Long Way Home

Northbound in daylight, the undulations of Interstate 280 seemed less daunting. My foot nervously pivoted from brake to accelerator with only the occasional misstep. Yes, there was that sinking out-of-control feeling on the downslopes, but not as bad. The red splotch on the concrete near Milbrae did have its usual effect, a warning of blood, but the symbolism has waned as the spilled paint has succumbed to millions of tires. It was a pleasure to slow as traffic coagulated at Daly City. Soon we were up to speed again, soaring over San Francisco’s Mission Bay district, then descending from the motorway to the slightly Dantesque environs of Sixth Street. Before docking near the symphony hall.

Will it get better? Should it get better? Or is this driving as it should be, the jittery recognition of a mortal danger?

What are the effects on the nervous quadriplegic driver of exposure to Stravinsky’s “L’Histoire du Soldat?” At play in the narrative are fate and the soul. Death isn’t in the cards, not directly, although nothingness figures largely in the action. It’s a joyously unsettling story. Michael Tilson Thomas has a welcome sense of play about him, ideal for such a piece. And the music, early Stravinsky, screechy, raucous and tongue-in-cheek…I love it.

Sad to leave the hall, still new enough to exude warm modernity, old enough to feel seasoned and solid. The latter could be said of me. But I’m not saying it. I’m saying that the ride home is too terrifying. My feet, numb in the night, seem to land on gas and brake, and then they don’t. Some part of my left foot presses into the brake pedal zone, then feels as though it can’t press. How can such a thing come and go? Psychological? Or some mixture of neurological, pain signals transmuted into spasm, and general neurosis? Who can say?

What I can say most definitively is that it’s a relief to descend from the grade at Hunters Point onto the bayside flats. It’s like this all the way now, traffic notwithstanding. Am I going too slowly? That is the other thing, the nervous reliance on the brake. There’s not inherent safety in this. Perhaps the opposite. Still, it’s heartening to feel the motorway lights around San Francisco Airport. Beware the narrows to the south, the place where a concrete wall squeezes against the right lane. Good thing I am one lane over. Wisdom prevails. So does Ralston Avenue, reminding me that there is a museum of flight along here. Perhaps I will see it before I move. Perhaps not. There is a long, long approach to touch down at Marsh Road, the exit lane appearing and beckoning for a mile or so.

All the way, Jane has been calming me with her flashlight. She points it at my left foot, illuminating the situation. On the brake. On the accelerator. Well, maybe a little more to the left for the gas. I can feel my foot knocking against the edge of the brake pedal. Let there be light, Jane’s version, a small battery-powered luminance. Which reveals that my footwork isn’t so fancy. It doesn’t matter. It’s over now, or nearly so.

Although it isn’t really. For tomorrow arrives with, you guessed it, another drive. This time to Mountain View for Jewish services in someone’s home. The drive seems so daunting, at first I balk. Better to stay home. No, I tell myself, setting off…and damned if virtually the whole thing doesn’t go without a flaw. Except that I’m slightly late. Which, it turns out, doesn’t matter at all. The people hosting this thing have even bought a wheelchair ramp. Homeward I do lose it just a bit. Am I missing the pedals? When I hit them, can I press successfully? Throwing caution to the neuromuscular winds, I hit the phone button on the steering wheel…yes, there is one…and call home. There is one of those too.

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