By Gary Singh
IN FEBRUARY of 1975, Herb Caen penned a column that shall serve as the inspiration and guiding light for this week's sermon. I discovered the communiqué while poring through The Best of Herb Caen: 1960-1975, which you can find at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Main Library. Compiled by Irene Mecchi, the book reaches the year 1975 on page 252, and under the subhead of "The Rambling Wreck" we find the legendary Mr. Caen in the famed Kan's Chinese restaurant in San Francisco. The message in his Chinese New Year's fortune cookie said this: "You are no bigger than the things that annoy you." Caen went on to say that he was immediately annoyed at reading this because it was true. And then he comprised a quick inventory of tidbits that drove him around the proverbial bend. "Drat that cookie," he wrote. "I sat at the window table in Kan's, looked down into teeming Grant Avenfoo, and made a list of all the little things that annoy me, thereby making me a small person." Then he went on to complain about Astroturf on traffic islands, Manischewitz, dogs pooping on the streets and "oafs who stand 10 feet off the curb against the light and grandiloquently wave you through, as though they're doing YOU a favor."
I grew annoyed at reading this because I've been there. You see, I appreciate drivers much more than they appreciate me. I can't tell you how many times I've stood there on the street, against the light, waiting for a car to go by, only to have the car stop in mid-drive just to let me go by, backing up traffic in the process. Somehow, to me, this is horrible driving and it annoys me. While I'm flattered at the respect for pedestrians, and I completely appreciate the courtesy, the car has the green light and should not stop in midtraffic just for the sake of some pedestrian on the street, regardless of who has the right of way. The driver isn't obligated to stop at all if he or she has the green light. If I wanted to exert the extra energy and jaywalk just to beat the car, then I would have. But I didn't, I followed the law, and then the driver goes and breaks the law just to let me go by. This annoys the hell out of me. Why? I don't know. Maybe it's just me, but there must be somebody out there who's been in the same situation. Maybe.
On the flip side, jaywalking laws really are absolutely ridiculous anyway. And that annoys me. Tell me your jaywalking ticket stories. I know you've got some. Speaking of that, here's an urban legend in downtown San Jose that the Convention & Visitors Bureau will not want to include in its brochure: About 10 years ago, the story goes, a fellow was in town for a convention and he was crossing the street at the corner of First and San Salvador in the middle of the afternoon. Mind you, this is an intersection that is an absolute ghost town in the daytime and San Salvador is narrow enough to where it takes all of maybe three seconds to cross the street. Three seconds. Not a car was in sight for any direction, so the guy crossed the street against the red light and, lo and behold, a police car appeared out of nowhere and gave the guy a jaywalking ticket. The incident was so meaningless, trivial, unnecessary and downright Mayberry that the guy promised, upon returning to whatever city he was from, that he would never come back to San Jose ever again. And he would tell all of his friends in the convention industry to never bring their business here. Ever. So much for putting San Jose on the map.
Herb Caen would have loved it, as when the San Jose Sharks arrived, he declared that the only team that would ever put San Jose on the map is a team from the Russian army.
All in all, I guess I'm just venting my jealousy because I will never be as good of a writer as Herb Caen was. And that annoys me.