Saturday, July 13, 2024

Tempting The Fates: Covid Finally Gets Us

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published July 15, 2024] ©2024

Nature abhors a confident person.

I truly thought that both my husband, Olof, and I were immune to Covid, having managed to escape this affliction in spite of many, many up-close-and-personal exposures.  I was even contemplating volunteering us for one of those studies for people who had not contracted it, such was our seeming Teflon protection against this scourge.  We were feeling downright smug. 

Since the pandemic began in March, 2020, I have been used to getting calls from people who I’d just seen in the last few days who’d announce, “You’re not going to believe this!”

“Oh,” I’d say.  “You have Covid.”

And they’d said, “Huh?  How did you know?”

And I’d say, “Because I get this call at least once a week.” 

Of the 25 of us who regularly descend on my younger son’s home in L.A. at Christmas, Olof and I were the only ones who had not had Covid, despite my sitting on the living room couch for an entire afternoon next to my daughter-in-law’s parents who the next day tested positive for Covid.

At Thanksgiving the month before, I’d been leaning in to my friend’s daughter for several hours as we chatted through a lengthy meal in a closed-in environment.  Two days later, she was diagnosed with Covid.  Ditto a holiday dinner with some neighbors.

There were people who would insist that Olof and I had clearly had Covid and just not realized it.  But every time we were exposed, I tested diligently for a least a week after.  No symptoms, negative test.  This would have had to have been the most subclinical case of Covid in the history of virology.

At first I was assuming that all those shots we were getting must be having a protective effect.  Olof and I had had all seven Covid vaccines and boosters recommended for seniors.  Not to mention, an RSV shot, 2 shingles, 1 pneumonia, and a flu shot.  Honestly, it was a miracle we could even raise our arms. 

But all the friends who ultimately ended up contracting Covid had had all those shots too. 

We did have our own personal theory about our immunity:  the rest of those people just don’t drink enough.  Olof, especially, was convinced of the microbially-protective effects of a Scotch (or two), which he ingests strictly for medicinal purposes on a nightly basis.  And it worked!  No Covid!

I myself am not a Scotch drinker but have been known to imbibe medically-therapeutic doses of white wine, also on pretty much of a nightly basis. 

Frankly, I’d stopped even worrying about Covid. So imagine my astonishment when I woke up one morning with a sore throat and the routine just-in-case Covid test I took came up positive. How could this be?

Ironically, I’m almost sure I contracted Covid in a packed medical waiting room where I’d gone for a routine test that, ironically, came back normal.  This waiting room was a super-spreader event if there ever was one. Forty people sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in a small space.

I couldn’t believe how sick I got how fast. I had a fever of 101.5, and just felt completely terrible.  Within 24 hours, my throat felt like I was trying to swallow shards of glass. I honestly felt like I was choking to death. 

After what was one of the worst nights I’ve ever spent, I texted a friend and asked him to take me to the ER.  I would have called him except that my throat was so swollen, I couldn’t speak.  You might wonder why my husband, Olof, couldn’t perform this duty but did I mention that two days after I tested positive, so did he?  Definitely the downside of sharing air space with another person.

I honestly wasn’t sure what, if anything, they could do for me in the ER. What I was really hoping for was a lethal shot of morphine, administered as quickly as possible.  What they did do, however, was give me a hefty dose of prednisone to reduce the swelling and inflammation in my throat.  Wouldn’t help the Covid, obviously, and I still had a sore throat.  But I didn’t feel like I was choking to death anymore. 

And let me say a few words about the Barbey Family ER and Trauma Center over in the Prebys Cardiovascular Center at Scripps Memorial.  This facility opened up in 2016 and is orders of magnitude better than other *ahem* nearby ER which is always a guaranteed multi-hour, if not all-day, wait.  At Barbey, I was treated and out the door in an hour.

Fortunately, Olof didn’t get nearly as sick as I did.  But he continued to test positive for what seemed like forever.  I began to fear we were going to cancel an entire summer’s social life.

I recognize now what we did wrong: we tempted the fates.  We bragged that we had never had Covid. 

Never do this. They hear you.


 

Monday, July 8, 2024

The War That Brought Us To San Diego

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published July 8, 2024] ©2024

The recent protests around the country, and especially on college campuses, have been a déjà vu for me as a someone who went to college in the late 1960s when the hugely unpopular Vietnam war was raging.  The issues behind today’s protests are different, of course, but all these years later, the “Demonstrations and Arrest: Rights and Liabilities” guide from the ACLU that was widely distributed for student protestors is still in a file folder I’ve kept from that time.  The advice remains eerily the same.

On December 1, 1969, a lottery system was held by the Selective Service Commission to determine the order of call-ups by birthdays for induction into the armed services (and a pretty sure ticket to Vietnam) for all males ages 18-26.  The lottery was done on TV as a nation held its collective breath willing one’s own or one’s son’s birthday from being called.

 College students could generally get deferments which at least saved you until you were 22. Otherwise, your choices were going to jail as a conscientious objector, fleeing to Canada, or trying to get classified as 4F - unfit for military duty, generally based on a medical condition, real or fabricated. ("Heel spurs," anyone?)  

If I close my eyes, I can still hear the chants of "hell no, we won't go!" in my ears. 

My first husband graduated from medical school in 1969.  A mere month later, he received a letter informing him that he would be going to Vietnam next month as a general medical officer. Alternatively, he could sign up for what was known as the Berry Plan and defer his military service until he had finished his specialty training.

That was a decision that took not quite two nanoseconds.  It was our hope that the war would be over by that time.  And as it turned out, it (mostly) was.  But Berry Plan doctors were still obligated to serve two years in the military.  And that, folks, is how we ended up in San Diego.

 In the spring of 1973, we received a communication in a foreign language, later identified as "military speak," from an entity called BUPERS. Once translated into English, it ordered my husband to report to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego on July 1, 1973 for a two-year assignment. 

We had a reservation for our first night in San Diego at guest rooms at the Naval Air Station.  When we got there, we saw a sign announcing a strict policy against pets. We didn't sleep all night, not only because of the deafening noise of planes taking off and landing, but because we were afraid they'd find our cat and shoot it.

 This was medicine in a very different way than my husband had experienced.  His training had included treating gunshot wounds and knifings in the South Bronx but now dealt with a patient population who had to stand at attention while being treated and to speak in the third person.  ("The private, sir, has a broken leg, sir.") 

The assignment required staying at the MCRD clinic overnight every third night (even though it was closed) in the event of "national emergency."  While there was a perfectly nice officers club on base, my husband was only allowed to venture for meals as far as Leatherneck Lanes, the base bowling alley across the street, where I would join him for some of the worst food in the highest decibel environment I have ever experienced. I started bringing picnics, out of fear for our hearing. 

Even though my father and grandfather had served in the first and second world wars, I wasn't particularly familiar with military customs. So when I received an invitation to a luncheon from the Navy Officers' Wives Club, I thought I'd give it a try.  A very nice woman greeted me and said, "We sit according to the rank of our husbands."  She pointed to the far end of the table.  "You sit down there."  As a fourth-generation feminist, I could feel the previous three generations turning over in their graves (and my mother wasn't even dead yet).  "Thank you," I said, and left. 

