Sunday, December 17, 2017

Traveling with Baggage

I felt bad even thinking it.
There I was, sitting on a train looking at someone directly ahead of me and wondering:
Is he a terrorist?
Gosh, how silly.
But wait. What if he is?
He looks the part.
He's definitely from that part of the world.
Dark curly hair, large dark eyes, dark skin, dark five o'clock shadow on his face. Dark. Dark. Dark.
He's the same age as most of the terrorists, too. Mid twenties. Old enough to have had time to be radicalized and young enough to be fearless. I probably should keep an eye on him.
Jeez, I'm an awful person. What is wrong with me? I shouldn't think that. He's probably a perfectly nice guy just headed downtown to shop like I am. He has a baby face. He's probably harmless and here I am profiling him. Poor guy, I bet he gets this all the time. I bet he can't go anywhere, or ride any kind of public transportation without getting looks. I wonder if anyone has ever reported him as suspicious? Can you imagine how horrifying that would be--getting shook down, probed, patted and questioned just because of how you look? I mean, he's probably just a student. Look, he has a backpack.
Wait, a backpack?!
Why does he have a backpack on the train? On a Saturday?
Oh God. He probably IS a terrorist. What should I do? He's just sitting there, facing me with a blank expression on his face trying to blend in with everyone else headed to L.A.'s Union Station on the Metrolink. Going downtown to do some shopping are you? Or do you plan to kick this weekend off with a bang?
Oh stop it, Hope. You're being ridiculous. And racist.
No, you're not. You're just being vigilant. Remember "See something- Say something?"  You need to get over the need to be "PC" and keep an eye on this guy.
But the saying is "See Something, Say Something" Hope, not: "See SOMEONE, say something."  And he's not doing anything, except sitting there. And for goodness sake, you have a backpack too, remember? Just calm down and look out the window.
Through the glass to my left is the San Fernando Valley, a huge metropolis just on the outside of L.A. hemmed in by mountains. The train is currently racing along the back side of a run-down valley neighborhood full of stray bottles, walls covered in graffiti and houses pieced together with tarps, sheets of metal, and stray bricks. Every window I see has a blanket hanging in it as a curtain. Motorhomes are parked in backyards, their tires flat and their windows blocked with aluminum foil and cardboard. I can't see a single blade of grass anywhere. It's depressing. I check back on the suspicious man in front of me.

He is still staring straight ahead. His eyes catch mine and I look away quickly, back outside.
Below me now is a junkyard full of sand piles, wood, railroad ties, concrete blocks, and large yellow earth movers. Anything that has been sitting too long is tagged in large, spray-painted bubble letters.
Life = Misery is tagged on a large chunk of concrete near an intersection where cars are backed up waiting for us to pass. Even the obviously new paved walkway that runs along the back of the neighborhood near the tracks is littered with trash and graffiti. Large fancy engraved stone signs announce the beginning of this concrete "trail" but it really looks more like an alley. Cement benches double as art canvases for gangsters and I still have not seen one blade of grass--green grass that is.

The conductor announces that the next stop is Burbank. I know that after Burbank is Glendale and after Glendale is Union Station. I know all this because of a sweet elderly lady I met at the station where I first got on board. She told me in Spanish that she had been riding the train to Glendale every month for thirty years to get her hair done. She was dressed like she was heading to church--black sparkly turtleneck sweater, finely pressed beige dress pants, a Christmas scarf and a fancy leather purse which she clung to tightly. She told me to sit on the third level of the train.  "No hay mucha gente alli." There aren't a lot of people there. She was right. Just she and I, a homeless man, a young couple, and this guy--the dark haired man sitting a few rows up facing my direction who still had no expression on his face.

