Sunday, March 14, 2010

Comin' Home

We couldn't have asked for a better day to leave California. It was pouring. Fog shrouded San Francisco, rendering the city invisible from our perch across the bay. The weight of our overstuffed suitcases seemed even heavier as we lugged them up the flight of slippery, rain-soaked stairs. The cats who were unquestionably depressed didn't even bother to protest as we put them in their carriers on the back seat of our rented Kia wagon.

"It's better this way," my husband said as we drove down the steep, winding driveway for the last time.

I'd been thinking the same thing.

Fast forward to a few minutes after arriving home. "I like our house," he said enthusiastically.

I knew it. He wouldn't waste any time finding all kinds of reasons to stay put. The streets are flat; it's better for jogging. The birds are chirping. There is something green trying to grow in our yard. The weather isn't so bad. There were no home invasions while we were gone. There is plenty of salt left to use on the sidewalks next winter. Ugh!

I wanted to scream something about him having no balls but somehow managed to keep quiet. I knew that we'd never be able to pull up stakes and move across the country. I'm destined to live and die in the Midwest.

Stay cool. Be patient. He usually comes around; it just takes time. Or maybe he and I will have rooms of our own during the winter months. He can stay in his beloved home and frolic in the Winter Wonderland. I'll bask in warmer climes, surrounded by Mother Nature in all her glory.

Okay, so our house is lovely. I'll give him that. And there's something about the symmetry of houses placed in a neat row, the same distance from one another. True, the streets are wider and not jammed with cars parked haphazardly as they were in the Berkeley Hills. It's all very neat and orderly here.

But there are no leaves on the trees and no spring flowers blooming. Lake Michigan is cute and all that, but it ain't the Pacific Ocean. You've got to walk twice as far to equal the calories spent on walking up and down hills. And the headaches. The damn headaches. They're back with a vengeance. And now I have to think about the future and what I'm going to do with my life. It was such a pleasure putting everything on hold.

A dear friend in California encouraged me to be patient and to "process." But patience has never been my middle name, and this waiting for the right decision will be the death of me. For now I'll drag both feet and put them down in the here and now. At least I'll try.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Traveler in a Strange Land

Every time we passed the Berkeley Bowl, one or the other of us said, "Maybe we should go bowling." A perfect activity on one of the many rainy days we've grappled with during our stay in Berkeley. And each time, one of us commented, "I haven't been bowling in years!"

The parking lot at the Berkeley Bowl was always jammed. Drivers waited in their cars until a space opened up or drove around the block and then back again. Even on warm, sunny days, both week and weekend, the place was packed. Bowling and Berkeley made strange bed partners, at least in my mind. But, hey, residents of this progressive town have always been ahead of the curve. Apparently, bowling had regained its popularity like so many other recycled pastime activities.

A few days ago, we mentioned to a local that we were thinking of bowling a few games at the Berkeley Bowl. She started to giggle. Okay, the image of two seniors donning bowling shoes, balancing heavy bowling balls, and mightily throwing the balls in hopes of knocking down a few pins was, well, funny. I guess.

She continued to laugh. "What's so funny?" I said, a bit miffed.

The longtime Berkeley resident tried to stifle her laughter by putting a hand over her mouth. The giggles slid out sideways.

I didn't get the joke and found myself getting angry. "Okay, fill us in," I said, unable to hide my growing frustration.

My husband joined in. "Is bowling uncool or something?"

Unable to stop giggling, the loca l- now our nemesis - tried to answer his question. Her answer was unintelligible.

I'd had enough. It's one thing to guffaw at somebody else's expense but quite another to keep up the game.

Now aware of our growing angst, the dear local took her hand away from her mouth and managed to spit out in bits and spurts, "The . . . Berkeley Bowl is . . . a . . ." Here she started to laugh hysterically. "It's a grocery store."

The next day, I checked the place out. Sure enough, our bowling alley was a 40,000-square-foot warehouse-like building with rows and rows of everything that is grown on this green Earth. The speciality here is produce, and the BB boasts the largest selection in northern California. Want green almonds? They're here. Need California red velvet apricots? They've got em'. In fact, the market's Web site boasts that that this is the place for just about any hard-to-find produce item. Bins and bins of nuts, mushrooms, squash, potatoes - the list is endless.

