The Road Diet Starts at My House

(Huge thanks to Marcus Green for publishing my essay on the success of the Rainier Avenue South Road Diet. Click on photo to see it on the South Seattle Emerald website along with some other interesting stories.)

Featured image is a cc licensed photo attributed to Oran Viriyincy

It’s a regular part of the soundscape from the swinging Angeline at 4801 Rainier Av S. The Rainier Avenue South “Road Diet” – designed and engineered by the Seattle Department of Transportation – starts right before the large apartment building and it’s right about at the spot where many turn into the lot to go to PCC that we hear the blaring of yet another car horn. Five or six very un-Seattle nice-like seconds of angst. It pierces the Keith Jarrett, Gary Burton or Carla Bley vibe on the box here in our third floor nest and we don’t bother looking anymore unless it’s accompanied by a crash, which happens now and then, between sirens.

Well, SDOT wants your input and has deemed this part of the Road Diet a success:

Rainier Pilot Project Evaluation Report

In August 2015, Seattle moved forward with the Rainier Avenue Pilot Project.  This project has successfully improved safety along Rainier Ave S in Columbia City and Hillman City.  Highlights from our evaluation report include:

              • Collisions reduced by 15%
              • Vehicle speeds reduced by 16% northbound and 10% southbound
              • Transit travel times improved by 1 minute in the southbound direction during the PM peak hour
              • There have been zero serious injury or fatal crashes in the area we redesigned

I really think people of the future and are going to look back on our social media “debates” (and the road diet is right up there with proper dog poop disposal etiquette on the Columbia City Facebook page) and wonder just WTF we were thinking. The evidence of Global Climate Disruption is rather overwhelming and the recent rash of mudslides and huge rain totals should be telling us something. Instead, walk by the PCC parking lot, yes the parking lot of the cooperative, locally-owned grocery store, where people line up to purchase organic sunchokes and artisanal Belgian Endives and then look at their Facebook feed in their parked car while their engine is running.

“Driving the car is personality enshrined.” Michael McClure

This is the consciousness behind the car horns. Ask Curtis, the current security guard outside Bank of America. He watches drivers rushing up in the “right turn only” lane in front of the bank only to hurl their cars back into the southbound traffic flow while kitty corner Jeffrey Taylor is in his insurance office watching another car blow through the red light at Edmunds.

And the funny thing is that when I drive the same stretch, I become one of the impatient types in competition with others to get wherever it is I have to get with urgency.

9.15.16 – It is easier to be a Buddha when you’re not driving the car.


But a funny thing happened on the way to the car horns. My partner and I moved into the Angeline in September 2015. We love Columbia City and find ourselves at Tutta Bella and the Royal Room, among other places, regularly. But, the Angeline was the symbol of yuppie gentrification! I’d satirized in verse the hipster/yuppie consciousness that seemed endemic here. But, on a lark, we got a tour of the Angeline and found out we were eligible for the city’s Multi-Family Tax Exemption program. Years after I learned being a poet, running a literary-oriented non-profit organization and being an Airbnb host was NOT the way to unlimited wealth, at least I could enjoy an easy 300 step walk to the PCC to get me some Cherry Tree cola. (It is crack.) And we caved and got an indoor parking spot and started counting our steps. About 700 to the Link Light Rail Station. Another 1,900 from the Capitol Hill Link Station to our spiritual community’s house on First Hill. 2,000 to my daughter’s pre-K, at Orca Elementary and we started getting healthier! We were less grouchy. We slept better at night and started getting resentful when WE HAD TO DRIVE SOMEWHERE! Imagine, in a nation where obesity is an epidemic, where fossil fuels destroy the biosphere and where we slouch around in bodies designed to walk many miles each day. We must walk long distances daily to be healthy. Being sedentary leads to any number of maladies, heart disease, sleep apnea, you name it.

Dig this in the New York Times:

Most mammals can sprint faster than humans — having four legs gives them the advantage. But when it comes to long distances, humans can outrun almost any animal. Because we cool by sweating rather than panting, we can stay cool at speeds and distances that would overheat other animals. On a hot day, the two scientists wrote, a human could even outrun a horse in a 26.2-mile marathon.

If you think walking is for poor people, or for people in “Third World” countries, check your privilege and for the sake of all that is holy STFU with the car horn already!

Back to the Columbia City Facebook page. The Road Diet nay-sayers at this point in time are conspicuously quiet. Probably stuck in traffic somewhere.

