Impromptu Joy Ride

Light trails on highway at night

I was pulling the car out to get to the garbage bins. but instead of leaving the car idling in the driveway, hopping out, and finishing my chores, I just kept backing out.

At first, I was just going to go around the block and pull back in, but the beats were good, and it was a warm enough evening to open the sunroof. So I took a left instead of a right.

An impromptu joy ride.

The song ended, and the vibe changed, but I was already committed, so I pulled up the curb, scrolled through some old faves on Spotify, and found Propellerheads — a killer late 90’s EDM album with the clever title “decksanddrumsandrockandroll”

Great album, but there’s a standout song: Take California. The bassline just makes you want to drive, and then when the beat drops, you feel like you’re in a movie: the good guy going out for vigilante justice, the hero hunting down a treasure.

It was this song that I listened to on my very first car ride in my very first car: a 1990 Toyota Camry LE. It cost me $9,900, more than I ever paid for anything EVER, and I was proud I talked the owner down that extra $100. She kinda laughed.

I had the song picked out and popped it on the minute I left her driveway: Rt 280, Redwood City to San Francisco’s Outer Sunset. A lusciously curvy, speedy freeway. I played that shit on repeat 6 or 7 times, all the windows down, sunroof slid back, flying in the dark, enjoying the empty lanes at 9 o’clock at night.

And here I was doing it again, only this time I’m driving the streets of Oakland and the car wasn’t used; it was new and cost much more than $9,900. And was big enough to accomodate 4 child seats — certainly part of its allure.

How far I’ve come.

Reflecting on my first car during that impromptu joy ride was like reading an old journal; you have to laugh at yourself: so serious, so wrapped up in the problems at hand, tied in knots over things long since solved. The writing is so dire, filled with tons of absolutes: I’ll never be able to… why is this so… it always happens this way…

All that figuring… pages and pages of scheming plans and coming up with workarounds, rationalizing, wishing, masking regret with lessons learned.

In the wisdom of old age you learn to value perseverance over almost everything else.

However I’m feeling, whatever is happening, just keep moving forward.

Better advice than any genie can give.

That and taking a joy ride through the streets of your town in between taking out the trash and putting the kids to bed.

Those two things will get you far.

Keep moving, enjoy the wind in your hair, remember what you’ve been through, and be proud of how far you’ve come.

Take California.

These Things

Paintbrush and Keyboard

On the last day of packing up my childhood home, I rubbed my hand along the molding that held all of the hash marks of our heights through the years. And with the sight of each penciled-in slash, that feeling of a ruler on my crown.

And shoes… shoes are so hard to throw away. They look back at you as if making a final plea. Weathered and worn, their scuffs and holes tell stories, like an old pock-marked movie theater owner. Ghosts in our closets, threatening us with our own secrets.

The loose lightswitch; how I’ve cursed that thing and, on better days, laughed at it in the dark.

Even more aggravating, the wooden animal sculptures on the end table in the hall, with their long narrow legs (a sculptor’s practical joke, no doubt), always topping over at the slightest nudge by a knee or elbow. I’ve scolded them too. But I love them, I love how they’ve made every one of us stumble and cuss on the way to our beds.

My computer keyboard! Such an immense love for this tattered antique, with its letters rubbed off from decades of the soft solitary dance of my fingertips, alone with me in the magic, an accomplice in my quest to find the gods. Will it be wrong to weep when it gives out on me?

These things — they make a sane man look crazy just by being the recipient, indeed the adored object, of his fleeting tribute.

It’s my mother’s fault; ah, the queen of inanimate objects, of THINGS! She had a lamp in the corner she called “mother.” The flowers in her garden represented loved ones passed, green traffic lights on the way to piano lessons — yes! A sure sign Grampa Vic was giving us a wink. Pictures, blankets, collectible pencil sharpeners, stained doilies, an oversized grainy TV, half a dozen neatly folded washcloths never moved, the Lion’s Club blazer in her closet — all bringing her closer to people who aren’t here anymore and, sadly, farther away from people who are.

When I finish a book, I always hold it against my chest for a while, as if the author could know, as if the pages could feel my thumb fanning them tenderly. And for a moment, maybe, just maybe, I too can feel all the others who laid still after the last page, their eyes closed like mine, still as a corpse in the greatest reverence to what they were given.

These things hold the milestones of our lives like pressed flowers, sometimes more alive than we are ourselves. They talk to us, scream at us, and cry with us. They are companions in a hard world, obeying our orders to stay the same, to hold still—the only things that hold fucking still as the world whips and spins and splits apart.

