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Posts Tagged ‘San Francisco’

It was New Years Eve eve, and I had just one passenger left: a short run across town in Oakland that required a 45-minute logjam getting to the Bay Bridge from San Francisco’s Sea Cliff neighborhood.

Then that passenger was transferred to another driver, and I would no longer be subjected to the prolonged frustrations of getting to the Bay Bridge along with those that would use dying lanes to cut in front of hundreds. I would, though, have at least four hours added to my shift by bringing a passenger to southeast of Placerville in the Sierra foothills.

I didn’t mind. Places I haven’t been are always an adventure, and my passenger proved to be very good company. He had just finished his third dose of chemotherapy with another three to go in the coming weeks. It was a brain tumor that had previously been arrested years before.

In his late ’60s, he had been a successful lawyer, a partner in a firm that fought insurance companies. He was a particularly formidable foe, in that for years he had worded for insurance companies. He knew their angles, the framework of their methods of getting what they wanted which always ended with individuals missing out on what they deserved.

Then one day in 2009 he drove off the road. A brain seizure left him going straight when Highway 50 curved gently to the left. He went down a 20-foot embankment and hit a tree that probably kept him from visiting a business without using the designated entrances.

He didn’t wake up for eight hours. And when he was conscious he found out that he’d never drive again. The threat of seizures ended his driving privileges. And he loved to drive; he had had plenty of cars that were guaranteed to deliver copious amounts of adrenaline if asked. There was his split-window ’63 Corvette. A Sunbeam Tiger, a tiny sports car with a big V-8 wedged into it like a Shelby Cobra only smaller. And less manageable. His last high-performance car was an all-wheel-drive, turbocharged Dodge Stealth. It ruptured an oil line in Garberville, in redwoods country along the Eel River, a good 70 miles from anyone with the expertise and parts to fix it.

A lawyer without a driver’s license, or the means for a perpetual chauffeur, is like a pool hustler missing a hand. He retired, and his firm of 50 that he shared with a half-dozen partners imploded. Being right in the middle of a relocation, holding an expiring lease, probably helped make the decision easier.

Outside of the subject of cars, we talked about a lot. He used to ski at Stow, Vermont and raced at the same time on the mountain as Billy Kidd, one of America’s first skiing sensations on the international scene. We reminisced about skiing’s heroes of old, Franz Klammer, Pirmin Zurbriggen, and Herman Maier, and the amazement of witnessing their skills on ESPN back when they readily broadcast World Cup ski racing.

We talked about politics, with much in common. He was liberal too, in most ways except regarding gun restrictions. He was wary of the corporate control of the Republican Party, and didn’t want to see AK-47s banned because he saw that as being his last defense against a government that he saw that, in the wrong hands, would be more than willing to take away any remaining freedoms by force.

I understood his sentiment. And I voiced my take. As a liberal and a pacifist, I loath AK-47s and what they represent in our society: a pathway to indiscriminate killing. But on the other hand, I do understand the “second amendment” cries, particularly in light of my passenger’s perspective. But I do not see any logical reason for clips that can carry 30 rounds or more. The only place I can see these weapons used is on a shooting range, and limiting clips to 15 rounds isn’t that much of a hardship. Forcing gun enthusiasts to take a few seconds to change clips is a reasonable restriction, when the alternative is more people being killed on deadly days which are happening more and more frequently. And then I also floated the notion of putting serial numbers inside every single shell, which was an angle he hadn’t considered that made total sense to him.

Of course the NRA wouldn’t allow that to happen. That begs the question of what possible downside could there be for that action. And of course there is only one: ammo and gun manufacturers might see a slight decrease in sales. It’s a pity that change for the better always is clipped by the needs of a few to make just a tiny bit more money. The social benefits of being able to trace the original owners of every bullet don’t stand a chance against bloated profits these days.

