Driving Force

As a story, it is shapeless, having neither highs nor lows, or nothing but highs and lows…without resolution. Unless, perhaps, a New Year’s resolution, to accept anxiety as the price of progress, or the price of aging.

The car again, driving it, that is. In anticipation, the entire journey seemed an epic one. Menlo Park, California, to Monterey, California, and thence to Inverness, California. The latter loomed quite as far as its Scottish original. So that’s probably the place to start, or end, noting that with this tale it really doesn’t matter. A word here. Southbound to Monterey was just about as bad as northbound to Inverness, and the homeward leg the same. What’s happening? Fear. What else?

For friends reading this, please note the longevity of the fear, not the nature. Chronic would be a perfectly acceptable word. Underlying might be another. The specifics? Well, it’s the sense that I can’t control the beautifully adjusted pedals of my Dodge Caravan. No caravanserai for this driver. Not going to make it. Off the road. Off the charts. Off-the-wall.

Oddly, it’s not precisely fear of having a wreck. It’s literally the fear of going out of control. Not being able to stop the car. Gripped by this sudden conviction, I will begin to brake on freeway hills, slowing from a robust 65 mph to, say, 50…for no sane reason other than my feeling that I can’t control the brake.

Thus mentally equipped, I did proceed on what has been the longest drive in this, my second automotive career. When one adds up highway construction south of Gilroy, a brief urinary stop north of San Mateo and a final behind-the-wheel caffeination at Greenbrae…this Incredible Journey consumed six hours.

The improvement, actually a minor breakthrough, occurred in a couple of places. The first, near the end of the Inverness-bound leg…when sheer repetition seemed to take over. I had come this far, and the last few miles around Nicasio Reservoir were probably going to happen. Not at sufficient speed for many of my fellow motorists, whom I hope will accept this public apology for my slowing of their day.

As for the homebound portion, I finally started relying on Jane for critical feedback. Where in particular is my foot? Yes, the left one, still attached to, you guessed it, the left leg. But where vis-à-vis pedals is this left foot? Thanks to Jane’s scrutiny, it developed that in braking, the foot was generally on the brake, accelerating…on the gas. Which finally left me with the essential realization: my foot hurts. Something hurts on the bottom.

Pain interferes with already diminished sensation. Leaving me with a general introvert-type fear that something is going wrong…and probably with me, however vague. What to do? Phone calls to the key players on my physical medicine team. Perhaps more walking. Who knows? Anyway, defining the problem is 63% of the solution, I always say.

I don’t always say enough about Inverness, though. It’s an odd name for such a California spot. Particularly looking west from the motel room on Tomales Bay. Those are Pacific Brown Pelicans. The calm and emptiness of the inland sea water, the result of environmental controls and development policies, speaks volumes about this region. The rolling farmland on the northeastern shore evokes less of the Highlands, then the Marin Agricultural Land Trust. It’s lovely, as my wife would say. Even lovelier is the drive out to Point Reyes, the road modesty flooded at one point…a wondrous reminder of the recent rains….even the reservoir at Nicasio seemed full the day before.

I follow the highway, even managing to approach the 35 mph speed limit and for once not trailed by a small traffic jam. Turning in at North Beach, the world opens up in a sun sparkling Pacific Ocean sort of way. The opposite happens to the parking. Cars are actually queuing for spaces. Luckily, I speed into a handicapped slot.

Jane goes for a short walk. I intermittently stare at the ocean and at the latest exploits of Quirke, Irish murder mystery hero. I am here. So is North Beach, even its parking lot. The latter was featured on the front page of an August, 1967, issue of the San Francisco Chronicle…a caption lamenting how few people were visiting the then newly opened Point Reyes National Seashore. As recently as that year, the county-supervisors-approved development plan for West Marin called for an eventual 150,000 people in the area around Inverness and Point Reyes Station – today’s population amounting to a couple of thousand. You can’t stop progress, unless you can define it. Definitions, I have decided, are good.


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