nous causåmes longtemps; elle était simple et bonne ne sachant pas le mal elle faisait le bien; de richesses du coeur elle me fit l’aumône et tout en écoutant comme le coeur se donne sans oser y penser, je lui donnai le mien; elle emporta ma view, et n’en sui jamais rien
Alfred de Musset
[We talked for a long time; she was simple and kind.
Knowing no evil, she did only good; she gave me alms from the riches of her heart,
listening intently as she poured out her heart,
Scarcely daring to think, I gave her mine;
Thus she carried off my life and never even knew it.]
For antecedents, read Marcel Proust (gender free), George Elliot (feminine sensibility), James Joyce (mainstream), Charles Bukowski (lion rampant)…
Feeling with the mind of a child with the soul of an old man, emergent and subsiding recollections of similar things
in deja vu of moments, as if knowing then, what couldn’t be imagined.
Celebrating souls from worlds past; evaporated selves, possibilities left unfolded in their time, fleeting dreams of a person, caricatured in photographic transcriptions of a person I’d thought was me. If I could heal the past and see through the sensibility of another kind of me, would I relieve myself from unbidden upheavals of thought? (These judgments and counter-judgments, denials and defense?) Will there be a part that wouldn’t cease to be as I am now?
This human child, with whose body I feel the world, in addition to past experience, views the world through the experience of genetic forbearers, parents, grand and great grand parents, a brass band of expectations, great and small. 長老祖先zhǎnglǎo zǔxiān
To know the person that I sometimes try to explain by imagining who I am, I inquire into this genetic inheritance; and observe its workings in others; and read in every discipline of ancient and modern art and science and philosophy and narratives of every form and culture; trying to understand the principles underlying my own subjectivity. And what shows up is simply that my dominant cognition is an emotional response to things felt by my ancestors for whom I’m expected by my peers to take unearned acclaim and blame.
Thus the Chinese expression: 長老祖先zhǎnglǎo zǔxiān
Life is a bridge between two worlds.
So here am I, the visible moment of an unseen complex historical pattern, a beacon at the apex of an infinitely expanding ripple in spacetime, somewhat jaded from years of taking credit for things and unfamiliar with their exact origin; just a feeling about it, grateful and sometimes less than thrilled with observations of past times.
(Successive iterations of Pandephonium are posted with the latest version, first:)
Pandephonium – Dance #3, entitled, “Prayer”, a meditation for Choir, Flute, Brass and Orchestral Quartet: light emerging as the horizon falls below a rising sun.
Kitsch is often wonderful to behold: Gaudi’s Parc Güell, the Paris Métropole are beautiful but his Iglesia de La Sagrada Familia is fine art. Our downtown skyline in San Diego at night is kitsch as are a Strauss waltz or performances by Elvis Presley, Englebert Humperdinck, Michael Bublé and G.F. Handel; all lovely kitsch expressions, which, though they fascinate, like Seaworld’s fireworks, they aren’t fine art simply because they lack the compelling emotional assessment that defines the political, where something is at stake.
If the nature of art is compelling political assessment (a reasonable proposition), to the extent a community excludes political commentary either with direct censorship or simply lacking a press that promulgates alternate views, art is also excluded–art that is more than beautiful because it incites feelings about moral, spiritual and ethical ideas and concerns.
The very first amendment in our “Bill of Rights” guarantees freedom of expression for another reason:
When we limit political expression in the significant media and newspapers of a community, we promote a community unable to create consensus around political issues that wouldn’t be issues, were they not controversial. And when you suppress discussion, conflicts arise in the form of destructive relationships–usually seen as people acting without consideration for their effects on others.
But also, since art is distinguished from kitsch by its political expression, when we prohibit political speech, we deny authenticity, soul, moral conscience and ethical principle and what we are left with is fluff or worse, like the advertising papers the Union Tribune sometimes throws unbidden into our driveways and the stuff that candidates for political office put into our mail boxes in October like spam.
The life of any community is mirrored in its freedom of expression. The meaning of the word, community, is political. When we constrain expression of political ideas, do we think them no longer thought and felt?
Some things we build, like a cable tram that connects communities over difficult terrain, change our future’s history as we engage with the environment. In faux development, for example Disneyland, engagement is real but we are pretending the environment is real and though everything about it may even seem real, we know it’s a facade, the lack of depth is in it’s purpose–the use, much like an authentically accurate, anatomically correct doll–it looks like the real thing but doesn’t relate to us as a loving, feeling, caring person, though we may pretend that it does, we are not with another person and we are alone with our imagination.
