Another Night at the Opera

Two nights, really. Which all began at that juncture of realities, Fourth Street and Townsend Street, the place where Caltrain regularly deposits me. And much else…including the poor and the transient. Still, a terminus is really a beginning, to the optimistically inclined, and so it is with the San Francisco Muni 47 bus. It is an important line, this one, at least in my view. It links the nether purlieus of Caltrain, South of Market district, and ambient baseball and high-tech neighborhoods with, well, the Civic Center and Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco’s key north-south thoroughfare. Or it should. I mention its critical role in transporting human life, to suggest that the 47 bus is more arterial than capillary in its functioning. Which makes its dysfunction extremely troubling. During the slow times of day the 47 runs every five minutes or so, perhaps 10 minutes at the outside. But when 15 minutes have elapsed, 20 minutes, then 30, and it is San Francisco’s rush hour, all is simply not well.

The digital signs proclaiming the next bus were, for once, utterly reliable. With 29 minutes posted at one staggering moment. Enough time, if one believed it, to roll the wheelchair back across the street to where San Francisco taxicabs alight at uncertain intervals. Which become extremely uncertain during the tourist season, currently in high gear. So, there I was, bouncing back and forth from bus stop to cab stop…even at one desperate moment phoning Yellow Cab to inquire as to the possibility of maybe, just maybe obtaining a wheelchair-accessible taxi.

I played by the rules, was a very good boy, did nothing naughty. Because, dear reader, if you have endured this blog before, you know how galling I find it to have to explain to a Yellow Cab dispatcher where the Caltrain station is. Again, San Francisco has only one railway station. What’s the address? Fourth & Townsend being the obvious response…but, no, that would not do. I need a number, the dispatcher said the last time I tried this. So, very well, I plucked a number from the side of the bicycle storage shed by the rail station, phoned it in to Yellow Cab…and was only mildly corrected by the dispatcher. You want a ramp cab, she told me. Okay, ramp cab. One hour, she said.

So, here I am in this hick town where the main cab company has never heard of the railroad station, waiting for a nonexistent taxi and a nonexistent bus. When in doubt – take the tram, cancel coffee with my friend Steve. And proceed directly to the neighborhood of the opera house. I phoned Jane to tell her I would be early…she told me the same, leaving her church long before the usual hour…and there we were, exchanging texts and voicemails just like twentysomethings. Jane had found a disabled parking space, I was bearing the necessary permit…and there she was on Franklin Street. And the next moment, there we were on Hayes Street disappointed, although not surprised, that all the restaurants were booked up with pre-opera diners. But damned if there wasn’t space on the sidewalk, and if this wasn’t one of those unaccountably pleasant San Francisco evenings, only a mild breeze, no fog and warm enough to truly eat outdoors.

When the lights in the opera house dim, we have a few words from sponsors. Okay, they are silent words, displayed on the supertitle bar where the translation will soon follow. Still, it galls me. Because…can we talk? The latter being the most endearing words of Joan Rivers…not to mention the only endearing words of the right-wing comedienne. Nevermind. Can we talk? Can we talk about getting old and curmudgeonly and having the right to be galled about certain things? I don’t see why we have to see this silly stuff about the opera’s corporate sponsors. But, yes, turns out it’s Tales of Hoffman-LaRoche. A quibble, but I like quibbles.

I liked the opera even more, even after seeing the thing four or five times in this life. Absolutely the best. Dark in ways that worked. An appropriate use of symbols. And a non-techy staging of the supernatural elements. Dr. Miracle, for example, making his way about that house in Munich aboard a chandelier, appearing stage left one second, then immediately stage right…just enough to make the baritone-bass downright creepy. And, best of all, Jane loved it. She finds many opera plots tiresome…Verdi in particular…and the voices can disappoint her. But not this night, this night everything was staggeringly wonderful.

Of course, there was the usual urinary challenge. After all, this, my quadriplegic life, features that element, always. On this occasion, I had driven down the aisle to my seat and Jane had parked the chair at the back of the house. So just before Act III, damned if she didn’t roll the chair down the aisle, help me get in it…and by the time I was done with the men’s room, and somehow gotten the chair back to our seats…warning chimes going off in all directions…she got the wheelchair back in place and herself seated with about 30 seconds to spare. Teamwork, I was thinking. Perhaps we both were.

And the second opera? Well, that’s another blog.

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