The day dawns wet and gray, and what is a man to do on this January morning but go for a test drive? What is being tested, of course, is the driver. And will he succeed or fail? That is this Saturday’s question. It is asked mildly. In truth there is little reason for alarm. But it is a work in progress, this matter of disabled driving. One must keep hammering away.
Thing is, hammering on the accelerator really doesn’t work. As a control, it is not designed for hammer action. A slow and even depression is the optimal. To compensate, I attempt to press from the thigh, rather than the foot. I’m not sure what to make of this problem, the excessive strength in my leg. I have my theories. Decades of exercycle use seem to have gotten my extension muscles in extraordinarily buff condition. While my exercise program somewhat neglects the flexors. At least this is my theory. And while terribly interesting, right now these conjectures must take a vehicular backseat. I am driving. Whatever leg I am driving with, my eyes are on the road, hands on the wheel, and so on.
I make a few deliberate wrong turns en route. And why not? By now I know this route a little too well. I need some variety. And damned if I don’t find it, Café 78. It’s a coffee outlet I hadn’t spotted. And one of my cherished and long-held San Francisco dreams is to be part of corner café society. Actually, this dream sprouted during my working years. It hasn’t gone away. I hope that Café 78 doesn’t go away before I finally make it there.
For now, I am headed for the Mission District, the junction of Valencia Street and 24th St. The bakery there, a city institution, has expanded from the Inner Richmond District because of, well, demand. I personify that demand, being a middle-class arriviste. The Mission superficially retains much of it recent urban heritage, a large Latino neighborhood given to panderias and shops like Discolandia. The boutiquish places like Arizmendi Bakery are harder to see, popping up between the old storefronts and signage. They are more fashionably discreet, eschewing ethnic boldness for quiet little lines out the door. I join one at the bakery, quietly making my way past an array of slightly rustic temptations, all whole grains and yeasty goodness.
My car is parked in front of the branch library on 24th St. So is a madwoman. I saw her, and pretended not to see her, as I arrived. She seemed to be waiting, almost innocently, under a bus shelter. I’m not quite sure how affluent a figure I cut pulling up in my new Dodge with the tens of thousands of dollars of disabled gear inside. But that’s one thing about being disabled. Standard conventions frequently do not apply. I suppose the van and its expensive automation are upstaged by the unfortunately crippled driver. So I’m not waving a socioeconomic red flag. Which is good, because the mad woman in the bus shelter is in quite a rant.
“You don’t know me. See, you start something, you finish it. You don’t know what’s happening. Hey!”
I am making my way bakerywards, and she is running into 24th St. to talk to some woman on the other side. “I told you,” she says.”He was messing. And see what comes. You tell them when they don’t hear.”
I am hearing, but the woman she is accosting is pointedly looking the other way. I find that this is the satisfactory response and try to do the same. I depart the Arizmendi with a bag of cheese scones and fruity muffin concoctions. And the madwoman is still there. I head for the opposite side of the intersection, and damned if she doesn’t too. There’s another bus stop and, under this one, a poor middle-aged black guy who might be slightly drunk, but otherwise has a relative coherence about him.
She runs into the street and yells at someone or something, perhaps the recently departed 15 bus. “I am a human being,” she screams. The black man nods. I would nod too, although I am pretending not to look.