I keep a paint brush on my desk, a gift from my art teacher for being a varsity scholar, or a “varsity scoffer”, as he used to say. When I notice it, I pick it up and brush it across my palm. The bristles are perfect; they’ve never been touched by paint.

Is it so crazy to believe that these things are alive, that they can hear us and record our lives when we’re too busy to do it ourselves?

Our trail of evidence. Oh, that we’ve lived!

And though they cannot breathe and sing and travel to the moon, they are sure to outlast us, to remain faithfully quiet and still in our absence, to hide in plain sight in order to be found once again and touched and held in the shaking, searching hands of the ones who loved us most.

First Smile of the Day

Sump Pump Work in Progress

My first smile came from an unexpected source: the image of 5 Latino guys, covered in mud and rain, laughing hysterically outside my basement door.

Here’s the unfunny part. Our drainage system broke down, and we needed to install a sump pump and a whole new line of underground plumbing, so I hired a team. They did great work, powered right through the rain that won’t seem to stop these days.

It was a Thursday, so I was upstairs in my office working when I got a text from one of them: “Please to turn on circuit. No power.”

I went down into the basement, and sure enough, the circuit for the front porch had been tripped. I flipped it left then right and heard a jackhammer start up outside the basement door. Then, unexpectedly, laughter.

When I popped open the door, they were all in various stages of joy, some doubled over, some with hands on hips, one holding his head, another pointing. When I laughed with them, they replayed what had happened in a Mr. Bean-style of exaggerated mimicry. Apparently, upon my switch-flipping, the jackhammer, still plugged in, had suddenly come to life, and the youngest guy in the crew jumped. He jumped about 2 feet in the air, it sounds like. They couldn’t get enough.

What a sight: 5 guys in jeans, boots, and T’s against the backdrop of utter chaos, everything covered in mud and in piles, the light rain had been coming down for hours… and here they were, laughing their heads off.

Only moments ago, they were breaking concrete and digging 4-foot trenches with shovels, and I was staring intently at emails, with the end of my glasses in my mouth — wondering whether to take on another project to cover the cost of the hubbub outside, and admittedly stressed because I don’t understand Spanish nor sump-pump mechanics.

It’s so easy to fall down in a hole. I’m sure they’d agree.

A bit of laughter from the belly; that’s just what we needed.

Easy to translate.

Found in the strangest of places.

The Storm Cloud

I’m not sure where we were headed, but we were on a mission. It was clear to both of us that we needed to get somewhere, despite our sore feet and sore backs.

“Storm Cloud.”

“I see it,” I said, looking over my shoulder. “We should head back under the trees.”

“We’ll never make it in time.”

We both stopped, as the dark grey cloud moved in and took up the whole blue sky. There was nothing left to do but watch.

It was alive in its swirling, full of meaning and purpose, showing off its thousands of greys. The open meadow darkened, which was unsettling, as if someone on the edge of the glade had dimmed the lights without telling us.

“It’s here.”

With it, the rain dropped on our upturned faces, a message conveyed and received. Our clothes speckled into wetness, our hair matted down, dripping droplets into our eyes and mouths and down our backs.

No longer going in but now fully in, we raised our arms and turned up our palms, half in reverence, half in defeat, standing in a thousand greys. Grey ourselves.

All at once, the change was complete, as if a parallel world, tired of waiting, took its turn.

The cloud kept moving, impartial and proud. We turned our heads as it passed over us like a leviathon, everything around it blurred and penitent.

And as quickly as it came in, it left, on its own terms, an intruder that changed its mind, allowing the blue sky to show again.

Our faces felt no more rain, the meadow lightened; greens and blues returned without apology.

We looked at each other, as still as the stones, as wet as the grass, and decided without words but with renewed purpose and belief, that we should walk again.

Gen Z Wants a Redeal

Saving for a house

I’ve been talking to teens and young adults about the state of our country and the world in general.

“Where do you find hope?” I ask them.

They’re always silent. No quick responses.

WTF. Aren’t the kids supposed to hold hope for the rest of us? Isn’t the younger generation suppose to be unrealistically and annoyingly hopeful?

Instead, they’re already curmudgeons. Most of them are depressed. Like clinically depressed. And these are the smart ones, the thinkers, the kids who are tapped into the news cycle, the ones who discern the sentiment of a generation through thousands of 10-second TikTok clips. Reminds me of those old flip books, where you flip the pages and watch static images come to life and tell a story.

And the story they see is bleak.

