Saturday, May 15, 2010

Cali 101 – San Francisco

May 10
Get your motor running…
What's that?
Head out on the highway…
There's this tingling sensation in my blood.
Looking for adventure…
Yes! I think it's time for a road trip!
Born to be wiiiilllld!
Yes friends the opportunity has presented itself for me to, once again, get in my car and drive, drive, drive. I found out a couple of weeks ago that my favoritest writer in the world, Isabel Allende, is doing a book tour and she would be in Portland, Oregon on May 11th. "Portland isn't that far from LA, I could probably make it there and back in three days," I thought. Of course my plans never EVER work out which is why I bought the ticket on a whim and informed my family a mere two days prior that I was going to leave. The more random the better, we all remember what happened during The Great Phoenix Escape of 2008. Exactly, no more plans for me.
Well, no concrete plans. I still need a route of course. So looking at a map I decided to drive north on Highway 101 which starts here in Los Angeles and is known as the Hollywood Freeway and ends in Washington state in Port Angeles. Yes, that Port Angeles and yes, it takes you right through a once-unknown small town called Forks. Stop smiling now, I didn't go that way. I'm just giving you some info so you know. Actually, had I the time I might have been tempted to venture to Forks and take a picture with their sign, go to the hospital and see Dr. Cullen's parking spot, and go to the local café and order a "Jacob Blackberry Cobbler" (Am I the only one who thinks that sounds dirty? It reminds me of "pie-flavored balls"). But tempting as that great cultural event might have been, there just wasn't enough time. Also, the weather was warm and sunny so there wouldn't have been any vampires anyway.
As I was saying, the route I chose was Highway 101 to San Francisco all the way up the coast of Oregon and then a small highway to Portland where I would catch Allende's program, get my book signed, and then take Interstate 5 South and be back in LA on Wednesday. Sounds simple, no?
We begin Monday very early in the morning and excitement running through my veins because today I get to go to San Francisco, a city I've wanted to visit since my young days plastered in front of the television and watching Full House. By the way, I found this out after I had purchased my ticket, Allende was also going to have a program in San Francisco (where she lives) which included a dinner. But spoiler alert I'm not regretting any of it.
I had my healthy breakfast of donuts and coffee very early and needless to say that fat kid was hungry as the morning went on but I was planning on arriving in SF early and I thought "I should go to Chinatown and eat Chinese food, I bet it's bomb there." I should travel with someone just so that they can contradict every plan I have, things will go smoother.
In the meantime I am driving with clear blue skies, my iPod blasting all kinds of randomness, the ocean on my left, and vineyards on my right. It's absolutely gorgeous. I stop in a little place called Morro Bay because the sign said that Hearst Castle was that way (it wasn't) and I walked along their town for a little while to stretch my legs. The people where very nice and the town was serene (and the bathrooms clean). I took a few pics and headed on my merry way and then…it took a while for me to get back on the highway. See what happened was that I had to get off and get on Pacific Coast Highway (US 1) to get to Morro Bay but on my way back I apparently took a different route and well I didn't get lost per se but it took longer for me to get back to where I was. On the bright side the views were incredible. The road winds through a forest full of trees, rivers, and creeks and vineyards. It was awesome.
Regret Number 1: With all of the views that I saw and the nature surrounding me the whole way I totally regret leaving my film camera in Mexico. BOTH OF THEM. I had my mom's digital camera with me and it takes good pictures but a) it puts the date on every picture and b) call me old-fashioned but nothing captures the beauty and light of Mother Nature like film. Digital cameras are great because you can see the picture you've taken but in the end they are just millions of pixels attempting to re-create reality, it's just not the same.
After a while I get back on the 101 and then reach San Francisco (yay!). Of course as soon as I reach the city things get crazy and I take a weird turn and then I'm in a random neighborhood and I can't see the Golden Gate Bridge or the city. Shit shit shit. To top it off I tried to follow my instinct and keep heading north and I ended up going around in a great big circle. By this time I'm lost and starving AND I had wanted to take the ferry to Alcatraz which stopped making trips at four. So I stop at Walgreens and buy a map and realize that I'm waaaay on the other side of town. Ok. So drive to downtown and I pass right by Chinatown like three times and can't find a place to park. By now I've given up Alcatraz, by now all I want is to eat and screw the city. There are people everywhere, in cars and on foot, the parking costs are extreme, and at one point a cop is driving behind me for like ten minutes making me even more nervous than I already am.
Finally I find a parking spot and I only have enough change to buy thirty minutes worth of time and it's downhill. So I say a little prayer that my car doesn't give up on me and fly downhill and rush to see as much as I can (actually I was rushing to get some food). Somewhere on the street there is this woman handing out coupons for dim sum and I tell her I want some Kung Pao Chicken. I think she says ok and we go inside where it's completely empty (never go in a restaurant where there aren't any people) and she writes down my order. As this is going on my stomach growls and I ask for a side of fried rice too because just Kung Pao Chicken isn't going to fill me up. She asks me some more questions and I just nod because I don't quite understand what's going on and then my total comes: $27.70.
Since the price of parking is ridiculous I briefly think that the food is also very expensive until I look at the ticket and see that she has charged me the same amount four times. Um…I just want one. I tell her as much but I don't think things are getting through to her and I'm signaling to the cook not to start anything. I mean maybe a few weeks ago I would've made a fat kid joke but I lost five pounds! No way am I going to eat that much food, I'm even a little offended. So she understands that it's just one order but they can't make it for one so I have to leave, and honestly I'm probably hungrier than when I went in. Turn the corner and there's a place that sells Chinese food a la mall food and I quickly order because by now the meter is running low. With food in my hand I trek back to my car.
Confession: I also have wanted to go to San Francisco so that I could go up a steep sidewalk and say: "Girl I been shaking my ass all the way up this hill". Except it's funnier if there's someone with you.
Afterwards I drive and try to capture as much of San Francisco as I can and after an hour or so with the random rain coming down I decide it's time to leave. In all honesty I didn't like San Francisco very much and I know I can't decide in a couple of hours if I like something but the first impression counts for a lot and I wasn't all that impressed. Did I mention that I found the Hispanic neighborhood? I did, it was all very sudden but it just goes to show that wherever I am I have no trouble finding my peeps. Because I'm so hungry and because it's called Taqueria Vallarta I jump in a quickly munch on some beef tongue tacos which left me quite disappointed, not unlike the city itself. Going towards the Golden Gate Bridge I get lost for another hour (how hard is it to miss the damn thing? Have I mentioned that I haven't actually eaten my food? It's just sitting in the car).
When I finally see the bridge and I'm pretty sure that I can't possibly make another wrong turn, the clouds open up and the sun shines down. It's beautiful you guys, absolutely beautiful. It's also huge and overwhelming. I can't even begin to understand how this thing was built. It is high above the water and just the materials are gigantic and it stretches high into the sky. I'm not gonna lie, I shed a little tear and I left the sense of disappointment behind.
Tomorrow: Will I actually get to eat my Chinese food?

