To understand this day, consider its origins. The Quicken helpline. Which is to say, a long chat with someone in South Asia. The matter at hand being my financial management software. Not that me and financial management can logically be included in the same breath. Nevermind. One tries. And the idea is that one pays Quicken, a fair amount on an annual basis for their specialized Rental Manager software…to manage such things for me. Which means that it is not an unreasonable assumption that this high-priced version of Intuit’s principal program will, you know, work. Which it doesn’t. I cannot connect to any of my bank accounts. And, sad to say, I currently have 10. Actually more accounts, if one considers a couple of extra credit cards. I digress.
One of the most annoying things about Quicken is that one is obliged to update the thing every year. The product barely changes. But, okay, even if one upgrades to Quicken Version 305.93, the thing still may not work. That’s why I’m calling India or Pakistan or Bangladesh or somewhere in the vicinity.
The fix for my bank-account-connection problem is unbelievably laborious. It’s actually fairly simple, in terms of concept, but one has to go all over the screen repetitively clicking. Still, I do as instructed, while the service guy grows increasingly impatient. He doesn’t want me on the speakerphone. I tell him I have one hand. He understands this, or does not understand it, such is his general manner. We continue. Finally, having clicked and deleted as instructed, we are into the home stretch. And the fucking thing still doesn’t work. It may work someday. Not just this day. I throw in the digital towel…to mix several metaphors…even as this guy in Bangalore is assuring me that I’ve done everything wrong. I don’t doubt it. I have done absolutely everything wrong, and probably not followed his instructions, but he’s so unpleasant that it doesn’t matter. The final insult: he urges me to have a nice day. This is it, America’s principal cultural export, the urging of nice days upon the world populace. I give up. Jane and I have lunch.
We also drive to San Francisco. Which, one should note, is most pleasant. After all, I am the satisfied owner of a new wheelchair-accessible van. I am getting the hang of driving again. There is a trick to positioning myself in the wheelchair, a way to ensure that operating the accelerator and brake does not involve too much strain. And that’s the thing, isn’t it? Strain. Who needs it? And now that we have successfully descended from the elevated Interstate 280 motorway to the well grounded Sixth Street…the gateway to San Francisco’s legions of homeless, in this our Great Recession…all we need is parking.
Good thing I have a website that details San Francisco’s disabled parking places. Way cool. That’s why, I’m almost running on automatic as I pull the Dodge Caravan into a parking structure on Post Street. I pull myself hard to the left, straining to reach the button that produces the magnetic ticket that is our key to parking success. But damned if I don’t manage this, quite on my own. Bravo. And there’s the sign. Disabled parking, second floor.
Later, recounting this story over a scotch in a bar called The Fly two streets away, I get a critical insight from our architect. He fills in a critical detail regarding this parking structure. ‘One of those places built in the 20s, was it?’ I nod. Actually, the provenance eludes me. Doubtless the history lies on some other San Francisco website. I don’t care. Back to the parking story.
Once inside, it didn’t take long to discover another dimension to this disabled parking center.
The driveway ramp was more or less a ski jump. And, do note, I did not jump it successfully, but managed to drag the bottom of my lowered-floor van at a spot…well, not even an obstacle protruding from the floor, just the general transition from ramp to flat parking area. It was that steep. But, okay, here’s the disabled parking space. Problem is, where’s the pay point?
Jane went in search of this. While I got out and waited for her, rolling my wheelchair up a very steep internal ramp, thinking the parking structure office might be there. It wasn’t. So Jane went one for hire. While I waited. I waited some more. Somehow, reading a sign, we had concluded that there was an elevator. Which either didn’t exist, or wasn’t working, an omission which had sent Jane up this stairway…to nowhere.
Worse, a locked nowhere. The door that shut behind her didn’t open. Neither did several others. And after Jane had scrambled up and down the steps, experiencing the urinary basement en route, she was rather frazzled. Someone in an adjoining shop helped me roll back down the concrete ramp to the van. We got inside the van and headed out. Neither of us wanted to be in this horrible place.
The automated gate where exiting drivers insert their paid-for magnetic ticket…oy, don’t ask. First, we hadn’t been there long enough to pay. At least that’s my guess. The machine on the top floor would not take Jane’s credit card. So, here we were, at the exit, and encountering the same problem. Fortunately, there was an information button or some such. Jane pressed it and got this guy…the very same one in Bangalore I had spoken to hours earlier, then working for Quicken’s helpline. This guy sounded much the same. He demanded of Jane an immediate explanation for why she was parking so briefly in his structure. Whatever. Eventually, by remote control the gate went up, I drove my van toward it…but not fast enough. I confess to being a timid driver. Down went the gate, trapping me behind it. Back Jane went to the machine. While cars began to queue at the blocked exit. Which, five minutes later, finally got unblocked. We aren’t really sure how.
Onto a drink, and exchange of information and a check with the architect, then the main event of the evening. The reason why we had come to San Francisco. A storytelling evening in the back room of a Polk Street bar. I was the oldest storyteller. Of course, the only one in a wheelchair. And what the hell. It went okay.
Why do such a thing? Because it felt like the next life step. That’s all I can say about this storytelling evening. It’s my story, after all. In a way, it’s all I’ve got. And one principal difference between telling a story live and writing it at home…simply involves the human body. One has to use it. And in the case of this long self-conscious disabled person, use it before witnesses. Judges, as it were. How did it go? It seemed to go well. But the questions that linger…those are the most intriguing. There was a sense of claiming my story. And reversing my usual pattern, which involves fearing that I am taking people’s time. Here, one takes people’s time and attention without apology. In fact, one demands it.
A different dynamic. And the only evening I have spent in a bar in…probably decades. This barroom scene was, by the way, sponsored by the Friends of the San Francisco Library. The crowd…and indeed it was a crowd, for the place was packed…mostly consisted of thirtysomethings. And some twentysomethings. Some in their 40s, even 50s. I was among the one or two people in my 60s. And even in San Francisco’s heyday of the 1960s, storytelling could never have filled a barroom this way. I can’t help but contrast the whole experience with the occasional book sales and annual Chinese restaurant luncheon of the Friends of the Menlo Park Library…of which I am a member. Let me simply say that this worthy suburban organization doesn’t pack barrooms. Actually, Menlo Park doesn’t have any barrooms. I speak highly of San Francisco, in this regard. Parking structures are another matter.