Tunnel Vision

Golden Gate Bridge, San FranciscoI make it through the six-hour flight from Boston to LA. I endure the two-hour wait at LAX, a sprawling compound of too many high-stressed, higher ego-ed people, and then the hour hop to SFO.

I hold my breath, remember to release it as we wait, and wait, and wait for our baggage, which finally rolls around the moving horseshoe 45 minutes after we’ve landed.

Our driver, as roly poly as a malt ball, leads us to his small sedan. I fall back in the car seat, my guy’s briefcase sitting like a rock between us as we speed away from the airport and toward the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin County, and freedom from motion once our front door is reached.

But no, instead the car idles in stop and go, bumper-to-bumper malaise on 19th Avenue. On this beautiful Sunday afternoon, thousands and thousands of Bay Area lovers are traveling – somewhere – and are stuck instead on a concrete highway to nowhere.

San Francisco, 19th Avenue, Golden Gate Bridge, traffic

I look out the window at tiny duplexes, the commercial shops selling rubber tires and plastic flowers, the newly sprouted garden lots and dingy gas stations, and I think… uh oh.

A hundred yards from the MacArthur tunnel (the big dark hole we have to drive through to get nearer to the Golden Gate Bridge), I exclaim, loudly yet unintentionally, “Okay, I have to get OUT of here!!”

My guy’s startled glance helps me realize that I sound a bit – crazy? – and the eyes of the front-seat malt ball get rounder and bigger as he stares at me through his rearview mirror.

I open my window – car fumes, anyone? – and pray we don’t stop inside that tunnel. I could lose it – like an inmate too long in her cell. I could kick open the door and run away from the dark dangerous hole of a tunnel toward – what? Would there be light at the end of my tunnel? Or would there be…

MacArthur Tunnel, San Francisco, traffic, Golden Gate Bridge

Something is tapping my knee. Softly at first, then more insistently.

I open my eyes (not realizing they had been squeezed tightly shut) and reach for the item my guy is handing me. His cell phone? With a cord attached to it?

Oh, ear plugs.

Wordlessly, he motions for me to put the ear pieces on. I do, reluctantly. What bad news am I going to hear? The traffic report, for God’s sake?classical  music, music, driving, tunnel, claustrophobia

But no, I hear flute and cello, violin and piano, harmonizing the sounds of angels singing. The music wafts into my brain and my body and my heart. Sweet soulful sounds symbolizing life on the other side of the highways and small cars and tunnels. Life full of green grass, blue skies, puffy clouds, birds soaring, lovers hugging, children laughing. joy trumpeting.

The car stops. My guy reaches for his phone and turns off his app to KDFC, the classical station, because…




Golden Gate Bridge, Marin County


I see her hips move

Swinging back and forth to the music

I think she’s lonely, standing there,

In front of a pretty man named Dick Clark

Swinging her arms back and forth

Steam swaying over the long flat board

Clothes smelling freshly flattened

I want to dance with the fun people

On the TV, but there is no room

For fun, with the iron, and the board

And my mother, swinging her hips

And sighing, as loud as the iron hisses.

A Renewal

Back when I was still living in New England and my boy was a senior in college, we decided on a road trip. I had high hopes of mother/son time, but the drive began in silence.

As I maneuvered in the harsh steady rain, my 21-year-old breathed slowly and steadily, sound asleep as the car whipped through the Connecticut highway puddles. We were on our way to Delaware, a 7-hour drive in good weather, to visit my father, Sean’s grandfather. I had been amazed when Sean offered to lose a weekend at college, one of the last few remaining ones before he graduated in a month. When I picked him up from his Boston campus at 10 a.m., the rain began to plop plop plop. Sean had always been a sucker for the rhythmic motion of a rainstorm. It put him to sleep when he was a child, and here he was, no longer a boy, sandpaper fuzz on his face because he’d been up all night finishing a paper, head tilted sideways in a posture of child-like vulnerability, mouth open, eyes closed to dreams I’d never know.

Every week I’d call Sean when he was in school, conversation difficult because the background noise was always deafening.  I could just see those randy young men skidding down the fraternity house hallways like half grown pups, drinking, laughing, shouting at the top of their throats just because they could. Sean must do that to, but at home, he was always just quiet. When he offered to drive with me to Pop Pop’s, my first thought was “ah ha! I’ll have him all to myself. Now he’ll talk!” But instead, he was snoring, and I was holding myself as stiff as a board, hovered over the steering wheel like an old woman protecting a treasure, trying to see at least four feet in front of me as we raced 60 miles per hour in the messy storm.

An hour later, the rain lightened up, and as if on signal, Sean yawned and stretched and looked out the window. “Oh, this isn’t too bad,” he said, and I would have strangled him except my two hands were clenched on either side of the wheel.