Viewing the results of urban planning here, in the city, where I now live, without judging it good or bad, we can only say that function follows form–that what you see is what you get by building to accommodate people who aren’t here yet in contrast to building to accommodate communities.
We’re rapidly using up space and resources but we might still pull this out of the swamp we’re heading for if we focus on human connection.
For the first time in the history of man and/or music, after many millennia, we can learn how music works harmonically, including a myriad cultural conventions of notation and theory, without running scales on an acoustic instrument–we have an app for that.
Running scales can be charming and beneficial when artfully invented and performed: Bach, Mozart, Ravi Shankar, etc. But many of us, who learned by playing scales as children stopped playing because we were either not gifted in this way or were bored stiff with soul-less instruments. Many were forced by parents or teachers or peer competition to do something we didn’t enjoy with instruments that would challenge the sanity of a virtuous performer. Some early scale-runners applied their limited knowledge and experience in garage bands; some became rock stars and/or stars of jazz. So few have composed a single masterpiece that we must admit the conventional approach, though effective for a few, may actually foreclose possibilities for a much larger number of those who love music and could do well, if they could learn some other way.
Today, using off the shelf music technology and their own musical sensibility, anyone can learn to distinguish nuances of musical relationship with finer resolution and better technical understanding than they could by running scales. With a little guidance from midi interpretations of scores by Mahler, Bartok, Beethoven, etc., they can understand music as well as former scale-runners who became music teachers. Unfortunately, midi performances using the best samples can’t now come close to acoustic performance by a gifted musician. I doubt that will ever change. I don’t expect it will and I feel that when it does, it will be only because our ability to hear music will have become less acute.
Shortly after I started working with digital composition and production, I wrote a scene for a sort of feel-good movie, to be called, “The Schoenberg” and I realized it wasn’t a movie I had written but a future I unknowingly predicted and that particular future may now be emerging.
Playing with their ideas, I’ve learned to follow musical narratives of the amazing Russian, Italian, French, Hungarian, Czech, German, Austrian, English, Spanish composers of the last millennium and those who came to America: Copeland, Ives, Berg, Schoenberg, Adorno, Korngold and Goldsmith.
Composing, for me, is self-rewarding, while my satisfaction from writing occurs when the work is read. Narratives of any kind satisfy our need for connection and its ironic that media us a surrogate for real connection. And since commercial media narratives aims to please an “average” human being–an abstract notion; imaginary, the value of media is limited.
Our actions and inactions are responses to our feelings and as we’ve seen in cinema, music can alter perception without logical reason. Logical explanations follow our actions–interpretations of prior performance. Wisdom is emotional: we feel what we feel.
We can’t question the economic value of music: the music industry rakes in hundreds of billions. In view of this, that public education in the United States abandoned music (to be fair, with the rest of the arts) in the 1980s and now our university classes are led by musicians who are unable to support a lifestyle plying their craft. Most of us teach for a living, not artistic commitment. We gave up artistic ambitions to become carpenters, real estate brokers, educational administrators, and so on, and now we pay begrudging respect to those who achieve commercial success and we tend to focus on recording and production technologies rather than artful expression. Educators haven’t yet seen the possibilities of emerging music technology.
For most of history, children who had excellent support and musical ambition, might become virtuosic performers and composers by applying knowledge of traditions by rote. American jazz musicians had family and peer support in their cultural tradition. Musical development of many popular performers: Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin was only informed by rudiments of the canon but they were typically supported by traditionally trained musicians and song writers. Popular music composition doesn’t rely heavily on the canon but it does rely on common practice conventions of 17th century notation and harmony and most of the $100s of billions is for recordings of popular music.
In the 21st century, we can make complex, articulate and emotionally powerful compositions without ever learning to play an instrument. Moreover, we may better understand, compose and produce music of any tradition and complexity. As a young man, I learned to play classical guitar when I stumbled into buying a concert quality instrument from my flamenco teacher. It was a 1962 concert model made by José Ramirez. In 1970, I traded it for a bass viol made in Czec by another famous instrument maker. I sold it not knowing that great bass viols are even more rare than great guitars. At the time, though I spent countless hours practicing, I hadn’t a clue about harmony. In Canada, for a while, I lived in a small rural village. I had five pianos in my home and played them all by ear. Today, I have a Yamaha Motif 8 professional electronic piano, which interfaces with my digital audio workstation and it was using this technology that I was able to study and understand the finest distinctions of music theory, art and practice.
