When it comes to embracing the greater good, nobody does it better than the people of Palo Alto.
We recycle, support our public schools and parks, buy Girl Scout cookies and Boy Scout wreaths, vote moderate to liberal and celebrate our proximity to one of the best universities in the world. We keep our yards clean and take pride in our homes.
If only we were as nice to each other as we are to our causes.
Our everyday encounters are increasingly "nasty, brutish and short," as the philosopher Thomas Hobbes would say. Too often, we offer each other a rushed, self-righteous and profanely exasperated façade.
We act in ways more appropriate to characters in a bad movie about New York bond traders than to residents of a California college town. It's time to slow down and to act like the people we think we are.
My favorite example of Palo Alto's identity crisis occurred three years ago while I was heavily pregnant with my first child. Unwisely, I decided to go grocery shopping in the midafternoon at Whole Foods, an overcrowded and organically correct locale that makes a wonderful incubator for the type of behavior I am talking about.
On this particular day a collection of Palo Altans for non-violent solutions marched downtown to protest the invasion of Iraq. The march ended around 2 p.m. Low on blood sugar and high on civic virtue, the protesters rushed to Whole Foods full of moral purpose and hunger for lunch.
My pregnant form was buffeted to and fro by these peace-loving folk as they raced to be first in the sandwich line, and next at the smoothies counter. I was elbowed at the salad bar and stabbed in the bottom with a sign that read, "No Blood."
A woman with a peace insignia on her shirt berated me for knocking over a basket of strawberries and not picking them up (I had not been able to see what was happening underneath my massive belly). Battered and dazed by the scrum I emerged from the market dizzy, wryly noting that the bag boys were wearing reflective vests, as one of them had been bumped by a car at the crosswalk.
Our town needs to take a deep breath and practice what we preach. We drive Priuses bearing license plates that boast ALTNRGY and NO2GAS, but we also drive dangerously fast on child-populated streets and cut each other off at four-way stops, honking, gesturing and cussing wildly as we go, certain that any transgression is someone else's fault.
Our town council passes responsible and intelligent civic legislation, but has received international attention for its members' habits of eye rolling and face making during their opponents' comments.
And on more than one occasion I have received a letter from a neighbor asking me to petition the city to stop construction at a house because the renovation will result in a structure smaller or lower than their own.
I love Palo Alto and in some ways can claim it as my native city -- my parents graduated from Stanford, I learned to walk at Escondido Village, I taught in the public schools here for six years, had two children at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, and even renovated a home just a block or so away from the place where I was attacked by a peace sign.
I cannot think of a nicer place in which to claim all of these experiences. And I am also as guilty of the sins I describe as any other Palo Altan. Recently a man driving a van whose license plate read some variation of LVLFLRN stole my parking place, forcing me to park several spaces further from my destination.
It was my first time out of the house after major stomach surgery, so of course, in good Palo Alto form, I hobbled over to tell him off. He pointed out that, while he had knowingly taken the space from me, I had been able to park close by.
We were both right in one way and wrong in another, and we both refused to admit this. Thinking about it afterward, I realized that the message on his license plate, whether it was meant to read, "Love, Laugh, Learn", or "Live, Love, Learn," was good advice.
We need to laugh a little more, and be a little more loving and forgiving in this life.
(The above is a Guest Opinion from the April 4, 2007, Palo Alto Weekly print edition.)