nonBlog – October 2010

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Return to the Bat Walk, 17 Years Later—Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2010

Here’s what happens when you stop forcing things: the Universe gives you goodies.
All six of my loyal and devoted readers may remember that in March of this year I desperately wanted to run the Bat Walk trail along Austin’s Colorado River when I found myself there on business. But with so many meetings scheduled far from downtown, I didn’t get my chance—not that trip nor the next two. It was frustrating. I had been too injured to run for years; out of nowhere I had successfully run a couple of pain-free miles spontaneously. I wanted to prove to myself I was no longer an ex-marathoner by jogging along the Bat Walk, which I discovered on a business trip to write an article for Fortune in the early Nineties.

But this time, rather than make something happen that didn’t want to happen, I bided my time. It was like a science experiment with me as the guinea pig—what if I let myself be denied? What would happen if I accepted the deferral of my little Bat Walk fantasy?
The answers are, in order: (1) Excessive foliage; (2) Disorientation; and (3) Serendipity.

I taught the first of two writing workshops, and the participants produced astonishing work. I drove my happy self and my rental car back to my downtown hotel. I had no commitments; neither a dinner with friends nor a meeting with colleagues. It was a quarter to sunset and the evening lay before me. I couldn’t really believe it. Perhaps there would be an earthquake. Perhaps there would be a tsunami. That’s how unlikely the unbroken free time was for a working mother of three. I put on my sneakers and walked to the river, whereupon every sweet memory I have nurtured about my pretty jog around the Bat Walk trail all those years ago was called into doubt. Nothing looked the same. Not a thing.

The first visual that made no sense was the leaves. I don’t remember any greenery. In fact, I had a sort of desert association with my original run—just sand and placards about bats, with not a tree or leaf in sight. But now my view of the river was blocked for much of the route. Well, maybe the Bat Walk was a new feature of Austin when I first saw it. Maybe it’s sprouted since then. But the placards were missing too. Were they removed?

Every few hundred yards or so I happened upon a victory of city planning over budgetary strain. A fountain, a park, a footbridge—all shiny new and nothing I recognized. I doubled back to make sure I returned to a prime bat viewing spot by dusk. Which I knew was wrong, in the Universe sense—during my first jog, I bumped into the bat flight without trying to position myself correctly to see it. But okay, we’re replaying a yummy tape from the past here. We can put in a little effort.

The bats decided to wait for night to fall. I stood among dozens of people, all positioned for optimal bat-flight viewage. Finally, a good 40 minutes after we were promised (don’t bats have watches?), they whooshed out from the Congress Avenue Bridge. Except the whooshing was not so whooshy, and I could barely see it. They flew up and out at the far end of the bridge in darkness, a distant swarm of what looked like insects, not winged mammals. The show was so boring I felt like leaving before it was over, but I thought the Universe would disapprove.
Was the Bat Walk I remember actually in Houston? Dallas? Have I ever flown to Houston or Dallas? I wasn’t sure. I walked back to the hotel with my eyebrows down, wondering how I had retained so many details that were clearly mistaken. But then, as I scrambled up the hill in the dark toward the deck of my hotel, I practically tripped on a hammock. It was 85 degrees and I had nothing to do, nowhere to be. I lay down in it, breathing in and out and appreciating the fact that in downtown Austin there existed a hammock and that I had the leisure to use it. And I didn’t budge for 15 minutes.

I am done; I swear I will never try to relive a fond memory again. From now on I will make only new ones.


