Friday, January 8, 2010

Getting From Here to There

I have no reason to believe I was late to walking, and as best I can recall mastered the tricycle pretty quickly too. The trouble started when it got to be bicycle time. My bike (that which my dad, posing as me, had won in the ThriftiMart coloring contest) was too big for me, and thus intimidating, and my remarkable lack of equilibrium unveiled itself with a flourish. Nearly 50 years later, a videotape of the Ministry of Humour’s final performance in London would show me, sober as a judge, nearly falling off stage at one point while doing my best to remain still.

I was well into my ninth year before I figured out that one propelling himself forward on a bicycle with sufficient gusto is unlikely to fall over. Once having done so, what an avid cyclist I became. I pedaled back and forth each day to Orville Wright Junior High School as I entered puberty, and my calf muscles, which I still have, went BOING! I gave it up only on realizing that the cool kids all tempted fate by hitchhiking.

I thought I would never get my driver’s license. Trying to parallel-park the family Buick Le Sabre was approximately like trying to parallel-park an aircraft carrier. At my second failed test, I huffed and puffed and dripped sweat trying to achieve exactly the right angle at which to back in until the examiner asked with a chuckle if I didn’t think I’d better turn the engine back on; I’d no idea I’d stalled. I finally passed, barely, on my third try, which I had the perspicacity to take the day before Xmas.

The first time my parents let me take the Buick out alone, I drove up to a playground in Pacific Palisades to hit tennis balls against a wall. Leaving, I managed to leave a big dent in the car beside me, but beat a hasty retreat, a karmic miscalculation that would result in lots of fellow motorists damaging my own cars — successively, a VW microbus, a Porsche Super 90, an Austin Marina, a Renault LeCar (my favorite of the lot!), a Toyota Corolla, a Toyota Camry, and the present Subaru Forester — over the years, and leaving no notes.

I’ve never been in a bad accident, but oh, have I come close. Shortly after the Pacific Palisades tennis episode, on a then-lonely stretch of Pacific Coast Highway north of Malibu Canyon, it occurred to me that it would be hugely droll to pull up alongside and then remain right beside another car at 70 miles per hour. If I’d noticed a millisecond later that someone was stopped up ahead in my lane, waiting to make a U-turn, someone else would be delighting you with these reminiscences.

A dozen years later, my band The Pits rehearsed out in Calabasas. One afternoon, speeding thither in the fast (diamond!) lane of the Ventura Freeway, I got into an animated dispute with one of my passengers, either bass player R. d’Andrea or girlfriend M—, only to realize that everyone had suddenly stopped ahead of us. Between my stomping the brake pedal and our coming to rest approximately a centimeter behind the plumber’s van ahead of us, I relived my entire life to that point, and not pleasurably.

I picked up my daughter one Friday night in Santa Rosa in 1996, and was driving her home to San Francisco in Nancy’s Toyota MR2 when it began to rain vengefully in Marin County. At the foot of the Waldo Grade (leading up to the Rainbow Tunnel and then the Golden Gate Bridge), we hydroplaned into a 540-degree spin, winding up facing oncoming traffic in Highway 101’s fast lane. Attention, adrenals: Secrete! Secrete! Shaking like, you know, a leaf, I somehow got us turned around and over to the shoulder of the freeway, where I observed that God seemed to have plans for us. My daughter would reportedly go on to become a born-again Christian, I to compose and record Sorry We’re Open. Product placement!

When I’d begun courting Leslie, who would become my first wife and Brigitte’s mom, she lived in Santa Monica and I in one of the upstairs bedrooms of an art hovel on the western edge of LA’s Koreatown. With calf muscles all a-bulge, I would pedal my bicycle 12 miles down Wilshire Blvd., commonly enjoying music on my Walkman (The Clash, for instance) that I have never been able to enjoy while stationery.

Flying terrifies me, but my fear never keeps me off the plane.

[Hear Sorry We're Open here! Facebookers: Read more All In Tents and Porpoises essays and subscribe here.]

1 comment:

  1. I rode a bicycle until I was 23 and working in downtown Baltimore. Flying down Charles Street was exhiliarating in the morning, but the traffic and trudge uphill at night was scary and exhausting. So, I inherited my father's 1965 Pontiac Executive - an 8 cylinder dream car. Even now, I can't believe I drove that boat from one adventure to another with my car cat, Max. Two years later, it just stopped dead in the Poconos - victim of my then impractical nature. I didn't know that you had to change a car's oil even once in a while! From that point forward, only small cars and big airplanes were in my future.

    I, too, am afraid of flying, but I have flown all my life, and aviation pioneers capture my imagination. (My father tells of meeting Charles Lindberg when he landed a small plane near our home in Pennsylvania - after Paris!) when Joan Didion wrote in The Year of Magical Thinking "that the most beautiful things I had ever seen had all been seen from airplanes." I realized that's one reason I force myself to get on planes AND look out the window. Between high school and college I worked in East Africa. We flew in past the pyramids and down the Nile; then back to sunrise sparkling New York City which remains to this day the most beautiful sight ever to my traveler's eyes.