It is not unlike casting off, the beginning of another automotive voyage, backing onto the cracking expanse of concrete that is my suburban driveway. I manage to clear the oleanders without scratching my van another time. And we are off, Jane and I and the Dodge.
Yes, I know that some people long for the open road. And perhaps for them the road does open. For me, it threatens to close at every turning. Is it the road to San Francisco or the road to ruin? There is only one way to know.
At the same time, balancing the negative, there is the small yellow triangle that intermittently appears on either wing mirror. Warning of a car in my blind spot. This is a boon to driving. I am quickly becoming reliant on this feature. One of those other surprises that can come in life. Reminder to take chances. A reminder to take the car out, as I am doing now.
It all goes swimmingly until I am in the tight parking confines of our architect’s office building in a post-industrial neighborhood of San Francisco. A small paved courtyard behind can accommodate five or six cars. Or one van. This becomes apparent only when I have driven under the porte-cochère and find myself at an automotive dead-end. No, it’s not really that dramatic. It’s just that the habitués of this building are used to jostling smallish Japanese cars in and out of limited spaces. And my van is unlimited, boundaries poorly defined. I can’t imagine what I’m going to do here.
Fortunately, Jane runs inside and finds out. We commence backing and forthing, me following hand signals with a mixture of appreciation and resentment. Surely, some day I will be able to drive this car myself. Even park it. For now, I am utterly reliant upon help.
Almond croissants are better in San Francisco. Trust me. The small café at the corner produces a rather splendid one, and although Jane and I do not have time to linger, the experience nourishes more than my stomach. It’s one of those slightly funky neighborhood places, pleasantly roughhewn, with excellent coffee and…well, you have already heard about the croissant. We buy coffees here, and in the best Jane tradition…one I share…we get coffee for the architects too. It’s all of 10 meters down the road, but far enough for Jane to have to stop, readjust the hot cups, before we enter the office.
What transpires next is not unlike driving. The terrain is unknown. The feel is like Interstate 280 northbound around Milbrae, a place where the motorway slopes down from the hills and into the urban flatlands. For reasons that are unclear, inevitably I feel that my car is going out of control, accelerating more than I can counteract with brakes. Which I barely trust. Why don’t brakes break? Legs break, that is a known fact. Having only a single one, can I really place my entire life in this neuromuscularly compromised limb? Out on a limb, as it were.
Later that afternoon, post-sushi, I head home. Or consider heading home. For much of the same process now unfolds in reverse. First, I must extricate myself from a parking space. This is not without precedent, but it will take some fortification. So I head for Bernie’s Coffee and order a double macchiato. Somehow, even this is fraught. I heavily tip the barista and ask her to transport both my coffee and rugelach to a distant table. Somehow, I am in the way, taking up space here, demanding too much of the staff. It’s one of those days. Everything seems tentative. I am tentative.
As for the parking space extraction, again, technology comes to the rescue. The video screen that illuminates as soon as the Dodge goes into reverse…well, it makes all the difference. It provides both an image and a series of accelerating bells. The latter chime aggressively as I near the Toyota behind me. Splendid, I am out of room. I drive forward, decide I will not clear the Ford pickup in front of me. Reverse again, bells clanging. Then I am out of there.
On Dolores Street, nearing the crest of a hill, I slow to a creep. This is one of the interesting challenges of driving a hilly city with one foot. On a steep slope, holding the car with the brake really is not an option. By the time one’s compromised leg has shifted from brake to accelerator, the car has also shifted, i.e., begun to roll backwards downhill. This did not happen. But I could feel the possibility. And feeling the possibility…that is what this day in a disabled life has been about.