Storms and fires in the forecasts
World leaders, deaf, greedy, and unjustly placed
Companies, indifferent, consolidating
Monopolies in every industry
Ads interrupting Art
Wars led by egos
Genocide before our eyes
Colleges, overstuffed and overpriced
Home ownership impossible
Two full-time incomes required to live
Price points tripling
Identities imprisoned
Love regulated
Narcisissists unregulated
Families divided
Dads still leaving (or not staying)
Lies believed
Democracy declining
Disease rates climbing
Smiles covered
Happenstance not happening
Debt climbing
Income stagnating

Did I miss anything?

I have to just nod my head as they go through the list. They ain’t wrong. How do you find hope under the weight of all this?

I think back to when I was a teen. Gen X. We were the slacker generation because we walked around the world in a slouch, no real cause, not lucky enough to have a war to fight, or to fight against.

I never thought about the big stuff. Didn’t have to. Not proud of that, but that’s how I was: a slacker. And you know what else I was. I was happy. Happy and hopeful. I think.

Divorce was rampant, Reagan was coming up, with the Clintons and the Bushes not far behind. Regulations were being unbuckled notch by notch as I slept through the news and listened to Nirvana.

I’m not saying ignorance is bliss. Hardly. Ignorance is dying in your sleep.

I didn’t find hope in ignorance.

I found it in the cracks; I just didn’t know I was looking in the cracks. The cracks were my whole world.

A lot of the kids I talked to, when I asked what gave them hope, they said “I don’t know. Maybe this.”

“You mean this conversation?”

“Sort of.”

Is it that simple?

I thought of the drunken floats we used to do down the American River outside of Sacramento. The best part wasn’t the rapids and it wasn’t the drinking. It was the calm moments in between when we’d pull our rafts in close and hook our legs over the sides to talk with each other.

Perhaps this generation feels unlistened to. By everyone. Even each other. Everyone wants a platform and an audience; everyone’s watching each other, but the sense that people are listening. Is that lost?

Is hitting “like” and “subscribe” the same thing as looking someone in the eyes and nodding in support?

The rafts are floating apart. We’re connected by strings attached to cans — a dangerous ruse.

So what is hope?

Being naive enough to think you can change the world?

Or knowing you can’t do a goddamn thing but still trying.

Sorry. Even the hope of this slacker is waning. I’m really trying here, I swear.

Maybe that’s enough. Nirvana and flip books, Doja Kat and Tik Tok.

Maybe the search for hope is enough to keep it alive, a flickering flame, cupped and protected, enough of a thing to hand off.

Even if you don’t know what to do with it.


How To Get Stuff, By Hazel F.


We dragged our 7-year-old to the Alameda Flea Market, kicking and screaming and clawing for her iPad as we pushed her out the door. Secretly, I thought about staying home too, mostly to work on an online course I’d been building for how to look for work.

Glad we didn’t stay home, though. The Flea Market had a lesson for us, and for me in particular.

Hazel’s mood turned as soon as she saw all the jewelry and gemstones lining the tables that repeated themselves off into the horizon. We stopped at every sparkly booth.

Hazel didn’t spend any of the $5 we gave her, but she got plenty of stuff.

First, the guy in the tie-dye gave her a big pin that said BOSS on it with a rainbow behind it. She put it on immediately.

Next, she got a bejeweled snap-open case — probably for holding a small photo or maybe cocaine. She gasped when she saw it and pulled me over to look at it. The vendor, this time a pair of bearded late-twenties hipster guys, offered it up to her.

“I heard her call you dadda. That’s what my girl calls me. She can have it.”

Hazel beamed.

There was one more item, the greatest win of the day, given by a tall white woman with white-blonde hair in black overalls. She had hundreds of rings set out with glass-blown eyeballs on them. Hazel kept picking them up, putting them in my face, and making scary noises.


I’d feign fear, and she’d laugh every time, put it down, then pick up another one.


In the background, the overalled woman was in a squat doing something with her hands. She popped up and walked over with a locket that had a clear top and about 30 tiny little glass eyeballs inside. She handed it to Hazel and showed her how the little swivel knob opened and closed the case.

Then she looked at me. “I love her enthusiasm.”

I got the sense this woman loved her work, that there were shittier jobs before this one.

And then she said, “Enthusiasm, kindness, and curiosity. I reward those things.”

Wait a minute. That’s my line. I just wrote that exact same line this morning (Okay, maybe not exact). But that’s what my job-search course is about.

We can all take a lesson from Hazel.