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James Baldwin Is Not…

Last Friday I saw, for the second time, the Raoul Peck masterpiece “I Am Not Your Negro.” A very astute New York Times review by A.O. Scott suggests that the film utilizing the words of James Baldwin, many from an unfinished bit of writing near the end of Baldwin’s life, is:

a thrilling introduction to his work, a remedial course in American history, and an advanced seminar in racial politics — a concise, roughly 90-minute movie with the scope and impact of a 10-hour mini-series or a literary doorstop…


Though its principal figure, the novelist, playwright and essayist James Baldwin, is a man who has been dead for nearly 30 years, you would be hard-pressed to find a movie that speaks to the present moment with greater clarity and force, insisting on uncomfortable truths and drawing stark lessons from the shadows of history.

Scott calls the film “life-altering” and it is not hyperbole.

I went to see it again Friday night specifically because it was being shown at the Ark Lodge Cinema in Columbia City (Seattle), my neighborhood theater, and because a panel discussion after the screening was to be organized and facilitated by the South Seattle Emerald.

The film did not disappoint in its second viewing, and I found myself weeping over and over at ugly scenes in American history, some in my home town Chicago, which hit especially hard, but watching a second time allowed me to take some notes, sometimes in the dark and sometimes in cursive! (Who writes in cursive anymore?) Here are some of my notes with some elaborations I’m adding after the fact.

“What will happen to this country?”

This is the first thing I wrote down and it echoes something Charles Johnson said at his January 12, 2017, public appearance at Folio. That is, is this country worth saving? This was one of the questions I would have had for the panel if I felt it was my place to ask the panel a question, which I did not. Since Baldwin said this in the 60s or 70s (he died in 1987) you can only imagine what he’d think now. And does it make sense to allow so much power to be in the hands of one man? Would the continental U.S. better serve its inhabitants by being split up into 8 or 9 smaller countries? (Hawaii deserves its own independence and I’d let Alaska go too, except for the panhandle which is part of Cascadia, but I digress.) One thing about the U.S. in 2017 is that the separation of the three branches of government does seem to safeguard the country from the possibility of a “caudillo” to use a phrase a friend used when expressing the glee expressed by some of her friends in Latina America, delighted the U.S. is getting a taste of its own medicine. There is some solace.

“When  dark face opens the light seems to go everywhere.”

What can be said about a quote like this except that the U.S. will be judged by how its most repressed citizens are treated and, given Ferguson, Travon Martin, Eric Garner and the hundreds of recent police executions, the grade is not going to be good.

“A shoeshine boy like me.”

Quintessential humility. There is something in Baldwin’s writing and his being that exudes a quiet confidence and humility. That my Dad had a shoeshine kit and taught me how to shine shoes is part of the reason I made a note of that.

Civilian Review Board

This is not something Baldwin said, but a note for a potential question that I would not wind up asking. Seattle is supposed to be a bastion of progressive thinking, and yet in 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice found that the Seattle Police department engaged in a pattern of excessive use of force that violated the Constitution and Federal law. Should there be a civilian review board in Seattle? Of course. What does it NEED to become a reality? About 20,000 local white residents demanding one.

“Death of the heart of this country.”

Again, remember we’re talking 1963-1980 or so, at very least 37 years ago, before Ronald Reagan, before the vast stretch of neoliberal presidents, before permanent violent foreign U.S. occupations. (All against people of color.) If Baldwin was right, and there is not one Baldwin statement in the film for which I have a rebuttal, not a single one with which I even have a minor disagreement, then why continue to work to get places like Wyoming and Alabama on the same page as places like Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon? Would our time be better spent by negotiating a peaceful withdrawal from this experiment in democracy? These states are far from United anymore and any country that can elect someone as obviously corrupt and incompetent as the current President may not be worth saving. That the country is no longer functioning as a democracy anymore is more evidence a radical change is needed. I can’t make a balkanization happen, but can continue to focus on my own bioregion, its needs, can continue to investigate the culture here, while maintaining the very basics in citizenship: passport, taxes, &c. until such time as a peaceful re-division of the states is accomplished.

“A matter of responsibility.”
“Public Stance vs. Private Life.”
“Guilty and constricted White imagination.”
“Infantile, furtive sexuality of this country.”
“So irresponsible and so dead.”
“The lives we lead on this continent are empty, tame and ugly.”