The term, “Digital Audio Workstation” means, a computer program (software) that processess digital representations of sounds. I use an app called, Logic, sold by Apple, installed on a Macbook. I’ve purchased a library of instrument voices from Vienna Symphonic Instruments, an Austrian company that makes high quality samples by recording instrument sounds performed by competent artists in a nearly completely dry environment. (Dry means without reverberations (reflected sounds reflecting from surfaces or the room). I also use several software synthesizers and digital signal processors that can emulate analog, digital and acoustic instruments and add reverberation and other effects.
A sample is a compressed digital recording of a sound made by an instrument or group of instruments playing a single note. When performers play notes on acoustic (real) instruments, their technique shapes the sound of each note. The DAW can sound that note and the DAW musician can adjust its sound in real time by programming nuances of timing, attack, sustain, pitch, volume, timber, decay, release, reverb, for each note. We program automated changes in the sound of each sampled note, following a pattern using the software’s intuitive graphic user interface. Algorithms can modify sounds to create a humanizing effect. Those who use sound and music technology make use of the same fuzzy distinctions that characterize acoustic music, even though the CPU rounds down computations and is highly precise.
Music technology is probably a lot more important to the future of humanity than we typically understand. We think music is unnecessary but if it is necessary, the reason why this is so is a defining characteristic of human being. You could organize your life to not include the function of depth perception and do away with an eye. You could live without color and remove that part of your brain’s function. You could live without intimate human contact. But when you evaluate things we give our time to for the sake of quality of life, we see that music has a humanizing effect and for the listener, this is without effort. Would we still be human without the ability to enjoy music?
Now, since music technology makes it possible for anyone to learn, regardless of previous experience, without practicing scales on mediocre instruments, the possibility of engagement with music is, for the first time in history, available to everyone. There’s a learning curve that requires commitment but its difficulty is in proportion to the complexity of music you would like to hear.
Last week, I met an educator whose company promotes the use of graphic digital processing as a way to help develop creativity in students who have had difficulty mastering verbal languages. She uses Adobe collection of Creative Suite apps. Comic books often include images to evoke anger, frustration and desire though not as effectively as music, which can contextualize any object within it’s emotional envelope. Music, however, can also be triumphant, fearful, ecstatic, dangerous, remorseful, fraternal, etc. I explained this to the educator I met last week; the idea that sound, unlike graphic technologies, doesn’t even require that viewers pay attention, much less, make rational sense of what they are present to, to get the feeling: reading images or language, we discern and then assess the meaning of prominent features and process our optical perceptions though a grid of that which we recognize and so view the world evoked by the graphic as a recreation of what we already know. In contrast, music directly stimulates emotional assessments and even digitally produced music allow us to directly express emotions without using language or symbols.
Of what use are emotional assessments evoked in music? In films, they tell us how to feel about what we’re seeing. A song, piece or sequence of pieces is also a narrative, imagined by listeners, often unrelated to a visual or verbal image because we understand sound emotionally, independent of rational ideas about source or subject. Music creates an emotional context in which we behold the emotional world, analogous to physical space within which we perceive the physical world and, when composers describe their musical stories with titles like, “Prelude to Afternoon of a Faun*, its unrecognizable.
Some time ago, In 1989, I was invited to observe San Diego Symphony rehearsals for a series of performances by means of which, the Symphony’s Orchestra Committee hoped to choose a new conductor from a select group of invitees. I was the only person in the audience (musicians were paid a lower fee for private rehearsals, according to the AFM Local 325 union contract) to witness the selection process as well as the conductor’s craft, when. over several weeks, the 80-odd symphonists ambled onto the stage carrying their instruments, found their appointed chairs before their specified music stands, and sat quietly in a semi-circular formation. Promptly at 9:55, a woman or man they’d never before seen walked up to the podium, uttered a few words advising where they were to begin in the score, raised a baton, and as if by magic, the assembled lot, were transformed into a symphony, simply by playing notes printed on their score parts. I remember in particular, a part from Prokofiev’s Suite for Romeo and Juliet in which the tonal harmony rises from chaos. On another day, they attacked Dvorak, cajoled Beethoven, led Britten, engaged with Sibelius, and so on. It wasn’t lost on me that the ideas of these composers were enduring in global human memory by means of an arcane and complex set of traditions and conventions that span many cultures through time and distance.
