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Holiday Blessings
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IMG_1070This month, like many of us, I’ve been reflecting on gratitude. I have so many incredible things for which to be grateful:

  • My ever-amazing daughter, Katie, who is my greatest teacher.
  • Her fabulous school, which continues to rock our world. Open Mind School is literally changing her life for the better every day. I can’t thank them enough.
  • Our amazing tutor/sitter/modern-day Mary Poppins, Melissa, who continues to be a priceless gift. I don’t know what I’d do without her.
  • Melissa’s two adorable daughters, Isabella and Audrina, who have befriended Katie and model appropriate social skills for her every single week. These girls are so kind,  generous, and helpful with Katie. The world needs more children like this. ❤️
  • Jennifer, our amazing respite sitter, who has worked for us so long (nearly 4 years) that she is practically family. No, she IS family. Jennifer is another person I don’t know what I’d do without. I’m so happy that although she transferred to U.C. Santa Cruz in August to complete her degree, Jennifer plans to hang out with Katie at least one day a month to keep things consistent.
  • Our two new weekend/evening sitters, Lora and Katie B (aka Miss B), who have stepped in to replace Jennifer and make my life possible. These gals are flat-out terrific and have helped create a smooth, drama-free transition for Katie (and me).
  • Lenae, the fabulous rapid prompting method (RPM) coach, who coaxes Katie to show us ever more of her brilliant brain. Along with Open Mind School, Lenae is unlocking Katie’s true potential.
  • Nate, my ex-boyfriend, who remains one of my dearest friends. Plus an excellent handy man, graphic designer, pet sitter, and poetry critic.
  • My two goofball pets: Delta, the husky, and Max, the cat. These two rescues never fail to brighten my day and make both Katie and I laugh out loud.
  • My home, which is shabby and showing its age, but filled with love and laughter.

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  • My friends–you know who you are–who pick me up when I fall and always listen, no matter the subject.
  • Team Katie, an ever-growing group of friends, extended family, ex-therapists, and others, who consistently cheer Katie on when she achieves milestones, no matter how small.
  • My steadfast Autism A to Z board members, Barb and Sharon, who have helped me keep the little nonprofit that could going for over five years. These women do so many fabulous things for the community. They inspire me.
  • My wonderful Whistlestop Writers community which is still going strong nearly four years after I started it. These multi-talented writers and poets get my creative juices flowing every single month.
  • My role as Livermore’s fourth Poet Laureate, which continues to enrich my life in new and wonderful ways.
  • And let’s not forget my poetry chapbook, Across An Aqueous Moon: Travels in Autism (Finishing Line Press, 2016).

I could go on, but you get the idea. Despite the lack of a long-term relationship or a well-funded retirement account, and yes, despite my autistic child, my life is rich in so many ways. This holiday season I’m feeling truly blessed.

Until next time,
Cynthia

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Yes, You Can Look
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toddler-655541_1920Lately I’ve had numerous male friends—guys I didn’t think had an issue with sexual harassment and assault, or even frankly with discrimination, guys who for years had truly seemed to “get it”—whine and say something to the effect of: now I can’t even LOOK at women. Everyone looks! I know you do too—don’t try to deny it—but it’s not safe for me to do that any more. Much hand-wringing and self-pity followed along with a hefty dose of complaining.

The first time it happened, I thought my friend was joking. When I realized he wasn’t, I did my best not to roll my eyes and say, boo hoo, at least you get paid more to do the same job as that woman at whom you can no longer leer. What I did say, after noting that something lay buried beneath the hand-wringing and whining, was this: do we really need to have this conversation?

I mean, really, is this necessary? For you, of all men?

And instantly I realized that we did, because that buried thing, that unformed, unintelligible, and unasked question, needed to be answered. These men weren’t the major offenders, or even the minor ones, and yet, they were still struggling with where to draw the line in this new post-Harvey Weinstein world we now find ourselves in.

In essence, they were asking for clarification, and I, as a woman they trusted, needed to provide it.

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In the moment, I simply went with my gut. I said, yes, you can look. Women like you to look—or at least many of us do. Look and make a compliment if you want, but keep it professional. If you wouldn’t say it to your mother or your sister, don’t go there. And don’t expect anything in return other than a simple thank you. You know, the way your mom would respond if you said you liked her new haircut. Or outfit. Or shoes.

If you are looking in a way that makes a woman uncomfortable, however, that’s definitely not okay. Anything you would call checking her out, leering, or plain old staring is off limits. As is stalking, standing too close, kissing, or grabbing. Any body part, even an arm. But especially not in the so-called “private zones,” our president’s comments notwithstanding. Treat her as an equal, a human being worthy of your respect and you’ll be fine.

