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Feed the World!

ISBN: 9781311253026

 

Feed the World!

 

by

 

Myanne Shelley

 

 

 

Shakespir EDITION

 

PUBLISHED BY:

 

Myanne Shelley at Shakespir

 

 

Feed The World!

 

Copyright © 2015 by Anne Shelley

 

Shakespir Edition, License Notes

 

Thank you for downloading this free ebook. You are welcome to share it with your friends. This ebook may be reproduced, copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes, provided the book remains in its complete original form. If you enjoyed this book, please return to http://www.Shakespir.com/profile/view/myanne to discover other works by this author. Thank you for your support.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

Time to Worry Yet?

 

Here are some wise words from my mother, circa 1977: “Don’t worry, Jessie. This isn’t the first time you’ve screwed things up, and it certainly won’t be the last.”

Picture a middle aged woman in a pastel pants suit desperately clinging to the idea of herself as a cool mom, facing a pissed off twelve year old who can’t believe she’s been dumb enough to get caught. Again. And who also, by the way, feels a bit of hostility toward anyone who lived through the entire 1960s but didn’t appreciate it. Now that it’s over and disco has replaced rock and nothing but a few burnt out hippies are left to represent the perfect teenage years she once envisioned for herself.

What particular incident do the words call forth? Skipping school? Passing myself off as an irate 35 year old farmer in order to get my letter opposing pesticide usage published in the Chronicle? Sneaking in to see Star Wars for the tenth time without a ticket? Does it matter?

Other well worn phrases: “You’ll do better next time! We still have some faith in you! Anyway, there’s no place to go but up!”

Here’s the thing and woe is me these 30 odd years later. Oh God she was right.

I have screwed things up pretty royally this time. And just for the record, 38 years later. I’ve just hit 50. Hear that, little Jessie model year 1977? Older than Mom or even Dad was back then, but somehow the same get-it-right challenged person still.

Yes, 50. What seemed like two steps from senility when I was 20 and Mom was 50, but now just feels like me who’s tired. Who would rather just go to bed with a good book if it’s after 10 PM. Who – while never particularly pretty to start with, so no major tumble from grace in the looks department – is at once scrawnier of limb and compacted in the middle. Who takes an extra moment to stand or get out of a car, as the bones creak and muscles wobble on the way up, just like Mom’s did. How often still I picture the vague grimace she would get, just as I now do, upon making sudden movements.

But I won’t take blame for the passage of time; that’s on God or physics or physics unpleasantly mixed with evolutionary biology. Heck, I battle my aging as well as I do anything these days, though frankly that’s not saying a lot.

What I just did was quit my job. And while somewhere deep within I may eventually decide this was a good thing, for now it’s more than a little alarming to think of all the funds going in the withdrawal direction. Sure, I have a bit saved up. Now that people are living into their 90s on a regular basis, got to save, right. But a bit of savings is all I’ve got, and I know I’m going to need it.

Because, of course, I’m still a renter. One evil landlord Ellis Act eviction away from getting tossed onto the lovely San Francisco street I’ve lived on for the past decade plus. Rent control keeping me safe – sort of – while the rents balloon crazily around me and freakishly young techies board their Google buses and happily sign leases for $3k a month for a crappy studio apartment.

What can I say, I don’t earn that kind of money. I work for a nonprofit. Strike that, I worked for a nonprofit. If only I could have done a quick time travel, visited my fresh young self when I first settled in the city, took that first earnest low-pay high-morals job. Been like, hey, Jessie, go work for a bank for awhile, or in real estate. Buy a house now even though a few hundred thou seems like a lot – trust me, by 2015, it will be worth well over a million! Oh, and hey, invest in Apple and Microsoft!

I love the idea of time travel. There are so many things I know now that I wish I could have known then. Things gone like my fleet young 25 year old body that I should have appreciated, or the magic of compounded interest. And even though there’s usually some wormhole glitch or butterfly effect or you see yourself and both heads explode, I feel like I’d be thoughtful about it. Maybe I could finesse it. Other hand, seriously? Probably not.

The love life has been better too, although that’s taking a back seat to the financial worries just now. I mean, at least I’m not actively in a fuzzy is this a third date kind of thing with someone who’s revealed himself to be humorless (because it’s so awkward to say no to having dinner, because maybe he was just being shy and I missed something, because it’s pretty clear he wants to seal the deal even while looking over my shoulder at the hot waitress and so on). So that’s something.

Still, I feel my mother’s ghost hovering, shaking her head sadly and wisely, when I admit that sometimes it’s easier just to stay home and binge watch old TV shows. Or confess that my closest male friend is also the guy with whom I had the longest relationship. And that he’s married to someone else now and I suspect most of our phone conversations take place when he’s in his car so he doesn’t have to talk to me with the wife and step-kids listening.

Naturally, I don’t spend a lot of time in my own car, as it doesn’t spend a lot of time running. Well, it runs (walks at a modest pace would be more apt; it’s a decades old Geo Metro), but I can’t always count on it starting up just at the particular time I need it to go somewhere. That’s okay, though, I’m a believer in principle in public transit. And San Francisco Muni buses, God love ‘em, will bring their riders into close quarters with the wide wonderful diversity of all of humanity. Just don’t expect it all to be bathed, and bring a book because it’s a slow ride.

So yeah, that’s not a problem anymore, because not having a job means I can take as much time as my bored driver and her chatty friend in the front seat need to get wherever I’m going. Don’t I wish it was a job interview, or even an expedition to the swanky junior leaguer thrift shop for a job interview outfit, but no. Currently I’m just headed towards downtown, to the beleaguered Civic Center neighborhood of my old office, to sneak a lunch and catch up on gossip with some former co-workers from Health Access Now.

“Don’t worry, Jessie—“ my mother’s voice drones in my head but I shut it down. Time for a little break from the criticism, real or imagined. This will be fun, these are the people I like. The bus lumbers along 5th Street, and I gaze out the smeared window, automatically attuned to the sight of its lurching denizens, any one of whom may suddenly decide to wander into the street without benefit of a red light or even an intersection’s crosswalk. Cars, bikes, delivery trucks, and cabs dart lane to lane, all of them in a far greater hurry than my patient midday driver.

At Market, I hop off to walk, impatient not to be too late – walking, I at least have the sense of forward momentum, control of my destination.

My three colleagues have staked a table at the window of our favored little veggie café. Barb is HAN’s Program Director, a woman both capable and down to earth, who was always my closest ally in the group. Jake is the Devo and Communications Assistant slash computer nerd, a quiet guy who does his best in one of those poorly designed cobbled together positions, where new tasks get dumped because no one else will take them on. And Mandy is a super smart intern, who gets tons done in the small windows of time she has at HAN in addition to excelling at grad school. She was the closest thing I had to an assistant, although I have no doubt that she’ll be directing organizations ten times our size by the time she hits her 30s.

They stand to greet me, and I reach past for an awkward hug to each in turn. Awkward to them, I think. I mean, you don’t hug your co-workers, and that’s how they still see me. Whereas I view them now as fond friends, a lifeline to the working world where I must shortly launch myself again.

We put in orders and before I can manage a word of small talk, Barb cuts to the chase. She had hinted she had news from HAN’s recent Board meeting and now she can’t contain it.

“Bill ended up including your event proposal in the Board packet,” she exclaims. “I think he just needed some filler, since they’d asked for new ideas. A menu,” she adds, putting air quotes around a favored jargon word of the Board president, Jonathan Bernard, who takes his role very seriously. “And they loved it. Loved it.”

I nod, unsure, looking at their grinning faces. “But Kim already said no way.” Kim Stevens, HAN’s Development Director and until recently my boss, had dismissed my rough idea out of hand. I’d only sketched it out further for fun. No longer caring what Kim thinks of something has been a weight lifted from my shoulders.

“It gets better,” Jake murmurs, jutting his chin toward Barb.

“I could tell she hadn’t read the packet after it got revised, I was watching her reaction,” Barb continues. “So what does she do? Takes credit for it.”

“For my idea? That she hated?”

“Oh, she kind of mentioned your name, like you’d been involved in the conversation with her. But she took it over. I mean as soon as she saw Jonathan was interested, she was like, yeah, right here, credit me.”

“And I think we’re actually going to do it,” Mandy exclaims. “I heard Bill talking to Dr. Bernard about it. They set up a call with that guy from, you know, that place, that might sponsor it.”

Our food arrives. Which gives me a moment to generate some mock outrage, some laughs. Before we move on to other topics. My humble brags about being unemployed. (So much free time to fill! How to get anything done with no one looking over my shoulder or calling impromptu meetings to unravel my work sentence by sentence in a group setting! So dull to take bathroom breaks with hunting down the bathroom key!) Everyone’s dismal love lives. Global warming.

They have to hurry back to the HAN office, much as I’d like to hang out for another couple hours. Barb promises to keep me apprised of further developments. Jake says to check the website. Budget wise, an event of some sort is scheduled for early summer, so whatever they’re planning has to get underway soon.

I wander over to the midtown farmers’ market, Not needing to be anywhere else this afternoon, and in no way expecting the 27 Bryant bus to show up just because I’m done with lunch. It’s early in the season, but there are a few early, perky veggies. I admire, but hold off on any purchases. I mean, my budget is better off if I wait until the end of the Saturday Alemany market, when the vendors are desperate to unload their remainders and bargains in a bag abound.

Yup, I, Jessie Morgan, recent professional Development Associate in support of food security, take advantage of farmers at the farmers’ market. Can I get much lower?

Another few steps, and my old workplace building comes into sight. I almost instinctively step back, out of view of the HAN office windows, as if someone might see me down here. Kim could hurry down to offer some bizarre rationalization for stealing my idea. Or tell me they’ve hired someone much more capable to run our annual fundraiser. And that this time, no thanks to me, it will make money.

Oh, lord, that was on my plate too. That was the trigger, really. Last year’s poorly executed fundraiser, that – once the staff time was calculated in – didn’t make money. No small part because of Kim’s excessive salary and excessive hover time, but still. My event.

I step back into the shadows, then back past the noisy vendors chatting up their produce, the pushy ladies elbowing for the best deals, the wandering tourists and sketchy looking locals. Back to catch my bus within the two hour transfer window. Wishing I didn’t have to worry so much about money. But worrying about money has been my thing for so long now. My career, such as it is. Was, will be.

 

 

 

Chapter 2

A Deviation from the Agenda

 

Okay, let’s backtrack. Health Access Now, for starters. The original group, Food Access Network, was formed back after the 1996 World Food Summit, when the concept of individuals’ food security was gaining traction as set apart from regular poverty and injustice. The idea of ensuring both that people everywhere could afford healthy food, and that it was available and accessible to them.

While there are myriad conceptual and specific elements (like this accessible farmers’ market, healthy school lunches, education about and surcharges on unhealthy foods, tax breaks for grocery stores opening in marginal neighborhoods, not to mention tackling water shortages and climate change), funding was always a challenge. As was implementation. I didn’t join the staff until the founding director was gone, but even in the mid-2000s it was a group with big bold ideas more than the successful execution of them.

We had splashy news articles and a decently interactive website before that was a standard thing (thanks, Jessie), but proposed legislation never went anywhere. Our “education” didn’t reach the right people, either community leaders or the under-served poor for whom we existed to help in the first place. And fundraising was a bitch, always. Few foundations and fewer regular donors got it, as in why give to people who address the system when there’s this nice food bank over here and they’ll give food to the hungry people.

Which is fine, let me add, we supported food banks as part of the picture, just not the whole thing. Anyway, it was tough going in the boom years, and then we basically were going under by 2008, when the recession and busted housing bubble hit.

At which time came along the launch of California Healthcare Access, which bubbled into life with terrific funding, an offshoot of various Obama election groups with a mission to support Obamacare. There were younger, bigger money tech firms tangentially involved, staff that had come from foundations and political consulting groups, and an overall sense of satisfaction, success, and entitlement that is rare in the broader nonprofit world. They were looking to expand their realm, assuming (mistakenly as it turned out, oops!) that there would be little need for their services once the Affordable Care Act legislation finally passed.

Let’s just say the pairing was not as sweet as Reese’s peanut butter and chocolate. The one member originally on both Boards who proposed joining the groups is long gone. Probably so mortified he’s changed his name or moved out of state, I’m thinking, after the collective pain of the merger.

Just coming up with the new name was a shockingly long and bitter process. To this day, there are staffers (hello Kim) who argue that our acronym would be better as HAND, never mind a helping hand is not at all the sort of paternalistic symbol that fits our mission. Nor is there any possible D word – we tried them all! – that fits with the other words, hashed and rehashed, even counting out the number of letters contributed from each original name.

Anyway, Health Access Now, brought together the more mature, big idea/low funded/low salaried group with the fresh and dynamic, tech savvy, top heavy, flush and not embarrassed to get paid foundation-level rates people hot off their Presidential win and eager to get moving on health care reform. Which, up until then, had been but a small blip on our radar.

Now, as evidenced by even a cursory perusal of our website, the combined mission bumps awkwardly onto itself, about as coherent as a pimply faced teenager talking to the dad at the door of his date’s house. It cannot even be stated without reading off a cue card: “Health Access Now believes that access to healthy food and quality healthcare is a fundamental right for all Californians. Every day we work with legislators, community leaders, the medical community and food providers to ensure that all Californians have a choice of good foods to put on the table and capable doctors and nurses to turn to in times of medical need.”

That last “medical” still bugs me in its redundancy. When else would you need good doctors? But still – the goals are important. I mean, cynicism aside, this is something I believe in, even now. Even after I quit with the bare minimum of notice. That was style over substance, I keep telling myself.

The tension between me and Kim had been mostly at a slow boil for awhile. Who doesn’t have a coworker who irritates them? Made all the worse when she’s your younger and higher paid boss? I know I’m not perfect either by any means. I get things done, but have trouble focussing until a deadline is imminent, and I tend to leave a messy trail of drafts and peanut shells in my wake. I’ll stop halfway through a conversation to jot down a sudden inspiration that has occurred. I get impatient at meetings, especially when people start repeating themselves or making their same point in a slightly different turn of phrase.

While Kim (need I add, a recent hire from the Obamacare group) pretty much thrived on meetings. Google calendared the hell out of them, spent satisfied hours each day at the office and sometimes even at home scheduling and re-scheduling, sending agendas and revised agendas. Although she was the Development Director, overseeing the entirety of HAN’s fundraising and communications, she would tell anyone with a straight face that she didn’t see her role as actually bringing in money herself. She was a facilitator, she said. Like, a choir director. She waved her stick, and the rest of us sang for the dough.

I should probably mention that she is married to a Facebook exec, one of those somewhat seasoned managers they brought in to make sure their Ts were crossed before they went public. So basically Kim’s husband’s rolodex had more ready donors than the entirety of the Food Access Network’s database did 20 years down the road.

Anyway, a few years after our merger, HAN had pretty much settled down. You’d think the influx of funding would have us sitting pretty, but since it came with the inflated salaries and bigger, fancier office space, we still sweated to make our budget. We former FAN staff quickly got used to the nicer digs, the computers that were only a couple years out of date rather than our sad old donated PCs and their gigantic buzzy monitors.

Our conference room nicely reflected the old and new. Kim thought the room too small and often groused about the poor quality of the video conferencing and the lack of back support in the chairs. I still admired the view: there were big windows, you could see the sky! And the chairs were lightly cushioned, matching, and stackable. Compared to the brown and orange plastic monstrosities we had previously used without question (since they’d been donated from what, a time warp to the 1970s?), they were fabulous, I thought. Only downside, they didn’t encourage quick meetings the way those old ones had.

So that was the setting for my latest impulsive move a few weeks back: the conference room, Kim annoyed and tinkering with the powerpoint projector, the rest of our small department wishing we could get done with the meeting and go back to our actual work.

We were reviewing fundraising projections, as we did every month. This time we were comparing to last year’s numbers, and among the categories was the annual event. This was one of my main activities – coordinating the annual event plus a couple lessor dinners, and mixed in between a lot of grant reporting, newsletter and direct mail appeal writing, web updates and social media blather, and general harassing of program staff to provide information for same.

As it turned out, the numbers we reported on our 990 tax form, which showed the event having raised a modest but at least positive sum, did not include any of the staff time costs. Once salaries, benefits, and related overhead were factored in, the bottom line turned bright red on the attractive powerpoint page.

Now, this wasn’t a total shock to me. Just the fact that Kim hadn’t simply gotten the numbers but had required the bookkeeper to create this color page for her presentation (both of their time involved, probably at least one additional meeting to review it) was a typical example of unneeded inflated extra salary expense, as far as I was concerned. Still, it was daunting to realize that after all the stress and sweat and weeks of planning, the budget might have been better served by our not bothering. All those hours to beg and cajole for our silent auction items, to solicit and track and thank and deliver, all the damn organization wide meetings and event day assignments – we should have just used my time, and left everyone else’s to other revenue generating activities. Kim and her pricey hours in particular.

It made me cringe, seeing that naked red negative number. When we first started doing the event, you could rationalize a loss – it was a building event, networking and cultivating potential new donors. But I couldn’t even claim that anymore. I knew the attendance list; it was preaching to the choir for sure, in no way reaching a new audience who might not be aware of our issues.

And that’s why I just went ahead with my bright new idea, right in the meeting, without a pre-meeting, Kim’s preferred method of approaching anything that might hearken change.

“Maybe we should scrap the event this year,” I said, voice perky, loud, filling the vacuum that had descended as we stared at page up on its white screen. “We’ve been doing that same format, cocktails, speeches, silent auction, community awards for a long time now. Remember, we had trouble even finding awardees last year.”

A glance around the table and I took in that my colleagues were perking up, interested. Though perhaps not so much in what I had to say as in the fact that something unexpected was occurring. A deviation from the agenda.

“Just hear me out,” I quickly continued, seeing Kim’s startled expression and knitted brow. “Instead of involving so much staff time, what about kind of channeling it out to the participants? Instead of one dinner and auction, what if there was a series of program themed highlights, with live webcasts, and supporters raising money to participate?”

“Great input,” Kim exclaimed. She could hardly have sounded less sincere. “But let’s table it for now, and we’ll follow up.”

“Well, we’ve got the Board meeting packet going out soon, and they’re supposed to pick a date and nominate awardees, so it’s kind of now or never.”

“I’d like to hear a little more,” volunteered Jake, who rarely said much at these meetings.

I turned to him and blew past Kim’s delicately raised hand. “Picture this: The Amazing Race meets Hunger Games. Teams of HAN supporters racing around Northern California food and health related spots – we can work those out – and filming themselves to be followed online. The more they can raise, the more advantages they can get, like those things that got parachuted in?” I could see I’d lost half the room by that point; people too sophisticated to enjoy young adult books or blockbuster movies. “Anyway, the teams would have to raise money so there would be guaranteed net income. And we’d have sponsors fund a lot of the logistics. Remember that guy I met with from MyHeart Tech? He’s searching for some way to get his new products out in the public eye, plus he’s a huge supporter of our type of work. I’m sure he would sponsor.”

“That actually sounds kind of cool,” said Mandy. “And they’re coming up with some amazing technology, it would be great to get it donated, you know?”

“I sent you a write up from that meeting,” I cheerfully reminded Kim, pretending I couldn’t tell she was already fuming with my interruptions and half formed, scatter shot ideas.

That was about the end of it, publicly at least. Kim roped us back on track and we finished up. I’m pretty sure she had read my write up, anyway. Kim was big on reading reports she had asked you to sent her. Offering helpful criticism too, even grammatical edits to hasty emails.

I had met with the MyHeart Tech guy because she’d passed him to me in the first place. The founder, a kind of wacky guy named Sergio Merscovich, had made a bundle selling some crazy popular gaming app, then used his proceeds to start a company geared toward combining tech devices and medicine. Near as I could tell anyway from our wide ranging conversation, anyway, and hence his interest in HAN. He also had all kinds of opinions about the tech industry in general. Thought Google had done a 180 and now did all evil instead of none, railed about the debacle of Google glass even as he hinted he was developing a much better device. Said Facebook would shortly join Friendster in the dustbin of history as younger people turned away. (That made me laugh, since Sergio and MyHeart Tech were referred by Kim’s Facebook honcho husband, whom she said was great friends with the guy.)

Anyway, she hadn’t thought his start up and its lack of prestige worth her time, so it pleased me to at least have been able to take the connection and run with it. I was sure they would make a financial donation. The other stuff, we were just talking randomly, outside the café where we’d met. Realizing we were both Amazing Race fans, yakking about the recent season, that’s all, when I’d started mapping out my fantasy race and he had eagerly jumped in with even crazier suggestions.

Honestly, I didn’t see it as a totally serious idea. But all the same, it was very clear that we needed to take a fresh look at the annual event. Not just do what we’d always done because it was coming up toward June so time for our June fundraiser. Yeah, the Hunger Games angle was mostly me looking for a laugh. At no point was I suggesting that TEENAGERS team up and try to KILL EACH OTHER, you know? But I was intrigued by the idea of fans tuning in to watch a contest that could somehow feature our images. We had good ones: organic farms, community gardens, senior Yoga classes, kid’s cancer wards. Hello, anyone remember the sensational Batkid and the inspired efforts of the Make-A-Wish Foundation? The millions raised when the Ice Bucket Challenge went viral?

Sergio – exactly the sort of wealthy visionary type we wanted supporting our work – had gotten it right away. He had products that he wanted to test, to publicize. He had a marketing budget. He knew people.

The more I thought about it post meeting, the more convinced I was that we should at least have a conversation about revamping the event. Involving the staff, the leadership team, the Board. But when I went to Kim, all groveling and polite, pre-scheduling a ten minute time slot, apologizing for not having run anything by her first, she blew me off again. This time without even pretending she cared what I had to say at all.

So I calmly returned to my office and prepared my resignation letter. It wasn’t that I even thought we’d actually do a crazy race event just because I suggested it. It was that final straw of not being listened to, of being treated like an ignorant newcomer despite my years, decades of experience.

I waited long enough to have a quick check in with my closest co-workers. And it’s telling that, while each expressed both disappointment and understanding, no one tried to talk me out of quitting. Barb even mentioned she had drafted her own resignation letter a few times before but hadn’t yet brought herself to use it.

I knew that Kim liked to leave right at 4:30, though she’d clock some of her train time down the peninsula as work hours. (Her longer commute to her nice burby house justified this in her mind; but woe to the staffer who actually needed something from her after 5:00.) Not my problem, I reminded myself. Just the same, I was enough of a weenie to wait until she left to drop my letter on her desk.

That gave me a window to start mentally wrapping things up. Writing up lists, deadlines. Flagging down our Executive Director, Bill, who did not require a pre-meeting, and letting him know of my decision to leave. I was careful, even keeled with him. No complaints or accusations. Although he was no dummy either, I’m sure he could read a subtext as well as anyone. I assured him of my commitment to the organization and the cause, even after I was no longer a part of it. He – hallelujah, before I even asked – assured me he would be happy to give me a good recommendation.

So just filling out the time, peeking from my desk, hoping Kim was oblivious to the hasty whispered conversations in the wake of my little trek from office to office, I sketched out the rest of my race event proposal.

Twelve teams, twenty four entrants, they’d need to raise $5,000 a team, or at least $60,000, which would well cover all the costs plus bring in enough for a cash prize. Sponsorships and donations would turn more of that to net profit, and there could be competing fundraising during the race. The extra publicity, of course? Priceless.

We could send the teams out with some sort of video cameras to record themselves, but maybe not allow smart phones. Force interactions with the people along the way: farmers at a farmers market, for instance, or staff at a children’s health clinic. We could have related competitions that featured both brain and brawn: helping with a harvest, figuring out processes to cut down on the time doctors spent on wasteful paperwork. The teams would be encouraged to share what they learned on social media, bring in their own networks of friends to spread the word about our work. That sort of spiraling outward of information mostly eluded us, but imagine if we could have people telling their friends about us, generating an actual social media buzz.

So I kept myself amused until it was time to drop off my resignation letter. Then I hit the door fast. Put on a fake smile face the next day when I met with Kim for what seemed like hours to review my work for my last two weeks. And I worked hard – which I do, which I like to do – and even followed her priorities in wrapping things up. She didn’t pretend to be sad at my departure; I have no doubt she was anxious to get her own less opinionated minion into the position ASAP.

I didn’t pretend I’d miss her, but I could be honest with everybody else, my work family for almost a decade. I would miss them a lot. Each day passing though, reminded me of a whole bunch of stuff I wouldn’t miss. I could hardly get out of there fast enough on my final day.

 

 

 

Chapter 3

What Comes Next

 

The first few days of unemployment did rock, I have to say. #freetimesoawesome. I didn’t even feel guilty about doing, well, nothing – because I got paid out for saved up vacation days. And I suppose you could call it a lowering of expectations to be so fully self satisfied at a “vacation” that consisted of sleeping until almost 8, dressing in workout clothes, experimenting with new food combinations, and catching up on old TV series. As compared to, for instance, a romantic getaway in Cabo or a strenuous backpack through Yosemite. But I’d also say, try watching the original Battlestar Gallactica – it’s dramatic, unintentionally hilarious, and really quite a good sociological look at the late 1970s.

As week two draws to a close, the reality looms closer. I’ve updated my LinkedIn page and spent several hours “endorsing” everyone I can even vaguely remember. Pinged all sorts of old friends. How’s it going, how’s that baby, hey, can you get me a job? Scheduled various lunches, like today’s with the HAN gang. It’s not that I don’t like my own company, I’m just used to having people around during the day. I even kind of miss the same old people I’d see on the bus in the morning. The guy who always critiques the weather, the lady who shows people pictures of her cat regardless of whether they’ve expressed any interest whatsoever.

I’ve put off calling Scott, although he probably saw my facebook status update haiku and dozens of clever comments. (“I quit HAN today!/ Couldn’t take it anymore /Now I’m unemployed” and I’ll assume all the people who “liked” it liked the creativity rather than the fact that I was frustrated and now jobless.) Scott, my old pal slash ex lover slash now an officer with the Chandler Foundation, is probably most well connected person I know, nonprofit job wise.

Scott and I were on again off again for almost a decade, over a decade ago. When I try to place it in the roadmap of my life, I consider that we met over launching a website when that was so new that you could easily get whatever url matched your org name, and the hard part was a stable internet connection and figuring out html code. We were broken up for sure, when he told me he and Heather would be getting married. That was during our regular post-election commiserating call after G.W. Bush was re-elected in 2004. Disappointing, but not the bitter bile filled shock and resignation of Bush’s 2000 so called win.

Come to think of it, those weird weeks of delays and hanging chads, butterfly ballots and missed recounts, had brought us back together for the last serious go. Then we sputtered out again after 9-11 – the whole thing made him want to start a family, which doesn’t really make sense, but which I said I would consider. Only I still didn’t want kids, all the more with the way the world was then. So we fell into being each other’s back up again. Humor, sex, familiarity, shared values at least as far as politics. Someone to call later, after a bad blind date.

At the time back ten plus years ago, he was happy to have met a women with two little kids, a ready made family, and I tried to be happy with him. A little ironic, maybe, that they never did have a kid together. And that those sweet little tykes are now teenagers who drive him nuts. Scott, who used to complain that I spent too much of my time and energy at my work, valuing grand enviro goals over our time together, now spends extra hours at his office, I think, avoiding that stressed out family dinner table he once pined for.

Anyway, late in the day is a likely time to catch him at work. My call is kind of work related – his foundation gives a small annual operating grant to HAN, so it’s basically about a staffing change at a grantee group.

That’s what I announce when his voice comes on the line. Chandler is one of those user friendly foundations where even execs answer their own phones. Not to mention a grantor of unrestricted funds, so rare and valued.

“So you really quit?” comes his mild voice. Scott is rarely frazzled or even surprised by what life tosses at him. The two of us are way past pleasantries when we talk.

“You know I’ve been thinking about it. I just got pushed over the edge.” I briefly summarize the circumstances.

He laughs at the right places. Flatteringly, because Scott is really not one to fake a laugh, especially with me. “Oh and get this, I heard at lunch today that our Board – I mean HAN’s Board – is actually considering doing the event. My idea. And Kim took credit for it.”

“The cocktail awards event thing is getting pretty stale, you’re right,” he says. “I gotta say, I like the idea of people out in the field. Participating, filming the actual project work instead of just talking about it. Long as there are good liability waivers.”

“Well, stay tuned – you guys might get a sponsorship ask. But look,” I continue, “I’m back on the market, so to speak. So if you know of anything…?”

“Your timing’s not bad,” he says. “Lot of groups are ramping back up. The ones that made it through the recession anyway. People always need good fundraisers.”

“Yeah. I’d really like to get more into the communication side than just development.”

“You and everybody. People hardly expect to pay for the written word anymore. What all our groups are really looking for are high end fundraisers. People who can tap and renew the ten thousand plus gifts.”

“Yeah, um, bite me. I don’t need to know about jobs I’m not qualified for.”

He harrumphs, dials it back. Doesn’t bother to remind me that my potty mouth won’t serve me well in either a job hunt or a pinky raising tea with a ten thousand dollar donor. “I may actually have something,” he says. “Very temp, a program staff who went maternity leave; sounded like they needed someone who could write. I’ll make a call.”

“You rock. Even though you don’t get your hands dirty anymore.” I shouldn’t tease him the second he offers to help me, that just slipped out. Because he is damn smart and he used to push real change forward instead of get paid three times as much to sit and judge and write checks to other smart people. “Seriously, thanks, a temp gig would give me time to get something better together.

“Well, I think you should take the time. You jump into things, Jessie, you know you do. It would be good for you to sit down and really think it through. What comes next. Not just jump onto the next moving train, you know? Find something you can really sink your teeth into.”

“You should talk,” I remind him. Scott used to love his policy wonk job a lot better than being a foundation program officer. Used to actually turn his good ideas into workable, passable legislation, back in the day.

“Matter of fact, I’ve got a sabbatical coming up,” he tells me. “Three months. It’s paid time off, but I am planning to use some of it to develop some better solutions for pushing the progressive agenda here. Don’t laugh,” he warns. “It’s possible, especially with a big checkbook behind it.”

“Must be nice, that’s all I can say. The checkbook. A freaking paid sabbatical.”

“Hey, it’s an investment in human capital. Long term perspective, which I’m afraid our friends at places like HAN haven’t thought much about.”

“Yeah, touché on that one. Let me know about the job though, will you, I’d really appreciate it.”

“Sure thing. Hey,” he adds, “I’ll watch out for news on the HAN event. I’ll have free time this summer, I should sign up for it. You got me hooked on Amazing Race, I’m sure I’d have a leg up.”

We hang up, laughing. I am anyway. Feel pretty satisfied that my job hunting work is done for the day; Scott, of anyone, will follow through.

 

 

He does, I do, and so I find myself the following Monday morning back on the bus downtown. Weather dude notes that it’s breezy but will get warmer; same as every day last week. He doesn’t even seem to notice that I’ve been missing. Cat lady not around. She’s usually on the later bus. I make it a point to be on time this morning.

Good thing – I’m stopped at the entrance to my temp place by an over anxious security guard. Dropping the name of the org does nothing, I must sign in, show ID. He assures me he will require this every day unless he hears otherwise from the Parkside Volunteer Program director.

Still, I get upstairs just a few minutes past 9 AM. It’s my first visit to the actual office – Paulette, the woman who hired me after our phone interview, was so happy to get the position filled last minute, she didn’t even need to see my face. Well, that, and Scott’s recommendation, I suppose. The woman I’ll be filling in for was supposed to be on for another month, but suddenly required full on bed rest. Just before they had an annual report to be written and a burst of activities at the end of the school year.

I open the door to a cluttered, dark, vacant work area. A little surprising in its tackiness, considering how nice the security guard’s desk looked downstairs. Also, there’s not a single image of either parks or schoolkids. Again, a little surprising for an organization with a mission of linking the two.

Before I can poke around further or dislodge a towering stack of what appear to be paper membership forms, a young man rushes out, apologizing, saying Paulette is late but so glad I’m here and that he will show me to my desk.

It’s a small place, as she had said, but at least the desk is in an alcove by a window. The young guy, Brett, did he say? He’s got a desk on the other side of the hall, but he’s often out at the schools, he explains. The office assistant comes in at ten, and unfortunately she’s the one who knows where my paperwork is. Maybe I’d like to read some of their brochures or study their website. The unanswered question of will I expect to get paid for sitting around hangs like secondhand smoke over our heads. Not under his control, I’d imagine.

I sit, fumble around below the desk to turn on the big old boxy computer. Brett gasps helplessly when it asks for a password. I’ve been around the block a few times, though, and I quickly spot a likely looking prospect on a post-it note next to a collage of pictures that show, I assume, my pregnant predecessor at her wedding, honeymoon, and, oh, too much information, her ultrasound.

Paulette and the office assistant breeze in a bit after ten. Paulette is hefty, loud, enthusiastic but scattered. Pretty much as I’d imagined from our conversation, though she doesn’t look much like the canned photo next to her name and too cute bio on the website.

The assistant, who’s name I quickly forget, must be so new as to not be listed on the current staff. She scrabbles around that messy front desk and hands me a folder with orientation material, and looks as if she’s seen me walk on water when I hand her back my basic forms, already downloaded and filled out. I have to admit that it bothers me a little when a young person acts surprised that this sort of stuff is online. It’s like they still have that childlike thing of needing a grown up to provide them things rather than figure it out for themselves. Didn’t they grow up with the internet at their tiny tot fingertips?

She goes ahead and tells me the computer password, just in case I’ve conjured some other magical way to get the pregnant gal’s computer to work. I dare not even tell her that I’ve already started drafting tweets and facebook updates for their woefully out of date social media.

Paulette, though – wow, here’s a change in management style – is delighted that I’ve taken the initiative. I don’t want to, like, redesign their whole site. But maybe they just need a fresh set of eyes to realize that their “upcoming events” page lists events months in the past. The “park of the month” is from February, hopefully of the current year.

In other words, plenty to keep me busy. As for the Annual Report that she’s so stressed over, it’s in half decent shape already. They paid a designer for a basic template last year that they’re going to recycle and they’ve closed out their books. It’s just a matter of filling in the pieces.

Nobody really reads those things anyway, now, do they. I mean, proof, proof, proof on the donor names because God knows the one you misspell will be the one who eagle eyes it the second it arrives. Someone who’s divorced and taken back her maiden name will be certain to remember if you screw that up. Put in pretty pictures, they’ll garner a glance. But the exact text? Whatever.

I edit myself to Paulette, though. I’m kind of proud, actually – it’s a challenge for me to tamp down the sarcastic asides, but I do a good job here. Not telling the director of a tiny organization that nobody cares, nor advertising that fact that she could probably do fine with half the hours she’s got planned for me.

A little before lunchtime, though, I mutter about errands and stretching my legs, just to get a break. Whip out my phone and call my friend Raye, try to get the worst of it out of my system before I head back up. The morning guard is gone; the guy there now doesn’t even give me a glance. Good to know the building is at least secure from early morning thieves.

Back upstairs, the collective staff manages to waste a good hour on a probably mandated lunch to welcome me. This is clearly Paulette’s thing, and at least she seems genuine about it. I mean my dear nemesis Kim likely took a similar nonprofit management webinar. She knew you were supposed to have happy group gatherings: build trust and teamwork! promote diversity and cross culture pollination! provide a couple free cookies to make up for your woefully low salaries! She used to schedule them and slap down the treats she had sent someone out to buy then suddenly need to leave for an “important call.”

Anyway, Paulette and I keep up a steady happy patter, even as the others plod through their sad little Trader Joe’s microwavables, barely looking up. Glad I brought a decently healthy item from home – all the free time and no lover at least means plenty of tasty leftovers. Builds my cred as a food activist, not that anyone here seems to need convincing. Or cares. Do they quietly boast here about the coolest school projects, the way we used to flaunt our healthy organics at HAN?

I try to engage Brett about the volunteers he works with, sure to be some juicy tweet sized stories there. And nod along to various references to people I’ve never heard of, former staff or partners they work with that haven’t garnered a mention on what’s clearly now a very out-of-date website. I mean if that’s all I had to go on – and in fact that was all I’ve had to go on – me and the rest of the world have little idea what this group really does.

Partly I try to keep up, figure out who’s who and does what. Partly, I have to admit, I kind of revel in not caring all that much. Thinking in a few weeks I can forget every bit of this, and that’s a surprisingly pleasant little tingle.

 

 

By the end of the day, I’m thinking what a breeze this will be. End of the week, not so much. The initial writing was pretty basic, but the school year end projects all have fast approaching deadlines and I know exactly zero about any of them. No cutting and pasting for these puppies. My visions of entertaining trips to see school kids till the soil and marvel at tiny shoots sprouting dissipate – instead it’ll be sitting through tedious meeting discussions and then trying to create flyers and Constant Contact blasts that make dull ideas seem fun.

I’m glad that I took Scott’s advice on upping my per hour rate, at least. I mean like any typical middle class white girl nonprofit do gooder, I’ve always felt a little bad about asking for any salary at all, right? While working for someplace dependent on outside funding; knowing every dollar to my pocket deprives the good cause. That’s not the reality though. Paying for competence is worthwhile. I’ve seen enough of the contrast of the extra cost when low paid low motivation staff has a revolving door. It’s more a matter of convincing myself I’m one of the competent ones, maybe.

Well, if nothing else, I can act the part. #juniorleaguethriftshopbargains The following week opens with a rambunctious meeting of the minds over the whole issue of children’s involvement in playground renovation. There are seventeen adults and no actual children represented, but everyone has a lot of opinions on the matter. And it will impact how I write about all the summer stuff.

Breaking it down, I come to understand one side taking the completely protective angle that kids and construction and dangerous things like power tools just don’t mix. Ever. Others argue for gradations of the concept that a summer program linking kids and park upgrades kind of by definition requires that the children take some part, even a small one.

My opinion – not that I’m asked for it, as the temp – doesn’t matter. But I’m relieved when the people who want to let the children marginally participate seem to prevail. As the meeting winds down, I raise a tentative hand toward Paulette, who’s been chairing the meeting in between scrolling down her emails on her phone.

“My name’s Jessie, and I’ll be filling in for the Communications Director,” I remind the group. “I’d like to take a minute and ask each of you to think about good images we can use as you go about your various projects. Kids at work and at play especially, or things that make your particular project special.”

Blank stares. “I’ll be looking for good images to promote the work, online and in brochures,” I add, “which in turn should help raise money towards it. Always good, right?”

“Are we being required to get out a camera and take pictures?” asks an annoyed looking guy who’s had plenty to say already about the competing demands on his time. “Because I can’t monitor any additional equipment on top of twenty kids.”

“Just quick stuff with your phone is all I meant—“

“I’m not sure I want to share my pictures with you guys,” another woman cuts me off. “Our school may want to use them instead.”

I bite my tongue to keep from pointing out that the school would not have the money or volunteers to generate any images without Parkside Volunteer’s involvement. Not to mention revamp their playground for the kids. I’m pretty used to all the players feeling competitive rather than cooperative for anything that can possibly be shared – food security people do that sometimes too.

“Our program has a hard policy of no pictures of the kids whatsoever.” This from the most vociferous advocate of not allowing children anywhere near a renovation project, even planting flowers. “One little slip up, a perv on the internet, and we’re sunk.”

Nods, further talk of parental waivers and how to deal with suspicious characters lurking near playgrounds. I start to tune out. Are these people completely ignorant about what works for fundraising? I just need a couple cuties in overalls planting flowers, is that so much to ask? Clearly, the protection of children is reaching newer, greater heights. At least I know better than to remark upon the child rearing practices of my childhood, which would surely shock most of the people here (“Go out and play. Be back at 7.”).

I’ll be able to come up with something, I suppose, at least now that the children will be allowed some access to the park projects. Several people keep hashing out their same points about this, round and round. Risks and benefits and parental issues. Nothing new has been said for a good half hour. #wastingmytime #gettingpaidbythehour

Trying to look like I’m still taking meeting notes, I jot some ideas for facebook posts. At least one or two of these folks would probably be amenable to letting me write some snippets for them to post for us. I’m surprised how little the group has cross pollinated their social media with all the school sites they support. Seems like schools, what with all the young people, would be right there with the posts. Maybe even real ones.

Me, I don’t trust much of anything I come across if I don’t personally know the poster. Having drafted and pushed and prodded and retweeted so many times myself. But fakery doesn’t matter anymore, hardly even registers with the modern crowd – what counts is did it make you laugh or cry.

 

 

After work at home, I snoop around the HAN website. I’ve been checking it a little obsessively, I have to admit. #justlookingnotaddicted Noting with a bit of concern and a bit more satisfaction that it’s gotten awfully static. Somebody, Mandy probably, has been posting generic announcements about food events, but that’s about it. My job is up in the “Awesome Careers” area, so no immediate replacement. (Yeah, like that was going to happen – HAN has always been slow on filling jobs. Multiple interviews, long worrying discussions of all the what ifs, even for outstanding candidates. No surprise, we lost more than a few good prospects who decided to get paid more elsewhere at a place that didn’t make them sit through lengthy grueling group interviews.)

