…Think of a chance encounter you’ve had with a person you didn’t know…through this meeting, tell us what you learned — about yourself, or the other person. —WordPress: The Daily Post
It was 3:30 pm on a Friday and the work week was over. Fast Eddie and I walked up the ramp of the underground parking garage of the Transamerica Pyramid.
“Where are you headin’ to this afternoon, Al?”
“A North Beach walkabout. I’m going to stop by City Lights and see what books are on sale.” We stood on the sidewalk alongside Clay Street. “Wanna join me?”
“I’m tempted, but me and the wife are going out to look at bedroom furniture when I get home tonight.”
The sound of screeching tires and the roar of a high-performance engine behind us was a reminder that we were blocking the exit. We hurried out of the way of a shiny black Turbo Porsche. The driver of the car did not slow down, or stop, before turning left in front of oncoming traffic.
“What an asshole. Good thing the guy in that Plymouth stopped in time.”
Eddie laughed, “Did you see the license plate frame on the back of that rig? Life begins at 165. That fucking guy.”
“Prob’ly a broker.”
“Or a lawyer.”
“Have a good weekend. I gotta go catch BART.”
“Good luck with the furniture. See you Monday.”
Fast Eddie headed south toward the Montgomery Street Transit Station. I turned and walked in the opposite direction, through the grove of Redwood trees at the base of the Pyramid.
Groups of tourists sat on benches. Small children pointed and laughed at the jumping frog sculpture in the pond of the large fountain. Redwood Park is a calm oasis in the hustle and bustle of a busy city.
I crossed Washington and headed up Hotaling Alley past one of our favorite spots for lunch, the Hotaling Cafe. Soup and a sandwich plus a beverage for under five bucks. A deal of a meal, especially on a cold Winter’s day in July.
“If, as they say, God spanked the town for being over-frisky, why did He burn His churches down and spare Hotaling’s whiskey?”
I loved to walk through the North Beach area of the city after work on Fridays. Narrow streets and alleys lined with brick buildings and topped off by a blue sky served as portals through Time. Old iron hitching posts remain to speak of another era. One without expensive German sports cars.
Turning left turn onto Jackson opened up my view of the the sky. The street was wider, the horizon more distant than a block away. I headed across Montgomery toward Columbus Avenue. City Lights Booksellers was two blocks away, just below Broadway.
Co-founded by Lawrence Ferlinghetti in 1953, City Lights Booksellers is a mecca for writers and readers alike. It is a combination independent bookstore-publisher that specializes in progressive politics and world literature.
A block later it occurred to me that I might want to make the bookstore my last stop of the day. Any books I purchased would have to be carried a dozen blocks to the Ferry Building and I had no desire to imitate a sherpa.
Clown Alley was on the corner to my left where Jackson intersects Columbus. I debated going in and sitting down for a snack, but opted to head over to Kearny Street and put temptation behind me. It was time for a bit of exercise and the gradual incline for the next two blocks would get my cardio system pumping.
I caught my breath standing across the street from Enrico’s at the red light on Broadway. The next challenge was going to be “the steps”. Two staircases line a steep one-block section of Kearny Street above Broadway. It may well be the infamous “Stairway To Heaven” that we heard so much about in the ‘70s.
The traffic light turned green and I crossed the street and headed for the stairs. A trash can on the corner had message scrawled on it for all to see: Lobotomies for Republicans—It’s the Law! What can I say, welcome to the Left Coast.
I made my way up the 8-story high hill, pausing now and again to take in the views of the city. I looked at the top of the Pyramid, to my left, and the Bank of America headquarters straight ahead. I tried to imagine the view as it was 100 years before. What was it like? How much of that sense of Time and Place remain here today?
I wasn’t blessed to be born in the Bay Area, but I made the choice to live and work here. Envisioning the Past gives me a sense of how we got to the present moment. I guess you could say that I have more of a sense of “longing” than “belonging”. It is at times like this that I feel more like a traveller through Time than a resident of any particular geographical home base.
Vallejo Street is at the top of Kearny and the good news for me was that it was all downhill from here. Two blocks down to Grant Ave would put me a half a block from City Lights. I could then follow Columbus to Washington and head east to the Embarcadero and catch the 5:20 PM Golden Gate Ferry home to Marin County.