"Next stop Union Station!" The conductor yelled out. "This is the stop you have all been waiting for!" His enthusiasm made people chuckle. "Make sure you get off because this is the last stop and the train will be out of service." I waited for the train to roll to a gentle stop and then stood up. The man I had been watching stood up too, turned around and headed toward the stairs at the front of the car. I headed to the stairs at the back, going down one narrow step at a time, holding tightly to the guardrail. Quite a few passengers were waiting on the first level for the doors to open. People looked down, checked their phones, shuffled in place, hoisted backpacks on to their shoulders and tried not to invade anyone else's space with their eyes or body. I was here for a vinyl record show about five miles away and was anxious to get off. The doors opened and everyone surged forward to get out. I made it outside the train and followed a large throng of people down a concrete walk-way and into Union Station. I was amazed at two things: First, the large amount of people in the station on a Saturday (although it was nearing Christmas) and second, the fact that no one ever checked my ticket. For all anyone knew I didn't even have a ticket. I had one--a bar-code on my phone, but why hadn't anyone scanned it? Then I saw the signs warning about the $1,200 fine for anyone found riding the train without a ticket. I guess they use the honor system, I thought. Great. No one is watching us or checking tickets. In this day and age? It's a free-for-all for thugs, thieves, and terrorists. Why not have more security? Then I remembered to be careful what you wish for. It's expensive to have someone check tickets and view surveillance footage and walk around with a gun looking angry and as comforting as all that is, taxes are high enough in this damn state so I'll take the honor system and paranoia for free, please.

I made it into Union Station and marveled at how L.A. has its very own Grand Central Station. OK, not exactly but it still is something to see. High decorative ceilings, solid wood benches, brass fixtures, fancy cafes with candles, white linen napkins and wine glasses propped up to look inviting.  I just wanted to get to the record fair. I had never taken an Uber before, but I was ready.  I had downloaded the app, entered my credit card number, and now I just had to find my way out of the station. When in doubt about how to get out of a public place--follow the masses. I kept walking behind a crowd of people and before I knew it I was outside in the fresh air and bright Southern California sun. I squinted and looked around. There, right across the boulevard was Olvera Street--the historic Mexican marketplace made to look like Old Los Angeles with it's adobe architecture, murals, street vendors, and brick walkways. I'd been there many times and always enjoyed myself--as a child I remember purchasing confetti eggs from one of the vendors. These were decorated egg shells
that held confetti instead of yolk inside and gave parents an instant headache at the thought of the clean-up involved. That's probably why they always insisted children throw them at each other while still on Olvera Street. These messy souvenirs never made it home.