Tonight, though, look out: a big box front and center, announcing the launch of the Health and Food Matters Race, 10 Unforgettable Days of Fun, Fascination, Food Facts, and Heart Health in a competitive race around the greater Bay Area. Twelve teams competing to win and to raise funds, live internet footage, a cash prize for the winners.

O. M. G. They’re actually doing it.

I turn away from the screen for a moment, suddenly breathless. My idea! I know, I signed the same damn “all the intellectual property belongs to the nonprofit” agreement that everybody signs. But MY IDEA, that frenzied 45 minutes of scratching out all the weird little details, and here it is, gussied up, introduced, ready to actually launch in what, six weeks time.

Clicking in, no surprise at all, there’s a picture Sergio from MyHeartTech, proud sponsor, “co-innovator and a member of the judging panel,” who will be donating all the technology needed for the competitors to participate. Another cleverly angled shot shows him smiling, hand just concealing what is presumably his new recording device, the thing he told me would blow away Google glass.

He’s a Star Trek fan, I recall in an instant, looking at that Commander-Data-trying-to-show-emotions smile. I bet it’s somehow modeled on their devices, the later show’s wearable units, like how early cell phones copied the look of the original hand held communicators.

Before I can stop myself, I send a snarky forward to Scott. I have to practically sit on my hands to keep myself off facebook, at least until my initial state of shocked indignation dissipates a little. I have HAN related friends, and job contacts there. No good burning bridges without a few minutes to craft the best flame out message, at the very least.

Two replies arrive from Scott: a solicitous note about him being away on sabbatical, and his own terse text response: “yes I’m still checking in, they got balls over there anyway, looks fun but can they pull it off, where’s the PR

I hastily reply: “UR on vaca already? get out of town! do you really think it’ll bomb #uhohlooksbadforjessie

we’re taking the kids camping for a long weekend, but school’s not out yet. I think they can raise money ok, but not sure anyone will notice. only works if it generates buzz.

seriously that was my point! no good live feeds if nobody sees it. thought the kids don’t like camping” I remember him telling me at some length how his stepdaughter Holly once refused to hike like the last half mile on a short trip and had to be bribed by them promising her a new iphone. Or maybe she just sat there until some other kids came along and she got embarrassed for being so lame, but it was something that confirmed my long held beliefs that kids are no fun in the wilderness.

car camping, kids can stay plugged in, dammit I’m hiking and fishing. gotta go, talk when we get back.”

I set down my phone. Easily, I might add; not being a teenager, I don’t get all antsy being two feet away from it at any point in the day or night. Poor Scott. He genuinely loves the outdoors, all that boy scout stuff of staking the tent and catching dinner. Heather, I suspect, just went along with it when they were dating. The kids would go where they got taken when they were little, but now it’s a major freaking process to pry them from their devices and out into those lovely wild places.

Hope he manages some of that down time he needs, shake all the work related deadlines and manufactured sense of urgency out of his system. Work out his new progressive ideas and all that. I wonder for a moment what he meant – was he thinking about how Chandler could angle itself to push a greener agenda? Or was he crafting some amazing piece of legislation that someone could introduce – Scott, motivated and wired, was capable of comprehensive, thorough and all inclusive big picture ideas. Not just ideas, but concepts, a dozen or more possible outcomes, answers for each, and then a resulting prettily phrased summary of the whole thing, be it fighting fracking or tackling energy efficiency.

It’s a shame he got burnt out on the policy side, back those many years. But who didn’t, you know. At least I’m old enough to remember when the legislative system sort of worked. I mean there were tiny bits of undesignated funds available, decent minded elected officials who would say thank you to that type of perfectly designed legislation, rather than looking for a way to kill it.

I’m pretty sure that everybody I knew back then has moved on from the grand goals of global environmental salvation, one way or another. Not that it was all so perfect back then. Every workplace, even the ones with dreams of saving the world, has its little issues. But what I recall is how damn much we got accomplished. People staying on for years and years, working hard and not caught up in reply-to-all flaming or shopping and gossiping online instead of working. Respecting each other. Genuine teamwork. #pastinrosecoloredglasses

I start to just feel old when I realize I’m maybe blaming the internet for some of the slowing down, slacking off I’ve encountered these past years. Can’t blame it for peoples’ enhanced sense of entitlement, and my god, imagine trying to get anything done now without a networked system, websites, scans and email. #everythingsatradeoff

Anyway, aren’t I doing that lazy staffer thing myself, stretching out my temp job time with billable tasks of questionable merit? I need the money. For whatever’s next.

I’m tired, cranky, hungry, though it’s not very late. Too late to make something creative, though. #workingalldaysucks Fortunately I have a stock of easy stuff ready to toss on a skillet, so I can at least eat decently. Lose myself in an Orange is the New Black binge maybe.

Sated, TV dazed, I manage to put it all out of my head – the HAN event, the Parkside deadlines, my misplaced nostalgia. Somewhat regretfully, I recall that I was aiming to spend quality time figuring out what comes next. Instead the tiring busyness of temp work seems to keep me from thinking at all.

 

 

 

Chapter 4

A Selection Advantage

 

A couple weeks into my temp job, I find some rhythm. Or it finds me. Or something starts clicking enough so that I don’t roll my head back under the pillow when the bright morning light finds my back window and starts its slow steady passage toward the bed.

Vaguely, like it was another life, I remember being chipper and young and bouncing out of bed, eager to get to work so that I could race through my important projects. So that I might then keep having fun after work – because the work was important, my colleagues were fun, those silly little exchanges we’d have in the office where everybody could hear each others’ conversations were amusing. We all worked late, then made up for it, maybe going out for drinks with friends, trying a new restaurant, or just heading out with whoever happened by and no plan at all.

For now, just the going to work with a half decent attitude suffices. All that other stuff – these days each needs its own separate day, I’m afraid. #gettingoldnotlovingit

Happily, Parkside Volunteers is too small to have much in the way of office issues. The mission is reasonably easy to convey, hallelujah. Paulette, like numerous colleagues before her, is genuinely dedicated to the cause, to the point where she’s got stuff scheduled constantly evenings and weekends and looks exhausted most mornings. But she gets things done, and even in a collaborative way. She’s actually skilled at promoting others to share credit – great for their Board, although I suspect they totally take her skills and devotion for granted.

Other hand, if this was my computer for more than a couple more weeks, I would seriously take it out to a back lot, ala the movie Office Space. It stuns me that seemingly smart people put up with this technological backwardness in the name of very short term savings. Yeah, they get stuff donated. But then pay the computer guy to cobble it together, the software’s not compatible because the OS is so old, they have to buy more memory and new monitors and lose hour after hour while the system is down.

When they could just commit to the investment, just saying. Good old Scott prompted his foundation to make tech grants specifically to let their groups avoid this sort of waste. Here, I have become accustomed to hopping over to Paulette’s desk and the only decent flat screen monitor the minute she heads out to a meeting. And I can get a lot done in the quiet, though it makes me a little stir crazy, being used to more people around. Even just to bounce ideas off of (or at HAN, to argue the smallest angles vociferously).

The assistant is happy to chat when she’s around anyway. I can see she’s not going to be here long – she’s not long out of college, and pretty appalled at the demeaning work that’s expected of her after all those years of being told how smart and special she is. She barely even tries to click off facebook when someone approaches her desk. She pretty much assumes that her low nonprofit pay entitles her to snapchat and post snarky comments aside from complete her lowly duties. Feels fully entitled to dig into the food she’s ordered for meetings she doesn’t attend, has stated out loud that she thinks the coffee place downstairs should donate free coffee to for us to drink just because we work here.

I, of course, don’t drink coffee, what with the pollutants of its cultivation, wasteful length of importation, ill effects of caffeine and so on. But I congratulate myself on keeping the bulk of these thoughts to myself. Similarly, in my writing, I am carefully neutral in tone, whatever my opinion on the project. Although I do strive to avoid the super cutesy voice that I assume has been generated by my bedridden predecessor.

If I’m honest, I can recall aiming for that sort of tone myself, when social media was first taking off. Needing to get roped in by more cynical heads myself way back when. And if I’m really being honest, why not, I suppose I can admit that even in the glory days, the work could be tedious. Back at the launch of the internet, trying to persuade the California state legislature to save the world from climate change. (Dawn of time, my young friends here would consider it; typing commands in MS-DOS took place just after the dinosaurs roamed, right?) Just as tedious as this work is, but now as then, I am decently able to power on through. Put together the words and images and ideas and finish my products, one after another. Enable the successful launch of Parkside’s summer program, yay!

Never mind how any of that stuff worked out for climate change. #stillaninconvenienttruth

Head down, eyes forward, I tune out my own snide inner voice and focus on the school children, the parks. Get my work done. Give a little nod of gratitude that I don’t have to pretend interest in other peoples’ painfully repetitious reports at a weekly staff meeting. Paulette doesn’t even have weekly staff meetings, and it’s like a revelation to know that Monday mornings can in fact be productive.

Scott calls me just after I’ve arrived home from work, gloriously before five o’clock. He pretends he just wants to chat; I suspect he needs to reassure himself he hasn’t accidentally wreaked havoc on one of his grantees in the form of my bad attitude.

“I’m loving the lack of stress and office politics,” I tell him before he even asks. “Paulette is seriously dedicated. But I bet she hasn’t taken two weeks off since she started. Only downside is that they’re a little stuck in doing everything the same way because that’s how they do things, you know? Oh, and most of their school reps are either super territorial or burnt out and bitter.”

“Well, okay. Not that I asked, and it’s not even my project, but good to know.”

“Well, I haven’t screwed things up. I’m doing fine, they like me.”

Scott laughs. “Paranoid much are we? That’s not why I called.”

“Then what?”

“I’m—you’re going to laugh. I’m thinking of signing up for the Health and Food Matters Race. Wanted some tips, you know, for the sorts of people they’d choose.”

It takes me a couple seconds to even clue in to what he’s saying, and then I laugh indeed. “You. The HAN race. My race. You’re— wouldn’t there be a conflict of interest? Aside from are you freaking kidding me?”

“I read the guidelines: current grantor staff prohibited, but I’m on leave. And no, I’m not kidding. It’s only ten days, and I think it would be good for me to get out into the field. It sounds fun, and frankly I think I’d be a competitor. Heather said it was okay, she’d do it with me.” He lowers his voice. “I think she doesn’t think we’d get picked, actually. But I don’t know that there will be that many people applying.”

“Probably not, what with how my position is currently vacant and any publicity at all being done by a quarter time intern.”

“And committing to raise a $5,000 entrance fee. That’s kind of genius – it’ll keep less committed people away, and the serious ones may generate some bucks even if they don’t get picked. If they’re soliciting their friends, say. I mean I can make a few calls, and I support HAN anyway, it’d just be writing a bigger check.”

He’s got that in earnest tone his voice; I can tell he’s serious. Scott is a person who thinks things through, like I said. I try to recall my conversation with wacky dude and now “judge” Sergio. Offer some tips to Scott. From what I remember, Sergio and I both liked the, how to say nicely, outliers on the personality scale of reality shows. So no doubt he’ll want to include a pair that’s hot and dumb, know it alls who don’t, and couples who’ll have funny on air spats. I imagine there will be some tech geeks applying – Sergio isn’t super famous, but decently well know within his circles. I can see bright nerds wanting to get his attention.

“I should probably angle for the intellectual who gets taken down a peg or too,” Scott says, after mulling it over. “Or Heather could be the bossy wife. But she might not like that.”

“You think?” I can’t help but agree though, and am grudgingly impressed by his grasp at the personality types even as I tease him. “Maybe you could be the plucky old guys. Fumble around a little, use your reading glasses for your handheld.”

He dismisses that with a snort. Scott may be in his mid-50s, but he does come off younger. Not to mention Heather really is quite a bit younger. Before I can attempt any higher math in my head, he signs off, a hint of irritation in his voice. One of the kids, I’m guessing – they both tend to treat him like a concierge, I’ve noticed, never mind if he happens to be otherwise occupied before their particular needs arise. I suppose that would be a good thing for lots of guys in Scott’s position, pompous execs who could use being humbled and treated like yesterday’s news. Maybe I should come up with an app for that. Teenager ego bruisers, just click and get insulted… someone like Sergio could probably turn this into a money maker.

I haven’t gotten farther than setting out my fine dinner ingredients when Scott calls back. “Dude,” I tell him. “I have fresh baby asparagus here, and the first sugar snaps of the season. I’m making a nice risotto. Your constant needs are interrupting my hushed reverence.”

“And I’m picking up pizzas. Plural, because the kids can’t have their choices touch each other’s.” Scott’s voice is scratchy, bluetooth in the car. There’s a beat of silence, muffled traffic noise. “Heather and I had a bit of a disagreement, is why I’m calling again. She claims she never said she would do the race, or if she did, she didn’t mean it. She was just being supportive.”

“Um, okay.” Some support. But I know better than to criticize his wife or kids. Only he’s allowed. I get it, it’s how I feel about other people pointing out flaws in my dearly departed parents, even after I’ve told an exaggerated story about them for laughs.

“You’re not even going to comment about pizza and cheese and processed meats? This isn’t gourmet here, I’m going to Mr. Pizza Man. In the car.”

“In the zero emissions Leaf,” I point out. He sounds so bothered that I can’t even bring myself to critique the food choices.

“Here’s the thing. I think you and I should partner for the race. Heather said she was fine with that as long as she has nothing to do with it.”

“Me. You and me.”

“Exes! That would give us a huge selection advantage, don’t you think?” Scott lamely attempts an evil laugh. Sounds like coughing.

I am rarely silenced, but just now it takes a moment before I can splutter out several thoughts. “Don’t you think they would not pick ME in a MILLION YEARS? And you honestly think Heather would actually think that’s a good idea? And I thought it up, but that doesn’t mean I want to, like, film myself looking like an idiot. And yeah, if I were picking, I’d totally pick a pair of bickering exes.”

Scott – why am I not surprised – has a counterpoint to each point. Heather would be fine, she feels no threat from me and in fact she’s delighted that he has a friend to bore with his long political analyses. I wouldn’t look foolish, I’d be a savvy player, plus I could use the exposure to beef up my resume. He has already sussed out that they are going to remove applicant names from the applications so as to avoid name based ethnic bias – Kim, I’m thinking, has managed some input. He will simply refer to me as his ex Jessica in the initial form, and for our video, I will hilariously refuse a camera close up, as though I’m being dragged into it, which he suggests will work in our favor.

Plus deep down, he knows, knows I’ve always wanted to do something like this. Why else am I so obsessed about those televised lives of others?

It takes until he’s into the pizza place and back out in the car with the pizzas before he talks me into it. What changes my mind is when I realize I’m already thinking of ways to make our application irresistible even while pointing out how it wouldn’t work, that someone at HAN would figure out it was me.

And so we set a time to rendezvous on the weekend. He promises to bring a laptop for us to record and edit upon, script ideas, and a draft application for me to okay. I just have to “be myself.”

Be myself with a new and unrecognizable hair style. Look out world. I turn back to my dinner preparation, cheerful as I’ve been all week.

 

 

 

Chapter 5

Are You Filming Us Right Now?

 

Oh, where does the time go. Seems only yesterday I was glibly telling Scott, sure, say whatever you want about me, apply to that silly race thing. I owe you for getting me this lame I mean awesome temp job. It actually was last Friday that I was wrapping that thing up, happily depositing their last check into my account, admiring the big chunky numbers in there to tide me through the summer.

But suddenly now it’s the night before the race, the actually occurring HAN inaugural Health and Food Matters Race, food facts, heart health and all that. Of which happily married Scott Amberstein and his reluctant ex Jessica will be one of twelve competing teams, for a grand prize of $5,000. The scuttlebutt is there were lengthy internal arguments about that, the very concept of seeding the thing, using money to make money, definitely staff and Board members who didn’t want to have a cash prize at all on principle. Even if it would earn them a lot more money. (How I praise any and all deities that I didn’t have to sit through and/or keep from shouting at them during those discussions.)

But that’s just what I heard. Occasional emails back and forth with folks. Along with the to be expected complaints about logistics and last minute planning. What I didn’t hear was any of my former colleagues getting in touch to say, hey Jessie, are you the Jessica M. we just signed on, WTF? So I’m guessing Scott’s compelling narrative and the lack of very many other competitors willing to raise 5k for HAN, not to mention actually do this bizarre thing, got us picked, sight unseen as it were.

Until sunup tomorrow anyway. Last minute or not, the event team sent a raft of rules, regulations, tips and advice, in addition to our – kid you not – eleven page waiver form. Good use of Dropbox, anyway, another of my suggestions. (Kim had argued about wasting paper, amongst her many objections all those weeks ago, her imagination stuck in the days of the color coded printed meeting packets she favored.) They’ve apparently brought on a temp just to coordinate this event, someone gender ambiguously named Austin, who presumably was unfamiliar with former staff names. I’m going to assume this is a guy just based on the tone of his missives. He, a new intern named Prakrit, and Mandy will be coordinating the posts and video uploads.

We’ve been given voluminous information about the recording devices we’ll be using, but won’t actually get to strap them on until the launch. Challenge number one, I guess, how quickly we can figure out how to start filming each other with brand new wearable equipment. Or maybe Sergio and MyHeart Tech have proprietary issues. Just to further confuse things, I see that all references to MyHeart Tech use the acronym MYHT, which is supposed to be pronounced “mighty,” and I have to assume they have included this info so as to encourage us to speak enthusiastically about the corporate sponsor as we proceed. #soldoutyetmaybe

I get a couple paragraphs into the instructions and I’m ready to doze off. Will have to hope ever-prepared Scott gleans the gist of it. Or, my plan already, we’ll fall in with the geekiest dudes who are big MYHT fans and do what they do.

Scott has also taken charge of our gear and transport. This being a moderate sized nonprofit rather than a massively popular Ford-sponsored world wide jaunt, we’ll be using either our own cars or public transit as available. They promise the “race route” will be laid out such that people can sleep at home in San Francisco many nights – or in their hotel or Airbnb, for those participants from outside the Bay Area. (Seriously? Have they imported participants?)

But at least a couple nights, we’ll be quote in the field. This is where our social media skills will come into play, I’d imagine. Nice if we can hit up some friends wherever we happen to be for dinner and a guest room rather than camping. Nonetheless, Scott made sure we are good to go for camping, including a space age cook stove and self inflating air mattresses. He said my sleeping bag was crap, so I’ll be borrowing his son Max’s old one, which is, to my delight, decorated with spaceships.

Oh, that’s the other thing. In addition to the quite reasonable emphasis on food and health issues that one would expect from the inaugural “Health and Food Matters Race, 10 Unforgettable Days of Fun, Fascination, Food Facts, and Heart Health,” there have been several references in the orientation material to Star Trek, Star Wars, and Battlestar Galactica. Scott didn’t even notice, but I did, and I do remember that Sergio Merscovich is a big ole sci fi fan.

I’m trying to follow the logic here, and I guess it has to do with the futuristic nature of his medical devices. Didn’t I read somewhere that his dream is to develop a working model of a Star Trek tri-corder?

 

 

My phone trills. It’s already getting light in the room. I thought I’d have trouble sleeping, but apparently not, and I grab the phone, already forming excuses in my mind for why I overslept. But it’s Scott just calling to politely suggest that I should be in the shower within the next five minutes if I want to have clean hair to impress the public at large; he’ll be by in twenty minutes.

I mumble that of course I was awake and he should let me alone and he’d better have figured out the video thingee. He signs off, not arguing any point. Though he can no doubt tell I was lying and he’d woken me. Does that make us a good team yet, I wonder, stumbling toward the bathroom. Or is he just determined not to have us bicker online no matter what I might say or do?

Not long later, we hum along in his clean, smooth, zero emissions car. I don’t think he lets the kids in it; wonder what he’ll do when they learn to drive. Or maybe they won’t; I’ve heard modern kids don’t even care – they’d rather stay home and text and use Lyft or Zip Car.

Scott hands me a chilled high tech thermos. “Only sugar is from fruit,” he says cheerfully. “Protein and vitamins. And I brought some energy bars in case our first, you know, task is a physical one.”

I take a careful sip. Not bad. “I packed a bag of that stuff too,” I point to the little day pack and duffel I slung next to all his neatly prepared gear. “We’re not going to have to carry all this stuff, are we,” I ask, suddenly realizing I could be publicly humiliated – more humiliated – the very first day by not being able to carry all my gear.

“Your car is your home base,” he air quotes. “I’ve got all kinds of contingencies prepared for, including stuff that other people might borrow. For alliances and everything.”

“Just better hope we’re near the car when we need it.”

He frowns, I shrug. I know if I was planning this thing, I’d make sure the super prepared people got caught miles from where their pre-planned stuff happened to be. “We will need to read the instructions fully and carefully,” I tell him. “You will, you have to make me wait, I’ll be running at the sound of the bell.”

He turns onto JFK Drive, into Golden Gate Park, toward the designated starting gate. “Watch for the sign,” he tells me. “And say goodbye to the GPS. We get dinged for using it – they’re going to check our cars and phones every night.”

I nod. That was one of my things: people would need their phones so as to do as much tweeting and facebook plugs and everything as they could, but I thought it would be better without immediate easy directions. Make people interact with the public, tell everyone what they were doing. Anyway, it should be easy enough, if one can convince a bunch of friends to follow along in real time, to ping people for directions and info.

I zip up my jacket. It’s a classic San Francisco June morning – cold with fog billowing through the park, and it feels chilly even in the car. Outside a few hardy joggers battle the wind, and a small woman carrying massive bags pokes through a trash can looking for bottles. I wish I could start filming already, could say something poignant about her and the nation’s priorities.

“Here we go,” Scott interrupts my thoughts, pointing ahead. “Brace yourself.”

There’s a big sign and a cluster of cars. Down the hillside, several knots of people huddled together. Glad I’m not on staff, I laugh to myself. This kind of thing, getting out here and acting cheery despite the hour always sucks. And yet here I am.

“Just take your day pack,” Scott instructs, pulling into a spot by the other cars. “I packed us lunches already. You see any parking restrictions?”

I squint out. “Nope, not until no overnight parking. I’m sure we’ll have the first night at home, so everybody can go home and get their friends involved.” I reach back for my pack. “Did you bring extra waters? You didn’t use plastic bottles, did you?”

He plucks two perfect aluminum bottles with bright Sierra Club logos from a cooler, then pulls a raggedy old wool mountain parka over everything. I’m pretty sure I remember it from our camping days, beloved and liberated decades ago from his glory days on ski patrol in college. “Supposedly they’ll keep an eye on the cars, but this should discourage break ins.”

“Yeah, or other teams seeing that you packed enough to stock a shelter. I know,” I add, “I’ll be glad you did later.” I guess he remembers that I can be a bit of a victim to my blood sugar ups and downs. If I don’t eat regularly I can get kind of cranky.

I comb back my hair, which curls out in every direction despite my best efforts to tame it, and scrunchie it into submission as best I can. I’ve got a pretty patterned bandana tucked into my jacket, which can be put into use if I get desperate. Or be used as an actual bandana, should we be stuck somewhere stinky, which is a distinct possibility. And I’ve got decent looking, quick drying layers. So I’m prepared. Somewhat.

“Ready?” he asks, grinning widely.

“I can’t believe you’re making me do this,” I grouse – partly being in the character he created, partly seriously.

Another car has pulled up behind us. Two youngish guys – geeky, tech heads who we can bond with! – dig around in the hatchback, having approximately the same conversation.

“Hey, I’m Scott, this is Jessie,” Scott exclaims.

“Sunil,” says the more enthusiastic dude. “That’s Bobby. He’s waiting for his coffee to kick in.”

Bobby kind of grunts at us, blinking into the fog as if it’s filled with too bright light. Neither of them could be more than 25, I’m calculating. Skinny, but fairly fit. Scott could probably outrun all three of us, though.

“Check them,” Sunil murmurs to Bobby, giving him a shove and nodding toward the car that’s just squeezed in front of us.

The driver is cute, blonde, giggly, and seriously underdressed for the day. Another young woman emerges from the passenger seat, even more cuddly and adorable, and the two of them exchange Oh My Gods, and kittenish squeals as they scramble into Easter colored workout gear and fumble in the back seat of their car, lovely long legs on display for our nerd boys.

“Tell me they’re racing,” I exclaim to Scott in a whisper. “Straight out of central casting!”

A tall, gawky young man approaches, introducing himself as Austin. I shake hands, all innocence, and he provides each car with a big magnetized HAN sign. Nice touch; all the more publicity with each leg of the thing.

Austin has no idea who I am, but I can see Jake and Mandy down below. Bill is there, too, and yikes, even Jonathan Bernard, the Board Chair, is on hand.

“Fuck me, there’s Jonathan Bernard,” I tell Scott.

“Might as well get it over with, all of them together,” he says calmly.

“They’re going to freak. Or publicly shame me. Or fire us both.”

“They can’t. Anyway, look, somebody’s filming, they won’t want to look bad.”

Sunil, the more awake nerd, has stopped ogling the girls and is eavesdropping on us. I take note that he’s that savvy. Another team has arrived and immediately dashes off to the wide banner down on the field that must be the starting gate, as though expecting brownie points for promptness. I spot Sergio Merscovich, the MYHT dude, next to the guy who’s eagerly wielding a small device to film the proceedings.

Young HAN temp Austin urges us down to get checked in, assuring us we can return to the cars before we start out. The tittering, clingy pastel clad gals sashay ahead, quickly followed by Sunil. Sleepy Bobby is still pawing in the back of his car.

Scott politely motions me in front of him, all Gallant to my Goofus as usual. But then I feel a tug on my ponytail. “Jesus, Jessie, did you dye your hair for this? Miss give-me-organics or starve?”

I smack his hand away, indignant. “It’s henna! It’s all natural!” Behind us, I see Austin watching with interest, Bobby smirking. “If I end up with facebook friends I haven’t seen in years seeing this, I don’t want to look freaking old, okay?” I hiss. My hair is – or was originally – a nice chestnut brown. Now there’s still more pepper than salt, but the gray hair is growing in even more wiry and unmanageable. So sue me for the organically grown henna.

Scott, of course, wears his gracefully graying temples well. Even while teasing and chortling about my inconsistencies, he looks wise and mature. I mutter a few more barbs in his direction, just getting them out of my system.

Until I notice Bobby pointedly looking between me and Austin, and I realize that the little patch on his shoulder has what might just be a tiny lens in it. I reach back to give him a poke on his other shoulder. “Fuckin’ A, man, are you filming us now??”

He backs away from me with an awkward laugh. “Um, you did sign the waiver about this.”

I turn my back on him and stride away, the best thing I can do keep from embarrassing myself any further. Scott follows, trying unsuccessfully to keep from laughing. “Um, uh oh,” he says.

A bunch of them have spotted me. It’s as if the very air changes, sharpens, for a moment. The facial expressions of my former colleagues might as well have sub-titles:

Jake: Holy shit, what’s Jessie doing here?

Barb: Hilarious, you go girl.

Jonathan Bernard: Wait, isn’t that woman on staff, what’s going on?

Mandy: Yeah, I knew it.

Kim: This is my worst nightmare!

Then Sergio turns, and I see his wheels turning. But the guy with the normal video cam turns toward us too, and I step forward to shake hands with Sergio, just as Sunil and the hot chicks did. “Jessica,” I tell him, peppy and pert. “I’m between jobs just now, and got dragged into this by my friend Scott here.”

Scott steps up for a handshake with Sergio and then Dr. Bernard, who’s still regarding me with a puzzled expression. Sergio is also wearing one of those patches that I saw on Austin, and it occurs to me that those are what we’ll all be filming with. (Pretty cool, and not so far from the Star Trek badges I’d envisioned.)

Clearly the staff has been browbeaten and/or threatened not do anything impolite or inappropriate in front of the cameras. Mandy and Jake are standing together, whispering out of the sides of their mouths, trying not to laugh, and Barb looks like she’s a few seconds or one wrong word from howling.

Bill, HAN’s director, appears to have recognized Scott too, but he comes forward and introduces himself to each of us, cool and poker faced. Well played, I must say, wouldn’t want to scuttle the thing from the start with the frantic culling of the rules that Kim no doubt intends the minute she’s safely back in the office.

Sunil knows something’s up, and so do a couple other teams, who are standing there scrutinizing us. Others ignore us, help themselves to the fruit and muffins at the rickety card table they’ve got set up to sign in the teams.

Another couple of teams approach, one an attractive 30ish straight couple, the other either a lesbian couple or very close friends with no nonsense hairstyles. Up at the cars, another youngish straight couple appear to be already engaged in their first fight. Bonus!

Scott steers me away from the peering eyeballs, likely fearing I’ll draw even more unnecessary attention to us by inappropriately mouthing off to my former colleagues. “Made with local organic fruits,” he points out, all wide eyed innocence, urging me toward the muffin table. It is Scott’s stated intention that we will just blend with the middle of the pack at first. Not give any appearance of insider info or natural smarts.

But Mandy sidles up, angling herself oddly away from me, to whisper hello. She’s got one of those shoulder patches on too, I notice. “I was pretty sure that was you,” she whispers. “But I’ve got to stay neutral. Me and Pakrit are going to be helping edit and load all the video feeds. I’m on full time for the month, so thanks.” She wiggles an unobtrusive thumbs up.

Somebody else I don’t recognize starts herding all the team pairs up toward a sturdy trailer emblazoned with MyHeart Tech logos. Austin counts us off; miraculously, all 24 players have arrived within an hour of the original starting time.

Sergio joins us. He catches my eye and smirks. I feign interest in the gear laid out before us. Most of our cohorts look too preoccupied to notice, or so I tell myself. Either interested in the tech crap or wondering, as I still am, just what possessed them to do this dumb ass thing at all. Five thousand dollars can barely house and feed a couple people for more than a month or two anymore, and I’m hard pressed to see any of us doing our loved ones proud just now.

The skinny assistant proceeds to tell us at some length about the MYHT (“mighty!”) wearable devices we will be privileged to put to use, for the first time out in so called real world applications.

Pretty damn cool, really – you just have to smooth the patch, which is about the size of sand dollar and thin, light and flexible, onto your shirt or jacket or even a cap. The adhesive is like teensy velcro, not sticky but won’t poke holes either, so you can move it around depending on what you’re wearing. Once it’s on, you just give it a command and wave your hand in front to angle the lens toward where you want it to shoot. In our case straight ahead, but a doctor, for instance, could angle it downward toward a patient. It can be set to automatically shoot a photo every 30 seconds, or you can direct it to film up to two minutes at a time, either by voice command or tapping the unit and imagining you’re Captain Janeway.

There’s a secondary patch, that will take the voice commands and also is embossed with flexible micro solar panels, which can power both systems and extend their tiny internal batteries indefinitely, in theory at least. There’s even a selfie mode, some sort of reflexive deal, done by holding out the second patch. It can also be hooked up to a wearable thingee that enables various health monitoring – steps walked, heart rate, that sort of thing. And it can be GPS enabled, useful for monitoring feeble wandering elders (or us some years down the road, I suppose).

I start to tune out a bit, as further functions are explained. Sunil and Bobby, and other of the youngish tech head types look ready to swoon in rapture. I’m like, okay, you point it and it automatically takes a picture, and it’s somebody else’s job to edit and upload. Whatever. Scott has already determined that there will be glory in photo bombing (or video bombing?) other teams’ shots, so we just need to find the camera lenses and know how to shoot cute videos of ourselves. The rest of the hot apps? Not so interested.

The instructor dude asks for questions, and a somewhat overweight, pompous looking dude, wearing I kid you not a MYHT logo t-shirt and matching logo jacket over embarrassingly too tight jeans, gives a little speech to demonstrate his intimate knowledge of the company’s amazing innovations in the form of an unrelated question. His partner is a big gal doing Nancy Reagan eyes next to him, between gloating toward the rest of us at how her man clearly is an expert on all things tech and medical. (Just not on, say, diet and personal health or what looks good on his own body type, I’m forced to conclude. Looks like Scott has lost his comic place as the smart guy who must learn he does not in fact know it all.)

My attention wanders to a little cluster of younger players who have edged rebelliously away from the gear table and are covertly comparing their own wearable devices. No one was ignorant enough to openly display a competitor’s wearable, but one of the guys whispers that he already misses his beta google glass, and he was so bummed that the technology was too far ahead of its time. Both members of the fighting couple extend their wrists to covertly show off their matching watches, android OS or something like that. Their names are Jeff and Jill, but I’ve already dubbed them Jack and Jill, and I await their inevitable tumble.

Next to me, Scott gives a nudge. They’re reviewing the rules, of which there are many, including the ban on using GPS and calling or texting people directly for help. All communication with the rest of the world is to happen via social media which also advertises the race and HAN’s work. Failure to comply or follow specific directions will mean time penalties. Since the number of judges is small, teams will be permitted to rat each out. He uses a prettier phrase, but that’s the gist. That’s just an option, Sergio cuts in to observe, since obviously teams will want to consider their alliances.

Wait, did he just basically encourage cheating? I see eyes narrowing in the young nerd section, and a general shifting of posture as people check each other out. More questions from the players. Another soft elbow from Scott. He considers himself the better diplomat between us, and he’s probably right. That or he thinks I’m getting ready to mouth off to the weight challenged dude with all the yakking, and he’s probably right about that too.

But seriously, okay, we get it. You’re a Mighty fan!

Finally, they let us know we have just 10 minutes to get what we need from our cars, eat, pee, take a final look at our texts and emails – then it’s show time. As befits the over 50 team, Scott and I shuffle off to the bathrooms as our first priority. I can’t imagine I’ve gotten much in the way of important texts or emails this morning, although I notice that Jack and Jill are each scrolling through their messages furiously.

We’ve already got our day packs, meticulously packed by Scott, so we basically stand around watching the younger people try to cope with the thought of not texting for an entire day.

“I’m relieved not to be getting messages for awhile,” says a woman standing next to me. She’s dark haired and slim, edging past 40 maybe – that’s more in her posture and tone than appearance. “I’m Sandrine, this is my husband Paul.” She has just a hint of an accent that’s intriguing. He smiles blandly.

“I’m Jessie,” I tell them. “That’s my, uh, friend Scott.”

“We’re just friends,” Scott adds, unnecessarily.

“Thought you two were old married folks, like us,” observes another middle aged guy, the only other pair who might be as old as we are.

“We’re empty nesters,” adds his wife, who clings sweetly to his arm as if to prevent him from also taking flight. “So you’re not married?”

“He’s married, just not to me,” I explain. “We’re exes.” At that, the nesters take a step backwards, as though such a thing might be catching. Fine with me, though, I don’t want to start out partnered with the old fuddy duddies.

Sandrine and Paul also edge away, introducing themselves to the attractive straight pair I’d already noticed and dubbed the hot team. The guy has that easy athletic look, like a star soccer player, and the woman has to be a former cheerleader. Nick and Tiffany, newly married, she says. I go ahead and introduce us as exes, to which Tiffany looks sweetly sad on my behalf rather than at all threatened.

As Sergio announces there’s one minute to go, the others gather around. The blonde cuties are named Amber and Britni, and are from LA. The second nerdy young guy team are Tommy and Shuhei, but they point out they are not typical geek pals in that Tommy is gay and Shuhei straight but cool.

There’s already a little rainbow alliance forming, I notice. The lesbian duo and Tommy and Shuhei pull in tight with a pair named Todd and Lenora, who announce themselves as a “flaming fabulous gay boy and his post-op trans gal pal.”

The tech heads, Sunil and Bobby, and Jack and Jill, are also clustered together, though they seem not thrilled that the chunky dude who’s MYHT’s biggest fan has joined them.

And then there’s this couple who have actually flown in from somewhere, loudly proclaiming how they’re huge Amazing Race fans and so, though they are confident of victory, they can’t wait to have a great time in Frisco. People are actively avoiding them, as much as is possible in the confined space by the gear table.

Scott is jotting down notes, and I see he has brought a paper California Almanac. “Dude, we can go online,” I whisper. “That’s so last century!”

“I’m writing down people’s names so we can keep track,” he mutters back. “And we can say where we’ve been, what we’ve done – you know how they test you at the end.”

I give a grudging nod; points for forward thinking, not to mention the optimism of thinking we’d be in the final set of players. But jeez, I know the staff will have a list of names, come on. I slip coolly back to the registration area, smiling with innocence, grabbing a last mini muffin, and then reaching over to dig into a paper folder labeled Team List for a print out. Names, occupations, cities of residence. #workingthesystem

I flash the paper at Scott, who grins maniacally then shoves it into his book. Again, a few people eye us suspiciously, but we’re all quickly distracted by none other than Jonathan Bernard himself brandishing a big green flag and announcing, “Let the race begin.”

There’s a moment of utter confusion. Race people like me and the Frisco fans expect to immediately run somewhere. But instead Austin fumbles with a sheath of papers that serve as our initial instructions, and everybody surrounds him. I sit out the fray and wait for Scott to read out the directions.

Challenge number one seems simple enough: we have to paste on our MYHT camera devices (“Mighty cams,” he says, lord help us), record a quick spot, and post it in to the HAN facebook event page. Once we’ve gotten a “like” there, Austin will hand us our next clue.

How hard can that be, right?

Turns out, kind of. I mean, Scott and I pry off the little covers and a tiny layer of plastic that allows us to paste on the devices. But there’s nothing as simple as an on/off button or, like, a little light that says it’s working.

All around us, tense and hushed exchanges, arguments about the five simple set up steps we were supposed to learn last night. People are yelling out hello, hello, and several are already on their iphones, frantically googling.

“It’s launched by voice command,” Scott mutters next to me. “This should already be working.”

Sunil and Bobby look like crazed mimes, furiously waving their hands before their chests then yelling, “hello, video mode!”

“Let’s just try recording something, say something, Jessie,” Scott says, aiming his shoulder at me.

“This is great, but just as glad I’m not a surgeon with a critical patient right now,” I reply.

“Don’t say that! Delete!”

I realize that the chunky blowhards and Jack and Jill have moved pretty far away from the rest of us in opposite directions and appear to be taking team selfies. The Asian/gay nerd team jogs out past them both.

“Dude, this voice command thing,” I hiss to Scott, “maybe it has to be set up without background noise.”

His eyes widen. “Be cool,” he mutters, and we sidle away from everybody else. Sunil notices us and follows, and so do the LA babes and Sandrine and Paul.

Once it’s quiet, it’s a pretty simple set up. We each have phrases to say to establish our voices, we provide the HAN link, and then we just have to record our clip. There actually is a very subtle light around the lens that shows when it’s recording.

I spot Jonathan Bernard standing a bit forlornly by himself, and I pull Scott over. “Tell it to record in selfie mode, and we’ll introduce Dr. Bernard.”

Scott starts to object, but realizes my brilliance, I figure. Who better to include for our intro to the HAN event facebook page? We bound over, one on either side, and Scott holds out his patch. Using his faux sportscaster voice, he introduces all three off us and encourages anyone viewing this clip to donate to HAN.

We retreat, laughing, and Scott carefully commands it to upload to the HAN page. “Take a picture or something, so you can command yours to the page too, while it’s still quiet,” he tells me.

Good thinking. As I do so, I can see Mandy and Austin and the new intern springing into action on their laptops. Austin dashes over to the big MYHT fans and hands them a brightly colored piece of paper. They grab it and swing away from anyone who might think to read over their shoulders.

A moment later, Mandy’s giving thumbs up and pointing, and Jack and Jill and team diversity get their clues. Those four briefly caucus, and then scramble up the hill and away down JFK Drive on the run.

Team blonde babe pose like models but then immediately hunker down over their phones. A few minutes later, young Austin approaches them, all goofy and self-conscious. One of them kind of fake flirts, like it’s part of her job, while the other grabs the clue.

“We need a like on facebook,” I moan to Scott. “Nobody I know pays that much attention to my random posts, crap.”

“I bribed Max; he promised he’d be on it this morning,” he whispers back, tapping his forehead. “I thought this through.”

Sure enough, Austin jogs over with clues for us and team straight nerd.

What does it mean, exact change? it begins. Hope you’ve got yours! We’re launching from Golden Gate Park, just like they did, and you’ll be using that mode of transit today. Travel to the place named for the 20th century’s version of the Federation of Planets. Once there, locate the 4 pillars amongst the market stalls. Choose one and post a 60 second clip with a compelling person’s story about it. Load it and then receive your next clue.

Corner of my eye, I see the hot soccer dude and cheerleader shoot past us at a run.

“Let’s go,” I tell Scott. “This is obviously a reference to Spock talking about Muni from The Voyage Home. Federation would be UN, bet it’s UN Plaza.”

