Sunday, September 18, 2005

Day 14 - America's most unique cities

Day 14 and we’re leaving San Francisco, where one of those flash memories we will both remember will be the sight and sound of an African-American streetcar driver speaking fluent Chinese to a woman at one of his Market Street stops.
Just one of many. Thus far, it has been a wonderful trip, filled with cherished moments and some of the most beautiful scenery known to mankind. There are neither enough words nor photos to capture what we have seen – from the Point Reyes National Seashore to the mountains of the Chiricahua National Monument to hearing sea lions in the San Diego bay. We’ve experienced foods we’ve never tried before – Cuban roasted chicken (heavy on the onions, senor) and San Francisco clam (and crab) chowder so thick it almost needed a fork. We had Dungeness crab SO fresh and broiled so perfectly at the Crab House at Pier 39 (at Fisherman’s Wharf) that it cracked in our hands. (I did manage to drag my carcass there and it was worth every painful step).
And there is more to come – Crater Lake in southern Oregon, Route 66 and all its history, the Petrified National Forest, Lava Beds National Park and, the crème de la crème, Yosemite National Park. The vastness of the United States is never more appreciated than when you actually leave the confines of your home region.
As we exit San Francisco, it can honestly be said that we have visited America’s three most culturally diverse and truly unique cities – Boston, New Orleans and San Francisco. People might want to include Miami, but it falls short of what these places offer. I do not include the U.S. Big Three – New York, Chicago and Los Angeles – because their size literally offers too much. There is either too much politics, too much commerce, too much glamour, too much gossip or too much pollution, traffic and people to compare to the feel of New Orleans (the way it was and hopefully will be) or Boston or San Francisco.
Oddly (or perhaps not), each has the sea as a major component to its culture; such an ingredient seems to enrich and embellish the history. It certainly enhances the food and the atmosphere. These cities have identical influences in that area – heavily Italian in certain parts, as well as a hybrid of other people. In New Orleans, the Cajun and Creole cultures cannot be found elsewhere and I doubt, even in Los Angeles with its Chinese and Korean influences (both with their own media), that Asian culture is as prominent as it is in San Francisco. When most people speak of Chinatown, it is about San Francisco. When Bostonians speak, you almost need an interpreter; also that’s the case in New Orleans with accents as thick and slow as molasses and just as sweet.
Some of our most creative literary characters hail from these cities and their authors, such as Dashiell Hammett, Anne Rice and Robert Parker, are just as colorful. The music generated from these cities is exceptional, from the Boston and San Francisco Symphonies to the jazz out of the French Quarter to the psychedelic rock cornered at Haight and Ashbury near Golden Gate Park.
Each city is a nightmare to be a motorist because they were built first for people, then traffic. Bridges connect San Francisco and New Orleans to the outside world while tunnels are key in Boston.
With the disaster that struck New Orleans still fresh in people’s minds, another connection exists with these three cities – each is vulnerable during a natural disaster. Of the three, Boston is less so. However, storms have funny ways of routing themselves and should a hurricane scurry up the East Coast and strike New England, it could be devastating. People in Boston would find it tough to evacuate in a timely manner.
San Francisco experienced a cataclysmic earthquake in 1900 and the Bay Area suffered a major quake in 1989, during the Bay Area World Series (Giants vs. A’s), killing hundreds and destroying millions of dollars in property. Driving over the Bay Bridge, one can see note the “newer” sections of the double-decker bridge that collapsed in 1989.
Anything I might add about what happened in New Orleans and the governmental response since would be redundant. Frankly, I get a headache hearing it being plowed over and over again on the cable news.
But, just a few points to be made. New Orleans must be rebuilt and its residents must be encouraged to return, even if it means providing the financial means to do so. Call it a Marshall Plan, call it a new WPA project, call it what you wish. No American city should have to be sacrificed because too many government agencies and officials froze when direct action was needed.
We need to quit having lawyers run action agencies, like Homeland Security (which demonstrate how un-secure our homeland really is), and STOP having political lackies, who got their jobs because of their fund-raising abilities in the past, heading important agencies.
We need to stop spending money to build other nations when it is needed at home. We need to stop tax cuts for major corporations and sweetheart, non-competitive contracts to the usual suspects, making the rich richer off other people’s misery.
And we need to stop turning relief and rebuilding into a political football – on both sides. While there is nothing wrong with telling the truth (which too many ideologues stupidly repeat as “the blame game” like a bunch of parrots), the object should be rebuilding New Orleans with proper safety measures and with as many of its people as inhabitants.
Blogging for the next few days might be delayed, depending on two things – Internet access and laundry. Not enough of one and way TOO much of the other. I envision lots of Tide (not from the ocean) in my future.

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