Those of us who live on the islands resist gong Over The Bridge unless absolutely necessary. We’ll take 12 to 5 and comb the outer limits of Stockton’s shopping district for what we need. We troll Amazon, upping our searches at the midnight hour, convinced that We Can Find It Online. We drive our friends crazy asking about hairdressers, doctors, restaurants, and grocery stores in Lodi, Fairfield or even — gasp — Sacramento.
Eventually, inevitably, we drag through the bottom of our bags for dollars to pay the toll on the way back from Brentwood. Then we head out Twitchell Island Road (only a tourist takes the 90 degree angle; the rest of us cut across the middle). We hang a left at the river and make our way to the Antioch Bridge and the commercial quagmire which tells us that we’ve begrudgingly left the Delta.
I made the journey yesterday, though after two-and-a-half years, I’ve finally bitten the FasTrak bullet since the pandemic has taken away our toll booth operators. I sailed through a bank of lingering smoke and landed on 4-East, then Balfour Road, and finally in the parking lot of the John Muir medical complex where I met my latest Nazi Physical Therapists.
I had my temperature thermally gauged and gained admission upon a flashing green analog announcement that I had PASSED PASSED PASSED. I proffered my newly minted Medicare Supplement Card and took a socially distant chair after smiling behind a fresh disposable mask at the young lady protected by the Plexi-glass counter shield. Fifteen minutes later, I settled in front of a slew of measuring gadgets. As she gently encouraged me, I strained to prove that I could squeeze clay as well as the average sixty-five-year-old, which it turns out that I cannot.
After an hour with the Handmaiden, I got deposited in Room Two (In Use For Patient Consultation, Do Not Enter) where a man of indeterminate age behind a space-age face shield asked me what my goals for physical therapy might be. He put me through the paces that I’ve come to know so well before gently asking, Now, Can You Stand From That Chair Without Using Your Hands?
Well, no. But in all fairness, I never could. His eyes looked sad above the cloth covering what I gathered must be a frown. Then he uttered a phrase that I dread every time I go through one of these new patient evaluations: Will you let me see you walk?
Three hours after my car had descended on the Brentwood side of the Bridge, I started the climb towards home. I texted Louis, the young Frenchman who lives with his husband Helix in my tiny house community. I’d arranged for him to help me with some chores beyond my strength. “Almost home”, I typed, while waiting for one-way traffic to let me over the Three Mile Slough Bridge. I turned onto the western end of Twitchell Island Road just as the you-need-gas-woman icon flashed. I grinned. Them’s fighting words, I muttered, and set the pedal to coast.
A couple of hours later, Louis and I drove into Rio Vista to get sand for my front walk, take the car to the self-serve car wash, and fill the tank. While there, Louis fixed my fussy gas cap door after exclaiming over the inconvenience of the two-person-and-a-flathead-screwdriver method which a kind stranger had devised the first time it failed to open. Louis grinned as he demonstrated its restored functionality. When he resumed the driver seat, he noted that the tank took 15 gallons. I laughed at my daring but accurate assessment of How Far I Can Drive After The First Glimpse of the Warning Light. We headed home through the ashy air, back to the twelve-acre park where I’ve rented a room at the Happiness Hotel, Come On In, We’re Glad You Finally Made It.
It’s the twelfth day of the ninety-first month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.