And absolutely no display of your junk at work for any reason. They all said, well duh, and looked at me like I was crazy. Which made me inordinately happy because we now all know you can’t take it for granted that a male coworker won’t just whip it out at a moments notice.

I explained that penile display was far, far worse than any type of looking, so I felt obligated to make that point crystal clear. Just in case they, umm, ever felt the urge to share.

Oh, and do me a favor, please, I said. When you see another guy do anything unacceptable, don’t laugh it off, call it “locker room talk.” Don’t look the other way. Don’t make excuses. Tell him to stop. Call him out on his poor behavior. Because that’s the only way this boy’s club mentality is going to end.

You have to do that for me because I can’t as a woman, and yes, it will be uncomfortable at first. Just like it was uncomfortable at times for me as the only female attorney at my first law firm. But things will get easier for all of us if you do. Does that make sense?

One friend asked if I was sure he could still look. I said I was pretty certain no one would gouge his eyes out for taking in his surroundings. He just needed to be, well, discrete. He smiled as if this was the best news he’d had all month. Perhaps it was. My other male friends simply nodded and we switched to other subjects.

I don’t know if my mini tutorial will make a difference, but wouldn’t it be glorious if it did?

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Feel free to share this post with the men in your life. It can’t hurt, and if nothing else, you won’t have to listen to any annoying whining about losing the right to look.

Until next time,
Cynthia 

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#MeToo
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metoo-2859980_1920Is it just me?

I’m feeling triggered (and then triggered again) on a daily—no, constant—basis by what seems like hourly revelations of sexual impropriety in the workplace. Part of me wants to look away. But part of me insists, no, you must witness this. It’s important. Do not turn your back.

My guess is that most women are feeling something similar.

I’m a poet, so as the #MeToo movement continues to grow and spread, naturally some of this anger and angst spills out into my writing life. This is what I wrote this week. I’m guessing there will be more….

 

#METOO

How many times must I be
shoved against unyielding wall

or car, unwelcome tongue rammed
down my throat? How many unwanted

hands on my ass, how many accidental
grazes that lingered a moment too long?

This uncharted territory you yearn to conquer
is not yours to plunder. Its spoils are mine

to horde or squander. I am queen
of my aging but still proud domain.

Why won’t you recognize
a sovereignty that is not yours?

 

Until next time
Cynthia 

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Reflections on #MeToo
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sub-buzz-28254-1507580086-1In the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse scandal, lots of women are “waking up.” This is glorious to see, but also a bit depressing. As the #MeToo campaign spreads, story after story is appearing in social media as well as television, radio, and print. When will it end? Clearly not soon, and while it’s difficult to confront this issue day after day, that’s probably a good thing. The dam has finally been breached.

Somehow we must survive the resulting flood.

At long last, women (and men) are grappling with how widespread the problem of sexual harassment and assault–combined with gender-based discrimination–truly is. We are seeing how the details may change, but not the overall storyline. And frankly, it’s not an easy story to digest.

Many of my female law school classmates have noted that while we were fortunate not to experience tremendous amounts of harassment and assault, we had all endured, as I put it, more examples of gender-based discrimination than a person could possibly count. It angers me when I think of all that talent squandered.

How can we as a society afford to waste so much human capital?

For a few weeks after the Harvey Weinstein story broke, I joked that being a female lawyer was kind of like working for Harvey–except without the bathrobe or a much-needed massage. A girlfriend quipped: or the name in lights. All true, but as #MeToo spreads, my joke no longer seems funny.

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It’s depressing how widespread the problem is, now that the doors have been blown wide, now that it’s out in the open, standing in sunlight instead of lurking in the shadows. I think every working woman of my generation isn’t surprised by the constant steam of allegations currently in the news, but I suspect all of us wanted to believe we had made more progress. Much more. I know I did. It was easier to think that the legal profession was one of the last bastions of traditional male dominance than to confront what I belatedly see as the truth: I had it pretty good.

Those male attorneys knew I was capable of suing them, and that knowledge protected me. At least to an extent. It was never going to help me become a partner. It was never going to make me an equal in a system that was rigged against me. But at least no one was demanding sexual favors or showing me their junk. I’m grateful for that. Beyond grateful.

I mean seriously, who even knew that was something a woman needed to be grateful for? Having a boss who didn’t feel constantly compelled to show you, and anyone else in a skirt, his little attention-hungry friend?

