Scapegoat is a gem of a play

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My husband and I have been in belt-tightening mode. Apparently we were spending more money than we were bringing in, and that’s kind of the definition of fiscal irresponsibility. So I didn’t renew my many theater subscriptions. But this does not mean that I’ve given up going to plays–it just means that I have to be more creative and more selective. Luckily, the Bay Area has such a range of theater possibilities that being a drama lover doesn’t have to break the bank.

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playwright William Bivins

Of course, being part of the company means that I can either get discounts or occasional comp tickets to PlayGround shows. And volunteering to help with concessions allows me to sit in on staged readings for free. Now for my confession: I often enjoy readings as much or more than fully staged productions…

A reading that recently blew me away was William Bivins’s Scapegoat, which was part of PlayGround’s Festival of New WorksTo be clear, this was not the kind of reading where the actors sit until it’s their turn to speak and then they approach a music stand and read from the script in a row, facing the audience. This was thoughtfully blocked and made use of a few costume pieces to distinguish multiple roles that actors played. Rather than synopsize it myself, I’ve shamelessly cut and pasted someone else’s description of the story from PlayGround’s website:

Clive is a struggling comic book artist whose series, Scapegoat, once celebrated as a cunning metaphor for the African American experience, is now running thin. When his friend is shot by police, Clive finds renewed purpose for Scapegoat. But as sales soar, violence erupts, and Clive begins to question the role of art in the pursuit of justice.

Scapegoat has humor and heart–the two qualities I require before giving a piece my highest rating–and it also shows great imagination. In addition, the reading featured creative staging by the director that supported the story and excellent acting. It also had an ending that was satisfying. (That’s one of my pet peeves–plays that just stop without providing a real ending.) Plus, it had a bonus: because the main character creates graphic novels, a real artist provided large sketches to stand in as Clive’s artwork. And these were not some quickly drawn caricatures; they were clearly the result of time and talent.

I gave it a standing ovation, which I guess isn’t that common at a reading because I think I was the only one who jumped to my feet during their bows. But I didn’t care. It was wonderful to be able to thank the playwright afterward and let him know how much the play meant to me. How often does one get to do that?

Thought-provoking, the characters stuck with me on my drive home across the bridge. Scapegoat was more than entertaining–it brought up important topics and didn’t pretend that solutions are clear or easy. It explored different perspectives and allowed the audience to see the contrast between life’s complicated situations and the comic-book heroes and villains that the protagonist spent his life depicting.

I sincerely hope this play gets a full production in the Bay Area. Watch for it, and if you see that’s it’s playing, go!

 

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Bret Harte Way (#47) and Covert Path (#53)

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I liked this cow mailbox.

My latest path wandering included my friend Julie, who is here visiting from China. We left the car in the driveway and began our walk at my front door. We made our way up Capistrano, up Solano, up Los Angeles Ave, and around the Marin Circle. Then it got really steep. Along Marin Avenue, I pointed out fun landmarks and took a few photos, mostly as an excuse to catch my breath and take a break from what felt like a 60-degree cliIMG_1727mb.

 

We took a right on San Benito Road, crossed Spruce Street, and continued up on Keith Avenue until it reached Euclid. We were glad we’d brought water because it was hot and all that climbing was hard work.

We didn’t see the sign for Bret Harte Way until we were upon it. Beyond the dappled light on a short stretch of sidewalk lay concrete stairs that looked like they’d been the victim of at least one earthquake. Many aren’t level, and several are cracked, but a well-placed orange IMG_1732cone prevented us from stepping on one of the more dangerously crumbly spots.

Bret Harte Way is number 47. Don’t confuse it with Bret Harte Path (#57) or Bret Harte Lane (#72). (One of the path namers was apparently a big Bret Harte fan.) What distinguishes Bret Harte Way besides its worn appearance is that it is also the street address for two residences: 6 and 8 on the south side near the upper entrance. I don’t know what happened to 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7 Bret Harte Way, but even the street sign clarifies that there are only two addresses there.

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Julie flashes the peace sign.

Off to one side was another path that disappeared into greenery and presumably onto private land. I wanted to follow it for just a bit to see where it led, but my traveling companion had already trudged ahead of me. So I ignored my curiosity and kept to the path we’d set out to cover, which changed personalities a few times before we reached its end. It zigged and zagged among shady trees, with some boards affixed at various points along the way to reduce more erosion, I suppose. We hit a long straight section with handrails before it turned residential.

