Street Smarts

Thank you, I more or less say to my nephew as we pull away from the house, thank you for driving with me. In retrospect, this seems a little feeble. But I feel a little feeble. And the next thing I say is not so much feeble as frank. I talk about age and anxiety, how they seem to go together. And more to the point, how the quality of being aged seems directly proportional to the quality of being…well, there’s no single adjective here. It’s the quality of giving in to fear. This is what can kill the spirit. And sensibly, legitimately, this is worthy of fear.

But I digress. Because there is a moment, and we are in it. Driving. And Gentle Reader, you will recall that the driving experience has, of late, been rather fraught. With anxiety, of course. But I’m not used to driving around with a twentysomething. And this is making me downright loquacious as we tool up Valencia Street. I comment on the gentrification. Chris points out bicycle traffic features. And both of us revel in urban planning chitchat. Chris is an actual graduate student in the field, I a dilettante. Company is enjoyable. It is also soothingly distracting. Fact is, we are covering ground, miles, in fact. And that’s good. Miles, traffic miles, is what I need.

Thing is, I do take it easy. I have these aging driver phobias that, to an outsider, strongly resemble obsessive-compulsive behavior. Stuff along the lines of not stepping on sidewalk cracks. In this case, it’s not going down steep hills. Or worse, up. So, for example, learning that Stockton Street is closed, damned if I don’t go out of my way to avoid the alternative, Russian Hill. This isn’t efficient. But then I’m not really going anywhere. I’m driving. And I’ll end up somewhere. And the main point of ending up somewhere isn’t in the being, it’s in the parking.

My fears revolve not around what’s happening, but what might happen. Like getting caught in the North Beach one-way street system and finding myself forced to drive up Telegraph Hill. When this doesn’t happen, we find a parking space. Now the day is ours. We wander the beatnik neighborhoods. We have a lunch. And afterwards we have a drive that involves both traffic and hills. I find I can more or less hold my van with the accelerator when stopping for a red light on a steep slope. I find that Trader Joe’s has an accessible parking space on its lower parking level. I find I’m back on Valencia Street, then on my own. I have to reverse into a parking space uphill. An I do, and It’s over. And everything feels like it’s beginning.

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