Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Sort of Perpetual Muddling Through

I wish I could take credit for the lugubrious line that titles this blog post, but it isn't mine--it's E. B. White's. It's a thesis-within-a-dependent-clause that arrives at the end of a long sentence--but in the middle of a long meditation--on New Yorkers and their ability to handle inadequacy, claustrophobia, congestion, panic, and all the other indignities that a giant metropolis throws at its residents, daily, with some perfect balance of patience and wisecracks. It's from his essay Here is New York, and White eventually cites the panacea for this perpetual meddling through as "massive doses of supplementary vitamin" of the "sense of belonging to something unique, cosmopolitan, mighty and unparalleled".  

Both the muddling and the massive doses have been on my mind recently, and for two simple reasons: groceries and public transportation, or what I'll call "Fairway" and "subway".  When I lived in New York, shopping at Fairway induced my too-low blood pressure to sky rocket to a level that I imagine is only found in those ripe for cardiac arrest (for one of my more memorable visits, read this: The whole experience--battling my way through the store; carrying several bags of groceries for seven blocks; carrying several bags of groceries up four flights of stairs; all of the above in searing heat, steamy humidity, or freezing rain--was made palatable solely because the food they sold was, for lack of a better word, awesome. Except for the avocados, I found everything my organic dairy-powered heart could ever desire. And it was cheap and delicious.  

I used to dream about eventually owning a car again, which I would drive to the store to pick up all the big things I could never carry by myself in one trip (detergent; dinner party groceries; cleaning supplies; food for a backpacking trip). This dream would also emerge when I was standing on an F train platform in Carroll Gardens on a Saturday night, or at an L train station in the East Village at any time, waiting for what felt like an eternity to get back to the Upper West Side--which brings me to the "subway". Just think, I would tell myself, some day you'll live in a place where you can drive home from a night out--and it will take less than two hours!

Cut to San Francisco, my new (old) home. There are some good grocery stores here, and there's public transportation, which I take every day to work and (most of the time) to see friends. There's the car that I dreamed about, and that I drive every once and a while to Target or Trader Joe's to stock up on all the things I could never carry by myself. 

I bought the teacup in Osaka and the blueberries in Oakland. Getting the teacup home was easier.

There isn't a Fairway, however--or any store even remotely like it. There isn't a subway with underground stations that keep me dry when it's raining, or more importantly, that can take me from one neighborhood to any other in two transfers or less at any time of day. There is just, as there was in New York, a sort of perpetual muddling through.

Sometimes the sheer intricacy of getting from one place to another, or the acrobatics required to run an errand and see a friend in the same time frame, blow me away. The pieces may change, but the complications do not. Driving raises the insanity-inducing specter of parking (and parking tickets). Biking signifies, at its most innocuous, sweaty helmet hair. Busing requires supernatural patience and the acceptance of others violating one's comfort zone. Walking necessitates a significant budget of extra time. BART only if you are willing to stand for the duration of your journey, and know how to travel between cars. 

And so, as I navigate the slipshod network of buses, BART trains, cable cars, ferries, and feet (my own) to get to and from home, work, grocery stores, friends, and family every week, I notice the sun setting over the Golden Gate on my way back to the city. I listen to the peculiar ringing of the cable as our cable car is pulled up California street. I smell the Pacific Ocean on the winds that barrel down Market Street. I turn away from the daily rhythm of "small embarrassments and discomforts and disappointments", and re-awaken, in other words, to the "mighty and unparalleled".