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I almost missed the lettering on this step confirming that we were indeed on Bret Harte Way.

Once we reached Keith Ave, my plan had been to walk the short distance to El Mirador Path (#48) and take it back down to Euclid. But as we paused to rejuvenate, a man saw us pondering our map and suggested we walk further down Keith to take the Covert Path, which he declared the nicest. I consulted with Julie, who saw no reason to ignore his advice. So we passed both El Mirador and Martinez Paths, which I will just have to return to another time.

Covert PIMG_1739ath (#53 & #54) presumably deserves two numbers because it climbs past Cragmont and ends on Keeler. By the time we reached the middle, I felt as if I were miles from any city. The grasses grew wild around the steps, and we encountered a grove of ivy-covered trees. Every once in a while we stopped to turn around and face the bay, and we were treated to some awesome views. We passed a man who cheerfully affirmed that it was much easier coming down than it had been going up. It was quite a long haul, especially in the mid-afternoon June heat. I was overjoyed to reach the top.IMG_1742

Rather than retrace our steps down, we took the city street route, which was a gentler slope that my knees appreciated, I’m sure. And we came upon an adorable fairy garden on Los Angeles Avenue that we hadn’t seen on the way up.

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Although not an official Little Free Library, this rustic version has its charm. I do wonder if a caretaker covers it when it rains…

 

Upon our return, I checked my fitness tracker and discovered we’d trekked over 13,000 steps!

 

 

What’s in a Walk?

What’s in a Walk?

Some well written thoughts on walking seemed an appropriate reposting for The Urban Hiker. And they are especially welcome because they are written by my good friend and recent host in London. Enjoy!

London Lens

I confess. Not until yesterday did I first experience a proper walk in the English countryside, crossing field and wood, navigating stiles and kissing gates, dodging muddy patches, and occasionally remembering to look up to enjoy a stunning view. Aided by perfect weather, instructions printed off the internet, and signposts that appeared as if by magic, it was a spectacular day.  I suppose it is my love for weekend urban exploration that delayed my initiation into this English pastime. This is a decent enough excuse, but I do keenly regret the delay now that I’ve had a taste of the pleasures of this particular type of walking.

start of walk The start of our off-road journey

Walking, of course, has a natural companion — thinking.  And the delight of walking in England of course led me to think about why country walks such as yesterday’s seem to have no equivalent at home in…

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Learning to reframe bad news

 

broken heartFirst, the bad news: I didn’t get the job I’d really hoped to get. I’d applied to be the After School Director at Prospect Sierra’s middle school, but I got beat out by someone with more experience and a PhD. I can’t compete with that. Sigh.

I usually wouldn’t get so emotional about being turned down for employment, but thinking about it afterward, I began to understand the implications. This was not merely an employment opportunity–landing this job would have represented something more akin to healing. Rejoining Prospect Sierra’s faculty would have felt like reconnecting with a long-lost family member or childhood friend.

Now the background: Out of 24 years of teaching, 19 of them were at that school. It was a great place to work, and I got along with teachers, students, parents, and administrators. Except Sheila, the lower school head, who of course was my boss.

In independent schools, teachers don’t get tenure the way they do in public school, and our contracts allowed the administration to dismiss teachers without cause. When the school didn’t renew my contract eight years ago, it felt like a divorce. I was devastated.  It seriously broke my heart.

Luckily, my husband, Dave, was there to pick up the pieces and offered me a job in his company without even so much as an interview.

A few years ago, Sheila retired. Former colleagues kept telling me I should come back now that she was gone. But I had moved on and switched careers. I became a copy editor and proofreader, and I had time to pursue writing. Occasionally I missed the classroom, but I was happy.

I began teaching an after-school creative writing class in the Bay Area called Take My Word For It and ended up getting assigned to one semester at Prospect Sierra and a few at Madera. I think in the back of my mind I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to teach any more–I’d lost my confidence. But it all came back to me, and I enjoyed teaching again, although it was only once a week for an hour.

About this time, my husband and I were reviewing the state of our finances, and it was none too rosy. We weren’t bringing in enough income and had spent most of our savings. It was unlikely that we’d ever be able to retire. We started entertaining the possibilities.

This past February, I ran into a former colleague who still teaches at Prospect Sierra, who mentioned that the school had raised the pay rate for substitutes to $150 a day.

