Hitting the Road

This particular fear is so persistent that even after its source, or apparent source, evaporates…the malady lingers on. It’s driving, of course. And it’s driving me crazy. Or at least to distraction. As a story…well, there is none. Or it’s the same story endlessly recycled, one of those curses like The Flying Dutchman or Groundhog Day. A narrative that keeps eating itself like a mystic snake.

Again, my only frame of reference has to do with scale, the very smallness of my disabled world. By which I mean the very personal nature of the experience. Combined with level of difficulty, or viewed competitively, level of achievement. Put simply, my achievement is that I drove to the San Francisco suburb of San Rafael. Yes, dear reader, you must now endure a blow-by-blow.

Which, it must be said, begins with a sense of dread. I am aware of my mortality throughout. Plenty of cause for dread there. But I have to be careful of these in-the-head assessments, because the real experience is more physical. Starting with shoes. I asked Jane to help me get on the black thin-soled ones this morning. I was already bracing for the challenge, aware that these might provide better foot action vis-à-vis accelerator and brake. Underneath it all, the fear is that I won’t be able to hit either pedal accurately or quickly enough.

So the journey, the fearful one, occurs out of sight, like all great journeys. Somewhere in the interior darkness of the van, down below, my feet either are or are not where they should be. Can’t I tell? Of course, that is part of the neuromuscular puzzle. My proprioception, or position sense, is weak. And there is enough strain and pain in my foot to further confuse the issue. Can anything be done about either condition? Actually, it is something of a breakthrough to ask this question. The topic falls under More Things Going Wrong with My Body, which is not among my favorites. And, closely related, I have a disabled person’s macho habit of “powering through” neuromuscular limitations. The latter works less and less as one gets older and older. Certainly, it is unreliable.

All of which explains why the way the heel of a shoe twists back and forth in its slot between brake and accelerator, well it’s important. It has to be reliable. No tugs, for example. The brown thin-soled shoes slightly catch on something as the lone functioning foot, the left one, pivots from pedal to pedal. Or I think it does, the experience being so marginal. As for the thin soles, they are good, of course. The less material between the somewhat numbed bottom of my foot and the rubber pedals, the better.

One of my worst fears involves hitting both pedals simultaneously. Which is possible. And has happened before. The answer? Exaggerated movement left and right. Overcompensating. Which requires a bunch of shifting around in the wheelchair seat. Scooting my butt this way, twisting that way. Until I find the perfect position, the one in which I can swivel the foot with maximum ease. A splendid idea. Although real ease is never quite achieved, because a certain amount of foot pain complicates the picture. Which, upon reflection, may mean that I am hitting the pedals with the wrong part of my foot, perhaps a bit too high. And in this case I would rather work on the foot than on the car. The small built-in slot for the heel, a depression that holds the shoe/foot in place, gives it a sense of home base…and reducing this depression to elevate the foot position sounds mighty risky to me. Because, you get the idea, the whole thing is built on a house of neuromuscular cards. All this, and we haven’t even left, have we? We are still in the home, as it were, contemplating the car and its operation. Are you exhausted? I am.

So, okay, there is the usual winding through the obscure byways of Menlo Park, a route pioneered by my vicar wife on the way to her suburban church, before sliding among that onrushing I 280, northbound. Fortunately, we’re just in time to hear Bryan Stevenson on the radio. The most astonishing presence, this man who has moral passion without succumbing to personal rancor. The latter being much in supply these days. Mr. Stevenson and, yes, he owes that minimal respect, is a black attorney who has championed black victims of the nation’s justice system – but done much more. He sees to the heart of an American malaise, a country that devours its own. I’m fascinated, all the way to South San Francisco where the show ends. Oh, yes, there is a terrifying interval, self-created, but I feel that me and my car and my life are slipping precipitously toward the interjection of Highway 92. Nevermind. This phenomenon has been well documented before. I manage not to ride the brake too excessively and get through the phase. Mr. Stevenson is that fascinating, his thoughts that compelling. Having been shot by young black men myself, I feel right in the midst of this topic. And I wonder, as doubtless he does, how we’re going to find some national leadership in this matter. As for me, all I have to say is, repeatedly, yes I was shot by black kids, not by the all black kids, or their neighbors, ancestors or descendents. Let us move on.

There’s just a lot of boring stuff in housebuilding. How can I say this? How can one get bored around something so costly? I don’t know. All I do know is that after a long and exhausting discussion on the topic of whether or not my disabled van, and in particular its internal ramp, will park and deploy in my soon-to-be garage…there is more of the same. The builder wants us to see another garage he is working on. And there it is. In particular the garage door. Splendid, I say. Give us that garage door without all the faux antique crap attached to it. As for the garage floor, forget it. Next?

San Rafael, where else? What’s another 20 miles or so to look at windows? Off we go. And, actually, although it takes a ludicrous amount of time, the trip proves to be worth it. Turns out that windows in San Rafael cost about $10,000 less than those around Menlo Park, which says something about my town. And, yes, I had to test the window hardware with my weak fingers. The latter failed, by the way. Not enough strength, but that is the way of it. The way out of it, San Rafael that is, leads past Jing’s Mandarin Restaurant. Utterly forgettable. But even more unforgettable is my own fear. I stare down the motorway toward Menlo Park like K did in Kafka’s Trial. In truth, I can’t believe I will get home. There are just too many things that can go wrong. Too many ways that my foot won’t hit the break at the right moment or the accelerator or something. And there are so many, you know, cars. That’s how it is on highways. Cars are all over the place.

I am not, I am hugging rightward, aiming for the slow lane, especially the scary part coming down the grade toward the Golden Gate Bridge. I don’t know whether Jane is alarmed or embarrassed or even paying much attention. But I’m going all of 45 mph. A little old man behind the wheel. Me. Fortunately, Jane manages to find a Peet’s outlet just off Geary Boulevard in San Francisco. In the van, sloppily parked in a loading zone, I load up on caffeine – and even sleep. Good thing the wheelchair tilts back. The combination, rest and biochemical stimulation, gets me home. The place I never expected to be. Again. Ever.

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