Strange Days

I am lucky enough, or unlucky enough, to be old enough to remember that The Doors had an album of the same name. But forget being ”strange.” Try being old, I say. In fact, try being old while getting back into the driver’s seat, as it were. Which on this particular day, involves driving to San Francisco’s crowded center. Well, why not? The Commonwealth Club was hosting a luncheon in honor of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Philippines. A surprising topic for me, you say? Hardly, in view of the great assistance rendered to me by Team Filipina/Filipino. So, with an eye to giving some credit and respect to Dennis, my morning helper, off we went.

I couldn’t quite get it in the right body position as we pulled away from the house. So we pulled over, Dennis got out to have a look and, damned if I wasn’t dragging a large branch. Go figure. And after some squirming and body repositioning, I was more or less in a driving posture. Perhaps not a driving mood. Still, the driving force had to do with getting to Union Square under my own steam. As a friend put it, and she’s pushing 78, a decade ahead of me…you have to keep your driving chops.

So, there I am, keeping them, and at this moment, I’m keeping them underground. The Union Square Garage, almost older than I am, is not possible to modernize, and indeed, it isn’t. Occupying five subterranean levels in the center of San Francisco, it’s all ramps, tight turns, and big columns. The essential question always involves my ability to switch from accelerator to brake, quickly. Well, quickly and without confusing one for the other. Suffice it to say, I got through all this. But not without some embarrassment. I’m slow. People tend to honk at me. I’ve got to live with it.

Friends of the Philippines – I had never heard of them – sponsored this commemoration at the Marines Memorial Club. Out of the several hundred people, there were four or five who were actual combat veterans from the World War II battles in the Philippines. We got the lunch off to a start by applauding them. We heard from the former US ambassador to the Philippines, Michael Armacost. I remember him, prominently in the news after the fall of Marcos. We had some brief words from the Consul General from the Philippines.

And then we had the main event – a 90-year-old veteran who recounted the experience of fighting the Japanese in the southern islands around Manila. I give him full credit. He was damned spry for that age. Thing is, none of this had much of anything to do with the Philippines. I learned only recently, probably in some report from NPR, that 1 million people died in the battle for Manila alone. Doubtless some of Dennis’ ancestors. Still, we were going on about the American troops. And, yes, they were brave and did a splendid job. So did the Filipinos. Where was their story?

Somewhat embarrassed, I nudged Dennis and we ducked out early. It wasn’t that early, two hours having past. Soon we were back on the street, back in the garage, underground. Dennis helped me manipulate the ticket machine on exit. I apologized for the proceedings. We are a provincial people, of course. Worse, we tend to think it’s all about us. It isn’t anymore. And it never was.

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