I don’t think I was alone in the belief that we as women had made more progress than what appears to have occurred. A friend recently reminded me how when she went to join N.O.W., the National Organization for Women, after college, the organization was focused on LGBT rights. At the time, in the late 80s and 90s, that seemed like the right choice, the right direction. But looking back, I see it was premature.

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Why was it premature? Because it seems painfully obvious now that men hadn’t changed their behavior. The behavior simply disappeared underground, where it festered, became malignant. Now our task is to continue shining a light on that inappropriate behavior, in all its many forms, to root it out, dig it up, and destroy it once and for all.

Because that’s the world I want my daughter–and yours–to inherit.

Until next time,
Cynthia

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Transportation Woes, Part 6
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school-busMy daughter Katie was quiet and subdued for the next two days. She slept on and off, which was odd given she wasn’t sick. If I needed further reason to fire the taxi company, they were a no show Tuesday morning. Or else really, really late once again. It didn’t matter. I was done. Katie was done with them too.

That night, Katie threw up her dinner in the kitchen sink. The next day, she wanted to sleep instead of swing. During her therapy session, she slumped at the table with her head in her hand. When asked, she said she had “a sick head.”

I searched and found an egg on her forehead, just inside the hairline. The therapist and I wondered if she had a concussion. Melissa, who had recently had one herself, agreed. As did my mother, a retired nurse. Plus the advice nurse at the doctor’s office. I scheduled an appointment, now thoroughly anxious.

Wednesday evening, the District’s transportation coordinator called and informed me the District had been unable to arrange alternative transportation. Either I could drive Katie to Open Mind School, or she could stay home. My choice.

I asked if I would be reimbursed. “Of course,” the transportation coordinator responded.

“Is it still your policy to reimburse for only half of each trip?”

She said she would check.

The transportation coordinator didn’t know the District’s policy on trip reimbursement? Was she kidding?

MP900409051-300x300Later she would agree to reimburse me for both legs of the trip to Menlo Park (plus bridge tolls) as if this was a generous offer. At the standard IRS rate $0.535 per mile, the District was barely covering gas plus wear and tear on my car. It wasn’t paying me for the 2.5 or 3 hours of time each round trip required. Time I couldn’t afford to lose.

Katie couldn’t afford to lose time either. She needed to make up seven years of lost academics. So I reluctantly agreed to drive Katie to school. Temporarily. I gave the District just over two weeks, until October 2nd, to work something out.

The pediatrician shrugged off my concussion concerns and told me to let Katie sleep. She was probably just sick. I didn’t like this answer, but had no energy to fight it. Besides, as the pediatrician pointed out, there wasn’t much she could do even if Katie did have a concussion.

My transportation deadline came and went, with no response from the District. I sent another email, spelling out that they were in breach of our settlement agreement and copied the new Special Education Director. He responded that he was “terribly sorry” the issue was taking so long to resolve. We discussed the situation, and he agreed to check on several issues. We scheduled a meeting for late October, the soonest he could meet.

When I told Mom, she said, “You’ll be stuck driving all year.”

I suspect she’s correct. But guess what? Unlike the taxi drivers, I’m not getting any behavior on the drive to and from Open Mind School, which despite fewer miles, is a longer commute than to  the old location. So what were those drivers doing–besides getting lost–to trigger her behavior?

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I wish, as always, Katie could tell me. Until she can, I’ll keep searching for answers. (And spending a lot of time driving to and from Menlo Park.)

Until next time,
Cynthia 

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Tomorrow I’m Reading at the Livermore Library
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Tomorrow I will be reading at the Civic Center Library in Livermore, California as part of the Library’s Friends, Authors, and Arts Series. The event is called An Evening with the New Poet Laureate and will take place from 7 to 8:30 p.m. The Civic Center Library is located at 1188 South Livermore Avenue, Livermore, CA 94550.

I will be reading selected poems from my chapbook, Across An Aqueous Moon: Travels in Autism (Finishing Line Press, 2016), as well as some new work. There will be time for questions after the reading. Books will be available for purchase and signing.

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As always, it’s an honor to have my work featured, but particularly nice to have it happen in my community.

If you are in the area, please plan to attend.

Until next time,
Cynthia

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Transportation Woes, Part 5
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school-busAs promised, Officer S waited with the parked cab until Melissa arrived. My daughter was still locked in the back of the taxi.

Katie was lying face down on the back seat, head pressed against the door. Officer S said she had been lying in that position since her tantrum ended. The window was once again popped out, streamers of clear packing tape trailing down the vehicle.

