One of my British cousins has made a fortuitously timed visit to these shores. As another mutual cousin lies dying. All in our early seventies, very early if anyone wants to know, and it’s come to this. Where it comes for everyone. Bob’s cancer and slow death has been a sad preoccupation for the last year or more. And now he is far away in some Catholic hospice in western Paris, and capable of humor as recently as last week. And I already miss him.
With loss in the air, cousin Sandy and I gave each other a hug this very morning. And off he went to Amtrak. I admired his attitude, that of the indefatigably optimistic, inveterate British traveler. He was boarding the California Zephyr for a $600 two-night run to Chicago. As I say, loss is in the air. And in this fine nation, that loss has touched Amtrak, currently in the crosshairs of a CEO in the Trump model. In other words, the California Zephyr and 12 long-distance trains like it are scheduled for closure. Will this happen? Hard to say how long and how America’s current swath of destruction will be. I don’t know. In any case, this particular train – actually, most of them – hasn’t seen significant capital investment in 30 years.
So I wish him all the best. From Roseville to Winnemucca to Fort Collins and Ottumwa, may his trip go pleasantly. Why shouldn’t it? This land is your land, this land is my land.
While I have led Sandy from spot to spot around San Francisco, he has also led me. I have listened to him, taken in his appreciation of things American. I realized emerging from the industrial design show at the DeYoung Museum, that many of these things are in the past. The Cord 1940s roadster. The buoyancy of post-war New York City. And, of course, the nation’s railroads. Meanwhile, Sandy wondered if San Francisco had a classic diner, a down-to-earth breakfast and lunch spot favored by old-time locals. I wondered too. And doubtless the answer is yes…but the details are obscure and would take some digging. With young high-tech professionals ascendant, the culture has a different focus.
Take Sightglass Coffee. I was certainly trying to, taking in their macchiato at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. But not successfully. The glass slipped from my sight. Or at least, my grasp. I spilled two thirds of it. And I sat there berating myself inwardly, while outwardly projecting something like humor. In truth, I don’t see the comedy in such moments. I see neuromuscular decline, the need to consciously remember to clutch hard at objects. Never entirely automatic, my grip is more elusive than ever. Losing my grip, I am. And not without moments of shame.
While Sandy told me that the older he gets, the less he cares about what people think. Of course, it’s what I think that counts in this instant. I don’t like losing control. I don’t like losing. Which, let us be clear, is simply too bad. Knowing how to lose, and lose everything, is what life demands.
It’s all a matter of timing. Bad timing, one might say, to find life’s final phase full of upheaval and collapse. Maybe even good timing. I am still in the game. That is the thing. And I still care. And the game isn’t over.