Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Flat Tire

I was a part of the traffic menace on Highway 1 near San Luis Obispo last Saturday. Sally, Deanna, her 17-year-old daughter Haley, and I all set out for the Lighthouse Ride; a century--100 miles in one day. After I cheered Sally on at the Team in Training event, America's Most Beautiful Bike Ride, a few years ago I could not be restrained. I had to do it, too! I haven't yet made it to Tahoe myself; that will take more serious training for the altitude. San Luis and the Coast is a joy every mile, from gentle rolling hills to brisk ocean breezes. The event is run by the San Luis Obispo Bicycle Club, a non-profit organization with hundreds of energetic and friendly volunteers along the course, feeding riders and picking us up if we tire.This was my second time at the event, and we rented a "girls' house" for the weekend--what a relaxing time. My own daughters were not able to attend, but next year we hope to revisit and make our way home by way of Hearst Castle and the elephant seal landings.

This year's endurance ride was a tentative experience for me, as I had not trained like the buff women with whom I was cycling. I told them I felt lucky just to be in their wake. I mostly kept up, until about mile sixty, then poor Sally dragged me along. It didn't help that somewhere between the seals and the castle, I suddenly felt the air deflate from my rear tire. Sally knows I'm not mechanically inclined, so she acted like the helpful friend that she is but neither of us wanted to deal with it. Of course, just as we pulled over to check the damage, a cheery gentleman in his seventies hopped off his bike, "Flat tire?" I nodded in frustration, knowing this is just part of the sport.

My tire changing skills are punctuated by prayer and moaning. I told the nice man, Lou, that I could count the number of tires I had changed on one hand--and those were all with help. He knew, he could tell by my clumsy hands fiddling for the right tool to remove the tire from the rim. Our conversation was brief and focused on the view of the ocean as Lou reminisced his countless completions of the ride. As a novice in my mid-forties, I was impressed. He had the energy to ride 100 miles, at a healthy pace, and to offer help along the way. From talking to Lou, I got the impression that he had changed more tires for others than for himself. Maybe his sweet demeanor to give of himself energized him to finish the journey.

Sally and I had to work hard to catch up to him after the tire change, but as we did I realized he was just there to enjoy the journey. He had no goal to finish by a certain time, no ego to feed; he rode steady but noticed the views along the way. I no longer paid attention to the nagging voice inside my head to ride faster and harder. I started to look around at the others who had all trained to be there for one unifying event, among the waves and rocks, forests and meadows. Lou's act of service enabled me to let go of my need for an agenda and enjoy the ride!

Inspiration from the SLO Bicycle Club: "It is the volunteer effort that makes the San Louis (did you see the bibs?) Bicycle Club so much fun. We enjoy working the rides, the riders enjoy them more, we give boatloads of money to local causes and we are able to have a brunch."
Amen to that.

The SLOBC uses the funds from its rides to sponsor scholarships for the CalPoly Wheelmen and Shandon High School, support programs at Creston Elementary, contribute to the maintenance of mountain biking trails, support bicycle advocacy organizations, promote helmet use in our area and other issues of concern to bicyclist.

Fun Rides to Raise a Buck
  • Lighthouse Ride, San Luis Obispo, CA. September: www.slobc.org
  • America's Most Beautiful Bike Ride, Lake Tahoe, CA. June: www.bikethewest.com
  • Breathe California Bike for Breath, Silicon Valley, CA. July: www.lungsrus.org

Fundraising by Cycling
  • Leukemia & Lymphoma Society: www.teamintraining.org

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

"Go With Your Gut"

I am directionally challenged, that's why I got lost in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco this morning on my way to a 7:00 a.m. appointment with Nicolas, the British hairstylist. We first met five weeks ago after I called my friend Andrea to find out who does her always-chic hair. Her stylist's last name is not posted anywhere in the salon or on his cards, just Nicolas Studio, Inc, "If your hair is not becoming to you...you should be coming to us!" With his precision miniature scissors, my curly locks have never felt more crisp and defined. I decided he merited a second visit. Appointment slots are hard to come by, so in order to get to my little part-time job at the high school on time I took the second availability of the day (no kidding, the first is at 6:00 a.m.) Last time, I waded with anxiety for ninety minutes through four separate accidents on the 101 North freeway, calling the salon with my sincerest apologies and arriving twenty minutes late. This time, with the Bay Bridge supposedly closed I gave myself the full ninety minutes even before sunrise.