OK, enough whining.  MCRD vs. a Vietnam field hospital?  Not exactly the medical experience my husband was hoping for after all those years of training.  But we instantly loved San Diego. 

And after six months, we were entitled to a VA loan to buy a home with 100% financing.  Already we'd homed into La Jolla as the place we wanted to live (I mean, duh) but quickly found that, in that era at least, no banks or realtors in La Jolla would work with VA loans. But fortunately, we found a total fixer/dump being sold by owner who wasn't aware of the VA's complicated rules.  So, with no realtor in sight, we signed a contract with the owners which they pretty much instantly regretted.  A lot of hassle later, we owned a home which we would never have been able to afford until years later otherwise.  So thank you, VA. 

 And thanks, BUPERS, whoever you are, for sending us to San Diego.  This has been the place place to live ever. 

At my 1970 college graduation, most of the students had peace signs glued to their caps. 


 

Sunday, June 23, 2024

The Sisterhood Of the Traveling Underpants

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published June 24, 2024] ©2024

With the summer travel season upon us, a person’s thoughts just naturally turn to…underwear.

My many friends who travel a lot have been lamenting for some time that they just can’t seem to resolve the underwear problem, especially if they’re going to be staying at a different place every night.  You wash out your dainties but depending on the climate, they never quite dry before you have to pack them up and move on.  My friend Linda says she toured Scotland and Ireland for seventeen days with a plastic baggie of clean but soggy unmentionables that were never truly dry until she got home and put them in her dryer. 

The nightly washing ritual has a number of other downsides, not the least of which is having one’s undies draped all over one’s hotel bath, particularly if you’re staying in the $1,000 a night Scottish castle-cum-golf resort.  It just looks so, well, low class.  And might explain why those Scots don’t wear anything under their kilts.  They could just never get it to dry in that damp climate either.

The main issue, of course, is that underwear just takes up so much room in your suitcase.  Room you’d rather have for souvenirs.  So several of my friends, including Linda, have been test driving other solutions including disposable underwear specifically meant for traveling.  Wear it once and toss it. 

Apparently, it is much more comfortable than one might imagine for cheap underwear, and thus begs the question as to why one would ever buy expensive underwear that needs to be hand washed if the cheap disposable stuff is just as comfy.  But ours is not to reason why.  Another friend says that she has tried saving up all her old ratty underwear to bring with her to just throw away each night.  Yet another says she hits up the Dollar Store and buys a three-pack for $1.00.

But here’s the problem:  while the plan is excellent, the execution has turned out to be less so.  At the moment of truth, they can’t quite bear to throw perfectly good underwear away.  Or even serviceable if elastically-challenged lingerie.  It just seems so wasteful. 

The ratty underwear solution is even more problematic.  You’ve left a nice tip for the maid at the pricey French chateau so do you really want her to find your shabby dainties in the trash?  One can almost hear her mumbling under her breath, Merci, mais il vaut mieux peut-etre que vous gardiez votre argent pour vous offrir du linge moins fatigués.  (“Thanks, but maybe you should keep the money and buy yourself some new underwear.”)   The French can be so sarcastic.

On a more fundamental basis, wearing ratty underwear also goes against everything that is holey, er holy.  Didn’t your mother always exhort you to wear good underwear in case you were in an accident?  Do you really want to end up in the Cap Ferrat Urgent Care in tattered u-trou?

Yet another friend says she is planning to solve the problem by buying the super-lightweight travel underwear that is guaranteed to dry within hours even in Indian monsoons.  The problem is, it is seriously expensive. Of course, if it truly dries that fast, you wouldn’t need very many pairs.  But if that monsoon thing was a bit of advertising hyperbole, you could be spending your trip feeling like a human terrarium. 

Stories of depending on a hotel laundry service are legion and usually involve sagas of a three-week trip with one’s clean underwear doggedly following two days behind.  My husband, who traveled a lot on business, knew too well the perils of depending on a hotel laundry, especially in out-of-the-way places.  Olof tells the story of traveling to Indonesia and after a certain period of time, needing to get his laundry done.  His underwear had obviously enjoyed the pampered life of a U.S. washing machine but when he got it back from his Yogyakarta hotel, it was clear that it had undergone a far more vigorous manner of washing.  Best case, it had been beaten with rocks.  More likely, it had been subjected to a local cleansing method involving stampeding water buffalo.  Suffice to say, it was full of holes.  On the rest of his travels in Asia, he didn’t dare send his underwear out again, not only out of the sheer embarrassment that a “rich American” would have such shredded skivvies, but his wholehearted conviction that it would never survive a second experience.

Weighing all the options, there’s really only one obvious conclusion.   If you really want to travel light, you’re just going to have to go commando.



Friday, June 14, 2024

Mom Guilt: The Plague That Never Goes Away

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published June 17, 2024] ©2024

I am not generally prone to guilt.  Our former primary care doctor, Dr. No (as in no foods that you’d actually want to eat), did her best to inflict shame upon Olof and me for our culinary choices.  If dietary guilt lowered triglycerides, we would be the healthiest people in America.  But since we aren’t, we’ve directed that when the time comes, we’d like our ashes spread over hot fudge sundaes.

Mom Guilt, however, is another story. It has plagued me relentlessly from the get-go.

June is a time of graduations on every level from pre-school through college. It was thus temporally inevitable that I would revisit my older son, Rory’s, long ago sixth grade graduation and the guilt I have been carrying about it ever since.

Did I mention he is now 46? 

My children’s grade school years were not the happiest time in our household.  Their father and I were involved in a protracted divorce proceeding.  I was back in the work force in an entry level job living paycheck to paycheck. 

Unfortunately, on the day of Rory’s sixth grade graduation, we were in the midst of a grant proposal deadline so my boss wasn’t keen on my taking time off for even two minutes much less two hours.

“They even have graduation for sixth grade?” he muttered. “Do you really have to go?”

“I swear I’ll come right back the second it’s over,” I promised.

And frankly, I was so glad I went. The kids sang “We are the world” and got their diplomas. It was all so touchingly adorable. Full-on mommy heroin.

Out on the school patio, as parents and kids posed for pictures, Rory turned to me and said, “So where are we going for lunch?”

Lunch?  I hadn’t planned on lunch.

“Rory,” I said, “I’m so sorry.  I didn’t realize you were expecting lunch.  I have to get back to the office right away.”

Rory looked at me like I stabbed the family pet to death.  (We didn’t actually any. I couldn’t have afforded so much as a goldfish.)

He burst into tears.  “But everybody is going to lunch with their parents!” Ratcheting it up: “This should have been the happiest day of my life! You completely ruined it!” Ratcheting it up some more: “I will never forget this!” 

For a nanosecond, I thought about calling my boss (if I could find a payphone) and plead for more time.  But my skills were required for this grant proposal being submitted by EOB that day.

As poorly as I was being paid, I could not afford to lose this job and its health insurance.

I apologized profusely all the way back to the house where I dropped Rory off (statute of limitations is fortunately past on my kids’ latch key lives).  When I got home from work later that day, Rory continued to freeze me out.