Melissa said, “Hi, Miss Katie.”

Katie responded without lifting her head, “Hi, Melissa.”

This gave Melissa pause. She asked Officer S if Katie could be released. He was still worried that Katie would bolt into traffic.

“She won’t,” Melissa said. “Even if she was prone to bolting–which she isn’t–that risk is long gone.”

Officer S instructed Mari, the cab driver, to open the child locks. Melissa opened the door and said, “Let’s go, Katie.”

Katie finally raised her head and seemed disoriented. She looked at Melissa as if just noticing her. “I want to go in Melissa’s car.”

“Okay, sweetie.” Melissa grabbed Katie’s backpack, and Katie walked to her SUV. She climbed in the front seat and asked to listen to music. Melissa turned on the radio and asked Katie to wait a few minutes while she finished talking to Officer S. “Is that okay?”

Katie said yes and settled in, buckling her seatbelt.

“That’s a totally different child than the one I saw when I arrived,” Officer S said.

“Well of course,” Melissa said. “She knows me and trusts that I will get her home to Mom. The driver, not so much.” She wrapped up her conversation with Officer S and took photos of the taxi.

Melissa and I both got stuck in horrible commute traffic on the drive back to my house, and Katie behaved beautifully, as always. When they finally arrived, Katie lay on the couch while Melissa and I compared stories. “I’m done with that taxi company,” I said. “This is the final straw.”

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That evening I called the District’s transportation coordinator and left her a massage stating as much. Later, Marina from Open Mind School called to see how the trip home had gone. “Worse than you can imagine,” I said.

I told her what had happened and she offered to flip Katie’s schedule for the week to give the District two days to line up alternative transportation. I thanked her, and called my district again to convey the information.

Then I waited to see what would happen….

To be continued….

Until next time,
Cynthia 

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Reading at Livermore Library in Two Weeks!
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In two weeks, I will be reading at the Civic Center Library in Livermore California as part of the Library’s Friends, Authors, and Arts Series. The event is called An Evening with the New Poet Laureate and will be held on Thursday, October 19, 2017 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. The Civic Center Library is located at 1188 South Livermore Avenue, Livermore, CA 94550.

I will be reading selected poems from my chapbook, Across An Aqueous Moon: Travels in Autism (Finishing Line Press, 2016), as well as some new work. There will be ample time for questions after the reading. Books will be available for purchase and signing.

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As always, it’s an honor to have my work featured, but particularly nice to have it happen in my community.

If you are in the area, please plan to attend.

Until next time,
Cynthia

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Transportation Woes, Part 4
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school-busI will never know exactly what happened on the drive home from Open Mind School’s new location in Menlo Park. I know the driver, Mari, showed up 30 minutes late with a window taped shut. It took 45 minutes for the taxi to make its way over the Dumbarton Bridge and into Fremont, despite minimal traffic. Somewhere in Fremont, the driver stopped.

My daughter, in an unfamiliar city on an unfamiliar route with an unfamiliar driver, lost it. She began screaming “LET ME OUT!” and kicking the door. I imagine it looked pretty similar to the taxi meltdown a week earlier at my house. Someone (the driver? a bystander?) called 911. Fremont sent two police officers from its mental health crisis unit who thought Katie was having a psychotic episode.

Sitting in the boring Oakland workshop, I noticed my silenced phone “blowing up” with texts and voicemails. I excused myself and headed once again for the bathroom. Most of the numbers were unfamiliar, but I recognized the District transportation coordinator. I called her first. She told me Mari needed to speak with me.

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“Isn’t she driving?”

I called one of the unfamiliar numbers and Mari answered. She handed me off to Officer S, who explained that he wanted to 5150 my daughter because she was having a meltdown in the cab. For those that don’t know, 5150 is the California statute that is used to place out-of-control individuals on a 48-hour hold in the psych ward. It is typically used for individuals with drug or alcohol addiction or various mental health conditions, often requiring medication.

Officer S launched into an explanation of the 5150 process. I cut him off. “I know what it is,” I said. “But I don’t think 48 hours in a mental health facility is going to change my daughter’s autism diagnosis.”

Dead silence on the line. Then, “I wondered about that.”

“Did the driver tell you this was the first day at a new school in a new city on a completely different route with a new driver? Or that she was 30 minutes late picking Katie up?”

“No,” he said.

“That figures.”

“Your daughter is really out of control,” he said. “The driver is in way over her head.”

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“I can imagine, but Katie’s not out of control in the typical sense. She’s having an autistic meltdown which this taxi company keeps triggering out of sheer ignorance.”

