Until yesterday, I had ridden a cable car only once. The last time was fifteen or so years ago. The ride hadn’t changed much but the passenger has. This time, the day was sunny and warm, I was showing family around, and I wasn’t burdened with an ancient marandz recorder in my backpack. Fifteen years ago, it was cold, foggy, sometime before seven in the morning and I was feeling some kind of way.
I boarded the cable car with purpose. I didn’t want to climb the hill. It was huge and went forever, it was early, the marandz was heavy and why did I even have to be here this was so dumb, I grumbled to myself the entire Bart ride to the city. So I hopped on a cable car and sat inside, indifferent to any sights I might see, mostly concerned about avoiding the biting wind. The car, even at that time of the morning, was packed with tourists. Everyone happy as clams with their rosy cheeks, shorts (I scoffed), and cameras hanging about their necks. I was out of place. Small girl, puffy long curly hair, layers of clothing and a college backpack. The middle-age (he seemed to me, at the time, but looking back, could have been the age I am now WHICH by the way, is still not middle age. Right?) tourist sitting next to me thought I was out of place too. “Hallo,” he said. “Are you going to work?” He wanted to figure it out. I was young. And alone. And frowny. “No.” “To do sight-seeing?” He had a German accent, a smile, and quite the curiosity. “No.” He was distracting me from trying to figure out how I could turn on my marandz without drawing attention. The background sounds of the cable car and this touristy multi-lingual chatter all about me would have worked well as ambient sound to my radio story. Ugh, why hadn’t I thought of that, too late now, I would attract way too much attention bringing this thing out, especially with the Inspector on my tail. “Well, I hope you have a good day, wherever you are going,” he said, and he was so happy and smiley I felt unfriendly and so finally, “I’m going to become an American,” I said. He look surprised and then DELIGHTED when I explained that what I meant was that I was on my way to my naturalization ceremony, there, at the top of the hill, I pointed. He turned at that moment and announced to the entire cable car (of Germans, apparently), in German, that I was on my way to become an American and they broke out into applause and seemed genuinely thrilled. He wondered why I didn’t have an accent and where was my family, weren’t there going to be people having a party for me afterwards? I laughed and said no, it was really only a formality at this point, and plus, I didn’t feel in the mood to celebrate what with the state of world politics. (I was me, afterall, plus, blame it on Berkeley). He just about turned apoplectic when he discovered I was half Turkish. He announced this again to the entire car and there was more hooting and hollering and he explained that the Turkish kids like me that grow up in Germany can’t become citizens and it’s not fair, hopefully it will change, but I am lucky to live in a place that will give me the full rights of citizenship because I deserved that.
His joy was real and while I wouldn’t say contagious, it was a moment I’ll never forget. I was still grumbly, of course (I was just a kid. Also, I was me), but I was humbled nevertheless. I hopped off the car but not without first returning a large number of awaiting high fives. I turned on my marandz while making my way into the hotel lobby, catching the Star Spangled Banner on loop, the buzz of what sounded like hundreds of languages in the thousands of people bustling around me, and the speech of a KPIX anchor welcoming us new citizens into the fold. When it was over, I watched thousands of hugs and kisses. There were lots of tears and people praying together or by themselves, quietly, holding tiny American flags. I put my marandz away while I climbed down the hill back to Bart. I went back to my life, worked on a piece about the whole thing for Youth Radio, became a lawyer, etc, you guys know the rest. But I swung off the side of that cable car yesterday, flooded with memories of my German buddy and the thousands of new Americans like me and thought that I want things to be better yes, and won’t stop complaining about it when they’re not, but I never ever forget how lucky I am. See More