I have truly been haunted by this ever since.

In trying to assuage my guilt, I look back on those years and wonder how I did it.  Perhaps in an effort to compensate my children for the stigma of having divorced, warring parents, I managed all manner of youth sports teams, ran the local Cub Scout program, and used my minimal vacation time to count laps on Jogathons. I even drove all the carpools on my ex’s custody days because he invariably fucked it up and everyone just called and yelled at me.  I would often collapse fully clothed on top of a pile of clean laundry on my bed at midnight.  I was veteran of the 10-minute combat nap.

Suffice to say, in that era, baking wasn’t something I had much time to do.  So it was not too surprising that if chocolate chip cookies were made, it was from a tube of supermarket Slice n’ Bake. 

Fast forward seven years to Rory leaving for college at UC Santa Cruz.  In an attack of remorsefulness for my children’s lack of mommy domesticity, I decided to make him a batch of homemade Toll House Cookies to take with him.  So overdue. After all this time, he deserved the real thing.

A few days later, I asked how he’d liked them.  Well, he reported, the cookies were only OK.  They didn’t taste like the ones I usually made.

Ah, what sort of failure of a mother was I that my kids didn’t even know what a “real” chocolate chip cookie tasted like, and that they associated my baking efforts with artificial flavors and colors?

But I suppose it could be worse:  one of my daughters-in-law reported that her grandmother was such a terrible cook that her father joined the Coast Guard just for the food.

Not long ago, Rory was down visiting us for a long weekend and I said to him, “You know, I have to confess.  I still feel guilty about sixth grade graduation.” 

He looked puzzled.  “We had sixth grade graduation?”


 

Saturday, June 8, 2024

Just Trying To Make A Living

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published June 10, 2024] ©2024

On May 17, I saw our first house fly of the season. Definitely a little early given the cool weather.   This single rogue fly seemed to be either lost or else some mutant strain because once flies show up, there tend to be tons of them, and they’re a scourge for weeks. 

In my heart, I know that every creature is just trying to make a living, including house flies.  Regardless, I squashed it.  Still, this had had me pondering: how many phyla down the taxonomic hierarchy do you have to go to have empathy for one’s fellow earthly travelers?  It’s certainly easier to feel an affinity to those in our own phylum (Chordata – vertebrates) even if I actually eat some of them. 

In recent years there seem to be a greater abundance of fauna in our area who are at odds with the humans who co-habit it - coyotes and crows especially.  Local social media has been rife with debate as to whether creatures that impact us negatively have as much right to live as we do. 

Which side of the coyote argument you’re on might largely depend on whether you have a cat.  Or used to have a cat.  The growing coyote population seems to have decimated a lot of beloved family pets.

Seeing coyotes running around residential neighbors in broad daylight mere blocks from the ocean is definitely a new phenomenon.

I don’t have a cat, but I do have a bichon-poodle mix which our vet says a coyote would definitely consider dinner, in spite of all that fur.  I can just hear the coyote pups complaining, “Geesh, mom!  Could you please find something short-haired?  Maybe a chihuahua?  These fluffy things are a total pain to eat!” 

One night, a few months ago, as I took our dog out at 11 p.m. before bed, I looked across the street to see a coyote trotting by.  They have a very distinctive gait.  Now, whenever I have the dog outside at night in the front yard, I’m standing right next to her.

A recent post on local social media suggested that the coyote situation could be ameliorated by having all the neighbors chip in to hire a company that alleges it will humanely trap coyotes, transport them out of the area and let them go in a more welcoming habitat.

Um, Kansas? 

I have to say that I was immediately reminded of a similar conversation some years back when I was dealing with the rats that were in abundance in our back yard. Upscale areas like La Jolla offer lush foliage for high-end rodential habitation, never mind a veritable cornucopia of rats’ preferred cuisine, including and especially oranges (we have a tree), pet food, and snails.

So a gentleman from a local pest control firm responded to my call for rat-control services and installed live-capture traps around my property with promises that he would be back daily to check on them.  It was all very humane, he explained.

“So, what do you do with them after you catch them?” I asked, immediately regretting the question. 

“Oh,” he said, “we drive them out to the country and let them go.”  He actually said this with a straight face.  Unfortunately, he looked like he’d had a supporting role in The Terminator and that the back of his truck was filled with devices I didn’t want to know about. 

So despite the genuinely charming and well-intentioned suggestion, I was dubious about where those coyotes were going to end up.  Other people responding to the original poster were too.  Which, of course, re-ignited the argument as to whether the coyotes had as much right to be here as humans. They’re just trying to make a living like everyone else, one side noted.  Feed their families. Find affordable housing.  Save for college.

OK, maybe not save for college.  

The other population I haven’t been altogether happy to see in recent years are the influx of crows.  We are very much bird lovers in our house with lots of bird feeders and even our own outdoor aviary. 

Unfortunately, with the advent of the crows, our song bird population has been reduced drastically. The blue jays have disappeared entirely. Crows are annoyingly loud, never mind enjoy entertaining themselves by smashing objects on our skylights to break them open. 

But aren’t they just trying to make it like everything else?

Of course, my wish is that crows could decide to go make a living someplace else, along with coyotes, rats, and house flies.  (Maybe spiders too.)  But none of these creatures seem so inclined so for the time being, we’re guarding our beloved dog against coyote attacks, tolerating the crows, and dispensing with the oranges on our tree that attract rats. 

But I continue to flatten all winged and arachnoidal creatures that get near me.  My empathy, alas, just can’t seem to find its way that far down the taxonomic scale.  Sorry, arthropodae.




 

 

Sunday, May 26, 2024

The Perils Of E-Bikes

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published May 27, 2024] ©2024

There is not a day – maybe even an hour – that goes by that I don’t feel grateful that there were no e-bikes when my sons were growing up.  If I close my eyes, I can easily superimpose an image of my daredevil older son driving as recklessly as the kids who zoom by my house daily.

Trying to research the four classifications of e-bikes and their various age and helmet requirements for this column left my head spinning.  

The helmet part was easy: just as with a regular bicycle, anyone under 17 has to wear one. 

It’s the age part that has me confused.  Apparently, you have to be 16 to ride an e-bike if your electric bike can reach speeds of 28 mph.

While I fully admit that I would be at a loss to identify one classification of e-bike from another, the kids who go tearing by my house are either waay under 16 or have seriously stunted growth.  I would personally put many of them in the 12-14-year-old range.  So presumably they are riding e-bikes that go slower than 28 miles per hour. Somehow it seems   they are going waaay faster. Maybe it's just my heart rate watching them.

My home is located on a heavily-trafficked corner with a four-way stop.  If the local gendarmes wanted to fill the city’s flagging coffers quickly, they could lurk in the bushes and ticket the 50% of drivers who roll right through these stop signs, and, if they could even catch them, the 25% who blast through them without stopping at all. 

As you might imagine, there’s a whole of screeching of tires and colorful language going on as vehicles barely miss t-boning each other. You could learn a lot of bad words living at our house.