Scott raises a Vulcan-like brow: skeptical but he knows I know my Star Trek. Sunil is close enough to overhear me, but I’m more bothered by how many of them are ahead of us. “These are geocache coordinates,” he announces to us and his partner Bobby, as we start jogging toward JFK Drive. “It’s Civic Center.”

I didn’t even notice, but there are tiny numbers at the bottom.

“Should we go that way, catch the N?” Scott asks.

“Are you kidding, haven’t you been to Hardly Strictly? We’re much closer to Fulton. Jeez, slow down.”

We catch up to Amber and Britni, and now six of us jog along together. Bobby and Scott dart ahead as Fulton Street comes into sight. “There’s a bus coming,” Scott calls back.

Mr. & Mrs. MYHT are there at the stop, but not the others. “We just missed the other bus,” he grouses. “Excuse us for not being track stars.”

Sandrine and Paul dash up just as the bus arrives, and we all climb aboard. The LA girls, I notice, are savvy enough to have Clipper cards while the MYHT fans do indeed fumble with exact change. It’s fairly full, but not completely packed – it’s a little after rush hour. That reminds me, the Balboa runs an express bus, and I hang back casually near the driver. As the others move back, I ask where I can catch the 31 Express, and he says he’ll call out the stop. Just for fun, I tap my camera to snap a shot of him, a patient, cheerful dude, first person to help us out today.

It’s two blocks away, but faster once you’re on it. I whisper my plan to Scott. But when our driver sings out the stop, all the other teams follow us back off the bus at 12th Ave. All but the MYHT man and gal; I see his wide frowny face in the window as the bus pulls away.

More running, with Bobby and one of the blondes now leading the pack and snagging the Express bus for the rest of us. I’m pretty much the slowest runner, looks like, although our new friends Sandrine and Paul are at least as much out of breath. We push toward the back of the bus, where there’s at least more standing room. I wonder if I look enough like I’m having a coronary for someone to offer me a seat, but apparently not.

The bus zips past the other stops. Squeezed together as we are, we chat a little amongst ourselves. Scott admits to our nonprofit connections as a foundation officer on sabbatical and former food security communications staffer, thus our interest in the issue. Sandrine and Paul both work in the medical field. She’s a nurse practitioner who partners with colleagues in developing countries and actually hopes to put the new technology to use. Sunil and Bobby, as anyone could have guessed, are techies, fairly new transplants here and looking for job cred. The blondes are both looking for career lifts too, but for their careers as models or Reality TV anchors or things like that.

The driver announces our next stop as Montgomery Street. “Don’t we need to get off at Civic?” Scott asks me.

Crap. Crap crap – all the players are looking at me. Glaring. Okay, my idea, but nobody said you had to come to, right?

No other choice, I turn to Amber and Britni. “You’re from out of town, you didn’t know. Come on. What street do we need?”

Scott’s got his iphone out, squinting. “Where we turn on Turk,” he says. I lead the girls, and we all start squeezing our way past annoyed looking commuters.

The LA girls work their magic on the driver, who barely tries to object when the rest of us shove out the door after them at the unsanctioned stop.

We hurry toward Civic Center Plaza as a group; my having worked down here definitely in my favor, comfort-wise, since everybody else is looking around at the shoddy street people with varying degrees of unease. Amber is attracting a bit of attention, which I guess she’s used to, and it prevents her from running off ahead of us. You owe us for getting you off that stupid bus, her eyes tell me.

“It says look for the pillars?” I ask Scott. “That’s got to be the WHO food security pillars, food availability, food access, and food use. And there’s a fourth one, I should know this.”

While I’m trying to remember, my new colleagues are managing to both trot faster and look up the info online: stability over time.

“Look among the stalls, what stalls?” says Sunil, as we stride toward the plaza.

“There’s a farmers’ market, right?” asks Sandrine.

“They’d only be setting up around now, see those trucks?” I grind to a halt, leaning forward for second to catch my breath.

There’s a swarm of activity around us – late commuters, well dressed and hustling toward offices, people setting up for the market, and farther away, other sales stalls. Plus random locals of both the mellow and belligerent variety, and a few dazed looking tourists, clutching brand new SF sweat shirts and looking for familiar landmarks. Beyond the plaza, out of place looking palms, the solid, dignified state and federal buildings, and the bright dome of City Hall.

The group stays clumped together until Sandrine points out a funny little cardboard tube looking thing with a green flag on it, next to a berry stall. “Could that be a pillar?”

En masse, we discover that the flag reads “FOOD ACCESS” and we dutifully snap and post pictures of it. Somebody else from the office must be lurking nearby, though I don’t spot anyone I know. Except for, look out, the 5 Fulton bus disgorging our competitors, looking fresh from not having arrived on the run.

“Ohmigod, the first bus came right here, we didn’t need to, like, run through the slum?” exclaims Britni.

“They were five minutes ahead of us! Now we’re even!” I quickly defend myself, glad nobody points out that all the running hasn’t done much for our relative energy levels. Plus they see us and the pathetic little Food Access pillar right away.

I try to pop myself into Jack and Jill’s picture, earning a glare and a squeal. But Scott takes my arm and pulls me like a recalcitrant child away from the others. He reminds me that he has, as per our plan, actually read the clue and we don’t need pictures right now, but a 60 second clip of a compelling and illustrative person’s story. “You already know the pillars, so we need to maybe interview somebody about being hungry or something.”

“Okay, let go already.” I squint out at the crowd. Most of the other teams have gathered at the little Food Availability pillar, although I don’t see Sandrine and Paul anymore. “Well, access is an obvious one here, right – you can have plenty of food but if poor people can’t get to it they’re still food insecure. This market serves a lot of people who live nearby, who might not have cars… look around for somebody old, who might remember when it wasn’t here. Old, but photogenic. And fluent in English.”

Scott starts to speak, then clamps his mouth closed. Useless to call me out on political incorrectness at this point, he must figure. “You could give that little speech again, with a little more detail, it actually wasn’t bad.”

“Gee, thanks. Then you do the interviewing, you can charm some old lady.”

It takes some asks – good thing neither of us are shy about approaching random strangers – but we find a big chatty lady who’s willing to be filmed raving about how she loves walking to the farmers market and how when she was raising her kids in the Bayview it was so hard because they had to take two buses just to get fresh vegetables and who has that kind of time between work and monitoring the kids’ homework, and don’t the fresh fruits just smell amazing .

Scott turns to me, and I reel off my Food Access factoids while she stands there beaming and murmuring um hmm. We retreat back away from the crowds while he replays the clip for me. It’s not bad for spur of the moment – the kind of thing somebody might just post on facebook for their friends. I’m feeling genius for a moment, until I realize we forgot to mention anything about HAN. But he grafts on a quick final comment, and we’re good to go.

I scan the market for the other teams, but the only ones close by are Amber and Britni, whom I suspect are fabulous at interviewing people but maybe not so clear on the concepts of the four pillars.

Minutes tick by, and Scott is impatient. “Do you see anybody else, or anybody from HAN? How are we supposed to know what to do?”

“Dude, chill, we’re on nonprofit time. They’ve probably got poor Mandy having to review and fact check each one before she uploads it or something.”

Sure enough, it takes a few more minutes, during which we entertain ourselves by spying on other team’s video efforts. Then our next clue arrives via text, dinging both our phones.

Looks like we’ll be partnering with the Glide meal program for awhile. We are to see the coordinator’s helper, who will give us each a bag to load with remainder items, and haul over to Glide. Then the first four teams will help with preparation, the next four with serving and the last four with clean up. But everybody has to post an interview with a Glide service volunteer after the meal, so that basically puts the brakes on the prep people, and evens out at least eight of us. Classic TAR move, I note.

Scott locates the guy who’s handing out the food bags – easy enough, since several of our competitors are grouped there, demanding bags faster than he can dole them out. And the guy is not going to be rushed either; he’s got one job – one job – and even if it’s handing out empty bags, he’s going to do it as if they’re the last bags he’ll ever let go of.

“Look, the rainbow alliance is just getting here.” I point out the young lesbians and the fab/trans pair, who are hurrying towards us, coming from the opposite direction.

Todd flags down the assemblage. “We took the N. Do not take the N. Ever. Just tell us where the damn clues are.”

Nick and Tiffany, the hot team, take pity on them and point them out. “Are you the last ones? Anybody seen those guys that love The Amazing Race?”

“Oh my God, so pathetic, them and those other, sorry, older people? Nobody was liking them on facebook, and it didn’t even occur to them to like each other!” He dashes away.

Scott hands me a bag, and I stumble along behind several others. Fine to follow the pack at this point. If I could see better, I’d get out my phone and like those other peoples’ posts – better to keep them in and see if we can shake off some of these more able competitors.

“It’s going to be heavy,” Scott tells me, “and these are not sturdy bags. But I think we’d need two busses. It’s Ellis and Taylor, what’s that, five blocks? Can you carry stuff that far?”

I step up beside him to the loading dock. Food that would otherwise go to waste gets stored up, donated for Glide’s free meal program. It’s a great thing, but I’m pretty sure they’d normally just drive the delivery truck over there, jeez.

“Come on,” Sunil instructs Bobby. He hefts his big bag up with both arms. “No problem. Just watch for other teams using Uber.”

The hotties are right there with them, having smartly grabbed a bunch of lettuce, clearly the lightest produce available.

“I’m okay. We can rest if we need to,” I tell Scott.

“Eat an energy bar,” he instructs. “I’ll get these loaded.”

At least I know the streets here, and that we can shave off a little distance by going up Market. No way I’ll be running though, especially with some of our waiting colleagues now filming the collective awkwardness of us all loading up our bags.

I swallow another bite, surprised at how hungry I am – that’s what running around instead of sitting at a computer will do for you though. Being hungry reminds me of the point, the pillars and the donations to Glide and everything, so I also take a quick video of Scott and the LA girls loading up the food, and narrate about how great the Glide program is for tackling immediate needs.

Looks like our colleagues have also decided to forgo the bus and haul ass, which does not work in our favor. But we just have need to be amongst the first 8 teams to get there though, hopefully.

Scott manages a zen like patience with my slow pace, even as we can see several of the others hustling away ahead of us. He’s given me the lighter bag, but it’s damn heavy after a couple blocks. We both pause, set them down, rest a few moments. Two panting dofuses with bags of vegetables barely garner a glance down here. This part of the Tenderloin is scuzzy, the sidewalk dank, but it’s well populated.

Amber and Britni come up behind us and are generating quite a bit more buzz. They’re struggling with their bags even more than I am, I’m proud to note.

“This is stupid. We should be able to take a car.”

“Pretend it’s a workout,” I helpfully suggest.

No answer beyond eye rolls.

“We need a frigging cart or something, like those guys at the market had.” The girls look at each other, and then at us. There are carts galore around here, although most are stolen from supermarkets and already commandeered by homeless people.

“Do you think that’s within the rules?” Scott says.

“Who’s going to know, I won’t tell,” I answer. “Plus I bet a lot of these guys go to Glide anyway.”

And so the four of us gain temporary custody of this dude’s cart for a mere $5 donation along with the privilege of accompanying us and thinking of dozens of ways to say how much he likes long legs and yellow hair. It’s a must faster journey on wheels, for sure. Just to be safe, we unload and walk the last quarter block.

Gaining entrance through the back to the big Glide kitchen, it’s another scene of barely organized chaos. A world weary coordinator checks us in; he’s used to all kinds of crazy shit from corporate volunteer groups. HAN’s coordinator dude Austin is there too, caffeinated to the gills, looks like, and buzzing with delight at how well it’s going so far. Yeah, half way through the first day, don’t count your chickens, big guy.

Four teams have already beaten us, so we can rest after we deliver our bags, as we will be donning serving aprons and getting some face time with the clients. “That could be good, we can get better stories that way,” I suggest, to further eye rolls.

Sunil and Bobby, already at work chopping vegetables, mosey over for some flirt time with Amber and Britni. “Dig it,” Sunil tells us, “I got pictures of those guys getting out of a cab.” He points to the MYHT man, who is working his paring knife as if he’s never set foot in a kitchen before.

Scott and I hunt out bathrooms again. Wasn’t that one of my notes, I try to recall? I mean, how awkward if somebody representing HAN got caught publicly peeing just like a regular homeless person because they didn’t provide facilities.

Amber and Britni look about as far out of place as imaginable as we strap on our serving aprons and get the spiel about dos and don’ts in the serving line. They’re being so gracious about it though, I can’t even bring myself to tease them. I guess they figure even Miss America has to do shit like this sometimes, and look pretty doing it. Instead, I suggest that we film each other setting up and saying nice things about the Mighty Cams. Couldn’t hurt to kiss up to the sponsors, right? And I have a good feeling that nosing in on vids of people easy on the eyeballs may get us bounced up a little higher on the facebook feed too.

 

 

The next hours whiz by. Scott and I, the girls, Sandrine and Paul, and Tommy and Shuhei are allowed just one late five minute break to wolf down our own lunches between dishing up mounds of food for a seemingly endless line of hungry folks. Mostly, I’m focussed on efficiency and not keeling over from my own hunger before I get myself fed. But being here does drive it home, in a way I hadn’t thought about for a long time – the problem of actual impoverished people and hunger is a big one, but full of a thousand individual stories.

The majority of people just grab their food, maybe mutter thanks or give a quick nod. But some of them are genuinely, humbly thankful, and make full, warm eye contact. It feels pretty damn good, I have to say. Fellow servers, regular volunteers here concur – everyone I talk to says in some way that they get as much out of their volunteer jobs as the clients they feed do.

When the line slows, I take a moment to walk through the main dining room, which is truly a sight to behold. I mean, if space aliens landed, and you wanted to show them the glorious diversity of all humankind, bring ‘em to Glide. It’s mostly loud, crowded, and filled with the smells of the food as well as the unwashed. But there are little pockets of grace. Silent prayers, joyful children, people who need help themselves helping those who need it more.

Scott reels me back from my what’s-it-all-about musing to get our next task done, interviewing a Glide volunteer. Easy enough – we’ve already honed in on this man we were working beside, a reformed addict who used to eat here and now gives back by volunteering. I’ve just got to keep the ridiculous tears out of my eyes when I ask him about his story for our clip. #staycynicaljessie

We’re stuck waiting again. The rainbow alliance are elbow deep in dishes at the big industrial sized sink. The last two teams have only just arrived, and been assigned a clearly make-work task of wiping down the already clean tables.

Back in the volunteer area, several racers cluster around Austin, who’s looking tense, phone pressed to one ear, hand clamped over the other. Presumably waiting for someone to let him know when our next set of videos have been okayed.

“Check the nextbus app for the 38 and the 31,” I whisper to Scott. “I bet we’re just going back to the park after this.”

“No expresses until 4 o’clock. The 38 is closer here but two blocks farther out there,” he mumbles.

“But the 38 Rapid is faster. Trust me.”

He looks skeptical, which I can understand, given the earlier adventure. But a commotion distracts us: Austin passing out flyers to all the teams in sight. Except for the clean up crew, of course.

The next clue is a silly riddle, another reference to the Star Trek movie set in SF. Last line asks about whom it was whispered “did too much LDS in the 60s.” We just have to text the answer correctly and then return to the park. Well, I know it’s Spock right away, and even if you didn’t remember Kirk’s amusing line, who else would it be? But it’s funny to see which of us are visited with instant knowledge and who has to start googling.

Sunil knows, of course, and Jack of Jack and Jill. Also hot dude, Nick, a little surprising. And Paul – well, he and Sandrine probably remember when the movie came out. We all get our okay texts right away, and beat a hasty retreat. But, remembering their help and also thinking I’d rather be in a footrace with them than the other boy nerds, I turn and whisper the answer to Amber. Call us even, okay?

The day’s end in sight, I don’t even object to following Scott at a bouncing jog towards Geary, waving to random people on the sidewalk as we dart past. The teams appear to have split between here and going south towards the Balboa, or even the 5 Fulton buses. (Or possibly taking a taxi? But the clue was pretty clear, time penalties and all that.)

The Geary busses are frequent, and Jack and Jill and Tommy and Shuhei hop right on the first one that comes. Tiffany starts to follow, but Nick, who’s right beside me and also reading the little digital message of what’s coming, holds her back. “Stay there, pretend you’re getting your clipper card or something,” he says, letting some other people on the bus.

Scott and I do the same, and Sandrine and Paul join us, looking puzzled as to why we’re not getting on the bus. I feel like one of those Amazing Racers who’s done a semester in India when everybody else is confused by the crowds and crazy traffic. Anyone who rides Muni regularly knows to wait for the Geary Rapid bus.

Three minutes later, we’re rewarded, though the bus is also plenty crowded. But we zoom past the first bus right after we make it past the congested area downtown. Then it’s just a matter of waiting and not screaming at the myriad people who block the doors or take forever to board. We debate which stop will give us quickest access to the check in place in the park. Be funny if they moved it, I suggest. But surely they’d hint about that on the clue – plus, I bet they needed permits to hold the space all day, no way Kim would approve fees for two different spots.

Finally, out on Geary, another footrace. I’m not even going to try at this point – at least I know four of them are behind us on the local bus. “We don’t want to be first yet, anyway,” I tell Scott, puffing a bit even at our fast paced walking. “Don’t need targets on our backs, right?”

He mumbles something. He’s watching Nick and Tiffany jog along half a block ahead of us, followed by Sandrine and Paul. Good thing his wife Heather is not witnessing the way he’s lusting after those speedier ladies just now. Why’d my wife have to refuse me and my ex be so damn slow, you can see him thinking.

The best I’ll do is hit the crosswalk late, and finish scooting across after it turns red, feeling safe in the assumption that no one will hit us after all those waivers we signed. Finally, into the park, the lush grass and trees a refreshing change from the press of humanity at the lunch and on the bus.

Far in the distance, I can see the big banner still out, the trailer, and our cars. Several people down there, the first two teams no doubt amongst them. Then yelling, and elephant sounding stomping behind us: Sunil and Bobby come flying past.

“Are you kidding me, how’d they do that?”

Scott has no reply, but takes off at a run behind them. I hustle along, bringing up the rear as per usual. Except that I am shortly passed by Shuhei and Tommy, who must have run all the way from Geary. Damn, to be 25 again.

We’re all gasping and wheezing as we reach the flag, the trailer, and Sergio and his assistants, who are pretty much laughing right at us. Also young Austin again – clearly he’s not been limited to Muni busses. Jack and Jill show up shortly after us, Amber and Britni not far behind them. A few minutes later, team MYHT man come into view. A nice tight finish, I can’t help but note, although the four clean up teams are probably 30 minutes or so in the rear.

“Stand by for time points and penalties,” Austin blares into an old fashioned megaphone.

I nudge Scott. “They couldn’t add a megaphone mode to the mighty patch?”

He shushes me.

The first time penalty, for Team MYHT taking a cab, is greeted with hoots and cheers. Everything else is time points – only 5 minutes a pop, but every bit counts I guess. Scott and I win the best food pillar story, who hoo! But there are several other equal time awards – team blonde for the best volunteer clip and for most hits on their facebook posts, Sandrine and Paul for most relevant commentary on using the Mighty Cams, and Sunil and Bobby creativity points for their hilarious rendition of the Star Trek movie scene where Mr. Scott tries to talk into a Mac mouse, circa 1986.

Team MYHT dude looks about to pop a vein over not getting points for his Mighty Cam commentary, never mind none of us knew we could get points that way. Everybody else, the fast runners especially, look pretty annoyed that nobody gave points for, like, being in good shape and running fast.

We all hang around chatting and comparing notes in a weird state of chaos and anticipation. Sergio and Austin confer briefly, then apologize that neither the race mat nor Jonathan Bernard are available today, but the rest of the time, we’ll be welcomed with better fanfare. Then Austin says it’s okay for everybody to go home. He will be texting us tomorrow’s instructions and our start times tomorrow morning; we can arrive as early as we care to, but won’t be allowed to enter the next segment of the race until our designated starts. We should, of course, check the HAN facebook and twitter feeds, and drive traffic there – the more people following, the better.

It’s been a long and tiring day – and yet, it feels like an adventure just beginning, anti-climactic to just go home and go online.

 

 

 

Chapter 6

So Much Effort

 

Despite being tired, my mood becomes more wired after Scott drops me off. Like I want to keep going, keep hanging with those funny new people, competing further. I know this side of me bums out my quieter friends – once I’ve been around high energy people for awhile, I don’t want to leave. I’ve yet to have a boyfriend who didn’t consistently want to leave any party or gathering before I did.

Well, thank God for the burrito place, jammed wall to wall with the noisy dinner rush. And the internet. I was too busy to load much during the day, but I did take some decent pictures. Gotta admit, the quality of those little units is good. Doesn’t matter if you’re in motion, it focuses anyway. I tweet out some mildly amusing and self deprecating commentary, and post just the best pix on facebook, along with links to the HAN page. Don’t want to overwhelm people, just generate some traffic.

Mandy and co. appear to maybe need a heavier hand editing, because the HAN page is loaded down with all of our stuff. They’ve got a whole smattering of it on the home page and quantities more on the stand alone race page. I mean, it’s fun for me, since I was there and everything. But rest of the world? Hope they really adore one of us racers or there is way TMI.

I suppose that’s partly a factor of it being the start – if we lose a team a day, it’ll be better next week, right. I scroll to our interview with the Food Access pillar lady. It did come out pretty well; I try to sound modest in commenting how lucky we were to find someone so charismatic. There aren’t tons of likes or comments, but at least one totally random stranger has already gushed about the clip. Not too shabby.

They’ve got a nice set up with a separate area just to introduce the teams. Scott ended up with the paper list, but there are first names and cutesy head shots for each of us. Mine is blurred, in motion, mostly hair, with Scott looking sternly after me, from the original material Scott sent in. Clever points to Scott, I have to say; I barely recognize me.

But oh lookie, each team has a little introductory video clip. The second I see the still for “Scott and Jessica, exes from San Francisco,” I know what’s coming. Damn you Austin and your Mighty Cam! It’s Scott tugging and exclaiming over my hennaed hair, and me freaking out about not wanting to look old on facebook, him chortling and me stalking away.

No surprise: amongst my various friends who have bothered to look at this stuff at all, this is the only thing that’s garnered many comments. At least it’s gentle ribbing, or that’s how I choose to interpret. (“You’re only as old as you act, so no worries!” type of thing.) Plus assorted likes from people who pretty much “like” anything. Anyway, I don’t look completely awful. Let’s just be glad no one was filming when we ran up at the end; I’m pretty sure my hair at that point would have scared small children.

I’m hesitant to comment on material from other players – pretty sure there will be points for those that generate the most interest and thus traffic to HAN. But I can’t help obsessively reviewing everybody’s material. Amber and Britni really did a nice job with the Glide volunteer; by the time they’re all hugging and the table behind them is cheering, no one has a dry eye, myself included.

Todd and Lenora have a decently informative clip about food use – apparently Lenora learned all about nutrition and interactions with the endocrine system and everything during her transition, and was completely won over to healthy organics from then on. Interesting, I guess I would have pegged them as on the tech side.

Couldn’t help but notice that racers divide pretty neatly between the new and old San Francisco. There are the techies like Jack and Jill, Sunil and Bobby – younger people, mostly guys, who are new to the area and came here for Silicon Valley, who would probably be just as happy in any similar Silicon whatever, who live online. And whose focus is on the devices, on design and software and more importantly making money off that side of things. Versus the people like me and Scott, Sandrine and Paul, the lesbian grad students who are both focussed on international poverty issues. Issue people, I guess is how I’d classify us. Lenora too, it seems. Interested in food security or health issues, longer time Bay Area people who remember the place before it was overrun by the google bus world.

Well, I should talk. My brilliant career at this point would be up a creek without all things tech. For all my high minded posturing during the day, Scott was right to call this whole thing foremost a resume builder. I’m the go to gal for getting nonprofits noticed on social media. Or so I’ll be telling people when this is all over and I hunker down for the job hunt.

 

 

All that running around makes for a decent night’s sleep, unexpected bonus points. Morning breaks and I bounce up, ready to start the day before I even need to, as we’re to depart from some random farm gate in the East Bay at precisely 10:17. Austin has texted us this much, and Scott’s already followed with his proposed departure time to avoid rush hour but get there with a window just in case we get lost. He arrives promptly, as always; my minor annoyance at his boy scout habits are tempered by the relief that it’s not something I have to put up with on a daily basis. Notwithstanding this particular week.

Friends I texted last night have gotten back to me, mostly some variation of what asinine thing are you going on about now, Jessie, some of us have real jobs.

Well, too damn bad. It would be humiliating to be eliminated this early; we need the online comments and chatter and hopefully a few bucks coming HAN’s way. Feeling like a bratty kid, my messages back all basically say Look At Me. Got plenty of time to write them, since it takes awhile to reach our rather rural destination.

Scott spends a good chunk of that time stressing on how far the Leaf will go without a recharge. It should be good for 100 miles, and our first stop is within 45, assuming we don’t have to backtrack. He has this cool little solar unit that will pump it up in a pinch, assuming we can park somewhere safe and sunny, it just takes awhile. Will the fog break? Will there be a bunch more miles to cover? Will evil competitors scheme against us by covering the portable panels?

I mostly tune out his free floating range anxiety. Heather must do that too; he seems fully unfazed by my lack of attention. I might as well be his teenage step-daughter, ignoring him and texting.

The GPS unit lady has more to say than I do just now, instructing him calmly and precisely, and eventually we’re routed down a bumpy two lane road on the outskirts of Brentwood.

“Don’t forget to turn that off or we’ll get docked. When did we get so that we’d just do whatever a robot lady tells us?” I ask him, jolted half out of my seat. I tuck my phone away.

“Speak for yourself. I always bring a paper map. At least she’s polite about it.”

“We as a society,” I clarify. “We who have become afraid to leave the house without a phone and GPS and the immediate access to tell the world where we are and what we’re doing. What our sandwich looks like.”

“Tell you one thing. I hope I live long enough to see Holly and Max have kids who grow up to reject all that and mock them for their old fashioned ways.” Smiling, Scott pulls slowly into a dusty lot. No worries about the solar thingee, I’d say – there’s only a bit of shade to be seen and cars already parked there.

Ubiquitous Austin is there to greet us. It seems the starting gate will be sparsely attended, but he assures all of us a proper “race mat” at the end of the day.

I’m in charge of our lunches today, and I take a moment to make sure I did indeed remember to bring the handy little cooler case in which I carefully laid sandwiches this morning. (That would be one of those ironic things funny only to me, no doubt, of it was still on my kitchen table.)

It’s fine. #notsenileyet We have fifteen minutes or so before our start time, and Scott clearly intents to spend most of them futzing with his charger unit. I pull a tube of sun block out of Scott’s bag and wander over to the others, offering squirts and commiserating on how damn hot it gets when you leave the city.

Sandrine and Paul, at least, seem to know what I’m talking about. Jack and Jill, Tommy and Shuhei, just look puzzled. New to the city, or not of the city at all. Several of the guys are watching Scott with open curiosity.

“He’s just got range anxiety,” I assure them. “Likes his toys. We’re fine.” I say this partly to throw the others off in case some later team actually does think to unhook the device. Partly as if saying it will make it so.

Our attention is distracted by Austin suddenly brandishing an oddly familiar metallic device. He thrusts a folded paper out to Team Number One!, Nick and Tiffany, who read it quickly and then trot off down the farm trail on the other side of the gate. I flash a thumbs up to Scott, that we won’t have to drive again right away.

“Is that the Arrow of Apollo?” exclaims Sunil.

Battlestar Galactica day? Should we be watching for clones amongst us?

Long minutes pass, with young Austin frowning over his watch’s digital display. He allows Sunil and Bobby to start. I whisper to Tommy and Shuhei, who’s start time is just after ours, “Do you think he could stop us of we all took off at once?”

They turn away, looking all serious, though Jack and Jill perk up as if I intend to foment revolution here and now. Sandrine and Paul go next. Amber and Britni are only just pulling up in their little rental car, and I don’t see the MYHT man at all, now that I think of it. They weren’t that far behind us, I thought.

But no more thinking: we’re up. If there’s another BG reference, it’s obscure; but the instructions are clear enough that we are to proceed on foot to the nearby barn and then sow and seed rows of greens. They don’t specify what – guess we’ll collectively be putting in different parts of the salad. I can’t think of one or another that would be easier to plant.

The point, as the somewhat longwinded instruction sheet eventually gets to, is that this farm is small, organic, anti-big corporate ag. And despite the extra people needed, it can survive, thanks to Bay Area demand for local and organic. So yay us. Plus, it’s a job creator, if you gloss over the temporary and possibly not checking paperwork nature of the jobs. The regular guys who would be doing the planting this morning are there to supervise us. Cheerful, relaxed, sun weathered, all dudes, milling around by a pair of pick ups parked under a big old willow by the barn.

One younger preppie looking guy is dressed more like the way a college student might think a farmer should look, and it turns out that he owns and oversees the farm. Having cashed out the glorious stock options of his early 20s, hankering to do “something real.” #nicelife. He welcomes us, thanks us, chats up HAN. I, of course, draw Scott and him in for quick vid, being sure to mention the farm’s name and HAN’s appreciation for such places. Now that we know there are time points, I’m all over it, you know?

Our colleagues are hunched over their rows off in the distance, like some sad Dorthea Lange photo. There’s at least a pleasant breeze here, but it is warm. We follow the prepster to a bemused looking older guy who provides the hoes and seeds and a once over of how deep to plant and how wide to space them. I suppose it would not be in keeping with the spirit of the thing to just fake it once we’re out of his visual range. Some ‘splaining to do six weeks from now when the summer squash fails to grow.

Time does not fly for the next sweaty, what ten hours? Okay, more like two. Feels longer. I’m reminded, and not in a good way, of being at work. At the tedious stuff, the droning hours in an uncomfortable chair while people discuss policy angles and fail to come to any conclusions. Just raise more questions, more possible strategies that no one can afford to implement.

Only in this case, I’m getting achy and sun burnt to boot. There are no techniques to go much faster on this task. Even taking turns with the hoeing and planting, we all have to stop for water and to stretch out our backs. So all that’s happening is everybody is in the same basic order as we started in. After awhile the later teams join in, looking none to pleased to be toiling in the nearly overhead midday sun. The only gossip I pick up is that the empty nesters came in last and are already gone. And the MYHT team got mighty lost getting here and so ended up starting the task back with Todd and Lenora, with whom they are visibly uncomfortable.

That’s so last century, I mutter to Scott, taking a water break and watching the two hefties – sweating it out in non-logo t-shirts today – pull away from Lenora as though fearing cooties. It’s kind of funny who’s friendly with whom, it strikes me, turning back to our task, trying not to let Scott get too far ahead. You might expect Todd and Tommy to click, both being young gay guys, but no. Tommy told us yesterday he thinks Todd is too flamboyant and probably dumber than rocks. Todd has already mouthed off about how tastelessly most of us dress and how all our videos will be pathetic as a result. He’s got a point – none of the young nerds will be scoring fashion points at the race mat this afternoon.

Or you might think the two teams of young women would bond. But Amber and Britni, while vacuously bubbly toward everybody, seem to have zero interest in the only other team without a penis. For that matter, Scott and I have common ground with the grad students, the interest in hunger and poverty issues, but I can’t even remember their names. One of them is Madison, but it’s a coin toss to me which one’s which.

As we both approach our respective row ends, I tell them both that they’re doing great, and that it will get easier. One of them mumbles thanks, but nobody stops to chat about how climate change might worsen the drought situations both here and in Africa. Frankly, they both look pretty pissed off to be doing manual labor even in the service of local organics. Probably thought with all the talking head philosophical stuff on the HAN website, they’d be out in front via their brainpower and progressive ideas.

I wave Scott over next time we reach the shade tree. Water and an energy bar; nobody is moving very fast that we’ll miss a couple minutes. Hope none of us get heat stroke. I don’t see Austin, but I bet he’s a far cry less peppy than he was this time yesterday. Shit, man, so am I. This whole thing is turning out like a classic Jessie Morgan scheme – wild and wacky, exciting and promising at first, then flaming out in the details. Becoming a worthless slog. All these people suffering through this because of me (and I need to be damn sure they don’t pin this thing on me).

Plus, I’m pretty sure it’s not generating much in the way of extra publicity for HAN. Maybe a tiny bit, and maybe that’s the most we could have hoped for. But it’s like life, you know? So much effort for such little bursts of the good stuff.

At last, we run out of rows and seeds, and I get a break from my internal browbeating. Scott consults the instructions that he managed also not to lose, and so we learn that our next task involves a choice, coyly labeled Gemenon, Tauron or Caprica. Gemenon is flat out selling produce at one of their stands for exactly two hours (plus whatever travel time to find the place). Tauron takes place right here, the fittingly earthy task of hauling and spreading all natural manure on another section of the farm – a set amount rather than any time restriction. And Caprica is convincing a store anywhere in the county to stock any of the farm’s produce, even a single herb or vegetable. This can be done in person, by phone, whatever, in as little or much time as needed. Whatever task we choose, we must post a video explaining our “strategy” as well as at least one candid of another team in action.

We post a couple photos of our freshly planted field, and then hustle our way back to the cars. Cold water and sandwiches await, and we can commence our friendly discussion of options in the shade. Sadly that also provides the other teams – we’re all wrapping up in a cluster, just as we started – the opportunity to eavesdrop as our conversation degenerates. They can learn, in case it needed learning, why I’m the problem child in an adult relationship. We quickly rule out working the stand, but I argue for the manure task, while Scott says obviously we’d do better at convincing a store manager to stock an organic item.

“Dude, that would be driving, finding places. And what kind of store manager would just say sure based on some random people walking in, not even affiliated with the farm? This is so doomed for failure.”

“We’d use the cams,” Scott answers in a low hiss. “Any mom and pop owner would jump for the free PR.”

“After they call the cops to report degenerates on their property! Look at us, all sweaty, we’re primed for poo.”

Back and forth we go as the people with more together relationships choose up and move out. What convinces me is Scott, none to politely, pointing out that I’d clearly be the weak link in another physical task. Especially seeing that Nick and Tiffany have already gotten a lead on the job and they are young, strong, fast. I give in, but not without warning him that I’ll have the last laugh if we end up back here anyway. I’ll admit I’m also envisioning us posting videos of mucking in manure next to team hot, and just how bad I’d look in contrast.

There are brochures and even a some fine looking samples of newly picked herbs for us to take. Sandrine and Paul are heading out, samples in hand.

Sandrine pauses, calling back, “Sunil and Bobby are headed to the nearest internet café to find a likely store online. They seem to think they can convince someone without even having a conversation.”

“That or find out who’s already stocking their stuff,” I suggest. “Where are you headed? Just so we can take videos of each other.”

She kind of shrugs. Paul’s already revving the engine and off they whiz, dust raised behind them.

“It’s an advantage to be front of the pack,” Scott says, all serious now. “Let’s go to a small place, Lafayette, or Orinda, they’ve got small markets there. Too bad we can’t try Berkeley.”

“Wait, what about filming another team in action?”

He points out that any team will do, several are ahead of us now thanks to my stubbornness, and they list the locations of the produce stands. The closest one is right here in Brentwood. Sure enough, a quick drive leads us to Amber and Britni, relaxing in the shade of the stand’s precious little umbrella, windswept, surrounded by luscious looking early harvest berries. Apparently their selling technique will involve the old bend and snap, I figure, as Britni bounces up at the sight of our car.

She tells us we’re too late, the boys already filmed them. Scott breaks in before I can tell them they’re idiots and politely points out that multiple vids of them will actually work in their favor. Coming from him, they seem okay with the concept, and talk up how much they love interacting with the public. And berries. I suggest, off camera, that they may both be “number sixes,” hoping for Battlestar reference points. Before I can suggest they seductively eat one for us, Scott strong arms me back to the car.

It degenerates further from there. We google map the whole Lamorinda area and must hit up ten, fifteen little stores within. It’s not that I want to be right about this so much. Well, okay, it’s a little satisfying actually. That store owners are nowhere to be found, managers can’t make decisions, we’re greeted with suspicion rather than camaraderie.

By the time we’re past two hours, and so assuredly behind everybody who chose to work the fruit stands, I’m no longer really into the idea of laughing as we head back to spread manure. We haven’t even done our “strategy” clip, and I decide we should take another approach.

What’s gotten me out of every sort of jam in the rest of my life? Faking it, and bullshit, really. “Let’s go someplace bigger,” I suggest. “And not ask outright. Let’s make it more like we’re checking them out. Like we’re deciding if they’re good enough to stock our damn organic herbs.”

Like a crazy freaking miracle, this works. I only wish someone else caught it on camera, us turning away all snooty while an apron clad low level assistant chased us down to ask for a trial run. Instead, we mention using the fine quality of the product as our selling strategy. #shouldadonethemanure

At last, a quick clip of our signed agreement with the little dude, and we get a text with our next instructions. “Race mat” at the Walnut Creek BART station, just a quick jaunt away, parking available.

Scott drives as fast as his range anxiety will let him and we haul ass out of the car. OMG, they actually have a HAN race mat. And Jonathan Bernard, looking ever earnest is there, Austin like a bouncing puppy beside him. No other teams in sight. I’m suddenly relating to every TAR contestant I’ve seen who has no clue what place they’re in; it’s a crazy feeling, breathless anticipation. We stand there, panting.

Jonathan Bernard taps his MYHT device, and announces, “Congratulations, team number eight!”

Seeing as we’re being filmed, I offer Scott up a fake enthusiastic high five. He responds, equally falsely, but at least we look okay. Back off the “mat,” Dr. Bernard returns to texting on his phone as Austin explains our options. They’ve reserved camping spots in Vacaville, which is where we’ll start off early tomorrow morning. Of course we’re also welcome to drive home and come back, or get put up by a friend or even a stranger who’s following us on facebook or twitter.

Well, driving home and back is out what with the recharging issue, and it’s pretty much a joke that we’d have random locals opening up their guest rooms. What has my attention is the early morning start. We’ll be starting out at a community hospital, and all the participants must arrive together. This is like when everybody has to catch the same flight from Bombay to Sweden or something, and it catches the slower teams back up. Only the idiots who book through the wrong connecting cities get left behind. In this case, maybe those who hit rush hour traffic?

Off to the campground we go. Scott’s dour mood lightens upon learning we’ll have a power outlet for his car and our phones there, and showers. And that being close to the bottom doesn’t matter if we all start together tomorrow.

So it’s like old home week at camp tackyville. It’s basically an RV park in a Eucalyptus grove, so not exactly an environmentalist’s dream, but oh, does showering make everything look better. Cleaned up and getting dinners started on the camp stove, we’re all a bunch of buddies again.

The scuttlebutt is that team Vegas got so far behind that they just gave up, didn’t even complete the tasks. For all their talk, you’d think they could have stuck around to be artificially brought back into contention, but no. That leaves me and Scott as officially the O.G.s of the adventure. Paul and Sandrine, chilling in their awesome brand new looking tent, are the only ones who might even vaguely remember the touchstones of my youth.

So we don’t exactly sit around singing campfire songs, but food and booze are swapped. Scott, of course, has brought little extras like cooking oil and spices that he’s happy to share, plus he and I hardly want to set the gossip mill aflame by going into our tent or basically being anywhere else just the two of us in private. And so we check in kind of pair by pair.

Pick up that Nick and Tiffany came in first again, and Tommy and Shuhei, also on the manure challenge, were second (I was right about the damn manure, I attempt to tell Scott via my raised eyebrows). Amber and Britni, Madison and what’s her name, and Todd and Lenora all did the fruit stands and finished in that order. And Sunil apparently worked an actual contact via social media to beat the rest of us on the stock an item challenge. Sandrine and Paul had about the same process as we did, and only beat us by a half hour or so. But Jack and Jill ended up unable to find any stores and came back to the manure, putting them later than we were. Team MYHT too, and those of us at the end missed the awarding of time prizes, that – not surprisingly – none of us won.

Sated with a decently tasty meal off the camp stove, pleasantly tired and a bit drunk, we eventually all hit the tents. Scott’s is a family deal, almost as big as my apartment, so no worries that we’ll accidentally cuddle in the night or anything. Just the same, I post a picture of it, our sleeping bags yards apart, his fancy ass air mattress and everything.

The night is warm here, and quiet and still, although we’re fairly close to a highway. Jack and Jill have been sniping at each other, their shrill voices carrying from the bathrooms near where we staked our spot. Scott has a lengthy whispered conversation with Heather outside the tent, then finally returns to arrange himself on his cushy bed. “She says she would have enjoyed seeing pictures of me shoveling shit,” he tells me.

“Likewise, I’m sure.”

“And she’s glad we didn’t get eliminated even though she hopes I’ll be home over the weekend. Mostly she’s glad she’s not doing any of this.”

“Well, my boyfriend, if I had one, would be a lot more supportive,” I reply.

He laughs politely. Is gracious enough not to inquire, to bring up just how long it’s been since I’ve had a steady man for a period measured even in months rather than weeks. Or maybe he’s just afraid of the rant I’d go on if the subject were broached.

 

 

No worries about oversleeping at camp too-close-to-the-road. Large trucks are rolling before dawn, and the sun’s on its way up wickedly early. Morning air is cool for the menopausal, too chilly for the skinny gals. Bleary eyed, we all try to ignore each other in the cramped quarters of the women’s bathroom.

Scott might as well be wearing a scoutmaster’s cap; he’s up and dressed and all full of efficiency and instructions. I’m gracious enough – barely – not to suggest there may be more than one reason why his step-kids don’t want to camp with him anymore. I just grab and unclip and fold stuff per his cheerfully barked commands. Take heart that at least we’re not squabbling openly like Jack and Jill. Or obviously flummoxed by the simple mechanics of taking down a tent, or baby tired like our young nerd contingent. Bobby, cute as he might be in the light of the day, looks like he’s coming off heroin, being awake this early.

But somehow we manage to all get ourselves upright and packed out and over to the community hospital for our 7:00 AM roll call. None other than Sergio himself is on hand to greet us, cheerful, but as if he too is pretty unused to the early hour. He quickly turns it over to a hospital lady. She’s enthusiastic and overjoyed at the prospect of so many willing volunteers, as she calls us.

She provides a handout and then reads over it, rightly suspecting that nobody’s on their A game, attention-wise, just yet. The challenge is simple in concept, though ultimately complex: we’re to design strategies that will cut down on wasted time by the overworked hospital staff, the doctors and nurses in particular. We can assess the needs right here and now in person. She says they’ll be open to any sort of strategy, though Sergio hastens to add that we’ll want to consider how to use tech devices. A team that includes him and hospital staff will judge our efforts, and of course our presentation must be filmed and posted.

The added trick is that the teams must pair up. And like a sad junior high sport team, yesterday’s first arriving teams get to pick their partners first. Nick and Tiffany immediately grab Sandrine and Paul, the obvious choice being that they’re both involved in medicine. Tommy and Shuhei debate for a moment before selecting Madison and Edie. Next up, Sunil and Bobby have quite a lengthy whispered discussion, and I’m surprised when they choose us over their crushes, the LA girls. Guess brains over beauty counts for something this morning, eh chicas?

Amber and Britni go next and immediately choose Todd and Lenora. That leaves Jack and Jill and team MYHT, last place and last picked, all four of them shrugging and simpering like they could give any more of a crap now than when they were too cool for school in grade eight.

The hospital lady goes over some ground rules, the kind of obvious but she’d better mention it stuff like we can’t interrupt doctors who are working or annoy patients who don’t want to talk. She and any other staff whom we find unoccupied will be happy to answer questions. And she’ll leave us lots of procedural handbooks, lucky us. Then she turns it back over to Austin, who basically says go and adds that this tiny windowless conference room will be ours for the day.

Well, I don’t think so, and I suggest to our teammates that we find a nicer lounge area and some tea to go along with our breakfast bars and brilliant ideas. The paired up team hot and team docs clearly have the same idea, and I’m fine to follow them to the downstairs cafeteria. And blessedly away from the already commencing arguments and power plays of the sniping last place finishers. I’m tempted to sneak back and film them just for mockery sake, but that probably would just make me look like the jerk.

Parked on opposite sides of the small cafeteria, tepid beverages before us, I am unsuccessful in eavesdropping on the doc team. But Scott has remembered to bring along the book o’ rules and it’s a place to start. The place gets myriad funding from government sources that comes with all sorts of tracking and reporting requirements; stuff is duplicative even in the procedural guides.

While the boys and I try to make sense of all the weird rules, Scott flags down a nurse who makes the mistake of sitting nearby, and it’s off to the races. What doesn’t work as far as staff efficiency? Hello, try finding anything that does work. Our nurse, after grousing about having no time on her brief morning break, manages to touch on just about every issue we can imagine. There’s too much paperwork, too many arcane rules, patient info is hard to access, often out of date, and the biggie: too few staff, nurses especially, for the patient load. Community hospitals in particular, tend to bunch up patients at key times, like Saturday nights, for instance.

Scott listens and takes notes, his expression all earnest and sympathetic. Sunil and I egg her on, asking about the worst parts of her job, though I worry about recording her tirades, especially when she veers toward a not very well veiled criticism of the very population the hospital is here to serve. Bobby tries not to fall asleep in his coffee.

“So you’re volunteering here, all of you?” she finally asks. “There was probably a memo, but that’s the thing – who has the damn time to read all that stuff? Listen,” she adds, “you come down to Emergency on a Friday night if you want to see unmet needs.” With that, she departs.

As a group, we – mostly Scott and Sunil actually – decide to poke around the rest of the hospital and perhaps take the nurse up on checking in on Emergency and see how it looks on a Wednesday morning. We pin on our oversized Visitor badges and troop off toward the main clinic waiting room, which is already bustling. Patients, family members, kids, who knows who are spilling off the narrowly placed chairs, overseen by a single completely unfazed guard. He looks like you could set off a fire cracker at his feet and he’d barely blink.

“They could use more chairs,” says Sunil, master of the obvious, “and could put them farther apart, like grouped so families could sit together.”

“Or set up faster intake so fewer people have to wait,” I can’t help but add. There’s only one check in window that I can see, staffed by a cheerful lady who’s moving a long line along as fast as she can. “Excuse me, how long have you been waiting?”

The first person I ask kind of ignores me, but others mention 30, 45 minutes, like it’s no big deal. And this is still morning. “We should borrow some lab coats and stethoscopes,” I suggest to the others. “Get taken more seriously.”

“I could pass as a doctor,” Sunil says. “My mom would be thrilled.”

“Look, the actual docs are filming the people they interview, we should do that.” I point across the room. Sandrine totally has a nurse vibe. Nick, filming her, could at least be a Hollywood doc. (Is he a little too into filming her, my gossipy reality TV side can’t help but ponder… maybe his new bride, the sweet perfect Tiffany, isn’t spicy enough? Whereas an older woman like Sandrine clearly knows what’s up, body wise, and she’s smart and empathetic to boot?)

The LA gals and Todd and Lenora show up too, further crowding the room, and we decide to move on before the hospital kicks us all out for making too much of a ruckus.

In short order we view a couple secondary waiting rooms (tiny, cramped), the outpatient surgery area (tiny, cramped), and the upstairs nurses station (you guessed it). A nurse there says we could see an empty patient room except there aren’t any, but she okays us talking to a patient who’s about to check out from minor surgery.

It’s depressing – I mean the lady is fine, a little loopy from painkillers and glad to be going home. But the whole thing – that her insurance deductible is so high, that she didn’t mind having waited for weeks for her appointment, that she barely saw the doctor who operated on her, that she spent even a night in this decrepit looking room with the company of an apparently comatose roommate and a loud TV. And she’s fine with it, like that’s all she’s entitled to. We record a bit of our chat, but I don’t see what sort of video we can make from it. We’re supposed to be promoting HAN and promoting better access to health care, you know?

Hours are passing, and I’m at a loss. The myriad problems of hospital staffing efficiency are a little far from our purview on a “health matters” race How do we rope it back next, we finish up and have a race cleaning bedpans? I mean, isn’t it a challenge even getting professionals to choose this practice, when specialties and private places in bigger cities pay more and offer better facilities and less stress?

Fortunately, Scott rallies us out into a small courtyard for some brainstorming over a fast lunch. He’s been to a billion strategy building workshops via his foundation, so he’s able to jog our collective brain power with some probing questions. Plus narrow our focus, which is probably the greater challenge, as our concepts spiral ever outward.

Bobby actually has some decent ideas once he manages to make himself alert. Seems the dude is a bit of a weekend athlete, which has resulted in his having been an ER visitor on a few occasions himself. Same story pretty much everywhere – a life or death emergency will get you checked right in, but fall off your mountain bike and it’s a lot of hours in the waiting room. We decide to focus on that particular challenge. Making note of the new trend in at home check in at fancier hospitals in the city and Silicon Valley, we propose a combination of an app and MYHT device one can sign out that would enable patients to check in about wait times and set appointment windows at non-peak times. The idea being give patients a little more control over their non-critical needs and in the process free up peak time for staff.

We do our best to film a workable version of this, with Bobby playing a patient, Sunil a doctor and me a busy nurse. #funwithstereotypes Then Scott, who’s going a little power happy with the MYHT cam, pigeon holes an actual nurse into agreeing that this is a fine idea and she would love to see such a thing implemented the sooner the better.

So back to our little conference room to upload the thing. Austin awaits us there, along with an extremely cheesy but somehow awesome projected image of the Voyager’s holographic doctor. “Line up,” I exclaim to the team, “we’ve got to get pictures with him. Nobody smile!” The guys let me do a couple selfies like this, and I add a clip to state that President Tuvak/Obama himself will approve of our idea.

Other teams wander through, cams out, comparing notes on their strategies. During our wait after uploading, Austin assigns what I can only describe as a filler task – did I say bedpans? I meant yard work. Once our proposals are submitted, we then have to fill up bags with weeds and crap thrown out in the hospital’s little courtyard and front grounds. But working fast – and it’s hard to put into words how refreshing it is to be outside for a bit, away from the sounds and smells and general downer feeling of being in the hospital – we get the job done. We’re all pretty much out there together again, but minus the friendly feeling of the camp last night. For now, it’s more like elbowing each other out of the way to land the more voluminous trash for our bags.

One more text from Austin: as soon as our bags are filled, we must uncouple from our partner team and post a one minute clip of what we learned and want to share from our experience at the community hospital.

Fortunate, is all I can say, that we’re not all being filmed for our immediate, candid responses to this query. “Don’t get sick! Ever!” announces Todd to the group at large.

“Or pass out first.”

“Or at least be rich and in the city.”

I catch Sandrine’s eye. She looks as down trodden as any of us. But that may be because she’s picking up random garbage.

Scott and I finish, and we return to Emergency to film our final clip. You don’t have to be a genius to figure this will be an important element today – how else will they eliminate one team out of the losing pair?

We need to be both humble and wise, respectful of the people here but hopeful of improvements. Of the better access that HAN promotes. My well honed knowledge of HAN’s mission statement won’t hurt in setting this one up, I can’t help but note.

Scott takes the lead, summarizing our respect and hope and everything, and I add how much I admire the staff’s efforts and that being here only motivates me further to help make the systems more efficient and blah blah about HAN’s mission. We end with a pan over the intake desk, the fast talking receptionist and the roomful of people waiting.

Then it’s back to our little conference room. Everybody has gathered again, and the air is stuffy with our breath and sweat and the hospital smells that seem to permeate even our skin.

A different hospital lady, giddy with the task before her and all of our attention on her, steps forward to thank us all for our efforts. She goes on a bit; the teams tune her out, visibly anxious for our results. I almost get the giggles just from realizing how serious everybody looks. Dammit, nobody wants to be eliminated, that’s for sure.

Finally: everybody has to squeeze in to see the winners on her little laptop. Madison and Edie and Tommy and Shuhei are one and two. Their concept is simple and relevant, and I’m already pissed at myself for not coming up with it as part of our plan. It’s basically having staff use the wearable devices with an app for duty sign in that operates as an online timesheet and tracks who is where on duty. This would be especially helpful for simple nurses assistant duties and when a translator is needed.

Madison and Edie look radiant; their little what-we-learned clip brims with enthusiasm for sharing this technology around the world.

OMG, but guess who comes in third and fourth! And Scott’s earnest plug and my humble ass-kissing beats the boys; we’re number three. Scott is beaming – last time I saw him this happy was at his wedding reception. (Yes, I attended. We’re so civil we’re almost honorary lesbians.)

Next up, Sandrine and Paul and team hot look less than pleased at spots five and six. Figures, what with being medical types or twice previous number ones. They’ve presented a plan to streamline patient data with coded secure shared access via cloud based record storage. The staff clearly love the idea, but it doesn’t use the MYHT devices at all. Uh oh, should I be bothered by this product favoritism on principle? Well, no one else seems to be. Other than those guys.

Up next, Todd and Lenora and Amber and Britni. Their breathlessly presented idea is to use the devices to better match up patients and doctors as far as their personal preferences and philosophies. They could also be used as motivators to encourage patients to exercise and eat a healthier diet. The concepts are sound, but there’s not much meat on the bones as far as how this might be achieved. Also, it doesn’t really address the efficiency angle. They get assigned a tie for best presentation.

Well, that leaves the now visibly fuming pairs of Jack and Jill and team MYHT. They’re already whispering, none too quietly, that their idea is a lot better and that obviously being blonde or Asian or gay or old has caused the rest of us to leap ahead.

Although their idea, when presented, is maybe not worse but just way over-thought to the point they are poor in articulating it. They would have all the patients using the wearables to fully track themselves. Patients could take their own vitals, for instance, freeing up nurses time, and even check themselves out. No one says out loud that this wouldn’t be too feasible on a lot of levels, but you can see us thinking it.

So the final moment of drama comes and goes quickly: Jack and Jill have managed a more gracious and sincere sounding what-we-learned clip, and team MYHT, already in last place, are eliminated. And darned if they don’t turn and stomp out of the room then and there, not even a wave good-bye. (What’s he going to do, I wonder, toss his MYHT logo gear and go work for Apple? Will the HAN staff have to chase him down to get the gear back; we did sign waivers, but the dude looked pissed.)

The rest of us sit forward for Austin to read out our final starting order for tomorrow morning. It factors in our start and finish order, and some time points for best work with the staff (Sandrine and Paul, duh), best portrayal of hospital staff (Sunil and Bobby), of patients (Todd and Lenora) and clever Star Trek riff (who else but me and Scott, hey mostly me).

Then it’s sudden freedom, and not even rush hour to boot. Tomorrow we start in the city, tonight home for a good night’s rest. And – lest we forget, Austin says it several times – we should be plugging away on social media. He hints we’ll get points or bonuses or let off early depending on the likes our vids can generate. Damn, now I need teenage stepkids with thousands of facebook friends. No pressure, I mention several times to Scott as we high tail it back to the city.

 

 

 

Chapter 7

Helpful Efficiency Standards

 

Well, I don’t know how much more social traffic I can generate, short of selling my bod for cold cash on facebook. I’m down a whole set of pals too, since my former colleagues at HAN are off limits. Others, age peers like Raye, are like, jeez, I clicked it once, what more do you want? No doubt our young model friends Amber and Britni are far besting us on the numbers, so good thing we’re starting day four near the start of the pack.

It’s a leisurely start, too. Guess the HAN staff are getting as tired as the racers are of early mornings, because we don’t even have to show up until close to 11. Of course it’s been radio silence as far as me and my former co-workers, so guessing is all I’ve got. Seems they’re on lockdown as far as communicating any web traffic stats to me, the former staffer and webmaster turned racer. Never mind our former friendships and my damn idea.

But I have to wonder where else we’ll go, what else there is to do… we’ve hit food access, farming, hospital care… I don’t remember mapping out much more than that. The sci fi things isn’t getting much traction either. (Not everybody’s a nerd, Sergio.) But the new bat place? The headquarters of the SF/Marin Food Bank over on Potrero Hill. Can’t argue with that, mission-wise. Not too bad parking, either, although I figure we’ll need to take transit somewhere at some point.

But our tasks, Lord help us. They are complicated and involve muscle power, and I must say that of the starting set of teams, Bobby and Sunil have a leg up. I hate being so girly, but this whole let’s-enter-the-race was Scott’s thing. So if it’s about who can stack heavy boxes up high and figure out fast ways of moving giant cans around a giant warehouse, well, power to him. Also, it’s hard to configure the items on the mammoth carts we’re stacking up and maneuvering, which is itself a further challenge. Madison and Edie, so psyched yesterday, are back to wishing they were writing papers or helping skinny kids in Africa. At least they’d be lightweight.

Team docs and team hot look similarly non-plussed when they eventually arrive and join the fun. We’re already pretty tired by the time the blonde girls get started. Although Jack and Jill surprise me by jumping right in fast and enthusiastic and barely even arguing for once. Guess they are determined not to be last today.

I’m mildly interested to see the team pair dynamic – will yesterday’s buddies share strategies today? Watching Sunil and Bobby hustle ahead, must conclude not so much. Actually, it’s pretty quiet, aside from the bangs and booms of cans and boxes and carts crashing around the cavernous space. Scott and I get a bit of a rhythm going at least. He doesn’t complain about doing the muscle grinding pushing on the cart as we move it out to the waiting trucks, and I don’t complain about, like, spending my day here doing this.

After all, what else would I be doing? Recently unemployed and all, single, 50 years old. Living in a rundown but blessedly rent controlled apartment (which my sister refers to as “that awful flat of yours” just because once, years ago, she saw a rat outside the door). No kids, no parents left to worry over. There’s my brother, whom I rarely hear from and who resolutely refuses to join facebook or LinkedIn or tweet or do anything that’s remotely related to my world. And my sister – she at least expects me to check in now and then, and she’s been good about clicks and likes this week.

I owe Alice a call. She got all mom-ish when I told her about doing this thing, as if I would be risking life and limb, not just muscle aches. And predictably appalled that Scott would be my so called partner. Of course all the family adored Scott. Not that they were surprised when we split up and he hooked up with a younger, more tasteful gal – they no doubt felt, just as his family did, that he could do better.

My mind drifts back to the days when he and I worked together, years ago, both of us eager minded idealists in our 30s. Honestly, as co-workers was when the romantic relationship really ever worked for us. It was just so efficient, you know? We could have all those conversations and quips about our principled endeavors and then spend the down time doing other stuff. Business trips not a burden when we saw each other almost every day anyway.

Scott, back then, regularly got tapped to bring the good green message to other locales attempting their own climate change initiatives. I was wide eyed and bushy tailed over new leaps in communications technology. Mass email blasts could inform the whole state! Nobody could deny the obvious science! Now I ask myself, is it just damn depressing that our efforts so fully failed? Or would the result of none of us even trying be an even hotter more dire planet by the late teens? HAN’s food security efforts more desperately needed with further crop failures?

I turn away from my task for a moment, shaking out my arms, downing water like the drought is here to stay. Looking around the warehouse, I see nobody working very fast anymore. The people who actually work here enjoying watching us racers. As a group, we’re grumpy, sweaty, achy. Even the youngsters, even guys like Nick and Bobby, who seem to thrive on physical work.

Jack and Jill – young but I’m thinking not so used to using their wasted-on-the-young bodies for anything but blocking cross traffic while studying their iphones – appear to have solved their bickering problem by dividing their work and each doing a piece in a separate location. Of course Nick and Tiffany work smoothly together, chatting happily as if they’re setting up for a party. Sandrine and Paul are paced slow and steady, maybe not as chipper but neither one looking much like they have anything better to do.

“Look, this is the first time Jack and Jill aren’t fighting. They must really want to win,” I murmur to Scott.

“Who?” He looks around, but doesn’t break his rhythm.

I point to Jill out by the trucks, and Jack all the way across the room at the highest shelving.

“That’s Jeff.”

“Who?”

“You call him Jack, but his name is Jeff,” Scott whispers.

I blink back surprise. He may be right.

“It’s cool. I’m pretty sure it messes with their heads that we don’t care enough to remember their names right. I think Amber started calling him Jack too, because you do.”

Well, whatever it takes. At least we’re talking, looking like we’re doing okay as a team. Just in case someone is filming, which periodically people are. Rumor’s going around there will be a bloop reel, and everyone’s looking for the right opportunity to rat out the competition. Also there were references to Warehouse 13, posting ourselves in the most mysterious part of the food warehouse. Nobody I ask knows what that means, so we just take a couple pictures of ourselves surrounded by boxes. #realscifimeansouterspace

Sunil and Bobby finish their bit and are hustled off to another area of the warehouse. Tommy and Shuhei follow moments later. We’ve gotten ahead of the grad students, but Nick and Tiffany are closing in on us. I hustle it up to help Scott, who’s still quietly doing the literal heavy lifting. Just don’t want to be passed by the 30 something hotties, the physical personification of who Scott and I once came close to being. Nor deal with Scott busting a blood vessel while I worry for my soft little arms.

Shortly and before anyone collapses to the dirty and rutted floor, it’s on to the next task: shadowing and helping delivery drivers on a regular route. Before completing the run, we’re supposed to post a 30 second interview with a recipient of said deliveries. Well, that should be mildly interesting. And we can presumably sit and rest in the van. I start to whisper strategy about what sort of driver and route we should choose, but turns out we’re just pointed to the next person headed out.

He’s a hefty, rugged looking dude, chatty and proud to have been doing this route for several years now. Low likelihood of getting lost then, I mutter to Scott, who immediately shushes me. I shush him back and take a quick vid of our driver entering the van and discussing his route, which covers nearby shelters in the southeastern part of the city.

“We deliver to churches too, pantry programs, and elder outreach,” he adds, grinning for the camera. I’ve stopped recording, but keep that to myself. “And I’ll make a pick up run too. Not today though, so don’t worry, we’ll have you back here fast.”

I squeeze in back and Scott climbs into the front. He’s got lots more questions about how much tonnage they deliver, how they avoid spoilage and waste, the satisfaction of the staff and recipients. I’m pretty sure Chandler funds these guys, so this is clearly part of the field work Scott was so interested in.

I just sit and try to enjoy resting, though our driver seems not to miss a bump in the road. Note to Chandler: get these vans some shock absorbers. This can’t be good for the more delicate food items. Not all of it was giant cans, right?

We hustle out to help him at his first stop, but our haste in unloading does nothing to speed up completion of the delivery. The driver, patient and unfazed, steps away for a cigarette. “They’ve got other stuff going on too,” he explains. “Sometimes it takes awhile.”

He doesn’t say it, but his tone implies that nothing we do will hurry this process. He doesn’t mind a cigarette break; we’re the only ones here in a hurry. Because we can see a couple people here and they don’t look, like, super busy. It’s well after lunch. There are some client type people milling around the front of the place, but no line, nobody serving food or handing out bags.

Scott shoves an apple toward me, the way you might to a five year old on the verge of a tantrum. He’s too busy jotting notes on his pad of paper to be stressed about this. Our poor driver’s going to be bummed a year from now when the next grant comes with a bunch of helpful efficiency standards, I’m betting.

At last, a shelter employee approaches, and we can complete the delivery. Back in the van, though, I’m reminded of every job I’ve had and all the tiny annoying things that stood between me and getting the damn work done.

I don’t just mean people like Kim and her need for lengthy group discussions to confirm that two plus two is four. Systemic stuff, how much time and money it took to raise the money, to account for the money, to report back on the money. How Board members would swing from rabid enthusiasm to take on massive tasks in concept at an annual meeting to being timid bunnies when it came time to actually implement the first step of the new project. The one that actually would bring about change. The many ways people found for not doing what they didn’t want to do, or for making other people do the shit work.

I recall a blog I used to see sometimes, sneak peeks at when I was frustrated at work – bust on your boss, or something like that. It was basically people posting up rude emails they’d been sent and of course commentary about them. Friendly competition for nastiest, most passive aggressive, most clueless, and so on. I was actually too paranoid to post anything myself, but enjoyed the vicarious amusement.

Two jobs ago, at a bigger, too big think tanky place, I could have gotten bad boss prizes. Had they been given out. Damn, man, I should have cut and pasted the worst of those slyly insulting messages right up there. Wish the wildly self-centered manager did see his missives up there to be laughed at. Although, it must be pointed out, he did slightly more good than harm, when you factored in the wide reach of his contact list and his ability to kiss ass and get university people at least to publish our work. Even if it was 90% choirs being preached to.

Story of my work life: shoving boulders up hills, stopping them from slipping down, pushing them a tiny bit farther, and calling it a day. Then in my case, telling the Board how much web traffic had been generated. I’ll admit it, I sometimes long for the days when just having a website and some blog posts were enough, before you could so precisely track how many people clicked through or lingered or gave. When you expected a visitor to your site to read more than a few bullet points and click on a happy video. When people didn’t consider themselves involved in a movement just because they had tapped a thumbs up icon on a computer screen.

We jolt into a parking space at our next stop, a tiny church parking lot. “Don’t trouble yourselves,” the driver says, but he’s being polite. There’s an actual church basement, a lot of turns and steps, and he can use our help.

“She’s stronger than she looks,” Scott assures him.

“And he’s smarter,” I shoot back. I’m 50, but I’m not infirm; can handle a bag down a flight of stairs.

Food stuff delivered, the driver still has paperwork, which appears to include some chatting over a cup of fresh brewed coffee. And we all get a bathroom break. Driver’s no dummy either – he must aim this friendly place for the middle of his afternoon. We consider but nix this for our competitive video – I don’t think the driver resting and the recipient yakking without having even having checked what we delivered is quite the message they’re looking for.

Scott and I wait out front. Our presence, my jangling impatience, is noted but not challenged by various people wandering by. “He’s like the slow cab driver who has to stop and get gas,” I grouse.

Scott looks blank. His mind doesn’t always whirl to the Amazing Race, the way mine does.

“It’s slowing us down, but there’s nothing we can do.”

He shakes his head. “I’m pretty sure the food bank makes deliveries all over the city and into Marin. We could be doing much worse.”

“Always the optimist. You thought Big Green would win right up until it lost,” I remind him.

Scott’s right brow arches. “What’s the connection?”

I shrug. “Impatience. Frustration. Trying to manipulate peoples’ behavior for their own good. Watching this guy is like reminding me of how much effort it takes to do the simplest thing in nonprofit world.”

“I’m sure that’s true anywhere. It’s not like people at the grocery store or tech companies are much different.”

“Yeah, but designing a new app doesn’t exactly have the urgency of ending hunger, you know?”

“Food bank’s not ending hunger, it’s a patch, you know that.” Scott’s expression hardens.

Great, now I’ve bummed us both out. Another of my talents. I pull out my phone, bring up the HAN race page. They’ve added a little “funds raised” bar. Can’t tell sources though – is this new money or gross event revenues or Board members designating funds? Yesterday’s posts are at the top, Madison and Edie’s highlighted.

I wonder about the traffic. Obviously it will be up, but how much up? Will we grab the attention of some really big entity? That’s the grail, really, links that will get us – them, I mean, HAN – real notice. And yeah, it bums me out that I have no doubt that attention on someone’s much bigger site is the way to go, as opposed to, for instance, the important nature of the cause and the potential success of their proposed solutions.

When did that happen, I ask myself, as we bounce out toward our next destination. When did it become universally accepted that promoting your brand got more important than doing good work or creating a superior product? OMG, I’m part of the problem here, aren’t I, it occurs. I’m helping take this necessary evil to the next level. You’re an idiot, Jessie, I tell myself. Just accept it and move on.

Our next stop is literally down a bad alley, dark and dank. “Just grab a bag and head straight in,” our driver advises, all business this time. It’s a small shelter, and we fill near empty shelves. Just the right image for our video, I figure. As graciously as possible and trying not to be totally manipulative, I steer the stern looking shelter supervisor there to ask a couple dumb questions about their needs.

The lady’s been briefed, I guess. She gives Scott a tiny smile as she acknowledges the value of the food bank’s donations, then pivots to the greater underlying causes that result in her clienteles’ challenging needs. Just what we need for our video clip; lock and load.

One more stop, and we’re back to base. Our Next Clue directs us to take transit down to the Ferry Farmers’ Market to end the day. But before we check in, we have to “teach a stranger” about the importance of donating to food banks, and generate 10 likes for our posted lesson. Austin is nowhere to be seen and there aren’t any other teams in sight. I can’t help but notice that the guy who hands us the clue note only has one left.

“Should we be worried?” I ask Scott, in case he hasn’t seen this.

He has and we should. A quick consult of the paper map he keeps in his car directs us to the T line, where we find Todd and Lenora and a couple dozen annoyed Muni riders, but no streetcar.

“Don’t even try to teach anyone here a lesson,” Todd drawls, “they’re not buying.”

Lenora stays silent. She looks uncomfortable, and I can’t blame her; I hate to stereotype, but our fellow riders here are maybe not the best audience for lessons on the food bank from an out and proud white gay guy and transgender woman. And now their new friends the old white people.

Todd confirms that most of the pack are ahead of us, though he heard that Sandrine and Paul were on the outer Richmond run. Fortunately a train appears before I have to decide how rude it would be to back away from them and start chatting up newly arrived strangers.

We clatter along down Third Street toward the ballpark; no game traffic fortunately. More people crowd onto the train. Then luckily some young techie dude spots our MYHT patches and asks to check them out. Teachable moment! I allow him a full inspection of my patch in exchange for letting us tell him about the food bank and why people should donate there. One small nudge of my foot below camera level and he acts all interested and informed.

“Should we mention Food Runners?” I ask Scott, who’s braced beside to me, trying to upload the clip and not fall onto the lap of the lady sitting next to him. “Seems like they’d be more relevant to the techies down here.” Food Runners basically collects leftovers from big events and brings it to the food bank or other places that won’t let it go to waste.

“Too late. What we need is 10 likes. Ping some people, okay?”

Should have asked the dude, but he’s already out the door. And we need to hustle off the streetcar and over to the Ferry Building. I cannot and will not try to walk and type on my phone at the same time, but I click frantically while we wait for the light to cross.

A quick jog around the back and there’s Austin, Jonathan Bernard, the race mat, several other teams, Todd and Lenora already stepping off the mat. Guess they must have found someone to film same as we did. Everybody’s chilling and munching on farmers market samples except for Madison and Edie, both of whom are working their phones in the classic twenty something way. We step around them to the mat.

Jonathan Bernard clears his throat and says, dead serious, “You need an additional six likes.”

Fuck me. It’s a school day so Scott’s kids can’t help, and a quick eyeballing of my smirking competitors tells me they won’t be stepping up to help. “Come on,” I tell Madison, all up in her face. “Trade likes.”

“Sorry, we just got ours.” They step up and are dubbed team six.

That leaves just two teams behind us, and as that thought bubble leaves my head, here come Sandrine and Paul at a dead run. But they have to do the like dance too. They are at least willing to trade with us. Holding our four phones out like an ad for the mentally challenged family plan, we click together. Naturally, several other teams get clips of this action. I hear the phrase “team old guys.” But it puts each of us over the top; only the fact of Scott and I standing closer to the mat earns us spot number seven.

“Time points and penalties,” Austin exclaims.

I’m still looking around to figure out who’s missing.

“They were ahead of us, swear to God,” Todd tells the group.

“We were on the same train,” Amber exclaims. “We figured they got off first and ran faster.”

Tommy and Shuhei are AWOL. OMG, they were in second place yesterday, and now they’re gone? The rest of us, still muttering together and comparing notes, hush up to hear Austin’s announcement. Extra likes and social media buzz have bumped up Amber and Britni and Jack and Jill (or whatever their names are). Nick and Tiffany had the best onsite clip, and Amber and Britni the best teach a stranger a lesson vid. They managed to find a group of teens, a great audience, Austin adds. (Horny boys hanging on their words, what a challenge, I think but don’t say, attempting to maintain a face of graciousness.)

Austin attends to his phone for a moment before letting us know he’s texted Tommy and Shuhei. Turns out they were indeed on the train with the blondies but they stayed on and returned to the Civic Center farmers’ market. Oops. Guess even genius boys need to get out a little more to figure out there’s more than one market in the big city.

From what I can gather, most of the other teams went on runs with just one or two stops. Ours was close by but with more stops, like taking the local instead of the express bus. With driver Mr. Chatty. Well, whatevs. Home tonight and tomorrow another day. Back of the pack, but there are three teams within five minutes of us. Hate to say it, but we should probably just focus on making it past a couple weaker teams. #timeforjunglementality

 

 

 

Chapter 8

Feed the World!

 

Remember the real world? Friends, TV shows, getting up in the morning to go to work, making plans for the weekend? Yeah, I barely do. It’s home, splash down some dinner, and go online, obsessively clicking over every aspect of the race and posting my own stuff madly. My sister and my best friend, who don’t even know each other, both tell me seriously that I need to bring it down a notch. The best I can do is promise to chill over the weekend, which we all have off – I can easily go a day or two offline. Scott has Heather, the kids, their elderly cat – he’s barely paying attention in the evenings now, I suspect.

But I’m guarding my phone like a pit bull, waiting for our Friday morning instructions. Which are late! I’m wondering, are they frantically cobbling something together there at the HAN office, did Austin get into a fight with Kim over overtime and walk off the job?

Eventually the text: our starting times at an address in Berkeley. Austin assures us it’s near the BART station and that the whole day will be walkable or transit friendly. Or we can drive but there’s no parking. Scott and I confirm our transit preference in the briefest of texts, though his includes a link to the BART schedule. Maybe I’m late for stuff now and then, but does everybody think I’m a moron as far as locating relevant info?

I tell myself to relax, and head for bed. Just because people treat you like you’re stupid doesn’t make it so.

 

 

Come morning, I’m up and over to BART with time to spare. Helps that we don’t have to arrive until well after 10. But I manage to find the right station and everything, unlike the freshly eliminated Tommy and Shuhei, you know? Looking for props for this achievement probably won’t help the Jessie’s-not-completely-incompetent campaign, though.

Several of us emerge from the same train, turns out. Scott rode over with Paul and Sandrine, and they flag me down as I wander off the wrong way from the escalator. Madison and Edie are just ahead; we emerge onto lively Shattuck Ave as an annoying group blocking the main exit.

Together we traipse off toward what turns out to be a small restaurant, kind of a Chez Panisse rip off by the looks of it, all repurposed wood paneled and local organic. No customers are around, but ever perky Austin is there to greet us. Todd and Lenora are lounging on low slung chairs on the big front porch. Nobody else in sight – presumably the four lead teams have already gotten started.

“We got here painfully early,” Todd drawls. Everything he says sounds italicized. His voice suits his gussied up buff dude look. “We’re just sitting here watching and waiting.”

“You’ll love the first task,” Lenora says to me, her voice low and modulated. “We got asked for help but our lips are sealed.” I note, observing her, how readily she passes as a woman now. Wonder how long it took before she started assuming acceptance. When Todd wasn’t there to pipe up about his loyal support during the transition, of course.

Austin interrupts to tell them they’re up. Which puts the rest of us within a few minutes; we barely have time to stash away our packs and jackets before grabbing our clues. He admonishes us at some length about only pinging, not using image detection. Or there will be penalties!

I’m not even sure what he’s talking about. But it strikes me that three of the front four teams are the tech nerds. This needs to change. Our clues have a picture of a goofy looking cop on them.

“Eureka!” I exclaim to Scott.

“What?”

“It was a show back five or ten years ago. Geniuses in a small town in Oregon…” I fade out. Everybody’s looking at me; perhaps I shouldn’t have shared this so loudly.

But the clues just direct us to pantry next to the kitchen, where we’re given a checklist and must select 10 specific fresh herbs from a large selection of them laid out on a long table. #awesometaskforjessie

Darned if Jack and Jill and Amber and Britni aren’t still there at it, elbowing past each other and apparently just picking stuff at random in the hopes of getting it right.

They turn and eye me like the lessor lion pack spotting fresh meat. Todd and Lenora have fashioned some sort of bag from his high fashion vest, and are using it to block sight of their choices as they blow through the task. This is why you need layers! Lenora is the only one of us who may know more obscure herbs than I do. Most of the list aren’t even hard. Parsley, Rosemary, Thyme, come on.

“Let’s just hurry,” Scott whispers. “I’ll try to block them from seeing us.”

“Do you know all these?” I challenge him. “Can you pick out the Tarragon or Lemonberbera?”

“Maybe.” But he’s grabbing Parsley and Cilantro, checking off the easy ones from the list.

I suppose we have limited time for me to revel in being the stronger link on the team for once. “Get those three,” I tell him, pointing to the easiest ones, and I make a run for the others. As soon as I do, Amber and Jill and even Sandrine are on my tail, grabbing the same set of items. Madison and Edie, I notice, are similarly trailing after Lenora.

“What can I say, I’m not much of a cook,” Sandrine explains, at least having the grace to look at embarrassed.

As if super generous, and also because there’s little choice without Scott physically restraining them, we let everybody see our checklist. Amber and Britni almost had it already. Jack and Jill apparently went straight from mom’s house to the Google cafeteria never having handled foodstuffs themselves. That annoys me – I mean I’m sure they do important professional work on behalf of the world’s most needed apps and everything, but come on, get your hands dirty in the kitchen once or twice, right?

Well, the result of all this sharing is that six of us teams launch ourselves into Austin’s personal space at once, waving our checklists and guarding our herb piles. He gets red in the face, but deals with us team by team manfully.

Next up, surprise, we’ve got a food prep task with the locally grown herbs along with donations from the restaurant. They’re such good people that they regularly supply snacks and take home supplements for a nearby after school program – at the very school which grows many of the herbs. A trifecta! I’m loving that it’s local, organic, healthy, feeding nutritious food to poor kids. HAN should be all over this; I back up long enough to narrate a vid about my excitement.

It’s a private program (figures they wouldn’t want random techies touching the kids’ food at a publicly funded place), but a good one. Scott and I should be able to whip through this fast.

I do a double take back at the kitchen though. We’re to prepare several day’s worth of meticulously specific items, each with lots of prep work. Space is limited, we can’t all even fit here, and there clearly aren’t enough utensils for everyone. Apparently someone was worried about sharp knives – which by the way are less likely to cause kitchen mayhem – because the two babies we’re to share barely cut better than a butter knife.

The gal from the restaurant looks over the crowd, maybe a little shocked at what she’s let herself in for. “We could also use some help with our lunch set up, chairs and tables and stuff,” she says. Like they’re on springs, the guys launch toward her. Austin okays splitting the teams; Britni and little Edie join the men and a chagrinned looking Sunil stays with the ladies.

Once the supervision is out the back, Lenora and I just take over all the chopping. It’s pretty obvious no one can get way out ahead here. Tiffany surprises me by stepping up and getting two little assembly lines going for the sandwiches and salads. She may look like a cheerleader from a distance, but up close I see laugh lines, steady hands, someone who’s not just fake nice but actually nice. Sandrine, Sunil, Madison and Amber follow her lead. Jill – who looks pretty damn annoyed that Jack got to go outside and move chairs when they’re both equally bad cooks – pretends to help by reading aloud the recipes and saying stuff like “wait, are you sure that one goes before this one?”

Amber can only take so much mucking around in raw ingredients either – she excuses herself to go tell Britni to move their rental car. Seems the sweet young things have limited experience with either BART or the nightmare of urban parking. Britni, I’m guessing, won’t be a big loss as far as moving furniture onto the outside patio.

Amber meanders back, cam on selfie mode, looking up flirtatiously and narrating about how proud she is to support this great program. Kind of what I said only I was filming the donated food, not my coyly smiling face. “I’m proud to be a food activist!” she exclaims, panning briefly across the rest of us (the ones who are actually doing the work, if only for an hour).

“Remember real activists?” I grouse out loud to no one in particular. Sandrine, maybe – at least she’s old enough to have vague memories of times gone by. “People used to actually commit to their particular cause for more than a photo op.”

“We can’t all get jobs at a nonprofit,” Lenora observes. “And you and Scott don’t seem exactly broke as far as living the righteous life.”

“The Chandler Foundation seems to be treating him pretty well,” Tiffany says. She’s smiling but her raised brow lets me know she’s done some homework about the competition.

“I don’t mean me,” I hasten to add. If she knows what Scott does, she must know some of my history too. Yikes. “I’m just saying, doing a selfie post on facebook didn’t used to count as involvement.”

“It’s hard to afford to be that dedicated now,” says Madison. She’s so quiet it’s easy to forget she’s there. She’s physically short, and her short hair and bland don’t-mess-with-me clothes just fade her into the background a bit. “Grad school isn’t cheap. I won’t have a chance to follow my passion without my degree.”

She sounds so sincere that I can’t bring myself to laugh at her cliché. Sunil, however, gets in an eye roll, and starts humming something a vaguely recognize. It’s that damn hunger pop song, Do They Know It’s Christmas. Those patronizing lyrics – insulting in the original version addressing African famine – further twisted to wax about Ebola.

He keeps humming, his face set in a fake angelic smile; he’s got to know that’s the sort of thing I mean.

“There won’t be snow in Africa, it’s on the damn equator,” I can’t help but burst out. The others laugh, even Madison, who looks a little offended.

“It did raise funds,” she says, reaching carefully past my knife for another freshly diced pile of cilantro.

“I know. It’s just too bad it takes bad pop singers, or the recognition of super rich so called opinion leaders to tackle systemic issues that once our collective governments might have addressed. Hunger or an Ebola outbreak.”

“Oh look at that, there’s an idealist under all the cynicism,” Sandrine says, grinning, looking up from the salad she’s mixing “Maybe you and Scott really are a well matched pair after all.”

“Oh, please.” The others snicker. But I wonder that she’d say that at all. Pretty sure I checked my idealism at the station a couple decades ago.

“No, I get it,” Sandrine continues. “What I can’t stand is when you’re in Safeway and they say, ‘do you want to give a dollar to support breast cancer?’ I mean, A, I might support prevention and research but actually I’m against cancer. And B, there are so many aspects of modern life that impact cancer rates, it needs what you said, systemic measures. A buck at the grocery store doesn’t fix it, so don’t think that’s all you need to do.”

“So true,” Lenora says. “And thank God they can’t take your health plan away just for using it anymore.” She finishes her chopping, and Madison sprinkles the last bit on the salads. “We’re just about done here, what’s next? Where’d that girl with the instructions go?”

Jill and Amber have wandered off away from the socially aware set. Sunil and Tiffany too, but at least they’ve gone to fetch the restaurant lady and boxes for the finished product.

“Sorry, I don’t mean to rant,” Sandrine says. Lowering her voice, she tells just our little group, me and Madison and Lenora, “Paul is a cancer survivor. You wouldn’t know it to look at him now, but it’s a sensitive topic for us. And he’s a freelancer. It could have been a lot more financially devastating than it was, too. We both had healthcare through my work. Without Obamacare – well, let’s just say I’m a fan. All this crap about how it’s bad or overturning it bugs us a lot.”

The rest of the crew troops back to box up all the food, so our little moment of humanity fades away. I try not to stare at Paul now, wondering what he had, how long ago, how it changed him, and them. He just looks like a standard issue 40 something straight guy. I heard he does some kind of writing for medical journals or something like that – he had medical training but didn’t want to become a doctor. He and Scott are chatting like old pals.

They promise us lunch next up, which is a good thing because I’m about to embarrass myself by digging into the children’s food if I have to go without much longer. But first, Austin has to calculate the team order. He apparently needs his smart phone and a check in with the office stats to do this. Aren’t we all even now, someone asks. Others, the smarter of us, already see where this is going – team teams again. Sight unseen, as it were, since we don’t know what the task is. Something at the school, I’m guessing.

Austin announces Sunil and Bobby as the lead team. They mumble together for a moment and choose teammates Nick and Tiffany. Too bad, I might have gone for them first – they’ve got a pretty solid package of looks and muscles. Jack and Jill get to go next, and after a heated whispered argument she selects Madison and Edie. Neither of them look any more pleased about this than Jack does. Guess Jill figures they could use help from the pair actually getting degrees in solving international food and poverty concerns.

We’re up next, thanks, I have to assume, to my innate visual knowledge of herbs. Any of the remaining teams would work – the blondes are cute and malleable, Lenora smart and Todd photogenic, Sandrine and Paul also smart and maybe our nearest competition. Mumbling, Scott says Paul and Sandrine while I’m in favor of the girls. A quick ro sham bo, our long ago fast public argument settler, and me and scissors flag over Amber and Britni. That leaves Todd and Lenora with Sandrine and Paul.

All four of them look pleased, and I start getting nervous and second guessing myself. We’ll need at the very least to beat out our teammates with our separate video post, and Amber and Britni have proven formidable in their adorable little clips. Well, at least we know they can generate facebook traffic.

The restaurant has opened and is fast filling up. We’re unceremoniously scooted back outside to fend for ourselves – we won’t reconvene for an hour, during which we can eat and figure out how to win the next challenge. There’s a nearby little urban park with a few benches, or approximately a gazillion little Berkeley cafes nearby. Scott and I have healthy packed lunches, of course, not that hidden sugar will likely be a problem in the offerings around here in PC Berkeley. Amber and Britni need to buy their salads and diet drinks, but agree to get them to go and meet us in the park.

Finally Austin, who has been waving around the challenge clues while the teams debate lunch options, announces that the first team to identify the cop’s small town on the earlier clue will get to go first. At least ten of us chorus “Eureka!” Scott gives me a familiar, you had to open your mouth, didn’t you look.

He looks more worried than any of us do as he hands out the clues. Scott tends to ours as I start digging through his pack for our food. Amber and Britni hustle off to find something that will satisfy their hunger without adding pounds to their slender waists. I don’t want to insult them, but somebody needs to have a talk about those sweetened drinks they like. It seems like everybody young thinks if you drink something it doesn’t have calories or affect your metabolism. That fat dude from team MYHT before – always with the super sized sodas or sugar charged so called energy drinks. Did he never hear about the established link between sugar consumption and weight gain?

It did take me awhile, I suppose I should add, to ease up on the sweet stuff myself. Hey, I’m a child of my time, so was Scott, with the Frosted Flakes and Wonder Bread. Once I learned about nutrition and processed foods, though, I hunkered down and made sound choices. Never had to worry about excess weight or the sorts of crazy diets that so many people obsess about either. No doubt my blood sugar highs and lows are better. I don’t miss the junk food anymore either – now I’d be hard pressed to choke down some of those highly processed super sweet items that people like so much.

But I suppose it’s harder now if you’ve grown up with all the quote low fat packaged stuff that’s laden with corn syrup, with adults handing you a juice box while they wheel you or drive you places door to door. When exercise is something official and adult sponsored that you get driven to and wear a uniform for, instead of the bulk of your regular life lived half outdoors away from parents, like the old days.

A few bites into lunch – we don’t bother waiting for the girls; I was about to start chewing on the park bench – and I tune back in to Scott’s dry analysis of our next adventure. The challenge is to work with a group of school children to create a presentation about their school vegetable garden and the benefits of healthy eating. Each team will get half a third or fourth grade class. The judging panel will include Sergio, Jonathan Bernard, and the class teachers, plus the students can weigh in via in person cheers and online likes. (Seriously, third graders spending class time on social media?)

Team blonde returns, and Scott, in full on stepfather mole, explains the task. As a quad, we don’t do so well on the brainstorming. Scott begins a comprehensive pencilled list of topics the children might quickly google on their devices to get us started, while Amber looks surprised that anyone under 75 still uses a pencil. He debates – mostly with himself, because I’m not sure third graders will really be that helpful here – about which particular organizations have the best data. Should we consider worldwide nutrition or stick to local, adults vs. children’s needs. I’m like, it’s about eating healthy from their garden, so we really need to focus on that. Keep it simple.

Britni ignores us altogether, and studies the posts she took of the herbs. “We could dress them up like the different herbs and vegetables. Then each one could talk about their veggie.”

“I don’t think there’s much of a wardrobe budget available,” I tell her, trying not to sound too snide. #itsberkeleynothollywood

“Plus there’s not going to be time to make a costume and teach them about nutrition,” Scott says. “Believe me, I’ve tried it with older kids and it’s like teaching to a tomato.”

“Well, I think we should make it about their veggies. What they grow. That’s what will be interesting to them,” she points out.

“A powerpoint maybe,” Scott says. “We could do charts of the vitamins and so on and include photos from the garden.”

“Or a slideshow, with each kid picking their favorite. And which ones are the most healthy.”

He and Britni go back and forth like that for awhile.

Amber’s zoned out, nibbling the last of her lunch and watching the passersby. Dreaming of her days as a newscaster, I’m thinking, and wishing she was away from Berkeley and all its bad dressers. Guess I’m a little zoned out too, but can you blame me?

“You guys,” I finally interject, “I’m sorry, but that sounds seriously boring.”

Scott stares me down. “I wonder if you could frame your objection in the form of a positive suggestion?” he asks, all patient martyr meeting leader.

“No, she’s right,” says Amber. “Making a nutrition chart for a vegetable is about as fun as a math test. I wouldn’t have given a shit about that when I was a kid.”

“Plus it’s not much of a visual. We’re making a video, right, two or three minutes long? It can’t be just a bunch of kids showing slides or something.” I address myself to Scott, attempting a criticism that sounds positive. “We want the kids to be moving around, showing off their garden, enthusiastic about it.”

“What if they were, like, dancing vegetables?” Britni puts in. She’s a one concept girl, it seems.

“I don’t think there will be costumes—“ Scott begins.

“Wait,” I cut in, “What if they do a dance number? Like a goofy, flash mob choreographed kind of thing, singing and dancing about the garden, in the garden?”

“Is there a good vegetable song?” Amber asks, looking pretty serious and like she expects me to know.

I’m flashing on other such things gone viral. There was an SPCA that used an ABBA song – something cute and fun they created just for their board but other people loved it. Only ABBA sued or something, they had to take it down. “Look up rules for using copyrighted song lyrics,” I tell Scott. “Are there breaks for nonprofits? Or schools?”

“Where are you going with this, Jessie?” he asks, veteran of numerous of my past leap before you look impulses.

“This could work. Everybody’s into musicals and dance numbers now! We could just take something catchy… you must have been a cheerleader or a dancer or something, right?” I ask Amber. “You could teach some simple steps?”

“Actually, we’re both performers,” she answers, with no modesty whatsoever. “Singing, movement, acting, you name it.”

“We just need something to dance to, something related to their garden.” I stop, looking for input, but the others are just staring back at me. “Ohmygod, that song, that hunger song, feed the world – we could totally reconfigure that.”

“What? What song? I can’t find much on copyright exceptions,” Scott says.

“Band Aid 30,” Amber announces, thumbs whipping over her phone. “Here’s the recording, and you can read along for the lyrics.”

Scott looks mostly puzzled by the tinny sound and itsy bitsy visuals of unknown English pop stars singing earnestly together. But Amber and Britni are both nodding along to the easy little tune. I grab his pencil and pad. The very first line, “It’s Christmas time” can become “It’s dinner time, there’s no need to be afraid.”

“Don’t do the whole thing, we need to let the kids help,” Amber cautions. “Or else they won’t want to be part of it.”

She makes a valid point. I can solicit some rhyming words, I suppose. “You guys on board with this?” I ask the others. Britni and Scott nod, regretful but perhaps not devastated that we won’t feature dressed up vegetables or scientifically factual slides. “Because we need to keep it quiet from the other teams.”

“Let’s try some basic steps here,” Amber tells Britni. To us she adds, “You may not know this, but even really simple dance steps look fantastic if a group of people do them at the same time.”

“Um, I was alive for the disco era,” I retort.

“Work on the lyrics,” says Scott. “We only have a few minutes.”

Squinting at Amber’s phone, I jot down some more lines. At dinner time, we fill our plates with food we made. And in our garden of plenty, there’s food for every girl and boy. Just make sure you eat these veggies at dinner time! I need some vegetables and herbs that rhyme with ones and fun, fear and tear. Tarragon? Carrots, dear?

The girls are prancing in front of us, leg kicks and swivels a tad too sexy for children or vegetables. Scott looks like he’s trying to say something positive but can’t find the words; his lips open and close fishlike before he turns away to contemplate audience reaction in the form of some local vagrants who are leering openly.

OMG, is this the way I part ways with the HAN race, not even half way through?

But I’m mildly cheered, upon reconvening at the nearby school, to see that nobody looks very smug or prepared. Gotta feel a little bad for the teachers, actually, giving up their poor classes for a project like this. Probably thought the little tykes would be gleaning facts about nutrition from knowledgeable adults, not learning dirty dance moves. Well, that’s what happens when you turn your class over to random strangers; good luck explaining all this on parents’ night!

Quickly, we are assigned our kiddies and a spot to work with them. Twelve third graders, that makes them, what, nine years old? I ask and a couple of them confirm this, while most others roll their eyes. They look bigger, somehow – maybe it’s how they’re dressed.

But Amber brooks no nonsense. She suddenly morphs into, like, the ballet teacher that all the kids adore even while their toes are bleeding. “This lady,” she points to me, “will need your help with rhyming vegetable names. The man is going to be filming us. Boys, line up in back, girls here. Britni will teach the boy steps and I’ll show you the girls’.”

I think it’s the way the two alpha boys fall under Britni’s spell. There’s a moment when the whole thing could go south, when the cool kids disobey and everybody else follows. But the boys pretty much want to be close to her. The girls want to be Amber. Scott, they basically ignore, though he vetoes some of the moves. Keeping it clean, hyping good food not good loving.

They get a few minutes to call out names of the foodstuffs for me, and I quickly scribble out our new lyrics. One of the kids lends me an ipad to type them, and Amber plays the song. More than half of them have heard it, fortunately. She clicks some magic on the screen, and the lyrics hit all the ipads. “They’ll just have to carry them during the dance. They can be part of the show. Guys, you’ll be reading the screen but be sure to look up. And sing loud!”

“Also, don’t trample the plants,” I add. No laughs, further eye rolling. Basically, the kids are glad an old person such as myself is not teaching them a dance number.

We will fortunately be filming sequestered from the others. I hear vague mumbles and shouts, but have no idea what the other teams have lined up. We’ll only have 10 minutes for our actual filming (wherever we choose – classroom, garden, cafeteria, where it seems Sunil, Bobby, Nick and Tiffany are headed). We decide that Scott and I should both film different angles in case of major foot faux pas. Amber and Britni will join the dance, in the back with the boys. There are fewer of them and they’re closer in size.

The tallest boy looks like he’s won the lottery getting to shake next to Britni’s booty. Meantime, Amber had secured a Roku device from a teacher, and thumbs her phone frantically. She mutters a string of what sound like made up words; Britni explains that she’s going to dampen the voices so it will just blast the instrumental part of the song. They must borrow other performers’ compositions for their lip syncing all the time.

When our turn comes, we herd the kids out to their big and vibrant garden as fast as we can. It’s even got a couple levels, which works for the dance. Scott and I position ourselves, and the girls take them through a full practice run. A couple kids in the front get the giggles and fall out of step, and the whole thing looks majorly doomed for failure.

“Okay, get that out of your system right now,” I step up and declare sternly. If they’re going to treat me like an elderly substitute teacher, why not play the part. “We’re going to do this in one try. Make Amber and Britni proud. Don’t make Scott mad.”

“And have fun with it,” Amber exclaims, ruffling hair and patting shoulders around her. “We’ll put this online, so give us your best smiles!”

As a kid, the very thought of something photographed and shown to other people would have made me misbehave or at the very least stumble and fall. But it’s a different world now, for sure.

Loud they sing. Big they smile. As they belt out the last line, Feed the world, our garden grows great veggies every day!, I’m a little blown away by the cuteness. I keep filming as the kids collapse into giggles and Amber and Britni high five them, then I pan back over the garden and up to the plaque with the name of the school.

Scott snatches my cam; we’ve got like a minute and a half to edit and upload. He basically captured the dance from wide angle, while I was focusing in on some of the girls in the front. Fortunately this makes for decent back and forth splicing. And fortunate that Scott has figured out how to do that, since I sure haven’t. He puts my school shot as the intro. I argue for ending it with the post performance giggles.

He thinks that will make it “less serious,” to which I’m like, oh honey, the serious train left the station some time ago. The girls back me up, that popular vids now are more likely to include a bit of the people being real, the funny outtakes and stuff.

Britni rounds up the children – oops, nobody’s supervising them and they’re getting loud and wandering off – for a look, and they hoot in what seems like appreciation. Boys proud of their dancing ability, that’s not something that ever flavored my childhood.

A beleaguered looking teacher reclaims her now very riled up class. Hope she’s not voting, but she probably is. All of us, teachers, kids, racers, get herded into the cafeteria, which also serves as their multi-class meeting area. It does not smell great in here. Even with their nice garden, it seems the children are getting fed gross school cafeteria stuff.

Both classes together make a considerable racket. I’m wondering if they’ll need to break out the fire hoses or something, but eventually there’s a lull, and one of the teachers says some stuff about how to root for the best video. Austin, meantime, is scrambling to get the vids uploaded and something other than a “connection device needed” message up on the white wall that will serve as our viewing screen.

At last, the team team of Sunil and Bobby with Nick and Tiffany role out their clip. They’ve got their fourth graders – even bigger than our kids, and a year more educated if that matters – filmed in the cafeteria, discussing the finer points of what makes for a tasty and healthy school lunch. Just a few of the kids talk (they’re very articulate; one boy sounds like a college professor) and the others stand around pointing at stuff. It does touch on the garden, the food, and the importance of nutrition and everything. But, uh, yawn. Their kids cheer and tepid applause follows from the rest of us.

Madison and Edie and Jack and Jill are next, and their little show makes the first one look like an Oscar winner. It’s focussed on worldwide nutrition issues, borrowed from the Madison’s dissertation research, perhaps? The kids take turns holding up their ipads with tiny dull graphs. Even the kids look bored. Jack and Jill are part of the tech world – did they miss the memo about how things should be visually interesting and interactive? Midway through, they switch focus to a brief tour of the garden, and I realize the team pairing must have gone sour, with each half taking half the time. Of a three minute video. So it’s dull, disjointed, and not demonstrating good teamwork. Sorry to be gleeful, but there’s no way we’re going home compared to those guys.

Our vid is up next. Well, it’s pretty amateur all right, but the kids look cute and really into it. We didn’t really say that much specific about nutrition and everything, but we definitely highlighted the garden. And the pride the kids take in it. We for sure get the most cheers from the kids, and at least one of the teachers is cracking up.

Sandrine and Paul and Lenora and Todd wrap it up. They also used the garden as their setting, with the children leading Todd and Lenora on a tour. It’s a bit hammy, with clearly staged questions, but cute the way ours is – eager children proud of their accomplishments. Almost all the kids have a line or two, and they touch on everything from the use of worms (which one girl overcame her fear to touch) to how somebody’s abuela loves the herbs, which remind her of her rural childhood.

Dammit. It’s got heart and soul. They didn’t say much about nutrition, aside from one of the kid’s obsession with carrots and vitamin A. They didn’t have rhythm like ours. But the judges are all nodding and smiling and not even trying to hide how they love it.

Still, we are assigned a final lame project to do while the official judging occurs: we all have to hustle back to the restaurant and hand out the snack boxes. Plus of course make and load a 30 second what-we-learned clip. Results will be announced there in an hour.

“Great, so no one can track the kids’ likes and cheers and stuff,” I mutter to Scott. “They liked ours the best.”

“Ours was the best, hands down,” whispers Amber.

Scott and I move away from the girls as we head out to the sidewalk. Being not as rude or righteous, he congratulates Paul and Sandrine. Who modestly credit the children and Todd with the bulk of their success. Hello, does anyone remember we’re in a competition? I drag Scott away to plot how we can best the girls in our final clip.

Modestly, we decide. And reeling it back to the topic at hand, the importance of learning about healthy eating. We carefully mention HAN’s website and the MYHT devices as teaching tools and conclude that we’ve learned as much from the children as they have from us.

Back at the restaurant patio, we collectively whip through the box handouts and then impatiently wait. Nobody is openly mean about it, but there are some whispers about who might be eliminated. Let’s just say “team old” is feeling pretty safe.

Jonathan Bernard marches up the front steps, race mat in hand and Austin and Sergio grinning at his side. Guess the teachers have chosen to stay in their classrooms and try to salvage something out of the rest of their day.

Well, it’s not exactly a shocker that Todd and Lenora come in first, and Sandrine and Paul second. They exchange modest high fives. Damn, and they were the last chosen ones too. Amber and Britni look just slightly more mature than our third graders now, clutching each other’s hands and tittering while Jonathan Bernard does a slow and dramatic pace around the gathering. He stops before me, then Scott, then Amber. Amber and Britni edged us out as team three, and we’re team four.

How did they do that, I was sure they’d be all we’re the greatest dancers and everything. Did Sergio even listen to what they said or just get his world rocked by their good looks? Did the children’s votes count after all? I’m spaced out enough to hardly register the next teams – Nick and Tiffany then Sunil and Bobby. Those guys appear a little annoyed. But less so than the last set. Jack and Jill are scowling, and Madison and Edie look like they’d rather be anywhere than here.

Drum roll, please: Jeff and Jill are team announced as team seven. Jeff, Jack, whatever. Madison and Edie at least stick around to say goodbye, and wish the rest of us well. I’m wondering if they even tried at all on their 30 second vid – I mean it seems pretty clear they weren’t going to win and maybe they just want to get back to studying and doing actual poverty work. I wouldn’t be counting on them to sign up to HAN’s monthly sustaining donor program, from everything they’ve learned about the org, put it that way.

For myself, I am damn tired from the strangest week of unemployment on record. We get the weekend off, thank God. I will of course need to obsess a little longer tonight, but I’ve promised my sister and friends and, oh yes, myself to unplug for awhile. I’m going to lunch with Raye and her husband and the funny little kid they sponsor through Big Brothers. I need to hit the market and cook something fabulous for my dinners. Catch up on laundry, regular news.

This is Jessie detaching, over and out.

 

 

 

Chapter 9

Basic Needs

 

It works. I’m good and relaxed by Sunday afternoon; can barely muster the energy to drag myself from the comfy couch to the glorious kitchen for my – I’ll just say it, gorgeous – dinner of a light spring stew. I’ve got perfect fava beans. It’s organic, packed with vitamins, and fairly quick to prepare and inexpensive to boot. And the leftovers will make another meal that’s even more flavorful.

I suppose I should admit it bothers me sometimes to think that the most passionate relationships of my old age may be with food.

I finish up the dishes, and do a quick cleaning spin around the room. Regard my phone, which sits, all charged up, quiet and sound off. Not even the little beeps and burbles of incoming missives to tempt me. What did it for me, got my head away from that sucker and anything internet based, was a memo that my friend Barb had forwarded from HAN. Their new branding protocols. She sent it with a cryptic message to the effect that I was lucky to have gotten out when I did.

Despite the fact that they’ve achieved record hits on the web, clearly thanks to all the traffic generated by the race, Kim apparently went ahead with the branding consultant she was so pleased to have located. This lady charged something like $3,000 to convince them to hire another consultant to redesign the website. And use a narrow palette of colors and one of three specific (and visually dull! but that’s just me) fonts.

The new site (Kim’s memo included a screen shot) will have the same sparse look of a thousand others, with lots of white space and big square photos and look alike text boxes. Like Reddit, but minus the interesting topics and lively community. Something I always thought was important about the HAN site – and yes I had a hand in its layout, as befits the person most familiar with its content – was how it suited our particular set of issues. So one did have to at least choose an area of interest and then be presented with a logical and organized flow of related info. As opposed to the random splay of topics that migrate to the top of a page via hits algorithms, so popular now. Kim’s memo proudly concludes that this new look will seal HAN’s place as trend-setting amongst its peers (um, never mind that the world of California based hunger and health nonprofits is, shall we say, on the tiny side).

It boggles my mind that people who pride themselves on being up on trends don’t get it that today’s redesign will very quickly look dated and stale without attention to content and user interaction. Not to mention originality. Remember that? Being important because of what made you special, not what makes you look like the herd. I mean I don’t love the word branding, but I got the concept a good long time ago. I got it that the color palette doesn’t mean that much without the recognizable action that makes the world a better place. Seriously, does anybody have a favorable reaction to the Red Cross mostly because it’s a cross and it’s red? For that matter, who would have happily associated the same red with Netflix a few years back, had they not also been receiving their guilty pleasure DVDs in the mail?

Anyway, after reminding myself in any number of ways that HAN and its foibles are not my problem anymore, I tuned it all out. Now, as I turn to my phone, I can see there have been a lot of messages. Just as I pick it up, though, it rings. Sister Alice. Taking a break from her happy suburban house and husband to wish her little sis well on her lonely Sunday night?

“Alice, I can handle being alone, I was with people all week,” I say into the phone.

“What? Jessie? All these messages, what on earth is going on?”

I’m momentarily befuddled. How does she know I’ve missed all these texts? Wonder if this is what my old age has in store – confusion from the simplest questions. “What is what going on…?”

“Your facebook. I’ve gotten like 15 messages about it from people who don’t even know you. Facebook kept sending me emails about all the shares and comments, and I click on and you’re not even there, but it’s on your page. And shared all over the place.”

One handed, I flip open my laptop, which has also been resting all weekend. “What are you seeing, Alice?” I carefully inquire. “I’ve been offline. Like you insisted.” I have a feeling I know though.

“This dance thing, the singing kids. Is it for your old office? Because it doesn’t really say.”

Oh my God. My facebook notifications have gone crazy. I have lots more messages there. Texts, voicemails. Two days, two days I zone out, and miss all this. “It should link to the HAN page,” I tell Alice. “We posted it on Friday. For the race. Crap, did we not mention HAN specifically?”

“It’s cute, I watched it a couple times,” she says. “But who are the young women dancers, don’t tell me they’re teachers.”

I hastily explain the pairing off of teams, that we worked together but that basically these gals are our competition. That the teachers didn’t know we were doing a dance number and that this video didn’t even come in first. Then I ask if I can call her back.

Because I have to spend the next hour, like getting a hold of this thing. Liking the comments, coming up with some quick quips for questions, answering messages. At some point I click over to Amber’s facebook – we’ve both friended HAN and her privacy settings are super low – and see that not only does she have literally thousands of friends, her version of the thing is pretty much going viral. Likes are increasing as I sit here staring at her link.

And then I kind of do the Homer Simpson d’oh knock to my head. Not sure if I should feel more stupid that I ignored this building up, or didn’t take advantage of it for my page and race related promotion of HAN, or – what Alice said – that we oops kind of forgot to put ourselves in it or mention HAN at all in a recognizable way. I mean if something is going to go viral for the race and Scott and I created it, well, you’d think we’d have done that much.

Thumbing through my texts, I see that a message has come in from Austin with instructions for our start times and meeting place for Monday morning: the Redwood Children’s Hospital down on the peninsula. That’s enough of an excuse to call Scott, though I’m torn between bragging and throttling us both for the way the video has seemingly become Amber and Britni’s rather than ours. Or HAN’s.

“You wouldn’t be calling about our video?” says Scott, picking up my call. “Did you see how much better it’s done than the winning entry? I think this is the first time I’ve impressed Holly since she hit double digits.”

His calmness checks my rising panic. Still, I splutter about why weren’t we more careful with ownership, why didn’t we circle back to the organization’s name and mission, how did my concept become Amber’s viral video? How can we turn this back to our advantage in the race, why don’t I have thousands more facebook friends to send to HAN a clicking on our behalf.

Scott has no answers. He’s just going to bask in the glow of temporary approval from the kids. He shrugs off the importance of the social media aspects of the race. Sure, the girls will get some time points for all the hits, but they’re not the strongest competitors. He grudgingly admits that even I can carry more than either of them, as if that’s at all the point just now.

I have a lot more to say, but Scott is unavailable to listen. Wife Heather, I’m thinking, has viewed the vid and wonders about the sweet nubile things he’s hanging with aside from his noisy ex?

 

 

Next morning, though, I kick right back in as soon as I get in the car. It’s a good half hour drive minimum. I berate us both for not owning our product or more carefully connecting it to Health Access Now and their specific solutions. Both of us – I insisted last night – have at least linked it clearly on our own facebook pages, and directed people to the version on HAN’s page rather than Amber’s.

“Who’s going to hire me now, if I can’t pay at least that much attention to my work?” I grouse further. “Am I going to be writing grant applications and appeal letters for the rest of my career?” As we pull onto the freeway, all I see are lookalike cars, grim faced drivers, all headed for mind numbing jobs. I imagine myself squished against odorous strangers on the 27 Bryant bus, progressively getting paid less to do more and hating it.

“Come on, Jessie. In a real world setting you’d have an assistant to manage those details. I’m sure someone will want to hire you for your creative instincts. Eventually.”

“I don’t have time for eventually. I’m going to need something soon. Something that pays pretty well. Do you know how much my health care costs? It’s insane. And that’s if I don’t use it!”

He mumbles something about family coverage costing even more. He’s got no leg to stand on though – Chandler covers his whole family.

Just rambling now, taking my mind off the short term problem with the bigger picture, I continue. “I wish I had an expiration date, you know? So I know how much I need to save, how long I have to work stupid stuff and not do what I most care about. I mean am I going to live until 90 and stay healthy? Then sure, I’ll stay in development for awhile. But what if there’s an earthquake or a heart attack or something – my mom had one, you know. Then I shouldn’t waste another minute and I don’t need retirement savings. You’re lucky, you own your place, you earn more.”

“We still have to send the kids to college. Heather wants to take time off too – and she always likes to stay somewhere expensive. We could end up with our house our only real asset.”

“But at least you don’t have to worry about being forced out. If I had to pay market rates now, I’d have to land a serious development director job, full time plus. Or move to the boonies and commute forever. Why should I sacrifice all my time? Plus, is my ego so tied up in my job title, when I’d rather do something small and more meaningful? Of course nobody pays for that. Or respects it.”

“Since when do you care what people think, Jessie?” Scott says. “That’s one of your better qualities, in case you’ve forgotten.”

“I know. I mostly don’t. But people already starting to look right through me. Now, being 50.”

He pffts his lips. He’s been over 50 long enough to be over it.

“Seriously. Like those kids at the school. It didn’t occur to any of us for you or me to dance too.”

Scott attempts a half assed answer about his role as cameraman and mine as lyricist, then refocuses his attention on the road. Late for work wannabe dragsters darting in and out of traffic, pretending the highway is just part of their personal video game.

“Pretty soon we’ll be too old to deal with this traffic at all,” I tell him. “Look at these idiots.”

“Pretty soon the cars will be driverless. I’ll be on my laptop while GPS enabled google drives my car.”

“Yeah, and I’ll still be stalled out in my Metro because I can’t afford it. There’ll probably be separate lanes for the poor people who still crash their cars.”

He laughs.

“I’m serious though. How am I going to earn enough to not have to work my whole life?”

“If you like your work, is that so bad? I mean if you can take some time away and everything.” He stops, realizing, I suppose, that he’s just rubbing it in now about his having a job that offers sabbaticals. “Besides, who knows when any of us will get sick and lose the ability to earn. Just be glad we’re healthy. Anyway, you don’t have to stay here. You could move somewhere cheaper, stay with your sister.”

“Oh God. The ultimate humiliation. Broke on the couch in a crappy little suburban town. With no nonprofits, no jobs I could get.”

“People will always hire you, Jessie. You’re fun.”

Is he serious right now? I glance over, but Scott wears his normal poker face. Unfazed no matter what.

“I wonder what they’ll have us do at another hospital,” I mumble, looking back out the window at the stream off traffic, all the other people going about their normal lives. Guess I should hope for something that uses more brains than brawn. But maybe enough brawn to put us ahead of Amber and Britni, who truth be told, are not as dumb as they look.

I reach back into our supplies for a snack. I should be rested up, energized for whatever’s in store. The car runs smooth, the seats are super comfortable, the air temperature just warm enough without inducing a hot flash. I’m not hungry or catching a cold or sore from over-excursion, and I’m not late for my destination. When it comes down to it, maybe that’s today’s lesson wrapped up in a bow: basic needs taken care of, no immediate stresses, nothing in my face to deal with… this may be as good as it gets anymore. And this isn’t half bad.

We – Scott mostly, with me pointing out street signs after he’s signaled a turn – find the place and park in a far back lot near a couple of our fellow racer cars. A little squadron of HAN signs to rouse curiosity. Sunil and Bobby pull up nearby, and I’m flashing back on seeing them at the park on that first day. Feels more like a decade ago than a week.

“We saw what Amber and Britni did with your video,” Sunil says, before I can work the subject into my hello. “I’d be pissed if I had the winner but they jumped ahead from social media.”

“You didn’t have the winner,” I point out. “Apparently we did, if facebook has anything to say about it.”

“Well, their facebook,” he shoots back.

We wander towards the main entrance, where a small sign points us to a side door. Scott ignores the conversation and tries to figure out where we’re going. Bobby brings up the rear, big gulp coffee in hand and barely managing to stay upright.

We locate the starting place, a small conference room, with a bunch of our fellow racers clustered near Austin. Turns out the whole group has the same starting time – Austin offers some vaguely worded mush about the judges being so impressed with our collective last efforts and great social media hits for HAN. I’ve got my eyebrows way up my forehead at this, but nobody’s looking my way. Todd, I’m pretty sure, is avoiding even looking in our direction. Jealous, some?

Sandrine and Paul look less miffed about losing their second place starting spot. “They played it well,” she whispers to us. Everybody is clearly aware of the girls’ vid gone wild, it seems. The girls haven’t even arrived yet, and it crosses my mind that maybe they’ve literally gone Hollywood and left us behind. But no such luck; they come fluttering up, prettier and more done up than ever, just as Austin is hemming and hawing and unable to stall the rest of us much longer.

There’s a tiny round of applause for them. Scott offers a high five, and I follow with the tepid raise of my hand, just to not look totally rude. It’s then I notice the small shoulder mount camera wielded by a total stranger right up in my face.

“That’s Austin, he gives the clues, he knows how everybody’s doing,” gushes Amber. The baby faced cameraman aims for Austin, who almost stumbles backwards either from her attention or his embarrassment of being on the other side of a camera.

“Scott and Jessie were our partners on the ‘It’s dinnertime’ dance,” she continues, designer nailed hand fluttering in our direction. “They’re awesome, they’re like our race parents!”

OMG. The fact that the clip now has a title prevents me for a second from taking in her thinly veiled insult. Perhaps we are technically old enough, but neither Scott nor I are parents-of-25-year-olds material. His kids are teens and I skipped the mommy thing altogether, thank you very much. If ever somebody refers to a middle aged woman as “like a mom” in a work setting, myself especially, it makes my blood boil. Not to mention be ruder than I already am and curse like a sailor.

Possibly Scott remembers or picks up on this – he deftly maneuvers himself between me and the camera. I try to manage something akin to his poker face as the camera dude follows the girls vogueing their way into a simpering pose leaning against the conference table. “We have to pay attention now,” Britni stage whispers. “Very important instructions coming!”

Murmuring from beside me: Jill has located the celeb gossip website slash cable show from which this juvenile camera fellow has emerged. Her facial expression battles between sneering and utter jealously. “It’s like a very minor TMZ knockoff,” she whispers.

Todd’s in a full sneer, whispering back, “Not even. Girl, you know they found him and not the other way around.”

I’m not following at all now, the whispers or Austin’s droning in front of me. The militarized zone? The girls went and located a guy to film them filming the race?

Jill is zipping her thumbs across her phone. This is a girl who gets all her news off whatever’s trending with her friends, I’m pretty sure. Versus seeking out relevant news like the long term implications of climate change on world hunger, for instance. She’s multi-tasking or at least looking that way – eyes darting phone to front to phone again, probably not taking in relevant info from either source. And yet, isn’t this the sort of person HAN needs to reach in order to stay relevant, as opposed to the same old tired folks that showed up at our auction event every year?

I want to pay full attention to Austin, but it’s boring. He’s pretty much reading something that gives the history of the hospital since time began, and the gist of it is that they treat lots of kids but don’t have a big corporate mucky muck benefactor like Saleforce’s Benioff behind it. Apparently they can’t even spare a PR person to talk to us directly, because the one staffer on hand is just sitting there thumbing through her own phone the whole time he’s talking.

Finally, we get to hear the challenge, and as a group we shift a little forward, suddenly more alert. The hospital gal stands, face now animated as if abruptly switched on. Even the young celeb site camera dude lurches up and away from his focus on Britni’s cleavage.

“This challenge is based on a fav show of mine, America’s Next Top Model,” she gushes. “You’ll be doing little go sees right here in the hospital, to meet and interview some of our biggest stars – our very own patients!”

I’m looking at temp employee Austin, the only representative of HAN present, and wondering just who okayed the shift from obscure sci fi references to Tyra Banks. Yes, okay, I’ve seen the top model reality show. But it hardly seems a fit for HAN and its mission.

Go sees, the lady explains, are when models meet potential clients and model their clothes and show off their personalities and style. We’ll be doing that too, but as representatives of the mission to bring more corporate funding to the hospital. Because after we film our interview clips, we’ll get to race around Palo Alto to show them to potential funders!

Okay, now that’s an interesting take. I mean it sounds like basically doing fundraising for the nonprofit hospital – again, a bit outside HAN’s core mission – but ultimately useful in the big picture maybe?

There are a bunch more rules, and I hope Scott is writing them down. He’s jotting notes about something, anyway. Two key points – we must finish our interviews by 1 PM, at which time there will be a lunch break. (Scott and everybody notes the deadline; I make note that I’m glad I had my snack with the late lunch.) And the teams with the most completed interviews will get a head start on the footrace in Palo Alto. Time points will be factored in later for quality work and usability of the interviews.

“But we’ll be on our own, using our own interviews to convince the local companies to donate?” asks Sandrine, her facial expression a mix of polite and are-you-nuts.

She raises a valid point vis a vis quality versus speed with the hospital kids. Not to mention accuracy of how we portray the hospital’s needs and so on. Several others want to know if we have to raise a particular dollar amount or how we’ll know who to meet with. Surely the local tech company CEOs aren’t hanging around waiting for us.

After a bit of whispering between Austin and the hospital rep, he clarifies that actually we just have to locate a little flag at each of several local companies. The flags will have the email address where we can send our best clip, which will serve as both our check in and give the company honchos a taste of the hospital’s good works.

Yeah, right, I’m thinking. Also, hope nobody’s counting on this to actually raise any money. Also – and here I make a point not to open my big mouth – if we’re quote checking in by emailing a video clip, what’s to stop a couple teams from trading email addresses and not actually running to all these places? #keepcooljessie I glance around at my colleagues, wondering who would be our best bets, who are the slower runners. Amber and Britni, of course, but I’m done helping them.

In fact, I’d venture to say that most of the other teams won’t particularly want to help them either. If I have anything to do with it, after hijacking our joint video and calling us old, they’re going down.

No chance to let Scott in on my plan though – suddenly it’s a scrum to tear open our little packets and get started. Scott is tall enough to make his way through the shoving elbows and move into the hallway, and I duck out after him. Collectively, we’re going to scare any vulnerable children on their way from A to B, but so be it.

The hall is empty except for us rabid racers, and brightly lit. We’ve been given a map of the hospital floors with six rooms marked, and profiles of the patients we’re to meet within. Even little headshots of the kids inside gold stars, with cutesy tags like “Alli adores dogs and dancing” and “Maudie’s a soccer star.” Our hospital PR rep has a little too much time on her hands, I’m guessing, in addition to her obsession with the world of modeling. Also, assuming their parents are in on this – what are these people thinking?

Not for me to question now though. Nick and Tiffany are already dashing off down the hall. Paul follows Sandrine out the door, and I hear her muttering that they should start at the end and work backwards. There are seven teams but only six kids, so it’s a game of musical chairs, isn’t it. Amber, Britni, and entourage turn right, presumably toward room number one.

Without consultation, Scott and I take off after them. We pass them at a run, but when we arrive, panting, at the first room, there are Bobby and Sunil ahead of us. “We should start in the middle, and work backwards,” I suggest. Scott is already shoving into a stairwell to bypass the elevator.

This strategy seems to work, as we arrive alone at door number 4, behind which we find a bright eyed boy named Cesar. Who “relishes reading.” There are a couple other kids in the room, and a nurse or aide or something like that dressed in colorfully printed hospital gear. Cesar is sitting up in bed, happy to have visitors though book-less, I can’t help but notice.

We’ve been given a list of starter questions along with the directive that our interview should be edited down to three minutes and should make mention of the child’s particular reason for being at Redwood and if possible something about their favorite doctor or nurse. I’m not sure whether this feels more intrusive or creepy, but with three kids and a puzzled aide all staring, I break the ice with the kid by mentioning Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen, about the only children’s books heroes I know.

The boy is a Potter fan, and that gets the conversation started. Scott – he’s like Cecil DeMille with the MYHT cam by now – starts filming, motioning for me to get rolling with the hospital questions. “Too bad we can’t use wizard magic here,” I say, in a lame segue towards things medical. “So, um, what brings you to the hospital anyway?”

The kid has had a series of operations on his leg, stemming from a car accident. He’s easily able to recount what happened in each one, using cute kid-centered phrasing, and he has a huge honking crush on the main pediatric nurse. Well, you can see why they chose this kid for our challenge. Trying not to be too rude, I wrap it up with a couple softball questions about his family and friends. Hoping he won’t go into too much detail, as we have to scoot before other teams get ahead of us.

Off to door number 5, which is just down the hallway. Peaking in, we find Sandrine and Paul just wrapping up, fortunately. They look surprised to see us. “Thought Nick and Tiff were right on our tail,” Paul says. “We’d better hurry before someone else gets there.”

He’s vague, but I’m sure he meant to number 6, where Nick and Tiffany must have arrived first. Good, if we can throw those two off, we’re in business. Are those guys partnering up already, I wonder, paranoid. But no time for that – our little gal is primed and ready to chat. Sandrine has already made quite the impression – she’s all, Sandrine is a nurse, are you a nurse, do you know a nurse, I want to be a nurse.

I just try to get a word in edgewise while Scott gets the cam rolling. This kid is a little too precocious to be charming in my book, but hey, that’s why we’ll edit our clip, right. I’m pleased to see Nick and Tiffany arrive at the doorway, but they decide to take off rather than wait for us to finish. Smart move; not only is the kid a talker, but the other kid in the room wants some attention too. Scott is too nice not to at least pretend to film her for a couple minutes too, while I consult the map for room number 6.

With luck and assuming most everybody started at the front or back, it should be all ours. Bonus – we quickly find the room, and its occupant is happy to tell his story front to back, with little prompting. This kid is just in for the day, getting follow up care for his asthma. He’s super knowledgeable, and demonstrates his inhaler plus makes note of the problem of polluted air in his neighborhood. What is he, ten, and knows the phrase inversion layer.

I feel like we’ve got enough material to finish now, and put together a decent set of clips to be used to introduce the hospital to the tight fisted local tech CEOs. But Scott points out that we’re all competing to get the most of these interviews done, and three out of six is not going to cut it. So back we track to the third room. Sunil and Bobby are there chatting with the kid, the soccer player girl, and Jack and Jill are crowded into the room too, waiting none too patiently.

We trek to the next room and find Sandrine and Paul mid interview. I won’t argue with resting my feet for a few minutes, and maybe Scott can edit the clips. Sandrine is totally cool with the kids, so maybe following her will help us too. I’m okay with loud mouthy kids, but I tend to scare the shy ones, go figure. I can’t tell how old this girl is, but she’s some kind of a tween and looks less than thrilled with answering the same set of questions from more intrusive adults.

It takes awhile for Sandrine to finish and then for us to drag out some answers. The scene at room three has not improved – now Todd and Lenora taking entirely too long with a girl who has little else to say and just wants to eat her lunch in peace. We give up and head for the first room, the girl who likes dogs. She’s genuinely charming, just the last sort of kid you’d want to see fighting cancer in a hospital, but plucky and determined and apparently winning the battle so far. I’m ready to pull out my checkbook to help with her care; too bad I’m so damn broke.

By the time we get done with her, it’s getting close to 1 o’clock. I’m hungry, and five interviews isn’t too bad, even if a couple of them are totally lame.

Lunch hour we get to eat and edit, and the room is noisy with the children’s recorded voices. Also with the fun of watching team dynamics. No pair is immune to some sort of power dynamics, but the ones where one person is a lot more invested seem to do better. Sunil and Bobby, for example – Bobby hardly pays attention while Sunil does the editing. Nick and Tiffany seem to have divided the task that way too, her providing the material and him editing.

While Lenora and Todd are sparing about every deletion, and Jack and Jill, who must have taken turns with the interviews, each insist on doing their own edits and that the other is doing them badly. Scott and I are quieter at least, but I’m not shy about sharing my opinion. Still, he makes the ultimate cuts, being the one who’s figured out how to do it with the MYHT device. Yeah, my bad.

We hang out some more, while Austin and hopefully someone with some authority at the hospital do a quick review of the interviews. Amber and Britni have sent their cameraman packing, but they’re keeping to themselves. Confident, I guess, of their ability to perform in front of a camera. That’s their life goal and everything, so you’d figure this was their sort of challenge.

About the time I’m contemplating sneaking outside for some fresh air and away from the sight of people wearing MYHT cams and sneakily filming other teams arguing, Austin returns. Nobody is shocked to learn that Sunil and Bobby and Nick and Tiffany completed all the interviews. So they get a head start on the rest of us.

Great, for a challenge that involves running and map reading, for which they’re already at an advantage. Where’s the drama in that? I’m looking around at the other teams’ footwear while we wait. Scott and I, Paul and Sandrine – the over 40 set – have on unattractive athletic shoes. The younger people look better, but hopefully won’t be able to move as fast. Neither Todd nor Lenora ever look comfortable moving at full tilt, clothes-wise, and Jack and Jill just strike me as lazy. Barely grown kids used to getting chauffeured everywhere. Darned if the girls aren’t pulling slender runners out of their bag, though.

I lean towards Scott, and try to whisper my plan to trade emails from the stops with another team. Covering his mouth from any prying ears, he mumbles something that sounds like he agrees. I can’t really tell, though, and motion him closer. But Todd is grinning at us, sneaking closer, cam on. Great, just the image we need to have up for our gossipy friends, now that people are paying attention to our race antics.

The winning teams grab their info from Austin and take off.

Ten long minutes later, the rest of us get the nod. Scott tears open the material as we all squeeze out the door together, elbowing, looking like groups of stooges. Amber and Britni jog out ahead, Paul on their tails. Scott pushes into overdrive to overtake Sandrine, and they appear to be conversing and then consulting the map. Up ahead, the girls are running and texting from the looks of it. I can barely keep up, dammit, even 100 percent focused on running.

Jack and Jill are holding back, and I wonder how hard it would be to sneak back into a car and get a head start that way. Todd’s thinking the same thing, I guess. “Film them,” he exclaims, “if they get near the cars.”

Company number one, something small I’ve never heard of, is right on the same long block that heads toward the center of Palo Alto, and the little email flag is fluttering right out front. There’s a flurry of emailing and just-in-case photographing the flag. We (and any random passersby) can check off at least one stop.

We split into different directions at the next intersection. Scott waves me on toward the back end of the route, apparently. “Can’t we just walk fast,” I huff. “Nobody’s looking.”

He slows to a speed walker’s gait. “Sandrine and Paul will meet up with us midway and swap addresses,” he says, “But we still need to hurry. They were already planning to trade with Nick and Tiffany, so they might get a better deal with them still.”

“Great, or those guys will swap out with Sunil and they’re already done by now.”

Still, the sight of Amber and Britni jogging breezily away from us spurs me on. Ignoring people walking normally on the sidewalks, the cutesy sidewalk tables, random dudes texting, and frankly the traffic in the streets too, we hustle off to our next stop.

And, hallelujah, it’s not as frightful as it first seemed. Once we’ve made our way to the central part of Palo Alto, the offices aren’t far apart. We’re not talking Apple and Intel here, these are small places, up and coming little firms with strange no-vowel names and not big enough to have displaced several floors of old school tenants in downtown SF. Cloak and dagger – or at least keeping an eye out for competitors – we manage to caucus with Sandrine and Paul, ducking into the archway of yet another adorable and well populated café. Do these people ever go to their offices or just sit outside drinking bubble drinks and comparing the power of their tablets?

“Did you see those guys, Nick and everybody?” I ask them.

“No, and it makes me nervous. They must have been flying,” she says.

“Amber and Britni were right ahead of us,” Scott says. “But I don’t see them anymore.”

“I thought Jack and Jill might try to drive here instead of walking,” I add. “Todd thought so too, but I don’t know if anyone can catch them at it.”

“Todd and Lenora were behind us. Moving pretty slow, though. Listen, we should wait a minute or two between emails, just to not look totally obvious.”

“Better split up on our way back too. Guess we’re still racing.” With that, Scott starts off at a jog, and I’m left trotting behind him. “Did you send the next one?”

“While we were talking. I’ll do the others at the next two intersections.”

He does that. I concentrate on fast walking and not bumping into people or collapsing from the exertion. Just the same, I’m a sweaty mess by the time we make it back to our little caucus room at the hospital. Many, but not all, of the racers are already there, and collectively we do not make a pretty picture as far as selling the good deeds of the hospital. I take comfort that I’m not the only one who could use a sponge bath and a sedative.

“Who’s missing?” I whisper to Sandrine, whom we trailed here despite starting off together.

“Just Todd and Lenora. Those guys got here right when we did,” she says, pointing to the grumpy and panting Jack and Jill.

Damn. Shoulda run after all; hope we got some time points and they didn’t.

Austin must have been haunting the front entrance, because he soon follows Todd and Lenora into the room. Todd I don’t think has ever appeared in public so disheveled. I can barely bring myself to film him. But I do. Sorry, dude. Austin apologizes for the lack of Jonathan Bernard at the race mat, or anyone else from HAN available for us. Well, I could have told him that Dr. Bernard detests driving down here; his old fashioned image of the Bay Area stops at the South City line.

Just through quick quiet chats, we ascertain that Nick and Tiffany did split the task with Sunil and Bobby, and they’ve been back here for like half an hour. Jack and Jill had a little help too, via his having texted a friend who works at one of the places, and the girls – why am I not surprised – got similar assistance from a total stranger who saw them outside his office.

So Todd and Lenora were the only ones who made the entire trek. It seems unfair that they should be eliminated as a result, and I await justice in the form of our time points and penalties.

Well, that’s not to be. The girls (of course) and Sandrine and Paul get points for best interview and best interaction with the kids. Jack and Jill get dinged for having used an Uber – Austin himself saw them getting picked up. Damn, I knew those guys couldn’t walk a mile without getting a ride. But that’s not enough to put them at the caboose, so our ending order is Nick and Tiffany and Sunil and Bobby tied at the top, then Amber and Britni, Sandrine and Paul, us, and Jack and Jill.

Everybody kind of stares at their shoes when Austin tells Todd and Lenora they’re out. “The personalities of this thing,” Todd proclaims, “are leaving the building.” He blows kisses, though, and we all wish each other luck.

It’s going to take some serious luck now, I’m thinking. Todd and Lenora came in first last time, and now they’re gone. We’re back of the pack with only Jack and Jill likely to be picked off before us in terms of sheer skills or lack thereof. We got thanked, but not much more than that, for our part in generating all the hits for HAN with the It’s Dinnertime video. Oh, that it’s named. And doesn’t mention HAN; guess that might have helped as far as time points.

But we’re free to go. He’ll text us tomorrow’s starting info tonight. I glance at Austin for a moment – he’s got bags under his eyes and his fingers drum nervously. Kinda thinking this must not be the “event planning” resume builder he hoped for in signing on for this thing. But come on, who gets the life they ever planned?

 

 

 

Chapter 10

River Walk Dilemma

 

I could kiss my phone when I get Austin’s message that night: we don’t have to show up until afternoon for our next leg of the race. It’ll be another overnight – well, for all teams except the losers – but I put that out of my mind for now. I need to do laundry, and tend to my window boxes, and fix up some fresh salsa. Enjoy a healthy lunch that’s not a sandwich on the run, maybe bake something.

I really should be job hunting too. Really, really. Craigslist never sleeps. But nor is it very likely to offer me good prospects. I need a LinkedIn hit, and before that I need to demonstrate some more clever loving genius across my social media world. And hope someone who knows someone happens to come across it. Someone with job connections.

When social media started taking off, I was one of those not young people who set myself up on LinkedIn first. Because it made more sense than facebook, which at first just seemed like something for kids. But along came all the other iterations, and there was my job in development slash communications, what choice did I have. Now I’m not as addicted as a lot of people, nor as needy for props for my every utterance. But I will admit to some rush from any or all well received posts or widely retweeted quips.

Ignoring my sore feet and desperately in need of attention hair, I squeeze the last bit of energy I’ve got into a fun little photo gallery with text from today’s race. Post it, link it several ways, including very pointed references and click throughs to HAN. You see, people? I’m driving traffic to you!

A couple clicks around, though, and I’m a bit chagrinned to see that the vast bulk of attention for our dance video has landed and stayed with Amber. Who has added choreographer to her menu of talents, highlighted front and center. Funny, nothing listed about taking credit for collective work of others. I’m a little puzzled as to why the HAN folks haven’t stepped it up as far as taking credit and getting the website hits here. Guess that’s what happens when you’re short a Development Associate. Still, I know it’s the kind of thing Bill cared about. Is it possible, I wonder, that Kim is suppressing things just because I was involved in its creation?

 

 

In the morning, I find myself drawn to the kitchen, and just give in for awhile. Cooking or a loud party have always put me in a good frame of mind. Or cooking for a loud party. Not sitting silent in front of the computer, culling through jobs I may or may not be qualified for. But I march myself over there for a little while before it’s time to leave, if only so I can whine to Scott about the abysmal outlook.

Nobody just wants the basics anymore, that’s for sure. You’ve got to write and design, provide evidence of widely circulated press pieces and successful grant proposals, know all the software, know budgeting and have coordinated major events and house parties. Oh, and best if you’ve personally solicited the big donors and have ready foundation contacts. And they don’t quite say it, but it’s surely implied that on top of all this knowledge and experience it would really help to be young and attractive. “Energetic, outgoing and eager to expand the position.”

As for me, I can check off a few of these items. Lie – “self promote” – about others, which according to the Lean In crowd is what men have been doing since before women entered the workforce. Let’s see, have slept with a foundation exec; open to doing others if they’ve got a good sense of humor and not too much gut! I suppose I know a few others, not in the biblical sense, but some deep twisted part of myself refuses to hit up even the well endowed foundations for work I don’t believe in. Maybe if I had a bunch of super rich pals whom I knew wasted money all the time, I could get over that. Just bring in the bucks and turn a blind eye to seeing them spilling back out to overpaid consultants and useless shit that would turn up as “educational program development” on the 990 tax form.

Maybe I need to start with the assumption that not every org has a Kim Stevens in upper management, waiting to lay hands on the money I raise and revise to unrecognizable my best written work.

I try to set my mind there for a few minutes. It doesn’t take. There’s always going to be somebody, it’s the nature of the beast. Any occupation, any workplace. Maybe I can just find a place where my boss doesn’t worship Salesforce, there’s a start. I like a good database as well as the next geek, but that super expensive monstrosity has always struck me as a thousand report formats in search of a problem.

With no progress to show for my time, I’m okay with being interrupted by Scott’s five minute warning text. He does that as a matter of course with me, as well as with his wife and kids. The kids get more than one, I think. Then a good part of the time we’re still not ready, and he amuses himself with a book or a news site he’s been meaning to check out. Unfazed, a frigging model of the Serenity Prayer, while the rest of us are scattered, scrambling, forgetting some key item half the time despite the extra warning.

Once in awhile he forgets something, or is late, though, and then he goes a little nuts. I kind of secretly enjoyed witnessing this, back in the day. Heather has been know to be a bit gleeful at that sort of thing too. Eventually there’ll come a point, I suppose, when it’ll be more like laughing at a befuddled senior citizen. Whereas I’ve been a space case all my life, so senility shouldn’t bother me at all.

I’m basically ready when Scott shows up; I’ve had all morning. But I don’t get much chance to whine. He’s – well, he doesn’t whine, but he speaks kind of mournfully. Chandler has had some sort of grantor grantee problem with improperly tracking pledges and then missing payments. They’ve had frantic grant recipients with on time reports and late bills, Board members burning up the internet with confused questions, staff issuing flaming reply-to-alls and passive aggressively implying blame.

My first thought bubble, of course, is that it’s reassuring to think that foundations screw up their promises now and then just like the rest of us. And is it really that bad to spend one morning of a damn paid three month sabbatical untangling a work screw up? Well, it’s not right in principle, is it. Scott – have I mentioned – can be quite the idealist, and quite capable of profound disappointment in the shortcomings of others.

By the time we’re over the bridge and through the worst of the 101 traffic, I’m okay with just watching the scenery out the window, and murmuring appropriate expressions of sympathy. Crossing my fingers that our task will not be another one where I’m slow runner holding us back. We may have been broken up for a dozen years, but disappointing him has taken hold in my psyche to symbolize some primal unfulfilled daddy issues by now. #weveallgotissues

Scott winds down, and flips on NPR. Terry Gross soothes the soul as we cruise out of the urban jungle and into the gentle rolling hills of Sonoma. We just have an address for our destination, and I suppose it would be too much to ask that it’s a nice winery.

It is, it’s not. It’s a small and kind of ratty looking shelter in what passes for the bad part of the town of Santa Rosa. I don’t think they have serious guns and gang bangers up here, but there’s an unpleasant meth head vibe to the people populating the street. Scott decides he’d rather park in a garage than on the street, which is puddled with substances the origins of which we’d rather not know. We’re juiced up enough to go awhile farther; hopefully we won’t be taking a long car ride as part of our tasks.

There’s a little waiting area just inside the place, and hail, the gang’s all here. Or mostly, I don’t see the girls or Jack and Jill, but apparently the first place finishers are losing their advantage again. Nick and Tiffany are chilling, squeezed together on a battered love seat, chatting happily with Sandrine while Paul does pushups against the back of her chair. Bobby seems pleased with life too, although Sunil looks frankly annoyed to see that we’re all gathering at the same time.

“Anyone seen Austin?” he barks. “Or is he personally escorting the last place finishers to the start?”

Paul taps his cam and attempts to interview Sunil about issues of fairness in start times. Turns out these little snarky clips are bringing in the most viewers and comments online. But Sunil is smart enough to realize he’ll just look like an ass no matter what he says, and he chooses silence. Damn, I could really learn from this guy, I’m thinking – it’s only Scott’s Mr. Spock like raised brow that kept me from popping in with my take already.

We’re all a bit early, so it’s not like Austin’s gone missing or something. I try but am unable to appreciate the novelty of not being late. Turns out it’s a little boring.

Eventually the other teams arrive, as well as Austin and Jake and Mandy from the HAN staff. It’s all I can do not to run up and hug them, two of my fave former colleagues. For their part, they attempt poker faces when they see me. Mandy ends up grinning ear to ear at everyone for cover; she just looks kind of nuts.

Austin explains that HAN has been expanding its reach into rural areas around the state, and attempting to link up shelters and pantries with new high tech health applications. I puzzle at this last one for a minute until I realize he means things like the MYHT devices, fitbits, Apple watches. That’s news to me, program wise, though an interesting thought. Certainly there’s a fundraising angle to partnering with high tech firms rolling in VC funding.

It’s a bit of a stretch to think of using the MYHT devices for anything useful in this setting, but I have a sinking feeling that that’s where we’re headed. First, though, time for our now standard pontificating from a poor sap representing the recipients of our largess. A heavyset woman squeezes her way into our now crowded lobby, and sits, fanning herself for a moment, before launching into what sounds like her canned welcome to the shelter speech.

She keeps calling us volunteers, and referencing weekly events and stuff, and it makes me feel a little bad that we’ll all be out of here today, hopefully before dark. Not bad enough to consider driving all the way up here to be a shelter volunteer, however. I tune out a little, observing my competitors.

Amber and Britni are in the classic heads down, texting pose, not even trying to hide it. Jack too, although Jill sits forward, almost aggressively paying attention, the way she tackles everything, it seems. Bobby’s got to be stoned. He just sits and smiles. While everybody else looks somewhere between depressed and guilty, in the face of the shelter clients’ needs and our relative good fortune.

I blink wider awake, as the lady wraps up and Austin turns the floor over to Jake. He can be a mumbler and it’s all I can do not to beam with pride at how nicely he delivers his little speech. Standing up tall, something I coached him about, and carefully articulating. He’s an introvert in an extrovert’s world. I’ve told him that sometimes it’s just a matter of playing a role for awhile.

“So your challenge,” Jake continues, “is to help us help the shelter, by devising strategies and efficiencies to help our rural shelter partners serve the most people with their limited resources. For instance, things that will encourage the clientele to make better food choices. And beyond that, simple lifestyle choices, things as basic as counting steps or choosing water instead of a high sugar soda.”

Oops, I missed the beginning of all that, being so caught up in noting Jake’s posture and everything. Now I’m like, we’re supposed to encourage homeless people to walk around more and turn down sweets?

I glance sideways at Scott. He’s purposefully ignoring me, eyes forward, setting a virtuous scout’s example of how to pay attention.

“A panel including Sergio Merscovich, Ms. Greeley here, one of our new business partners, and myself will be judging your proposals,” Jake says, reddening as he self references. “It shouldn’t be longer than three minutes, up to you whether to make a direct pitch or use role playing.”

“Unfortunately, the shelter itself doesn’t open until four, so you won’t be able to work directly with their clientele,” Austin adds. “Although we will have another task lined up for you during the judging.”

A few mumbles. “Can we go outside and talk to people, like, hanging around out front?” Sunil wants to know.

Austin glances at Ms. Greeley, who shrugs. She’s got minimal interest in any of this other than getting some regular volunteer work out us, I’m pretty sure. He says okay,

Britni and Amber stare at Sunil and then each other, as if dumbfounded that anyone would choose to go chat with a toothless muttering man out front, even in the pursuit of new knowledge. That’s what their phones and google are for, duh, you can almost hear them thinking.

There are a few more questions. I figure Scott’s got the gist of it. Anyway, I can reel a few ideas off the top of my head as far as any random people and food choices, right?

Oh, but there’s one more thing: team teams again!

Glancing around, I see a total of nobody looking happy with this prospect. Except Bobby maybe, but I’m pretty sure that’s from his medicinal meds. Sunil looks regally pissed. Any of the rest of us will slow him down, you can see him thinking, and getting to choose first from amongst these losers does not make up for losing his time advantage.

Turns out he doesn’t even get that much – Nick and Tiffany go first and immediately choose Sunil and Bobby. Apparently they found five minutes during the lengthy drive up here to consider their options. I’m in equal parts impressed at their preparedness and annoyed that they didn’t pick us.

Amber and Britni get to choose next, as team number three. They whisper together for a moment. I’m a little surprised they don’t just text each other. I’m of two minds here – we did work pretty well together last time and they’re photogenic, but, well, our so called partnership did not end very happily. Can we refuse them, I wonder. But then they choose Sandrine and Paul. Which leaves us stuck with Jack and Jill. Great, pairing the bottom two teams, who have nothing in common beyond maybe mutual annoyance.

The last time they were partnered, I seem to recall, they split up their presentation and it was totally lame. They know nothing about food issues. Not much about actual food even. Perhaps they’ll have some insight about the various devices, but Scott and I going to have to run the show.

Austin looks at his watch, instructs that we must be back within the hour, and kind of sheepishly yells GO. In my first executive decision, I direct the four of us out the front door and away from the sounds of the other teams and sour shelter smell. Back outside, Scott points out a mini park down the street, says we can outline our ideas there, and tells them that I have lots of background on the issue.

It seems to work – they tag after us like sullen teenagers, but don’t argue. Three of us sit on a wide park bench while Scott paces before us, notebook and pencil in hand, ready to brainstorm.

“He said either food choices or lifestyle choices. I think we should stick to food, since it’s a shelter that serves food,” Jill says, nodding toward Scott’s pencil. I can’t tell if she’s actually trying to impress us with her knowledge or just wants to see a fuddy duddy write with a pencil.

“And she knows food issues,” Jack says, not to be outdone in stating the obvious.

“Both of us do,” Scott clarifies. Lest anyone think he’s just the pretty secretary here.

Despite the four of us being in general agreement, the discussion breaks down a bit at this point. I quickly summarize the food security and social justice issues that make it more complicated for a person who’s already depending on a shelter to find fresh and healthy food. Time, expense, access, not so subtle marketing, even the location of many services all point these folks toward the fast food jungle and away from an artful veggie stir fry in the kitchen (also, what kitchen).

But as fast as I can state a fact, Jill can contradict with a random point, something she thinks she’s seen on Reddit or just her own opinion about the ignorance of people she witnesses day to day, looking out from the window of her google bus, I have to assume. The old, I got a job, why can’t they get a job sort of thing, never mind that she’s young and educated. Both of them seem to assume that mere employment will solve the problem, will result in immediate access to and desire for healthy food.

“You know most workplaces don’t have free cafeterias with their own chefs and stuff, right?” I mention. “Lots of minimum wage workers are food poor.”

“Well, they can work at restaurants. There’s food right there,” Jack suggests.

Jill cuts him off. “Well, you might not know, but our drivers and maintenance people are allowed to eat lunch with everybody else,” she says, like that settles the matter of food at work.

That’s so small a piece of the whole picture that I’m momentarily silenced.

Scott reels us back. He does that thing where he “synthesizes what he’s heard” and makes us all think we’ve had some input. When actually he’s steering us down the chute towards his idea, which is basically political in nature. And which I agree with, so I’m willing to slide along.

After a while of honing it down and pretending to take into account Jill’s nonsense, we answer the challenge by challenging the shelter back. They should take a step to expand from the straight providing of food and shelter, and form alliances with other service providers and social justice allies. United and with more clout, they could promote policies and legislation that would centralize the services. Scott simplifies this into a seven step process that could be implemented within a year, and which he is quick to note will surely appeal to the grant making community. Assuming they seek grants, which frankly from the looks of the place, they’d better.

“Maybe I should summarize the plan, and then we can take turns reading out the seven steps,” Scott suggests.

“Maybe we should also interview one of those, you know, dudes,” Jill snaps back. “Get them to be all, yeah, good idea.”

“You think they’d have a clue what we were talking about? Yeah, right,” says Jack. “The guys who stay there can’t see past their next meal.”

I glance around to see if any of the dudes in question happen to be listening. Or want to deck him for being a pompous prick.

“I think it’s a good idea, actually,” Scott says. Jill preens as if the teacher has put a gold star on her paper. “I bet most of the clients here would see the benefit of a one stop shop concept that included nutritious options at a food pantry at the same place they can spend the night and seek treatments.”

“Let’s go find someone.” She wrinkles her nose at the prospect, but I guess finds it a necessary evil, like stepping over the homeless guy outside your hipster club.

“Wait a sec,” I interject. “We aren’t featuring the MYHT devices at all. They didn’t take too kindly to that last time, remember?”

That throws us all for a loop, but it’s a valid point. Jack and Jill start a rapid fire back and forth about fitbits and the MYHT medical apps and a bunch of other terms that sound like made up branding jargon. Scott manages a couple questions, but I think he’s just trying not to seem like a senior citizen regarding the tech world.

Unfortunately we’re no closer to an answer but a lot closer to our time deadline. An unshaven but reasonably clean fellow has joined us in the mini-park, and we decide to nab him for our brief “interview.”

Happily, he likes to talk to ladies, he says, grinning, leering. Jill and I exchange a look and the guys manage not to laugh out loud. I ask him leading questions and Jill puts on a sweet face to explain how he should look at her shoulder patch for the camera. Shoulder, breast, whatever. It’s telling that relationship wise, Jack is openly amused at this dude coming onto his girlfriend. Hopefully it’s because he thinks she’s too good for him, not because he can’t believe anyone else would find her attractive.

Revved up and ready, we quickly record the summary and the seven steps. “We should do the intro back at the shelter,” Scott says. “Make sure we get the name plate and something nice that identifies them, their features.”

A light goes on for me. “That’s how we can use the devices – step number four? Not just report on conditions but use the MYHT cams to record a visual and audio. Before and after, it’s a great way to provide virtual info to decision-makers plus give accurate before and after comparisons. Measurable outcomes, that sort of thing, that donors always ask for.”

Scott nods and jots down a note. He hands it to Jack, who recorded step four, to re-read the new text.

“Jeff, wait,” Jill exclaims. “Don’t just read it, that sounds stupid when there are so many real applications.”

“We don’t have time to argue,” Scott says in his dad’s-getting-serious voice.

I’m watching Jeff/Jack. Kind of think he likes doing the opposite of what Jill orders him to do, and sure enough he nods at Scott and reads off the step in a single take.

So off we scurry to the shelter, where Scott whips his cam around for a ten second intro. He’s got about two minutes to edit the whole thing together – not even enough time for them to object to him doing it. Getting comfy on our coattails, kids?

We gather back in the same rundown lounge. Joining us is a new person, presumably the business partner Jake mentioned. Or possibly a stark raving loon who’s wandered in off the street and donned a weird high tech helmet. All the nerds are murmuring together, though, awed and wide eyed. I spot Sergio in the doorway, eyeing the guy like a jealous cat.

Mr. Dork removes his helmet so as to explain that this is the absolute latest in virtual world technology, and he foresees a near approaching future in which no one will need step out of the house in order to visit a famous museum or have a simple exchange with a doctor. The winning teams will get to give the device a spin!

The younger they are, the more breathless and awestruck are my colleagues. Me, I’m wondering just how helpful not leaving home will be for someone who’s homeless and needs food aid.

But Austin draws us together, all business now. The judges have gathered awkwardly around his laptop, and he needs our finished products pronto. Scott sends ours first. The camera work and a couple of our read aloud steps are a bit shaky, but it’s a decent little proposal. And props to Jill – our brief clip of the man-on-the-street support lends credibility that none us could claim. There is a small round of applause, not all of it from us. The judges, though, sit poker faced.

Nick, Tiffany, Sunil and Bobby’s piece debuts next. They’ve taken a whole different track, and done it entirely with role play. Nick plays the MYHT guy, and the other three are just a few steps above inappropriate in portraying down and outs in the shelter dining area. They present a presumably to-be-designed app that would offer easy to follow directions, with voice command for those without a phone or with tech challenges. It would be programmed with automatically updating info on available support services, shelters, medical facilities and so on. Plus they’d include an easy to use daily nutrition log, voice commanded and able to be downloaded for doctor visits, and a calendaring app for scheduling appointments.

“That’s not so different from what we did at that first hospital,” I whisper to Scott. When we teamed with Sunil and Bobby. He doesn’t reply, keeps looking politely forward. His frown, though, tells me he’s not liking our idea so much anymore. It occurs to me too, that we may have erred in going big picture.

It’s the old river walk dilemma, though, I can’t help but note. From nonprofit strategy session of old: three people walking by a river see kids in the water, drowning. One person jumps in and starts saving them one by one. Another gathers several together, to teach them how to swim. The third at first seems a coward, running away up river. But he’s running to the source, to stop kids from getting pushed in in the first place. The point being, of course, that all of these are valid responses to a crisis, and all three sorts of thinking are needed.

I can only wish that Sandrine and Paul and the girls have bombed. The fact that Sandrine was still fiddling with her phone when everybody else was viewing the other masterpieces gives me hope. And hallelujah, they don’t disappoint.

Their intro is messed up, choppy – but after the first cringe worthy 20 seconds, the central idea isn’t bad. There are apparently leaps in development in biotech as far as being able to do things like measure blood sugar via a simple skin patch that takes a periodic sample of sweat. So a reconfigured MYHT patch worn on the skin could help someone with diabetes monitor their levels easily. In case the pleasure of not spinning off into diabetic highs and lows didn’t immediately lead to better food choices, they would pair this with easy to follow dietary guidelines.

At this point, Amber and Britni take over the narration, in the form of an unintentionally hilarious rap. I mean it’s not that bad as far as rhyming spoken word that pairs “suga” and “hurt ya,” but the visual of these lithe and lily whitest of skinny white girls all serious, stomping in rhythm, rapping about overeating, is making several of us a bit giggly.

Amber and Britni themselves smile and clap along. These are people who grew up getting praise and rewards for everything they did, and I’m not sure anyone here has the heart to tell them we’re not laughing with them. Sandrine and Paul both stare downward, looking like they’re biting back laughter themselves.

But the minute it’s over, Austin jumps in to assign our shelter jobs – a thorough scrub down of the kitchen and dining area. We get to choose tasks in our starting order; Sunil all but snorts at the idea this at all makes up for how he keeps losing his justly earned lead. Once the place is spotless, Austin adds, we’ll have another few minutes to record our “what we learned at the shelter” clips. Other than that it badly needs cleaning.

It’s basically all unpleasant grunt work, the kind of thorough but gross cleaning you hesitate to foist on your regular volunteers, and that paid staff find reasons not to do either. I just rope my hair back out of my face and dig in. Honestly, I’m relieved that we haven’t had more competitive physical stuff, where speed and muscle power would point me out as the lamest of the bunch. Well, observing the work – or lack thereof – of our partner team, one of the lamest.

Scott muses about how to frame our little clip, all low voiced and earnest. I don’t think it matters a whole lot. A, I can’t see a scenario in which we come in behind the wacky blood sugar rap teams, and B, we could talk more cogently about relevant shelter issues than our teammates even if we did it while hopping on one foot.

After awhile I take a little break, just like everybody else has been doing, and retire to the moth eaten couch in the front. Any volunteers just arriving will no doubt take me for a client having a bad day. A meeting is just breaking up in the staffer’s office, and I’m pleased to see that Jake and Mandy are still on hand. They must be doing something other than judging, though. “How’s it going?” I inquire, super casual.

Jake looks stricken, glancing around, paranoid. “We can’t really talk—“

“Fine,” Mandy cuts in. “How’s the race? Are you learning lots about HAN’s issues?” She’s all nonchalant, like she’s a regular staffer talking to a random racer, not my former intern.

“Lots and lots,” I grin. “Hear you have a new website design. Kind of surprised that our popular Dinnertime Dancing video hasn’t gotten better traction there, though.”

Mandy and Jake exchange a look, both of them paranoid now. No one’s even around – the other racers are either still cleaning or clustered out front enjoying air that doesn’t smell like mold and cleaning products. “There are some, like, legal issues,” Jake whispers. “With using the song.”

“It’ll probably be fine, but our pro bono said to take it down until somebody signs off on something.” Mandy adds, like she doesn’t want to hurt my feelings.

“It doesn’t mention HAN’s name real specifically,” I mumble.

“Yeah, that’s in our favor apparently.”

Well, that’s lucky. I wonder if I should try to take credit for that somehow. Before I can formulate the thought, though, Mandy has some more news to whisper: after a search that eliminated three of four finalists for my old job, the final finalist declined the offer, having decided to take a contract position that paid a lot more. Management is now pondering turning the job into a contract position too, and because Jake’s time is being poached by program work, the other intern is now a half time communications temp. At 22, he knows zip about events or grants or media relations, but is an old pro on the social media side. Mandy herself is thinking of getting a different internship come the fall semester.

Sunil and Bobby pass by from the dining room, pulling off their tattered rubber gloves and headed for the big sink. Sunil stares at the three of us, eyes narrowing.

“Well, break’s over,” I announce cheerfully. Lots to ponder, and it’s a relief the staffing spiral isn’t my problem (even if I do kind of wonder if anyone’s keeping up with the grant reporting schedule).

But as the guys disappear into the steam and noise of the industrial sink, Jake leans forward. “I heard that those guys might be spies,” he whispers.

“Uh…” I’m trying to conjure up Sunil and Bobby as CIA or FBI.

“Like, from competitors. The blonde one definitely works for one of MYHT’s main competitors.” He stands abruptly, as if afraid to say more. He and Mandy beat a hasty retreat.

I can’t say anything to Scott, who’s hanging with his new best bud Paul. But the rooms are pretty much sparkling, so we amble off to record our little final take. Look earnest, I tell him, but it’s not necessary. I mean, both of really are pretty earnest about the importance of a united, multi-pronged effort to beat back homelessness and food insecurity.

Back for our final judging, Jake stands in for Jonathan Bernard. He looks like a nine year old allowed at the grown up table, nervous and proud, standing atop our goofy race mat. The virtual reality tech guy is on hand too, cradling his helmet and gazing at Britni with unconcealed interest. Sergio stands with Austin, clearly trying to establish himself as the tech alpha dog.

Well, it’s like one of those Oscar shows where you know who’s going to win and it’s just a matter of how long they’ll take thanking the cast and crew and their dear relatives in heaven. Nick and Tiffany edge out Sunil and Bobby with their individual clip, but those guys win the task. High fives in every direction, for they will each get a joyful spin in the VR helmet. Whoopie.

Scott and I are called next, followed by Jeff and Jill. If they’re sad about missing the VR test drive, they do their best not to show it. Jill always looks like she’s just stepped in a pile of doo, though, so it’s a little hard to tell with her.

There is a small tense moment – everybody staring at Austin, who hems and fiddles with his laptop for a moment. Sandrine and Paul look rightfully nervous. The girls grin, confident.

But Austin whispers something to Jake, who announces Sandrine and Paul as team number five. I’m frankly pretty surprised. Team blonde babe has excelled at their individual clips. But they immediately gather their things and hug us each in turn. “We didn’t actually do the final vid,” Britni confesses. “I mean, we’re not going to finish this thing and we basically don’t feel like camping out again.”

“She’s got an audition,” Amber adds proudly. “And I’m getting amazing traffic on my site. We’re, like, over it. So good luck everybody!”

Just like that, the gals who almost made us famous are out the door. Sunil looks sad, as does the VR helmet guy. Otherwise it’s shrugs and stretches as we wait for Austin to let us know where we’ll be headed next. Scott and I were already planning that we’d camp; we know nobody way up here either.

Nick puts his head in the VR helmet while the others gather, watching. Not much to see though. The top of his head is covered and the bottom shadowed, and what’s visible is expressionless. I can’t help but imagine scenes from Caprica’s V World, that Battlestar prequel. A teenage girl went into v-world and never came out and let’s just say it didn’t do good things to her soul.

We are shortly directed off to an RV sort of campground partway back towards Marin. I update Scott on the HAN stuff once we’re in the car. He’s not surprised at all, nor very interested, about the problems filling my old job. Economic upturns tend to cause havoc for entities that don’t pay well, he’s seen cycle after cycle. I should be happy, he suggests, with the implications.

It’s hard for me to see anything other than that nobody thinks of what I used to do as a full time job with benes anymore though. But Scott wants me to dig up the goods on Bobby and Sunil.

“I got a funny feeling about Bobby this whole time,” he claims. “Him pretending to be a spaced out surfer dude, but he’s actually smart.”

“Yet you never mentioned this.”

“I’m sure I did. I think you might not have listened.”

He’s got me there, it’s possible. “Anybody else hiding things, you think?” I ask. “Besides me?”

“Yeah, you should talk.” He thinks for a moment. “Nick isn’t really hiding it, but he wants a job with one of those places. He’s at a start up that’s about to go under.”

“Tiffany’s kind of smart playing dumb too, I think.”

“She’s smart all right. She’s a contractor too,” Scott says. “Looking for leads too, probably.”

We find the campground and have our pick of lousy sites in the small tents only section right by the road. Sandrine and Paul show up and start setting up a polite couple spots away. Everybody else stayed to play in Virtual World, apparently.

By the time we’ve got the tent and mattresses and everything set up, it’s after 6. It’s never too early to eat as far as I’m concerned, and I lobby for starting dinner. Paul’s getting their camp stove going too. Scott opens one of the cheap red wines he brought, and pours generous cups for us and Paul, although Sandrine sticks with water.

We toast their departed teammates, team blonde, and have another laugh about the diabetes rap. Sandrine jokingly blames me, saying the girls insisted on doing another performance after the success of their first one.

It’s comfortable out here as dusk settles over the sparsely populated camp. The sky has gone pinkish and hazy. There are some generators running, faint humming from the RVs, and a few people lazing around on camp chairs. Our boiling water burbles, boil in bag spicy Indian food bouncing around heating while I cut up some veggies to throw in. It’s a relaxing, pleasant smelling contrast to the shelter, that’s for sure.

“Can’t manufacture all this in a VR helmet,” I observe, sipping my wine.

“I wouldn’t mind a robot cooking my dinner,” Paul says. He’s also got some sort of boiled bag deal, and he’s trying to dunk it with a tiny little clip.

“Maybe here. But it’s nice to actually touch your food,” I answer. “Speaking of getting people to make better choices.”

“That’s so true,” Sandrine says. She’s lounging, legs outstretched, on their picnic table. “It’s a regular conversation I have with patients: know what you’re eating. Don’t buy something loaded with ingredients you’ve never heard of.”

“Well, I’d like to see robots on the job we just did at the shelter,” Paul says. “Lots of room for mechanical help at the hospital too. Cleaning up, or transferring patients. You have know idea how many hospital staff get back injuries moving people with mobility problems. And the obesity epidemic just makes it worse.”

“Be less embarrassing for the patient maybe too,” I suggest. I’m not especially large, but I’d hate the idea of giving someone like Sandrine a backache just because I was having an operation and needed to pee.

“I guess it’s just a matter of time before all those interactive things become part of the daily landscape,” Scott says. “Appointment apps, cleaning drones. You’ll hardly need to ever talk to a stranger.”

“Dude, you could get a robotic device to feed your cat when you go on trips,” I tell Scott. He’s always moaning about not wanting to leave the cat alone and how she scarfs all her food if they leave two days worth. “Then visit her through a VR helmet!”

We’re all kind of laughing, but Sandrine shake her head. Sad, serious. “I worry that people don’t understand the importance of the human touch. Of that person to person contact. Especially in my profession, the idea of patients only interacting with machines gives me chills.”

After a beat, Scott adds, “I have to tell you that Miss Whiskers would not tolerate being fed by a machine. She would destroy it and then come looking for us.”

That lightens the mood back up. I spot another car with a HAN sign pulling in, and I realize we might be missing our opportunity for alliance building. Scott is unfortunately not skilled at reading my raised right brow or subtle head movements toward our competitors, and by the time I whisper that we need to team up with these guys to oust the possible spies, none other than Sunil and Bobby are unloading their car within earshot. And our food is ready.

Later, though, the under 40 contingent departs to go get a beer at the sketchy looking bar we passed a few miles away. Seeing as our morning rendezvous is not until mid-morning, hurray. I’m almost tempted to join in just for the spectacle of watching the tech nerds slumming with the local populace, or seeing the reaction when Jill requests an Apple Martini. But Scott’s got the car charging and anyway we need to caucus with Sandrine and Paul.

We decide to share our intel about Bobby and possibly Sunil. Turns out they already know because the guys let something slip to Nick, who told Paul. Bobby’s an employee and Sunil has done work at the competitor place, and they’re both basically being paid to find out all they can about MYHT.

All those guys know that I used to work for HAN and that none of the HAN folks knew I was entering the race until day 1. This makes them to a person suspect what people are always saying about nonprofits, that they’re badly run and everything, and both Scott and I go off on defensive tangents about that. Some of the most dedicated people we’ve ever met, the challenges of low funding and endless needs, blah blah blah.

No one could quite figure out what I was doing, though – they first assumed some sort of sabotage attempt. But we played too well and seemed too sincere, so it’s a puzzle. I shrug, looking between Scott and Paul and Sandrine, not really able to enlighten them.

“Scott really wanted to do it, and his wife refused to go. He said it would help my resume,” I tell them lamely. “Plus I’m a fan of The Amazing Race.”

“If you don’t want to tell us, fine,” Sandrine answers. “Anyway, we see Nick and Tiffany as our biggest competitors. Sunil happens to be super competitive, but those guys were never really in it to win. Unlike any of them, we really need the money.”

Jack and Jill don’t even warrant a mention, but I’d just as soon come in ahead of them on general principles. Sandrine and Paul are too polite to say it out loud, but I’m pretty sure they would be willing to be our allies mostly because they think they could beat us – which is to say me – easier in any sort of last minute foot race.

Scott excuses himself to call Heather, and proceeds to pace, mostly listening, to what I assume is part of the ongoing drama involved in raising teenagers.

After awhile the others come back, a bit drunk and boisterous. I’ll probably still be in worse shape tomorrow though, I can feel it in my arm muscles from the scrubbing. We toddle off to our tents to try and sleep through the drone of traffic and Jill’s faint voice telling Jack what an idiot he is. While I’m glad to think I’ll never be in a relationship like that, I guess I’m a bit jealous of Sandrine and Paul. Not that I think he’s particularly hunky or anything, just that they have a real partnership. And she has a real job. They both probably have as many years before them as behind them. Assuming he’s beat back the cancer and everything.

Where more and more, I feel like my time is running out – professionally, personally, you name it. I’ll have to lie by omission on my resume, lopping off early years in an attempt to fool the initial cut that I’m not throwing distance to retirement age. Same thing on match.com or whatever, play the system to even stay in the mix, not get filtered out by age banding. Here, the rest of them don’t even mind sleeping on the ground, while I’m wriggling around and trying not to disturb my faintly snoring ex. Who’s friendship I value, but who’s very existence will probably scare off any normal dude who decides to date me and I’ll be alone forever. Get down from the ledge, Jessie, I tell myself. One day you’ll look back on this and laugh.

 

The next day finds us packed out and driving in a single file HAN parade up the backside of Mt. Tam. I’m a little bummed in that I bet if we had staggered start times we would have lost a team or two due to the confusing little twisty roads back here, which Scott happens to know like the back of his hand. Still, this bodes well for us in competition with Jack and Jill, who generally seem unnerved by setting foot in the great outdoors.

We squeeze the cars together in a small, dusty parking area where Austin awaits us. Dude’s got some major bags under his eyes though it’s late morning. Did he have to camp out somewhere and fight insomnia too, or is he just generally tired from what must be the most god-awful two week temp job ever? He manages to say hello and hand us some instructions before leaning down toward his phone.

The flyers are about multi-use trails and trail maintenance, with lots of tiny print and squiggly maps I can barely see. But as we read, or squint and try to read, a tattered pick up roars in, and who should exit but Ranger Rick, all olive clad and bedecked with Park Service insignia. Representing the parks, park service, and some sort of friends of group, he’s got enough pep for the whole party. He says a loud howdy, plunks a cowboy hat on his head, and introduces himself as Mal.

It takes me a minute, but the name and the cowboy hat: it’s Firefly! Just the best show ever, well plotted, brilliantly cast, character driven but with enough shoot em ups to satisfy the teenage boy that resides in most sci fi fans.

Pay attention, I remind myself as the ranger (“Mal”) very excitedly describes our challenge. There will be two distinct aspects, which he calls Down and Dirty, and Out and About, just like he’s throwing down Amazing Race Detours. Except we all have to do them both.

Dirty is all about trail maintenance – clearing overgrown brush and such from the farther reaches of the trail system. And About is actually about expanding outreach to promote use of the parks to people other than the usual suspects of Caucasian baby boomer Sierra Club members who feel like they own the place. (He doesn’t say it like that, but I’m sure that’s what he means.) We’ll be racing in the sense that whoever bags the most crap off the trail first will get the most time to work on the promotional stuff.

Not sure that will be an advantage if the rest of us can watch each other. As I muse further, the ranger fields a barrage of questions about just what sort of promotional material he has in mind. Well, apparently he was thinking of nice posters or flyers to hand out, but he grins with delight at the very idea of a facebook page or twitter campaign.

In other words, pretty much anything that moves their outreach past 1992 will be an exciting improvement as far as this guy is concerned. Gotta think that won’t hurt Team Old – some of the most modern applications that the geeks would consider normal ways to disseminate information might just freak out this fellow and his aol land line, you know?

On the other hand, developing promo material out here via MYHT cam and smart phone while leaning on the trunk of a car, versus the sort of office that Scott or I consider normal, might not be so easy. I flash back to the ongoing budgetary face offs I had with my former peers at HAN. I would usually pair up with the younger set to point out that the future of nonprofit field work would need to be fleet and adaptive, would require investment in people and mobile tech and cloud based software over traditional infrastructure like suites of private offices and onsite filing and data storage.

Even though I personally might prefer my own well appointed office and comfy chair, I also have some idea of what one can justify in soliciting the funds to pay for it all. As the senior citizen idealists who run those staid old foundations retire and the next generation takes the reins, I can’t see the pocketbooks being quite so easily open for the old school office structure. Not to mention the standard issue tech companies and hoodie sporting newly minted millionaires who’ll be doling out more of our funding as everybody else loses financial ground. Hell, those guys themselves don’t even need an office when their favorite table at the local café is at hand. Guess time will tell, though, won’t it. Here’s hoping the money won’t dry up completely while I’m still marginally employable anyway.

Well, it seems we’ll need to multi-task to line up our strategy. The ranger has a truck full of super sized garbage bags and rakes, tools, and implements of destruction. (God love him, he’s got a sign on the truck labeling it Serenity. I nudge Scott and point to it, but he just looks puzzled.) The dude also wants us to be informed about just what qualifies as invasive and or trail blocking. Good thing, because I can kind of see it might be easier to just stuff a couple bags full of the first plant matter you came across (not that I would personally do that, just saying). He’ll be checking the bags, he tells us, and he’s so sincere that I don’t doubt he’d crawl through all our bags and replant any erroneously pulled manzanita chaparral or rescue a baby bird if necessary.

And so we’re off!

Our pint sized maps include a bold overlay of the trails we’ll be working on, but Scott sidles across the parking area to a big map, muttering about elevation and usage. Paul and Sandrine quickly follow, as do Jack and Jill, apparently thinking the grown ups have a secret plan and not just poor eye sight.

The others grab their bags and tools and scoot off down the main fire road into the woods. Scott mumbles to Paul that we should go to separate spur trails up above the wider primary ones, which will surely have move overgrowth. We too grab bags and rakes and heavy gloves.

This sly plan, unfortunately, means starting off with a steep uphill scramble that doesn’t put me in the best of moods for weeding. We immediately lose the kids, who are like, hell no, I’m not charging up a hill if I don’t have to.

At least I can identify the invasives pretty well, and once I catch my breath and catch up with them, I point out that we’re passing stuff we might as well fill the bags with.

“Think weight, Jessie,” Scott says, almost kindly. “We need to start at the top and work down.”

You know when I feel the dumbest? It’s when people are nice when they could be snide.

No time to dwell on it though. The trail divides and we uncouple from Sandrine and Paul, and start weed whacking. And yeah, it’s not the kind of stuff you do in your window box. Were my arms sore yesterday? Now it’s arms, back, even legs from bracing myself and then tumbling backwards.

The bags are like those trick birthday candles you can’t blow out – we keep shoving shit in there and they keep expanding. They’ll be wider than the stupid trail when filled to capacity – what are we supposed to do, roll them back down the hill?

Much as I harrumph and moan, Scott keeps his cool, says to just keep pulling stuff up. He’ll carry most of the bags if needed, or we can make two trips. We can finish filling with some of that bulky stuff we already passed on the way up.

I do my best while not laying myself out in the back pain ward. Amuse us both – or me anyway – by suggesting ways they could have made this challenge spicier. What if we did have to roll the bags down a series of trails in some sort of bag ball race? Or finished up with a competition of those crazy body ball things, where you get strapped inside a giant see through sphere and crash into each other and roll around instead of falling? As if we were flying space ships, you know? Those were featured on TAR a few seasons back, and it was pretty funny. Plus brought out some of that comical self centered whining that viewers love to hate.

Scott – good old Mr. Sensible – barely cracks a smile, and instead steers us back to discuss just what sort of promo strategy we might propose while up here on the back of the mountain.

This is not the optimum circumstance to think up ways to entice people up here, I can’t help but mention. My frame of mind just now, sweaty and achy and covered with weed goo, is why would you want to be here anyway when you could be home on your comfy couch.

Scott laughs as if I’m a cute and clever five year old. He notes, as I had already been thinking, that we should probably stick with more traditional and less cutting edge tech outreach methods. After all, six of our remaining eight competitors are some sort of techies, Whereas I feel safe in betting that none of them have ever crafted simple flyers for a door to door get out the vote effort, as both of us have.

“But we need to focus on people who wouldn’t think to go hiking on their own,” he says.

“Kids,” I answer immediately. “And teachers maybe, like those people I was working with at Parkside Volunteers. After school programs looking for safe and upstanding activities. Spanish language translations, multiple languages.”

We ramble back and forth a bit about logistics, and whether our audience would just be up here in Marin or cover the wider GGNRA. I push for assuming a wider reach and letting them worry about renting transport vans or whatever. We just have to come up with a basic template that would sell the concept, where someone could fill in the park and the after school program. We could pair it with a very simple website, something the friends of group probably already has, with a basic filter with info about the parks and their amenities.

Darned if talking hasn’t taken my mind off the task too. Scott says we’re full enough to head down. He leads, hoisting full bags over his head, and I follow, dragging along the others. Just ahead, we find Paul and Sandrine similarly positioned, cramming long stubborn strands of ivy into their bags.

“Plenty for us all,” Paul announces.

As a foursome, we finish and stagger with our loads back down toward the staging area. I’m not far behind them, and it’s a good thing too, because there’s reasonable doubt as to whether I could have remembered just where that was.

We’re not the last to arrive, yay, and that’s because Jack and Jill were having problems locating appropriate invasive plant matter. Sunil tells us that the ranger – no dummy – sussed them out as most likely to be clueless and found them about to hack into perfectly legit coastal scrub that wasn’t even on the trail. Figures though he stayed and was last seen helping them.

So we all take a rest because Austin needs Ranger Mal for something before we can start on phase two. Various of us, mostly Sunil, try without success to get the others to spill what they’ve got planned for “Out and About.”

Shortly the ranger leads Jack and Jill like lost children out of the woods, carrying half their bags for them. Sunil hand coughs “uh, time penalties,” toward the rest of us, while Ranger Mal hurries to his truck to locate some aloe lotion for sweet little Jill’s owie.

He tends to her and then, grinning ear to ear now, pulls out a cooler and announces that it’s snack time. To which the rest of us are like, do you not see us already eating energy bars and realize that we’re not kindergarteners?

But no. This is enforced snack time. Because we’re veering sideways for a few minutes to explore another not quite on mission but area of potential interest to those concerned with global food issues: edible bugs!

I don’t know where they found this guy, but someone at HAN has done me proud. Ranger Mal is clearly an Amazing Race fan plus a man of many progressive enviro interests. He offers a quick background about poverty and climate change and the challenges of finding appropriate nutrients for poor populations (presumably he’s speaking globally here, not about pockets in wealthy Marin). And continues, louder and more enthusiastic, about how a viable solution exists right on our very ground and can be consumed in so many fantastic ways! One can use insect flour to bake breads and muffins, and larval bees make a tasty snack. Good for the planet and good for you: a pound of crickets, for instance, take 1,000 times less water to raise than beef, plus contains more iron and calcium.

We’re basically ignoring him though. Everybody’s staring at the half open cooler, with a range of facial expressions from friendly and curious (Bobby) to utter horror (Jill, of course). Hopefully I’m more on the open minded curious side, as Scott appears to be. I’ve read the occasional scientific paper on the whole edible bug thing. It’s intriguing for sure, though by no means a panacea. I mean the underlying issues wouldn’t just go away; the hot places are getting hotter and the sea levels are still rising, and there would be obvious questions of scale. But it’s part of the solution, I’ll grant that much. The majority of the earth’s population would offer us a big shrug, since bug consumption is already part of the culture.

At last, the unveiling. We must each sample at least two, um, items, and each team must consume what appears to be a small but not insignificant amount of the little fellows. They all look on the brown and crispy side, but there are different shapes and sizes: three types of crickets, wax worms, and bee larvae. And there are mini-muffins, presumably baked with love and mashed up bug entrails.

Bobby is not only open minded but clever enough to realize there’s no reason to wait around and let other teams get hold of the good stuff. Such as it is. He scoops an assortment of the less evil looking critters into their bag. “Tastes like chicken,” he jokes, tossing back a sample.

I’m in there next, confident that we will find a better culinary experience with the muffins and wax worms than anything in the cockroach family. If I were a more upstanding team member, I’d eat most of them since Scott did more of the trail work. But if I were more upstanding would I be here at all? Maybe I’d be kicking off from my excellent job and meeting my fab husband for a sophisticated drink and bar snacks that weren’t recently scuttling across the ground, you know?

Anyway, we split the bag, and under the eyes of other teams alert for cheating, crunch away. Okay, they’re clearly an acquired taste. Kind of nutty, and the batter on the wax worms has an interesting tang. Crunching and knowing these are tiny wings and legs and stuff is kind of gross. The mealworm flour muffins aren’t good, but they aren’t that bad. For Christ’s sake, they’re not worthy of the screeching and gagging emanating from Jack and Jill. Both of them, you’d think they were being asked to eat fried puppies or something. Not every snack can be a fruit roll up, come on.

Jack drops a large sized toasted cricket down the front of his shirt with the subtlety of a small child covering his eyes to pretend he’s invisible. Hoots from the rest of us. “Ew, now it’s on your skin!” from Jill, apparently not on the program of secretly making the bugs disappear without eating them.

“I’m sorry, I can’t do this,” he says, thrusting the bag at her.

She refuses to touch it, and it falls between them as they glare at each other. Sunil captures this action while offering hushed voiced commentary: “Who will break first? Stay tuned.”

“Eat up, buddy,” advises Nick, who’s filming Sunil filming Jill. And crunching his bugs like they’re salted nuts while Tiffany watches him adoringly. She did eat her quota already though, I was watching.

I dig in for another handful, and Scott and I turn over our empty bag to Austin. He, at least, looks happier than he has all day. (He’s not eating bugs either, I can’t help but notice.) We don’t get a prize for finishing first though. Ranger Mal nods as if he expected no less. He’s sorely disappointed in the kids, however. They’re the ones bound to live the longest of us, right, you can see him thinking. They of anyone should start getting used to bugs for dinner!

Between the weeding help and the outright challenge refusal, Austin pretty much has to announce a time penalty for Jack and Jill, just to get us all moving again. Everybody else is allowed a half an hour to proceed with our Out and About promo strategies. We can go wherever we feel like, spy on each other or not, but must have something ready at precisely 2 PM. Jack and Jill will be monitored for ten minutes – no online or texting allowed! – before they can start. They flounce off to sit in their car as if used to this sort of time out.

Scott and I return to his car, and work inside until it gets too warm (which for me these days is about five minutes, thank you menopause). But we don’t need that much time, having already agreed on our strategy. We quickly tap out a basic template for a printable flyer, and include a link to Parkside Volunteers for an example of school groups that might be encouraged to sign up for a group hike.

We wrap up with a quick narrative filmed by the nice big park sign and trail map. While Scott puts on the finishing touches, I’m free to basically roam around poking my nose into the other teams’ business. Nobody gets very perturbed though, and I can’t help feeling a little disappointed. This is what the future holds, I’m pretty sure – I can wander into anyone’s personal space and they’ll just smile the way you do at your dotty old aunt and step aside for me.

Only Jack and Jill appear to really be struggling with their task. Likely they spent their time out arguing instead of quietly planning, and then just kept on arguing. Also, Jack keeps guzzling off his water bottle as though worried some bug residue remains trapped in his perfect teeth.

Anyway, time is shortly called, and our presentations are quickly collected and played back for the happily beaming Ranger Mal. I have a feeling he’s a lot more familiar with the great outdoors than with his Firefly namesake; did that unlikely hero ever crack a smile? What’s he going to do, I wonder, offer us all a tie for first place? Because nearly everyone has proposed outreach directed toward children, and via the internet. Nick and Tiffany chose facebook as their dissemination tool, while Sunil and Bobby would work with some local high school forum they know about that apparently just went live a few weeks ago. Sandrine and Paul, like us, proposed an adaptable sort of flyer template, also in multiple languages. I frown at Scott – did he share our idea with them?

Scott shrugs. Our idea seems less than original coming next, but at least we have tie ins to teachers and volunteer groups that they missed. Jack and Jill offer up something different, a new app, but I’m at a loss to really explain it. He says it would be like Airbnb for people who want to go hiking, and suggests the example of foreign tourists who might need help finding Muir Woods.

The ranger nods with nearly equal enthusiasm, while the rest of us roll eyes. Kinda think tourists are already able to find Muir Woods, what with the giant tour buses and everything, and already do so every day, you know?

Well, I’ll eat another jar of bugs if they get a higher placement than we do, I mutter to Scott, who whispers that we should definitely film that action.

Austin and the ranger backtrack a little, with Austin furiously texting. Apparently our race mat will once again be sparsely attended, with a judging panel somewhere remote. I try to enjoy the pretty sunny day, but mostly wish I were home with a tasty and wing-free meal and some sci fi to binge on.

At last, the ranger steps forward to do the honors. Eyebrows arched just like Phil’s, he announces Sunil and Bobby as the winners of this leg, with compliments to their speedy trail maintenance and canny new outreach method. Well, this was like their basic skill set. Nick and Tiffany are second, same story. Scott and I are called next, with the ranger gushing about the teacher and volunteer leader links.

Finally, he tries to draw it out between the remaining teams. Nobody’s buying it anymore than those TAR edits where you can see it’s much darker for the shots of the loser team hustling futilely along. The rest of us will surely revolt unless the obviously better team, the one that actually completed the tasks, is called. Sure enough, Sandrine and Paul are staying, and so long Jack and Jill.

They manage the briefest of smiles and mutterings of good luck to the rest of us, before turning their wrath on each other, assigning blame. I’m reminded of that Star Trek episode where the twin dudes from alternative universes have to stay in a matter/anti-matter corridor fighting each other, so both universes can be safe from their madness.

As they climb into their car, the last thing I hear is that they both agree the rest of us are far too unsophisticated to have appreciated their genius at app building. Yeah, you keep telling yourselves that, while the rest of us wait for the next tech bubble to pop.

“I’ll text you later tonight, and no more overnights,” Austin tells us, just a step or two behind the kids, and not even a quiz about the good ship Serenity. Which I’m sure I could have won, or at least tied with the other nerds. He’s been too long without his TV too, I’m pretty sure.

“Final Four, baby,” I yell out, looking for hands to high five. Come on, am I the only Amazing Race fan in the group? I refuse to budge until I’ve gotten at least a few slaps.

Scott gets in the car and starts the engine, and I feel obligated to follow. Don’t want to drive off and leave the others to plot against us though. But unless they’re plotting via text, we’re safe – now it’s a friendly race to head down the mountain and back to civilization.

“I still taste the bugs,” I tell Scott, “do you? Kind of aftertaste?”

He serves me with a look, turns on the radio, and pushes faster towards home.

 

 

 

Chapter 11

Another Solution

 

Home at last (with Scott practically shoving me out of the car in his haste to be rid of me), I find myself strangely re-energized. Yes I should be tired after the exertion and lack of sleep and everything, but I’ve gone over the line from loopy to second wind wired. That’s the kind of crazy stamina you really need for this sort of thing, might I add.

Dammit, I should have tried out for the real Amazing Race a decade ago. Done so as a surprise come from behind force, before I was quite of the plucky old guys age. If only they scheduled the final leg for tonight, I’d have a chance to win – the rest of those guys you can tell wanted some peace and quiet, where the competition just makes me hyper for more. (Probably worth noting that Scott and I have not yet discussed the ethical considerations of actually winning. Taking the money from where I worked and his foundation funded, my proverbial leg up and all that. I could use some bucks, that’s for sure, but wouldn’t want, say, the social media fall out that might be triggered to follow me on my job search.)

Too wired for an ethical analysis just now though. The best I can do is take a wander out to the well populated market to get some fresh stuff for dinner. Duck past the worn down tired people coming from office jobs. Wonder how long I can maintain this high energy before I start freaking out about unemployment and dying broke and alone.

Cooking helps. And eating.

My phone burbles: Austin’s text. Early morning start here in the city, and guess what – there will be a midday elimination and then the race ends tomorrow afternoon. Friday off, bonus for those guys. They must be getting tired of the whole thing at HAN; I’ve been focused on the racing challenges, but probably the HAN staff are down for an early ending too. I scour the message for clues but don’t find much, possibly an obscure Star Wars reference. And that we won’t need our cars. So good that it’s local and city smarts will be needed, but bad that all the finalists have proven capable of getting from A to B and the rest of them jog at my running pace.

I just mentally referred to HAN as they, it occurs to me. First time it honestly and unconsciously feels like it really is somebody else’s entity and not mine. And that makes me a little bit happy and a little more anxious. I mean if my old workplace is not mine anymore, then what is? I need to find another cause, something more solution than problem to be part of, before my financial situation gets too out of control. Before I have to take some stupid new economy tech job, pushing click bait and working for a 25 year old who doesn’t read more than 140 characters at a time.

I still have a little gas left in the tank, right? Or is my destiny to sit on an old stool in the corner nattering on about the big ideas I once put forth for food security, as my aged grandfather did during visits in my young childhood, discussing the finer points of battles in France that meant nothing to anyone but him?

That in mind, I take a little spin through some job sites. I see various jobs I could do but wouldn’t want to and a smattering more with orgs that sound pretty awesome but that likely wouldn’t have me. Or are located too far away to make it feasible even with regular home office days. Which would be kind of dumb for me anyway – the best thing about having to work is having fun people to work with, you know? Damn that tech economy, ousting all the virtuous places that once could afford rent in the city.

Without really noticing I’m doing it, I shift over to the personals, and check out a few lonely dudes looking for the likes of me. Or I should say, looking for prettied up quiet gals a decade younger, but whatever. You’re not fooling anyone with the out of focus long shots, guys, and if you can’t date anyone even close to your age, maybe it’s your loss.

Switching gears and perusing the competition doesn’t brighten my mood. A lot of kicky, stylish, fun loving gals out there too. And with good jobs to boot, dammit, every one of them. The best I can claim is to be a tad lower maintenance than most of them. Probably. Likely a better cook, though I’d feel like trading in my feminist credentials to mention that straight away.

Scott texts that he’ll call promptly at 7 just to make sure I’m awake and that I should aim to arrive 15 minutes early. Before I can thumb a snide reply, he quickly follows up that he means so we can caucus strategy not because he thinks I’ll be late.

Well, there’s a polite white lie, but he beat me to the punch. And Muni can play havoc with a person’s best intentions, that I know. I grudgingly set my alarm, and happily at last, the weariness that’s built all day descends over me.

 

 

Alarm, chipper Scott’s voice loud in my ear, steamy shower and some breakfast, and I’m at least upright close to my proper departure time. Out into the cool foggy morning, with layers on and MYHT device remembered, and oh happy day, the bus shows up at my stop just as I do. As last night, I’m like the only non-worker drone in the crowd; everybody else is on serious auto-pilot, skimming their phones or surreptitiously sipping coffee or gazing bleary and blank eyed out the windows at the slow rush hour traffic.

I feel wider awake now, and energized again despite sore muscles, looking forward to the craziness in store for the day. I even imagine us winning, somehow importing Phil himself to greet us at the finish, all the other teams gathered back and cheering. All kinds of crazy shit could happen between now and the end of the day, and it’s a rush, I’ve got to say. And it strikes me like a smart slap in the face, that I should aim to feel at least a little like this on a regular basis. Wherever I end up, whatever swirling steps my next career move take me.

Our meeting spot turns out to be a sparsely populated senior center in the Tenderloin, not far from my old office. Just a quick stroll for the HAN folks, several of whom are already on hand, bunched together at the side of the small lobby. Even Jonathan Bernard, who must have been drafted for the day. I snap a quick photo of him, thinking #jonathanbernardseyebrow. I’m jonesing for web traffic stats, but it would be unseemly to go up to anyone and demand them, I suppose. We must be generating some sort of buzz though – I say that just from feedback from my own facebook feed.

Scott has already arrived, of course, and sits chatting with Paul and Sandrine. Nick and Tiffany stand nearby, companionably texting. As a group, they look like an ad for styling athletic gear. I pull off my outer jacket and run a casual hand through my hair, aiming at least to look less like the before image of a makeover shot. I’m not the last to arrive anyway – no sign of Sunil and Bobby. I suppose it would be too much to ask for them to be super lost and late.

I get far enough into Scott’s personal space for him to look up and say hello, but I pretty much have to drag him away from his buddies to remind him we’re supposed to be talking strategy. Whispering, now, he says that’s what he was doing. Both he and Nick have already been trying to work on Paul and Sandrine to forge an alliance to oust Sunil and Bobby. The word is now fully out, that those guys work for the competition and are on board foremost as spies. I suppose it speaks well of HAN’s integrity that they haven’t manufactured their defeat already.

Chastened, I retreat, but Nick and Paul have disappeared down a corridor. The main door brings a gust of wind and Sunil and Bobby. Bobby tends to his giant coffee cup while Sunil visually scouts out the room. He sidles towards us, oh so casual, until he’s in easy earshot but not obviously talking to us, from Sandrine’s perspective across the room. Or I guess that’s the idea, because he starts to mumble in a way that he could just be talking to Siri.

But he means us. “Nick and Paul are planning to take you guys out, I guess you’ve figured that out,” he says. “No offense, but you guys are the weak link as far as purely physical.”

Scott glares at both of us – offended, I assume, plus not wishing me to spill the beans that as far as we know everyone’s plotting against them. I’m cool. This is the stuff that makes a reality show interesting, right? “What are you offering?” I ask out of the side of my mouth, trying not to laugh. Gotta hope nobody’s filming us.

“We’ll have your back, you have ours,” Sunil quickly answers. Rehearsed, like he’s seen to many spy movies.

“We’ll, uh, keep that in mind,” Scott says, a little less up on the movie clichés.

“Seriously, Nick and Tiffany need to go,” Sunil says, leaning in further, no longer pretending to talk to his phone. “Nick doesn’t even need to work. He says his contract job is almost up? Dude, he got bought out from a place like six years ago. They bought a house, straight up cash, on Potrero Hill. He drives a Tesla as his other car.”

Uh oh. That’s Scott’s dream vehicle, assuming he has to have a car rather than the more glorious enviro ideal of fully functional public transit. Which, sadly, is a pretty safe assumption here in our life time. But Scott clams up, and we all watch Nick and Paul retake their places by their wives, everybody outwardly cheerful. Inward, who knows. I suspect Sunil’s argument just backfired though. Scott could get a serious man-crush on a guy with a Tesla.

Oh, man, did anyone get in touch with Elon Musk, it occurs to me. Could Sergio possibly know him, or Kim’s well connected husband? How awesome an event sponsor would he have been? I look around for my former colleagues, thinking maybe next year’s race. Also wondering if that will actually happen, or if this will end up as a one time thing, quickly buried in the annals of HAN history like a not small number of other ideas that didn’t pan out. Another Jessie Morgan scheme, doomed for failure.

But enough with the small talk, kids, it’s show time. Sergio, Austin, and Jonathan Bernard himself emerge from the other hallway, Austin clutching colored papers to his chest. Dr. Bernard casts his eyes across the gathered racers. His expression is still so bland, it’s hard to tell if he’s amused at his role here or just trying to remember who’s who. “It’s all come down to this,” he announces, drawing out each word. “Four teams left, but by the end of the day, only one winner!” Another long look around, meeting everyone’s eyes. Like at a Board meeting, before he allows someone to call the question and there’s no doubt his measure will pass unanimously.

He’s succeeded in building the tension, anyway. Sergio quietly films as the rest of us push anxiously closer, eyes on the colored paper clues. Sharks watching the keeper’s bucket of chum.

Austin holds the sheets high above his head and raises his other hand to halt us. “Up first, team number one!”

What, so now team order matters?? Sunil leaps forward. Bobby follows, apparently having forgotten they were in the lead. (It’s been 12 hours, how much can his tired mind hold.) They grab their clue and bolt.

Turns out there’s only a minute or so between us, so team by team we step up. Scott grabs the clue and holds it out so both of us can see it without reading glasses. Lord help us, it’s in Yoda speak.

 

Senior citizens, we are, and limited our mobility.

This center, our salvation, for the best of our abilities.

To help us, simple exercises we desire,

Your challenge, design such routines as we require.

 

Just in case one is not up on the verbal contortions of our favorite little olive green philosopher, there is more about health issues of seniors, and the fine programs provided here and at similar centers. We will each get a pair of folks to work with, and our task is to develop doable, pleasant fitness routines for groups of seniors with limited mobility. Routines that might be easily led by a peer, and that – of course – incorporate usage of the MYHT device.

Scott hustles out the door toward our designated physical therapy room slash lounge, as per the instructions, to meet with our very own designated seniors. I follow, but I have to admit to feeling a little weird about this. It seems exploitative, or at least a little inappropriate. Older people come to this center for recreation and companionship, not to be pushed around by random strangers and posted on facebook doing contortions to help them win a race.

Dang, Jessie, I tell myself as we enter the sunny, well populated room – you specifically mentioned senior centers in your stupid proposal. That’s what you get.

Well, at least there are staff actually responsible to the senior population on hand. We’re to work with our seniors mostly verbally, the staffer explains – they can give feedback but any actual moves have to be approved. And they don’t look coerced as far as I can tell. Our ladies are delighted to meet us, pleased with the change in routine and decked out in brightly colored workout gear.

We’ve basically each been given a corner of the room, so it will be pretty easy to copy each other’s ideas if it comes to that. I’m please to see that Sunil and Bobby are working with what appears to be a classic grumpy old man, who has already seated himself and pulled out a newspaper to read. Their other senior is a super cheerful lady, and I’m pretty sure she’s flirting with both guys.

Nick and Tiffany are already demonstrating moves to the applause of their ladies, who are peppy and enthusiastic, like ours. There’s another male/female pair watching, actually clapping along as they wait for Sandrine and Paul to show up.

“Focus,” Scott mutters to me. Knowing, I surmise, that I may just have some decent ideas, better than his anyway. I’ve attended a few yoga and pilates classes, whereas Scott’s idea of a good workout involves major muscle strain and the distinct possibility of serious injury.

Well, super fit Tiffany’s jumping jacks may be fine if you’re 30, but we’re supposed to be working with limited mobility here. Stretches, I’m thinking, and things you can do while seated. Sure enough, I see Sandrine already seating her seniors on folding chairs, and I suggest ours do the same. “Think about how to use the MYHT thingee,” I whisper to Scott, then propose some possible seated stretches to the staff lady.

It’s nothing earth shattering, but we come up with a simple series of seated reps: arms out and to the side, legs out as possible, leans while gripping the chair, and then some claps and partnered hand pats. Feels like nursery school, but our ladies say no, this ensures everyone participates. I steal a glance at Sunil and Bobby and their dude who’s still doggedly reading his paper, and I guess I can see their point.

Scott, meanwhile, says we will incorporate the MYHT cams to store and retrieve routines, pair them randomly with lively dance music, and that when the app is available, participants can wear their own devices to measure and track their heart rate. Sounds a little like overkill, but I suppose that’s what Sergio wants to hear.

We quickly record the gist of this, along with a perky clip of our ladies stretching and patty-caking in unison. It’s cute, except that I can’t help thinking how this could be me in 30 years and boy, I’d hate it then. But I keep that thought in my head – yes, it’s possible for me not to share every random thing, thank you very much. Scott and I chat with them and watch the others as we await our allotted time to pass.

I’m thinking it will be a little tough to eliminate someone based on what appear to be near identical routines. But Austin and Sergio have thought this through. After we send over our clips, we’re immediately directed toward our next destination, and it’s a race, folks. No cars, no cabs or Uber, transit only, we’re headed to the new Meals on Wheels satellite station in the outer Mission.

We’re not supposed to use GPS, and half the staff is there watching us. Nick, too loudly, it seems, says to Tiffany that they should ping people as to whether the J-Church or the 14 Mission would be faster. Paul and Sandrine are already out the door, and Scott starts after them. “Wait,” I exclaim to Scott. “We’ll need the 14 Limited or Rapid or whatever it’s called, don’t catch the regular.”

He shushes me, just like the way he’s been doing. Nick hisses to Tiffany that we’re toast, the J will be much faster. All of us tumble back out the door and onto the street. Nick, Tiffany, Sunil and Bobby take off at a sprint, quickly overtaking Sandrine and Paul. Not to mention scaring lost tourists and street people alike. We’re a couple blocks from Market and the Civic Center Station, another block from the Mission buses.

Except that there’s no way we’re taking the bus. I got what was Nick was doing right away – he knows the transit system and the other tech nerds don’t. BART will be much faster than either Muni route. Scott asks me if I really think the bus will be faster, and I’m like, hell no, duh, dude. To his credit, he figures out our game pretty quickly after that, and jogs after Sandrine and Paul to make sure they take BART too.

They were already planning on it, and are disappointed that the rest of us won’t be way behind them. We just need to enter the station and duck down to BART without the boys seeing us. Ahead, we see Tiffany paused, panting and guzzling water, just as if she really needed a break, and no sign of Sunil and Bobby. Tiffany straightens and they zip ahead of us, but we’re not far behind. In, down the escalator, and we all catch the same train. According to Scott’s paper map, it’s about five blocks past the 24th Street Station. So possibly the other teams – we’re not sharing the map – will be slowed by not knowing the streets, but it’s pretty likely we’ll be screwed if Sunil and Bobby did get themselves onto an earlier BART train.

But our act was pretty convincing, I think. They’ve seen me make pronouncements about the buses with such certainty already. And they have for sure eavesdropped and used the intel to their advantage. I’m guessing they’re feeling smug while they trundle along the J-Church, not realizing the bulk of the ride will be above ground. Meantime we whiz along – it’s mere minutes between stations underground. The cars aren’t the clean, carpeted, padded seat luxury rides they originally were, but they sure beat Muni on any given day. They’re noisy, but the riders are almost eerily quiet, not like on my regular bus, where people live life out loud like they’re home in their kitchens.

Off we clamber at 24th, Nick and Tiffany charging up the escalator as though there’s a relay race team pursuing them and not a middle aged quad who are polite enough not to knock over people standing on the way up. “We might as well not run the whole way,” I suggest to the others. “Just save our energy for a final sprint.”

Even Scott snorts at that very idea, and after we fumble with our Clipper cards at the turnstile, off he dashes. As does Paul, and then Sandrine. Well, what’s a little more panting and sweating. It’s the last day. I trot after them, wishing I was capable of filming while running. It’s kind of funny, the way Sandrine is so worried about bumping into people on the well populated sidewalk, and how Scott keeps pausing, so pained to do so, waiting for me to catch up.

By the third block, our competitors are far enough ahead that we all do slow a bit. Turning on the smaller side street, there’s open sidewalk in which to race, but unless there’s a secret shortcut, I can’t see overtaking those guys. Scott, nonetheless, hits the gas when the building’s awning comes into view, and he sprints ahead. I manage to jog up not much after Sandrine and Paul, to the sight of many happy faces and no sign of Sunil and Bobby. Good thing, because otherwise Scott probably would have burst into unmanly tears or decked me.

We all gulp down some water, and then it’s a little anti-climactic in that there’s no sign of the to-be-eliminated team. Austin and Sergio start a quiet discussion of protocol. They’ve dragged poor Jonathan Bernard – the Board president, whom I happen to know has an executive day job – down here to sit in the dingy warehouse of a meal delivery program with nothing to do but check his email.

After a few minutes Austin texts the lost boys, and then announces their elimination to the rest of us. We’ll have a lunch break and then continue racing promptly at 1 PM. It’s mean, but I’m happy to see that we all want to stick around and film Sunil’s reaction to our having beaten him. We all stay put and eat right here.

They show up before long, and don’t disappoint. Sunil is nothing less than incredulous to see that we’ve all clearly been here for awhile, and even Bobby appears alert and surprised. They demand an accounting of our whereabouts to make sure cars weren’t involved. Hey, man, you live here for a year or two and spend most of your time behind the closed doors of your tech company walls or tech company bus, and none of your facebook friends do any different, then you don’t really know the place, do you.

The boys do recover enough to offer the rest of us congrats and good luck. Austin leads them away to reclaim their MYHT gear, which they naturally seem loathe to part with. Probably thought they had at least another couple hours to discover their deepest secrets.

The rest of us compare “surprised Sunil and Bobby” pix. “Good one,” I tell Nick, who got them just as they got the door open and saw all of us.

“Sergio isn’t supposed to take sides, but he looked pretty happy too, did you notice?” he says.

“They were just doing their jobs,” Sandrine says mildly. “I’m sure this kind of copy-catting goes on all the time around here.”

“It’s sleazy though,” he answers. “I mean come on, come up with your own ideas.”

“Or use your smarts to do something to benefit society,” I suggest, “rather than your tech company’s bottom line.”

Nick has no snappy reply for that one. I don’t know what he made all his money off of, but I’m pretty sure it was some business related app, something to help wealthy corps make wads more money, as if they weren’t sucking the soul out of the middle class already.

“You need an endowment to be able to fund your good works,” Tiffany comments, presumably referencing Scott. “That money’s got to come from somewhere.”

“Yeah, well, it’s a little twisted to have to stress the system and then turn around like a benevolent daddy and hand out funds to fix it,” I can’t help but note. Sorry, it’s a peeve of mine – another one – how we’re supposed to be so grateful to these gazillionaire funders when their acquisition of money caused the problems in the first place. Oil companies donating to local clean ups, for instance, or big banks to help the homeless, who maybe would have kept their homes without the crazy lending schemes of the housing crisis.

I know Scott agrees with me even if he’s a little less hotheaded about it, not anxious to verbally joust with our competitors.

“So you’ve got it all figured out, Jessie?” Sunil is back, smiling, but not ready to let go of the competition. “Saving the world from hunger and no use for technology – but wait, that looks like a smart phone in your pocket.”

“There are plenty of technology advances that help people,” Nick puts in. Great, now they’re back to being buddies. “Medical advances that save lives, efficiencies that allow more productive crops, it’s not all stupid cat videos.”

“Hey, I like cat videos!” Of course you do, Tiffany.

I kind of do too, but that point, as Seven of Nine would say, is irrelevant. “I’m not denying the good of scientific advancement. I would just like to see the local economy be a little more about the good of the planet versus growing the moneyed elite. Like MYHT here,” I continue, patting my device, “has some good potential health related applications.”

“Yeah, once they get their IPO and take it to the bank from the corporate apps,” Sunil says with a laugh.

Nick and Tiffany nod their agreement, and I’m looking at Sunil, like didn’t you notice it was Nick who tricked you, not just me?

“Everybody living here in western culture has a bad impact on the planet,” Nick says, “that’s just a fact.”

Even Scott frowns at that pronouncement. “Still, you can avoid using fossil fuels,” points out the man with the Leaf to the Tesla driver. “Flying places needlessly. Or just not eating beef has an impact on food and water supplies.”

“Not procreating,” I throw in. That’s my bottom line, planet impact wise. “Talk about using up resources.”

Sandrine and Paul burst out laughing, and we all turn to them. “We’re expecting,” she says, a protective hand across her very slightly rounded abdomen. “So, sorry – but this will be our only one!”

Well, that lets a lot of wind out of my hot air balloon, and I hasten to assure them that I don’t mean to suggest nobody should procreate or that I hate all children. Everybody crowds around to offer their congratulations, and for a moment it’s like we’re friends instead of competitors.

Yeah, that doesn’t last. The guys depart, the 1 PM witching hour arrives, and Austin steps forward to announce our next challenge. I can’t say that he looks anything but pleased that this will be our last afternoon together.

We’re to assist the people here, a mishmash of staff and volunteers, with some basic prep work and loading. They not only send the org’s signature meals out of here, they also run a food pantry sort of program that offers bags of less perishables. It’s a fine thing that I can’t argue with except to selfishly wish I didn’t have to spend another minute much less hour moving heavy cans and boxes.

We are further to glean from this activity – and from talking to the folks who make the wheels turn here daily – what challenges they face and how they might make the warehouse processes more efficient. Using, of course, the MYHT devices.

Because there’s nothing that helps you pack up food and deliver it to homebound seniors better than a small wearable loaded with apps and the ability to take great selfies.

I’m looking at Nick and Tiffany, super fit plus awash in high tech developments. Versus Sandrine and Paul. She said they really need the money, well, now we know why. Even if she has a decent leave policy, she’ll probably miss some work. Their medical coverage will go up, he’s recovering from cancer. I find myself envisioning the conversations they must have had, making the decision to have a baby anyway. They’re good people.

Scott, I imagine, feels the same way. Perhaps a little melancholy even; I know he wishes he could have gone through the whole process with Heather. He’s not making eye contact though. There’s a task, and Scott, like Wonder Dog, is on it. I don’t think they can really tell who’s doing more work if we’re all helping out for an hour, but I guess he wants to make sure my slacking and lack of upper arm strength doesn’t cost us the way my slow running pace surely would have. Had I not, might I point out, cleverly helped steer away the faster dudes.

Anyway, we all get to work on the boxes and bags – there’s stuff to be brought in, unloaded, sorted, bagged. It’s a fairly tight space, so we can hardly help but overhear each other as far as consulting with the people here about needs and so on.

They get items from a variety of sources, some regular, some occasional and/or unexpected. There are printed out lists of products to be bagged. These get updated daily, explains the guy who oriented us, due to the different stuff available, potential spoilage, etc. It can be a little frustrating, he says – sometimes there’s too much, more often not enough, especially of the things people really like to eat. Also, that stuff tends to be more delicate and likely to spoil.

Uh oh, maybe I’ve had my MYHT device on too long and it’s gone to my head, because it immediately pops into my mind that a better online inventory would be useful. Like if the menu of possible foodstuff was already entered, and then how much of what came when with whatever use-by date could be quickly updated. A touch screen, maybe with multiple languages would be simpler than daily print outs that get crumpled or wet.

I try to whisper the gist of this to Scott without everybody else overhearing. He mumbles back that the bigger issue is expanding their sources of food, so they’re not forced to scramble. Across from us, Tiffany is gently grilling the staff people about how they use social media to bring in donations. The women within immediate earshot are not really sure – one mentions their facebook page, another some sort of interactive thing on the website. But it sounds static. I bet they could use a more proactive approach.

They clearly have good volunteer support and the Meals on Wheels brand is solid. So, presumably, is the donor base. But there’s always room to expand there too. How to reach the youngsters who get most of their opinions from what’s trending amongst their friends, who are decades away from worrying about elderly parents?

Scott has his little notebook out, and he’s scratching at it furiously. Assuming we can read his writing, this is a good sign. I try to speed up my bagging to make up for his sudden departure from our assembly line. Fortunately we’re close to done and our competitors are too busy with their own scheming to notice.

We’re wrapping up on the bagging early – with this many people it’s pretty fast, and the regular workers are pretty much incapable of not pitching in. That means more time for our so called proposals – as per usual three minutes long and can be whatever format we choose.

While Scott has been writing, I’ve tried to eavesdrop on the others, but to little avail. Pretty sure Tiffany and Nick will follow the social media for donations angle, and can probably describe or possibly make up some sort of amazing app that will exponentially expand their reach. Sandrine and Paul are doing the listen and observe thing. Not mouthing off ideas, as I probably would be doing if Scott ever looked up from his notes.

The fellow in charge politely thanks us for our assistance, and he doesn’t exactly order us to leave, but he seems like he wants his room back. We file back out to the front to try and find Austin. But presumably we can use the extra time to perfect our proposals, so the teams separate a bit, Sandrine and Paul sitting down together on the chairs by the door, and Nick and Tiffany quietly ducking back toward the storage room.

“Wait,” Scott mutters to me. More light bulbs going off, more notes to jot.

If he wants to do the whole thing, fine. I wander down an empty hallway in search of anybody from HAN. I hear Dr. Bernard’s deep voice from just ahead, and duck back for a moment, curious. He’s saying something about his schedule, and then Austin’s voice comes, assuring him he can leave by 4 o’clock and that the banner will be at the market. Right by Civic Center station.

Uh oh, did I just inappropriately overhear our final destination? I try to chastise myself, but end up scooting back to tell Scott what I think I heard. “We’ll still have to all get there,” he whispers back, “it’s not like we can leave early.”

Well, isn’t it? But before we can argue further, the HAN team emerges, and directs us all to the front lobby just long enough to say we have 15 minutes to create our 3 minute proposals. Oh, and no pressure, but these will be ranked, and the ranking will help determine our final departure time.

Scott and I backtrack all the way out the front door so that he can discuss his hastily scribbled plan without whispering and me yelling “what?” every couple seconds. And it’s not short either, he’s got two solid pages of chicken scratch, front and back. The very first thought – this is from a comment that the orientation guy made to all of us – is that often grocery stores and even food producers will dump food that’s edible but simply not up to their aesthetic standards. Oddly shaped, too small, weird lumps, that sort of thing. Then there’s the whole world of “best used by,” which also causes stores to toss perfectly good food because people won’t buy it, or even buy stuff off shelves not crammed with similar items.

Meals on Wheels is working with some stores, sometimes, and does get some viable donations. But, Scott says now, speaking fast and furious since there’s no way I can read his writing and our time is counting down, this piecemeal process demands a bigger picture approach. Legislation, a clarification of standards, rewards for donating edible items and punishment for the inappropriate disposal of nutritious foods. We could tackle hunger closer to the source, and keep waste out of the landfill to boot.

Now, I’m totally on board with all this as a concept, and it’s certainly something we’d advocated at HAN. There was a bill in the Senate, Paulson, I think, that we supported, but it got trashed in the House. But finally I have to ask: “How are we going to turn that into a three minute plan to help the satellite warehouse be more efficient? Using the MYHTs?”

“You honestly think that’s the bigger problem here?”

“No, but that’s the challenge, you know? I kind of think we’d be handing the win to Nick and Tiffany if we, like, moved that far away from the question.” At his frown, I add, “Maybe we could throw in a funny Chewbacca reference.”

Scott rolls his eyes, but almost cracks a smile. “Do you have a better idea? We’ve got eight minutes.”

I reiterate my online inventory thing. The MYHT cams could quickly capture and upload inventories of donations as they arrived, an app like that thing they use on expensify could tally that all into use-by data, and then generate daily output reports and packing lists. They could surely get some touch screens donated.

We look at each other. Six minutes and counting. “This is your thing,” I tell him. “Your call.” And I pretty much mean it, except that I’d really like to see a close finish, as a HAN advocate and reality TV fan. Just saying.

“Crap,” he says, looking at me shrewdly. “You want to throw it to Paul and Sandrine, don’t you?”

“Don’t you? I mean it would be fun to win, but a little sketchy, right? I’m thinking on my resume.”

He sighs. Doesn’t say it out loud, but I know he remembers that’s how he talked me into doing the race. “Yeah, I’d rather see them win too. We’ll do your thing.”

With that, I’m briefly reminded of why we stayed friends, why I’ve had to explain our friendship to every partner I’ve had since. He’s a pretty cool dude under the boy scout cap. We zip back into the warehouse for a quick role play of the before process – the crumbled printouts, the general mess of boxes and bags, me playing a befuddled volunteer who can’t keep track of inventory.

Then we hastily clear off a shelf and prop up a box as a pretend screen. Scott explains the inventory system and I cheerfully process some stuff with the MYHT cam. He narrates how this will incorporate the date, volume of food, spoilage date, and throws in a couple comments about food waste because he’s not completely over his first, better idea. The result, he assures the listening audience in selfie mode, will be a more efficient and less wasteful process that food pantries across the state will surely want to emulate.

It’s cheesy, it’s hammy, but it’s done. And a good thing, because Scott is grafting on our signature shot of the front of the building as Austin is calling time.

Judging commences on the spot, with Austin snapping the links onto his laptop and gathering Sergio, the HAN staff and Meals on Wheels reps around. The rest of us lurk close by, heads bobbing to get a clear look at the screen.

Nick and Tiffany go first, and their proposal is pretty much what I’d already heard them chat about – a MYHT app driven social media campaign to promote local donations and volunteering, with the assumption that more of both will lead to an easier time of it at the warehouse. They end it with a devastatingly charming montage of current volunteers exclaiming over how much they love this idea.

Great, quickly followed by our masterpiece: Jessie the fake volunteer doing a bad job acting confused by the good work these folks do every day. But the second part of our role playing looks better. It is a good concept, and I’m relieved to see a couple of the Meals on Wheels people nodding in what appears to be a positive way. (Hopefully they like it and aren’t just glad to see me done pretending to be them.)

Hardly time to blink before Sandrine and Paul’s proposal launches. They’ve taken the most literal approach to the efficiency challenge, and focused on making better use of the warehouse space and related health issues for volunteers. Protecting from muscle strains, back injuries, that sort of thing. So they’ve rethought placement of shelving and tables, and recommend simple mechanical devices that people could use to do the work with less strain. They’d use the MYHT cams – this is clearly tacked on to placate Sergio – to demonstrate correct posture, lifting techniques, and how-tos for the labor saving devices. Paul sounds confident and persuasive describing the benefits. Well, naturally, since didn’t he publish a weeks long researched piece on these same issues at hospitals?

We racers are asked to go clean up the floor of the warehouse, or in other words, get out so the judges can judge. The regular workers already have the place sorted out, so we mostly try to stay out of the way and not knock things over. Scott looks at me and then pointedly at Paul. I think I get it, so I bounce over to Nick and Tiffany to compliment them on their insightful ideas about social media, skipping my own judgement that a bunch more people and stuff would probably lead to less, not more efficiency. (I’ve been in rooms with lots of crap and volunteers, you know?)

Over Tiffany’s head, I see Scott muttering to Paul, presumably letting them know what I heard about the final destination and not lecturing about corporate food waste. Scott may be right that it’s not much of an advantage. I suppose we can check transit schedules, but we can’t really duck out without our final instructions. He looks a little sad, actually, more so than the rest of us. Maybe the old paid time off to think has been getting him down, compared to the action packed excitement daily inane challenges out in the public eye. I’m thinking that in a mocking way, but it occurs to me I may be right. Scott is like one of those eager working dogs the feature at the Westminster show, circling sheep and such – it pains them, and him, to be idle.

We’re all pretty antsy just now. Me as much as anyone – I can’t sit still and am a menace to the carefully placed materials on the tightly packed shelves. Not long to wait, though, before we’re called back by none other than Jonathan Bernard himself. Paul and Sandrine sit, his arm protectively around her. (Now that I know she’s pregnant, it seems obvious.) Nick and Tiffany stand next to them, hands clasped, shoulders pressed together, while Scott and I edge behind the chairs, carefully apart (#justfriends!). Austin has his cam aimed at the group, and hopefully someone, somewhere, is watching. And donating to HAN!

Dr. Bernard stares us down. “This judging was difficult,” he intones. “Three good ideas, three different approaches, each with merit, and stronger meshed together.”

I glance to the side at Nick, who looks almost like he’s panting in anticipation. Maybe I am too – I mean, get to the point, dude, we need a winner.

But no, the Meals on Wheels guy has some warm words too. Actually he sounds a tad defensive – as in of course they have thought of these sort of things too, but they’re stretched tight, they need resources for implementation. Etc, etc, blah blah blah.

I’m trying not to care, but this is making me crazy. Scott actually elbows me to keep me still.

Finally, Dr. Bernard casts his eyes toward me and I swear he’s choking back a laugh. “Scott and Jessica are Team number 1.”

I feel my jaw drop, and at the same time have to keep from laughing myself. Scott calmly offers a high five as he continues that Nick and Tiffany are second, Sandrine and Paul third.

But – BUT – he has to raise his voice over our general commotion, there’s more. Because of the closeness of the proposals and the tightness of the race, they have an additional challenge before we race to the finish line. If this was The Amazing Race, they’d cut to a commercial while the Twitter-verse exploded. I can see Tiffany quickly typing – dang, she actually does have friends following in real time.

But then when Austin produces preprinted handouts, I’m like, this isn’t any more spontaneous than a dude suddenly dropping to a knee for a proposal when look, all the players have gathered and the ring is right there in his pocket. Nonetheless, if it’s tension and drama they want, that they have achieved.

Scott and I get the handout first, or I should say Scott does, because he snatches it and hurtles himself out the front door for a private read. Figuring I’ll accidentally mouth off a spoiler, I suppose. I step out after him, nodding to the others, like, yeah, this is part of our teamwork strategy.

He’s practically cackling as he reveals the challenge: we have to post up a simple list of all our race related locations, organizations, and representatives’ names, get five likes, and we’re good to go. And before I can say what comes to my mind, which is are you kidding, I can barely remember what I had for dinner last night, he flaps his little notebook.

Of course, when you’re dealing with Scott Amberstein, you can count on two things: you’re late or have forgotten a key item and he’s prepared for every possible bump in the road.

This will take us like two minutes. “I’ll start pinging for likes now,” I suggest. That’s our biggest challenge.

Scott nods, but he’s frowning again, distracted.

“Did you miss a day? Cause I’m not totally brain dead, I might be able to remember.”

“No.” He glances back toward the meeting room then meets my eye. “I’d rather go out with a bang. You want people to like our post? Let’s put something real out there.” He’s googling now. “House Bill 644, you’re right, Paulson. We can use a lot of the same elements for a California bill. It has to be legal and incentivized for stores to make donations of food at the Sell By. Illegal and punished for producers to dump edibles just for looks. Enforceable, and, I don’t know, well publicized. I mean, it’s common sense.”

I stare at him for a minute. “You mean propose that as potential legislation instead of posting the names and stuff?”

“I guess we can add on some names at the end. But yeah. What can they do but ding us for time, right? This is a good way to go out.”

Losing with honor, I guess. Slowly, I nod my approval – not that he’s bothered to wait, he’s already typing.

After a couple minutes, Nick and Tiffany appear, talking quickly and naming various of our challenge spots in random order. I stare them down – no way they’re getting any info from us.

Looking up, Scott murmurs, “Get the list to Paul.” And, “Do you think we should include unused materials from hospitals? He says that’s another whole untapped resource.”

“Nah, keep it focussed.” That much I’m sure of. Who knows, with Scott wound up and the resources of Chandler behind it, maybe this could actually go somewhere. Now that would be a fine flame out, I tell myself, if my departing event engenders legislation that HAN itself hasn’t yet proposed.

Sandrine and Paul charge out the door, their flyer in hand, and we all kind of eye each other. If they’ve made a deal with Nick and Tiffany, they show poker faces. I carefully snap a MYHT cam shot of Scott’s list, pages one and two, and click them over to Paul, assuming he’s the speedier typist of the pair. Those cams make a scanner obsolete, I’ll give them that. I amble over to her and quickly whisper that we’re almost done and we’re hoping we both overtake Nick and Tiffany.

Hopefully Scott really is wrapping up – there’s only so much you can include on a facebook post of proposed policy legislation before people hit the snooze button. I hand him back his list, and he nods, takes it, continues typing.

Across from us, Paul is clicking fast and confident. While Nick and Tiffany whisper furiously – from the looks of it, they haven’t got the complete set of names. Well, you don’t have to be a super genius to realize that as soon as one team has the full set posted, it’s there for the taking. And then it comes down to the likes.

Feeling like a U.N. rep, I whisper first to Scott, and then to Sandrine, that we should load our lists at the same time and like each other’s on the spot. Then I go over and whisper to Tiffany does she remember Day 2, just to confuse things. But I’m pretty sure they’re not fooled. She shrugs. Her iphone is tracked to the HAN race page, no doubt waiting for us to post.

There’s a weird, tense, quiet moment – nobody typing, everybody staring at each other. The Meals on Wheels volunteers are gone, the staff back to work, it’s the six of us, silent, poised. I can see Austin through the doorway, his tablet in hand. He’s frowning, waiting too, probably wondering how dumb we’d be to have forgotten this info, or if he needs to drop hints about the names.

“Okay,” Scott exclaims, and he clicks. Paul clicks. It’s like that childhood game of Mousetrap (do kids still play that anymore?): I can see Austin spring to action, checking the posts for accuracy then loading them, our clicking likes, Nick scrambling to copy down their missing names, them posting, Tiffany’s fingers flying as she pings her people.

Austin is head down, tracking likes presumably, so Jonathan Bernard himself emerges, three little flyers in hand.

“I feel the walls closing in, the garbage is getting deeper,” I tell the others, referencing that scene in Star Wars where Han and the princess and everybody are trapped in the room sized trash compactor. I attempt a Wookie cry of frustration. Nobody reacts; it’s a tough crowd.

“Sandrine and Paul, they’ve got five!” yells Austin.

Paul almost knocks over Dr. Bernard in his haste to acquire his doc, and he and Sandrine hightail it out the door.

Scott, I swear, is assuming a squat position, like at the start of a race. Does he even think we’ll get to participate anymore? We did Not Follow The Rules, after all, aside from how we’re trying not to come in first. Sure enough, Austin calls Dr. Bernard back for an extended whisper.

“Um, Nick and Tiffany are a go!”

Dang. They grab their clue but are slower to pick a direction, and I can only hope the clue is in Ewok or something so they get lost finding the final destination.

Dr. Bernard meanwhile is making a ruling: if the info is accurate and the likes are there, we’re still in it, extraneous verbiage notwithstanding. Maybe a snappy little idea for the “menu” of your next Board agenda, eh Dr. B? Well, if he likes it, he’s not saying, and we’ve got a clue to read and a race to, um, not win.

 

 

 

Chapter 12

Winner Is

 

The clue is at least somewhat vague, more bad rhyming that links “Market Match” with “one to watch” and “many” with “FINI”. And in all fairness – yes, I’m feeling just a bit defensive – I would have gotten it right away, being familiar with the Market Match program. Anyway, they mention the Heart of the City market by its official name, which I also well know.

Or so I tell Scott, as we dash off down the street, before I run out of breath altogether. We’re required to use transit again, and I suppose it makes sense in order to give the race coordinators time to Uber past us and be there at the finish line. But you can imagine that I’m not thrilled to be backtracking that gritty five blocks to the BART station again.

Even if Nick and Tiffany had to wait for friends to clue them in as to where to go, they had a head start on us. They’ll have the whole BART ride to learn what they need to know about the program. Better hope Sandrine and Paul got enough of a lead on them and figure out what they need to do too, which is “post a clip of the Market Match in action.”

As the flyer eventually gets around to noting, the local group Ecology Center got a big USDA Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (aka FINI) grant to expand their Market Match program to hundreds of farmers’ markets. The program links thousands of food insecure Californians to hundreds of small farms, and thus stimulates millions in fruit and vegetable sales. Market Match basically doubles low income people’s buying power at the markets by matching their CalFresh card purchases with an equal value in market tokens to spend. So it’s good for the people who need nutritious food, plus a boon for the small farmers.

I try to distract myself, thinking about the multi-pronged benefits of Market Match, as I make the slow jog down the final block of Mission and into the BART station. People are pointedly dodging out of my way, so I know I look just a step or two from full on nuts by now. Scott ran ahead at least a block ago, and is presumably already there, impatiently waiting. I suppose he could block a door entrance to hold a train, though I imagine he’s not quite enough of a law breaker not to succumb to a scolding from the train operator. I’ve seen people hold the doors, and boy those operators do not like it.

Dashing down the escalator, I’m relieved not to hear the sound of a train, nor feel the rushing wind that precedes them. One or two seconds to catch my breath, is that so much to ask?

Um, uh oh, maybe it is too much – Scott is waiting at the bottom of the escalator, as are way too many people for the middle of a Thursday. As are Nick and Tiffany and Sandrine and Paul, all hyped up, annoyed, and texting frantically.

“There’s a delay,” Scott tells me, assuming perhaps I’m as dumb as I am slow.

I can’t help myself – I snap photos of my waiting colleagues and post them immediately: #millenniumfalcondelayed!

Nobody else seems to think this is funny. The intercom comes on again, with apologies for the delay due to “police activity” and promises the system will be running soon.

Come on people, it’s the unforeseen glitches that make the race interesting! The question we’re all pondering, of course, is whether it’ll be faster to go upstairs and catch a Mission bus. If BART is really down for awhile it could be, but I’d bet against it. Other hand, since we’re technically aiming to come in second to Sandrine and Paul, maybe we could lure Nick and Tiffany away.

I try whispering and exaggerated hand motions to convey this thought to Scott, but he’s no mind reader. I, no mime. Instead, I make sure we’re being watched by team hot, and drag him bodily back up the escalator, yelling, “I’m sure it’ll be faster!”

We’re not the only people bailing on BART, so we kind of blend with the crowd. Except we’re not bailing, as I’m finally able to explain before we reach the turnstile. We’re luring. Hoping they decide to head up for a bus and not notice that we’re looping around and sneaking back down the far stairway.

Scott follows along, but the way you do with a child who’s giving a tour of their giant imaginary spaceship, uh huh, it’s really great. Blended again with more people and poised behind a large beam, I tell myself at least it’ll mess with their heads thinking we might be ahead.

Another several minutes drag glacially by; all around us people consult their phones for updates and text their late excuses. I’m picturing Jonathan Bernard pacing at the race mat, wondering how he got talked into wasting his entire day and standing there alone while no one can be bothered to show up.

Finally, they announce the trains are back up. The first of several late running trains will depart, and so on, and usually I’d have the fortitude to wait an extra couple minutes for the second or third much less crowded train. Not now though. For posterity I take a long view shot of the masses all down the station platform. The usual polite lines by the door markers have disintegrated, and it’s going to be a scrum even for standing room. No time for politeness, I tell Scott, we need to be on there.

At least it’s a long train, so we get wedged on, and a few uncomfortable minutes later we squeeze our way out at Civic Center. Then sprint past slower moving folks – this has got to be bothering Scott, who’s super polite to the point of occasionally insulting not old people by holding doors for them. But he overcomes his nature and follows my wildly elbowing lead.

I don’t see our competitors, but assume they’re ahead, since they were on middle cars, closer to the station exit. Assuming they made it on the crowded train at all and knew the closest exit – Nick, I’d bet big money, did at least.

The standard crowd is milling around the market as we dash up, no one else in any sort of hurry. It’s close enough to the end of the day that some stands are already gone or closing down. Bargains! My reflexive thought, but no time now. “Look for people with CalFresh cards and vendors taking the tokens,” I tell Scott. “That’s the kind of transaction we can use.”

“There’s Paul,” he says, pointing.

Paul is a few stands away, apparently filming Sandrine interviewing a farmer. But I don’t see anyone using the Market Match tokens, or even a customer at his stand at all. Must just be getting some commentary about the program.

I turn to Scott to suggest maybe we should do that too, but he’s no longer beside me. Dammit, dude, now you decide to disappear? Instead there is Nick with his MYHT cam aimed at eye level, and he’s barely able to contain his laughter, chortling about how Princess Leia can’t find Luke.

Reflexively my hands pop upwards to try and tame my hair, which generally goes full Room 222 afro after running and sweating. Yeah, like that’s going to help my demon eyed facial expression; at least I know my coif does not resemble any sort of tightly coiled ear bun. My last shred of dignity is turning full away, which has the added benefit of facing me toward Scott. He’s talking to a tiny lady over at a tomato stand – and SHE’S GOT TOKENS.

Before stopping to think, I swirl back around toward Nick, going for broke, rolling up our flyer to use as the world’s lamest light saber. Tiffany is next to him now, and despite all the surprises they’ve witnessed so far, they appear nothing less than flabbergasted at the sight of a 50 year old woman zinging at them with a rolled up flyer, making loud light saber noises and calling out “Obi wan! You’re my only hope!”

But every second they’re watching/dodging away from me is one more they aren’t filming the Market Match program. That’s my thought. Along with, if I’m going to be online looking idiotic, might as well pretend it’s my idea.

Well, soon enough Tiffany gets a clue – that or she’s just not a Star Wars fan. She drags Nick away, happily in the opposite direction of Scott. Who’s been joined by Paul, both of them towering over the market token user. Poor lady, probably thought she’d head up to the market and get some salad fixings, and not be pestered by tall men begging to film and interview her.

I chase after Nick and Tiffany, thinking if I keep video bombing them it’ll slow them down. Plus my clear crazy lady vibe might prevent people from wanting to talk to them. The farmers kind of have to talk to the crazies, at least those ready to purchase food, though, and as I catch up, I hear Tiffany asking a lady with trays of early summer fruit about the Market Match program.

“How much is this? Or this?” I burst in, waving around a handful of cash. I guess it’s no surprise that I can be one of those people who scare the shy away from the market at all. Tiffany, I’d imagine, finds her comfort zone at Whole Foods, with its clearly marked prices and lines and polite clerks.

Nick hisses for me to leave them alone, and I stoutly defend my need some tasty farm fresh cherries; can’t a gal be hungry? Back and forth we go until Nick finally exclaims to Tiffany that she’d better go and do some interviews alone since obviously that’s what Scott is doing while I hassle them.

Damn, if only we’d thought to be so devious!

I wonder if Scott is indeed wrapping up a fabulous clip of the program in action and we’ll end up winning accidentally. Nick and I are left to stand in a MYHT cam face off, which is getting less interesting by the minute since we’ve both stopped moving and any market patrons are steering well clear of the pair of us. I depart with a final, super dignified “May the force be with you,” and hurry back to try and locate Scott.

He hasn’t moved more than a foot, although his interviewee has managed to escape the scene. Moving within earshot, I realize that Scott is holding out his selfie mode patch and pontificating further, half to the tomato farmer, half to the cam, about his legislative ideas and how great it would be if no produce went to waste.

I’m not quite rude enough to interrupt, but I make concerned eyebrow raising eye contact and thumb across the throat motions. Scott eventually finishes his paragraph long thought and thanks the bemused farmer before turning back to me. “I think Paul and Sandrine got what they needed. I’m just fleshing out the proposal a little more to give them some lead time. Question is, where are Nick and Tiffany?”

“I, um, attacked them with a fake light saber, as a distraction,” I confess, not sure if I can really be proud of myself just now. “But then Tiffany went off by herself, like you were doing.”

He nods, distracted. Editing.

“I think the key here is to get something in fast rather than super perfect,” I mention after a couple minutes pass.

“Jessie, I’m really excited about this. I’m serious, this is the sort of thing I meant when I planned the sabbatical. I can’t tell you how long it’s been since I felt this motivated to pull all the pieces together.” He starts naming people and entities that can be lined up, allied groups, other possible funders, new legislative aides. HAN too, of course, and he’d be happy to sign me on as having consulted, for my resume. Maybe I’d get a consulting gig out of it; they’d surely need publicity.

Classic Scott: when an idea gets big enough and lodged front and center, he truly gets lost in it. I mean, in a way I admire, in a way I also aspire to be again one day soon. Although, just this minute, Scott is babbling about the timing of the next legislative session and you could dump the remaining tomatoes here at his feet and he’d hardly notice.

“That’s great,” I tell him, carefully modulating my voice, tamping down my impatience. “This could be a great piece of legislation, and I’d love to be a part of it. But, just for now, let’s send in our clip. Can you cut it down to three minutes?”

His eyes track back to the here and now, the noise and clutter, passersby picking at the items still for sale, other farmers packing up. “Well, the Market Match program part will be pretty short,” he says with a laugh.

As he squints at his device, I turn to my phone, refreshing the HAN race page and ready to like Sandrine and Paul’s presentation as soon as it appears.

“Done,” he exclaims. “I just sent it, hope that’s okay.”

“I’m not even in it, am I?”

“Well, just at the end. It’s kind of me talking a lot of the time,” he admits.

“Just ping the kids,” I tell him. “We can at least get our likes even if they ding us for sucking on the Market Match presentation.”

After a minute he looks up from his phone. “Now what?”

His phone shows it’s 3:38, and I can’t imagine they have much more planned after promising they’d let Dr. Bernard off the hook before rush hour. “Let’s go look for a race banner and some HAN people, they’ve got to be around here pretty close.”

“It might look weird if we get there before we get our instructions.”

“Hey, if we happen upon it—What are you doing?”

“Texting Paul. We should all get there together, right?”

Both of our phones chime, announcing that all three of our Market Match in action posts are up. “Likes, likes,” I yell, almost dropping my phone, fingers too hyped to find the right spots.

“Max has half his soccer team standing by,” Scott says. “They’re going to put us and team doc over the top.”

If I could walk and click at the same time I would, but I’d just as soon avoid crashing into a flower stand as my final race embarrassment just now. Once we’re done clicking, though, we start charging around in random concentric circles, searching for anything that might be called a race banner.

Good thing the local cops ignore nutty behavior that’s not overtly aggressive; in my sister’s local suburban mall we’d probably have been booked for disturbing the peace by now. Scott spots Paul and Sandrine at least, and we trot over. They look a bit anxious too, but also like they are sensibly conserving their energy in case of a last minute footrace.

“Your post is a little, um, off topic, huh?” Paul asks.

Scott starts to explain – about the scourge of food waste, the vast vacuum in the legislature, the obvious need, but before he tumbles far down that rabbit hole, all four of our phones chime a little chorus.

Your final task is Out of This World. Locate the HAN banner at the south entrance – but before you do, purchase and provide our donation bin one pound of the nearest otherworldly produce. Final judging will take place immediately.

Okay, first of all, that’s way too long for a text; read at print big enough to see, it scrolls right off my screen. All I focus on is that we should go there for judging immediately. Second, looking up at my colleagues, they’re all three staring at me. “What? I don’t know what this means.”

“Think about the produce, Jessie. What do they sell that’s ‘otherworldly?’”

“That’s not, like, a standard tomato variety,” I assure them.

Paul and Sandrine are both silent and thumbing their phones. “Google it,” I tell Scott. I have a feeling Otherworldly Produce San Francisco will bring up a bunch of unrelated weird stuff though.

“I have lots of footage here,” Sandrine mutters, squinting downward. “There could be—wait, there’s a sign, it’s the apricot stand, it says taste them, they’re out of this world!”

“Where?” Paul exclaims, followed by, “whisper it.”

“I don’t know where this is. Jessie might.” Sandrine cranes her neck around, I assume hoping she spots it rather than having to get me involved.

“We should work together,” Scott urges. “Otherwise Nick and Tiffany will get ahead.”

I’m nodding, like yeah, let’s do that, although this would probably be a good time to mention that I have no insider knowledge about where a particular stand with a stupid sign may be located. I’m just psyched at being considered well informed for once.

Two things happen almost at once. “That’s right at the corner by Grove Street,” Paul exclaims. “There’s the street sign.” Oops, so much for whispering.

And who else but Nick and Tiffany come charging up. Happily, at least, they appear to be sans apricots from this world or any other.

Great, so four of us know basically where to go, but the two fastest runners will probably beat us to it.

“Okay, split up,” Scott exclaims. Motioning to me, he takes off at a fast trot away from Grove Street.

Paul and Sandrine exchange startled looks but quickly head towards Grove. Crap, though, here comes Nick jogging up along side us, but no sign of Tiffany. Better hope Paul and Sandrine can either outrun her or at least out elbow her when they reach the stands; guess it’s good they got trailed by her instead of Nick. No way he’d back off now.

Dodging around curious market goers and annoyed looking people who are actually trying to conduct their business, we make a hasty loop around the outer stands and then back toward where we will hopefully find the fruit in question. I’m stumped as to what sci fi show or MYHT app they’re referencing. Maybe it’s just that Sergio saw the sign.

Nick, who’d been keeping steady pace with us, suddenly bursts into a run. Scott follows. A half block away, the other three are clustered, and as we close in, the Out of This World sign comes into view.

Nick and Tiffany are screaming back and forth to each other about their acquisition of apricots like they’re Jack and Rose on the Titanic. But Paul and Sandrine are already hoofing away.

Scott’s got our bag in hand by the time I trot up, winded and panting and wishing I’d just stood still while he ran in circles. No time to stop now, though. “This way, come on, Jessie,” Scott urges. “Hurry!”

For a brief shining moment, my TAR fantasy is coming true. You know the camera would be on me here, right? Will! She! Break! Down??

Oh, hell no! Assuming Scott knows where we’re going – I’m too frigging winded to think what damn direction we were supposed to go – I tag along after him. Sweaty, my hair in a knotted mess, daypack banging into things as it half falls off my shoulder, but I am not stopping now.

Lifting my eyes for a sec, I see it – that same HAN banner they had out at the park what seems like a dozen weeks ago. I edge past a frowning tourist, map in hand, and a startled panhandler, and raise my head again, breathing deep, chest heaving. Oh shit – there stand half a dozen HAN staffers. Bill with a jolly smile and Kim looking as if she’s been forced to attend a birthday party for a two year old she doesn’t like. Dr. Bernard poised under the banner, Sergio grinning along side him. Austin, actually several of them filming the action. And there is Todd, and Lenora. And Sunil and Bobby and Madison and Edie. They’re not exactly lining the final walkway, but clustered around all looking cheerful and amused.

More to the point, Nick, Tiffany, Sandrine and Paul are bunched together on the race mat. Seriously, as if it’s a game of Twister and they all got left foot blue. Scott, meanwhile, has located the food donation bucket and gently donates our out of this world apricots. Before I either reach in for a sample or stop myself from doing so, he hands me a perfectly ripened one. And bites into one of his own. “Got a couple extra,” he says. “Consolation prize.”

And if you really think about it, is there anything much better than the cessation of tiring movement followed by a delicious piece of fruit? Okay, maybe a few things, but big picture course of a human life wise, it’s a fine thing. My clothes and hair and general demeanor may scream middle aged crazy, but my smile is genuine. And a good thing, because everybody in sight with a MYHT cam or phone is snapping and posting pictures and vids.

Heather pushes her way out of the crowd, with a big hug for Scott and a smaller one for me. A whole contingent of attractive young people surround Nick and Tiffany, and that’s got to be Sandrine’s mom welcoming her to the finish.

Heather snaps my picture. “Your friend Raye wanted to be here but she couldn’t make it,” she tells me. “Next best thing.”

Our little gathering is even drawing a crowd, curious passersby and random tourists, excited to have stumbled upon a wacky only-in-San-Francisco moment. “What are they demonstrating,” I hear one lady loudly ask. “Hunger? At a food market?”

Jonathan Bernard hoists the megaphone and gives an accidental ear piercing screech. That gets everybody quieted down and suddenly I’m aware of the sound of my chewing. No body else is eating right now, but frankly it’s their loss. This thing is damn good.

“It looks like we had a tie at the mat,” Dr. Bernard booms. “With the third place finishers close enough for contention.” This is met with both hoots and cheers from people who clearly have not seen how we mangled the final challenge. “The judges…” long pause, “are deliberating!”

Our competitors untangle themselves off the mat, and we all look around for the judges. There stand Austin, Sergio, Bill from HAN, and a laptop with a disembodied Skyper from the looks of it. Somebody from the Ecology Center sensible enough to stay at her desk in Berkeley.

I glance over at my former coworkers, several of whom are whispering and giggling and I’m not just being paranoid here, laughing at me. Kim stands apart, texting. Probably setting up a meeting called a wrap up and evaluation wherein she can rip apart this whole race event and put it behind them forever.

Scott is also texting, and I nudge him, like, hey man, pretend we’re still interested. “I want my team at Chandler to see the proposal,” he whispers, soft, but kid waiting for a surprise party level excited. Heather grins at him, and then at me, and I remember him saying she’s glad he has a friend to go all policy wonky with. Maybe it’s really true.

“C’mon, team doc!” Todd hollers, but he’s unsuccessful in drawing any counter cheers or additional cat calls. Paul and Sandrine smile and wave to him. Nick and Tiffany remain poised by the race mat, eyes glued to the judges. The other related parties are starting to drift a bit, attention-wise. If I were still on the HAN staff, I’d need to have a talk with people after: at the race finale, you should really stay on point!

Scott looks around, as if just becoming aware of where he is in time and space. “This was your thing, Jessie,” he suddenly tells me. “You should be proud. Front and center of your LinkedIn.”

Before I can do an aw shucks shuffle, the megaphone blares again. “The Market Match challenge results are in!” blares Jonathan Bernard. Staring straight at us, he goes, “The presentations were… interesting. But based on the judging, Scott and Jessica have been eliminated.”

“Awwww,” I yell, just to play the part to the end. And I wave over at my former HAN colleagues, like, act sad you guys. They’re kind of looking at each other; at least nobody cheered.

“And so the Winner. Of the Inaugural Health Access Now Health and Food Matters Race. IS!” Then he stops, just to make sure he’s got everybody’s attention, even the mumbling panhandler who’s losing business from all of us standing here.

“It’s Sandrine and Paul!” he exclaims. “Put over the top by their consistently people centered challenge wins and demonstrated understanding of our Health Access Now issues!”

He’s got more to say but it’s momentarily drowned out. Cheers and hugs from all of us, even Nick and Tiffany, and gushing Oh-My-Gods and thanks from Sandrine and Paul. Grinning ear to ear, they lead a little round of applause for Austin. Dr. Bernard sensibly jettisons the bulk of his speech and steps forward to drape silly looking sashes over the winners.

“We raised over eighty thousand dollars,” Austin exclaims, voice barely audible over the hubbub. “Web traffic is still climbing!”

Well, I hear him anyway, my attention still automatically drawn to mention of funds or web stats. Former coworkers Barb and Jake elbow their way toward me and we slap palms. “Awesome run, Jessie,” she says, and whispers, “Maybe you can hire me for your new thing.”

“I’m not—it’s not, um” I fizzle out. I don’t even know if she’s serious. And I’m so loopy tired, I just need to get off my feet and not run like a maniac for a couple days.

But hey, it’s cool she’s even thinking in that direction. I may need a meal and a nap just now, but I’d better get the old resume out there while the iron’s hot. The crazy race, all the clips and pics and wild ideas, like all social media, will quickly disappear off peoples’ radar.

Next to me, Madison and Edie are excitedly quizzing Scott about why he doesn’t make the food waste proposal national, or international. Nick is standing there too, and he’s nodding, cutting in about technological aspects of tracking waste. Other little clumps of people are chatting, the excitement of the race not yet dissipated.

Sandrine and Paul are still arm in arm by the race mat, as Sergio interviews them, looking all proud and possessive about the MYHT devices. My hand goes to mine, which is still comfortably attached, despite the actions of the day. Guess it’s too late to try and sneak off and keep it.

In my head, I think I could beg Sergio for one more week, and use it to snag some smart techie engineer, lure him in with my cutting edge knowledge of the next big thing, quick, before MYHT gets blown past by the next next big thing. And, no, I’m not really going to ask to keep it. But maybe it’s positive to even be thinking that way, thinking that my own self – once bathed and combed and better dressed and everything – could still be attractive, somehow, some way to someone.

Not to mention the job thing. Okay, it might not pan out that I immediately get hired to do PR – and successful fundraisers! – for a hot new food waste initiative. But I think I may, possibly, have proven that not all my ideas are bad. That sometimes things do have a way of working themselves out. You hear that, Mom’s voice in my head? There’s still hope, I haven’t run my life fully into the ground yet.

Across from me, Sandrine and Paul are still surrounded by a happily chattering crowd. Sandrine steps forward though, and offers up a hug. “Well done,” she says. “Congratulations on a good race.”

I don’t know if she means how we ran it, or that it started out as mine. “Thanks,” I tell her, happy to take credit for both. “And, jeez, congrats to you guys. I mean winning, and having a kid.” Paul surviving, I think but don’t say out loud. Both of them game for their next big challenge.

I leave Scott recapping the day for Heather and join my former co-workers, who surround me, offering kudos galore. Somebody hands around a bag of fresh cherries, and we do a collective ecstatic swoon. We – the protectors of farm fresh food, or so we tell ourselves – are all feeling pretty good about the work we do just now.

My role in it, I promise myself here and now, is not over yet, not nearly. It’s just a matter of settling on what comes next.

 

 

###

 

 

Like what you’ve read? Online reviews are appreciated!

 

Myanne’s e-book The Ghost Family is available for $1.99 at http://www.Shakespir.com/books/view/36248 and her other e-books are available free to download at:

Long Road to California https://www.Shakespir.com/books/view/412198

Clarity https://www.Shakespir.com/books/view/99806

Set it Off https://www.Shakespir.com/books/view/327834

 

Author interview: https://www.Shakespir.com/interview/myanne

 


Feed the World!

Jessie Morgan, 50, impulsively quits her nonprofit job after one too many good ideas are disregarded. Then her ex convinces her to team up for a fundraiser based on The Amazing Race. What could possibly go wrong? A satirical look at the wonderful world of nonprofits.

  • ISBN: 9781311253026
  • Author: Myanne Shelley
  • Published: 2015-10-26 19:50:12
  • Words: 72386
Feed the World! Feed the World!