A day in the Bay

Saturday, May 30. Henry and I drove Francis up to Berkeley to help him move in. On Friday Henry had gone camping with some friends up at Lizard’s Mouth and he had drunk some beer and walked between the sandstone boulders and stepped into air where he thought there was rock and fallen and caught his ass on a branch of manzanita and scraped a liquid gash on his leg and twisted his left arm with such force that he could not move it without hurting. He spent the night sleepless and dazed beneath the stars in a tent on the sandstone and drove with his friends to Lompoc in the morning. When we arrived they were in the driveway outfitting an old Honda with a suspension lift and he collapsed into the back seat with disheveled hair and a look of exhaustion and his face and his things seemed to glow with the yellow dust of the hills. The blood had caked on the surface of his shin and his arm could hardly move and the manzanita had rent a hole in the back of his polyester mesh shorts that he was now obliged to wear for the rest of the weekend. We said goodbye to his friends and drove out of the neighborhood and saw a deer that lay dead by the side of the road and continued out of the hills to Santa Maria.

On the drive north we saw the same sequence of things that we had seen time and time again on our drives along this road over the years. Long golden lines of summer grass covered the fields and hills and stretches of bright cloudless blue would be broken by rain so strong that it filled the windshield with white water even as we set the wipers rocking at the limit of their speed. The water was fed by the wind which blew against the traffic so the rear window remained dry as we watched the torrents flood the asphalt and heard the clamor of the downpour like the tapping of great fingers on the roof of the car. The vehicles before us became bright orbs of nebulous haze as their tires sent plumes of white spray into the air around them. Amid this the distant firmament would sometimes shine blue, a remark by higher powers on the vastness of the sky.

We stopped in King City to eat the burritos that we had picked up in Goleta and to get gas from the station by the flowering gulch. Then we were on the road again in the land of sun and rain until the corporate suburban landscapes of the Bay engulfed us. We were welcomed by the familiar billboards that advertised arcane marijuana products and startups that would collapse within a year and business solutions for problems that you wouldn’t know could be had unless you had spent too much time in the corporate ladder. After the hour on the 880 we exited at Claremont and drove to Treehaven and were welcomed by the same musty smell that had plagued those corridors for a century.

The apartment was in disarray. There were cheap particle-board tables left a year ago by the tenants before them and a shelving system constructed of aluminum tubing and corrugated plastic and chunks of soil from the plants that it used to support and a flexible vinyl storage bag of polyester bedding and a thermoplastic job fair mug branded with the Walmart logo and cookware and dishware and scattered containers and corn nuts and candy canes and other foods that I forgot people ate and several cubic feet of cooking supplies and cleaning products. We boxed what Francis deemed worth keeping and discarded the rest, a task of a couple hours.

We then got in the car and drove across the Bay Bridge and entered San Francisco and parked by the austere modernist houses on the slopes that surround Twin Peaks. People had tagged the blacktop with protest grafitti and the sun shone on the wild blackberries and locals and tourists were scattered on the trails in the usual Californian casual garb. A Latino family sat silently on a concrete barrier and an Indian family spoke cheerfully in a South Asian language and tech bros rehearsed their usual conversations about cameras and going to the gym. At the peak of the hill we took photos of the view and saw the cars proceed along Market through the skyscrapers toward the sea and watched the helicopters buzzing over the George Floyd protests like black hornets.

Back in the car we drove to the Enjoy Vegetarian in Inner Sunset and ordered four dishes and walked around the block as they cooked it and drove the food to Lafayette Park which was alive with young professionals out to picnic or to walk their dogs. We ate on the stone benches by the dog play area and detoured to the brutalist medical center west of the park and imagined being a dying patient within those colossal walls. As dusk settled we drove to Ina Coolbrith Park and circled a few times in our search for parking and walked to the park to witness the skyscrapers disappear into the mist as the sky blazed pink behind them. The glass walls of the pool of the adjoining luxury apartments gleamed like a gem in the center of the park and the mansions of Russian Hill loomed behind us. We ascended the stairway between those mansions and emerged at the crest in a small luminous glade and in the Vallejo Street cul-de-sac we saw an ancient European sedan and a massive gothic lantern and a balcony populated with exotic rushes and on our way back down we saw a Buddha statue in the cavernous window bay above the entrance of a house. We then drove back to Berkeley in the night and collapsed in fitful sleep.

June 2020