Come to think of it, one of those big purple heads of cabbage would make a great bowling ball.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Our "Amazing Race" Gone Awry

I've always wondered how my husband and I would fare on a race around the world. On the one hand, our wit, travel experience, athleticism, and social skills would put us in good stead. We know how to drive on the wrong side of the road and, between the two of us, can bumble our way through both French and Spanish-speaking countries. Alan's accent for foreign languages is superb; he can pretend to spout Italian or Russian or Chinese without knowing more than a few words and sound as if he's fluent. Well, at least for a few sentences.

On the other hand, it's clear that contestants on the real "Amazing Race" are under tremendous stress. They get lost, lose sleep, sometimes take much too much time to complete a required task. These contestants - young and old, straight and gay, married or dating - all explode at one time or another. Dating couples have decided there is no future for them beyond the show; relatives have expressed extreme frustration, even hatred, that surely dampens their relationships once the race is over.

Well, any questions I had about how well we'd do in such a race were answered yesterday. We'd kill one another. We were on our way to the Marin Headlands just across the Golden Gate Bridge. I'd programmed Ernestine, our dear GPS, but Alan was set on his own route. To confuse things even more, big road sides pointed to yet a third way to the bridge. As navigator I first insisted that we trust Ernestine. But after seeing the signs, I abandoned her and instructed my dear driver to follow the signs. . . smack dab into a traffic jam that showed no signs of letting up any time this year.

The tension began to build. "I knew I should have taken the Embarcadero," Alan said.

"But the signs," I murmured.

The car inched forward.

"We've already wasted a lot of time," he said. "We should just turn around and go home."

I sat quietly, hoping beyond hope that the traffic would break up. It did not.

And then there's a sign instructing all en route to the Golden Gate Bridge to stay in the middle lanes. But with a chance to veer right and make up some lost time, Alan spun out of a middle lane and raced a full block before the light turned red.

"You were supposed to stay in the middle lane," I offered meekly.

"Who says?"

"That sign we just passed."

Alan began a rhythmic pounding on the driver side window as we headed in the wrong direction.
Visions of a glorious hike fizzled like a malfuncitoning firecracker on the Fourth of July.
And then the insults about how I'd intentionally sabataged the afternoon because I "really didn't want to go in the first place" and how I've never been able to own up to my mistakes like the other members of my family and . . .

"I don't like you," I blurted. "You are really mean." God, I had stooped down to the level of a third grader.

"I don't like you, either." (Nah, nah . . . So there!) "And that sure doesn't bode well for us moving across the country."

"You're right," I said, rolling around in the verbal mud.

Where had I gone wrong? I just wanted the best route to the Golden Gate Bridge.

The rhythmic pounding on the window got louder and more forceful. Alan looked like a mad man about ready to do something he'd later come to regret.

Try another tact. I brought up Alan's mia culpa earlier that morning about an episode with a friend and how, instead of judging him, I had listened.

"That's a lie!" he said. "And what does that have to do with this?"

"Because when you admitted having made a mistake, I was able to take a deep breath and not continue to make you feel even worse."

"That's a bunch of crap."

I closed my eyes and silently started to repeat the mantra I'd been given years ago in a transcendental meditation class. Where was the Maharishi when I needed him?

The weather had cleared. It was a perfect afternoon for a hike. And here we were sitting in a rented Ford Focus lost in the middle of San Francisco. Our hike was on the rocks and so, it seemed, was our marriage.

Miraculously, out of the haze and confusion appeared a new sign pointing the way to US 101 North and the Golden Gate Bridge. Cautiously, calmly I suggested that we turn left. Alan followed my directive without saying a word. We drove another five minutes and there, in front of us is all its stunning glory, was the bridge spanning the the city by the bay and Marin County.
The sun danced off the water, sailboats took what wind there was, and hundreds of people strolled or ran the length of the bridge.

I rolled down my window and sucked in the clean California air, hoping that somehow the angst of the past hour would be forgotten in favor of new beginnings. With any fantasies of competing on "The Amazing Race" forever squelched, I now merely hoped that Alan and I could negotiate the ups and downs of our much more banal journey.