I asked the lady near the curb in the shiny black station security jacket where the best place to grab an Uber was. She pointed ahead of her and with a hint of sarcasm said: "Down there where the cars are." I  hoisted my backpack and walked that direction while opening the Uber app. I clicked until I was pretty sure I had summoned a car. The app told me a silver Nissan Altima would be picking me up and my driver would be Radhouane.  I wasn't even sure how to pronounce his name, but as long as his car didn't come rattling and backfiring into the lot with a Make America Great Again sticker on it, I was sure I'd be fine.
Across the parking lot I saw a silver Altima about to pull into the street make a quick left turn and circle back in to the lot. This must be my driver, I thought. The traffic officer threw up his arms like "What the heck are you doing, dude?" but let him pass and sure enough, he was my driver.  He pulled up to the curb right in front of me and rolled down the window.
My mouth almost fell open.
In the passenger seat right next to him was the guy from the train.
"Hope?" the driver yelled through the window.
"Yes?" I said a little less confidently that I wanted to. I didn't dare respond with his name as I would certainly butcher it. The closest pronunciation I had come up with for Radhouane sounded too much like Road Hound. I just nodded and stepped toward the car.
"Same train, same car!" I said to the guy from the train as opened the door behind him. His shoulders bounced back like I startled him and he let out a nervous laugh, "Yeah." I got in and put on my seat belt.
"Where you headed to buddy?"  The driver asked the guy in front.
"The Greyhound station," he replied.
"Where you from?" The driver asked. He turned to look out the window before pulling away from the curb.
"Originally, or do you mean where did I come from today?" The guy clarified.
"I'm from Bangladesh," the guy replied.
"Me too," said the driver.
"What part?"
"No, not really. I'm messing with you man." The driver laughed way too hard at his little prank as he pulled out of the station parking lot into the street. The dark haired guy laughed just enough to be polite and asked, "Where are you from?"
"North Africa," said the driver.
I sat quietly in the back, sliding around a bit on the black leather, trying to remember what countries were in North Africa. Morocco? Egypt?  I couldn't think of any others. Why did he say North Africa and not the actual country he was from? Isn't that a little bit like me saying I'm from North America?
"What are you doing out here?" The driver asked.
"I'm a student." He shifted in his seat. "I go to Cal Poly."
"What are you studying?"
"Computer engineering."
"Do you want to code or work on systems or what's your thing?" The driver asked. He obviously knew enough to carry on a conversation. I was out of my league at that point, but kept listening.
"I want to code."
"I used to be able to code," said the driver, "I could use C++.  Still can do a little of it, but I'm rusty. Need to take some classes or something."
"If you can use C++ you can still do a lot. You have the basics. Its still very useful." The man said.
The driver nodded. "Yeah, that's true..."
They continued talking in "code" and then the conversation turned to Bangladesh.
"How long did you live in Bangladesh?" asked the driver.
"About twenty years," the guy said.
"Did you like it?"
"No, not really, it is very bad there."  The driver nodded and made a comment about Bangladesh being next to India. "So where you headed by bus?"
"San Francisco."
"Great, well here we are, my friend." He pulled into the parking lot of the Greyhound bus station and stopped by the curb.
"How long is the bus ride?"
"Seven hours," replied the man. He was opening the car door to get out.
"Wow, do they stop?" continued the driver.
"No, this bus goes straight through."
"Straight through? Don't they have to stop so you can go to the bathroom?"
"Nah, there's a bathroom on the bus."
"Must smell great then!" The driver laughed loudly, obviously feeling like he was on a roll.
The guy laughed one last polite laugh, thanked the driver and got out.
"Good luck with your schooling," I said from the backseat. He had probably forgotten I was even there.
"Thank you," he said and glanced back at me as he shut the door. I smiled. I hoped he would accept my well wishes and smile as an apology for my previous thoughts. The "terror suspect" was actually a Cal Poly student studying engineering probably getting an A++ in C++.
Jeez. I'm a schmuck. I thought.
"So miss Hope," the driver said, "Where are you headed?"
Wait you know my name but not where I am going? Should I be worried?  I took a screenshot of the Uber app that showed the driver and his license plate and texted it to a friend just in case I ended up needing to break a window and climb out to save myself.
"5610 Soto Street," he interrupted my thoughts. "What's there?"
"A record show," I replied.
"Like vinyl?"
"Yup, vinyl," I replied.
"Wow, I may have to stop and check it out."
"You into vinyl?" I asked.
He turned his head toward me. He had a big round face with puffy cheeks and I could smell his cologne, which wasn't bad, but he should probably take it down a notch.
"My daughter is into vinyl. She keeps asking me to get her a record player. You know, one of those old ones."
"Oh yeah? How old is she?"
"12," he replied.
"12? And she is already into vinyl?" I remember when parents were throwing out their vinyl, not buying it for their kids who had barely entered puberty.
"Yup," he said. "She loves it."
We drove in silence for a little while and then I asked him about driving for Uber just to make small talk.  He said he had been driving for two months and could only drive for an hour at a time before he had to pull over to get out and walk around. Otherwise, he said, fluid would collect in his legs and his knees and ankles would stiffen up.  He was a big man, thick hairy arms and knuckles, brown callouses on his elbows and a full head of dark curly hair, just like the guy we had dropped off earlier. A gold chain peeked out just below his shirt collar. I made a comment about his Nissan Altima, saying that I used to have one in this same color. He told me he did not like his. The brakes squeaked and it got crappy gas mileage and all the parts were hard to reach so labor was always really expensive whenever anything needed to be fixed. "They probably made it that way so you have to go to the dealer." I nodded and told him I had a Nissan Rogue and he recommended that next time I buy a Toyota. He said he had a Camry that had almost 500,000 miles on it. "You're just going to have to give up the power and style of the Nissan if you want to save money." I nodded and thanked him.
We shot through a signal light as it was turning yellow and he said to get ready because my destination was coming up on the left and he wasn't sure there would be anywhere to park. The area looked to be largely industrial and technically, we were now in downtown Huntington Park according to the map on my app. He did a u-turn in the middle of the street and pulled over to the curb in front of a large white wooden sign that said Records.
"Here you are," he said. "Have fun!"
"Thank you! Have a good one!"
"You, too, he said, "Merry Christmas."
What? Don't you mean Happy Holidays? I thought.
"Merry Christmas," I replied. I opened the door and hopped out on to the curb. I threw my backpack over my shoulder. It was light, ready to be filled with dusty 33's and 45's. It was all I had with me. Sort of. I was traveling with more baggage than I realized.

