Valencia Street

These days are bitter with anticipation. Things are not quite falling apart…but their disintegration is imminent. And, of course, the simplest things are fraught. Time to change the oil in my car? Time, indeed. Note that the Dodge Grand Caravan does not have much grandeur by way of mileage. We’re talking 9600 miles, or slightly less. And, if you want to know, the oil has been changed once already. Why a second time? Why, if the oil-change cycle is 10,000 miles?

Because paranoia, wanting a better intelligence-gathering network, will have to do. Especially since Jane and I are on the brink of an extremely rare, not to mention unprecedented, road trip. And road trips are all the rage. Road rage is also all the rage, But never mind. We are headed for Carson Pass. Kit Carson headed there a long time ago. Then having made his fortune, retired and developed boutique mustards. He named a city after himself, and Nevada thought it would make a good capitol. So there you have it.

So how to celebrate our journey on Highway 88 except with an oil change? With several days to go, off I went. My helper Dennis road shotgun. The idea was that at the Valencia-and-24th Shell station Dennis would hop out and deal with the pump. No need, for as soon as I pulled in the station manager appeared with a promise to not only fuel my car himself, but dispatch his Shell minions to clean my van windows.

After careful web research, I had planned to drive on, deeper into the Mission District, turning right into Shotwell Street and then into the A-1 Oil Change. I eyeballed the latter on screen. An old garage with new signage. A narrow doorway. And then what? Cars up on lifts getting their lubricants drained and infused? Probably. And then the imagined story grew murky. What if they thought they would drive my van (sans driver’s seat) onto a lift? Impossible, of course. At which point I would have to reverse out of the garage and into Shotwell Street. Doubtless blocking traffic, cars honking. And my oil unchanged.

But I wasn’t anywhere near Shotwell Street, I was right where I had expected to be, Valencia Street, and with the proprietor’s welcome so warm, damned if I didn’t seize the vehicular moment. Could these guys change my oil? Right then and there. No appointment. Some internal garage chitchat ensued while I paid for my 10 gallons of regular. And the answer was yes.

I get by with a little help from my friends. And Ringo was right, for my friends at Shell Valencia were already motioning me up the hill. Up what hill, you ask. The hill that led to the garage, of course. This is San Francisco. Trust me. You cannot get from A to B without a hill. So, okay, a little incline, then a narrow door…but this Mexican-American guy inspired so much confidence that I did as he said, turning the wheel this way, then that. He seemed a little confused when I stopped.

I was a little confused myself. Thing is, I wasn’t confident of my ability to control the car’s speed in an even way. Erring on the side of caution, I let myself slip slightly backwards. Then tried again. Eventually starting up the steel incline and onto the lift. Where much the same thing repeated itself. I would get the front tires up the incline. Then to control speed, stop…and slide back. The garage guy pointed out the large parabolic mirror hanging in front of me. It was a help. But he was more of a help. Especially after I muttered that my reactions were slow. No problem, he said. While I was saying to myself hey, big problem but no matter.

And there I was, ascending on this whooshing hydraulic platform, soon getting a view of the garage’s upper storage shelves. To fly my Dodge this high and find nothing but antifreeze and paper towels…it seemed a little anticlimactic. Whatever. Soon I was descending.

Back on the ground a lot was happening. Much of which had to do with help, vulnerability and danger. So why not up the ante…up the hill, the steepest part of 24th Street? I avoid this run, but not now. In fact I was barreling uphill until a UPS truck threw on its emergency flashers at the most vertical section of the street, which would force me to stop…but not quite, because the driver pulled hard to the right, I steered to the left, and damned if I wasn’t through the crossing at the top of the hill, right through Dolores Street. And into my past. Noe Valley where I lived during graduate school. And where I return to get the occasional cappuccino. With a little help from my friends, Including the strangers.

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