Sunday, March 28, 2010

2-wheel tweettraces

With spring skies over Berkeley and much too much time having passed since my last attempt at a round-the-bay bike trip, it was well past time for another outing. I'd been putting it off, I suppose, as I stared at the Scattante in my room, and it stared back, the fixed spoke tenuously in place, housing bent, tense, ready to snap. When would it break again? There is, of course, only one way to find out.

And just as Google has come out with its new route planning service for bikes, I've been wanting to incorporate more into this blog around the idea of mapping, map-making, spaces and places, lived and represented. So, for starters, I entered my starting and finishing addresses--my house in Berkeley to the Transbay Ferry Terminal at 1st and Mission where I could catch the F bus back across the bay. But there, Google had me riding to Oakland and then hopping on the ferry for a grand total of 15 miles in the saddle. I entered the addresses of the 6 cafes from the "Heading south, heading north" post and this looked a little more...adventurous, shall we say?

So it was set--I would ride along the path that Google mapped out for me, taking new streets for the closer, more familiar destinations (California to Market Street for the Berkeley to Oakland trip? Really?), avoiding the thoroughfares like E 14th St. in Oakland and El Camino Real up and down the peninsula, discovering a new path to the Dumbarton Bridge...and of course, Google had been kind enough to allow me to pass or stop by at a few new cafes along the way, to sit down, sample the view, and work my way through the stack of papers that I had to grade. A perfect day, mapped out in advance.

Yet, everything I've learned, and feel intuitively (which one was first?) about space and place vitiates against the idea of following the Google map, actually--the strategic planning of paths and points on a fixed grid of representations precluding an engagement with lived, heterogeneous, emergent spaces (de Certeau, anyone? thanks to Donald Moore's anthro seminar on spatialization).

Do maps like this pre-determine our experiences? Can they help us find our way, and still allow us to discover our own paths? Can we use one technology to remix, recontextualize, or even fight another? Or, as the case was yesterday, this warm day in March 2010: Can tweets destabilize a Google map?

Tweets, those little narrative vignettes that are plenty controlled themselves, but which might bring a little life to the spaces in between the points and labels and colored lines. I'm not going to try to theorize this any more here, but to 'hand the mic' over to the tweets themselves to retell a little experiment, on wheels and on media. Wheels, meaning the single-speed Scattante Americano that was to convey me around the bay. Media, meaning the crappy cell phone that would send the 140 character updates over to "40404" to be fed into my Twitter stream.

Oh yeah, and media, meaning the old iPod that would play this tune from Jónsi over and over and over again. Go ahead, click, pedal and spin:

Nice, huh? It starts slow, but check your volume...

After launching on the path, sunglasses on, warm breeze blowing by, I decided to head straight for the sandwiches and not get a haircut and delay the eventual arrival in San Francisco any more. But why are there so many red lights on this path? Pull out my phone and decide to send...

tildensky: Another tweetconfession: Should be #amwriting but #amriding instead. But hey, at least they sound the same, right? Market & 55th.
Green light, red light, and another green light before I got that off. But it seemed like a nice initial signpost; I had noticed that my friend Jane and others use hashtags like this pretty frequently, and was feeling pleased with the thought that "riding" and "writing" sound the same. (though, really, why don't we be a little more honest and say #amtweeting?) And several blocks later...

tildensky: Struck by idyllic painting-style posters on back wall of Oakland Ice Center @ San Pablo & 17th. How many skating rinks are left? #amriding via txt
Of course, many other thoughts filled my mind as I was riding: should I tweet about this, that, or even this other thing? What's the right balance between tweeting and riding? (no tweeting at all, right?!) Who would be seeing these tweets? Was I doing it for myself or for some imagined audience? I bet as I was riding along that I'd lose at least a few followers; better make at least one tweet useful for people: 
tildensky: Pitstop #1. 2 Vietnamese sandwiches to go at Cam Huong, long lines, 4 languages, $5.50. #amriding 9th & Webster
Enough said there, sandwiches in the backpack, and on the road again, a feeling of dread coming across me as I felt my weight on the wheels and saw a familiar scene: 

tildensky: Broken spoke last time at 6th & Webster, passing same spot now reminds me how places where accidents happened become haunted. #amriding via txt
How can I capture the emotion of these moments, reconstructing here what happened then for your time and place? Downtown Oakland feels like the starting point of rides going south, even if it's already 7 or 8 miles in. Seeing the bay, catching glimpses of San Francisco, and smelling the salt, you start to feel a certain rhythm, a kind of immersion...

tildensky: When I'm old or unable to move well, maybe all I'll have to do to travel again is put a little sunscreen on my nose. #amriding Embarcadero
It always works, newer layers of experience laminated upon older ones, all condensed into elongated moments in motion. Why are smells so evocative?

