I went to dinner really late tonight, because I got caught up in what I was doing at home and forgot to eat. It's not such a bad thing to do, except that I sometimes neglect to eat until I can't think well enough to say to myself, "I really really need to eat." Anyway, this was not one of those nights. I got up from the computer and said to myself, "damn, I'm really hungry!"
I fed the cats both kinds of kibble and also soft food, and pilled Walter (twice a day, repeat 'til unnecessary). Then I went walking up the block, thinking of falafel. But when I got to the falafel place, I didn't feel like falafel anymore. That usually doesn't happen to me (usually I'm not fickle about food), but tonight was different for some reason. Anyway....
Then I remembered the new-ish place the other way down the block, New Yorker's Buffalo Wings. That doesn't sound like a place I'd like, but I make it a point to at least look at the menus of all of the restaurants in the area. This place is open from very early to very late, a rarity in the Bay Area, so that in itself makes it more interesting than it otherwise might be. It serves breakfast, burgers, teriyaki, some vegetarian fare, and of course juices, teas and coffees.
While walking to the restaurant, I came across a fire engine, but I didn't see anything burning, or even threatening to burn. I asked one of the firemen what was up, and they pointed to some oily liquid on the ground and pointed upward: "leaking transformer". You may not know that municipal transformers are typically filled with mineral oil for insulation and cooling (like one of those oil-radiator heaters, in reverse). Older transformers used something inside them (insulation?) that, when heated, polluted the mineral oil with noxious chemicals, PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyls). You do not want to ingest this stuff or get it on your skin. You really don't want to be around it long-term, since PCBs are known to cause liver damage and reproductive harm, even in very small concentrations. After avoiding the PCB spill, I continued on my way to the restaurant.
I ordered the chicken teriyaki—I thought there was only one on the menu. I was thinking I'd receive a rice plate with some teriyaki pieces and maybe some random vegetables, along with my salad. Instead, I received a chicken teriyaki burger on a plate with a bunch of salad. This wouldn't have been a problem, except that I was really hankering for some rice. So, here I had communicated poorly (not precisely enough) and got something other than what I wanted or expected. I just asked the proprietor for some rice, and she brought me an entire plate of it, along with some soy sauce. So far so good, one mistake repaired.
I was eating my dinner, vaguely listening to some TNT program that was on the TV behind me, while reading The Uplift War by David Brin. Then the power went out. The streetlights across the street were still on, so I wasn't eating dinner in complete darkness. But I sure wasn't reading any more. The proprietor lit a decorative candle and brought it over to me, making an off-hand comment about me having a romantic candlelight dinner. It was silly.
I sat in the semi-dark, eating my rice and drinking my lemon-and-ginger tea, listening to the traffic outside on the street. The proprietors and the cook walked by me from time to time to go out the front door and see what was going on with the power situation. One of them walked down the street to the power repair truck, now parked next to the fire engine I'd seen earlier, and talked to the people working on the transformer. "How long will it be?" "Oh, not so long now, maybe a half an hour."
It's hard to communicate with people when they and you don't share a native language, and it's made especially difficult when you can no longer see their face, just a shadowy outline. I never knew just how much I (and, I believe, they) use facial and body language to convey and understand what cannot be gotten across well with an imperfect command of language, and a substantial cultural gap.
-(Yours in cogitation) generalist