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Making Good Choices

November 20, 2016

“And the sky is black and still now
On the hill where the angels sing
Ain’t it funny how an old broken bottle
Looks just like a diamond ring
But it’s far, far from me”

– John Prine, from Far From Me

Election Day was twelve days ago. Years from now, maybe someone will ask you what you remember about that day. Where were you? What were you doing? What were you thinking? How did you feel when the country panicked and heedlessly decided to place their confidence in a guy who is the least qualified person we can hope to ever see on the ballot for U.S. President?

What’s particularly unsettling about Americans’ fitful choice this month is that we had a long time to consider the unmistakable evidence; there was no rush. We had plenty of time to make a careful and thoughtful decision. Further, everything we could possibly want to know was right there in front of us. With all the information necessary, we settled on the type of person the country’s founders warned against and tried to prevent with their 18th century deliberations. We claim to hold dearly the principles of the U.S. Constitution, but then elected a person who may have never read it. It’s grotesque to name such a willfully ignorant person like this to high office and expect that he’s capable of preserving, protecting and defending the Constitution.

Psychologists, social scientists and historians have their work cut out for them to make sense out of things. Only time will tell if we’ll learn anything from this. My guess is that in the near term, we won’t. Our children shouldn’t expect this clamorous discord we’ve created for them to subside. It will be theirs to inherit and do with it what they want. Amp it up, like their parents and grandparents chose to do, or understand that there are other paths. Good luck, kids.

I turned everything off before the final votes were even counted. I could see where things were headed. After I returned from volunteering at my neighborhood polling station, I turned on the TV. Ten minutes of the three cable TV entertainment stations once again posing as serious news broadcasters was more than I could stomach. Frenzied Twitter feeds from the experts reporting precinct results from the so-called key “swing states” felt like a slow-motion scene in a movie that ends in pain and sorrow. The perversity of it of course is that it was not only the end of this election year movie we just went through together, but the very beginning of our current affairs. Act One of this movie is a tragic and heart wrenching scene. We’ve just laid out good money for a babysitter, overpriced parking, tickets, popcorn and drinks for this? What were we thinking?

Harper times. Mid-day in California shown here with my son, who had just cast his votes (and brought me fruit and coffee).

Happier times. Mid-day in California shown here with my son, who had just cast his votes (and brought me fruit and coffee).

I still haven’t been back. Magazines have stacked up and the TV screen is black. I’ve purged all Twitter feeds that would keep me current, changed the podcasts, and websites are carefully chosen or avoided. For all I know, the first invoice for the cherished wall has been sent to Mexico, the coal mines have been re-opened and the White House has been renamed. This willful head in the sand approach is what I need for now.

A few days after Election Day, I took a full day to get away. No big deal, just a step to break the shock and sadness I felt. Not feeling very adventurous, I chose the familiar, or what more accurately has to be considered the once familiar, environs of Sonoma County. It wasn’t that long ago that this was my little part of the world. But again, I would be more on target to say that it was a long time ago. Yes, that would be more correct.

Surely, a road trip to the old grounds would be just what the doctor ordered. Although I couldn’t really describe my purpose to go there instead of someplace else, it seemed like a good choice. Just to make sure, I devised another goal. I wanted Sonoma County apples and the coffee from one of my favorite local roasters up there. That would be tangible (and tasty) evidence to myself that I completed the course.

Within a few miles, it was impressed upon me that my imagination about the trip would have to yield to the reality that the distance between here and there has to be measured in San Francisco Bay Area terms, with all the overcrowded and bad roads included. I drive about one hundred miles each day. I should know better. But since I go the opposite direction, I fooled myself into thinking that it would be much different traveling north. But I stuck with the plan; it was shoulder to the wind. I wasn’t going to let a few (bazillion) cars get in the way of the apples and coffee I wanted to haul away.

While the “capture the flag” anticipation kept me motivated to keep the car pointed in the right direction, the trip’s real purpose was certainly deeper. And maybe it had little to do with Election Day. And the sad truth of Election Day is that it had less to do with the people on the ballot than it had about the people who put them there.

I finally cut my way through to county. My first stop was to fuel the car on the edge of a shopping center that hasn’t always been there. I remember that land as the marshy baseball diamond where I threw baseball pitches to my boys when they were in grade school.

With the car full, I then got on to the business of finding the old country roads we used to travel. Miles of memories are on these roads. They are packed with daydreams of a lifetime. The utility of these pastoral roads was once school day commutes. As part of my post-election therapy, it was simply getting to the apples and coffee.

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At the coffee store, the young woman behind the counter cheerfully complimented my order with the exclamation, “excellent choice!” I took her word for it. She works there. Besides, there was no way to deny it while sipping the black coffee in the late afternoon sun. It was in fact a very good choice. I stayed on that bench until the sun started to slip away.

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I’ve been listening to Leonard Cohen’s music and holding my own memorials for him. I sat on the bench and raised my cup of hot black coffee to him. After few sips, I raised my cup to the Awful Truth.