If I were to be completely honest, I was cited myself for a rolling stop some years ago on Prospect Street coming home from a yoga class at 9 p.m.  I was all mellow and om-y and the street near Bishops School was deserted. So I will confess to not coming to a 100% full stop.  A policeman lurking in the shadows pulled out and gave me a ticket requiring traffic school which at that time one had to attend in person. 

My fellow scofflaws all had one thing in common:  We all felt we had been entrapped.  Even the young woman who was cited for using her Doberman in the front seat to qualify for the car pool lane.  The instructor explained to me that a sign that says “STOP” actually stands for “Slow To Observe Police” and I would be wise to remember this in the future.

Having lived in our home for decades, we’re used to the lack of adherence to stop signs.  It’s the more recent addition of kids – lots and lots of kids – on e-bikes that is truly terrifying us. It would give their parents a heart attack if they saw them.  In fact, it’s giving us a heart attack and they’re not even our kids.

If there were one addition I could add to e-bikes, it would be a camera that recorded the bike driver’s driving and went straight to their parents’ cell phones 

Most of the e-bike riders would seem to be middle schoolers, at least by appearance and behavior.  Having raised two sons, I am acutely aware of how limited judgment and even a modicum of common sense is in this age group. 

It’s not just that few of these kids are even slowing down at the stop signs.  It’s that they’re speeding up.  Making left hand turns across oncoming traffic.  Not wearing helmets.  Putting two - or even three - kids on one bike.  Drag racing each other down the middle of the street.  Doing wheelie contests.  Riding on sidewalks. Having no lights after dark.

As a walker, I’m terrified they’re going to run me down.  It would not improve my already decrepit state to have my cervical and lumbar vertebrae disconnected from each other. 

My husband, Olof, is a former motorcycle guy.  In his college years, he was the happy owner of both a BMW 650 and a two-stroke Puch, his source of transportation since he couldn’t afford a car in that era.  His mother always suspected that he just wanted an excuse to ride a motorcycle to which she was adamantly, passionately opposed. Olof gets a misty look in his eyes as he describes his relationship with those bikes.

But he had a license, helmet, and took a motorcycle safety course before acquiring them.  Even he shakes his head in disbelief as he watches how fast and recklessly some of the local kids are driving on what are essentially motor vehicles.  It does seem evident that few of these kids seem to think the stop signs apply to bikes.  But then, that might be because they don’t seem to apply to cars either. 

 

 

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Where Did I Go? And Am I Coming Back?

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published May 20, 2024] ©2024

As my husband, Olof, and I like to say, every 40 years we spend a year abroad. January 20, 2005 was, by coincidence, the 40th anniversary of our meeting as high school exchange students en route to Brazil’s Southern Hemisphere school year. But our planned anniversary celebration was pre-empted by Olof being sent to Stockholm by his boss to sign a contract with a Swedish company. The ink barely dry, he called me from Sweden. “They want me to move here to run the project,” he said. “Are you game?”

Well, that was pretty easy: No. Okay, I know that most people would leap at the chance to live abroad. But I was not one of those people. Or not one of those people anymore. As a teenager, I was so desperate to travel, I would’ve leapt at a bus trip to Boise. When I was given the chance to go abroad for a year as a barely-17-year-old high school senior, I was willing to go anywhere they sent me, learn any language, and go on two weeks’ notice. Which, in fact, was all the notice I got. I didn’t know a word of Portuguese but would be expected after only a month to have picked up enough on my own to go to a Brazilian high school. The family I’d be living with spoke no English.  There was no international phone service to the area I was going so I wouldn’t be talking to my parents much less seeing them for a year. Still, I didn’t have a moment’s hesitation. At that age, no bad things can happen to you.

Olof turned out to be one of the other three American exchange students going to the same town. I knew after three weeks in Brazil that we’d be friends for life.  We were fortunately both avid letter writers in a pre-internet era and never lost touch even after we returned from Brazil. In pre-word processor times, our first drafts were the last. 

We didn’t marry each other the first time around despite an abiding affection for one another. At 17, marriage was not even a blip on either of our radars. Post-engineering-degree pilot training in the Air Force prevented Olof from attending my wedding. But my husband and I were at his wedding in Pasadena in 1973.

I’ve often reflected on my once-adventurous spirit. “Where did I go?” I’ve asked myself. “And am I coming back?”

Somewhere along the way I stopped being able to embrace change. I can’t pinpoint when this happened, but in my current view, all change is bad until incontrovertibly proven otherwise.

Olof, on the other hand, just manages to roll with the punches. Not so secretly, I’ve always hoped that some of his quintessential calm would somehow, by some cellular process I didn’t need to understand, transfer itself to me. 

There was never any question, of course, that we would go to Sweden despite my nightly anxiety attacks. Miraculously, in record time, my employers gave me a leave, the Swedish government gave us work permits, the consulate gave us residence visas, our cars were disposed of, our finances went online, winter coats were ordered from Land’s End, boxes were shipped, hands (mine) were wrung, and, eerily reminiscent of the short notice we’d had to go to Brazil, Olof and I began our second senior year abroad. Or make that seniors’ year abroad. Hoping to embrace our Swedish experience, we dubbed ourselves Inga and Olof our first day there. 

And here’s where a funny thing happened. The years we spent in Sweden were the absolutely best of my life. Fortunately for me, the Swedes aren’t exactly balls of fire when it comes to contract deadlines.

I loved everything about Stockholm (well, except maybe those icy sidewalks)—the beautiful city, the fabulous public transportation, the much slower pace of life, the wonderful food. On top of that, I felt like I had died and gone to liberal feminist heaven. Except for grandchildren, which we didn’t have at the time, I could have happily stayed there forever—cold, dark winters notwithstanding. A Swedish friend laughingly commented that Olof and I could afford to be Sweden’s two biggest fans; we didn’t pay taxes there.

In Sweden, the 17-year-old version of me was back, alive and well.  There seems to be something about being 17 and/or in a foreign country that seems to bring me to life. 

Since returning from Sweden, the insanely adventurous 17-year-old me has faded from view once again (not helped by being clobbered by a drunk driver days after our return).  Fortunately, the senior citizen me, while a ton more cautious, has a lot of redeeming qualities. Among them: I’m still here. The 17-year-old version of me in Brazil didn’t always have the best judgment. (That would be an understatement.)  But I’m incredibly grateful that I got the opportunity to revisit her.

 Olof and I return to the U.S. after our year in Brazil

 

Saturday, May 11, 2024

How Not To Remodel

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published May 13, 2024] ©2024

As anyone who is touring homes to buy knows, the remodels people do on their houses sometimes defy imagination.  You can only look around and gasp, “Why would anyone do that?”

Our home of many decades was one of those houses, and yes, that was our exact reaction when we first looked at it.  But we bought it anyway. (Another column.)

Its failings started seventy-seven years ago when an obviously inebriated architect chose to ignore the collective 19,000 square feet of our lot and the one next to it and build two houses a mere ten feet from each other. 

Worse, the houses are oriented so that rather than being parallel, the backs of the houses face right into each other.  Despite a fence and a hedge, we can still hear everything that goes on at our neighbors’ and they everything that goes on at our house. Fortunately, with one exception (they played drums), we’ve had nothing but wonderful neighbors next door.  (The proximity requires a mutual “what happens in La Jolla stays in La Jolla” policy with them.)

