Between the Worlds
11:00 A.M. – I leave Sebastopol in a good mood, after a wonderful poetry salon the previous evening, followed by a great breakfast with close friends. I have plenty of time to attend to today’s projects: get home, check the chickens, clean up, review the poems I might want to recite this evening during my KPFA interview about our upcoming Rumi’s Caravan (www.rumiscaravan.com) performance, meet another friend for coffee at 3:00, go to the Finnish Hall in Berkeley, park the car and leave posters for the Noah Project evening event, then walk up University Ave to the radio interview, then walk back to the Finnish Hall for singing with the Noah Project. Finally, get home to babysit the girls while Alex goes to pick Emily up at the airport. Traffic is slow, and I spend the drive going over my poems (first mistake).
12:00 P.M. – The car loses power on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge and I drift over to the breakdown lane. I call 9-11.
12:15 – The emergency driver shows up and pushes my car up the incline of the bridge and down to the large turn out near the East toll plaza. He tells me that now I can contact AAA and they will tow me where I need to go. It’s all good, except that now I have time to worry about what caused the engine to stop, and to observe the ominous “check engine” light.
12:30 – I call AAA. They tell me that a truck will be dispatched shortly. I marvel at the technologically enhanced privilege of possessing a smart phone with GPS and AAA membership on a beautiful Sunday. It’s all good.
12:50 – The AAA driver calls and tells me that he is not allowed to operate on the bridge, that I have to call 9-11 / CHP back. I tell him that I’m not on the bridge, but on a large turnout with several parked construction vehicles and lots of room for the tow truck, next to a large, yellow storage container. But no…Got to call 9-11.
12:55 – I call CHP and plead for help. The dispatcher relents and tells me that CHP will call AAA and give them permission to tow me from the spot. AAA sends me a text announcing that they’ve got me covered, that I can click a certain code on my phone to get more information. I do, and I hear a recording that I’ve called a wrong number. Twice, just to be sure.
It begins to occur to me that I am in neither of two jurisdictions, neither CHP nor AAA, in a parking area that is neither freeway nor not freeway, neither West Bay nor East Bay. I have been cast into a space between worlds. I’m on a bridge, for Chistsakes, a universal image of liminality. I’m ridiculously close to (yet separated by three lanes of fast traffic from) the toll plaza, the ritual entrance to the space between worlds, where one has to give three coins to the ferryman before entering the world of Hermes, god of travellers. I consider the bike accident I had a week ago. Have I been watching where I’ve been going? The metaphors are piling up like the recycled metal in the huge bin next to my car. It’s time to start writing this bizarre history down. I receive no further calls or texts. What to do? Recite more poems and gaze out at the bay.
1:45 – I call AAA for an update. Each time I do so I must endure a lengthy voice message system, followed by a recording: “We are experiencing a very busy day and your expected wait time to speak to an operator is 5-10 minutes”. When they finally answer, they know nothing about my situation and have no record of my previous call. CHP has not notified them. I have to re-start the whole conversation (and give them my 16-digit ID number yet again), telling them, once again, that I’m on the eastbound turnout, barely 100 yards from the toll plaza. They’ll call back with ETA. They send me another text with a link to a map and my position, which is described as at “Railroad Avenue” (a street somewhere near the bridge exit but not even close to where I am). What to do? Walk around, recite more poems.
2:30 – I call my friend and break our coffee date. I call AAA again, go through the whole frustrating procedure again. After another long wait they tell me that the truck is in San Rafael, heading toward me. I get a second text with another code link to another “wrong number” recording. Twice, just to be sure.
2:45 – I see a tow truck turning from the parking area between the east and west lanes (between worlds) fifty yards to the east of me and disappear eastward, away from me. I begin to wonder what other dates I might have to cancel.
3:10 – A tow driver calls me from a very noisy vehicle, asking if I’m at Railroad Avenue. The call breaks up. The web map indicates that both he and I are in the westbound lane. I return his call twice, leaving two messages but get no response. He answers my third call. I repeat all the specifics of my location. He says now he knows where I am.
3:15 – I call him again. He says he’ll be there in two minutes.
3:30 – He arrives. It’s the same tow truck that had passed fifty yards from me 45 minutes earlier. But I’m relieved. We’re making progress.
3:45 – We’re headed toward Oakland. Inbound Sunday traffic slows to a crawl immediately, even though we’re barely in Richmond. The crawl will last all the way past Berkeley. From the right-side seat, I gaze out at the bay, alternately cursing my life and giggling at the looniness of this unfolding karma drama.
4:00 – Someone cuts us off, forcing my driver to slam his brakes. We share stories of truck driving adventures (I used to run a furniture-moving business), how all day long I used to, and he does, save other drivers from the consequences of their stupid driving. And they don’t even realize it.
4:15 – Approaching the 880 / 580 split, he’s still in the inside lane. I ask him if he knows where I need to bring the car. He says that he does. I remind him to stay on 580 East, not 880. He takes 880. We get off at Grand Ave. and go through West Oakland toward the Temescal neighborhood, where my mechanic is. No problem, except that now we’ve lost more time. I make notes about exactly what I need to accomplish when and if I get home: shower, collect Rumi’s Caravan posters, etc. And eat. I haven’t had lunch. Forget the chickens.
5:15 – We arrive. He unloads the car in my mechanic’s lot and then turns on my engine. Good news: I had run out of gas. Bad news: I’m an idiot, or at least reciting poems in my mind while driving had put me into a trance (again, between worlds), and not for the first time. He says goodbye, refusing my tip offer. Nice guy. It could have been different.
5:30 – I march double-time toward home, figuring that a Lyft ride wouldn’t save much time. I stop at a gas station looking for a fuel container, but they are out of them.
5:50 – I’m home, need to shower, etc (forget eating), borrow Alex’s car, get to the Finnish Hall and then on to KPFA (no way will I be walking) before 7:00. I drop off the posters and detour at a Mexican restaurant to pick up some pupusas to eat at the radio station. I see Kirstjen Nielsen there. Just kidding.
7:00-8:00 – I’m on the radio with 50 poems in my head. I get to do about five, but it’s a great conversation. I eat two bites of a cold pupusa, return to the Finnish Hall for the second half of the Noah Project event, sing my throat out and get home by 11:00. I’m back in my world, or at least a world that I vaguely recognize. The girls are asleep in the spare bedroom. Alex can go to the airport. I crash into my bed and sleep the sleep of those who review their whole day and all the options they could have chosen.
The good news: Indeed, my car had only been out of gas — and I got this story.
The bad news: I’m a fucking idiot.
The opportunity: Mea Culpa, I promise to do five “Hail Rumi’s” and forgive myself once again. As Yeats says,
I am content to follow to its source
Every event in action or in thought;
Measure the lot; forgive myself the lot!
When such as I cast out remorse
So great a sweetness flows into the breast
We must laugh and we must sing,
We are blest by everything,
Everything we look upon is blest.
The lesson: Do I really have to say this? No poems unless someone else is driving! These things have too much power to multitask with. They, like the gods, are fickle, jealous and vindictive. Every time I tell one on stage, another asks, “Why not me?”
The invitation: Join us on July 14th (this was in 2019) as Rumi’s Caravan returns to Oakland (http://www.rumiscaravan.com/events/), fall into your own trance, be inspired and experience the poetic conversation from the safety and comfort of your seat with 300 new friends!