Welcome to California

It was twenty years ago — on the Saturday of a Labor Day weekend very much like today — when I came to California.  The ex-man met me by the gate at SFO — you could still do that back in those days — and — ever the frugal romantic — gifted to me a handful of maps.  Such optimism, to think I would ever learn to read a map!

He’d been trying to improve my sense of direction ever since we met.  But alas, his efforts were to no avail.  He’d installed a compass in my car and lately taken to saying “go toward New York” or “go toward California” since the concepts of “east” and “west” and “left” and “right” remained as foreign to me then — and now — as they were on the day of my birth.

From the airport, we went directly to our new home in Old Palo Alto.  Actually, we would be staying at a corporate apartment in Mountain View for the next month until the house was ready for occupancy.  Nevertheless, and despite the torn-up condition, it was thrilling to be together, to admire our cottage and garden and to discuss potential positioning of the furniture and the flora.

We strolled the short distance to the heart of downtown, enjoying the beautiful neighborhood — the designer homes with their beautiful landscaping looked like something from the pages of Architectural Digest.  The many and various dogs interrupted their walking and sniffing to come over and jump on me.  They still do.  Must be my animal magnetism.

Although we were familiar with University Ave. and its surrounds from previous visits, we viewed the shops and restaurants with a brand new sense of discovery.  This is where we’ll get our hair cut (Yosh)!  This is where we’ll go to the movies (Stanford Theatre)!  This is where we’ll get our groceries (Whole Foods)!

And indeed, we did stop by the Whole Foods to pick up a snack.  We wanted something completely different, something very California.  Vegetative smoothies with wheat grass.  They looked and smelled like freshly mowed lawn.  One sip and I was regurgitating like a cow in a polluted pasture.  Welcome to California!

The afternoon passed quickly and soon it was time to head to our temporary lodgings.  For dinner, the ex-man recommended a kitschy, faux New York-themed restaurant where he thought I would like the singing waiters.  Somehow, he got confused, and we ended up at Babbo’s, a very mediocre Italian place instead of the intended Max’s Opera Café.  It didn’t matter.  I was aglow.

It’s funny how I remember so many little details about that day so long ago.  But what I remember most is the unbound excitement, the sense of surety and complete confidence.  It was the very beginning; we were on the precipice of an intoxicating new life and all things were possible.  I was with the best man and we were in the best town.

What could possibly go wrong?

© 2013 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

The Hauptbahnhof

For me, the Jewish identity is very strong.  All of the time, it is a big part of me.  But never do I feel so Jewish like when I am within the German borders.  Not when I am among the Israelis.  Not even when I am by the Lower East Side.

Maybe five, six times I was to Germany.  Always business, never pleasure.  Like many Jewish people, Germany makes me uncomfortable.  To walk on the ground.  Where it happened, the epicenter.

You can never forget, not for a minute.  Everywhere you go, there are plaques to tell you right here is where they killed this many Jews, over there is where they burned that synagogue.

And the older people, maybe it’s a prejudice, but you can’t help wonder what they did or did not do.  Did this one join the Nazis?  Did that one hide the Jews?  Did the other one look the other way?

For the first trip to Germany, I was in Frankfurt.  I was by myself over the weekend, intent to keep busy and active.  I got a tourist map that displayed artwork for several attractions and I set about a walking tour of the town.

A picture of an ornate looking structure was labeled “Kaiserdom”.  I followed the map expecting to find some king’s palace.  Instead, it was an ancient cathedral.  OK, some history.

An illustration of a few gabled buildings named “Römer” led me to a lively plaza in the oldest part of town filled with beer gardens, sausage stands, and costumed oom pah pah bands.  OK, a little tradition.

A drawing of some trees marked “Palmengarten” brought me to the botanical park to enjoy the greenhouses, flowerbeds, and a lake.  OK, a bit of nature.

It was going so well that I decided to use the remaining sketches as my compass, confident that each image would guide me to a pleasant spot.

In this way, I came to see the chorale rehearsing at the Alte Oper, the animals frolicking at the Zoologischer, the socialists demonstrating on the Zeil; the various sights and sounds of Frankfurt.

Finally, I had visited all of the destinations on the map except for one.  A grand, imposing building called Hauptbahnhof.  It was a very long walk and this made me hesitate, but I was having such good luck and it was a truly glorious day.

So I walked and I walked and I walked.  As I got nearer, it seemed that a large number of pedestrians, mostly locals, were going my same way.  I thought to myself that this must be some special place to entice so many people.

When I had walked for more than an hour and the journey’s end was at last in close view, it was clear that I had reached Frankfurt’s grand central.  The railway station.

Although I was exhausted — did I mention that my foot was encased in fiberglass? — I turned around and commenced the long walk back to the hotel.  What else could I do?  Get on a train?  A Jew?  In Germany?  Are you kidding?

© 2013 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

Muckraker Me

Always I have been a news junkie.  As a pre-teen, I would finish reading The New York Times, The Daily News, and The Times-Herald Record before the dog awoke at dawn.  We did not take the Post.

As a child, I never dreamed to be a princess or a ballerina or even a bride, all feminine aspirations far beyond my reach.  And as a school girl, well, the typical lady professions of the day — teacher, nurse, librarian — yawn.  No, the only thing I ever wanted to be was a journalist.

Of course, I wrote for the high school newspaper.  Investigative reporter.  Undercover.  Perhaps most famous for talking my way inside the principal’s locked office to gather evidence for an exposé on the district’s failure to comply with Title IX, the law guaranteeing girls equal access to all federally-funded educational programs and activities.

When it came time to apply for college, I chose Syracuse, a mediocre university in most respects, but among the country’s top undergraduate programs in journalism (and partying!).  With an admissions rate of only 10%, the day my acceptance package arrived should have been a joyous one.

But it was not.  My mother screamed that the local community college was “good enough” for me, that dental hygiene would be a more realistic option for someone at my “level”, that a nobody like me had no business to run so far from home.  And then there was the sticker shock.  I would be funding 100% of my education; clearly private school would be out of the question.

Maybe it would have been different if one of the state universities had offered a decent journalism major.  Maybe it would have been different if the mirror had reflected the kind of looks required by the cable news networks.  Maybe it would have been different if the wind had simply blown another way.

Maybe then you would be forwarding to your friends my columns instead of those written by that snarky Maureen Dowd or earnest Gail Collins.  OK, maybe not so much that last maybe.

But as it happened, I took another path.  Or more accurately, I got lost along the way.

Anyway, today my Letter to the Editor got published in the Palo Alto Weekly.  It wasn’t the first and it wouldn’t be the last.   But this particular piece of perspective won ink — real ink — from all three Palo Alto paper-based periodicals.  Palo Alto Weekly.  Palo Alto Daily News.  Palo Alto Daily Post.  A perfect trifecta.

There’s something about holding a floppy page of newsprint and seeing your words and byline typeset in black Benton Modern.  It never gets old.

© 2013 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.