Hmmm…I updated my resume, filled out an application, and was subbing at Prospect Sierra the day after I handed in all the paperwork.

The biggest surprise? I discovered that I love middle school students. Maybe part of my brain stopped maturing after age 13, but I totally relate to them and appreciate their sense of humor. I’d always taught elementary school, but now I was seeing myself as that rare breed I used to pity: a middle school teacher.

mortarboardI became quite fond of these kids and even attended graduation last week. (Yes, I did cry a tiny bit…)

So I was overjoyed when I found out about the After School Director position. What could be more perfect? I wanted it too much. When the head of the middle school called yesterday to break the bad news, it hurt. Even though she wasn’t even at the school when I was let go, it felt a little like getting back together with an ex-boyfriend just to get dumped again.

But the take-home message is that I’ve discovered a new side of myself, and I don’t have to teach where I taught before. There are middle school students all over the place, so there must be openings at other schools, right?

An election-day connection

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Last Tuesday I was running late for my hip-hop class at the Albany Senior Center. (I’ll pause here so you can conjure up and then dismiss those images. Are we ready to continue now?)

I usually walk there because it’s so close, but I was finishing up a project, and…well, you know how it goes. I found a space on the street that required advanced parallel parking skills, but I was undaunted. Because it was a tight fit, my bumper tapped the car parked behind me ever so slightly. Now I’m a firm believer that parallel parking is the very reason we have bumpers. I mean, what are they for if not to protect cars in just this situation?

But when I glanced in my rearview mirror, the sour, wide-eyed expression on the woman in the driver’s seat led me to believe that she may not share this opinion.

Before I opened the door, I took a deep breath and did my best to channel my husband, Dave, who is the consummate diplomat. Then we both got out of our cars to take a look.

“I’m sorry–I must have startled you!” I chirped as she gazed at me, appearing wary of my sunny attitude.

“You hit my car,” she answered, not in an attacking way but in a serious tone.

I decided against presenting my theory on the purpose of bumpers as we both inspected her car. Rather than reacting, I considered my options: Getting defensive would only escalate the tension. Assume the best, I told myself. Be honest, but admit nothing that she could run with (just in case she had a bent chassis from a previous run-in and needed someone else’s insurance to cover it.) I was lucky–there were no scratches, dents, or even dirt on her front bumper.

“It looks like no harm was done,” I offered with a smile.

I saw her shoulders relax and her face soften as she agreed, “Yeah, I don’t see anything, so I guess it’s okay…”

I voted stickerI noticed her little “I voted” sticker.

“Good for you!” I exclaimed, pointing to the little red, white, and blue oval on her blouse. “I sent in my ballot a few weeks ago–I was worried that lines would be long at the polls–but I kinda miss that feeling you get when you vote on election day, and, of course, I didn’t get a sticker.”

All of this was true. For once I actually sent in my ballot early, and I did find myself envying her sticker and the sense of pride that accompanied it.

She opened up, “I voted for Bernie, and it felt really good–voting for someone I truly believe in.”

“Me too! Now I kind of wish that I’d voted today. Were the lines long?”

We chatted for a moment more, no longer thinking about her car or whether bumpers were intended to be bumped. We were just two Bernie supporters who had voted our hopes and dreams, even though we both knew he was unlikely to clinch the Democratic nomination.

bernieI wished her a good day and trotted on over to my dance class feeling lighter. It could have been an ugly interaction with accusations and finger-pointing. But it wasn’t. We’d made a connection, and it actually brightened my day.

Of course, had she been a Trump follower, things might have gone differently…

Miller Path East should be named Bamboo Path

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I know that technically I was still in the same atmospheric layer up on Grizzly Peak Boulevard, but it felt like I had entered the stratosphere once I’d reached that height on Marin Avenue. This is truly the Berkeley Hills.

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I parked my car as far over as I could so as not to block the bike lane. Bicyclists apparently love Grizzly Peak, even though it’s a bus route. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised, but on a Friday after 4:30 it’s actually got a bit of traffic.

Making my way to the entrance to Latham Walk (#43) was more dangerous than any walk I’ve taken so far. I had to cross Grizzly Peak, a winding road with no sidewalks on the eastern side where the trail begins. A very nice car stopped for me even though there was no crosswalk or stop sign for as far as the eye can see.

