Several moments this week reminded me that no matter how sage we think we’re being, there is still a lot of room for f/humbling improvement. My self education began Wednesday, as I walked from the production meetings in the PED building to the north end of Trousdale, the central spine of the campus to the new hardscape plaza where one can catch the DASH F bus. I’ll share a secret with you. Since the pandemic, they haven’t been charging for the bus. DASH is a series of commuter buses and the F loops from DTLA down around the USC campus and back up again. It’s never crowded, drops me about one block from my office on the south end and two from my condo on the north. Since I started taking it again, I’ve been reminded of the usefulness of a buffer between work and home – a time to zone out with my eyes closed after a long day, or an opportunity in the morning to do the crossword puzzle, or make a list of tasks to knock out right when I get to my desk. It’s golden time; I don’t miss driving my car. Its also added about 5,000 steps to my day, which gets my Fitbit very excited.

Wednesday, I strolled up to the bus stop, wearing my gray jeans and casual top, sneakers, backpack and carrying my lunch bag and water bottle. I look a little like a sherpa commuting. There, also waiting for the bus, were two shiny looking young professorial types with tidy briefcases boarding the bus right ahead of me. They chatted amiably, and I was listening to music and looking out the windows on the ride to DTLA. We all got off at the same stop, Fig and Olympic, and they started off ahead of me as though we were all going the same place.

We were! As we entered the building, I turned to them and removed my earphones.

Well, hello! Do you work at USC?

Yes! Hello! (introductions all around – professors of political science meet professor of dramatic arts)

Turns out my new friends live on my floor – an informal count reveals four USC professors on our floor – there may be more considering that I hadn’t met these folks who’d lived there since April.

The next day, I was determined to ratchet up my wardrobe so I wouldn’t feel like such a shlub if I ran into the professoriate on the bus. Gray flannel pants, polkadot top, dress shoes instead of sneaks. Of course, I didn’t see them. For the record, dressing up didn’t help me master the technology in the classroom any better. COVID protocols mean that for every class, there will be at least two students who are in testing limbo. They don’t feel well and quite responsibly don’t come to class. They do the test and then wait for the results, meanwhile wanting to continue to attend class. Their absence requires adeptness on their professor’s part t connecting laptop to projector system, laptop to Zoom. Prior to Thursday, I watched the instructional video at least twice and came into the classroom feeling like a master of the universe. So much confidence, which began to wane in a metaphoric puddle as I pawed at my computer. My students (2:00 in the afternoon is maybe even tougher than 8:00AM as a start of lecture time) looked at me with the dreary recognition of their professor’s technical ineptitude. Not exactly glassy-eyed, but certainly in those initial moments their faith in me as deliverer of the truth was dimmed. I managed to get the two absent students in the zoom room so they could hear me. Later, when we broke into groups for a project, I threw those two into a virtual breakout room. When I left the room at the end of the class, I called the ITS number and made an appointment for next Tuesday for the top of class so I can master the darn thing.

Anyway, dressing up didn’t help.

Friday evening, I stayed at my desk until about 7:15, when I started to get hungry. I came out of the building, trundled off to the DASH stop, and saw first one DASH loading (I’m way beyond the running-for-the-bus time of my life), and a second one speeding by. I called to find when the next bus was coming. 20 minutes. Not too bad, I thought. But what if I didn’t see the 204 bus coming up Vermont and decided to step onto that bus? That bus was jammed, in the way you might imagine a free bus in Los Angeles would be. That night I had two days worth of lunch boxes in a paper bag, as well as my back pack. I had enough girth that I became a significant impediment to loading and unloading the bus. A kind man pointed forward to the senior/handicapped section of the bus, and I demurred, thanking him, until the next stop when I became a human revolving door panel utilized by both people getting on and off the bus. I moved forward and sat, first asking the man to move his walkman from the seat. Feeling a little constrained, I rode warily counting the maskless people around me as the bus lumbered up Vermont to Olympic where I disembarked.

There were a half dozen people waiting on Olympic at the stop just east of Vermont; we were all waiting for the 28, the local bus to take us east on Olympic. I was jamming to my music, and we waited and waited and waited. Then waited some more. It was now about 8:15, my stomach was growling, and the Uber app told me it would cost $18 to take me home less than a mile?) and they were 10 minutes away. Forget it.