At the bottom of Vallejo I decided to stop at Cafe Trieste and enjoy a great cup of Italian Roast coffee. As I walked towards the entrance of the cafe I heard what sounded like a side of beef dropped through a lawn chair.
I looked to my left and saw a tangle of aluminum crutches, arms, and legs. A man was lying facedown in the middle of the street less than 25 yards from where I stood. I ran toward him.
“Uuughhh. Mmphhutt.” His cries were incoherent and muffled.
As I approached the man I spotted movement out of the corner of my left eye. A woman ran out of the doorway of a bar and knelt down beside him.
“It’s okay, it’s okay. You’re gonna be alright, mister.” She looked up at me, “He’s gonna be okay. I’m gonna help him. He’s gonna be alright.”
Greasy black hair hung down past his shoulders and I could see that he had a bushy beard around the sides of his head.
“Yer blocking the Space Shuttle. Get up.” What was she talking about? The woman was pointing to her right as she talked. “C’mon, it’s trying to land but yer on the runway.”
I looked up and to her right and saw a stopped mini-van with a sign across the front, SHUTTLE. It was one of those Fords that had a profile like the spacecraft, only this one traveled between the city and the airport.
“Oooohhh, ooooowww.” He was trying to roll onto his left side, but it was a painful ordeal.
“Yeah, that’s it, mister. Roll over. Lemme help you, there. It’s gonna be okay.” The Guardian Angel seemed to be inflicting more pain than comfort.
“Ma’am? Excuse me, ma’am? Maybe we shouldn’t move him just yet.”
The Angel focused her gaze on me. Two blue eyes the color of a propane flame bore into me. “Listen here, buddy, I GOT THIS. Get it?”
I placed her age as mid-to-late-forties. She was a smaller, blonde, more frail version of the man on the ground before her. The term “crazy strong” came to mind—I heard it from a cop buddy one time—I was focused on the crazy part.
“Yes, ma’am. I’ve got it.” I took a step backwards. “I’ll be over here. If I can help at all just let me know.”
She clenched her teeth and worked her jaw from side to side. A darkness seemed to come over her. “Igothtisundercontrol. Getthefuckawayandlemmehandleit.”
A crowd was forming as the bar emptied out. I raised both hands, fingers spread, and took another step back. “Go ahead and help him.”
Satisfied that I was no longer involved, the Guardian Angel used her arms and knees to roll the injured man onto his back. “Mister, mister. Hey, buddy.” She pushed his hair off of his face and got a good look at him. “Hey, it’s you. You owe me ten bucks!”
“Whaaat?” Blood was flowing from an abrasion on the man’s forehead.
“Don’t play dumb with me.”
“I….I…I’m, I’m not…”
She grabbed two handfuls of the front of his battered T-shirt. “Pay up sucker! Nobody takes Suzie for a chump. Nobody does, ya hear me?”
At this point Suzie was joined by two large men who got the man up and carried him into the open door of the bar. A young lady walked over to me and said, “I work over there. He’s a regular. We’ll take care of him.”
“What about her?”
“Suzie? She’s a regular, too. We’ll keep an eye on her, don’t worry.”
“Good luck with that.”
“Thanks. It’s all in a day’s work.”
I decided to put some distance between me and the drama in the street. I headed straight for the Ferry and made use of the extra time by writing about this encounter in a notebook that I carried in my tote bag. And that’s where the story stayed for the next 24 years.
In January of 2015 I was participating in a flash fiction challenge sponsored by Bruce over at the Bookshelf Gargoyle Blog. Once a month Bruce comes up with a prompt for a 50-word story and for some reason I chose to find a way to tell the previous tale in installments. Click here to read that version.
If Time is indeed circular, as some believe, then it has come around again much faster for this story to be retold. The subject of Chance has me thinking, how random is Chance? Is it like Success, where opportunity meets preparation? Is it Pre-ordained, as in all the right things are happening—everything is exactly the way it’s supposed to be?
Existential questions with no clear answers. There is nothing like a nice long walk to help clear your mind for new ideas.
I’ll see you around,