 -Hope A. Horner, copyright 2017.
Twitter: @HopeNote
Contact author on gmail at hopeh1122 for on and off-line printing.
#seesomethingsaysomething #equality #givehopeachance #justiceforall

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Bienvenidos, Angel

I wasn't going to be "human" much longer if I didn't listen to my growling stomach, so I asked a friend to join me at my favorite hole-in-the-wall Mexican taco shop downtown. This tiny family restaurant made each taco the way they were supposed to be made--two small layered corn tortillas covered with diced chicken, special green salsa, cilantro, and way too many onions. I could taste them already. We parked across the street from the restaurant and jumped out. The sun was setting behind the library as we walked toward dinner.
"Disculpe, Señorita?"
I turned my head. Next to me on the sidewalk was a woman so short I could see the top of her head. Her ash brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail and she was dressed in a plain white shirt and beige pants. She sounded like a small child.
"Yes?" I stopped walking.
"Do you know where is Lyons?"  She asked in broken English.
"Sure," I pointed directly ahead of me. "You're almost there. Just keep going and when you get to the end of this street, by the library, make a left. That's Lyons Avenue."
She looked where I pointed, but her face told me she wasn't quite sure. I took a few steps forward, pointed again toward Lyons and said, "You're almost there." She looked in the direction I pointed and nodded. I continued toward the restaurant, my head dizzy with hunger.
"Disculpe, uh, señorita um..." I heard her voice again and turned around.
"Tengo hambre." She said softly. She looked at me briefly and then stared at the ground. I hesitated. You're hungry? You probably just want money, I thought. There were quite a few people who begged on the street corners and in front of the liquor stores in this part of town. A few weeks ago, a homeless man told me he was hungry only to turn down my food offer and suggest I give him the cash instead. I decided to call her bluff.
"Quiere a venir con nosotros? Vamos a comer."  I told her we were about to eat and asked her if she'd like to join us. To my surprise, she agreed.
The three of us walked in silence a short block to the taco shop. There was a long line to order food as usual, and most of the tables were full and the ones that weren't, were dirty.  Left over radishes, Styrofoam plates, and half empty salsa cups needed to be cleared off tables. I didn't care. This place was the real deal--messy tables and all.
The three of us got in line and waited with the rest of the hungry guests. After a few minutes, we made it to the counter and placed our order in Spanish. My friend and I each ordered four "tacos de pollo" and our new dinner partner ordered a burrito. We all got different sodas. The cashier handed us our number and walked to one of the few open tables near the window.  I used a handful of napkins to wipe off the table before sitting down.
"Come se llama usted?" My friend asked of our dinner guest who was sliding into the booth seat across from us. I noticed her feet barely touched the ground underneath the table.
"Mucho gusto Faustina." My friend and I said together. Faustina responded "Mucho gusto" and looked around the restaurant like a very small person in a giant's world.
"Vive aquí?" (Do you live here?) My friend asked.
"Sí," she replied. She told us she had been living in the San Fernando Valley with a friend who lost her place so she had taken the bus out to this area to live with a friend who had an apartment just down the road.
Our order number was called and I went to grab our food. It all fit on a green tray which I carried back to our table. Both my friend and Faustina were sitting in silence.
I passed out the plates.  "Where are you from originally?" My friend asked, continuing the conversation and trying to break up the awkward silence. I sat down.
"Bolivia," she replied.
"Bolivia?" I asked, my eyebrows raised in surprise. I was not expecting her to say Bolivia. She might as well have said Mars. She nodded. I used a radish to scrape a few onions off one of my tacos and wondered How far away is that? I didn't ask. I took a bite of the taco that now had just the right amount of onions and tried to picture South America in my head. Her eyes darted to me several times and I could tell she was uncomfortable. I wondered if my white skin told her I was judging her. My friend sensed the discomfort and began to share a little bit about her journey to America. She was originally from Mexico and had been brought here by family when she was very small. Faustina took a big bite of her burrito and nodded as my friend talked.