Whether looking for a job or gemstone, step away from the screen, get out there, be enthusiastic, curious, and kind, and good stuff will come to you. It’s funny; when you’re off networking with people, you don’t get an interview by asking. You usually get it by being enthusiastic, curious, and kind.

And it’s gotta be genuine. The fake stuff doesn’t work. You need to bring the wonder of a 7-year-old into the conversation.

Even if you don’t get stuff right then and there — we can’t all be Hazel! — you’ll be better off, you may learn something, and you’ll make someone’s day. Like rows of hand-made eyeball rings on a tapestry, these are the things to be treasured.

The Boy, The Lion, and the Stick

Don’t look down

A boy and his elder were walking in the mountains and came across a lion. Before the elder could stop him, the boy poked the lion with his walking stick.

The lion sprung up and growled.

The boy raised his stick and got into a fighting stance. “Get back!” he yelled, but the lion roared.

The elder lowered the stick of the child, put her arm around him, and pulled him close.

The lion roared and stepped closer. It got right in the boy’s face, roared so loudly it moved the boy’s hair, and then moved in front of the elder, who stood as still as the mountain.

Looking into the eyes of the lion, she spoke. Her words were soft and steady: “I am sorry that the boy poked you. I understand your growl.”

The lion roared.

The elder stood with the boy stone-still, save for the slightest nod of her chin.

The lion roared, louder. Louder. LOUDER!

And then it turned away.

The elder waited until the lion laid back down, and then pulled the boy and his stick away.

“Your are courageous,” said the boy.

“I am respectful,” said the elder.

“You faced that lion,” said the boy.

“I faced the fate that you created.” the elder said, and then turned to the boy, her eyes dark as night, reaching into his soul. “How is it that you use your stick but don’t expect the roar?”

The boy looked at his stick.

“You hold the stick and tell the lion to stop. But you cannot stop it. It is nature. As the wind blows, the trees bend. This is how it is.”

She raised his chin with her coarse, thick fingers.

“Listen to me now, my boy. In these words, you will find real truth and the real courage that you seek: The only way out of a lion’s roar is to put down the stick.”

She put her hand on the boy’s shoulder, gently this time, and softened her mouth. “This is even more true if it is your stick that created the roar.”

She opened her hand, a hand with so many folds and scars, that even the trees respected her.

The boy handed her his stick.

She used the stick to pry a rock loose in the ground. A salamander, awakened by the light, scurried into the grass.

“Now you understand the lion’s roar,” she said, patting his little round belly.

“… Whether you are the lion or the stick.”


person standing on white snow covered mountain during daytime

Entitlement elbows Kindness right out of the room.

When someone is entitled (e.g. “This is mine for the taking”), they eliminate the possibility of being assisted.

People around them get the message and put their hands down. They may cheer for the entitled person, but they’re not really rooting for them because they were never part of the story.

When someone is entitled, they may rise up, but they will necessarily be alone on that mountaintop and will have robbed everyone else, not just of the view, but of the opportunity to help.

At the heart of it, entitled people are not just selfish but destined for loneliness.

To need help, to give help, and to acknowledge the giving of help… this is the lifeblood of connection. It’s what draws people to us.

And, when it comes to nourishing our souls and injecting meaning in our moments, there’s nothing more important than that.

If you feel like something’s missing in your life, pause your quest for accumulation and ascendancy. Notice the people around you.

Be humble, be kind, be grateful, and help when you can.

InBoxed In

Hands typing on a laptop keyboard

Checking email can feel like a race. Respond, respond, delete, archive, respond, flag as spam, delete, delete, delete. But it doesn’t have to be like this.

We should remember to invite things into our inbox that we want to see, things that bring absolutely no stress with the message they carry.

Try it.

Reach out to someone — a client, a friend — with no agenda whatsoever. Only to show them love. Or interest.

They’ll respond with the same unneedy gesture, and you’ll both have a bench to sit on in the middle of the marathon.

A 5-second meetup.

A smile in your back pocket.

Joy on demand.

Do You Believe In Magic?

woman in fairy costume standing on green field

When people talk about manifesting reality, those around them may roll their eyes.

While I don’t believe we can alter the universe to our own benefit, I do believe we can change our perspective. Or, perhaps, sharpen it.

When we make a decision in our mind that reaches all the way down to our heart, we walk through the world with renewed vision. We see things we wouldn’t have seen before, things we can gather, act on, and integrate into our lives.

In this way, science and prayer are one and the same:

Pragmatic magic.

Controllable dreams.

Fairy dust in our fists.

It’s not the universe that changes.

It’s us.