The first time I crossed the San Mateo Bridge headed west, my car’s blue tooth automatically answered the phone just as I reached the peak of the expanse. My hands gripped the wheel. I willed my eyes forward. The voice of a man with whom I had had a short and undefined relationship broke the steely silence.
How much will you pay to ship these items you want, he demanded to know.
I can’t talk right now, I gasped. I’m flying.
I hit the red button on the dash to cut the call and wrenched the wheel back to the middle of the lane just as a semi blared its horn to pass. Beyond the cables, a wide ripple of the water skimmed away, towards the City, towards the Golden Gate and then, ever westward to the sea.
Today I crossed that bridge again. As I passed the unstaffed toll gate and ticked the electronic tally, I spied a big ship making its way from some dock towards the underside of the bridge. The freighters look massive churning down the San Joaquin; here the waters dwarf their girth. At home, from the levee road, I can snap a cell phone shot or a few minutes of video as the heavy vessels chug by our marina. Their massive decks fill my viewfinder. From the San Mateo Bridge, the boats look like a child’s bath toy.
At the pinnacle of the expanse, I glanced to my right. The great stretch of water kept its silent counsel. Then my descent began, and without warning I found myself safely slowing to exit on the other side. The steady thrum of northbound traffic on the 101 rose into the evening air to my left. The urban sprawl spanned out across the peninsula to my right. I guided my car into the orderly flow of rush hour’s steady stream as though my normal commute includes all these swiftly moving vehicles instead of complacently grazing sheep on a levee embankment.
Much has changed in the four years between my first trip across that bridge and this evening’s hotel stay before tomorrow’s appointment with a neuro-surgeon. I’ve gained twenty pounds, for starters. My grey hair curls more tightly and protests the barrage of chemicals with which I strive to turn back time. I travel more lightly these days, with an Italian leather backpack, my laptop, one wool shift, and a pair of cotton leggings. This trip could probably have been done by video if I had insisted. But this surgeon and I share a name with only one letter’s difference, a fact she called to my attention at our first virtual meeting. That seems enough justification to accept her invitation for a personal conference.
So I will try to sleep despite the unfamiliar sounds of nightlife outside my window and the patter of feet above me. In the morning, I will do some stretches and load my muscles with too much over-the-counter Naprosyn. I’ll grouse around the complementary continental breakfast, then make my way down El Camino Boulevard to Palo Alto, don a regulation mask, and sign myself into the Neuro-Science waiting room. By and by, a cheerful patient tech will come to take my vitals, and I will assure him, her, or them of my continued existence. They will smile but nonetheless demand proof of life, which I will obligingly provide.
It’s the fourth day of the one-hundred and first month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.