Then, in 1955, the owners of our home incomprehensibly ignored the nice big lot and decided to convert the two-car garage into a wood-paneled laundry room, master bedroom, and bath. (Who panels a laundry room???) I realize that wood paneling was the hot new thing in 1955, now regularly disparaged on HG-TV shows. And with good reason: it gives rooms the charm of a root cellar.

While the rest of our house has been beautifully upgraded over the years, we never did much with the master bedroom other than skylights, shutters, and several replacements of carpeting over the cement slab. We just couldn’t see spending a lot of money on what was basically a garage room since any sane person would put a second story on the house and re-convert the room to a garage. Somehow, we were never those sane people.

Besides the dark paneling, the garage bedroom is north facing which meant it gets sunlight like never.

While we were away a while back, our son and daughter-in-law stayed in our bedroom when they came down with the kids one weekend. Afterwards, my daughter-in-law suggested our bedroom was such a depressing cave that a bear faced with wintering there might elect not to hibernate.

Hey, she should have seen it before the skylights.

It had been Olof’s and my observation that if we left the paneling long enough, it might go away on its own. That’s because our wood-walled bedroom is the termite version of the 72 virgins. Some nights I could swear I heard gnawing. We’ve tented the house but think our termites have developed a mutational fondness for poison gas.

But given our son and daughter-in-law’s vicious assessment of our sleeping quarters, we decided after almost four decades to paint the wood paneling a nice creamy white.

“Don’t rush into anything,” my son cautioned drily. 

As everything was moved out of the bedroom and laundry room, there were only more surprises of the really bad kind. Although our house is regularly cleaned, a hefty case of mildew covered the walls behind the heavy bookcases (bolted to the wall so they won’t crush us in an earthquake) while the termites had pretty much devoured the baseboards back there in their own happily secluded arthropodal Xanadu. A creepy netherworld of spider webs resided behind the armoire.

This is, I have to say, the downside of living in the same place for decades. Maybe everyone should be required to move at least every ten years if for no other reason than to find out what’s living behind your furniture.

Before we could paint, the mildew (the peril of living 260 steps from the Pacific) had to be bleached into oblivion, while the termites (and any residual arachnids) were dispatched in heartlessly cruel ways. Painting was the easy part. Of course, that might be because we didn’t do it ourselves.

Home improvement projects are nothing if not a case of dominoes. Not to mention that everything you improve makes something else look suddenly shabby.

And that’s exactly what happened with our lovely white shutters, probably one of the few charming features of our bedroom. Was it my imagination or did they suddenly look yellowish next to the off-white paint? But they don’t call Olof and me the Bobbsey Twins of Collective Denial for nothing. “Do the shutters look yellow to you?” I queried Olof. “Nope!” he replied, knowing where this conversation was going. “Me neither!” I said. Anyone who could live with gnawing for three decades could probably live with yellowish shutters.

The re-painted rooms are now exponentially lighter.  Olof and I are used to the fact that our bedroom was the garage.  But I hope whoever ends up with this house next tears it down, moves it 20 feet to the west, and foregoes the janky floorplans.

 


                        Why didn't we do this decades sooner?

 

Sunday, April 28, 2024

When Ducks Take Up Residence In Your Pool

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published April 29, 2024] ©2024

Every spring I conduct what I call a Preemptive Rodential Offensive, denuding my orange tree of 700+ oranges to avert our annual summer rat invasion. A rat accompli, the only fauna I then have to deal with are our aviary birds and our dog, Lily. 

That was until my husband remarked, “Do you hear quacking?”  We’ve lived in our house for decades and had never had a single duck in our pool, but suddenly a mallard pair, whom we dubbed Quick and Quack (a nod to NPR), decided to make our pool their personal lake.

At first we were totally charmed by them.  Ducks!  How fun!  But by day three we couldn’t help but notice that our pool area and pool were sporting alarming amounts of duck excrement giving new meaning to the term “poop deck.”  With regret, I called a local wildlife agency for advice about their relocation.

I quickly discovered that wildlife agencies see ducks differently than pool-owners.  My wildlife person surmised that they had created a nest somewhere in our back yard.  What luck! she said.  Baby ducks are so cute! 

I nervously inquired about the gestation for duck eggs. Twenty-nine days, she said.  I thought I could probably live with 29 days of ducks until she added, “and then another ten weeks until they can fly.”  Definitely, she says, have to keep the dog out of the back yard once the baby ducks are born.  And btw, we’ll need to put a wood plank at the shallow end of the pool so the baby ducks can get out. 

I said, what if the grandchildren want to come and swim?  And she said, “Oh, they’ll just LOVE the baby ducks!”  One got the impression she was seriously focused on the innate adorableness of infant avians and not on (1) we have a duckling-eating dog who is not amused by intruders in her personal space (2) we have a lawn maintenance service with loud mowers incompatible with baby ducks and (3) we (sort of) have a life. 

At first the wildlife lady had an ally in Olof who was totally into the whole miracle of birth thing.  That was until he heard that a typical clutch is 12-13 ducklings.  Even he had to admit that 15 ducks pooping in our pool for ten weeks was going to be a biohazard from which we were not likely to recover.  It was also mentioned that once you make them feel at home they come back every year in perpetuity.

When the pool guy showed up a week later he nearly collapsed on the pool deck weeping when he saw the pool.  Ducks, he maintained, are harder to get rid of than herpes.

“Can you actually get rid of herpes?” I said.

“No!” he practically sobbed.  “And you can’t get rid of ducks either!”

He’d had two other clients with “duck issues” in which they’d tried everything under the sun (other than a .22).  Makes the pool very hard to clean not to mention extremely unappetizing to swim in.  He said we’d look back on the rats as good news. 

It appeared after two weeks that the ducks didn’t actually have a nest here; they just liked the locale.  I quickly learned that we are hardly the first people in La Jolla to have this problem.  No less than the pricey piscine of the venerable Beach and Tennis Club has been mallardially-afflicted in the past. 

The internet was full of duck eradication ideas, like buying a six-foot-long plastic alligator pool toy to float on the pool.  But this suggestion was followed by 24 posts of “Doesn’t work” and even one photo of ducks floating on the alligator.

Many of the suggestions required crisscrossing the pool with fishing line or rope so that the ducks couldn’t access the pool.  But you can’t either.  Dozens of other non-lethal suggestions involved bright shiny objects, fake snakes, a product called King’s Duck Solution (“ a secret blend of herbs and spices that will naturally remove ducks” but probably contains strychnine), and even hiring a falconer.  I had a feeling the falconer was out of our price range.

Ultimately I went low tech:  the hose.  At first I just sprayed a shower in their direction but they just swam over and preened themselves in it, as if to say, “OK, a little to the left.”  So I turned it to jet mode and directed it as close to them as possible without actually hitting them. (We were treating them no differently than we do house guests who overstay their welcome.)  They took off immediately but I heard telltale quacking ten minutes later.  They seem to be reappearing less and less, however; days go by that we don’t see them.  In some ways we’ll miss them.  But we have a whole lot of duck poop on the deck to remember them by.


