Diamond Heights

The next time my wheelchair nicks the lid flap of an open carton…I will do exactly what I’m doing now…keep going. It’s getting to me. Whatever ‘it’ is. My life is still in disarray. I can’t find the book I purchased about how to grow tomatoes in San Francisco. I can’t find anything…everything is lost. I am lost.

Which is ever so slightly dramatic for a fine Sunday morning in this most beautiful city. I am alive, not lying dead in a Berkeley street. And let us say hallelujah. Jane’s congregation is doing so, as I ready myself for the day. I have resolved to go on a drive. Yesterday, faced with the imperative to keep my battery charged, I actually flipped down the van’s wheelchair ramp, rolled inside and turned the ignition on for 20 minutes of idling.

Idylling being the preferred mode this Sunday morning, I am off. Well, almost. Trouble is, I can’t quite open and close the door to the garage. I practice a few times, Jane having shown me how to jiggle the latch. The real door hardware isn’t quite here, is it? We’re not quite here, truth be told. Whatever. It seems that I can now close the door behind me. I will open the garage door to the outside world by means of an electronic clicker. And here I am, in breezy Glen Park. I start the van’s engine and stare down the hill.

I more or less coast to the bottom, then turn and proceed up another canyon of the same hill. Glen Park, a city park, lies in the heart of this, our neighborhood valley. A boulevard snakes up the slopes, and at the top…will the incline be so steep that I have to do some fancy quadriplegic footwork to prevent the van from rolling backwards? No, it turns out. The summit is level, and now I am heading downslope toward the distant blue Pacific Ocean. But first there’s the hill on Vicente Street. Hardly the worst. And in no time I’m halfway across San Francisco’s Inner Sunset District to the Tennessee Grill.

You’ve heard of the Tennessee Waltz? Well, hear it again, because nothing in the Tennessee Grill has anything to do with Tennessee or a grill. It’s an old style coffee shop and, being in San Francisco, staffed by Chinese-Americans. I have an old style omelette. I enjoy looking at the patrons, all of us old style guys. Mostly, I’m grateful to be here without incident. The driving has gone well. I panic briefly over my hashbrowns, wondering if the place takes credit cards. It does, and I am ready to weep as the waiter takes my Visa. I was ready to weep when I found a blue disabled parking spot just up the street. My way of handling San Francisco, in its newness and in my oldness, is to prepare for the worst scenarios. Such as driving around this neighborhood search of parking, having to queue for a table. Yet this has worked out. And I am worked up, emotionally not quite comprehending that it’s all going to be okay. It is okay. And soon I am in the drugstore across the way buying dental floss and shampoo.

Then back on the road, retracing my steps…then changing my mind. I drive to the front. There it is, the Pacific Ocean, more or less. This part of San Francisco was never designed. In the 1920s and 1930s, developers simply built house after house until they reached the sea. There’s no view of the ocean or easy access to the beach from this neighborhood. The city just ends unceremoniously, and not very picturesquely, in a boulevard along the sand dunes. Not that I expected anything else. I turn around and head in the general direction of home, passing a synagogue then a shop called the Urban Farmer. I make a note of both, deciding that the two are linked. Jews, an urban people in modern history, have transformed agriculture…Israeli practices and technologies adopted in many parts of the world. I shall do my bit.

However picturesque, Glen Park is only a neighborhood. Its tiny boutique grocer is bursting with gourmet goods…but for something more reality-based, people shop at the Diamond Heights Safeway…on the summit ridge of San Francisco’s Twin Peaks. Problem is, I haven’t been there in, oh, 30 years or so. I make a wrong turn here and there in trying to find it. After all, the Diamond Heights shopping mall has several shops. Or I imagine it does. Not to mention level parking. I find a blue disabled space. Half an hour later I emerge with wine and other heavy stuff. I even roll into a barbershop and, on a Sunday morning, cut my hair. My work is done here. The tension level in all this has been high, the fatigue enormous.

Of course, I’m not home yet. Diamond Heights Boulevard sweeps gracefully out of the skies, then plummets. As the road steepens, I talk myself down, like an air traffic controller. Slowing for the turn. Foot on brakes. Now the steeper part, cliff-like in its suddenness into the city park that is Glen Park…and here’s our street. And about half a mile on, here’s our house. There is still a workers’ porta potty in front of it, making our address hard to miss. There are few cars. I park easily. It’s all been easy…and that’s a hard lesson.

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