When my friend stopped talking to take a bite of her taco, I dabbed my mouth with a napkin and asked Faustina in Spanish what part of Bolivia she was from. Faustina swallowed hard and held her half-eaten burrito in front of her.
"La Paz." She replied softly.
"Oh, La Paz!" I said, "Es el capital, no?" She nodded yes while her eyes searched my face.
"Bienvenidos." I said with a smile. Her eyes softened and began to shine like dark, wet gemstones. A smile formed in the corners of her mouth.

"Why did you leave Bolivia?" my friend asked.
Faustina's smile disappeared as she answered in Spanish. "So much poverty," she shook her head. "Bolivia is so poor--one of the poorest countries in South America."  With that, she continued to eat. She was obviously very hungry and not shy about taking big bites. We all ate in silence, occasionally looking up at each other and exchanging awkward smiles. She appeared to be in her thirties but I wondered if maybe she was actually much younger. She had a plain, but friendly face--like the face of someone you would trust with your children, but something about it--the lines in her forehead and the creases in the corners of her eyes told me she had seen and experienced a lot.
My friend shared a little bit more about how she came to California from Mexico, talking about her father and the Bracero work program--the diplomatic agreement which allowed Mexican immigrants to come to America to work. Faustina did not elaborate on her journey, only saying that she came here all by herself. I tried to picture where Bolivia was on a map and how many countries she would have to pass through if she walked here or came by train. I wondered how long it took her to get here, if she had paid someone to guide her or if she had followed others. Recently, I had watched a special on CBS on the Darien Gap, the swampy, jungle pass between Columbia and Panama which thousands of migrants use each year to move through South and Central America on their way to Mexico and then on to the United States. Many never make it through this gap--succumbing to the roaring rivers, bitter cold, hungry tigers, or violent gangs. I wondered if she had passed through that area or if she had somehow found her way to America by way of the ocean, coming in through Florida. I thought about the courage it would take to come so far all alone and how bad--how desperate things must have been for her in Bolivia to take that kind of risk.
"That must have been scary," I said in Spanish.
"Si." Her voice was very soft. She looked down and took the last bite of her burrito as I finished my final taco. My friend nibbled on a radish, emptying her plate of everything but green specs of cilantro.
"Listas?" I asked if we were ready to go.
We stood up and emptied our trash carefully into the overflowing bin behind us. We pushed open the door and stepped out into the cool night. I was glad it was late September and the hot summer nights were over. I zipped up my jacket as a slight breeze brushed against me. That's when I noticed Faustina didn't have a jacket and was in a short-sleeved shirt. My friend noticed too, and immediately took off her sweater and held it out. Faustina seemed startled by the gesture at first, then slowly stuck her hands through the armholes. It fit perfectly, like it was made for her. She looked at my friend with a questioning look like she was wondering how she would give it back.
"Keep it," my friend said.
A smile took over Faustina's face. "Muchas gracias! "Dios la bendiga!" (God bless you.)
"My pleasure," my friend replied. "Mucho gusto. Dios la bendiga, tambien."
We both hugged Faustina and said goodbye as the breeze picked up and the street lights turned on. My friend and I stood and watched her walk toward Lyons Avenue one tiny step at a time, her narrow shoulders wrapped in a sweater, her hair pulled back into a small, tight ponytail that didn't move. When she disappeared around the corner, we turned around and the first thing I saw was the red wooden cross on the church across the street. My eyes filled up with tears as a verse from the Bible popped into my head: "Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so, some of you will have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it..." (Hebrews 13:2)

Bievenida Angel.

-H. Horner, copyright 2017.  Use, publish or print with permission of the author only. Contact author on gmail at hopeh1122.