It was funny however, I sat there realizing that I had no idea whatsoever where I’d find the apples. I lost track of the roadside orchard stands long ago. It was late enough in the day that I couldn’t just venture out and expect to find them. I remembered the local grocer that was a little farther west and was prepared to drive out there. I knew that they would have the apples I wanted. If worse came to worst, I would even settle for the other local grocer who had sold to Whole Foods. They too would have the apples that I came for. As good fortune would have it, when I walked back to the car, I remembered that there was another local grocer that had relocated to a spot only a block away. Perhaps the most appealing thing about this store that was a block away however was that it is a co-op. Yes, it is an honest-to-goodness local cooperative managed by the employees. I have no idea how well things work for them, but they’ve been at this for forty years and at least they are still talking about personal responsibility, respect for others and cooperation. That was enough for me that day.

I went through the boxes of apples with the young man in the produce section. He was new to the store, but took the time to figure things out and help me narrow in on the local crops, insisting that I try them before I bought them. It was pretty easy in the end, since there were only two varieties from the orchards outside of town. I brought them up to the counter and another kid greeted me with a big smile and asked, “just the apples today?” He had the same general healthy and vibrant appearance as the kid over in produce. They were both big strong kids with lots of hair and a certain relaxed self-confidence.

When I told him that I had just driven the better part of one hundred miles for the apples and coffee, there was a sense of concord. He probably didn’t give it a second thought that there might have been something else behind the quest. After all, people travel from all parts of the world to drink the wine from the vineyards that have replaced the apple and pear orchards that used to be outside of town. To his mind, maybe I really had just driven a long distance just for the apples and coffee.

He finished with his task, straightened up and looked directly at me. With a charming earnestness and sense of sincerity, he told me that I am “clearly making good life choices.”  I smiled back at him, paid him $7.82 and wished him a good evening. It wasn’t necessary to respond with much more than that.

 

 

 

37 Comments
  1. So sad, the outcome. So very sad for us and the world.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Indeed. And not without severe consequences we’ve yet to imagine.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Year 2016 has been a bad year for far too many reasons for me.

    Like

  4. I too want to engage in my own personal black out. I haven’t been able to yet. Congrats to you for having the willpower to do it.

    And you’re right about the stench of Bay Area traffic extending further and further. It’s virtually impossible to go west of Sacramento without hitting a traffic jam.

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    • Hi Mark, it’s harder and harder to find a quiet road in the Bay Area. Even the smallest of two-lanes can be packed. As for the blackout, it’s the way for me for now. I don’t know how long I’ll stay away.

      Like

  5. From here in Australia I’ve had to stop watching what appears to be a horrible train accident approaching. I feel a civil war coming on, weirdly. But for now I’ll pretend we’re safe here in Australia. Not sure for how long. Feeling all Doomsday-ish.

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    • Hi Jess,

      There is an unsettling clamor. I have no doubt that the pitch still isn’t high enough for some. We need a steady hand right now.

      Like

  6. The day after, I went into NYC and went to an art museum and then a dance performance. I tried to find solace in art and creativity. I can’t say it worked so well. Nightmares, sleepless nights, and pure fright about the world our kids and grands are inheriting and pure bafflement in that half of the population that mortgaged our future. Partly I blame myself for not doing more than some phoning an driving people to the polls and also for not recognizing how divided a nation we are. What are the solutions? I don’t know.

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    • Lisa – I haven’t looked at the poll results and therefore, don’t know the demographic outcomes and other details about who voted and why. Just as importantly, who didn’t vote. As always, I’m sure that there was more to be done in many corners to prevent these results.

      I think the baby boomers should be ashamed at how they let us get to this point to begin with. Trace it back to decisions we made or did not make going all the way back to the 1980s and 1990s and I think we could find any number of mistakes that have lead us to this day. So, here we are now. Many of us ducking for cover in the museums, coffee shops and apple orchards trying to make sense of it.

      Like

  7. I hear your pain, Bruce… and regret that we can’t sit face to face, and talk a bit about the situation. It is much easier to witness such a dramatic moment from a distance. Maybe you (and a whole lot of other people in your camp) are too close to the action. Those that wish to better this world have almost always been in the minority. It’s part of our heritage. And sometimes when the winds and the currents are just right, we have the masses on our side. But often, that too, turns into a tragedy. We take our consolation from the universal desire of youth to see a better world, and we know it’s a relatively slow process. But over history, it’s been speeding up. Communication has improved dramatically over the past 500 years. And the lives of most human beings have become easier. But just like the traffic that you encountered in your sentimental journey for apples and coffee, progress doesn’t move in a straight line. There are ups and downs. The pendulum swings this way and that. It’s all part of the nature of life. I trust you have patience for an old man, and just maybe you’ll understand my point of view. With best wishes,

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  8. “Meaningless! Meaningless!”
    says the Teacher.
    “Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.”
    …..
    Is there anything of which one can say,
    “Look! This is something new”?
    It was here already, long ago;
    it was here before our time.
    No one remembers the former generations,
    and even those yet to come
    will not be remembered
    by those who follow them.

    =Ecclesiastes 1=

    So rejoice in the people around you and in your beautiful life 🙂
    And this comes from voter of a Eastern European country, where every election has just brought more corruption in the end.

