Whirlwind Tour Through Northern CA

The Mechanic and I just returned from northern California, a whirlwind tour of my favorite childhood places. Ranging from Sacramento, to San Francisco, to Mendocino and Napa Valley, we covered a lot of territory in about ten days.

The first few days I was on my own in Sacramento at the Behavior, Energy and Climate Change conference. The keynote speaker was Dr. George Lakoff, whose book Don’t Think of an Elephant, I finished rereading on the plane. Panels on making behavior stick, social marketing, and even behavioral economics were all very inspiring. I attended last year, so I had a better idea of what to expect, but nevertheless, I came away energized (as it were) – as illustrated by me at the end of a conference workshop. IMG_7488

Before The Mechanic arrived after the conference was over, my mom and aunt and I went wedding dress shopping. Although we joked about having a “Say Yes to the Dress” argument, we had too much fun to even pretend to fight over something, and yes, I ended up getting a dress. But you’ll have to wait with The Mechanic until June 14 to see it!

I think this amazing sunset the day I bought my wedding dress was a mark of approval by the universe. (okay, probably not, but it's nice to think about!)

I think this amazing sunset the day I bought my wedding dress was a mark of approval by the universe. (okay, probably not, but it’s nice to think about!)

I dragged The Mechanic around Old Sacramento, where we had a tasty lunch at Rio City Cafe, toured the California State Railroad Museum, admired the new green lanes, and struck up conversations with the owners of Practical Cycle, a bike shop that specializes in electric bicycles and transportation bicycling. Their mission is “to make cycling more practical for everyday people,” people just like me, and I applaud them. More on them in a later blog post.

Practical Cycle, in Old Sacramento

Practical Cycle, in Old Sacramento

Then we spent Sunday night in San Francisco, where I was able to meet up with some friends, and geek out on the vintage streetcars, which I haven’t seen before. I haven’t spent any time in San Francisco in ages, so I was happily surprised at how bike-friendly the city has become. I’m sure any local will tell me it’s not perfect, but trust me, it’s an improvement!

We didn’t bike in SF but we rode the buses and streetcars everywhere. We were amazed at the fact that we never needed a bus schedule to figure out how long we needed to wait – they seemed to appear within 5-10 minutes! I really loved the streetcars, and the fact that they cost the same $2.00 as the buses did. We made use of our transfers, too. The Mechanic was super excited about the fact the electric buses are amazingly quiet.

After visiting Lombard Street, Fisherman’s Wharf, three friends, Golden Gate Park and the museums (although we didn’t go in any of them), Huckleberry Bikes, and watching the San Francisco Ballet “Nutcracker” projection in the mall dome, we drove up the coast to Mendocino, my most favorite place in the world, where we met up with my parents, aunt and cousin. We had a rental house just outside of Mendocino village for four nights, over Thanksgiving, allowing us time to really enjoy the area.

We vacationed here for a week every summer and the week of Thanksgiving for years, while I was in high school and college, and we used to consider ourselves locals of sorts. Local tourists? It’s been years since I was able to spend more than one night, and the weather gifted us with perfect warm temperatures and clear blue skies. I could go on and on about this area, but there just isn’t enough space! Pictures will have to do.

The Mechanic and my cousin and I drove back to Sacramento through Anderson Valley, where we did a wine tasting (and buying!) at Navarro Winery, plus a beer tasting at Anderson Valley Brewing Company (well, they did), and had a picnic lunch at Sattui Winery, the most crowded I have ever seen that place. Well, it was a perfect day, so who can blame the other tourists?!

My goodness we did a lot! I think the only reason why we weren’t exhausted at the end of this trip was because Mendocino was so relaxing. Wandering the Mendocino Headlands State Park, sitting watching the waves crash on the rocky shoreline, and just soaking up sunshine was almost all we did. It’s hard to relax and experience everything at the same time, but I think we did a pretty good job this trip! CAM00285



On the Go with LaHood

Last week The Mechanic and I attended a town hall talk at George Washington University with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

"On the Go" with Ray LaHood

I have been following his blog, Fast Lane, since I started my new job in transportation demand management (TDM), when my boss recommended it among others. When I told her I was going to hear Secretary LaHood, she said that he really gets the whole thing, smart streets and TDM, and she enjoys hearing him talk. After an hour with him, I understood why.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood

I guess I don’t expect politicians to all be personable, honest, and frank with their audiences. Perhaps it was because it was a university setting, college students in the audience, and Secretary LaHood had started off as a civics teacher, but he was surprisingly open about himself, his career path, and current politics. He told us how he ended up, as a Republican, appointed to the Obama administration (working well and being friends with Rahm Emanuel, and working well with then-Senator Obama), emphasizing, not for the first time, how important it is to work well with others. “To solve problems, help other people,” he said, stating that in politics it is about building relationships to get stuff done. (That being said, he admitted that there are many in office right now who don’t want to do anything because it will be seen as helping or working with the president.)

I was a bit worried that the talk would never get around to it’s topic – “On the Go: Ensuring a Quality Transportation System,” but eventually it did. Proving my boss correct, LaHood said “The people want mass transit – we don’t sit around at DOT making this stuff up.” He wants to provide what people want – buses, light rail, streetcars, subway systems – not to replace cars, but to give people different ways to get around. 

Although the conversations were wide ranging (I’d like to add that all but maybe two of the people asking questions were male – I really wanted to get up and ask something but couldn’t think of anything intelligent enough), Secretary LaHood answered everything honestly and openly. Well, he did refuse to talk about the tax-per-mile issue, which apparently got him into trouble a few years ago. I had to look it up and find out what the drama was – but was still impressed that he answered every other question.

There were three big take-aways from the evening for me. One was that cities and states that have good multi-use roads and smart cities is because the mayors and governors come to DOT wanting it, which means they are officials elected by people who want these things. The other is that there will always be some sort of federal subsidy for transportation in this country, of some sort, be it Amtrak, highways, or streetcars. And to go back to Secretary LaHood’s big point about working together and the importance of compromise to get things done.

Oh, and distracted driving – don’t talk or text while you are driving!