Why I Love the Primaries

Recently I had the privilege to attend a Bernie Sanders rally at the Tacoma Dome here in Washington State. Yep, that arrow, pointing to the blue smudge amongst the 17,000 other attendees in the picture below…that’s me! It was exhilarating to be among so many like-minded people.

I imagine it would be even more exciting for someone who was still on the fence about who they intend to vote for in the primaries, but I’ve been for Bernie since the last presidential election, so this was more of a confirmation of my beliefs in what he stands for. I will definitely vote for him in the democratic primaries.

But I’m not here to convince you to do the same. Make up your own mind. Seriously.

No, this is a post about primaries in general, and why I think they’re so critically important. It drives me insane that so many people skip the primary process altogether. The voter turnout is always much lower.

I’m a democrat, but here lately, it’s mostly by default. I would sooner die than vote republican, because they represent everything that I DO NOT stand for. But I’m losing faith in politicians in general, if I’m honest, and that’s heartbreaking.

I do believe firmly in the democratic process. I think voting is the most patriotic thing a person can do. When you vote, you’re helping to decide the moral shape of your country, and that’s important.

In a way, though, I think you have more ability to make an impact in the primaries than at any other time. When you vote in the primaries, you’re telling your political party what values you hold, and what direction you want them to take in the future. Even if your person doesn’t win, they’ll think, “Wow, that person stood more radically for women’s rights (for example) than any other candidate, and got 30 percent of the primary vote. Maybe we should take women’s rights more seriously, moving forward.”

I see primary platforms as my wish lists. If my person gets elected, do I actually think they’ll achieve everything they set out to do, given our obstructionist two party system? No one can, regardless of party, the way things stand these days. Not by a long shot. But even if they get partway to where I’d like this country to go, it’s better than the alternative. And if your party learns what truly matters to its constituents, then it will start putting up more candidates that hold those values. And then if that person wins… like I said, baby steps. But steps nonetheless.

So don’t skip your party’s primaries, folks. Don’t skip any election, for that matter. Vote! Vote! Vote!

Me at Bernie Rally

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Bonsai Drama

I have always loved bonsai. This is where nature meets sculpture. It is the careful cultivation of miniature trees so that they draw you in to their magical world. Bonsai tell silent stories. They make you hear wind and water even if it is not there.

They also carry with them a history of love and care. Many are extremely old and have been doted upon for decades. They have a way of creating a universe of their own, and they allow you to visit, provided you behave respectfully. Bonsai make you want to whisper as you walk carefully among them.

So I was delighted to discover that the Pacific Bonsai Museum is not far from me, and I plan to visit very soon. It will no doubt be the subject of another blog post. But I am heartbroken by the reason that this museum has come to my attention.

Bonsai are not about drama. They’re subtle. They’re peaceful. They’re quiet. But sometimes drama is visited upon them.

Recently two bonsai were stolen from the Pacific Bonsai Museum in Federal Way, Washington. (Read more about it here.) They were more than 70 years old, and each worth thousands of dollars. One of them had been cultivated from a seed, in a tin can, by a man who was held in an internment camp during World War II.

There is shadowy footage of two individuals walking in and just taking them in the early morning hours. It’s tantamount to an abduction. It’s horrifying. These trees require special care, and they’re not meant to be hidden away beneath a cloak of shame.

Fortunately, the thieves seem to have figured that out, because they left them on the road leading to the museum two days later, and they were discovered by security guards. One of them had been transplanted and had suffered some damage. The other one, thank goodness, was unharmed.

I don’t understand the instinct that some humans have when they see something beautiful and fragile and defenseless and can’t resist taking that thing and trying to possess it and ultimately ruining it for everyone. It happens all the time, and it defies logic.

We all should make space for quiet, tiny, beautiful things, and we need to share these things, gently and respectfully, with the wider world in a spirit of grace and generosity. To do anything less is uncivilized.

Bonsai

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That Moment When the Hair Stands up on the Back of Your Neck

So, I was sitting at my desk at work. It was a typical day on my drawbridge (if you can call any day on a drawbridge typical). I’d been there for several hours. I was thinking about lunch. That’s when I saw the half-eaten food in the recycle bin.

My first instinct was to be irritated. Not everyone takes recycling as seriously as I do. I sighed, and transferred the food into the regular trash can. But then I realized that the last employee who had been on the bridge was… me.

I had gotten off work at 11 pm the night before, and had returned to work at 7 am that morning. No one had been there in the intervening hours. Let me rephrase that. No one who was supposed to have been there had been there. And yet, there was that food.

I tested the window beside the desk. It was unlocked. We never leave it unlocked. I looked at the lock on the outside of the window. It had been tampered with. (See below.) Someone had been there.

This felt like a violation, as if someone had rifled through my underwear drawer. Granted, nothing of value was taken. Then I realized that some of my food items were missing from the fridge. And I had left the toilet seat up after cleaning the bathroom the night before. Now it was down.

Someone had broken in to get out of the wind and weather, and had made themselves at home, helped themselves to my food, and used the bathroom. Thank goodness they weren’t still there when I arrived in the morning. What would I have done? I wouldn’t have seen them until I reached the top of the stairs, which would have made it awfully hard for either one of us to beat a hasty retreat.

And then I realized that they could still be there.

Let that sink in for a minute.

Suddenly the closed closet door behind me felt like it was radiating heat. I turned slowly. I looked at that door. My heart was pounding.

But surely no one had been standing in there for 4 solid hours, amongst the mops and buckets, as I sat all alone not two feet away, without me hearing a sound. Surely not.

Still…

I slowly opened the drawer where the heavy industrial flashlight was housed. I gripped it tightly. I took a deep breath and opened the closet door.

Nobody. I felt sick with relief. I felt resentful that my safe place no longer felt safe.

And then there were the phone calls and the paperwork and the police report and the debate about best methods to amp up security. Those things kept me busy. Those things prevented me from digesting the experience.

That night, before security measures could be put into place, an employee was posted on the bridge overnight. And at 1 am, someone tried to break in again. My coworker scared them away, but couldn’t give a good description. Great.

Now, a few days out, what strikes me most is how abruptly the atmosphere in that room had changed for me. One minute, status quo. The next… Someone had been there. Someone who shouldn’t have been. In my sanctuary.

And it could happen again at any time.

Tranquility is such a tenuous thing.

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Third and Pine

Shots rang out on Third and Pine in the gritty heart of downtown Seattle, Washington. A major commuter hub in the midst of rush hour, it was bustling with activity. All were strangers to one another. They’re forever linked now, as they hit the ground together and scrambled for cover.

This was the third shooting in the area in just over 24 hours. The total head count for those three incidents is two dead, and 8 injured, including a 9-year-old boy. The latest of these three tragedies escalated from some kind of a dispute outside the McDonalds.

There’s no fight on earth, absolutely none, that justifies opening fire on a crowd of strangers. It’s heartbreaking. It’s outrageous. It’s unnecessary.

What strikes me most about this situation is that it was so arbitrary. All the victims were simply minding their own business. Perhaps they were getting ready to catch a bus after a hard day’s work, or craving some French fries, or stopping in for their daily coffee break. Maybe they had just paused long enough to text a message to a spouse. “Honey, could you pick up a gallon of milk on the way home?” “Don’t forget to stop at the dry cleaners.” And bam, their lives were forever changed, if not ended.

Our very existence, in general, is pretty arbitrary. We never know when we’ll find ourselves at the Thirds and the Pines of life. It could all end in a second. There’s no way to know.

You can choose to live your life in fear because of this, but I think a better option is to savor every single moment you have, because each one is a precious gift. It’s all so fragile, so priceless, so bittersweet. It’s much better to appreciate than to fear.

So, your homework assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to go tell someone you love them. Right now.

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A Real Dog and Pony Show

It was early in the morning, and I had just gotten to work. My brain was in a bit of a fog, and I was just going through the motions. I had logged into the City of Seattle employee website to fill out my time sheet, when this image popped up.

Capture

I had to rub my eyes and stare at it for a minute. Were they serious? Clearly whoever put that training together had no idea what the term “Dog and Pony Show” really means.

If you google the definition of this phrase, and go to the most qualified of sources, Merriam-Webster Dictionary, you find that it’s an elaborate or overblown affair or event, and that its first known use was in 1949. Innocuous enough, I suppose.

But if you go to Wikipedia, you learn that the term is typically “used in a pejorative sense to connote disdain, jocular lack of appreciation, or distrust of the message being presented or the efforts undertaken to present it.”

Now, why would the City of Seattle want to name a training about public engagement, designed to attract people who are “curious about training and managing digital communications” a Dog and Pony Show? It boggles the mind.

Oh, but it gets worse. Because this is NOT the only definition of a Dog and Pony Show. It’s certainly not the definition that I learned and cannot ever wash out of my head. This definition is crude. It’s about sexual exploitation. It’s so disgusting that I refuse to go into detail here. If you’re really interested, follow this link. But be advised that it’s not safe for work, and it’s definitely rated x. All of these definitions are gross, but scroll down to the very bottom one, which is by far the worst, and you’ll see the one that I was taught. Perhaps that’s because I spent the bulk of my life in a military town. Either way, yuck.

So anyway, that was what was going through my foggy head that morning when I saw that particular training on offer. At first I kind of scoffed at their ignorance, and planned to say nothing. Let the stuff hit the fan and sit back and watch. Because even the least innocuous, more official definition, with all its implications of incompetence and disdain, are very, very bad optics for the City of Seattle.

But as the day went on, it began to eat at me. Any woman in the know would be offended by the name of this training. They wouldn’t want to attend. And I’d certainly think less of any man who did so. The City of Seattle prides itself on its enlightenment and inclusiveness and its diversity, but this is not the first time (see my post entitled The Cubic Yard Test) that they’ve clearly demonstrated that they have a long, long, long way to go.

So I decided to contact the training department. In fairness, they were very polite, and said that the training was being sponsored by the Information Technology Department, and they would forward my concerns to them. Several days went by. The graphic remained on the employee website (where it still is as of this writing). Surely, I thought, more people were complaining about this.

