When you make a wrong turn or – more likely – miss a turn that the kindly mechanical lady with the quasi-British accent on the GPS has told you to take, she gently reminds you that she is “Recalculating.”
I’m in the Bay Area, staying at the Doubletree Berkeley Marina tonight and taking a red-eye back tomorrow night. Went to hear my boss speak at an event at UC-Berkeley but the crowd was so great that they ran out of visitors’ passes. I was a visitor. Though I might be able to pass for a student, at least a grad student, I opted to return to my hotel room and work. I have too few piercings, too few tattoos, and too clean-shaven a face, with my shirt too tucked in, to sneak in past the door monitors at Wheeler Hall.
This afternoon I had lunch in Sausalito – which the kindly mechanical lady called “suh-SALL-i-toe” but which I comprehended just the same; I mean, she and I have an understanding: she gets me where I’m going, and I agree not to unplug her power supply. It’s a symbiotic relationship, and I’m not sure who’s the parasite.
The restaurant I went to had a deck on the bay, with an unobstructed view of Alcatraz Island and the San Francisco skyline. It was a clear day and a no-brainer decision to pay slightly more for lunch ($14 for a salmon omelette) than somewhere else with a view of the dumpster out back.
Tonight, I was off to the event but first had to stop at Best Buy to get a web cam and headset for a skype call tomorrow afternoon to Hong Kong. (I am telling you all this to try to impress you that I am a high-tech, globally minded kind of person…) I missed the left turn onto Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Oakland, and…
So, basically, you can’t get lost. Lady tells you to turn right and turn right again and then leads you past a shoelace factory and the corner bodega, past the crack dealers in front of the schoolyard and then by the burnt-out row house, in order to get you back to the “highlighted route.” Lady is awfully calm during these side excursions down darkened streets. She seems unfazed, like it’s not her a#$ that’s going to get kicked if, at a stop sign, somebody breaks the window and reaches in for my neck, also grabbing her black metal casing – but oh so gently, for she will be resold and I will pay for it on my corporate American Express card. No, she is oblivious. Like she could care less. Her job is to get me from Point A to Point B and do as few recalculations along the way as possible. If we go through the ‘hood, we go. But we’re not lost. No, high above us there is a hunk of metal circling the earth that knows more about my minute whereabouts than my own wife. I don’t know whether to be comforted or not.
So I get to Best Buy in Emeryville, and when I approach the checkout counter with the cam and headset, a tall hip black woman of about forty asks me if I want to go ahead of her, because she is buying like a 100-inch TV along with accessories, and says, “I like that shirt.” She is referring to my Wrangler brand pearl snap shirt, the white one with wide wale blue stripes that I bought at the Cowboy Store in the Hill Country.
“Thanks. Yeah – a good Texas-style pearl snap shirt.”
“I’m from Texas!” she rejoined.
“Oh, yeah?! My wife’s from Texas.”
Smiles and knowing acknowledgement.
I paid and looked back.
“Thanks again! Take care!”