Archive for Wednesday, January 31, 2001

Dreaming about Kansas on a clear California day

January 31, 2001

Some nights I dream of Kansas, the students walking to class on the hill in Lawrence, the south wind blowing through the streets of Dodge City, the cows rubbing hedge posts until they are smooth and shiny in the fence row along a two-lane highway.

But I awaken in the morning in the snarl of cars and humanity. The traffic piles up, car upon car, in a jam of days with highs in the 50s, lows in the 40s. I've been here for three months.

No one actually cares about the weather forecast; we know what the day will probably bring. What we'd like to know: a penny for the thoughts of the planners and a kingdom for the magical knowledge of whether a 10-mile trip will take 10 minutes or two hours.

San Francisco has culture, life, liveliness. But in the dim shadows cast by rolling blackouts, I can see, smell and hear the slowly moving vehicles, the press of thousands of feet traffic that is five, 10 times worse than Kansas City.

Take a barnyard inhabited by Kansas cattle. Plow it under for a couple of years, even just leave it idle for a few months, and the smell will no longer be overwhelming. You might even grow pumpkins, melons or sunflowers.

Take the city, abandon it for a century, and I sometimes feel that the glare of streetlights, the glint of empty candy wrappers, the gummy layer of humanity would still be plastered across the empty doorways, boarded up windows and cracked sidewalks.

Maybe it is the lack of seasons, the absence of snow and frost that purify.

Maybe its the fumes spilling out of power plants, automobile exhaust pipes and the other engines of urban life.

Maybe it's an image painted by my flickering optic nerves behind my eyelids.

Maybe I should move, but some nights I dream of California, the salt breeze from the Pacific Ocean crashing against the rocks, the Golden Gate Bridge spanning a gap in the coast, the colorful signs and pungent odors of Chinatown.

Matthew Friedrichs formerly wrote about sports for the Mirror. He now lives in Antioch, Calif., about an hour east of San Francisco.

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