I arrived in the city, after taking the wrong exit once and re-entering the freeway, forty minutes ahead of the appointment, 6:20 a.m., plenty of time to park and read the paper before going into the hole of a salon in a four-star hotel. I had called Andrea to get her directions in order to avoid the potential jams I hit last time I made this trek. I pulled right up to the circular garage that she mentioned--and froze. I couldn't see the Hotel Nikko, or anything that looked slightly familiar since my last visit; I was turned around. Instead of pulling into the garage, I circled the block in search of the hotel or at least Union Square to get my bearings. I found Union Square (a few times), but not the hotel. I pulled into the circular lot and then right back out twice, setting off the gate attendant's alarm (hey, I hadn't even parked the car). I came around from the opposite direction and assumed since I couldn't see the hotel I must be mistaken with the directions. I pulled over twice, checking the GPS on my G-phone, Google maps, the Nikko hotel website from the browser. No luck, total disorientation from the ground. Finally, amid tears of panic in the wrong neighborhood, I listened to that little inner voice, went back up the street where the hotel was supposed to be and pulled into the Hilton. Wrong, I know, but it had to be somewhere nearby. After ascending six flights in a fluster and parking in a "guest only" spot, I went down to street level and discovered that sure enough, the subtle markings of Hotel Nikko took most of the city block I had been circling. If only I had calmly listened to my gut, stayed with the directions, and trusted...

Nicolas is a bit of a philosopher, which is the main reason I returned to him one more time (do I dare try navigating the city again?) I told him about my job at the high school working with students to find their passion and pursue their career dreams through interest-specific volunteering. He remarked that his daughter Sophia, from the ill-fated college graduating class of 2009, still had not found a job. Her interest: equine science, working with specialty horses. The job offer from an Indiana breeder had fallen through and she found herself back home in San Francisco, not quite the center of veterinary occupations or advancements. Nicolas reminded me to follow one's gut. He had been out running errands with Sophia last weekend and had some
spare time before returning home to North Beach. He felt impressed to detour and check out the model boat regatta at Golden Gate Park; Sophia and her friend agreed to tag along. After seeing the boats, Sophia looked across the street to Golden Gate Stables, where her father had once-upon-a-time taken her to learn to ride a horse. Obviously, a passion was born.

As they petted the horses, this unemployed college graduate was suddenly struck with the idea that she might be able to volunteer her time in caring for the police horses boarded there. She found an officer and made a request, precipitating a call to the sergeant, another visit in the afternoon, and a telephone interview later that night. Sophia was asked to begin her volunteer assignment a few days later. Now pleased with her first week of community service, the management suggested there may be a paid job for her in the near future. Sophia is thrilled she listened to her gut and went out on a limb to work for free; Nicolas is pleased to see that the passion he instigated by taking his daughter horseback riding as a child has come full circle, he says, because he listened to that little voice. If only I had tried this technique in the morning when en route to his salon. But then again, his story would not have as much meaning for me without the counterpoint of circling my destination a few times before opening my mind to listen for the answer.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Nothing to Lose

I am on the lookout for small or large acts of service, done on a volunteer basis; informal, grass roots, or fully organized. One such deed affecting me personally these days, however, might not be voluntary but rather part of the job at the bank where I recently opened a new account. I am not one to endorse a business or product on my blog about community service; however, it became apparent to me that "California's brand new 200-year-old bank" no longer cared about me when they refused my $100 deposit last month. The teller said he could not locate my checking account in the system since it was opened in another state five years ago. I have been in California four years now, and nobody at Wamu/Chase had ever mentioned that before.

The dismissive air of the young male teller was enough to ruin my afternoon. After several similar run-ins before and watching three other irate customers also being offended
as no-names, I finally made the jump and walked into Wells Fargo. I knew they would at least say hello and take my money, since my son's account is there and I had dealt with them as I helped him through college. Apparently, Wells Fargo management has realized the value of great customer service. Every time I enter one of the branches near my home, I am nearly accosted by "Hello's." If I am standing in line for more than a minute or two, they remind me,"we'll be right with you."

