With life reduced to few options, all of them pleasant, why not hit the deck? At Inverness, our rented house is all deck, yet the deck is not all sun. This is why God invented fog, not to mention trees, their combined impact making the deck experience somewhat elusive, at the very least, fleeting. One can sit in the sun to read, but the sun itself will not sit still. Ever moving, it is, ducking behind trees, sailing over the rooftop, the resulting pattern never fully grasped within the week. Downright Proustian, the sort of speculation, utterly idle and decadent…and setting me up for, well, what was to come. For now, it is lunchtime, and a hornet or yellow jacket or wasp…I cannot tell the difference…is divebombing our smoked salmon. Angrily, I bat that the thing away. It refuses be batted, of course, barely altering its flight pattern, getting more aggressive, while Jane is getting annoyed with me. She wants me to settle down, I can tell. I want the wasp to settle down. And, worse, I am afraid that she has some benign talk-to-the-animals tactic in mind. I am not entirely mistaken. I watch as Jane takes a morsel of smoked salmon, places it on an empty saucer and…expects what? Is the yellowjacket going to grab a fork and napkin? No, but after a second or two, it does grab a salmon flake. It even comes back for another, sawing away at the thing until the bit becomes small enough for air transport. The hornet departs. It does not come back. One must give her credit, our Jane, she is good with species other than dogs and cats.
They are endless, these days, these Inverness days, except that they are ending. And I am already starting to worry. How did I get here? It seems that I drove my car. This is hardly credible, yet there it is, a memory of driving north on a succession of motorways, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, the longest drive I had had in…who knows? Marlou and I did make it to Mendocino, long about 2007 or 2008? Years ago, in short. And now, homeward. I don’t like to think about it, I really don’t. And what I really don’t like to think about is that…I don’t like to think about it. My reduced driving has become one of those jokes that isn’t. My reactions are slower, the physical challenge of holding my body in the right position has become more difficult. And the concentration. All in all, I would rather do something else. Which is why my 1995 Ford Econoline van is approaching its 60,000 mile service point. All its mechanisms appear more or less intact, but the Ford logo is falling off the back. By the way, the thing is plastic. Silvery plastic, but plastic.
In anticipation, the homeward journey already seems impossible. In fact, now that it is beginning on this particular Friday, I am describing the immediate perils to Jane. And actually, this is good. It is very good, for this is what makes things possible these days. Getting it off my chest. The immediate challenge, negotiating the slanted roadway where I have parked my van, the pavement tilting one way, the wheelchair lift not tilting at all. The result is that rolling from street to lift looks more or less impossible. One end of the wheelchair’s elevator platform is hanging four or five inches in the air, the road inclining in one direction, the van and its lift the other. And yet, yet what? Nothing, really, except that Jane and I are going at this together. I do know that the weight of the wheelchair will help tilt the lift downward, so if one wheel can make it onto the steel…the rest should be possible. I have done this before, Jane is holding the wheelchair from behind, so who cares if several hundred pounds of human and batteries and metal lean and yaw precariously?
She does, it seems clear from her muted observation that my wheelchair is leaning rather heavily to one side. And yet I know, know this chair and its propensities. And now I know something else, that two people are not necessarily afraid of the same thing at the same time. Which is fortunate and underlies teamwork. And must be relied upon and exploited, this fact of human life. And damned if I’m not telling Jane to lift, to pull up on the wheelchair’s right side, one wheel climbing the slope, and now another and now more on the lift that off. I gun it, pulling the maximum from the batteries. The wheelchair slides under the safety bar, as it should, Jane starts the engine as a precaution…after all, I haven’t driven this thing in a week…and I’m up, rising toward the van’s interior. We have launch. Soon we will have lunch, that is the other thing, the Pine Cone Diner in the town of Point Reyes. A pilgrimage of sorts.
Not that we are there, for we are still here. And with Jane’s help I am backing this Ford behemoth down the street. It is so embarrassing, all of this. I used to drive this truck, and that is what it is, with relative abandon. Partly the problem is that I now use it so infrequently that even modestly challenging maneuvers like this one seem immense. I could berate myself over this, and probably will, but for now Jane is saying okay, okay, okay, me checking and double checking whether her right is mine, the left-versus-right thing always challenging when moving in reverse. Mercifully, there are no cars. The van is so wide, the position of its wheels so indefinite, the parameters all so vague…hard to say how any of this is happening. But it is, and now it has. While I park, facing in the general direction of an oyster sandwich, Jane throws a few last things in the back of the van. And I am off and she is off. And the oysters, plucked from the very bay I circumnavigate on the way to the diner, well they are never even faintly off. They dazzle with their freshness. And after lunch, I try to do the same, but this is not possible. Many miles to go.
We proceed in convoy. I had wanted to drive over the hills, crossing via Lucas Valley Road, but was easily talked out of this. It probably is a bit slower. Less traffic, though, and it seems daunting, almost impossible, my driving this thing through the stop and start of congested roads. But less time behind the wheel seems good. And why are people flashing their headlights on me as I drive south along Nicasio Reservoir? I pull over, ask Jane if people see something on the van that I don’t. No, she explains, it’s motorists’ way of explaining the presence of a Highway Patrol car a half mile behind. I don’t drive enough to know these things. We continue on.
I have accomplished something else in pulling over to have a quick chat with Jane. I have gotten myself out of fear mode. For there was a moment, braking and turning right along the reservoir, when I simply did not feel in control of the car. A very simple maneuver, right turns never particularly dangerous, but the centrifugal force, however mild, something, was making it hard to push the brake pedal. Which for the short term tells me to slow down, the long-term take away being to get some advice in this matter…but not now. Some reassuring interaction and I am heading over the ridge.
In my mind, the downhill slope into the San Geronimo Valley is another steep, fear inducing trial. Except that I am around the one curve and approaching the main highway before I know it. Where the next long-anticipated moment arises, turning left on the busy street. Except I do have eyes, I can see both ways, and what the hell, I am rolling toward Fairfax like everyone else. Yes, I do slow people down a bit on the main hill leading to town, having slowed down myself. It would be nice to pul
l over and let the backed up cars go by, but my elbow-operated turning signal can’t quite manage the right flasher. So I don’t stop but carry on until traffic slows us all down.
The motorway, another experience, and slightly frightening at first, when one considers the speed, but no one does, that is the thing. Everyone hurtles effortlessly. This is California. People have been legally enjoined to not use their mobile phones while barreling southward at 70 mph. Doubtless half of the drivers ahead of me are changing music, looking at their fingernails, absently considering the view. And then the final hill before the Golden Gate Bridge. Which, I remember, always seems much more frightening going the other way. Perhaps that’s because southbound, much of the slope occurs in a tunnel. That and the endlessly stunning sight of San Francisco Bay opening to my foggy left. The Pacific’s vapors wafting across the waters in their late-afternoon way, tendrils blowing toward Berkeley, others dissipating south, the same fog now rolling up the very Inverness canyon I have left. Both a distraction and a reminder that I live in an area that is, more or less, paradise.
And 45 mph on the bridge, that is important, as is the six dollar toll, and from there, what is it but…routine? The slow drive across San Francisco, 19th Ave. grinding its cars into obedient stoplight obeyers. And then the other motorway, the one that actually leads to my home, which leads to my right shoulder feeling like it is going to fall off. But at least my massage guy, my rolfer, has told me that not much can be done about this, given the way I sit behind the wheel. But that I sit behind the wheel at all is a miracle. I tell myself this for the last five miles or so, hanging on and hanging on until, parked against the homeplace oleanders, I turn the engine off.