Making themselves right at home

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Why No One Wants Sterling Silverware Anymore

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published April 22, 2024] ©2024

I simply refuse to be defeated by sterling silverware.  But so far the tally is flatware 3, Inga 0.

We have inherited a set of beautiful sterling flatware from a great aunt of Olof’s and since we had begun using my mother’s bone china on a daily basis, we decided to jettison the stainless and upgrade ourselves to daily sterling as well.  As the L’Oreal commercial says, we're worth it.

Like many women, I had been saving my mother’s bone china for use on special occasions, and with the hope of passing it on to my daughters-in-law.  News flash: the daughters-in-law don’t want it.  In fact, they don’t want their own family’s bone china and sterling silver.  It’s a new era.  This stuff is harder to get rid of than zucchini in August.

So we figured, what the heck.  We’d just start using our good china every day.  I researched the best dishwasher detergents for bone china, the answer to which is “none.”  You should really hand wash it.  But so not happening in my house, where the motto, inside and out, is “survival of the fittest.”

The sterling thing has turned out to be a whole different ballgame.  My much-missed long-deceased mother had beautiful sterling flatware, an exquisite set of Limoges (in addition to the wedding china that I now have), and lovely Baccarat crystal, all of which is in the possession of our younger-than-any-of-us stepmother, Fang, along with our now-deceased father’s estate.  (Why do men always think with the little head?) At least weekly, I pray that the Limoges is leaching lead.

But maybe Fang did me a favor stealing the sterling.  Once Olof’s great-aunt’s flatware came into our lives, I quickly discovered how truly high maintenance it is.  If you look on the internet regarding care of sterling flatware, you will conclude, as I did, that 99% of it lives a perpetually shunned life in its wooden storage coffin, ultimately to be inflicted on another hapless and now-rejecting generation.  Sterling flatware is the ultimate white elephant.  Actually, the elephant would be less work.

Now there are a few champions out there who do encourage you to use sterling every day. Life is short, they exhort!  Use the good stuff!  It’s not that hard if you follow a few (dozen) simple rules! 

The biggest downside I’ve found with sterling flatware is that you can’t use it on actual food.  Among the comestibles that damage sterling silver are vinegar, acidic fruit juices, eggs, mayo, salad dressings, spaghetti sauces, table salt, olives, and pickles.  We have enough trouble with our primary care doctor axing the high glycemic carbs without having to eliminate whole other classifications of food based on the preferences of our flatware.

There is a huge debate as to whether you can put sterling flatware in your dishwasher; most sites recommend you hand wash and dry it.  If I have to hand wash all my silverware, the score would be flatware 50, Inga -10.  My feeling is that everybody has to give a little here, including (and especially) the flatware. 

Even the dishwasher advocates concede, however, that you can’t let the sterling stuff touch stainless stuff in the silverware basket.  Something about electrolytic reactions, ions, pitting and other bad scientific-y things.   So against my better judgment, my silverware caddy now has its own DMZ with a strict non-fraternization policy on either side.  How long this will actually last has already been a subject of wagers in our household.

But even that’s not enough.  Absolutely no lemon-scented or “citrus additives” in your dishwasher soap.  It is also important to rinse sterling silverware immediately after exposure to food, preferably while still in the diner’s hands.  Letting it sit on dinner plates on the kitchen counter while you watch 90 Day Fiancé is inviting disaster.  It just goes against everything I believe in (never mind a lifetime of marginal housekeeping skills) to have my life controlled by silverware.  But as much as I try to ignore it, I hear it calling out to me: “Yoo hoo, Inga, we’re tarnishing out here!” 

Waayyy too many sites advise that should you fail to comply with the Sterling Silver Playbook that you will have to “take the ware for repairs to a professional silversmith.”  There is nothing about the term “professional silversmith” that sounds life-enhancing to me.

The bottom line, of course, is what sterling flatware really requires is…servants.  The Downton Abbey cast seemed to have no dearth of lackeys polishing the stuff on a regular basis.  But I am determined to use my nice things, including my new sterling, and nobody is going to stop me! Even if it all looks like hell in six months. 

As for glassware, I’m afraid it’s strictly Crate & Barrel.  Because I don’t think Fang is leaving me the Baccarat in her will.  It probably couldn’t go in the dishwasher anyway.


 

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Inga's Guide to Post-Divorce Dates From Hell

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published April 15, 2024] ©2024

OK, so I’m guessing my local readership is a little tired of broken appliances and streetlights at this point.  I get it.  So maybe it’s time for a little lighter fare, like Inga’s Primer of Post-Divorce Dates from Hell.  I confess I was inspired by inadvertently cruising into a web site where people (read women) can vent – and more importantly, advise - about disastrous dates.  Where were these ladies years ago when I was newly single and needed them? 

I was engaged to my first husband at 20 and clueless about dating when I was divorced at 35. Let me just say that the learning curve was hugeIt’s a bit of a toss-up as to which of my early dates was the biggest creep: the criminal lawyer with a cocaine habit and herpes? The newly-certified massage therapist whose date proposal was giving me a massage at half price.

Then there was the commodities broker who invited me out for drinks. I'm guessing he should have gone short on pork bellies instead of long.  The passenger side door of his ancient two-door sports car was broken which meant climbing over the gear shift - in a short skirt - from the driver's side to get to my seat. Could he have warned me in advance? Or was this all part of the plan?  

But here's some dating advice from me: never let your date pick out the rental movie.  Of course, this advice is fairly useless since rental movies have pretty much gone the way of the rotary dial telephone except at the public library where you can get them for free.  But rental movies in the pre-streaming world used to be a big thing. It would be a mob scene at movie rental places on weekend nights as people vied for the latest flicks. It behooved you to develop a friendly relationship with one of the desk people who might be persuaded to hold a copy of the latest Star Wars for your when someone returned it. 

Anyway...shortly before my marriage ended, my then-husband and I had bought a 100-movie package at Video Library, the earlier incarnation of Blockbuster Video on Fay Avenue.  (The Flower Pot Cafe now occupies this space.)  Even after we separated, my ex and I retained joint custody of the  package.  The Video Library clerk knew both my former husband and me well; we frequently both had movies out on the same night. 

One Tuesday, when the kids were going to be at their dad’s, I suggested to a date that we cook at my house (I couldn’t afford to take him out to a restaurant but wanted to reciprocate his hospitality) and rent a video. Since the video store was on his way to my home, I suggested that he might stop by and pick out a movie on our plan. In retrospect, I can’t even imagine what I was thinking. Video Library at that time had a back room with pornographic titles. My kids (aged three and six) loved to crawl under the curtain and giggle at all the “boobies” on the boxes.

Still, I’m thinking my date is going to pick out a nice rom-com, so it was with no little dismay on my part when he shows up with “All American Girls in Heat, Part 2.” I just Googled it and yes, this flick is still out there (although I’m guessing not at the public library), summarized as "A rich woman gathers her old college girlfriends for a free weekend on a tropical island so they can relate their wildest sexual experiences." 