After having been treated rudely for no reason at Wamu/Chase, and repeatedly trying not to let it get me down, I took a vote for myself and decided banking could be a warm fuzzy in my hectic and harried life. I have no idea what the salary structures are at either bank; something tells me there isn't much difference. I do know that the smiles and "hello's" coming from the Wells Fargo employees are brightening an otherwise tedious experience for most of us. Friendliness is contagious, even viral at this community-oriented bank.

Service with a smile is promoted from the top. The philosophy of the Chairman and CEO,
Richard M. Kovacevich, reflects an attitude of giving, and it starts with the tellers sharing a little of themselves. The website observes, "Wells Fargo has long understood that we can be no stronger, nor more successful, than the neighborhoods and communities where we do business." There is a strong focus on corporate citizenship and social responsibility, with effective customer service taking the lead to promote good will in the community. And smart business leaders know that by starting with kindness on the front line, they have nothing to lose but everything to gain.

To read more about Wells Fargo's good works in the community: https://www.wellsfargo.com/about/csr/reports/

To learn more about corporate social responsibility, check out the statistics below listed on Forbes.com:

"American Corporations Highest in Giving by Percentage of
Operating Income
(Click on each link to find out which community organizations get financial help
from the company)

  1. Kroger
  2. Tyson Foods
  3. Bristol-Myers Squibb
  4. Best Buy
  5. Eli Lilly
  6. Wal-Mart Stores
  7. Fluor Corporation
  8. Xerox
  9. Caterpillar
  10. Northrop-Grumman

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

T.L.C. this School Year and Beyond

Last week at the high school, students all seemed to be on "red alert," with uncertainty for the immediate future due to new or changing class schedules. Parents were thrown into mountains of paperwork, course disclosure forms, and check writing for school fees--all to be completed a.s.a.p. while putting in overtime as the family taxi drivers. Every student I talked to felt some form of stress, and the parents expressed exhaustion and overcommitment before fall had even begun. There was no time to take care of ourselves, much less each other.

Thankfully, the energetic students of a new campus club, Paly Environmental Initiative, had spent the summer organizing and gathering over 100 potted plants to share with the school in every classroom. They will even provide the maintenance. As I stood out on the quad with tables and tables of plants, debating between philodendrons ("easy to grow") and bromeliads ("brightens any room"), I noticed the club's founder Mikey Abrams and his club members carefully assigning each teacher or staff their requested plant. This was no free-for-all plant giveaway. A log had been created to track where individual plants would reside for the 2009-10 school year; a manila folder housed a maintenance form for every variety.

Curious about the necessity of tracking each plant, I asked Mikey if I could peruse one of the 100+ folders. In each was listed the plant name, the local donor who had provided the plant, and a maintenance "plant report" form. The following conditions were to be noted:
  • Vital statistics to be "carefully observed at all angles." Roots, leaves, stems, and container.
  • Water check by finger test and Easy Bloom Sensor.
  • Maintenance: trimming, fertilizing, and moss covering.

Obviously this is a student gifted with attention to detail, and he is inspiring the team to follow his leadership in their service to the environment. Mikey is convinced that in their endeavors to raise awareness and beautify the campus, everything matters. More good works would flourish at our high schools and beyond if we could remember this simple law of nurturing. Usually, it's the little things that make the biggest difference. Plants and human beings share the requirement of consistent care. Plants can survive pretty well with a caregiver's attention once a week; we mortals need it on a daily basis. Whether we are serving others in a formal capacity, such as volunteering for the local Red Cross chapter, or doing kind deeds at home, these acts of regular maintenance can change lives.

After someone very special to my family noticed our stress level with the impending energy drain of a new school year, he arranged a surprise delivery of multicolored roses to start the school year off on a positive note. From the same benefactor, my girls also were presented with miniature bouquets. Our friend had been watching that theoretical "human maintenance report," and noticed that we could use a little cheer. The dozen roses and now a peace lily in my office, graciously provided by Paly Environmental Initiative and Summer Winds Nursery, with it's matching manila plant report, will remind me this school year that we all need to be maintained with T.L.C. on a regular basis.

  • What are your interests? Anyone with motivation and a little organization can start or join a club to make a difference in the world.

  • Interested in service learning and the environment?
Visit the California Environmental Protection Agency: