Email I tried to send to Spider Robinson via his website under the Subject “Spider’s Impact”:
I was first introduced to Spider via the copy of Telempath that I borrowed from my cousin Bud. I was likely 10 years old at the time and an avid science fiction fan. I was scandalized/delighted by the references to smoking pot (I was already partaking at that point) and the fact that the protagonist was black. I thought it was awesome and then started to read everything that Spider had written and would write.I love the Callahan’s books. I love the puns (when they’re good) 🙂 . I loved Callahan’s Lady and the brothel setting. I loved Antinomy and most especially The Magnificent Conspiracy, a story that I have probably read 30 times. Antinomy was such an eclectic mix of pure Spiderness, it was maybe the first time that I really felt a strong bond with the writer as a person. I’ve loved so may of Spider’s works, and Spider’s uniquely human authorial voice. Mindkiller, Night of Power, Lifehouse, The Free Lunch, Variable Star. I love those books and they have all had a major impact on my life.I read Helnlein because Spider told me I should.I am a fairly typical nerd, probably. I’m the IT director for my county. I love Robert Heinlein, William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, Robert E. Howard, Tolkien, etc. Of all of them, except for maybe Heinlein, only Spider has helped me to be a better human. Reading SF can help make you smarter. Reading Spider can help make you more compassionate.I remember in “Rah Rah RAH” Spider writing “this is who and what I love.” That’s exactly how I feel about Spider.
Yesterday, I rode BART. I was coming back to SF from Berkeley, a BART trip I have probably not made in over 30 years. For whatever reason, while I was at the downtown Berkeley station, trains stopped heading to Millbrae. I missed the last Millbrae train while double-checking which line I should take. Eventually, I learned that I’d need to take a Warm Springs-bound train and transfer at MacArthur. I realized this only after missing a Warm Springs-bound train or two. All told, I probably spent 30 minutes at that Berkeley station.
While I was there, reading a 4-year-old Make magazine I’d bought at Half Price Books, I found myself seated, on one of those round concrete “benches,” next to a woman in her 60’s or 70’s. I didn’t pay much attention to her.
Later, a young black guy came along and sat down between us. I didn’t pay much attention to him, either. He was tall and thin, wearing a suit and expensive-seeming basketball shoes. I was mostly looking down at my magazine and didn’t really note how young he was.
He immediately struck up a conversation with the elderly woman. Maybe she handed him some printed material? He started talking about why he didn’t vote. He didn’t believe in it. You could say what you want about Barack Obama being the first black President, but he still had to answer to someone. There was always someone behind the scenes really pulling the strings. Voting was a waste of time because the system was rigged.
The woman argued that things were never going to change if you didn’t vote, and that voting certainly didn’t make things worse. They went back and forth. Both of them, it began to appear to me, were at least slightly mentally-challenged. I’m not trying to make a value judgement. I don’t mean that simply because I disagree with them that they were obviously incapacitated. They just both seemed to have some mild mental health issues. When I eventually looked up at the woman, she had a pretty pronounced growth of chin hair. I mean, really significant. Her call on whether she deals with that, but I don’t know any woman who wouldn’t address such a thing.
The guy was likewise … odd. He mentioned that he and his family were going to move to Puerto Rico or Cuba, since the system here was so unfair. Not my first choice on where I’d take my family to improve quality of life. But I’m an old white dude.
They actually had a heart-warmingly positive interaction. Two strangers at a BART station.
All three of us got on the same Warm Springs train. Within seconds, it seemed, Suit-and-Nikes guy was in a conversation with another black guy. I was about two rows away from them, seated. They were both standing, though there were a smattering of available seats.
“Do you know what a ‘nationality’ is? What country do the Japanese come from?” the new dude asked. He was a bit shorter. Dressed all in black. Medium-large afro.
“Japan,” the taller guy said.
“What country do the Chinese come from?”
They went through this with two or three more nationalities. The new guy seemed to be making an argument that by calling someone “African-American,” others (whites, presumably) were “stealing” your “nationality.” He seemed to be trying to convince the well-dressed young man that “African-Americans” should consider themselves native Americans (not, “Native Americans?”) and not “black.” I didn’t really hear or understand the argument against using the term “black.”
What struck me the most about this whole interchange was how quickly these two got involved in this dialogue. It started within minutes of the train leaving the BART station. Maybe within the first minute. It seemed to me that the new guy had been looking for someone to engage on this topic and something about suit-and-Nikes recommended itself.
I don’t want to misrepresent either of these conversations. They were both quick to spring up, and unexpected in their trajectory. Both were, definitely, political. Both the young man in black and the older woman with a goatee had their own perspectives they were trying to sell. It was easy for me to view the old lady as harmless and the young black man as being part of something potentially dangerous.
Everything I witnessed was civil. I was mostly not paying attention to any of it. But afterwards I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Both engagements were surprising in their own way. Random, or not so random, encounters at a train station.
A theoretical stump speech for a putative candidate for president
Good evening, my fellow Americans.
I come to you today as a candidate for President of the United States.
I do not seek this office out of a sense of entitlement nor because I have some grandiose sense of self. I would prefer to leave this job to someone more worthy than myself. I know that the job of President is one of the most difficult jobs anywhere, and despite the many perks, would bring great stress and at times, misery, to my beloved wife and children.
I do not seek this office to enrich myself. I live a comfortable life and have never sought fame nor wealth.
While I care about my legacy on this earth, I know that my likeness will never be etched alongside the greats on Mount Rushmore. Our divided nation will perhaps never again agree upon an individual to universally hail. Even were we to unite in admiration of some individual, the line of those more worthy than I of such an honor is long indeed.
Why then should I bother you with my request that you consider me for this office? Why seek such a title if it is one I would prefer not to bear?
For this reason: the man who sits in the Oval Office today is utterly unworthy of his title, and I fear that those who have announced their intent to replace him may not be up to the task.
Americans, I tell you this: our country is imperiled by the current inhabitant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. That man is a bully. He is small-minded. He is petty. He cares only for himself.
This man, Donald John Trump is a misogynist. We have all seen and heard how he treats women who dare to take issue with him. He believes that, being a man, he does not have to treat women as equals.
Donald John Trump is a racist. He first came to prominence due to his and his father’s discriminatory real estate practices. In every phase of his life he has revealed himself as a man who believes that, due to the color of his skin, he is superior to those whose skin color differs.
Donald John Trump is a nationalist. He believes that his status as an American puts him above citizens of any other nation. As well, any American citizen who dares to disagree with him and his policies is un-American. This lazy thinker has not been able to grasp that the core of what it means to be an American is the individual pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. Liberty, in particular, he disdains, except as it applies to him.
Donald John Trump is, quite frankly, a wannabe-dictator. He admires only thugs and autocrats. He will not brook any disagreement or contrary view. He does respect the laws of this nation. He makes a great show of embracing the flag while in every action betraying the sacrifice of those who died to found this nation on the principles of freedom from tyranny.
I seek this office because I feel that I stand the best chance of building a coalition of like-minded Americans who can take the fight to this evil man and to oust him from the golden throne built from the sweat and blood and tears of those he has spent his life trampling.
That is why I seek this office.
It is not enough, though, to state my eternal opposition to neo-fascists such as Donald John Trump. You must know more about what I would do as president. Americans should not simply vote for someone who opposes that man. It is not enough to vote against Trump. You must invest your vote in someone who represents a vision of America that you share.
I have five simple values that will define my candidacy and which would be the inviolate filters through which all of my actions as president would need to pass:
- All citizens are to be treated equally.
- I serve the people of the United States of America.
- The government of the United States must behave honorably.
- Prosperity must be measured by how we elevate those most disadvantaged
- What is best for the nation must be valued above what is good for any political entity.
You will hear more from me in the coming days on each of these five fundaments.
I know that we have all grown cynical regarding the promises of politicians. It is reasonable to be skeptical; so many have failed to live up to their ideals.
I believe that compromise is essential to political progress. If we are to achieve our largest goals, we must be prepared to work with all parties. The times ahead will not be easy, and we must be willing to listen to competing views, to meet others half-way; to consider that we may not know all the answers and our initial plans must be improved by the input of those who know more than in us in certain areas. Dialog, debate and compromise are at the heart of the democratic process.
Where we can not compromise, however, is in our principles. I promise you that I will never compromise on these 5 essential elements.
Our road is uncertain. Donald John Trump will use every tactic, legal and otherwise, to attempt to cling to his unfortunate seat at the center of our democracy. Even should we prevail in the election, this man will attempt to thwart the will of the people. Be certain of that. We must anticipate his recalcitrance to obey our Constitution. After all, he has been doing little else for the past three years.
We must be strong. Resolute. We must remember that it is we, the people, who own this country. We must recall that all public employees exist to serve us. We must link arms and drive this despot from our only national city. And unified in that effort, we must then work to return this nation to a course about which we can be proud.
I hope that you will consider me as your president. I promise hard work, dedication and honesty. and I will strive every day to live up to the good ideas upon which this nation was founded.
One more thing: I don’t play golf.
My name is (whatever) and I would like to serve you as President of the United States. I can defeat Donald John Trump. I would serve all of America. I do not need military parades, endless hateful rallies or “yes men.” I only need your support.
The family and I had an awesome trip to Chicago this summer. Atypically, we decided that renting a car for the trip to the airport would be better than taking our car and paying for it to sit in the airport parking lot for a week. So, I rented a car from Avis.
That did not go well. I picked up the vehicle the day of our trip. I had reserved a full-sized car, but when I got to the local Avis counter, I was told that they didn’t have the vehicle that I had reserved. They would substitute an SUV. The man behind the desk acknowledged that gas would be more expensive in this vehicle versus the one that I had reserved, so he was going to indicate in the system that the vehicle was three-fourths full, though it was actually totally full. So, when I returned it, I wouldn’t need to gas it all the way up to full. Such a deal!
That was the high point of my experience with Avis regarding this rental.
See my letter to Avis below to learn more:
To whom it may concern,
I write in response to your letter of July 16, 2019
The facts of my rental experience that you reference in the letter are these:
1) I reserved a vehicle of a different class than that which was assigned to me. Why this substitution was made, I do not know.
2) While I was invited to expect the exterior of the vehicle prior to accepting it, no mention was made of investigating the state of the tires, nor am I an expert who could likely identify a failing tire
3) The vehicle experienced a blow-out on Highway 99. There was no contact with other vehicles or items on the road. The tire simply failed. No other vehicles in front of me or behind me experienced any road-related issues.
4) When I spoke to the individual at the Avis counter over the phone once I had managed to pull safely off the road, he indicated that the vehicle had just come back from an extended rental, implying that it might have experienced issues or had some existing issue that they had not taken the time to investigate before handing it over to me.
5) The vehicle had no spare tire. Had there been a spare, I might have changed the tire and been able to deliver the vehicle as planned.
6) During my emergency phone call with Avis’ “Roadside Assistance” agent, I was informed that I had to get the vehicle off of the highway before they would send any assistance. This required me, on your failed tire, to navigate across a merging highway, endangering the lives of my family and a family friend, as well as those merging, since the safest speed I could attain was approximately 10 miles per hour.
7) Avis’ “Roadside Assistance” was much more concerned about whether I had paid for your insurance than in actually resolving the issue and providing actual assistance.
8) Ultimately I was told that someone could be there in “2-3 hours.” This was on a day where temperatures were in excess of 100 degrees.
9) Your vehicle, which I had hired for a short drive to the Sacramento airport, failed. I had to seek my own transport to the airport, barely able to make it prior to my flights’ departure.
As a result, I will not be paying for any costs you incurred from the failure of your vehicle.
Furthermore, since your vehicle failed and was unable to deliver me to my destination, I demand that you refund all charges.
Additionally, I incurred $64.00 in Uber costs for picking up myself, my family and our family friend by the roadside where we left stranded by your failed vehicle and your “Roadside Assistance.” Please also reimburse me for that cost that I only incurred due to your failed vehicle.
If you do attempt to process the charge as stated in your letter, I will instruct my credit card company to reverse the charge.
I await your apology and a check covering the outrageous costs I incurred due to your inability to provide a safe, functioning vehicle.