#bodyofchrist #lutheranimmigrationandrefugeeservice #lirs #dreamers #immigrationcompassion
Live in Santa Clarita and love street tacos?  Get the BEST street tacos here:  El Pariente, 24375 Main St, Newhall, CA 91321

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Sticks & Stoics: 12 Tips to Beat Stress

As long as there have been people, there has been stress. 
I read an article today about first century Roman stoics Marcus Aurelius (More About Aurelius) and Seneca the Younger (More About Seneca). They took a "matter of fact" approach to managing stress--telling people to lean on logic, mindfulness, and emotion-free decision making to get through life. It's where we get the word "stoic." Their advice for dealing with tough people and tough times back around 100AD make a lot of sense all these years later. Not that I am stoic or anything. I can be semi-stoic when I am fully rested, not having a hot flash, and have had sufficient chocolate. That's precisely why I called this blog entry "Sticks and Stoics: 12 Tips to Beat Stress." About half of the helpful tips below come directly from the stoics and the other half--the "sticks" come from me. Why "sticks"?  Because they are the reminders I need continually beat into my head. And I hope you find them helpful in beating stress. If not, get some rest and chocolate. It works for me.

Sticks & Stoics…12 Tips to Beat Stress

  1. Overcome the paralysis of your negative imagination. More suffering happens in our minds than in reality. Most of what we worry about never happens.
  2. Choose not to be harmed and you won’t be harmed. Don’t feel harmed and you haven’t been.
  3. Stop staring at the problem and start focusing on the solution. Problems are opportunities. 
  4. Get over yourself. You have it really good. Really.
  5. Focus on what you can control and let go of what you can’t. 
  6. Don’t assume the other person is “up to no good.”  (i.e. Don’t assume bad intentions.)
  7. Don’t put your health in the hands of someone else by letting them control your emotions. Stress kills so kill stress.
  8. Get perspective: Consider that you could be wrong and that you are small in the grand scheme of life. Humility is freeing.
  9. Choose your battles. If something/someone bothers you, make sure a response is worth it.  Does it violate your core values or just bug you? There is a difference between a mosquito bite and a shark bite. Respond accordingly. 
  10. Feeling down? Lift up someone else. 
  11. Remember why you are on this planet. (Put things in perspective by thinking beyond this temporal world. What is your purpose? Passion? Faith?)
  12. Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life. (Making a hard choice can be stressful, but it saves you a lot of stress down the road.)
Feel free to share, forward and comment.

- Hope Horner
On Twitter @HopeNote
Contact author on gmail at hopeh1122
Copyright 2017 - No offline use or online publication with author's consent.
#beatstress #nostress #stressfree 

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Starbucks at 3:30PM and Other Things to 'Pour Over'

At 3:30 p.m. I ordered a Starbucks coffee. Not a fancy mocha-latte or an iced coffee, but a traditional, run-of-the-mill hot coffee.
The employee who took my order stammered.
"Ah, OK, well, let me check because we stopped serving our blonde roast at, uh, around noon so it means in order to do that, I would have to do a 'pour over.'"
"A pour over?" I asked.
"Yes, because we no longer have it brewing this late in the afternoon, I have to do what's called a 'pour over.'"
I had no idea what he meant, but I pictured him going through the trash in the back to retrieve a filter full of used coffee grounds from the morning and pouring hot water over it. I did want coffee, but not that bad. Or maybe it meant that he was going to have to use some special pouring device to hand make my coffee? Either way, I wasn't sure so I asked.
"What do you mean by a 'pour over'?"
"It means I have to grind the beans and then pour hot water over them. I have to make it especially for you because there's none brewing. Hold on, let me ask if I can do that."
He turned to a co-worker behind him who was busy pouring milk into a cup.
"Hey Melissa, can we make a blonde roast right now?"
"Sure," she said, "but you'll have to do a pour over."
"Yeah, I told her that." He turned back to me and said he could do it. He sounded disappointed.
"Thank you." I said.
But that's not what I wanted to say. The sarcastic wheelhouse inside my head was spinning as I stepped away from the counter and headed toward the pick-up area.
You mean a 'pour over' is when you grind coffee beans and then pour hot water over them? Isn't that called 'making coffee'?! Wait a minute! Aren't I in a coffee house? Or did I make a wrong turn and end up ordering coffee at the service desk at Lowe's next door? Nope. Here I was in a brand new Starbucks ordering a short blonde roast at 3:30 p.m. and because it wasn't 7 a.m. or 9 a.m. or even 11:59 a.m., they were going to have to make it special just for me. 

Yup, it's true.
They would have to make coffee in a coffee house.