Merry New Year’s—Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Last night after seeing the West End play “War Horse,” I walked through the streets of London for nearly an hour and a half, grinning so long my face feels a little off this morning.
I’ve been staring at that sentence for a good ten minutes, astonished that it’s true. As I write this I’m on an 11-hour flight headed back to San Francisco, and I feel like I’m in some sort of alternate universe that will self-destruct in five seconds like a Mission Impossible directive. A universe in which one of my clients saw fit to send me to London to teach a seminar on business writing.
I left on Sunday night wearing high-heeled leopard-print calf booties, because really, what is a transatlantic flight without animal-print shoes? When I was 19 and flying to Europe for the first time to travel before starting a term abroad, my mother bought me fabulous pointy-toe leopard-print flats. My feet swelled so much during the flight that I had to walk through Schiphol Airport barefoot the next morning. But this time I knew better, so I was wearing support hose under my jeans. As I walked down the aisle of the plane before takeoff, a man with a weary pre-flight look on his face glanced at the floor, smiled, and said, “Great shoes.”
The first night my friend Angela cooked me seared tuna in her stunning house near Sloane Square and tried to calm my pre-seminar nerves, which were far greater than I let on. When I returned to my über-modern hotel room I went flying down the invisible steps and got an egg on my knee, which I considered a bad sign. The next morning the hotel skipped my wake-up call and I was lucky to be picked up by a cabbie who said he could perform a miracle. As he flew across Barnes Bridge I wondered if I was officially pre-disastered or whether the workshop would go down in history as the worst performance of my corporate career. But within five minutes of meeting the participants I was as happy and comfortable as I am in my living room, and at the end some told me it was the best training course they had ever taken.
Afterward my friend Lisa took me to a candle-lit bistro near “War Horse” and we split some small plates. She went home to breastfeed and I went to the play, where actors animating giant puppets made me believe there were horses on the stage. During the interval I drank champagne and bought a program and a button for Greta, who has a voice like Ethel Merman and is a Broadway show fanatic. At the end I traded my heels for the flats I had stashed in my purse and asked a pedicab driver to point me in the direction of Paddington Station, location of my hotel. I had no idea where it was or how far.
“You can’t walk to Paddington Station from here,” he said in a Cockney accent, clearly offended.
“Why not?” I asked.
“Do you have any idea how far that is from Drury Lane? It’s clean across the city!” He looked at me as if I were yet another in a long line of daft Americans who plagued him.
“That’s okay,” I said. “Can you just tell me the general direction?” He rolled his eyes and pointed thataway behind his head.
Minutes later, I found myself in the midst of nothing less than New Year’s Eve on a Tuesday night in October. The day had been warm and all of London was outdoors, talking and walking and laughing. Everywhere I went there was a scene, as if the Giant Hand were guiding me through all the most glittering streets for miles. Every 15 minutes or so I would ask for directions to Paddington and people would tell me I couldn’t walk there, then roll their eyes and point thataway until I found myself on Oxford Street. I passed one gorgeous store after another, dodging pedestrians left and right. All at once I noticed there were no cars and few people, and I wondered if I was safe until I saw that the past few blocks had been closed to traffic. Workers were stringing Christmas decorations across the road.
And now that I’ve told you this story I don’t know whether the first sentence was the most astonishing or whether it’s the one I just wrote. Three, two, one, pffft.


More Boys More Summer—Sunday, October 3, 2010

I take a physical hit when baseball season ends; that’s how much it affects me to know I have to wait half a year for the boys of summer to return. So you can imagine how it felt to hear that the Giants finally beat the Padres to clinch the NL West title this afternoon, extending the season. It was like getting a transfusion. A baseball transfusion. Warm and orange.

Tom, Greta, Ava and I were at Costco not really shopping for anything while the innings unfolded just a few blocks away. Tom would ask what the score was and I would hit refresh on my iPhone’s Giants Mobile app. We had been at Wednesday night’s game when they beat the Diamondbacks 3-1, and the prospect of getting this close and then being denied was so tangible that Tom turned to me during about the fourth inning and said, “Even when they’re winning it feels like they’re losing.” And it’s true. Caring about the San Francisco Giants is sort of like being a West Coast version of a Red Sox fan; you always feel like your team is on the verge of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

We listened as they announced the game on 680 AM radio in the car on the way home, and when I dashed into a bodega for groceries and saw on the news that pitcher Jonathan Sanchez had hit a triple I made a noise somewhere between a yelp and a hoot that was perhaps not attractive. The guy behind the counter who had been staring up at the screen turned to me and said, “I hear ya.”

When we arrived home we discovered we couldn’t watch the rest of the game on TV because it hadn’t sold out more than 72 hours beforehand, which is about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. So I refreshed a lot on my iPhone while sorting photos, and when we heard that the Giants had clinched I made something like that noise again and started dreaming of the World…nope, I won’t say it. I started dreaming of a lot more summer.

New, or Practically New

  • Fame and Fortune: Currently working on, and shocked to find I’m making headway with, the latter. Partly because of a bit of movement on the former. Perhaps endurance is the key to everything after all.