Three California moments

The gloves are old and wool, well-worn but not used up. He pulls them on carefully, one finger at a time. It is May in San Francisco, a calm sixty seven. No one else on the street wears gloves, hat, or scarf. T-shirts are out, and people bicycle past with pant legs rolled high. Spring in this western part of the city is far warmer than July. The man himself is unremarkable, white and forty, an unbuttoned dress shirt over a nondescript tee. Gloves finally on he steps forward into the booth, to a device likewise out of place, and picks up the receiver. For a moment he pauses, holding it in his gloved left hand, change at the ready in his right, and eyes the street, left and right.

In his overalls and boots the plumber is a distinct figure. Tool belt mostly empty he stands outside the office building, logo on his chest matching the logo on the van parked at the curb. At seven forty am on a Wednesday the parking lot hidden by the van is slowly filling. The plumber is not old, not yet forty. He is on the phone, one hand holding the cell to his ear. And he is seriously pissed off, the other hand gesturing in line with his speech. Strings of expletives follow each other, giving whomever is on the other end scant space for response. As he curses the plumber paces back and forth in front of the entrance. Lawyers and accountants on their way in, suits neat and coffees in hand, sidestep him with eyes averted, made timid by his rage.

In Starbucks the door swings open repeatedly, new visitors letting the chill wind of an autumn afternoon in. At one of the tables by the door a middle-aged Asian man is folding cardboard. His table is covered with tools for the project, tape, scissors, and the other half of his box. In the middle of the table lies his project, a square black plastic shape bearing its manufacturer’s logo. Toshiba. As he folds the next strip of cardboard over, creating a tight fold around the laptop’s body, the source of his cardboard too becomes evident. Domino’s. For twenty minutes more he fusses with the flaps, taping and refolding, until the laptop is completely encased. Satisfied, he sits back, studying his work. Domino’s on the outside silicon on the inside. The door opens again, gusts fluttering the cardboard scraps that litter his table. He has not removed his coat.


Biking with a cat, part 1

Yesterday after work, with a friend’s offer of dinner in mind, I threw Mr. Squish in my backpack, with his leash tied to the top handle. Knowing he’d be unhappy eventually I put his furry bed in too, folded as a liner for the bag. And I got on my bike, helmet and all, and set off across the city. He handled it well, head poking up through the unzipped top of the bag, peeking out at the world whipping past. It was cold but not unpleasant, and we rode up through the Richmond and into Golden Gate Park, up JFK and out into the Panhandle. I was worried about him in traffic, because he doesn’t like cars much and busses even less, but he handled it fine, never moving much. He’s really a champ of a cat in most respects.

When we arrived I pulled the bike inside and he scrambled out of the pack, leashed to me while I locked up. He knows the house, having stayed there before while we were out of town, and was excited to see the resident cat. She might not have been as excited to see him, but at least they can cohabit a bit.

Going home was a different adventure. It was dark and cold and Mr. Squish was tired. He had no interest in staying put in my backpack. Halfway back through the Panhandle he was up on my shoulder, crouched with his head facing the wind. Not my ideal way to ride, as he could leap off at any moment and, because of the leash, be dragged by the bike. Once I got into the park I slowed down, and sure enough he jumped off. I did too and for a while walked the bike with him running along side, still tied to my backpack. This wasn’t too bad, we go on walks a lot, but it wasn’t a fast way home, and it was almost midnight. So I pushed him back in the bag and started off again, figuring any bit of the ride I could do on the bike would be worth it.

He scrambled out again almost immediately, up on to my shoulder. Worried about the jump but wanting to keep going I headed up onto the sidewalk, figuring I could ride slowly along it and he’d be ok.

Wrong call. About twenty feet from where I got on the sidewalk the sprinklers started. The first one hit us both in the face, him crouched by my head. No one was pleased, cold water added to the cold wind, and at least three more sprinklers ahead. I did the stupid thing and tried to keep going, grabbing Mr. Squish with my right hand and biking with my left, somehow thinking I could make it through these 3 more sprinklers and be ok. Squish wasn’t having any of it. The second one got us both, but by now I was holding him dangling by the harness as he frantically tried to avoid the third sprinkler. We never made it to the fourth one. After the third I was soaked, scratched to hell, and holding the harness but no Squish.

This is my worst fear with taking Mr. Squish out on the leash. It’s a harness that clips around his middle and neck, connected by a strap with a loop for the leash. Pretty secure, but I know from experience that if he gets really spooked he can squirm his front paws out of the thing and somehow get it off his head.

I hopped off the bike, throwing it to the ground, and headed back to him. He was squatting in the middle of the sidewalk between two sprinklers, huddled in a wet ball. I was pretty soaked too, and bleeding from my hand, though I didn’t notice then. I managed to gently grab him and pulled us both back onto the road, away from the sprinklers, where I calmed him down, somehow got the harness back on, and got him into the backpack. At this point I just desperately wanted to make it home, and I’m sure he did too. He was cold, wet, and at least a little banged up from the scramble and fall.

He stayed in the backpack, just his nose peeking out, all the rest of the way home to Tara, who took him and brushed him and put him in front of the heater.

And that’s how Mr. Squish’s first bike ride went.

Hopefully the next one will go better. And be in the daylight.