Finally, one woman who had asked me a question in Spanish that I was unable to answer, both because I couldn’t hear her over the music and more fundamentally, because I don’t speak Spanish, walked away from the bus stop. That got me thinking. I could keep walking east and just catch the bus when it came along. So, after waiting close to a half hour, I began walking east. Wouldn’t you know, that’s all it took to have the bus come and pick up the folks from the stop I’d left, then barrel past me in a blur of orange like a creamsicle in a toddler’s hand.

Olympic between Vermont and Hoover is a poorly lit stretch of poorly maintained sidewalks on the outskirts of Korea Town. As I made my way along, I started to feel the the weight (12.6 lbs) as my backpack tugged at my shoulders, and sweat began to pool on my shirt under the bottom of the pack. I actively disparaged my idiocy for not just staying at the original DASH stop and waiting another 10 minutes. But I kept walking, and it got darker and darker. Eventually I crossed the street to walk in the light of the Rodeo restaurant, the Curacao department store. I passed lone men whose intentions I ascribed as predatory, though they were in fact just making their own way in the world, with little interest in an exhausted and dowdy college professor walking home. Past the UPS depot, under the overpass, past the houseless neighbors, past the cineplex, past the Ritz Hotel.

Finally, I got home, tired, irate that I hadn’t just waited those few minutes. I’d have been home in half an hour. Of course, as I’d passed Figueroa and Olympic, the Blue DASH bus had glided up to the stop. The only thing that would have made this tale better would be if the professoriate stepped off that bus. But they did not.

Today I made a decision to make beauty in the world and do something that wasn’t in vain. Nearly three years ago, my friend and colleague Sibyl sent this beautiful arrangement when my husband died. It came along with many other beautiful arrangements, and I’ve taken pride in keeping it alive for the past two plus years. The only cactus left was the yellow one, and it leaned eagerly toward the window light. The succulents at the base of the yellow cactus had gotten overgrown and rangy and there were none of the other plants in the bowl, as I’d pulled them out when they perished.

Similarly, I had recently purchased a planturn for my husband’s remains – those which I hadn’t spread in the Grand Canal in Venice, or on the hillside of the Casalone in Civitella del Lago. A plant which my friend Michele had brought had already perished, (sorry Michele) and so today I decided to go get the planter refreshed, and to choose the optimal plant for the planturn.

May I recommend The Juicy Leaf in Glendale/Eagle Rock? Felipe greeted me in the quiet store and when I unveiled the sad little planter and the empty glass cup, he perked up, asking me about his budget, then began refreshing both. I watched with excitement as he went to the rack of shelves of succulents outside and selected a colorful assortment then ducked behind a curtain in the store, where he began to assemble my planter. While he worked, I moved around the store, admiring the potted fig and other green plants. They have beautiful wooden planters and also some fascinating period lamps with old fashioned bulbs. It is a really delightful store if you’re seeking a gift. When he was about 80% assembled, he came back out to find one more plant, and I pointed at one that was in the back of the rack, which he took, inviting me to come back to watch him finish the job.

We talked about how they had fared during the pandemic. Initially it had been ominous, but following a conversation with a friend who worked in marketing, the owners had decided to begin to do a series of virtual planting workshops every Friday. They sent kits to the participants and then they all planted together. This drew the attention of a series of major corporate clients who asked them to do workshops for their housebound employees; This led to creating and shipping hundreds of kits. Another example of how something that seems initially bad, with an innovative sage approach can develop into something wonderful. The perfect metaphor for my little dead bowl being transformed into something luscious and colorful, full of promise.

Felipe adds the stones and cleans the bowl’s outside before packing it to take home.

.We emerged from the planting room and went to find a crystal to put in the arrangement. Felippe went over to the shelf in the shop where the crystals were. He’d asked me what my favorite crystal was. (clearly he doesn’t know me and that question triggered a guffaw). I said only

I would like a crystal that engenders joy and love.

He went to the shelf and pulled out a piece of pyrite, which you may know by the vernacular “fool’s gold.” Perfect, for my recent transportation misadventure.

Properties of Pyrite

Like a trusted bodyguard, Pyrite crystal properties protect the environment from negative energy, leaving your space free of bad vibes. In fact, it’s one of the best Feng Shui crystals for encouraging money and abundance. A member of the metal element, Pyrite is often featured in small cubes or clusters, giving your decor a dash of sparkle while bringing an energizing and optimistic energy to your space, one of the best cures for a lack of discipline.

The last thing I did before leaving the shop was pick out a little jade plant that Felipe put in the small glass container from the planturn. It seemed fitting to have both refreshed the memory and color of my life with Jimmie and landscaped his final resting place. All in one trip.

A DASH of sparkle. Seems only appropriate. I should be able to remember that cue.

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