The Best Year

Until the age of eight, I had always lived in the city, in old hotels and second-floor flats.  During the war we had moved around with my father until he was shipped overseas for the invasion of France.  When my mother died in the summer of ’44, my father was allowed to return, just missing the … [Read more...]

Lofty Days: Ode to a Childhood Friend

When I met him in 1946, Tommy Alden was a chubby third-grader with merry eyes, curly black hair, and a jovial intensity.  He lived in a white house with green shutters on a poplar-shaded street in old Palo Alto.  We grew up together a few blocks apart, waiting at the same bus stops for the same … [Read more...]

A State of Mind

  The surrender of Japan and the assassination of President Kennedy, bracket an era variously known as Pax Americana, Good Times, the Best Years, Happy Days—the American High.  It was a time of solid families, effective schools, and reliable careers, a time when government and institutions … [Read more...]

Crossing the Wide Missouri

  In the late fifties, San Francisco’s North Beach lay at the edge of history, as though the half-millennium of westward migration had halted a few blocks from the Pacific to spawn this subterranean frontier.  From doorways along the teeming sidewalks, the sounds came floating into the night—a cool … [Read more...]

An American Motif: The Steam Locomotive in the Collective Imagination

  Like the giant reptiles, the great steam locomotives no longer roam the earth.  Those massive hulks of sooty iron, cluttered with snarls of piping and valves, were the consummation of crude mechanical power.  Though technology, like evolution, has since turned from quantitative to more … [Read more...]