Avoiding Overkill


May 3, 2023- The day’s horoscope asked whether “they” were getting under my skin. As I had not encountered anyone, as of the moment I read those words, I had to wonder whether things were actually going to get testy.

As it happened, my two team mates on today’s shelter site evaluation were not altogether focused on the process, so I had the opportunity to get irritated. All the while, I kept the horoscope in mind, and stayed calm, but firm, saying that if they didn’t want to finish the project, I could wait. That led to a refocus, and I didn’t have to engage in histrionics, which would have been just as bad as their tangential conversation.

There is, among those who distrust any government above the county level, a “theory” that Earth is really covered by silicon, the Moon and Sun are pure light-and so are the stars in the sky. Space is, to them, a contrivance. This, to me, is a fad and will go away-maybe not until the next actual successful lunar, or Martian, landing. It is not worth fighting with anyone.

Lastly, in prudence, I began to research the prices of airfare to the Philippines, from Honolulu, in October. The bulk ticket agent quoted me a price that seems reasonable, and agreed to hold off on closing the deal, until I actually get confirmation from the agency that helps me sponsor a youth in that country, that the trip is even advisable. Coronavirus is not, presently, a problem there, but it has resurged in parts of Arizona and in other areas of the world. I will hear from the agency in a day or two, and then either revise my plans or go forward with them. Overkill, and rushing into things, are not necessary.

Many Jobs, Few Tasks


April 22, 2023- Earth Day called me to get up on a workday schedule, so by 5:30, I was groomed and dressed. There were four stops and a Zoom call waiting, so after reading the newspaper and saying a few prayers, it was off to Courthouse Square. There was not a whole lot to do at Stop # 1, an environmental group’s booth, between 8:15, when I finally found the booth, and 8:50, when it was time to race back for the Zoom call.

It seemed imperative that I join the call, since I had been absent for two weeks, due to my Red Cross deployment. The moderator of the call has had a hard time with my absence-service to the wider community is apparently not his thing, if it conflicts with his Zoom work. As it happened, he was absent today, but his trusted assistant was glad I was on the call-and has no issue with someone being away due to working with the Red Cross.

After the call ended, I stopped in, briefly, at an American Legion Auxiliary rummage sale-picking up an extra pair of sunglasses(to replace the pair that was lost during my sheltering activity) and a cake to bring to my substituting assignment on Monday. Then, it was off to Farmers’ Market, getting a week’s supply of microgreens and catching up with friend Melissa.

Job #3 was back at the Firewise section of Courthouse Square’s Earth Day, and I got to the Red Cross booth four minutes late, which led to a mild chastisement from the woman tending the booth and groans from the man who had been there since 7 a.m. Water off this duck’s back! I give a lot of myself and no longer fret about people who are overly sensitive at slight lapses of punctuality.

After an hour, in which I greeted seven visitors and explained a bit about our mission, it was back to Farmers’ Market-this time to help a group of college students break down the tents, and put away the folding tables and chairs. With an increased efficiency, on the part of the new team lead, we were finished in less than an hour.

Job #5 was back at the Red Cross booth. This time, I was early, and the tent was folded up and put away a bit after 2 p.m.

There were big crowds at both Courthouse Square and Farmers’ Market, as people are finally comfortable with being at our community’s traditional events. Chalk-It-Up is back, after a three-year hiatus! More on that delightful artistic festival, in tomorrow’s post.

It was a fine day, and not as strenuous as it might have been, had there not been full teams at each location. Topping the day were two relaxing musical events: The Bourbon Knights performed ’60s Golden Oldies and some original tunes, at Rafter Eleven, while friend Stephy Leigh, accompanied by Jonah Howard, of Cross-Eyed Possum, performed two sets of her original music, with a few covers thrown in, at Raven Cafe.

Being back at Home Base has its rewards, great music being chief among them.



April 19, 2023- As the tall child lay on the floor, screaming, it was abundantly clear that going home was not on the agenda. It was all about playing with a classmate’s toy, and that was that. Eventually, one step at a time, two team members and a bus monitor got the child on the bus-and the toy that was out of reach was likely forgotten. It is the moment, and only the moment, that matters.

Tantrums are hard, for those of us who have become inured to life’s challenges, to understand-until we become tired, and a bit cranky. Then, we let loose with plaints of our own, though hopefully, not by lying on the floor, or the steps of a bus, and wailing in full voice. That we continue to fall into a flailing cycle at all, even verbally, is sad-but it’s part of being human.

Last week, while managing the Red Cross shelter, I felt discomfited by what, in retrospect, were mild criticisms coming from both above and below. Once those complaints were addressed, to the extent possible, it was clear that much of the outcry was based on opinion, not on actual threats to the well-being of residents and staff. Those above me issued a warm card, which I received in today’s mail and those alongside me were uniformly clear in their satisfaction with how the operation had gone during my tenure -and was continuing to flow, under my successor, It is the system, properly applied, and not the personality of the middle manager, or of any other staffer, that makes the operation flow smoothly.

