I took a day off last week. Almost every time I do that, I wonder why I don't do it more often. This time was no exception. It started out simply enough - I went downtown with a friend to see about getting a rush job on a passport. I'd set aside the entire morning - I figured the passport office would be like the DMV but with tighter security - and was pleasantly surprised when we were in and out in ten minutes.
Instead of coming back on BART right away, we wandered over to Chinatown. Like many other East Bay moms, I've been there dozens of times; there are few better entertainments than giving your kids a fist full of singles and letting them shop their hearts out among all the exotic fare on display.
This time, though, my friend promised me something unexpected. We wound our way down a side street to a storefront wedged modestly between other larger, flashier ones. Inside, past the usual grocery shelves laden with canisters of herbs and tea and legumes and freeze-dried mysteries, out the back, into a hall that seemed to connect one block with the next, lined with tiny offices (you could get your taxes done, for instance, in a windowless office) and redolent with a smell that I tried hard to convince myself wasn't unpleasant, only unfamiliar.
And then this:
Yes, that is a cage full of birds. Chickens on the top, and a variety of doves or pigeons or what have you in the rows below. All very much alive. There was a little window, like at an ice cream stand, where women were lined up to buy their birds. I regret than I didn't understand any of the conversation, but the way it appeared to work is that you tell the woman behind the counter (very nice middle-aged woman dressed conservatively in a sweater and slacks, her hair done and her makeup in place) which bird you want, she gets it out of the cage, unceremoniously stuffs it first into a plastic Safeway bag (yes! it fits, even a large chicken - they are, mysteriously, compactable for a practiced hand, even when resisting and squawking) and then into a *paper* Safeway bag. The top of the bag is folded down and you are handed your parcel. I'm not sure what the birds cost - I was so fascinated I kind of forgot to note the details. But you can have a very, VERY fresh chicken dinner if you are so inclined.
We also visited the barber across the street and my friend got a haircut. Because...why not? I sometimes forget how much life is happening all around me, when I'm sitting in my suburban home office. I need to get out there and live it a little more often.