I was there simply because I’d asked a neighbor, who I knew was the operations director of the symphony, to allow me observe the conductor try-outs, which were held the day before the public performances, at ten on Thursday mornings. As it turned out, the symphony was unable to hire a conductor because it was bankrupt, as the Board had refused to continue funding. However, I did two things I hadn’t previously considered. First, before I began to study music (and recently earned a master’s degree education in composition), I outlined a series of video programs for use by educators in San Diego’s public schools and with the support from local foundations and the assistance of a conductor I’d met during the rehearsals, I produced The Nature of Sound, which was the first in the series of educational videos I’d outlined in which elementary school students are given the basic distinctions about music and the science of sound. (Teachers in every school in San Diego Unified School District have shown it to countless students since 1989.)
Have we no heroes now?
Has heroism become a malady?
Is Leopold Bloom our cuckold hero?
No matter if he isn’t
We relish Molly’s drawers
(would, anyway, could we)
We are each the hero
Of our lives in an imagined journey
From cradle to grave
(With words and music)
A strange interlude between birth and death
Our future cast in dies we’re born into
As we aspire to an heroic ideal
We dare not speak about the dust
Homer didn’t invent it
It’s in Mahabharata,
Song of Solomon,
Driving Alexander long before
Offenbach, Leopold Bloom,
Celine and Bukowski
I dress each day
In heroic clothing,
Phylacteries off the shelf at Target
After a grimace at an uncomprehending
Reflection, I march into the abyss
Distracting myself with stories
Of Mollies I’ve desired
The heroic conundrum that
Love blinds and binds us to.
The infinite monkey theory* has a logical flaw. As weird as it seems to think, problems we experience as potholes, traffic, pollution, crime and people living without shelters in public places result from this flaw because our public administration is largely based on the infinite monkey theory, not for the reason you’re thinking, but because our system is set up on priorities of management efficiency.
When we describe problems as having a common cause, we usually name a politician; anything other than the actual cause. Each of our problems has in common one system of public administration. It’s not discretionary boards and their policy decisions. The system is designed to allow, if not produce problems we’re seeing and not other possible problems. It can’t do other and it does what it does very well—witness the downtown skyline and cute little bustling airport.
The system is based on centralizing and it consists of algorithms—rules about infinitely diverse categories of roads, buildings, people. The system reacts to things that come up. It’s failures show up like a 36’ high building, a seawall where there was a beach, traffic… Should we replace the system with something that gives us more of what we want and less of what we don’t want? The Boston Tea Party wouldn’t get far in San Diego Harbor.
Some here don’t want to think about this. However, when someone drives a 747 over their home or puts a four story condo in their view, they really hate thinking about it. Can you blame them? Not even an infinite number of monkeys can solve this simple problem.
The system is needed to collect money from huge populations, hundreds of thousands, millions. It’s a profitable system for those who are employed by it and developers but it’s actually incapable of doing many things it’s supposed to do, literally, any kind of job–no matter what: it can’t stop crime, can’t do traffic engineering, repair potholes or carry out urban planning so we have communities that are safe and nurturing for poor as well as wealthy people.
How would you alter the system so that it allows most of us to have more of what we want more of and less of what we don’t want? It’s simpler than “rocket science”. We just need to ensure that politicians aren’t actually in the business of collecting campaign contributions. The system is set up to ensure the opportunity to buy influence from politicians with campaign funding.
*A million quantum computers might come up with a novel but it won’t be James Joyce’s Ulysses. It’s oxymoron: quantum mechanics prevents it; observation changes the observed. Joyce’s Ulysses lives only in a reader’s imagination. It only takes one primate to create Ulysses; it’s done all the time and it’s never the same.
I was starting to feel pride welling up in my soul. We’re arguing about things that touch us deeply, my friends and neighbors, and yet, we’re not talking about some things: for example, constraints on our harbor and coastal access by an increasing Navy presence, or that students at UCSD and SDSU are now largely people (mostly Asian and South Asian business students) here on visas, many of whom live in the condos of Costa Verde, Rennaissance and Mira Mesa. I wondered, where’s the Asian presence in San Diego’s culture and politics? Where’s the traditional Chinese and Indian culture? Why are there no Guzheng concerts at UCSD?
I drove to Burbank last Saturday morning. LA is such a reality check. Returning to San Diego at 8:00 PM Sunday with an understanding of those who voted for Mr. Trump and also, a view of the power of an “electoral college” to literally trump a popular vote and why many are upset about this now since it’s not the first time. My epiphany occurred at a place that we may now think of as New South Asia; the place we’d previously thought of as Orange County, Costa Mesa, Irvine, etc. I now know why Nixon sought an ally in Red China…
The relationship between waves of immigration and our military campaigns in South Asia and the Middle East is inescapable: we bomb them over there so they come here. Wouldn’t you? If we don’t want all this immigration, why do we engage in practices that result in refugee immigration? We’re told the wars preserve freedom and democracy but did we not imagine this result, given the history of the United States? And have immigrants ever said their emigration justified wars in their homes? So what? What’s the prognosis?