I was writing as fast as I could at some moments and may not have gotten quotes exactly correct, but these are all true and all an indictment of the citizens of this country and the industry-generated culture. More importantly, they are prophecy, as it has all gotten quite worse since Baldwin said or wrote these things. And it goes to the deeper issue here, as does the exchange that gave the film its (somewhat altered) title. That deeper issue and that exchange was when Baldwin, in one of the TV appearances, said: “I am not a Ni**#@.” He said that the concept is something that White people had to invent. The need to create such a thing, says Baldwin, points to the lack of responsibility, the deadness inside, to the empty lives led by the vast millions of people on this continent. Canada gets no pass here given the treatment of Indigenous people and the treatment of Indigenous people is touched on every so briefly in this film, but is quite similar to the treatment of people of African descent in North America.

So it can’t be about post-race, or being color-blind. We must acknowledge, as a society, the shitty deal people of color are getting here and instead of that, we’re organizing response teams for new ICE raids and doing ACLU and Planned Parenthood benefits. What NEEDS to happen and what is HAPPENING are further apart than any time in my life. Like Baldwin, I am an optimist because I am alive and excited that the response to the current President’s acts has been pretty fierce, by citizens, if not from the majority of elected officials. But Baldwin notes that ultimately this is an issue of the inner work of White people being stunted. He argues our issues as a country are getting worse because they are (by and large) not becoming human beings, much less noble human beings, as is our purpose for living. They are retreating into something much more in common with lizards, except with much better (and much more dangerous) technology.

The panel that followed the 2.17.17 screening of the film was powerful, once it was wrested away from someone trying to hijack it to foster their own agenda, which appeared to be steeped in bitterness. (Baldwin said he could not blame people for being bitter, but Dr. King said “bitterness is blindness.”) The panel succeeded largely because it was curated well by Marcus Green and because of the presence of Georgia McDade, who talked about her own experience. She related how the bar kept getting higher and higher for her in her education and in her own academic career, only because she is black. Getting Baldwin books via her sister, who was old enough to take them out from the “Colored Library” in her home state of Louisiana, was the most lasting image of the panel, though the other panelists were solid.

It seemed just fine on this evening for allies and comrades to be seen and not heard, so I kept my powder dry. The task of an ally/comrade is not going to be easy and I would attend an event the following night which would prove that. Yet that event will have to be the subject of a future post, or a story I tell you when we next meet.

Viva James Baldwin.

Viva the American experiment, which we’ll find out soon if it has run its course.

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#Ides of Trump (A Postcard Project)

Insane Clown President

Here’s one of those Facebook memes that when I first saw it I thought “I’ll pay attention if it comes around again.” Then August Poetry Postcarder Alley Greymond re-posted it, so I shared it and am sharing it here for your consideration:

Oh! Just saw this. I’m in.
On March 15th, each of us will mail Donald Trump a postcard that publicly expresses our opposition to him. And we, in vast numbers, from all corners of the world, will overwhelm the man with his unpopularity and failure. We will show the media and the politicians what standing with him — and against us — means. And most importantly, we will bury the White House post office in pink slips, all informing Donnie that he’s fired.

Each of us — every protester from every march, each congress calling citizen, every boycotter, volunteer, donor, and petition signer — if each of us writes even a single postcard and we put them all in the mail on the same day, March 15th, well: you do the math.

No alternative fact or Russian translation will explain away our record-breaking, officially-verifiable, warehouse-filling flood of fury. ASK HIM ABOUT HIS TAX RETURNS. Hank Aaron currently holds the record for fan mail, having received 900,000 pieces in a year. We’re setting a new record: over a million pieces in a day, with not a single nice thing to say.

So sharpen your wit, unsheathe your writing implements, and see if your sincerest ill-wishes can pierce Donald’s famously thin skin.

Prepare for March 15th, 2017, a day hereafter to be known as #TheIdesOfTrump
Write one postcard. Write a dozen! Take a picture and post it on social media tagged with #TheIdesOfTrump ! Spread the word! Everyone on Earth should let Donnie know how he’s doing. They can’t build a wall high enough to stop the mail.

Then, on March 15th, mail your messages to:

President (for now) Donald J. Trump
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

It might just be enough to make him crack.
Not my original post but someone else’s great idea!

Do look to the postcard tips under the August POetry POstcard Fest dropdown and


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