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Spark is Lit But Where's The Torch?

Wow, you go home for a couple of weeks and think "I'm gonna rest, maybe do some hiking, go watch a movie..." and instead all eyes are on Arizona because of a law that was passed intended to...well the intention depends on who you ask. My point in this is not to argue the law (yes, I've read it. No, I'm keeping my opinion to myself.) but to talk about the movement that really has a chance at catching fire again. Back in 2006 I seriously thought that "the sleeping giant had awakened," remember the massive marches from Los Angeles to Chicago to Dallas? Holy shit! I didn't know what the hell was going on but I remember thinking "this could change everything."
And then...not so much. The only thing we proved is that there are A LOT of Hispanics in the United States. But by the next day things quieted down and every year when we are called again to march in the streets for immigration reform let's be honest we all have other things to do. And so the Bush administration did nothing and Mr. Obama is all "Wha?"
But then again why should they do anything? It's not like we're going to...march in the streets every single day? boycott public transportation? get arrested for civil disobedience?
True, several people have done what I've just mentioned though not thousands and definitely not the millions of people who are here legally and support immigration reform and not the other millions of people who are here ilegally and want a solution. What are we waiting for? The politicians in Washington? Just in case you weren't paying attention: They don't like each other over there! No way are they going to come up with a solution any time soon (in fact the President said they wouldn't). And even if they did, would that make everything better between the people. Are the people of Arizona going to say "oh, they're legal now everything's fine" (P.S. 50% of the people in the WHOLE COUNTRY support AZ's law). Like when the teacher says "say your sorry and shake hands" c'mon we all know we don't mean it. Because at the core this debate is about how we, as Hispanics, are perceived by everbody else and a federal law isn't going to change that. What we have a right and a responsibility to do is fight. Fight the misconceptions against our countries, our families, and ourselves.

To start, let's clear some things up:

1) We are not all Mexican. Below Mexico there are several other countries where millions of people live and they are not Mexican just because they crossed the border in Tijuana, Nogales, or El Paso. So stop calling everyone a Mexican and learn the countries.
Special opportunity: When the FIFA World Cup starts next month it will be easier to tell where someone is from because we will all be wearing different jerseys to support our teams.
2) We are not all brown. Yeah, not so much. Let's all crack open a history book and read again the story of when Hernan Cortez (from Spain) conquered the Aztec empire and many many Spaniards came over. Also, many Japanese people live in South America and Philipinos tend to have Spanish surnames. Hispanics come in all different colors, sizes (as in my case), and dialects (historia verdadera).
3) Yes we can speak English. Hint: if you can read this, you can read English and since I wrote it, it must mean I paid attention that day they taught the ABCs and the 123s at school.

Ok, since this is "fair and balanced" blogging let's turn to what the Hispanic community can do to help out:

1) Education, education, education. The "better life for our children" argument doesn't work if our children continue to get the worst grades and/or drop out of school. Of the kids that drop out of school Hispanics make up about 20% of that total.
2) Let's clean up. We all know when we are crossing neighborhoods, it's not like we have to go with a guide to tell us "here's where the Hispanics live and here's where the Whites live." And trust me, it's a big issue with people passing through and see junk cars, grafitti, ugly fences, shopping carts all over our grocery store parking lots, cash advance spots, and liquor stores. A big thing in this country is the impression others have of us, let's make a good impression.
3) Let's remember: El Pueblo Unido Jamas Sera Vencido. It's one thing for us to argue about who has the best soccer team but let's remember that here in the United States a long time ago we were all put under one category and despite our differences we have the power to use this as a strength. We have similar values, we speak a mother tongue that unifies us, and we are the largest minority. Imagine all of us working together for a common purpose.

As the great Mahatma Ghandi once said "Be the change you want to see in the world." I want to smile in the face of those who see me and think "stereotype, stereotype, stereotype" and prove them wrong at every single turn. And I believe if we all do it, this law doesn't have two feet to stand on and the kids in Washington will have to stop their bickering and pay attention because this country needs Hispanics, plain and simple.