100 Miles

Life is a dream, which is not exactly a patentable idea…everyone from Pedro Calderón on having made exactly the same point…in this our modern world. Still, here it is merging, nightmare and daytime reality, albeit mildly, in the form of Interstate 280 northbound.

Baby, you can drive my car…now echoing from my Beatles youth. As we descend. That is the thing, the way highways have of dipping, turning from flat to downhill. And I admit to a certain problem here. This is the stuff of dreams, the sense that my life, a.k.a. my car, is going out of control. I keep hitting the brakes, slowly riding them actually. As though to slow my out-of-control Dodge Grand Caravan.

Note that I have been thinking about this for some time. The big drive. For that is what the day is, beginning with a journey to San Francisco for the purposes of neighborhood rapprochement. That’s right. As part of the local planning process, we are calling a meeting. Everyone is urged to drop by and, as we say in California, share. We are converting an old house into a less old house, not to mention a larger house, and everyone has the right to chime in.

But for now the only chimes are coming from the Grand Caravan. This is disturbing. But the car does make sounds and flash signals that I cannot interpret. Which is because I am old and wear my trousers rolled and, fuck it…half of what goes on before me, vis-à-vis the dashboard, well it’s incomprehensible. I strongly suspect that the red image of an airbag exploding suggests that the airbag is not connected. Fortunately, this disturbing thought is interrupted by an even more disturbing thought.

For I’m going downhill now, going downhill rapidly, descending into Milbrae, the coastal hills doing this to me by dint of geography. Down and down and down, me with my foot just off the brake, sometimes on it, into the valley of the shadow of…Glen Park. Our future San Francisco neighborhood, and our current destination. Which thanks to the strike under way among those who operate the regional subway system, presents an abundance of parking.

Mind you, I didn’t really know where the parking was. In my mind, my transit mind, it was actually across the street, right in front of the station. But it proves to be here, opposite. And it is miraculously empty. The Grand Caravan is the one and only car in the lot at 9:45 on a Saturday morning. Baby you can drive my car…but only I activate the ramp, the little one that pops out of the side like E.T. I roll down even as Jane scurries away. She is buying coffee and pastries. There are few neighborhoods in America better equipped for coffee and pastries, trust me. I am here, having survived the drive, the longest I’ve undertaken in my new van. And, let’s face it, the longest I’ve had the nerve to make in years. Well, not quite. No, quite. I would say at least two years. I am the man.

And because Arnie, our architect, is the mensch, and because Jane is the loveliest, and because I’m not so bad myself…and because the neighbors range from adequate to delightful…the planning meeting goes off without a hitch. Not without a complaint, exactly. But that’s the idea. Complain away, and have some coffee and some strawberry cake, and complain some more, albeit enlivened and improved by the addition of caffeine and sugar. Then shake hands and go home.

Throughout much of these colloquies between architect and neighbors my stance is very much the onlooker. Which may be good. All I have to do is turn up in my wheelchair to engender some level of sympathy. And my knowledge of the remodeling of the house is so inexact as to render it worthless. But the real fact is that I cannot get from house to garden, where much of the focus is today. Still, I can look out the back door of the cavernous garage and see Arnie explaining what’s what. He is pacing here, pointing there, his fellow architect Debbie indicating this and that. The result…I am surprised by the extent of the construction. We’re going way out into the garden, Jane and I and the dogs and the cats. We are substantially enlarging the house. No wonder the neighbors want to know. I smile benignly, sit in my wheelchair and have some coffee cake myself. It’s a beautiful day.

When it’s all over, and miraculously it ends right on time, my next worry fades before it can coalesce. We are meeting my cousins in Berkeley, prior to the theater, and we are leaving for this date right on time. As I drive, minor things keep going wrong. Principally my elbow-activated control system keeps acting up. The idea is that I bump a sensitive switch with my driving arm and listen to a series of recorded options…then bump again. It is enough to drive a person around the bend. Left turn, right turn, horn, headlights, dimmer, wipers, washer, rear washer, and so on. If you miss the option you want, too bad, for the mechanical voice keeps right on going, enumerating the rest. I’m not sure I can stand it. Somehow I do.

Somehow, I even get on the Bay Bridge. Note that I have not driven this span across the waters to Oakland in lo these many years. It is a notoriously crowded motorway, and the thought, the very thought of this, had me brooding and anxious for days. Yes, the stuff of nightmares. Which was how I decided to make this drive at all. It seemed that if the night before I was anxious, or manifestly disturbed in my sleep, that would be a sign. A sign to ask Jane to drive, bundling my folding wheelchair into her car. But I slept well. So according to the oracle of my dreams, not to worry.

And, in fact, emerging onto the newly opened part of the bridge…a graceful single-support design…I discover something else. The new structure is marvelously open. Instead of stacking eastbound and westbound sections atop each other, they are adjacent. Just like a wide boulevard over the water. Even troubled waters. Who cares? And I even hit the elbow control by mistake once too many times, the litany of left turn, right turn, horn, wipers, erupting into the midday. I am incompetent, hopeless…and now almost half way into a 100 mile loop about the Bay Area…so what do I say as the mechanical voice rattles on? Nice to have options.

Nice to have Jane here. Nice to be alive and have a new van and, who knows, a new phase of life.

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