When we finally got to the two-lane roads, the drive took on an entertaining rhythm. Like a slalom skier on a bunny slope, we dipped and swung through the night. Within a couple miles of his home, he started to tell me of a particularly senseless tragedy involving the roadway ahead.

Bad judgement and worse luck combined for fatal consequences. A 17-year-old boy was rip-roaring drunk at a party about a mile from his house. The good news: at least he didn’t drive home. The bad news: he attempted to walk home alone, dressed entirely in black. A couple hundred yards from his bedroom he passed out. He ended up in the middle of the road at a corner. A driver came down the hill as the road dipped then swung uphill to the right, and the darkened shape caught him by surprise.

Right then we came to the scene, with a wreath and weathered pictures, bows, and flowers attached to a tree across the road from the spot where a young life ended. It had happened a year ago. And no one ever gets a chance to forget.

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From the moment I reached the San Francisco County line on the Golden Gate Bridge, the fog was dense and consistent. There would be no trace of sun for six hours, until I reached that spot again. My destination, the VA hospital at Fort Miley above the Cliff House, would be in perpetual and chilling gray all day.

My last passenger would be a woman in the women’s naval corps during Korea. Her health had taken a turn a few years back, and now she was frail with hands so unsteady that she needed to rest one hand on the other’s wrist while she used the joy stick to guide her motorized wheelchair. It was one of the deluxe models, with six wheels – the big ones being the two in the center so it could pivot in place. It could recline, raise her up, and dip at the front for when she needed to get off of it.

Her eyes were bright and belied her physical status. We would have a lot to talk about en route, but first we headed south near where 280 and 19th Avenue merge to drop off my only other passenger, a dialysis patient that I see a lot of. He was trying to ween himself off of his wheelchair, and chose to use the steps rather than the lift to get off. His daughter who greeted him, herself in her 50s, was as always apprehensive about his risky choice. But getting back to a vertical routine for him was important on many levels, and she had to go with it.

After a surprisingly quick traverse of 19th Avenue heading north to Yountville and the VA’s retirement home in the Napa Valley, we were getting onto the Golden Gate in seemingly relentless monochrome. I told her that half way across that would all change, and sure enough it did.

A small pocket of clarity appeared to our lower right, providing a momentary glimpse of part of Angel Island bathed in gold with a sliver of bay behind it. It quickly disappeared. Scarce tourists huddled together on the walkway. Hopefully they hadn’t given up too soon, because they were only 100 yards from an incredible show.

Just before reaching the north tower, the world opened up in staggering fashion. To our left, the fog was being pushed along the steep contours of the northern mouth of the bay. It curved around a nearly vertical ridge and thrust out at us, dissipating quickly like a ghost in the night.

Beyond the tower, we were able to look steeply up at the fog tumbling down ferociously towards us, it’s very crest lit by the low sun. My passenger had her chair in full recline, so she had the optimum vantage point and enough glass above her to see it all.

As we approached the ridge cut in half leading to the Waldo Tunnel, the fog was even faster as it thrust downward, staying less than 30 feet from the dried grass and scrub brush it rushed over. When it reached that cut in the hills it swirled up again, twisting and expanding, looking like cotton candy in its moment of creation. Seconds later we were again in the thick of it – literally.

It was easy to pick out the one tourist on the road. He slowed down to 40 while all the Marin County commuters kept it at 60 heading for the tunnel.

Halfway through it the fog was gone, with sunlit homes along a high ridge in Sausalito visible through the end of it. The two curves at the other side prevented any wandering eyes for me, and the by crest and the overpass to Wolfback Ridge Road all traces of fog were nearly gone. The ridges were too high, and the fog hadn’t welled up behind them enough to get to that point near the crest where clumps get caught in the wind and get thrown over the side.

It had been a whirlwind of motion and awe that lasted about a minute. But I can close my eyes right now and relive that moment when white frosting flowed over dark shadow, lunging towards us like a child ready to reach for his daddy.

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