A one-hour brain dump

It’s almost 9:30pm on a Sunday night. I haven’t posted here in about a month. Tonight, for the first time in a while, I feel like blogging. So I’m going to write for an hour, straight through with very minimal editing, and wrap up at about 10:30pm.

It’s now the end of September. The statewide “shelter-in-place” order came in mid-March. That means the world has been upside-down for about 6.5 months. The impact on me personally has not been severe. My family is safe. My wife and I have job stability. The waves of anxiety I feel are not for myself but rather for my neighbors, the strangers I read about, and the state of California.

Last night I invited two neighbors over. We sat down by the creek in Adirondack chairs facing each other, a wood fire pit in the middle of us. Normally I put out a little cocktail station with some tumblers and a bowl of ice. Not this time. We had cans of beer, a couple of cigars, and lots of relief to have a few hours of normalcy. Hosting these nights several times a year has become a tradition. In the past, we’d chat about family, sports, business, real estate (did you SEE how much that house got listed for??). The last one I hosted, sometime back May, I think, when the BLM protests really gained steam, was my first intentionally political creek night. With fair warning, I invited some neighbors who I thought would have opinions to share. It was a good discussion.

Last night I didn’t put that asterisk out on my invite. Frankly, I just wanted to sit by a real fire, smoke a cigar, and drink beer. If they wanted to join me, they would be welcomed. And indeed, they did. We talked a lot about the state of things around us. One of my neighbors lost his job but received a really generous severance. He’s been spending his time reading progressive philosophy and watching Netflix documentaries about racial politics. The other neighbor works in medicine and reads The Economist every week. The tone this time was more subdued. We’re all worried. We’re all nervous. More concerning, we’ve all flirted with the idea of moving out of state. Only one of us was actually taking it seriously.

The problem with California is it is segregated (a.k.a. “gentrified”) and dastardly expensive to live. You’re lucky to find a house in a desirable neighborhood for less than a million dollars. You can still buy in the $500s or $600s, but you’re definitely not getting good schools at that price and you might not be able to go out after dark. That’s the housing market in the Bay Area. Half a million dollars is the first rung on the ladder. It’s aggravating.

Once you get into the nice neighborhood, you look around and it’s mostly White with a smattering of Asians. In Contra Costa County, San Ramon is probably the most wealthy non-White suburb, with with majority Asian, Hispanic, and Black. I’m glad to have neighbors who think about this and care about it, but the irony of course is the three of us are… White. Three White guys each living in homes worth a million bucks or more bemoaning the lack of diversity in our neighborhood. I know how this sounds.

We also rehashed bits of American history. Starting from the Revolutionary War, which I’ve had to dive back into since my almost-six-year-old adores the Hamilton soundtrack, through to the Civil War and Reconstruction. I made the point, from my reading of The Conservative Sensibility by George Will, that Thomas Jefferson and the framers were intentional in the phrase “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Why not just write, “life, liberty, and happiness”? What is so important about “the pursuit of” as it pertains to “happiness”?

Well, George Will makes the point that the state should not dictate what happiness is. Life and liberty can be universally defined. Happiness, however, is subjective. Therefore, the role of the state is to formulate the conditions by which most people can find happiness. Happiness itself is not a natural right, but the ability to find it is.

So although I would be pretty bummed out if any of my neighborhood dad friends decided to bail on the Bay Area, I would be happy that they chose to find happiness. Moving, especially with school-aged children, is a big deal. If anyone I knew had the guts to make that move, I would be in full support. It’s a hard thing to do.

I remember thinking one of my neighbors said something important last night. I’ve just spent a few minutes trying to remember what it was, but I’ve lost it. I’ll ask the next time I see him.

Politics has been front and center the last few months. I’ve been plotting my way into the system and making some headway. I found that economic development is the perfect combination of my political and business interests. I’m now chairing the Diablo Valley Tech Initiative and intend to do a great job as Chair, both because the work is important, but also because it’s the clearest path for me into a public career. As I’ve written before, I’ve intended to ditch tech for public office for a long time. It’s just been a matter of figuring out how to get there. I’m closer now than ever.

The other major theme since I last wrote one month ago is my sudden and deep fall into the colorful abyss of the Grateful Dead. The last time I remember hearing of anyone being a fan of the Dead was when two Scripted colleagues, JD Petersen and Nico Canova, discovered they both were into it. I overheard the conversation and had no idea what they were talking about. The Grateful Dead? That old fat guy who looked like Santa Claus? The Grateful Dead seemed like a gimmick to me back then, something you liked in order to say that you liked it.

Welp, I was wrong. A few weeks ago, I randomly started listening listening to the This is Grateful Dead playlist on Spotify. I’m not sure why I chose it that one fateful day. I was curious and clicked the button. Two things struck me right away: 1) The Grateful Dead has some terrific lyrics, and 2) Jerry Garcia is a phenomenal guitar player and I love his tone. I can break these observations down further.

My favorite line from their songs come from “Brown-Eyed Women.” Part of the chorus goes, “The bottle was dusty but the liquor was clean.” It’s a short phrase but for me it pulls on so many strings. I’ve always loved the old sepia pictures of the West, farmers and vigilantes in overalls. The lyric speaks to that. It also summons what old age means to me. You become a dusty bottle, but if your mind is intact, the liquor is clean. I can also picture the cowboy drinking that dusty bottle of liquor. That man might be the same age as me. The whole song tells a story, but that chorus lyric stands out.

The other sorrowful song that sticks with me is “Morning Dew.” The lyrics are short and sweet:

Walk me out in the mornin’ dew my honey
Walk me out in the mornin’ dew today
I can’t walk you out in the mornin’ dew my honey
I can’t walk you out in the mornin’ dew today

I thought I heard a baby cry this mornin’
I thought I heard a baby cry today
You didn’t hear no baby cry this mornin’
You didn’t hear no baby cry today

Where have all the people gone my honey?
Where have all the people gone today?
Well there’s no need for you to be worryin’ about all those people
You never see those people anyway

I thought I heard a young man moan this mornin’
I thought I heard a young man moan today
I thought I heard a young man moan this mornin’
I can’t walk you out in the morning dew today

Walk me out in the mornin’ dew my honey
Walk me out in the mornin’ dew today
I’ll walk you out in the mornin’ dew my honey
I guess it doesn’t matter anyway
Well I guess it doesn’t matter anyway, no no
I guess it doesn’t matter anyway

Grateful Dead

There are plenty of versions of this song on Spotify, but my favorite is this one.

I think this song has it all: the melancholy Jerry, haunting lyrics, fat guitar tone, and an epic guitar solo. It’s everything I love, all at once. The other thing that probably draws me to it is Jerry is not a great singer. He can hit the notes, which matters, but what you really get is authenticity. That’s what’s so important, and I respect him and the band even more for it.

My hour is up. I covered a lot of ground. I admit to spending some of the past hour looking up LinkedIn profiles for the Scripted people I mentioned. I wanted to say exactly when I first started listening to the Dead and discovered I needed a Last.fm account for that. So I went there and lost some more time. But for the most part this was a straight up writing session.

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