But no. I came to work today to an e-mail from the IT department that said, basically, that the Urban Dictionary isn’t an official or credible dictionary source. Instead they provided sources that refer back to the pejorative definition mentioned above. As if that would be acceptable.

While I wouldn’t cite the Urban Dictionary in a master’s thesis, these definitions exist because some portion of the general population (read “unwashed masses” if you must) interprets these words in this manner. That, to me, would be enough to rethink the name of my training, especially when you are representing a public entity like the City of Seattle. But hey, that’s just me.

This is purely speculation, but they’re probably loathe to give up such a cool graphic. (I have to admit, it is really well done, and probably took more than a minute to design.) I’m sure they’ve got all their power point presentations in place and don’t want to change them. And they’re IT people who hate to be (rightly or wrongly) considered out of touch with popular culture. And no one wants to be  called out as foolish or wrongheaded in any way, so to heck with the small percentage of us who are shocked and appalled by their poorly researched idea.

So in the end, they’re absolutely right. This is a dog and pony show, indeed.

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The Drawbridges of Aberdeen and Hoquiam, Washington

Recently my husband and I took a mini-break to Ocean Shores, Washington. During the drive we talked about retirement, even though it’s a very distant long shot for me. So I was in that frame of mind when we drove through the little towns of Aberdeen and Hoquiam, Washington.

We were discussing how the cost of living would be a lot cheaper in these places, and right as that topic was raised, we came across a drawbridge. And then another. And another. I thought, “These bridges are calling my name. Wouldn’t it be cool if I could retire and work part time on them?”

By that time I’d be bringing about 25 years of bridgetending experience to the table, so you’d think I’d be a shoo-in for any vacancies that might come up. So I decided to do a little research. First of all, I excluded the area drawbridges that are owned by train companies. It’s been my experience that these places never hire “civilians”, because a lot of the union workers look at these jobs as ways to finish out their careers in peace and quiet. I could never break through their seniority to wind up as a train company bridgetender at this late date. So I decided to focus on the other drawbridges in the area.

Thanks to the amazing resource, Bridgehunter.com, I learned that there are 5 drawbridges in the area that I could operate. All of them are owned by Washington Department of Transportation.

In Hoquiam, there’s the Hoquiam River Bascule Bridge and the Hoquiam River Bridge which is also known as the Riverside Avenue Bridge. That one is a vertical lift bridge.

In Aberdeen, you have the US 101 Chehalis River Bridge, which is a bascule, and two bridges over the Wishka River: The Wishka Street Bridge is a bascule bridge and the East Heron Street Bridge is a swing bridge. Both of them are shown below, with a railroad bridge in the foreground.

So not only would I have plenty of bridges to choose from, but I’d have three styles of bridges as well. Fortunately I have experience on all three styles, so that would be in my favor, too. Things were looking up.

So I tracked down a contact number for the department that maintains these bridges, and talked to an extremely friendly woman who gave me good news and bad news. She says since these bridges are so rarely opened, they don’t employ full time bridge operators. Boats have to schedule openings hours in advance, and then they send one of their mechanics out to do the bridge openings. In essence, all their mechanics are bridgetenders.

Well, that’s a bummer. But she did give me a further contact number, because when she heard of my experience and my potential plan, she said it would “never hurt to put a bug in their ear.”

I now have that contact on my phone. It would be kind of fun to be an on call bridgetender in my golden years. And I’m sure their mechanics have much better things to do than to drop everything on the occasional moment when one of these bridges requires operating.

I won’t bother the contact now, because my potential retirement is many years down the road, and who knows where we’ll decide to go. But it’s a nice dream. I know I’ll miss this work when and if I ever do retire. It would be nice to keep my hand in the game.

Aberdeen bridges

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A Mini-Break to Ocean Shores

Every once in a while it’s nice to have a change of scenery. It’s like a palate cleanser for the soul. I could definitely use one of those every now and again. And since I had yet to experience the Washington coast, we decided to take a little overnight trip to Ocean Shores, which is only about 2 1/2 hours from Seattle.

I have only seen the Pacific three times in my life, and never toward the end of December, so I was braced for drama, and it didn’t disappoint. Stormy, rough, ice cold, it isn’t a place for sunbathing or swimming. And yet it was beautiful. I always manage to breathe more deeply when embraced by the salty sea air.

What I wasn’t expecting was the town of Ocean Shores itself. It may be clinging to the coast of the Pacific Northwest, but if you subtract the cold rain, it could have just as easily been a Florida beach town. The kitschy little souvenir shops (one of which you entered through the mouth of a shark), and the delightful little restaurants (one of which was in a mini lighthouse), could have easily been overlooking the Atlantic Southeast.

Given the time of year, we pretty much had the place to ourselves, but I could easily close my eyes and imagine it in the height of summer, chock full of guys in board shorts and children wearing water wings and making sand castles. It almost made me homesick for Florida. Almost.

Another weird connection is that Pat Boone lived in Ocean Shores for many years, and he was born in Jacksonville, Florida, where I lived for decades. So there’s that, too.

If ever I feel the need to reconnect with Florida, now I know it’s only a few hours away. That’s kind of comforting. I suspect I’ll be back.

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