Yes, leaving for the train at 10 AM, then alighting back in Menlo Park at 4 PM, that does almost add up to a workday. In Germany, lunch included, it would only be one hour shy. Look at it that way. But why look at it at all? That is the thing. What adds up, adds up. And it may add up later, that is the other thing. In any case, as soon as I learned that my San Francisco friend Steve had finally gotten his wheelchair, I was off.
Moreover, I was even on time. For the way of it is simple enough, even though it may be hard to accept. From my door to the San Francisco railway station on this particular day took an hour. Allowing a visit to the men’s toilet, the journey to Steve’s residence on Post Street took another hour. Give in, give up, and you’ll get there right on time.
Great to see Steve rolling. He has some progressive disability, fully diagnosed but poorly understood. One of those designer diseases, one might say. Terribly exclusive. And I’m sure he would like to be excluded from the experience, but there you are. And there we are, Steve and I rolling out his door to Post Street. Then hanging a right, continuing on to Japantown. Which was a perfect destination, because Steve got to be guide. Had I been there before? Actually, no. Once we were inside the shopping arcade, and that is more or less what it is, it dawned on me. This was a first time. After all, when I did live in San Francisco 33 years ago, getting around by crutch was fatiguing. There wasn’t much wandering about. Travel was point to point. Furthermore, I might have turned up my nose at something so modern and ersatz Asian. For the development is that. Hard to say how it’s there or why it is there. Surely the answer resides on the web. But that’s for another time.
For this time is all about enjoying Steve and encouraging his travels. For part of the reason for my own becomes clear as we chat over black cod and pickled radish. It’s a little scary for me too, I confess. The wheelchair always feels as though it could go out at any moment. Sometimes for good reason, sometimes not.
Steve is very tentative in his wheelchair use. I can see that and entirely understand. He tells me about getting stuck in the slats of a storm drain, rear wheels sliding into the open gaps. He powered out, Steve tells me. I nod my head and tell him that, yes, it is unnerving to be rolling so close to sidewalks, to see pavement in excessive detail, to not feel an adequate separation between the ground and oneself. He says he fears tipping over. For good reason, I almost say. But don’t.
Most maddening, Steve’s one ride aboard a Muni bus proved fraught. The driver complained at his slowness. Worse, the driver complained to Steve’s accompanying daughter. A double insult, this sort of thing, and unnerving. For to be disabled already invokes a sense of childish dependency. The simplest things become difficult, sometimes insurmountable. When I leave, I make a point of boarding a bus and urging Steve to watch. I’ve tried to encourage him.
And he has encouraged me in ways that seem hard to define. We have a wonderful San Francisco coffee after lunch, and Steve talks about his publications. People are still reading his books, some of which have been in print for decades. I know how gratifying this must be, and I tell him. I stumble into an idea. Reading from my own book at the monthly literary group in his building. And I also resolve to read about personality types, one of Steve’s specialties. I have this hunch. In the middle of a family dispute, a bit of psychological deepening could not hurt. Either way, I’m curious about his work.
But for now we talk about our country and its sorry political state. I bemoan the excess of guns. Steve agrees that it’s mind-boggling, the nation armed to the teeth. Which sends me down another track. Which lasts all the way down the BART subway tracks, not to mention Caltrain’s. For I am connecting the dots. Some of which lead all the way to Minnesota, where one of the leaders at a recent conference chatted with me about gun violence. He works with urban youth, knows all about gangs, and simply isn’t too concerned about guns. They are secondary, he told me. And Steve and I did not get into any depth on this topic. But we didn’t need to. He has enough depth himself to provide an impetus for my own convictions.
I am not quite sure what guns do beyond the obvious, but I am on to something. I know that. Their very numbers and easy availability send a message. That we have the right to have weapons of war in our own homes. Never mind that the crime rate has been trending down for two decades. We need to defend ourselves by spraying bullets at the rate of 100 a minute. Nonsense. And all I needed was the right talk with the right person, fairly brief, introvert-to-introvert…to get me going