You get it near the airport. There’s a part of Laurel Street where the ground vanishes like the edge of a pre-narcoterrorist Baja hotel pool. Somehow there’s pavement under your tires, but you don’t see how. You certainly don’t feel it. Ahead of you, way below, the Lindbergh Field tarmac unfolds. You’re flying, en route to flying. Or to picking up someone currently approaching the dreaded too-tall FAA-disapproved parking structure.
Bachman Drive, near UCSD Medical Center, is another big hill. Of course I called it Bachman-Turner-Overdrive when I took it regularly. It’s a way to avoid the freeway.
And Texas Street. Texas Street is a biggie. Steep and long, from Mission Valley to North Park, curved like nightmare scoliosis.
In my NYC salad days, I somehow stopped driving cars. No alternate-side-of-the-street parking for me. We didn’t own a car. We owned bikes and tokens. So when we moved to Daygo, I had to drive.
We borrowed a Chevy Citation from M.’s dear grandfather (truly of blessed memory in my book). Pulling the emergency brake meant tugging a bent wire hanger. In hindsight, it was ideal. I was a rusty driver; it was a rusty car, as rusted as old cars get in SoCal. Many sad conversations and fights and anxiety attacks (mine) occurred in that car. I was scared to drive. Freeway driving seemed insane. To willingly enter a mosh pit of death, encased in discolored steel, with zero idea of what I was doing? I was neurotic, sure. But suicidal? And homicidal?
I got behind the wheel and did my best. I lacked mass transit and the ability to merge, accelerate and change lines like a crank-fueled contra dance. So I learned surface streets. Hence Bachman-Turner-Overdrive. And Texas Street.
After a few months of spray-firing my resume at San Diego’s sole publishing house, the former Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (AKA HBJ), I took a job at a Jewish non-profit situated in Mission Valley. To get there meant a white-knuckled drive down and up Texas Street.
It was one lane downhill, two lanes up. In the queue of cars, waiting for my turn to nose the Citation over the edge, I felt terror. Like a snow bunny atop a black diamond trail, nowhere to go but down. Twice a day, terrified. Remembering this hurts. I can’t believe I was so scared.
Making my way down, scuffed Clergerie riding the brake, each metallic groan and squeak and shake of the car splashed me in adrenaline.
Of course it wasn’t about the car.
Eventually I employed my own form of immersion therapy. Personal pride, dignity, necessity, and the fact that I couldn’t take the panic led me to a driving school. Two lessons, and bam. I love to drive. I do it fairly well. Too fearlessly, some say.
To get home last night, I drove down Texas Street. It’s a quick way to reach the 8. I pointed my car down, swish-swish-swish, popped a mint in my mouth, made the light, and vroomed home, happy.
It’s a thoroughfare. Seventeen years ago, to me, it symbolized everything painful and wrong.
I moved here on Bastille Day in 1993, with someone I adored — how could I not? pouty, razor smart, wondrous with words and fresh ginger, the heady bouquet of secret tattoo and black-leather-strapped holy phylacteries, Church’s English Shoes and the best button-front 501s this side of Deadwood — and despised. How could I not? He instigated that whither-thou-goest scenario so long ago. I did not want to leave New York.
Nor did I want to leave him. I was a Zabars-shopping wife. I knew what I knew: Penn Station, Shakespeare and Company, mousse truffee for my carnivore guests, seeded semolina bread, diner coffee in the Greek cardboard cup, Barneys in Chelsea, clomping up and down subway steps in my black tights and Robert Clergeries with a square toe box. And I really did love M. In truth I was too young to be anyone’s wife. My husband wanted to leave, so I left with him. And then made his life miserable. He wasn’t a mensch either. The whole thing tanked, spectacularly. Then I was his wife no longer.
Today we text each other in traffic on highways 3000 miles apart.
It takes time and redemption and forgiveness, as I told a neat new friend last night. Sad memories and happy memories can co-exist. One doesn’t negate or dominate the other. It’s like balsamic vinegar and olive oil served together, yin-yang style, in the same dish. A lovely presentation. You dunk your bread and you get both.