We propose a “Great Wall of America” from Brownsville to Tijuana to keep out Mexicans, but it’s Asians and Indians, not Mexicans, who populate our state universities and buy the new million dollar condos Downtown and in OC. Are we in fact spending billions on a strategy against a declining Hispanic in-migration against our New China? It worked against Mongols, why not Mexicans?
If China was our enemy, it now owns so much of our economy, that we have become our enemy. For instance, our popular national elections are showcase rituals in which a kind of central committee, called, The Electoral College, chooses our national leader. While the electoral college is constitutional, our electoral system wasn’t always controlled by campaign contributions that allow control of government to be sold to the highest bidder. We don’t know what our Asian population thinks of this. They don’t vote. Or speak to us. Do they see Americans as only pretending to be self-governing, since political influence is purchased? How do our Asian immigrants and visitors feel about our financial, natural and human investment in military campaigns that result in refugee immigration? What do they think about our fear of Mexicans? Do they view Mr. Trump as accurately reflecting the American mentality they encounter?
So in the cultures of our new neighbors: what is communication like, how do they see political systems, what values and priorities do they inherit or rebel against, what is there for us to learn?
In 1962, went off to Coast Guard boot camp at Government Island in Alameda, my Parents used the opportunity to sell their home in La Puente. I learned this when a yellow cab I hailed at the airport dropped me at their house, which I was certain was a wrong address.
Because, Blanca, their landlord and her Hispanic friends and neighbors were having a party, they said, fiesta, in the common front yard of the three houses she owned, including the one my parents rented. Latin rhythms punctuated the sound of the adjacent freeway interchange and a few score brown-skinned young men and women were well on the way to a felicitous state of inebriation, that is to say, were already drunk.
Ed, my war-hero step-father was amused at my discomfort, which was less about the bigoted view of Mexicans, than my general narcissistic view of all others as less everything than I, a condition I reluctantly now say isn’t far from accurate but that’s a different story. That was in 1962.
In 1966, when I began making educational films, I learned that more than 50% of students then enrolled in Los Angeles City Schools were from hispanic or African American families and my films needed to reflect this ethnic and cultural mix. Now, I’m told the majority of students at UCSD and SDSU are from Asian, South Asian, African and Hispanic families and the cultural and the ethnic mix is increasingly colorful. People from China interest me more than Mexicans and Europeans–they are enigmatic and the more I learn about them, the more they seem like people from a very interesting and equally distant planet, where people have learned to think about things. Their language is musical–how a statement is voiced changes the meaning. To pronounce their names correctly is a music recital.
After Costa Verde and Renaissance I figure they will probably buy all the two to three million dollar condominiums under construction along the Pacific Highway downtown. Less affluent white people will better afford the condos on the east side, around the trolley building, where the homeless people are pitching tents, playing in traffic and pushing shopping carts around with all of their earthly stuff.
It’s possible the waterfront condo residents will be the same scions of wealthy Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Arabic families that now populate the University of California and many private colleges and work for biotech and IT companies around La Jolla. A host of new restaurants and markets, now mainly in Mira Mesa and Kearney Mesa to serve the Asian population will begin to appear downtown.
Guzheng concerts at the Balboa will be nice and classes in Chinese and Korean at SDCC and area high schools as the new condominiums sell out. Demographics of the Shelter Island and La Playa neighborhoods will begin to change as the condo sales impact local rea estate values, however, the cultural history of Pt. Loma is deep and the land will leave it’s stamp on the values of our new generations of Asian immigrants.
State of the art music production technology allows a person with little to no classical music training, to deconstruct complex and powerful pieces: Bach, Mahler, Debussy, Schoenberg’s, etc. with no knowledge of conventional theory or musical notation developed over the last three centuries that classical instrumentalists typically follow or use to communicate their ideas. Current state of the art digital audio workstations use the actual tonalities and sounds to craft music from which to display musical relationships in conventional score format, albeit absent articulation marks that electronic composers must now write in “by hand”. These composers can see how notation communicates their intent and the intent of works by known composers they study.
Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) use pre-recorded samples of instruments and/or synthesizers that offer a nearly infinite array of articulations for every instrument, modern and ancient, western and eastern, ethnic and classical: sitar, tabla, gamelan, guzheng, duduk, oboe d’amore, clavier, and so on, placing their sounds at the disposal of electronic composers using midi controllers in every music genre. Instrumentalists can produce ensemble and orchestral arrangements of pieces and perform their own inventions. With no classical training a DAW musician can learn to compose, arrange and produce simple and complex scores and learn by exploring ideas of composers of music of every culture, since the earliest times.
The importance of this new facility for musical expression is seen in a huge number and ethnic array of postings on YouTube, Vimeo, SoundCloud and other portals and in the music in cinema and video productions. Yet the importance and value of music itself is relatively unexamined and not generally understood: that music is a medium for emotional narratives and shapes our global culture.
A ride request chimed and blinked on my iPad. I saved the C Minor Symphony and left to pick up “Jason”, at the address of the submarine base near the end of Pt. Loma, about a mile from my home. In 5 minutes, I arrived at the guard’s booth where the Marine sentry on duty told me, “Ubers can’t come on base; only taxis are allowed”. He told me to park in a small lot by the gate and wait for the rider. The sailor’s barracks buildings are a half mile from the gate, so I asked the guard if he knew where I can ask for a permit to drive in. “Uber’s aren’t allowed on base.”
“I got that. I want to ask for a pass to come on base.”
“Oh.” He pointed to a small building with a sign on which the words, “Pass Office” was printed in block letters.
Because the barracks is a long walk for sailors and drivers have to wait ten minutes or longer for a ride that usually nets no more than $2.00 after deducting expenses, the following morning I decided to go to the Pass Office and ask for a permit to drive into the base.
Inside the little grey building, I saw three relatively young African American women engaged in animated chatting behind a plywood counter. It occurred to me they are the only women of African American descent I’d encountered in Pt. Loma in more than two weeks, aside from the Ethiopian security by the door of San Diego County Credit Union at Talbot and Rosecrans.
“Can I help you?”
“Good morning! I’d like to be cleared to pick up and drop off riders.
“I’m sorry, sir, what do you want?”
I gathered no one had ever asked for a permit. “I’m an Uber driver. I want to drive into the base, when I receive a ride request or when I’m dropping off people who live or work here.”
“You can’t. People who work for Uber aren’t allowed. on base.”
“Uber drivers don’t work for Uber; we’re independent contractors. I know that taxis can enter the base. I’ve seen them.”
“Taxis? Oh, yes. Taxis can come in, but not Uber.”
“That means there must be some kind of approval criteria?”
“An approval process.” (I’d been a yeoman in the Coast Guard Reserve and I know that in the military there’s a process, procedure and criteria for everything imaginable and much that isn’t imaginable.) One of the other youngish (African American) women nudged her colleague gently aside as she searched around under the plywood counter and came up with a three ring book with a black cover. She then read that I needed to be a licensed business. Check. I’m licensed. Insured Vehicle. Check. Driver’s License. Check.
I leaned against the WWII era plywood. “I live a few blocks down the street. I’m a neighbor. I want to drive into the base to pick up riders–sailors, people who work here. It’s my business.”
“Do you have a business license? ”
“No, I’m not a business. I have business here. I don’t work for Uber. I work for the riders whose requests I accept. I’m a rideshare driver. We don’t need to have a TCP.”
“TCP? What’s TCP? I don’t know what TCP is. Have you ever heard of TCP?”
“No, I don’t know what TCP is.”
“Transportation Charter Permit. You get it from the PUC–Public Utilities Commission and rideshare drivers don’t need one. They cost a thousand dollars. I’d need a bigger reason than a rides from a few sailors to put out a thousand dollars, right?”
“Suit yourself,” she said, “that’s what it says here”.
Leaving them to continue the conversation I’d interrupted I walked to my car, deciding then and there to give up on getting a permit to come on the base. A couple days later, I again received a ride request from the sub base. As I drove through the orange barricades approaching the gate, I saw a man and a woman dressed in combat blue fatigues talking to the Marine sentry, who wore green fatigues. The sentry disappeared as I neared the gate. Expecting to be asked to wait in the adjacent parking lot as I had before, I smiled up at the grim face of an athletic-looking black woman about 38 years old.
“Uber. I’m here to pick up Jason. Shall I park over there and wait?”
Her black hair was tucked tight into her officer’s cap, which she wore at a slight rake. Opaque aviator sunglasses hid her eyes; she seemed poised like a UFO fighter in her corner–and she had a big black gun holstered on her hip. She spoke with the hint of a snarl, “I’ll take your driver’s license!”
“Why do you want my driver’s license? (If she’d been an Uber rider, I’d have told her to get another car.