I can’t imagine what Part I was like, but frankly porno flicks have never done much for me. On the big screen particularly, a tumescing organ just ends up looking like a bald cyclopic version of the Monster That Devoured Cleveland. Suffice it to say that my date loved the movie. He never even noticed I’d gone off to do the dishes.

Returning the movie the next morning was problematical.  There was no anonymous drop box then like Blockbuster instituted later; you had to actually bring it to the desk and have them check it in. As I stood there clutching the paper lunch bag disguising my video (in case I ran into someone I knew), the video guy pulled up our family membership on his screen. “Looks like you guys have two movies out,” he notes. Then he bursts out laughing. “I’m not even going to tell you what your ex-husband rented. It’s probably the grossest movie we have. Let’s see, you’re returning The Care Bears in the Land Without Feelings?”

I was actually recounting this story to my adult sons recently.  I think this may have been a mistake.  I predict this story will be told at my funeral.  And I also predict that I’m going to get Part 1 for Christmas. 



Saturday, March 9, 2024

How Many City and SD G&E Employees Does It Take To Change A Lightbulb?

[ Let Inga Tell You, La Jolla Light, published in 4 segments (March 14, March 21, March 28, April 4) 2024 This is a saga of how many people it takes to change a (street)light bulb in San Diego. Find out the answer at the end.

Get It Done: The app where city repairs go to die.

At least that's been my feeling since posting a repair request over a year ago on San Diego s Get It Done site when the streetlight in front of our corner house went out. I was dismayed to find out at the time that the city was backlogged 5900 streetlights repairs. That number grew to 6,100 two months later. We doubted it would be fixed in our lifetimes.

Unfortunately, the streetlight fixture (owned by the city) is mounted on a telephone pole owned and this is important, powered - by San Diego Gas & Electric (SD G&E). And neither party wants anything to do with it, or each other. In my efforts to resolve this situation I have spent the last year in an infinite loop in the seventh circle of infrastructure hell.

You can only imagine the "How many people does it take to change a light bulb?"  jokes this situation has inspired. I'll tell you at the end.

There is a true paucity of streetlights in my neighborhood, so losing even one makes a big difference. Our corner, in particular, is heavily trafficked by pedestrians including restaurant go-ers, dog walkers, people exercising, and us just trying to find our driveway. We had an electrician come out and add additional outdoor lighting just so we could find our front gate. But the entire block was pitch black.

So dark, in fact, that at night, we could hear the screeching of tires as cars barely made the turn at our corner. This was not an idle fear on our part. Three times while we've lived here, cars have crashed through our front fence, one coming to within six inches of the house.

The irony is that if it weren't for me, this light would have been out for more than 20 years. I've had to deal with its repair twice before in the decades I've lived at my quirky address. The first two times the light went out (2002 and 2012), its repair was complicated by the fact that neither SD G&E nor the city of San Diego would lay claim to our street light. Eerily, both insisted that there was no street light in front of our house. (Cue the twilight zone music here.)

It's hard enough to get a streetlight fixed in this city. Getting a non-existent streetlight fixed is exponentially harder. I consider the repair of a phantom streetlight not once but twice and now three times to be among my top life accomplishments and should be listed in my future obituary.

Previously I could deal with actual humans. Both times, it took six months of pathological persistence. But pathological persistence is my middle name. (Well, actually it s Louise.)

Now, alas, the only way to get a streetlight repair is through the city's Get It Done app. No hope of prevailing upon actual humans as I have done before. I was pleased to read some months ago that the city was going to hire outside contractors to catch up with the backlog.

When I filed the Get It Done report, I was careful to include three photos including the exact location of this streetlight, including the street sign below it, and photos of the fixture itself mounted on the wooden telephone pole. Just try to say it doesn't exist now, bozos!

There really is a streetlight fixture on this pole

So after a mere year, I was thrilled to get an Update message from Get It Done saying, Thank you for using Get It Done to report non-emergency problems to the City of San Diego. Your report is now closed.   City crews recently resolved the issue or conducted the necessary repairs as reported in your inquiry.

Except, no they didn't. The streetlight was still out. An entire year wasted. Were we back to the whole "not our streetlight"  issue?

Yup! The city ultimately confirmed what I already feared: The street light on the wooden pole belongs to SDG&E, follow up would have to go through them. Thank you. Um, you couldn't have mentioned this in your Update before closing out the repair request?

Gah! Summarizing a lot of conversations, it turns out that the Get It Done guys did come out and replace the actual streetlight bulb in December of 2023. But because it is mounted on a pole owned by SD G&E, SD G&E has to execute the power source. That is, plug it in. I would need to file an on-line repair request with SD G&E (I included photos) on their own version of Let s Never Get It Done called We Can t Do It Either.

To do this, information including the pole number was required. At least now there are pole numbers posted on the poles (a definite boost to my previous efforts.) But there was no place to explain the actual problem. I could predict that they would come back with either it was the city s light fixture (it is) or that their maps showed no street light in this location (they don t).

Fearing this report was just going into a black hole (it did), I decided to try calling SD G&E to see if I could explain this situation to an actual human. (See pathological persistence above). Let us in no way suggest that one calls SD G&E and gets quickly connected to a helpful human. No, one gets sucked into the root structure of their phone tree system where you will languish like a decaying morel.

But ultimately I got connected with a Customer Service rep. He was very nice and listened to my convoluted saga. What needed to be done, I explained, was for SD G&E to come out and hopefully find this pole number and plug in the city's new light bulb to a power source which happens to be right there. After consulting with his supervisor (I wasn't allowed to talk to a supervisor myself), he said he was going to do an escalation for us and it should be fixed in 10-15 business days.

My husband rolled his eyes and said, "like that will happen."  He was prescient. Two weeks later I received an email from SD G&E in response to the repair request I had submitted on their app:

Good morning/afternoon, Unfortunately, this streetlight located at your address is maintained and owned by the City of San Diego, and therefore does not fall under SDGE's streetlighting department. I went ahead and reported this issue on your behalf on the City of San Diego Get it Done website: Here is your Report Tracking Number.

It's probably a good thing one can't send photon torpedoes through email. 

Meanwhile, the city's Get It Done app sent me a confirmation of my new service request. I was now in a continuous futile perpetual loop. 

I fired off Gah!-grams to both SD G&E and to Get It Done but didn't hear back (and didn't expect to).  So, I called SD G&E again and finally got an actual human to discuss my streetlight dilemma.  He had all the previous notes from previous calls and on-line service requests and did concede that this was a puzzling and frustrating situation.  I will say that SD G&E is very good at note taking. Just not good at resolution.

I asked: is there truly no mechanism for a human from SD G&E to talk (as in using English language) to a human from the city?  Answer: Nope, there isn't!  Their communication  apparently can solely be done by dumping jobs on each other's apps.  But he said he would put in an escalated request to send someone out to turn on our light bulb which would happen in "10 to 15 business days."

Three weeks later, of course, still no light. I called SD G&E back yet again and got another of their genuinely helpful Customer Care reps who looked at the case file and said the previous request had been closed because "the work had been completed." But she was going to put in a new expedited request directly to the "streetlight department"  which should happen within you guessed it "10 to 15 business days."

You are probably shocked by now to learn that no one ever showed up. So I called back yet again and got yet another genuinely helpful Customer Care rep. But this kid is my hero. After reviewing what was at this point the War and Peace of case notes (how much money did SD G&E spend not turning on a light bulb?) and putting me on hold for considerable time, he came back and reported that he had tried to directly contact the streetlight escalation person and was puzzled to find that this person is no longer in the employee database. Doesn't work there anymore. Who knows how long he's been gone? So all those escalation requests were going into a black hole. He agreed that this situation had gone on long enough and that he was going to send this request directly to his own boss. I said, "do we know for a fact that he actually exists?"  OK, I was getting jaded. But the kid laughed and yes, he knew this person was real and actually worked there.

The next day, my lawn maintenance service was outside mowing so I almost missed hearing my doorbell ring. Deciding to check, I opened the door to see someone leaving my front gate - an SD G&E guy! I ran out after him and said, Are you here about the streetlight? And he said he had no idea. He was just told to come to this address and was assuming it must be some issue inside. He hadn't been given any information. If I hadn't answered the door, we would have been back to square one.

So you re probably thinking, problem solved! But you would be wrong. Oh, so wrong.

I will say that this guy turned out to be Hero #2 (after the Customer Care Rep). I have his name and if I could find him I'd like to send him and his wife for a really nice dinner. He went up to my streetlight in the bucket thing on his truck but when he came down, I wasn't seeing the happy face I hoped for. "I connected it,"  he says, "but the problem is that the wiring is bad. They really shouldn't put aluminum wiring this close to the ocean."   So it would all have to be re-wired with copper wiring to the two nearest poles, each about 90 feet away. (Copper wiring apparently corrodes too, but not as fast.) He would put in a repair request.

SD G&E shows up to look at streetlight 

That's when I truly thought it was game over. A non-emergency repair request for total rewiring for a single streetlight? This probably wouldn't be fixed in my children's lifetimes. Doing my best not to literally break down sobbing in frustration (and flat out rage), I explained that this situation had been going on for more than a year, that I had spent many, many dozens of hours being bounced back between the city and SD G&E and I feared it would never ever get done. He said he would try to expedite it. I wasn't hopeful. Been there, heard that.

I asked if the city wouldn't have checked the wiring when they put in the new bulb in December, 2023? And he said, Well, they should have. (But clearly didn't.)

So, I said, is it possible that there was nothing wrong with the light fixture itself from the get-go but has always been a wiring issue? He said that was entirely possible.

About fifteen minutes later, I was leaving my house en route to Bevmo to buy the adult beverages that this situation clearly warranted, and noticed the SD G&E truck was still there. My Hero gets out and says, "I've arranged for them to come out today." Was I hallucinating? Oh my gosh, I said. Can I hug you? He didn't seem comfortable with that but I hugged him anyway.

But at 4:30, no sign of them. Have I been stood up yet again? At 4:35, however, an SD G&E crew showed up including two guys to manage traffic on our busy corner. More heroes. I am so incredibly grateful to them.

So now you re thinking we're really finally done. As I m standing out there with the SD G&E crews, one them offers that they aren't sure which bulb the city put in which they need to know for the wiring. I said, well, if it's the wrong one, I assume you have extra bulbs that you can put in? He says no, the city is very proprietary about their bulbs and don t share them with SD G&E. But if the light doesn't come on after they've re-wired, they can put in a request with the city on Get It Done to come out and change it.

Did you ever feel like your head was going to explode?

Uh-oh! SD G&E isn't sure the city installed the right lightbulb for the streetlight

It took over three hours to disconnect the old aluminum wiring and reconnect the copper stuff. When the truck and the work lights were working at the other pole, the two guys directing traffic kept saying, "Geesh, it is so dark out here! And this traffic is going sooo fast!" They were waving their Stop signs frantically at approaching cars to keep from being mown down in this pitch black intersection. Welcome to my world.

But then at 8 p.m., they plug it all in, everybody holds their breath, and there is light! Yes, my streetlight is back in action! Neighbors, dog walkers, restaurant walkers, and even us are able to cross the street safely again.

I consider this article a public service. Mine is not the only city-owned streetlight fixture mounted on an SD G&E wooden telephone pole. There are, in fact, tons of them.

An SD G&E person explained that, long ago and far away, SD G&E owned the streetlights on their poles but that at some point, the city decided to take over streetlight management. And thus you have the situation that I have now dealt with three times: one entity owns the streetlight fixture itself while the other one controls the power to it. So the city will replace the streetlight bulb, but only SD G&E can come out and actually turn it on.

And yes, this is completely insane.

Instead, each of them keeps denying it s their problem and referring the home owner back to the other via their automated repair apps in an infinite futile loop. Honestly, you begin to suspect you're dealing with dealing with robots missing essential wiring.

As I noted earlier, this is the third time since I've lived in my home that I've had to fight it out with the city and SD G&E to get that streetlight fixed.

So now, for the third time, against all odds, I have had my non-existent, unacknowledged, dually-owned streetlight restored to service.

There are a number of take aways here:

When I consider all the interchanges I had with both the city and SD G&E, I can t even imagine what fixing this one streetlight cost both of them.

But all of it could have been accomplished if there was any communication between the city and SD G&E. Apps are great for routine things but only humans are ever going to sort out issues like this.

I've tried to add up the hours I've put into this project - filing repair reports, sitting endlessly on hold, documenting phone calls, exhorting (unsuccessfully) help from both my city councilman and local TV stations to break this infrastructure log jam. I will also probably remember that SD G&E pole number (P833485) long after I've forgotten my Social Security number.

The irony is, I would have happily paid out of pocket for this repair to be done.

I'm so incredibly grateful to my three heroes, the SD G&E Customer Service kid who managed to finally get this request to an actual human who would actually do something about it, the SD G&E repair guy who prevailed on someone to get a crew out here to re-wire the corroded cables, and for the crew who came out and did it. It has made such a huge difference having this streetlight working again.

I'm definitely going to leave instructions in my estate documents so that whomever ends up with this house is aware of what it takes to restore this streetlight to service the next time it goes out. I would hate to take such critical information to my grave. And I truly do want it mentioned in my obituary.

OK, so now you think this year of infrastructure repair ping pong is truly, finally over. Not quite.

About a week after the light was finally fixed, I suddenly woke up in the middle of the night with a terrifying thought. In the process of pingponging responsibility for this streetlight's repair back and forth from the city to SD G&E, SD G&E had put in a new Get It Done request to the city which was still in effect. Gah! Noooooo! The last thing we needed was for the city to show up and start messing with a streetlight that was fixed. If they unplugged the fixture to check the bulb, SD G&E would have to come plug it in again. Back to square one!

So I looked up the Get It Done report number and tried to close it but couldn't since we hadn't originated it. But I sent Get It Done an email saying the problem was fixed and to please close this report. Step away from the light! It took five requests. But they finally have.

Could this really, finally, be done? I almost don t know what I'll do with my free time.

I began some time back by invoking the "How many people does it take to change a (street)light bulb" joke. Between the city and SD G&E, my count is 33.


                                                       Let there (finally) be light!