While I 'poured over' this absurdity waiting for my special order joe, I looked around at all the folks hanging out inside the store. A few were sitting at round wooden tables talking, but most were sitting alone--their ears plugged with headphones-- typing or scrolling on their devices or laptops. Everyone seemed to have a plastic cup full of melting ice or dissolving foam. Some people were only a few inches apart on stools, yet entirely in their own world. I thought about all the opportunities they were missing to talk, to get to know each other, to find out what they had in common. I sighed. Nothing wrong with doing your homework, answering a few emails, or typing up that report for work, but when did we start going to public places to do stuff privately?
Probably about the same time fancy machines started making coffee.
Is that why it's a big deal when someone orders coffee after lunch? We can't just grab it from the machine behind us. We have to grind and pour. By hand. Make it special. It takes time. A personal touch. Patience.
So this makes me wonder...At some point will it become a big deal, maybe even a hassle, to talk to people instead of texting them? Will we get so used to machine-conducted communication that when we actually have to talk face to face we will feel inconvenienced? Will it feel old-fashioned, unfamiliar and slightly annoying? Will talking become a 'pour over'?  We can do it, but we'd rather not?
I see it happening already. Meeting in  person is so "yesterday" when you can just Skype, email, text or Facetime. And by "yesterday" I mean 1990's. It really hasn't been that long since technology started changing how we communicate, including what we do when we're waiting. Speaking of waiting, my coffee was taking quite awhile. I was starting to wonder if they had to go out back and pick the beans. Now THAT would be asking a lot. I could hear my cell phone calling to me while I waited. "Check your email!" it said. "See how many likes your post got!" it beckoned. I resisted the urge to disappear into my own world. I'm going to do things the old fashioned way I thought. I'm going to TALK to someone in a coffee house. Engage. Be friendly.
I looked around. There were a few people waiting for their coffee just a few feet away from me. I could strike up a conversation. Share my 'pour over' experience. Mingle.
But I need my coffee first. Especially after noon.

-Hope A. Horner, 2017
Contact author on gmail at hopeh1122 for reprinting, publishing or to comment.
#starbucks #putdownyourphoneandtalk

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Hermana (Sister)

They are sister and brother.
They are sister and brother.
Ellos son hermana y hermano.
She is my mother.
She is my mother.
Ella es mi madre.

She was writing and didn't see me when I walked in the store. The man's voice coming from the small boom box behind her was pleasant and sounded young. He had only a slight accent.

She is my sister.
She is my sister.
Ella es mi hermana.

After each sentence she wrote in a spiral notebook that was open on the counter near the register. I stood there until she lifted her head.
Te puedo ayudar? (May I help you?) She had almond skin, short curly hair and a friendly face.
Si, por favor. Tiene usted cosas para la cocina? (Yes, please. Do you have kitchen items?) I replied. I needed a few things for an upcoming dinner party.

She smiled and nodded for me to come toward her.  I noticed she had a variety of Mexican candies on the counter, including de la Rosa which is my favorite. They're a bit like peanut butter dust so you have to eat them carefully, but they are melt-in-your-mouth delicious. The man's voice behind her continued on.

He is my brother.
He is my brother.
El es mi hermano.

"I'm learning." She said and tilted her head toward the sound. Her accent was thick.
"That's great! Que bueno." I said. I wasn't sure whether to respond in English or Spanish so I used both.
She hesitated, then pushed her notepad toward me and pointed at what she had written with her pen.
"Is right?"
She had written a few sentences in the notepad. Her letters were large and curly. I noticed she had spelled the word "the" "tha."  I told her to change the "a" to an "e."
"Ay!" she exclaimed and crossed out the "a" and made it into an "e."
She was confusing the English "e" sound with "a." "There" was spelled "thar." "Where" was spelled "Whar."
I pointed these out and she corrected them.
"English es muy dificil." she said.
"Si, muy dificil." I responded. She shook her head. She told me in Spanish about her troubles with English vowels and flipped back a few pages in her notebook to show me where she had crossed out her mistakes and made corrections. I told her English was confusing compared to Spanish. In Spanish, you always know how the vowels are going to sound because they don't change. Not in English. The vowel "e" can be pronounced many different ways.