No demand can ever bear fruit, unless all aspects of the situation that brought it into being, and all possible outcomes and consequences of its posting, are considered. This is a fact lost on a flailing child, but one that should never be ignored by a disconsolate person of maturity.

Greeted by Apple Blossoms


April 17, 2023- The earnest woman seated next to me, on the flight from San Jose to Phoenix, inquired about my work in the shelter. I mentioned that there were 350 people in the three halls, combined. She replied, “That’s not all that many people”. Compared with her place of service to the Red Cross-New Orleans Superdome, during Hurricane Katrina, it certainly wasn’t; but, we made a difference to those starfishes. That’s what matters most. She did thank me, profusely, on behalf of the people of her native Santa Cruz County. It turns out that she grew up a block away from Rio Sands Hotel, in Aptos, but was heading to Snowflake, AZ, for some personal work.

The day started with a sumptuous breakfast in Holiday Inn’s Santa Cruz Room, followed by a shuttle to the airport, courtesy of a would-be NASCAR driver, or so it seemed. He got five of us to the airport, in less than three minutes, so I had plenty of time to sit and reflect. There is no reliable WiFi at SJC, but there is a wonderfully soothing massage chair-30 minutes for $ 5.00. It was heavenly, after two weeks of constant movement, with only nightly sit-ups and crunches to relieve any soreness.

After watching my seatmate heading, pell mell, towards her next flight, I waited-very patiently-for an hour, before the bags from our flight arrived on a different carousel from that listed. There were about ten of us who wondered as to the fate of our bags. We landed at 2:20; the bags came up on the chute at 3:23. It was a good thing that I had signed up for the 4:20 shuttle to Prescott!

At 6:25, I pulled into the driveway, having retrieved the Sportage from the shuttle’s parking lot. As the task of unloading my bags ensued, the scent of apple blossoms wafted in the rather comfortable evening air. Spring is indeed upon us!

Pushing Back On The Mud, Day Fifteen


April 16, 2023- Michael had over a hundred people to place in hotel rooms, so it took a while for my team mates and me, who were out-processing, to get our room in San Jose, in advance of our departure tomorrow. Michael got it done.

I spent the morning at the shelter, tying up loose ends, turning the reins over to my right-hand person and the car key over to another shelter worker, who will be there for several more days. After hugs and handshakes, I left a bit after noon, catching a ride to Red Cross Event Headquarters with one of my team mates who had other business there.

The ride was smooth, as was the immediate out-processing. I was thanked, profusely, by the headquarters staff, as well, and was treated to dinner by my second-level supervisor, who also gave me a lift to Holiday Inn, near Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport. (I am very much gratified to see honour given to a Japanese-American patriot in this way, given the past treatment of his kindred,)

So, the mud will continue to be pushed back, the homes rebuilt and families will rebound. The Camarillo family will continue to arrange and sell fresh-cut flowers, their neighbours will go back to the fields and provide us with strawberries, artichokes and watermelon. Homes will be sturdier, in preparation for what might lie ahead. Governments will, hopefully, be more responsive and grant a listening ear to even the simplest of those who they serve.

Tasha, our server on Saturday evening, will keep on with her own recovery from the series of atmospheric rivers that have pummeled the wide area from Santa Cruz and Aptos to the north side of Salinas. She and many others will, God-willing, learn to smile again. I will go back to my Home Base of Prescott, and be of service to small children, in the latter part of this week and take part in Earth Day activities, next Saturday.

Pushing Back On The Mud, Day Twelve


April 13, 2023, Aptos, CA- Standing tall is a risky proposition. One is an easier target for the disaffected and the self-important, alike. On the other hand, it is the only way to be recognized by those who matter most-the honest and continuously hard-working people, who make up the majority of any given workforce.

We made adjustments to our daily tallying procedure, more in line with actual “winding-down” behaviour of the shelter residents, instead of counting just to have a count by day shift’s end. There are bound to be other course corrections, in the time that I have left, but they will be made without my feeling that I have failed somehow.

Today was also a day to honour and acknowledge the Monterey County team, who have been so strong in support of those whom we have sheltered. Four of us, a chaplain, translator, one of my supervisors and me, interviewed those who have chosen to stay in the parking lot, in lieu of taking a bed in the shelter. The four of them have different reasons for doing this, but they break no laws and are just as entitled to dignified treatment as anyone else.

We will finish with an uptick in the quality of our service and in everyone’s sense of well-being.

Pushing Back On The Mud, Day Eleven


April 12, 2023, Aptos, CA- The little girl’s hands were caked with an eerie green chalk dust, as she pretended to be a threatening monster. I pretended to be equally scared, and ran away, ever so slowly. Anything one can do to relieve the ominous forces that have upended so many lives, young and old alike, is an imperative. Getting her to giggle with delight was huge.

We all deal with monsters. Some are internal, including my own tendency to see any exclusivity or clannish behaviour as a repudiation of my presence. Others are from without, the relative handful of people who seek to squash anything I do, out of hand. There are only a few such individuals here, among the Red Cross staff and volunteers, and thankfully, their power and influence is shrinking.