“Give me your driver’s license.”
“Wait a second. You’ll TAKE my driver’s license?”
“Give me your license, sir!”
Her partner, standing silently beside her, a little out of frame said, “get out of the car…”
“I’ll take care of this,” she said to him, “keep your eye on them” She pointed at the line of cars forming behind my car. There’s a lot of traffic in and out of the sub base and only this one lane entrance and one lane exit for trucks, cars, whatever.
“Miss, if you want to call the police, please, do so. I’ve done nothing wrong.” This is a free country in which military personnel can’t violate the person, property or rights of civilians. You may defend yourself if you believe there’s a threat. “Can you identify yourself as a police officer? You know I can’t legally drive this car without a license in my possession and at this point, I’d like to leave.”
“Keep your license!”
“I’ll do a u-turn and I’m out of here. Tell Jason.”
“Jason, the sailor or marine who supposedly requested a ride.” I started to pull away to turn and leave.
She pointed to the parking lot, where I’d waited last time.
“Pull your car over there.”
“Into the parking lot now? Ok.”
“Over there!” she re-iterated, as if I wasn’t already moving. With her hand on her weapon, she walked alongside my car as I drove slowly into the parking lot, where I expected to wait for Jason an earn a $3 fare. Why is it that Marines tip and sailors don’t? Maybe my luck.
“Stop right there!” (in the driveway of the lot).I turned off the motor and started to open the door to stretch–I try to get out and stretch whenever I can. Otherwise, I’m sitting for hours.
“Get back in the car!”
“Give me your driver’s license.”
Since I was now on the base, where she has legal jurisdiction, I handed her my license. “Why are you doing this? I’m an Uber driver. I live in this community. What’s your name?”
“You don’t need to know that.” I inferred from this that her actions are sanctioned by superiors, maybe triggered by my visit to the Pass Office. The possibility of deliberate harassment was there, but to what end? To protect the exclusive franchise of a cab company or to protect America from Americans.
“I can call the police and have you arrested!”
“Yes, you can. I’m an Uber driver trying to make a living serving people who live or work here. I live in this neighborhood and I’ve done nothing wrong and you can have me arrested. Ironic.”
“Get off this base! Immediately, Get out of here! Move! Now!”
(I’m rereading Rick Altman’s book on narrative theory. In Altman’s view, every narrative depends on the reader’s/viewer’s perception of characters and actions, a view over which a narrator has no control. These characters perceived contrasting narratives. The officer’s actions, though correlated with my actions, were neither consistent with seeing me as a threat but instead, with a perception of an older white man’s disrespect of her as a class, a black woman officer. In all likelihood, our species won’t survive armies of women.)
(Non-diegetic music tells the story by evoking emotional contexts. Since it isn’t heard by characters, it’s the story-teller’s voice, evoking feelings about the images and action that shape our perceptions. Each frame in a modern cinema narrative has correlated sounds the viewer expects to hear in the situation . Non-diegetic music creates the emotional verisimilitude of reality that viewers imagine.)
What I’ve enjoyed most about ubering is conversations with and observations of riders and occasional others along the way. I engage with all of them to the extent they’re open to it: riders, drivers, doormen, police, baristas at Starbucks, staff at the delis, whomever. Some of the observations awaken riders picked up at SAN, visitors as well as residents, to things they hadn’t noticed and are commonly taken for granted, like the people living in the streets. Their curiosity awakens, which irritate some who do their best to ignore things like the people living in the streets. I think I’m also sort of prescient–I know how old people are and where they come from. But I judge them only by their behavior.
What I most don’t like about ubering is when I feel taken for granted, like a part of the car–the postman. Uber sets this up in the way ridesharing is promoted. It’s a dichotomy. They tell riders that they needn’t carry cash–that it’s all on the card they use to hail a driver. But there’s no tipping option and the same riders who prefer to feel they needn’t tip drivers are often too demanding. Anyone with an elementary knowledge of math could figure out that the fare they’re paying for the use of the car and driver for a 20 minute ride doesn’t equal minimum wage. They know the driver’s expense for the trip: fuel, car lease, maintenance and insurance must come out of that fare. They smile and say, thank you soooo much for the ride, I really appreciate it. Have a great day! That’s about 95% of riders. The other 5% give the driver a tip.
Uber took the tip option off its app after they were sued by drivers for allegedly stealing part of drivers’ tips. Uber’s management team doesn’t seem to understand or doesn’t care that removing the tip option created an exploitive situation, like leaving a restaurant without tipping the wait staff. Riders say things like, “I thought the tip is included?” Really? You think Uber is taking 25% of the fare and somehow then tipping drivers? How much was the fare? $5? $4?