Spinning further south...have you seen these signs?

tildensky: I fly (by) OAK. #amriding via txt
And then the water, the water, have you ridden next to the sparkling water? While listening to this song, or another of your 'this songs'? 

tildensky: Who would have thought that grinding pipe organs go so well with the waves? Grow Till Tall on the Hayward Regional Shoreline. #amriding via txt
Of course, there has to be an interruption or two, fences to climb, tracks to cross or, as the case may be, ride...

Actually that might have been easier than what Google planned for me on the way to EON:

tildensky: After the serene coastline, no shoulder and impatient hordes of Costco-bound shoppers on Hesperian are a definite shock. #amriding barely.
Forget EON. Heading for Calaroga and straight for Paddy's cafe. And isn't that fun to say? "Calaroga, Calaroga, Calaroga..."

tildensky: Paddy's cafe @ Smith & Watkins, open, bright, breezy, and lots of kids' artwork well worth a stop for grading. revving up to get #amriding via txt
Grading, yes. Cappuccino, yes. (How else would this post be fit to be Cafffeinated?) And a 5-minute nap in the park across the street, followed by a little more grading. And then, oh, did I mention this was what my google map had become? You see, I still don't have an iPhone...

tildensky: Watching shadows of trees and wheels lengthen under you, beside you, stretched out in front of you, one of the pleasures of #amriding /UnCty

Of course, everything has to stop sometime. Passing under the Dumbarton to get onto the Dumbarton, razor-wire fencing that would keep you out from the Dumbarton... the fact that they left the door open anyway.

Then up, over, banana, powerbar...

tildensky: What bridge would YOU like to see opened to bikes? #amriding the Dumbarton.
Finally, somewhere in my engridded and geotagged mind, I had just 'turned the corner' and 'headed back up', on the 2nd (or was this the 3rd already) big 'leg' of the trip. Over the bridge. On the peninsula. Headed north. All that and more when...

tildensky: Twas bound to happen: flat on Bayfront Expressway and the wrong pump valve fitting. #amriding has become #amwalking. Still a lovely evening.

The sun slides across the sky that remains, the air still warm.

tildensky: Zoom in, slow down, look, smell, listen. #amwalking with flat thru Redwood City neighborhoods, balmy Saturday, melodious BBQs in full swing.
I never finished the ride, never finished the map, just as I haven't finished this post. You know, I'd love to stay and play another song. But, for the time being at least....

tildensky: Calling it a day after #wasriding & #waswalking to Redwood City and then #waseating fantastic burrito at Naranjo's. now...#mustgetwriting via txt

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

from seconds to minutes...

9:04pm. Last time it was all about the warm-up; tonight the pace is slower, the mood calm. I've done the obligatory surf before settling into grading, and now only plan on looking up from the papers at this table here at Strada when there's a 'bump' in the rhythm of the place.

9:06pm. Soft piano rolling out of the open door, a smattering of people, a few on computers, and what are they doing over there across the way? Looks like playing cards. A guy has plugged his phone into the outlet outside to get a little juice, makes a quick call "Alright bro, I'll be waiting," finishes the call just as quickly, pulls out the plug, and disappears out through the other door. Quiet returns, the intermediate quiet of spring break...

9:25pm. Bus passes. Was it the last #7? Why is Hacking's idea of kinds so hard to understand? What is it about the history of child abuse as a kind, and social construction generally, that's so hard to understand? When did I start to understand this stuff? Do I even understand it now?

9:51pm. At what point when you're sitting in a really quiet place do you start hearing other ambient noises? Suddenly, the sound of the heaters overhead. Have they been on the whole time??

9:53pm. Rain. Or, let's call it mist. First microscopic drops on the right side of my neck and they make me wonder, is it my tight back and bad posture that's making my nerves go off? But, no, not at all...within a minute, the sound of actual raindrops falling on leaves...and the thought, not a great night for biking home.

10:15pm. “Disciplinary power … is exercised through its invisibility; at the same time it imposes on those whom it subjects a principle of compulsory visibility. In discipline, it is the subjects who have to be seen. Their visibility assures the hold of the power that is exercised over them. It is the fact of being constantly seen, of being able always to be seen, that maintains the disciplined individual in his subjection” (Discipline and punish, p. 187). Still sends shivers down my spine. Still raining.

10:46pm. Staff packing up. I look around and there's nobody else outside. A car--a single car--drives down the street, tires making that sound that only wet tires make on a wet street. Is there a word for that sound? Swishing? Whooshing? Damn, language is so full of potholes. It's amazing we can drive.