    Warm wishes from Bucharest,

    Andreea

    Liked by 1 person

  9. GuessI’m turning into an ostrich. My kids are after me because I won’t even get a smart phone. As the world goes by in sound bites my worry now is that as reading, writing, and conversation goes, so will our institutional and historical memory. Who will even bother to study post 1916? How much of change is progress? A lot of it is. My 12-year-old granddaughter showed me her impressive power-point-type presentation Japanese pre World War II militarism. Just seems like the election brought too much ranting and not enough listening and I don’t see it changing.

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  10. I am slowly tipping my toes back into the oceans of data that swirl around me, confused and mostly silent, stunned. At a birthday dinner on Saturday night and looked around the room and thought that in dining rooms and restaurants and bars people are struggling to understand and to find a way to react and reject.

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    • Mat – and of course, in many parts of the country, I’d have to believe that the celebration is just beginning. Perhaps only stunned because they succeeded in what seemed an uphill battle. They now have their hands on the wheel. Or with some, one hand on the wheel and the other held out, finger pointed in the direction of those bars and restaurants that you and your circle favor.

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  11. Loved this post, my friend. I sobbed in the car listening to a tribute to Leonard. As for Election Day, let me just say that living in New York City meant that I was surrounded by stunned silent crowds. I left my apartment in the early afternoon in search of a bit of milk for a restorative cup of tea. Overheard two women on the street: “I can’t believe this happened”, etc. etc. I stopped them and said I was feeling the same way. “I could use a hug about now, how about you?” So we hugged, right there on Second Avenue.

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    • Alice, Hopefully Second Ave. hugs are the first of steps to turn around this whole mess quickly. We need a quick fix for the country that Leonard called, “the cradle of the best and the worst.” These days we sure do subscribe to some really awful ideas.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. So, Bruce, a few weeks ago I said here that Trump wouldn’t win. What a tragedy. Like you, I have avoided television ever since. I now scan the newspaper and my Internet news feed, rarely stopping to read articles. When friends gather, it is like a wake. America’s right wing sold the people this country a pile of crap and they bought it. I just hope that the price isn’t too dear. –Curt

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    • Curt – I’ve chosen to even avoid the headlines. They alone tell a story I’d rather avoid right now. We will pay a high price. We already have. Now watch out for these people to double down.

      Like

  13. Too many people ignore what is happening…
    …but to change things for the better, one has to deal with it.

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  14. Horrendous election that ended even more horrendously. So much ugliness you could have posted here, Bruce, but truth be told, you added sweetness (apple) with the bitterness (coffee), and a hopeful note with your ending quote of ‘clearly making good life choices.’ Driving up to Sonoma – if I was still in the SF bay area, that’s where I would have gone. We almost decided to move up there (instead of waaaay out here in NE), where the apples are fresh, the people are more …. human, and the air is clear. The pace a little slower. The clerks knowingly know about good life choices. And I think that’s all we can do – make good life choices, click off the damn TV as much as possible, but still. But still, make sure those ‘at the top’ don’t damage our life choices. Which means we’ll all have to be proactive in some way. While munching our apples and drinking our coffee…

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    • Pamela – There are obvious good reasons for you to be waaay back there in NE right now. No doubt Sonoma County has its allure and your mind wanders now and again. At least that’s the case for me. Those backroads easily steal my attention and are a frequent daydream.

      Like

  15. Oh Bruce.
    I hardly know what to say.
    I’ve been in a media blackout, except for sports, and have been very slow to re-engage.
    I’m slowly finding my fight but mostly I’m devastated.
    What a horrible, horrible mess.
    Glad you found the comfort of coffee and apples and country roads.

    Like

    • Hi Laurie,

      These things were unimageinable only a few years ago. Surely, reason and good sense would prevail and protect the country from making such an awful mistake. That was then. Only a few short years ago.

      Like

  16. I had a sense around 9 pm (Eastern) where the election was going. Went to bed not knowing the official outcome, but carrying the sense of what was the come. But when I awakened the next day and heard the news, for whatever reason, I heard Annie singing … The sun will come out – tomorrow … and I haven’t overly worried yet.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. What a great account of this sad day…and I’m afraid more sad days to come. My reaction was fairly similar to yours, but when I woke up the next day I felt truly depressed for the first time in my (by now fairly long) life. And I’m not kidding. Your re-action was much more productive. Loved to read about it.

    Like

  18. Dear Bruce,

    I hope the new year brings you health and happiness!

    La multi ani!

    Andreea

    Like

  19. OKay… you’ve had plenty of time for grief. Now wake up and become an involved citizen again. It’s not the time to stop fighting for what is right. It’s the right time to stand up for what is right.

    Like

  20. Dude, at this point we need some sort of sign of life. An anti-Trump diatribe or an appropriate Dylan lyric will suffice.

    Like

  21. kdk permalink

    I’m with Jerol. We need for you to (metaphorically) come back from your Sonoma. Or stay there. But then give us some more apples. In the crazy environment that is this new reality, your words are often our Sonoma.

    Like

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