On the Road

It is a basic fact of paralytic life that when you stand up to dictate, your right elbow knocks the cover off your microphone. Why is this? Why is any of this? The first and most obvious question involving dictation. Speech recognition being the answer, of course. The standing up part? Well, that has to do with general musculoskeletal decline. You have been told to stand. To stand as much as possible. Even if you can’t stand it. Take a stand anyway. Take a bow while you’re at it. It’s all hard work.

Including the picking of tomatoes. Which, truth be told, is not a job to delegate to the neurologically intact. Oh, they can do this much more deftly than you. But it is so gratifying to see the fruits of one’s agricultural labors dangling off the actual bush. To stick one’s hand in the early autumnal thicket of tomato vines, well that is another gratifying experience. Neuromuscularly confusing, also. For there is an awful lot of eye-hand coordination involved, the depth perception thrown off by the fact of the shadowy tomato bush interior. And the various colors involved. For they are intertwined, my tomato plants, the yellow ones ripening at one hue, the red fruits at another. And there is the further complication of the black tomatoes. My one working hand reaches toward the center of the tangled vines for the orange, ripe-looking yellow variety, arrayed in a cascade of eight. Of course, some are also green, some not quite orange enough…and with limited feeling it’s hard to tell which I am even grabbing. I pull my hand out and…well, generally feel pleased. Certain things one has to do.

Like turn up at the annual Sukkot dinner my congregation holds outside. It’s not asking too much, I was telling myself…right up until I told myself it was asking too much. I went back and forth in this vein, sometimes feeling rather angry that time seems so precious, demands pulling one in so many directions. It would have been nice to go. But in balance I felt more aware of something else. That this is my new marriage. It’s time to enjoy it. And Sundays, Jane’s big workday, do present a challenge. By the afternoon she is wiped out, while I am frequently charged up. And it’s all about trade-offs. And Sunnyvale.

I was pleasantly surprised that Jane wanted to accompany me on this tiresome journey. For, yes, there was another fitting due at the van modification garage. Meaning another train journey, followed by a tram ride. And where? Easy enough to describe the place on a map. Harder to place it in cultural context. For it has none, that is the thing. That’s why the penultimate tram stop on my ride is titled Vienna. You won’t find much Habsburg residue about the strip mall by Vienna station. No waltzes. Maybe some Vienna sausages. That’s it. Fast food, gas stations. Then the next stop, Reamwood. Wood also being in short supply at this stop.

When we get off, Jane’s presence somehow makes the industrial neighborhood all the more vivid. It bothers me that only one side of this four-lane thoroughfare, complete with tram tracks down the middle, has room for people. Pedestrians use a footpath on one side. This sidewalk tilts my wheelchair unpleasantly here and there. And once we are off the main road and wandering up the side street toward Access Options, sidewalks stop altogether. We proceed in the road, Jane and I, her presence making me feel somewhat more secure about all the commercial traffic. Delivery vans barge in and out of businesses along the way. One company makes mead, Jane notes. Another supplies laser engraving machines.

This is it, our business civilization, and no, we do not integrate such mercantile endeavors into livable spaces, vis-à-vis neighborhoods. And this may be good, for all I know. Zoned for commercial. Right? Not exactly. For in addition to warehouses and light manufacturing, this neighborhood also boasts mobile home parks. Actually, lots of people do live here. They just live in buildings that look a bit too much like their opposite. Steel warehouses seemingly scaled up versions of steel homes. Which does not matter a jot. Except…where do people congregate, converse and exchange the news of the Rialto? Hard when the Rialto itself barely accommodates people on foot. I just don’t believe that anyone gathers at the plastic tables of Taco Bell. There’s no gathering in his neighborhood, no invite to gather. It’s all about cars, which is appropriate, because that’s what I’m about today.

I say hello to the salesperson, the mechanic, the driving consultant – and we get underway. But not very far. For as soon as I have locked my wheelchair in place behind the wheel, that’s it. I am locked. Everything is locked, particularly my driving foot. It can’t move. The wheelchair lockdown is wildly out of position. And didn’t we just measure this a couple of weeks ago? I can’t understand. I don’t understand. Have I done something? Did I screw this up? No, something is terribly wrong, and at least Jane gets to see all this, appreciate the process, if it can be called that.

Ed, the driving consultant…a freelancer not connected to the garage…is naturally tuned into the disabled experience. And it can be called that. He seems mildly incredulous that in the latest ‘driving position’ my working leg is jammed into a nonworking position. Never mind. Although the wheelchair does need to be locked down, Ed has another solution. He straps my chair into place. And off we go. Off? Yes, I am driving now, mundane enough for most people, but the first time I have done this in, well, almost a year. How much have I forgotten? It’s hard to say. But what’s clear is that forgotten or otherwise, my driving skills will be greatly enhanced once this car is properly adjusted. Aside from that, my attention is blinkered. My mind is on survival. We now weave through this light industrial neighborhood. Turn right. Turn left. Up this street. Down that one. And somehow behind all this I can feel a momentum. Not quite, but almost, I am back on the road.

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