Monday, March 22, 2010

176 second warm-up

what are all these people doing here? it's the first night of spring break. was just sitting outside and that felt better, actually. was worried it'd be too cool but no. come inside and it feels a little like a jungle. sarah is intent. the guy next to me drums his fingers on the table and then starts writing again, mechanical pencil, textbook open in front of his notebook, so old-school. twirls his pencil around in his finger, looks up, has earphones in. classical music continues. what composer is this? don't recognize the composer. the group of three women sitting across at the table talking like flowing water in a bubbling brook. aren't they they ones i saw a few days ago? music takes a faster turn, other people talking over by the counter. the man behind it, thin moustache, smooth face, nice disposition, always a friendly greeting for me...about time you learned his name, ain't it, dave? how many times have you seen him? meanwhile guy at other table on the other side of the door closes his computer, half says to person next to him (without looking, mind you), i'm gonna go make a phone call. two people leave right after him, and then another 20 seconds later, and both times the guy with the open books next to me looks up and briefly pauses writing as if to think. scratches his head, rolls it around a little, keeps writing. things are flowing. the brook keeps bubbling. music keeps rolling. guy on phone keeps talking. sarah is still intent. and my hands are now warm enough to go back to what i sat down here to do...thanks for following along.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

sunny sunday

Strada is so photogenic! Coming down from running stairs in the afternoon sun at Memorial Stadium, it's hard not to be struck by the play of light off the branches and other objects in and around the cafe...

Of course, these are just crappy cell phone pics, taken a few hours and pages of field notes after the mid-day run. Really ought to take real photos.

And, in the meantime, the sun has set and the vibrancy of a just a few minutes ago has faded into shades of blue and grey, with the trees, tables, pillars, people awaiting the return of their friend from the east in just a few short hours...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ode to Village Grounds

As I sit down outside to write this, I wonder how many blog posts or even business reviews there are for a cafe that has closed. On Yelp it’s easy to imagine that people’s negative reviews could help to close a business. I’m guessing there are even more texts out there that pay homage to the corner shops, noodle houses, antique stores, book sellers, and myriad other businesses that worked their ways into the habits and paths and memories of the neighborhoods they inhabited. I think of the community organizations, even Facebook groups, that have popped up for Oakland’s famous Parkway Theater, which reemerged from decades past in the 1990s, developed a faithful following of couch-sitting, pizza-munching movie viewers both far and near, and only recently closed down again. Will it return?

It’s a calm night outside Village Grounds, a cafe opened by Sarah and her husband something like four years ago. I’m not the one who’s best situated to write its history; I recognized some of the regulars there, mostly firmly planted behind their laptops and plugged in to the many 6-plug heavy duty outlets, surfing the internet on the free wi-fi—a definite laptop-friendly cafe, and favorite haunt of graduate students with its big tables, good light, open space, tasty eats, and good coffee drinks.

But I’m not the best suited to write a review for this cafe either, sitting then metaphorically as I do now in person, outside the cafe. I’m not sure what it was—the selection of music which (in my early memories at least) always seemed to be skipping over scratches on a CD; the (too) bright sunshine that prompted Sarah to install shades that had to be pulled down just after noon along the cafe’s westward-facing front; or maybe the intensity of the stares of the people in front of their computers, making it seem hard to do what I remember Sarah had wanted to see happen in the cafe from the get-go: talk to others. In fact, now that I think of it, that’s what she had said she imagined with the name “Village Grounds”: that her vision of the place was as a site of community, of conversation, of people getting to know her. To my mind, she always embodied this in her knitting of scarves, beanies, shawls, little booties and other reminders of the people in our lives who haven’t yet advanced to, or have advanced beyond, socializing in cafes and drinking coffee.

So, as I sit outside in the dusk of Berkeley on this warm night in March, looking into the dark windows and table-less interior of the closed cafe, it’s not without some sense of guilt that I recall that this wasn’t one of my favorite places to sit. As if…

As if I am complicit in the closing of this popular spot, where Sarah had gone so far as to allow me to sell some of my dad’s photo cards from a little basket that had sat right there on the countertop for over a month. Where I had sat and written a few papers and probably even more blog posts. Where I had sat and worked and talked and laughed and eaten and deepened my friendships with Thao, Mark, Rie, Diana, others…

The sky is getting darker. There are no signs indicating the cafe has closed, but the emergency light shining off the empty concrete floor seems to tell the whole story. Time to go home.

Thank you, Village Grounds. I wish the best to Sarah and her family and the folks who worked at Village Grounds, and hope there are others of ‘us’ out there who remember too.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Outwrite thanks!

Wow, it's been a few weeks! A tweet from the applied linguistics conference in Atlanta I just got back from:
Thanks Outwrite bookstore cafe in Midtown Atlanta for 2 hours of divine tunes & focus. No exaggeration to say my #AAAL paper came out there.
There's not much better than a combination bookstore and cafe, and with hardwood floors at that. And I don't know how many lesbian & gay cafe/bookstores there are in the whole nation, let alone in Atlanta. Got anything to say back to that, San Francisco?