“I’m afraid to open the door. In case she bolts into traffic.”

“Katie’s not a bolter, but it’s hard to say what she might do after being trapped in the cab for this long.” I took a deep breath to calm myself down. I was furious, but screaming at a police officer was not going to help either me or Katie.

“I’m not going to arrest the driver if she tries to drive off, but I have to say, as a mandatory reporter, the conditions in this taxi are not safe. Your daughter could fall out the window!”

I could tell Officer S was upset. Was there something truly wrong with the window? Or the cab in general? I asked him to describe what he was seeing. Afterward, I was reluctant to explain that the situation appeared to be nothing new. The taxi company had been transporting my child in this manner for nearly a year.

“It’s abusive,” Officer S said. “As a parent, I’m telling you, I would not let them transport my child.”

“Between you and me, this is the last day they are driving my daughter.” The threat of a 5150 incident had pushed me over the edge. “I’m done.”

“Good,” Officer S said, relief apparent in his voice.

“I’m sure my school district will push back. Will you talk to them if I need help?”

“I’d be more than happy to. You have my number on your cell but I’ll text it to you as well.”

Clearly this officer was bothered by the transportation conditions Katie and I had been forced to endure.

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“Like I said, I won’t arrest the driver, but I don’t think it’s safe for her to transport your daughter. Can you come get her?”

“The problem is, I’m in Oakland, trying to finish a meeting. Plus I have no idea how long it would take to get there.” I paused, thinking. “Let me see if my sitter can go to Fremont.”

“I’m in no hurry,” Officer S said. “Call her and get back to me. I’ll wait here until someone arrives.”

I phoned Melissa and we quickly put together a plan. Melissa would drop off her kids in Pleasanton and then drive to Fremont. I would meet her and Katie back at my house.

I finished the workshop and headed home, unsure what I would encounter when I arrived.

To be continued….

Until next time,
Cynthia

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Transportation Woes, Part 3
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school-busThe following week, school was closed as Open Mind School (OMS) moved from Redwood City to Menlo Park. There were a few days of makeshift classes, but without a sensory gym, I didn’t think Katie would fare well, so I kept her home. I figured a few more days without a taxi could only help.

On Monday morning, Mari, the female driver, returned. I told her NOW she could go to Menlo Park. She smiled at Katie. “We’re going to have a good day, Princess.”

At 9:45, OMS texted to say the taxi hadn’t arrived. It hadn’t arrived by 10 or 10:15 or 10:30 either. Now an hour late, I was worried. What had happened?

I spent a good chunk of the morning on the phone with the school district, taxi dispatcher, and OMS. This was becoming a habit—a habit I didn’t want to continue. At 10:45, the taxi finally arrived. Katie was twitchy and annoyed, but otherwise okay. She transitioned to the new school without blinking an eye. Apparently this is one advantage of jumping between so many schools and districts over the years. She had a good day.

After so much transportation-related chaos, I debated whether to drive to Oakland for a mandatory social services workshop. Melissa, tutor/sitter extraordinaire, convinced me to go. She would meet the taxi at my house and watch Katie while I was gone. Plus, she reminded me, it was the only day that worked for both of us. It was now or never.

On the way to Oakland, district staff began to call. Apparently Katie had once again popped the window seal and the taxi company wasn’t sure how long it would take to “fix” it.

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“You mean tape it shut? That’s all they did last time.”

The District didn’t know. They wanted my permission to use a harness so any vehicle could be used to drive Katie home.

“She won’t like that,” I said.

It wasn’t a long-term solution, but if a harness got Katie home at a reasonable time, it would be worth it. At least I hoped it would. So I reluctantly agreed. Once I arrived in Oakland, I sent the District an email to document my approval and crossed my fingers that all would go well.

What else could I do?

o

At 2 p.m., in the middle of my workshop, OMS texted to let me know the taxi hadn’t arrived. I called both the District and the taxi company. No one seemed to know where Mari, the driver, was. “We had to fix the window again,” the dispatcher said.

“No, you didn’t. I gave permission to use a harness this afternoon.”

“What?”

“Plus all you do is put tape on the window. That takes ten minutes tops.”

She mumbled something and said she would have the owner call me. He didn’t. At 2:30, the taxi finally arrived at OMS, its window once again taped shut.

Katie cheerfully climbed in. After that, I’m not sure what happened. I know it took 45 minutes for the taxi to make its way over the Dumbarton Bridge and into Fremont. After that, things went south….

To be continued….

Until next time,
Cynthia

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