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?