Raining Kindness

It’s all an outrage. I have to drive twice in one day, the same day. First there was that midday automotive schlep to 22nd St., an overland journey approaching1.5 miles. Then there was that vast cross-city expedition to Kaiser Healthcare, deep in San Francisco’s Richmond District. Furthermore, it was raining. That is to say, refractive drops of water were rolling down the windshield. And, of course, traffic was rolling down the streets. Far too much of it. But that’s San Francisco 2016. There’s more of everything. Cars, people and expense.

I missed one turn off Franklin Street, but quickly made up for my error, doubling back to pick up Fell Street. And now I was rolling, sort of. Too bad that Geary Boulevard has significantly lengthened over the years. Right where Sixth Avenue should have been, there were imposter streets, each displaying a bland name like Parker or Central. Why? What with the traffic and the watery windshield distorting everything like an insect eye, I was late. Late for my first appointment with my new physical medicine doctor. Why?

Right across the street from the Kaiser clinic a blue zone slides into view. A miracle. A miracle in the rain. Not only that, but the parking space is at the corner. I drive straight in. Naturally, the health complex is just that. Still, I navigate the complexities in relative short order. Someone I meet in a hallway, perhaps a doctor, directs me down an odd ramp that leads to steel-clad industrial doors. These in turn lead next-door, in the right building, where I am supposed to be. The kindness of strangers.

But there’s more kindness. The x-ray technician who does a see-through on my foot…just in case that persistent pain involves an old fracture…directs be out of the building, back to where I am parked. By now it is raining for real, and he seems concerned. On the way, he points out the clinic’s car park. There is no structure. There are no ramps. There may even be no ticket dispensing machine that requires that I lean halfway out of the window in a desperate quadriplegic reach for the flimsy plastic card required to exit…during which I will inevitably delay several drivers wishing do exactly the same. That I have developed such a strong narrative around this moment at the ticket machine says it all. I cringe at the thought. I cringe too much these days, or any days.

The x-ray guy is looking more concerned. He has to return to his station. So he hands me off to a colleague, a fellow filipino. This man is equipped with an umbrella. He leads me all around the outside of the building, conveniently overhung with rain-protected walkways. We not only reach Geary Boulevard, but the right corner of it. He even insists while, I open my car, on waiting to hold the umbrella over me.

I am tired and eager to get home. I start driving, and although I don’t stop to think about it, some part of me is infused with this act of human kindness. It muffles the ordeal of the drive home. For by now, it is not only raining, but dark. Night has fallen. And the rush hour has just begun. I chart a circuitous route, trying to avoid both traffic and hills. Neither are ever fully avoidable in San Francisco, and in a way, I know this is good. There’s nothing like being forced to practice the very sort of driving I need to do. And I pleasantly discover what I already know. Technology is on my side. Getting stuck in a rush-hour right turn lane, I notice the apparent absence of traffic in the adjacent lane…wonder if I dare go for it in the dark. Then I decide, yes. If I don’t see a car to my left, the radar in my blind spot detector will.

It’s a long rainy battle up Valencia Street. One double parked car unexpectedly comes to life and lurches right in front of me. What the hell. I press the brake and stop in time. Which, when you think about it, is all anyone can hope for.

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