I did not ask for the position of manager, preferring to be on the same level as my coworkers, but here we are and I will complete the tasks assigned me. My most virulent critic and foe does not think much of our partner organization, either. At least he does his job in a competent manner, so I can abide his jabs and taunts-for the few days that remain. .

The monsters in our lives always reflect any inner self-doubt that remains, harboured like a latent virus, in the inner folds of the psyche. Maybe that’s why J’s nastiness and the criticism of some of the upper management are playing out like nails on a chalkboard. I haven’t run a large scale operation before, and it is taking every ounce of self-confidence to get through a given day. The wounds are salved, though, by my immediate supervisors, who keep the “wolves at bay” and encourage continuing through to the end of my watch.

Internal, or external, it is the monsters who are doomed.

Pushing Back on The Mud, Day Nine


April 10, 2023, Aptos, CA- Easter Monday is a day of rest and reflection for many, in devout Catholic communities. It is also the first day back to school, after a Spring Break that is centered on Holy Week and Easter. Thus, it was quieter, with mothers and very young children holding the fort. Their antics and playfulness are a joy.

I am now halfway through an unsought, but rewarding and growth-spurring leadership experience. I have received lots of praise-and a fair amount of grumbling. A shelter is no one’s idea of a vacation, even in a place as aesthetically lovely as Santa Cruz County. We’ve made it more than bearable for the residents and I have gone to great lengths to make things easier for the volunteer workers. A strong management team has helped, even though some try to shift or skirt around the rules, when they are asked to apply those rules to themselves.

That there are people in certain positions who are in over their heads is no surprise. The sheer number of volunteers seeking lodging assignments, and of shelter residents who suffer from the damage to their homes and thus need both Red Cross and FEMA assistance is daunting. Yet, I was always taught the truism-“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

Pushing Back On The Mud, Day Seven


April 8, 2023, Aptos, CA– The overwrought, self-appointed security man charged towards the five of us, all clad in Red Cross uniforms, demanding to know what we thought we were doing, looking in “his” room-which was a museum chamber that was set up for a banquet. In fairness, I had misheard someone’s saying that the individual for whom we were looking was in that particular room. She was not, and so we headed down to her actual location-with perfunctory attention to the aggressive “guard”.

This was one of two cases where local residents have taken exception to our presence here. These same individuals may well object to the presence of the farm workers who make up the bulk of our clientele. Be that as it may-the world is changing, and not for the worse. The ordered, neat communities that ultraconservatism claims to be protecting are not going away, but they are changing form. A careful examination will show that communities always have been in flux. The rowdy, disordered cities of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries became the urbane havens of the eighteenth century, followed by their industrial and commercial expansion in the nineteenth and twentieth. Nowadays, all communities are in flux, finding diversity is the norm-even in the rural areas of North America and Europe.

The day featured an Easter egg hunt, in three stages arranged by age. It also featured miscommunication that led to a person standing his ground, and rightfully so, after some workers treated him with disrespect. It featured a child going off to corner of a room, without telling her mother, which led to a mercifully brief group search for her whereabouts, her being found unharmed and emotional support given to her shaking, frightened mother. Trust me, there is no more horrible feeling than facing the off-chance that one’s heart center may have been harmed- or worse.

There were a couple of unsettled people, both of whom ended up in custody, but all in all, the day proceeded well.

Pushing Back On The Mud, Day Three


April 5, 2023, Aptos, CA- It made an impression, seeing the width and height of the Pajaro River, flowing through the remnants of its namesake town. The community of 2,000 people has been inundated, and largely leveled, by the second major flood in 28 years. Most locals remember the destruction from the Deluge of 1995. Now, the artichoke fields, and some of the vineyards which have sprung up, in the interim, will again endure an unplanned fallow period. It will take a long while to recover.

Not surprisingly, feelings are raw, and voices rose in anger, late this evening, as a few rowdy children ran about while some men and women were trying to sleep, ahead of the next day’s work. Matters didn’t come to blows, thanks largely to the calm voice of the night supervisor for the Red Cross crew. Those who felt that their children were unfairly chastised by others left in the middle of the night, but that was a free choice-and no one would have continued to berate them, had they stayed in the shelter. I stand by my associate and his style of management.

The day shift produced a whirlwind of activity and resulted in more materials and services being available to the residents-both in the shelter and around town. Watsonville, the larger town west of Pajaro, was also seriously affected by the flooding, and is also a focus of services, with food being brought to them by our mental health team and outreach from various agencies, both state and local. FEMA is becoming steadily, but carefully, involved in the recovery operation.

The scene is being replicated, across the continent, by wind and ice, as well as by flowing water. Tornadoes have slammed over a dozen states; Ontario and Quebec have suffered widespread power outages, due to ice storms, which are as bad as-and sometimes worse than, torrential rain. It is bound to be a long, hard Spring, yet we’ll get through it, by diligence, encouragement and sticking together.