From La Honda in my truck I drive through gusty rain down the green mountain, up junky 101, across the bridge over the gray bay for a journey of an hour and a half. My brother Ed lives in Albany, which is just north of Berkeley. It's a lively, funky, low rent town full of UC Berkeley people who are brainy and passionate about their politics - including Ed, who appears in anti-Reagan, pro-peace spots on local cable television. Because of the rain, I back my truck into his little driveway, blocking the sidewalk, so I have easy access to tools and supplies. I'm replacing the water heater in his garage.
As I work, a woman outside starts ranting to her companion in an obnoxious, strident, self-righteous voice about how some people think they own the whole sidewalk. Without thinking I call out, “For two bits you can have it!”
She says, indignantly, “What? What did you say?”
Oh shit. I've yelled at an old lady in Albany. I'm pretty sure that's against the code around here. I'm a long way from home, a hardhat in a radical town where People Have Rights - and where rioting is a regular weekend sport. I imagine a picket line, university students throwing rocks, a mob of old ladies banging on my truck with umbrellas, police lobbing tear gas.
The woman says to her companion, "Did you hear that?"
"Well I never!"
"Who do they think they are?"
"We should report them."
And so on. But as they speak, they move on. What remains is the flash of brotherhood.
Nobody riots. Nobody returns. The weather's too nasty.
When I finish, as always we argue about whether he should pay me anything. The argument ends when Ed violently stuffs some twenty dollar bills in my pocket. He's my big brother; he always wins.
"You shouldn't have blocked the sidewalk," he says.
"I know," I say.