Some riders are rude by nature and some by custom. Asian riders are polite and condescending. They are sometimes uncomfortable to learn their driver is someone they should respect, it makes them feel uncertain. I’ve asked rude riders to call another car. A week ago, I pulled over and said to two drunk men, “get out of the car. Now.” One cursed me as he slammed the car door but I felt safer with them out of the car. More experience of riders is wonderful than not, Taking scented attractive women to their rendez-vous is fascinating .
The girl, who sang a song she’d made up, her perfect a cappella style, as we passed through San Pasqual Valley to the wild animal park, brought tears to my eyes. Watching her walk away, waving, I felt frozen in the act of uber-driver. I wanted to go with her.
A second thought today was about a letter I received from B today. Two years ago, it offended him when I pointed out that courses in his department were published with different catalog numbers for undergraduate and graduate levels and that they were poorly written and full of mistakes. I didn’t realize they were his work. I also mentioned that some teachers in his department were remarkably uninterested, unknowledgeable or incompetent at teaching and I didn’t realize he only hires his friends, regardless of qualifications. The “teachers” know the courses are absurd in a graduate school.
It was not in my best interests to show him, with specific examples, how these courses were at secondary school level, with lousy writing and misinformation, sometimes self-contradicting. I’d paid $2,600 per class for these courses and it irritated me. It must have been upsetting for B when I wrote about it in the letter to the accrediting board. Two of his teachers threatened me when I questioning their facts. They told me that questioning a teacher isn’t permitted or polite–that students shouldn’t ask questions.
$2.600/3 unit class is a hefty price and represents 50% of the FAFSA loan allocation. I thought about this when I found myself answering exams with answers I knew to be incorrect. Then I learned that the former experience of the school’s online course administrator was that the had been a police commander in Hayward. I tried to imagine exactly how that experience prepares someone for this job. What sort of outfit is this school anyway? No one at the top cares about the quality of courseware or teachers? In any case, a result of the documentation I sent to B about course errors was that his assistant gave a phone number and told me to call a composition professor and when I left a friendly message, B and M, the dean of the school accused of harassment–long distance by voicemail message.
Another thing I don’t like about ubering is the third thought for the day: the philosophy of Uber’s management, policies and practices, is revealed in Uber’s quest for a driver-less car. In their superstitious belief in technology, they see drivers as unnecessary, inconvenient and incompetent; we’re a dangerous nuisance of automotive mobility. Though I well understand this view after managing in traffic 50 hours/week. Drivers who aren’t able to achieve close to 100% alertness in a dynamic and unpredictable situations either make trips take longer or they get hit. Driverless cars are not a real option. Uber’s religious belief in technology rather than a rational understanding, leads Uber to treat drivers as disposable and expendable, while professing to appreciate them. Uber appreciates that drivers are paying for 99.9% of the assets for delivering service. Uber’s policies show zero interest in retaining drivers, their actions show they don’t want drivers to have a say in determining fair rates. The complexity Uber adds to the program that sends ride requests allows them to favor drivers who rent or lease cars from Uber or to drivers whom were enrolled with the promise of $1000 from their first 75 trips. If the driver earns $300 from these trips, Uber makes up the difference. This cost is amply covered by taking 25% of fares while contributing less than 1% of the cost of providing rides.
The driver-less car is nonsense without changing the social and practical context in which driverless cars are used. But despite the thousands of people on the streets, depressed economies of rural areas, rising sea level, catastrophic events from climate change, millennials, influenced by the Star Wars franchise, video games, iPhones and virtual reality believe that technology will make everything ok, that there’s a tech solution to every problem. They believe in the possibility of space travel and extra-terrestrial life rather than managing planetary resources as a social reality. No one really believe the superstition that urban technology, which does permit population growth and warfare is a solution but it pays well and they’d rather do that than sleep on the streets. Climate change suggests there are limits, however, and we’re meeting them.
Will Mercedes, Toyota, Ford, Chrysler, Kia, Etc. and Tesla abandon their lines related to personal freedom? No. They will incorporate technology learned in robotic car experiments. The idea of lock stepping vehicles is technical child’s play but will you sit in a steel cage moving in a river of steel cages alone or with someone you’d rather not see? Buzzed perhaps? Meditating? Listening to your favorite music? Do you want to get out now? Do you have to pee? Feeling sick? Bored? Where’s the app for that?