sons, with my daughter-in-law Alise, with Alise's mom and sister, and with the one and only Ramona. To say I am looking forward to this trip is a bit of an understatement.

All the same, I hate to go, just like the song says, because Warren is not coming with me. This is a solo trip, something I have not done in many years. I will miss his companionship, his support, his presence, his love.

I imagine time will both compress and expand on this trip. On the one hand, the time with my family out there will go so quickly and all too soon I will be saying goodbye and hugging everyone and kissing Ramona one last time. On the other hand, the time without Warren will stretch out. I will be experiencing a time shift from fast to slow and back again. If I were a physicist, I would speculate about time dilation, but I don't think those formulas measure the heart.

The singer in "Jet Plane" warbles "don't know when I'll be back again." Not me.  I know exactly when I will back again.

And so does Warren.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Inch Forty-Five: The Things We Remember

William Street 1971
 Jack remembered the night sky of orange, their minister sobbing in his father's arms, firefighters and volunteers standing on downtown rooftops that bitter cold night to squelch any embers that might land on another building.

"It was 44 years ago this month and I still remember watching that church go up in flames," he said.

At another downtown fire 31 years later, Jim, a captain with our fire department, arrived on the scene and remembers the odd, eerie "clink clink clink" sounds coming from the building after his men had gone inside.

"I suddenly realized my men were slipping on the ice that was already forming inside and we were hearing their oxygen tanks hitting the walls and floor as they tried to keep their balance," he said.

We are in the midst of several days of intense cold. Bone-chilling cold. Bitter cold. The waning moon hangs in the west in the morning and casts a baleful eye on our frozen town.

The topic of cold and fires came up earlier this week after a Civil Service meeting, when a few of us talked about the difficulties of fighting a fire in intense cold. The number one rule, according to the Chief and Jim? Keep the water flowing. Our talk segued to the additional challenges of fighting fires in historic buildings, be it the William Street Methodist Church that burned all night long in 1971 or the fire in Bun's Restaurant that consumed a third of a three-front block (a block being a building, not a street block) in 2002. Both buildings were built in 1888.
Bun's fire 2002 

These were not our first downtown fires and there have been other fires since then. In these and the other downtown fires, our city fire department contained and controlled the fire so that only one building was lost in only the most severe fires and damage was contained and the building saved in the others.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation identifies fire as the biggest threat to  historic commercial districts. Built before building codes, historic commercial buildings often have false walls and ceilings that can conceal fire, they often have old wiring, they sometimes have odd utility chases that serve as tunnels for flames, and they lack many of the safety features that modern and renovated structures have. In a commercial district, because most buildings stand wall to wall without yards to separate them, it is easy for a fire to quickly spread from one building to the next.

Our downtown is made up almost exclusively of historic commercial buildings, many of them the same age as the two fires Jim and Jack mentioned. In looking at those and the other downtown fires of the last forty years, one only has to imagine what would have happened if the fires had spread. We would have lost key buildings in the core of our downtown if not our entire downtown. Fires of that magnitude and devastation have occurred in other communities nationwide every year. 

That we still have our historic downtown speaks to the skill and dedication of our firefighters. Saving our downtown has made for many of our fire department's finest moments. 

When I walk downtown, so comfortable with the streetscape that I sometimes don't even take full notice of it, I wonder what my impressions would be if we had lost the buildings I take for granted. 

I wonder what I would remember.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Inch Forty-Four: Another Year

We have an old blanket we keep on our bed, on top of all the other blankets and comforters. It is green and soft. The satin binding has long since worn away or been cut off. Sometimes, if I am having a bad day physically, I will crawl under just that top blanket and let its warmth lull me to sleep.

The blanket originally came from my Aunt Ginger, who many years ago had earmarked it for Goodwill. Heck no! The blanket then had many years of service left and the steady use I have put it to for probably two decades now attests to its longevity.

The blanket is as good a symbol as any for my take on my year just ended. Despite our brutal early December schedule, I finished 2014 feeling satisfied and centered. Worn? Yes. Fatigued? Absolutely. But like that old green blanket, I carry on.

2014 held a variety of experiences, many of them good, many far better than good. We had the joy of having Ramona, my daughter-in-law Alise, and my son Ben come to Ohio in late spring and spend a week with us. The joy of having them here was great, the pure unadulterated love of a toddler indescribable. Along with my good friends and colleagues, I helped celebrate the eleventh anniversary of our monthly free legal clinic in October, serving our 2000th client that very night. I saw Warren and the Symphony reach new heights and gain national attention for groundbreaking community outreach programs. I spent time with good friends near and dear to my heart, either in person or through  correspondence.

And I read hundreds of books, always a sign of a superb year.  

Some of 2014 had to be endured. Friends and colleagues died. There is the steady advance of dementia in my mother and my Aunt Ginger. My own health was all over the board in 2014, before it and I finally stabilized. Last night, I finished my tenth round of oral chemotherapy, swallowing the capsule three hours before 2014 ended. This treatment has stayed the advance of my bone marrow cancer, although it has extracted its own price for that stay. For now, it is a toll I am willing to pay, although I know the toll will get steeper with time.  

Various authors portray the turning of year in less than glowing terms. Scrooge, before his transformation, characterized this time of year as a time for finding yourself "a year older, but not an hour richer." Nathaniel Hawthorne, in his short story "The Sister Years," portrayed the Old Year as a "weary, bedraggled, world-worn" woman who "heaved a heavy sigh" as she waited for her younger sister, the New Year, to arrive. 

I don't share those outlooks, despite my having many wearisome hours and days in any given week. (In fairness to Scrooge, he didn't feel that way either after his ghostly visitations.) 2015 holds promise. I head to Portland in two weeks to spend a week with Ramona, her parents, and my other son Sam, who I have not seen in two years. Warren will not be on that trip, but we are already planning to travel more in 2015. I was contracted last September to create a new OVI Court for our Municipal Court and that project is coming closer to being a reality. At Juvenile Court, where I work, we get a new judge on February 9. I am hoping the next six years hold great things for the Court and my work there.  I can only dream of what this year holds for the Symphony and for Warren personally and professionally. 

And there are always books—to read, to reread, to laugh over, to cry over, to reflect upon and hold close to my heart. Books are always waiting in any new year. 

Yes, 2015 holds great promise, although whether those promises will be kept remains to be seen. Come this time next year, I hope to be like our old green blanket, worn a little more but still comfortable, minus the satin binding but still of good service.