Tuesday, February 27, 2007

you thought nobody cared, but we did, we could tell

I didn’t first step foot in San Francisco until I was 21 years old. 21 years old and about to fall spectacularly on my face- not for the first time, and certainly, most most certainly not for the last.

On that first visit, everything went just as wrong as it possibly could. It was December, and I was so naïve that I felt sure that California was the land of sunshine and warmth. I packed so lightly that I was exactly the cliché I’ve come to tease now- by the second day, I had to buy a sweater. Even then, I never quite shook the cold that crept into every last fiber of my being. And then there was the matter of my heart getting trounced. But that is a story for another time.

I just wanted to get back to the east coast, to the safety of being in driving distance of home. I just wanted to get out of California. Unfortunately, what I wanted did not really matter. When I got to the airport, the flight representative actually laughed at me. While I had been walking from the Sunset through the Haight all the way to Fisherman’s Wharf, slowly falling in love with San Francisco despite myself, the Northeast Corridor was beset by such a bad blizzard that a state of emergency had been called. At SFO, I was informed that all the flights to the east coast had been cancelled indefinitely.

The next two days were painful. I was past my expiration date, I’d reverted to a pumpkin. My skin was crawling. I spent my time trying to be transparent, trying to be invisible, trying to melt into walls. The rest of the time, I spent calling the airline to check when they could put me on a flight.

And finally, a red-eye, standby, a packed flight, a sleepless plane ride. When I got off the plane in Newark, a shooting blast of frigid air woke me up. I took a deep breath, knowing I had a full day of work ahead of me, having burned away too many vacation days already. When I had left for San Francisco, there was nothing but a little frost on the ground. When I returned from San Francisco, the roads in New Jersey were flanked by high walls of snow. Everything was blindingly white.

I’d left my car in the parking lot at work, the safest place for it. But when I got to work, I saw that the snowplows had ingeniously piled all of the snow around my car, effectively boxing it out of sight. When I got to work, and saw my car in this state, I was low, very low. I felt the world cumulatively bearing down on me, hurtling one more obstacle in my way.

Back then, I was working in the labs. When I got in, Jersey from the next lab over walked in to welcome me back. His name is not really Jersey, but it should be. He took one look at my face and understood. I asked Jersey if he had a shovel I could borrow. I had learned enough to keep one in my car, but I could not actually get to it, the car was that deeply buried in the drifts. I had learned to keep a shovel handy, because, after the first snowfall in New Jersey, I needed to dig my car out of a bank. I didn’t own a shovel then, but two men were clearing the sidewalks. Timidly, I approached them and asked if I could borrow a shovel for a minute; they gruffly said no and returned to clearing the sidewalks. So I had come to think of New Jersey as a cold place, an unfriendly place.

And that day, it felt like I had gone from bad to worse. From the persistent ache that sat in my stomach in San Francisco, I’d come to the cold, the bitterness of New Jersey. And I could feel myself getting colder.

Jersey had simply stated in the morning that he had a shovel in his car. He said we could go out and get it at lunch. I trudged out there with him, trying to swallow all of the frustration that kept welling up. But then we got outside. We got outside, and Jersey glanced for a moment at my car and motioned to his boss. The two rugged Italian men walked up to my car and set to work, clearing out over six feet of snow in short order. They did it matter-of-factly. They did not do it because they were partial to me, or that they knew me particularly well. They did it because they’d seen a young woman staring at her car submerged, and that was enough for them.

The two men were rather amused by my reaction. I was misty-eyed, overcome with gratitude. What they did wasn’t such a big deal, in retrospect, and yet it really was. On any other day, I might have taken such an act of kindness for granted, might have been nonchalant, might have even teased Jersey and his boss for their machismo. But it was not any other day. It was that day.

And it was that day that makes me certain that I will be okay on my next adventure, in a far off place, a place I will not love as much as San Francisco. You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need. And sometimes, you don’t even have to try. You just have to be paying attention.

[It is only fair to note that the memory associated with the above post was triggered by Echo’s latest post. And that’s why this blogging thing isn’t always such a bad hang.]

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