She said she was taking English classes at the library and used these cassette tapes, which she also found at the library, to practice. She grabbed one and handed it to me. I looked at the label. They were from 1995 and called "English on TV." I hadn't seen a cassette tape in awhile so it made me smile. I remembered all my cassettes from back in the 1980's and how they would inevitably get 'eaten' by my tape players. She said she listened to the tapes here at work because she didn't have any other time to teach herself English. She said she was struggling to learn, but the classes and tapes were helping.

The man's voice behind her moved on to new sentences and she wrote carefully in her notebook, occasionally pointing and asking me if her words were correct. Before too long, she was telling me her story-how she was brought to California from Mexico by her parents when she was 12 years old. She said her family settled in Bakersfield and when her parents sent her to middle school there she was so afraid she cried nearly every day for a year. She eventually dropped out. She moved here, closer to the coast, and opened this small business with her husband. The store sold party goods, snacks and dollar store items. In the window was a piñata of Chilindrina, a character from a famous Mexican TV show. Candles, cheap plastic toys and multi-colored paper plates sat on shelves. She told me that most of her family was still in Bakersfield and she felt it was a real shame that many of them, now in their 50's and 60's like her, no longer spoke Spanish, only English.

"You need to speak English," She said, "that why I learn, but two languages is better, no?"  I agreed.
I had just gotten back from Europe where nearly everyone spoke at least two languages. My Italian tour guide spoke four, and was learning a fifth.
"Como se llama?" I asked her.
"Anita." She said.
"Mucho gusto Anita."
"Mucho gusto.Y como se llama usted?"
"Hope..." I paused and then added "Esperanza."
"Esperanza? Hope es Esperanza en español?"
"Si." I said.
"Oh, si Esperanza! Mucho gusto!"

I smiled and walked farther into the store. She had forgotten I had asked about kitchen items, but I didn't mind. The store only had four aisles so I found my way to the right section easily. As I walked, I translated the man's English sentences into Spanish, waiting to hear the final sentence to see if I had gotten it right. I grabbed a small metal cheese grater and a orange juicer and when I returned to the register, I added a "de la Rosa" candy.
"Gracias Anita." I said as she handed me my change and receipt.
Gracias Esperanza!" She smiled.
You are my sister.
You are my sister.
Tu eres mi hermana.

-Hope A. Horner, 2017
Contact Hope on gmail at hopeh1122
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Sunday, March 5, 2017

I Just Paid $40 for Mercury and Arsenic Poisoning

Love it or hate it; it's a national craze. Has been for awhile.
And every time I have some, there is always someone to remind me there is "so much mercury in fish these days" and "that rice has high levels of arsenic."
And by "Really?" I don't mean: "Really, sushi has mercury and arsenic?"
I mean: "Really?!  You had to ruin my lunch?!"
For every food we put in our mouth to nourish our bodies, there is an equal and opposite reaction. And there is always someone to point it out, isn't there?

I used to hate sushi. Not because I was worried about being poisoned by toxins, but because the thought of eating raw fish made me gag. I tried it once years ago and felt nauseated afterward; it probably wasn't because I had bad fish. It was because I looked at what I was eating. The friend I was with was eating octopus and squid and what looked like the shaved off backs of every fish you'd find in Santa Monica Bay (talk about toxins!) I picked at my California roll and sat quietly. I did not spoil her lunch even though it looked like she was devouring an exhibit from the Aquarium of the Pacific.
No matter what we eat, there is something in it that is going to kill us. Granted, some foods manage to do it efficiently (i.e. fried food, butter, mayonnaise...or fried food with butter and mayonnaise, i.e. lethal injection.)  But still.  Even celery can kill you if it isn't organic with all the pesticides farmers use to keep bugs from eating this vegetable that humans won't eat. And even if it is organic, you might die of depression from having to eat it. We're only here a short while so let me choose how I want to poison myself with delicious food. I get five servings of fruits and vegetables every day (Does cereal count as a fruit?) and I work out five days a week. I don't eat red meat. I go to the doctor regularly and allow him to run my vitals and perform other uncomfortable tests that involve stirrups and vice grips (not all at once thankfully). So please, just let me eat my mercury and arsenic in peace won't you?  If you see a second head growing out of my neck, just politely smile and pass me the soy sauce.

-Hope A. Horner, 2017
Contact author on gmail at hopeh1122
#ilovesushi #sushi #healthyeating #youonlyliveonce