16th Street

I wake daily with a sense of dread, not to mention fear. And when I say “daily,” this is an understatement, for this is not only this day, but all days, all years…and probably all decades. Which is a strange reality, when I think about it. Particularly now, when I have managed to cross the ice floes of life for 68 years and have reached this spot, whatever it is. And since this spot is connected to the outside world by half a spinal cord, well, okay, one can breathe easy, right?

Wrong, of course. And now ours is to reason why. Doing and dying can come later. What is going on here? And if one ascertains the situation, can one do anything about it?

In the words of a great fellow paralytic, what we have to fear is fear itself. And as a former copywriter, forever disdainful of the facile turn of phrase…this one is deft and profound. So what is to dread? And just in case the “what” doesn’t matter, how is one to fight the phenomenon?

Well, coffee and an almond croissant seemed to do the trick this morning. Note that I am not recommending this on a regular basis. Though, recommended or not, it has become a bit too regular, this remedy. That’s because Jane and I live just up the street from Destination Bakery. It is aptly named, this little calorie factory. The coffee is reasonable too. Put the whole thing together, combined with neighborly chitchat, and you have one of the highlights of this, my new life.

Maybe it needs to include a change in the weather, this new life. My British cousin Caroline would call it “bracing,” the startling feel of wind-driven San Francisco fog first thing in the morning. No wonder I am going out in search of coffee. Jane has gone out in search of work, that is to say, to church where this morning she delivers a sermon. And it is a fearful thing, public speaking, in almost any context. So she may have the wind up herself, as she jumps in her car, pulpit-bound.

Fear is part of life, I must remember. One doesn’t want to see it go away altogether. It’s there to warn us of the realities of, well, crossing our street in front of the bakery. San Francisco has one of the nation’s highest pedestrian mortality rates. Which, it must be said, has something to do with having one of the highest pedestrian rates, full stop. Ours is a walking city. And as I must remind myself daily, it is not a rolling city. That is no country for old men in wheelchairs. Young men too.

As for the weather, it makes one sit up and take meteorological notice. Something is happening here, something that has to do with the air and the ocean and not being in the peninsular suburbs. Pay attention, it says. And I am, I’m paying. Jane has tried to warn me off the 16th Street BART subway station. High crime? High danger? Doubtless it all has to do with time of day. Which is unfortunate, since I come and go from this neighborhood at various times. Including Saturday morning when I decided to check out a local Jewish congregation.

It turned out that the BART journey was quite unnecessary. Yes, the 16th Street area is busy and commercial, but not early on a Saturday morning. There was parking all over the place. Later, on my way back to the station, businesses and restaurants were open, and spaces had vanished. Naturally. One lives and learns.

And now one heads for the station. There is a small brick plaza there, a public space occupied by the local public. Here, it is a Spanish speaking public. One constituent amplifying his Spanish to deliver la palabra de Dios. Which makes me feel safe, the notion that I am scurrying in my wheelchair through an outdoor evangelical pitch. Of course I am wary. As I near the elevator, some sort of altercation breaks out just to my right. I try to be aware without making eye contact. What is the guy with the open beer doing as he approaches the opening elevator doors? Hard to say, and what will I do if he leaps on board with me? The doors shut behind me, fortunately, without revealing the answer.

My body has its own answer…even if the question isn’t clear. I have an idea that I will get off at the next stop, 24th Street and pay a visit to my bank. The necessity, certainly the wisdom, of this maneuver is already evaporating. My lower back is sending its own message. Enough sitting. Time to carry on, only one more stop, to Glen Park. The latter, after all, is home. It’s a new one. And having been stripped of home at an early age, having spent my life continually finding new ones…well, there is much to celebrate.

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