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This Little Free Library is on Creston Rd. near Latham Lane.

The steps paralleled the road for a bit and then took a sharp angle left, where the trail squeezed its way between two houses. It’s one of the shortest paths, so I found myself on Creston Road in no time.

From there I walked northwest to the upper entrance to Miller Path East (#44), not to be confused with Miller Path West (#42), which is numbered but hasn’t been built yet. (I still don’t understand the logic behind the numbering system.)

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The top of the path doesn’t actually start at the signpost. A concrete walkway that probably belongs to the homeowner on the left side leads path wanderers past trash, recycling, and compost bins until the real path begins off to the right several yards from Creston Road. You can’t really even see it from the road.

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I propose that Miller Path East be renamed Bamboo Path. Not only was there a solid bamboo barrier between the residence to the north and the path, but there were renegade shoots on the path itself and one that had jumped the steps and claimed land for itself on the other side. Knowing from experience how quickly bamboo grows, I’m sure that if I were to walk that same path in a month, those fledgling plants would be taller than me.

IMG_1698Miller Path East is longer than Latham Walk, and I enjoyed the rather curvy descent that deposited me back onto Grizzly Peak Boulevard. At two different spots along the way, private homemade trails broke off from the public path, one to each of its neighboring houses. I smiled, imagining the people who lived there creating these little detours that connected these two households to each other and to the path wanderers out there.

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I wonder if Shel Silverstein came upon something like this when he was inspired to write “Where the Sidewalk Ends.”

 

I managed to cross back over Grizzly Peak and walked as far as I could until the sidewalk was overtaken by greenery.

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As I approached my car, I spotted a sign warning motorists to watch out for pedestrians. It was no longer perpendicular to earth, which made me wonder if it had been hit by a car that was swerving to avoid crashing into an unfortunate path wanderer such as myself.

Probably better not to think about it too much.

Has La Loma Path been forgotten?

IMG_1671If  I were going in order–which was my original plan–I would have taken Bret Harte Way (#47). But I got lost and decided to take the path I found. It’s the urban hiker version of Stephen Stills’s song “Love the One You’re With.” Well, sort of…

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At the bottom of La Loma Path

 

So, for the record, La Loma Path is #85 (not to be confused with La Loma Steps, which is #103). It was a hot day, so I parked my car beneath a large palm tree near the bottom entrance to the path, which is on Glendale Avenue.

From the start, I could tell that La Loma Path had not received any maintenance in a while. In fact, it looked somewhat forgotten.

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Looking back from halfway up the path

 

It has a helpful railing on one side and some out-of-control grasses on the other, making it the narrowest of the paths I’ve taken so far.

And it got narrower as I climbed. At one point I had to duck to avoid a robust thorn bush that hangs over the path in a way that seemed to me to say, Warning–turn around! But perhaps I am guilty of anthropomorphizing an innocent bush that was just left to its own devices.IMG_1666

In any case, the flora almost covered the path completely by the time I was halfway up. It’s a good thing that the railing juts up among the greenery to show the way.

The house on the north-ish side of the path had a sign in its window, which drew my attention to it. So of course I kept looking at it to read it as I got nearer. Here is what is says:

If you are staring into this window instead of walking harmlessly on Glendale Ave sidewalk near by, you’re a PERVERT.

I’m guessing that the occupant has either had an unfortunate incident (or many) or is a teeny bit paranoid. The blinds were drawn, so nobody would have been able to see much anyway. I couldn’t quite make out the words on the smaller sign on the bottom, but I could read the word “peace,” which somewhat counteracted the hostility I was getting from the other sign.

Once I got to the sideIMG_1669 of the house that faced the path, I noted that it had not a single window. And it appears that someone either ran out of paint or energy. Or perhaps the thought was that the inhabitants would never see the side of the house. Only path wanderers would. Or those pesky perverts. And who cares what they think?IMG_1670

 

At the top are some lovely wooden rails to help you mount those last few steps. Unfortunately someone felt the need to write on both posts closest to Campus Drive, the path’s upper entrance. Looking strictly from the top, the path would appear to end abruptly into a giant redwood, but there are actually steps that go around the tree.

Because I had an appointment and had spent way too long driving around looking for other paths, I had no time to wander Campus Drive or Glendale. So I turned right around and descended the same way I’d come up.

I took care not to glance sideways at the windows as I passed.