Friday, April 4, 2014

the life you save may be your own

Yesterday I am riding home, and the weather is pretty good, and I am looking forward to going to the open house at my daughter's school, and I don't want to be late, and then I see something flash past just to the right of my wheels.  My brain rewinds and plays through the image again and what I think I have seen is a very small bird sitting in the bicycle lane.  

Bicyclists are close to everything, only pedestrians are closer and both parties see a lot of dead and injured animals.  On a bad day we see the shocking moment when an animal is killed and a car keeps on driving.  I know I should go back but I dread the misery of finding a terrified and dying animal.  Still I turn around.

It's a very tiny hummingbird.  It is sitting in the middle of the bicycle lane facing four lanes of busy and loud rush hour traffic.  I swear by anything holy that it's eyes are fixed in this total thousand yard stare as it appears to gaze listlessly at the steady stream of cars going by at about 35mph a few feet from it's head. Not without some dithering I prop up my bicycle and get between the bird and the traffic so as not to startle it into the road.  Then after more dithering (plus the anxious mooing noise I make when I am nervous and worried about doing the wrong thing) I kneel down and very gently scoop the bird into my hand.  It sits there, uncomplaining.  

Next I peer all over and around me looking for adult hummingbirds and looking for a nest I can boost this guy back into.  The only close tree is huge and high and over my head.  Maybe it has a nest.  Maybe not.  I call the Contraption Captain, the bird in one hand and the phone in the other.  I end up taking a small to-go container from my backpack and gently and apologetically I transfer the bird into the container and the container into my backpack.  

I continue towards home, meeting up with the Contraption Captain.  About a mile from the house we start hearing squeaking noises.  We think it's my bicycle but at a traffic light we realize - it's the bird.  

At the house we consult the internets and Contraption Captain fixes up some healthy (we hope) food for the guy.  We all take turns feeding him.  The bird's beauty and fragility - you can't be near to it and not feel something in your heart, I think.  For feeding we lightly touch the back of the bird's head and his tongue sticks out and then we present him with an eyedropper of the food and his tongue does that crazy crazy thing as he sucks up the nectar.  

The bird starts looking a little more hopeful.  Ok maybe not but I start feeling more hopeful.  He (or she) makes it through the night and eats a bunch more and shows some interest in flying.  As I write this he is en route to a further out town (by car alas) where there is a wildlife rescue that already has five of these little guys.  They will make sure he (or she) is grown up enough and stable enough and strong enough and then the bird will be released close to where he (or she) was found.  

I m fantastically happy about this.  So often I arrive too late, or without the right skills, or without the right tools to do anyone or any animal any good.  Just this once though I was in the right place at the right time and I am hopeful that a lovely little life was saved.  

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


Engineers (at least in my part of the world) really love their tee-shirts.  We love a tee-shirt paying homage to a favorite movie.  We love a tee that reminds us of a project we worked on.  A tee shirt commemorating a major outage is always full of win, really.  A tee shirt that sends up someone else's text editor of choice is even more win.  I just had a birthday and I got two fantastic tee-shirts and I am totally psyched.  

Here is a picture of one of my favorite tee-shirts.  Get it?  GET IT?  DO YOU GET IT?   I LOVE THIS SHIRT.

Some of the tee-shirts I see are a little creepy.  I know a senior engineer who periodically wanders around wearing a shirt that says "go away or I'll replace you with a tiny script."  But hey, just a tee-shirt.  Covers the nipples and adds some warmth and a pretty affordable thrill in an expensive life.  

Fast forward (and I mean really fast, really forward) to the people driving cars.  I watch these guys a lot.  You could say with some accuracy that my life depends on watching these guys so I am more attentive, more perceptive when it comes to observing the American Car Driver.   

What do I notice?  They don't seem very happy.  This is the bay area, where money rains from trees (haha, no actually) and so I am looking at some very high end cars but to this particular piercing scrutiny I notice that the people behind the wheel of the Porsche Carreras look like the people behind the wheel of the Toyota Corollas.  Bummed.  Disappointed.

Study the people around you and report back if they look like the people I see.  The people I am looking at are sortof sagging back into themselves, two chins become three, three become four.  Their mouths are fixed in a thin squeezy line.  The stare straight ahead.  Many will have a phone in one hand and they study it, their heads bowed and their lower lip drooping a little.  

Back to tee-shirts.  Do you follow xkcd?  It's even better than tee-shirts.  And one of my favorite xkcd graphics is about tee-shirts.  Someone I used to work with got the tee-shirt with that comic and wore it in to work.  It was a little uncomfortable.  

The idea I have as I study these alternately glum, angry, resigned, deadened drivers is that their cars are their tee-shirts.  Maybe if their car is sporty enough someone will love them.  Maybe if their car is luxurious enough they'll feel posh.  Maybe if their car is special enough, someone will finally think they are special.  And they're sad and hopeless because no matter what car they buy they are still themselves.  Ageing.  Lonely.  Misunderstood.  Frustrated.