Ralph Higgins

Ralph Higgins
color pencil sketch by Gayle Higgins

Quotes I Like

"If you do not take an interest in the affairs of your government, then you are doomed to live under the rule of fools."

– Plato


Thursday, May 15, 2014

A Mountain Man’s Guide to Life in the City

     After a great time with family and friends in the Los Gatos, San Jose, and Discovery Bay areas, Gayle and I just returned to the tranquility of the mountains.  We left the cacophony of city sounds and the ambient hum of busy highways far behind.  It’s roughly five hours from our home to the Santa Clara Valley.  We have a five or six trips scheduled for the next two months, so home is only a temporary respite.

            City living takes some getting used to again after being away from it for several years. It’s different than life in the Sierra foothills. Up here you never see bike riders in funny hats with rear-view mirrors, water bottles, and tight pants or joggers with the facial expressions of a woman giving birth.  We have horses, motorcycles, and trucks instead.

            Speaking of trucks, I’m convinced that suburbia has been invaded by little guys in pick-ups with leaf blowers powered by jet engines with afterburners. This invading force always attacks at the break of dawn.  After being startled by the roar, the invaders send in the second wave of troops manning power mowers modified with used NASCAR engines. These guerrilla gardeners hit and run leaving ringing ears and spilled coffee in their wake.


            Yogurt Vanilla Honey body wash has replaced the old fashioned bar of soap in some hotels and even some homes.  You smell so delicious after a shower that hungry homeless people stalk you if you go outside too soon after a shower.  

            There are many rules that must be followed when living in the city. Gated communities and others have CC&R’s that tell you where to park, what color to paint your house, how many times you can flush your toilet, and when to turn your lights off at night. Of course, guns, cigarette smoke, and nativity scenes can result in a drone attack.

            Gone are the days of the lone garbage can.  Trash must be separated and placed in the proper containers, which are to be positioned in the proper sequence in the street on particular days.  This allows the roar and clanks of garbage trucks to fill in when things get too quiet. 

            There is a can for food waste, a can for recyclable plastic and another for garden waste.  I don’t know what the other cans are for.  Maybe cans for dog waste, cardboard, used under wear, or the occasional victim of a drive-by shooting.  

            Driving in the Bay Area requires strategic planning.  It’s advisable to schedule your trip at low tide.  If you try to drive during high traffic hours you should carry water, dehydrated food, warm blankets, and flares. 

            Unless you know the correct freeway off-ramp it is very common for a driver to be stuck in a river of traffic that will take him 100 miles out of town before it is possible to change lanes.  A family from Kansas got stuck in the traffic on Highway 17 and was never heard from again.

            Following a car with a headless driver can be disconcerting.  We’ve all seen them.   For the uninitiated, driving in the bay area encourages the consumption of hard liquor or tranquilizers if you actually make it home.

            The natives seem comfortable driving 80 mph, bumper to bumper, while eating a deli sandwich.  But inevitably the traffic screeches to a halt and moves at single digit speed, allowing drivers to read bumper stickers, like “Support World Peace or I’ll Kill You.” 

            For yuppies, Starbucks is the only place to buy coffee.  It’s a place to hang out with a laptop and look “way cool.”  A cup of coffee costs as much as a small car and a take-out cup with the Starbuck logo is a status symbol when carried in the mall or left on the dashboard of a BMW.

            Seriously, our recent trip was worthwhile and fun, but I feel like I’m between rounds in a prizefight with my trainer splashing water on my face in preparation for the next round.  Despite the congestion and its frenetic pace, there is an obvious energy that animates the Bay Area.  I hate to admit it, but that energy is something both Gayle and I miss. 

            The first thing I noticed when we pulled into our driveway at home was silence. At first I thought I had lost my hearing.  I have tinnitus from the army or maybe the time I shot a gopher with a 12 gauge shotgun from my kitchen, so it was quiet enough that I could again hear the familiar ringing in my ears.  

            I like to joke about the traffic and pace of life in the Bay Area, but we always enjoy spending time with family and friends.  They say you can never go home, but there’s a gravitational pull of family and friends and the social stimulation of civilization that creates a constant dilemma for Gayle and me. 

            It’s too bad that we can’t level San Jose and create a wooded oasis by dropping a big hunk of the Sierra forest right in the middle of Silicon Valley.  Who says you can’t have it all?


  1. Welcome back Ralph (&Gayle). Looking forward to my visit the end of July. In spite of the pull of the valley's hustle and bustle I know that peace and beauty of your area has a decided 'pull' as well.

    Glad your back.

    1. You're right, Malcolm. At our age now, I'm not sure either one of us is up to another move. It's the old inertia thing...a body at rest tends to stay at rest, etc.

      Looking forward to your visit.

  2. Hey kids, looks like you know exactly how it is in Santa Clara Valley. Wish I still had our house there. I miss all of that!!!

    1. I always get a positive burst of energy when you call us "kids."
      We had great parties for Monday night football and then later on the water in Discovery Bay with Hank cooking and you singing. You both inspire us.
      Re: Santa Clara Valley. . .I too miss Los Gatos and the Valley, but visiting there now seems "artificial" somehow. Almost like someone painted over a Rembrandt.

  3. The thing is, we are spoiled from the incredible gift of living in Los Gatoes in the 40's and 50's. It was an experience that is impossible to describe, you had to be there.
    Jim Loar

    1. Well said, Jim. You nailed it in a few words. I couldn't have said it better. I think all of us who lived there back then agree 100%.

  4. Have missed your Blog Ralph. I was in Palm Springs this last week at the 99th Annual California-Hawaii Elks Association Convention in Palm Springs. Had never been to Palm Springs before.

    I enjoyed your "Mountain Man's Guide to Life in the City". Of course I can relate living in the mountains myself. I, like you and Gayle, miss family, friends, and the city life, however, the traffic speeding to stop at the next light, the long waiting lines whether it be in the grocery store or restaurant, and government dictating how and when you discard your waste, or water your lawn, would take an awful lot of getting used too again. Too bad we cannot have the best of both worlds.

    1. Sharon - The longer you're away, the bigger the contrast and the more difficult it is to adjust. I'm back in it as I type this. I'm at my daughter's. We are involved in Gayle's daughter's wedding, so we'll be tied up for a few days, so I'll be adjusting again..