“Hmmmm,” I muttered.

“What have we got here?” Sean asked as he turned to the back seat and inspected the cooler I had wisely brought along. Not only had I stocked it with casseroles and a cake for my dad, but also sandwiches and drinks for our lunch on the drive down. “Wow Mom, you’re awesome,” he said as he brought out a ham and Swiss cheese sub and two diet cokes.

“Hmmmmm,” I replied a little more lightheartedly. I surfed through the radio stations, trying to find some music that we both would like.

“Wait, I have a better idea,” he said, and he reached in his backpack and pulled out his portable CD collection. Oh no, I moaned to myself. With my luck, it would be rap or some avant-garde music that I’d absolutely hate. I never could determine Sean’s music taste. One minute he listened to Beethoven, the next minute to Eminem. The music began. Classic Beatles – the HELP CD. I looked at him sharply.

“You don’t have to…”

“I love this CD, Mom,” he said. We both began singing the words out loud and out of tune: “I’ve just seen a face I can’t forget the name or place ..”

“You listen to this at college?” I asked as we laughed with the last note.

“All the time,” he said. “You got me to appreciate good music. Growing up, thanks to you, I never heard anything but the Beatles and classic 60’s rock and roll. It’s the best.”

I nodded my head in agreement.

“You okay Mom? Want me to drive a little?”

“No, I’m fine. Just a little worried about Pop Pop.”

“Yeah, that’s why I wanted to come. I don’t get to see him that much. We’ll just hang out with him, play Checkers, take him to the grocery store, play more Checkers, watch him smoke…”

“You okay with that?”

“Yeah, and it will help you out. I didn’t want you driving down here by yourself. And it gives us time to talk. We never have time to just talk, you know? I’m too busy with school, you’re busy with your work and writing and stuff. I’m worried. What if I don’t find a job? What if I have to come home? I’ll die….

We both laugh here.

“And after four years at an expensive college, I end up being a waiter? I’m worried. And I’m not dating anyone because I don’t know where I’ll be and that’s stupid to get interested in someone when who knows what the next year will bring. You know? Why didn’t I listen to you guys and go for an engineering degree? I don’t know, I wish you’d made me….”

He went on and on. And on. I listened to the Beatles, listened to my son talk like he was 8 again, and felt renewed as a mom, renewed as a friend to my growing up son. The sun suddenly burst through the clouds, and my eyes got a little wet.

“Mom? You okay?”

“Just need my sunglasses,” I lied. And then I listened some more.


Weekend Zen

Weekend S.F. Bay sunset

As the sky darkens on a Saturday night, walk me into the house, put a little music on the CD player– Rosemary Clooney, Enya, Vivaldi, the Beatles Rubber Soul– and let the fresh S.F. summer fog meander through the open window. Yes, I’m beginning to get there.

Make the telephone stop ringing, at least turn the volume of the voice mail way down, turn the oven on 350 degrees preheat, open up my closet door so I can change to my well-worn black leggings and soft cotton lavender top. Help me find my rumpled gray socks, and lead me toward the kitchen. Yes, I’m getting there.

Give me an excuse to make my homemade brownies – my son and his family are coming tomorrow for dinner, a friend’s birthday in a day, a neighbor’s dog is sick — and I’ll start to crack the eggs and melt the semisweet chocolate squares, stir in the sugar, drop in a teaspoon of vanilla. As the sweet smells of baking brownies waft through the house, I feel myself getting there.

Husband bangs into the house, racing against the fading light, washes his white-speckled hands under running water, and smiles. He’s had his Zen day out in the yard, pruning, painting, puttering. He kisses me like he means it, then asks in almost the same breath ‘what’s for dinner?’ I point to the eggplant he’s just brought in from our garden, and pick up four round, red, luscious just-plucked tomatoes. ‘Eggplant parmesan?’ I suggest. He hops once with excitement and runs upstairs for a shower. I’m so close I can feel the aura of contentment surround me like a warm coat on a freezing day.

I peel the purple fruit as I listen to Rosemary sing soulfully about love. I dance around the kitchen with a tomato, stopping short as I see the look of concern in my dog’s searching brown eyes. I slice the tomato, feed him the ends, and know he will now love me forever. Then I dip the eggplant slices in egg and breadcrumbs. The telephone rings, and with a sigh, I answer. I smile, though, as soon as I hear my daughter’s voice, just checking in, ending with ‘love you mom.’ Seconds later, my clean-faced husband checks out my dinner preparations, opens a bottle, and hands me a glass of garnet-red wine. ..we toast – “love you” – clink glasses, and I see the colors change around me – the clear lucid light of reality becomes fuzzy with soft rose and warm ivory tones. I’m there. I’ve reached my weekend Zen, and I take a deep breath and soak it in before answering the call of the oven timer.