I came back to reality yesterday, and a rather nice reality it is here in San Francisco.

Market Street

Well, it was until I went to the gym this morning and after a thorough workout discovered that I weigh six more pounds than when I left for Texas. That’s a pound a day!!!!! And I did not eat all of that hog….just the ribs and chops and OK a little bit of the leg. And I left some of those tamales in Mel’s refrigerator…..totally uneaten although that pig has probably eaten them by now. Mel, I mean.

All I can say is it must have been the chocolate milkshakes, so I’m clearly going to have to cut back on those.

I don’t want to steal too much thunder from the official version of my visit, but I do have to mention one highlight.

My old friend Mike, who I’d never visited, had emailed me astonishingly anal directions to get to his house in the upper greater Dallas suburban sprawl, and I had a trifle too rapidly transcribed them onto a scrap of paper that I could consult as I made my way across the DFW metroplex at the end of my drive across West Texas from Midland.

His directions called for me to take 161 northeast off 183, and as I approached 161 I learned the name that went along with its number. President George Bush. Aaaaarghhhhhh, I squealed, as I contemplated the horror of having to drive on a freeway with such a name and then dwelt on the perfidy of a supposed friend who would play such a cruel practical joke on me.

But see, I was really nerved up (and only later realized that this was mostly because of his strategic fretting about rush hour delays and the possibility of my not getting there in time for us to use our reservations at Abacus, a restaurant that numbers itself among the jewels in the crown of Texas). So I didn’t dare just blaze on past the cutoff and work my way north cross-country on alternative routes about which I knew nothing.

No, I had to take the Dubya exit.

And only then, once I’d turned off a known highway and was totally committed, was the full egregiousness of Mike’s betrayal revealed.

I noticed 161’s full name: “The President George Bush Turnpike.” Turnpike! I shrieked. Didn’t you used to have to pay for “turnpikes”? And then, omigod, there was the sign: “Last Exit Before Toll.”

So yes, it was either take the exit out into the godforsaken wilderness from which there could be no possible way to extricate myself in time to get to Mike and Marilyn’s by dinner, or give money with mine own fingers to drive the Dubya Turnpike. The shame. The horror. The disgust.

I would like to say that I reached a point when the trauma became so great that I went into shock and my mind mercifully blurred the details. Alas, that was not the case, as I very clearly recall digging in my pocket, retrieving three quarters (a Mississippi and two Virginias), and casting them with a curse into the maw of the collection device. Dashing my last hope, it failed to choke on them.

But then I was on the turnpike.

It was new and wide and beautifully landscaped. The curves were banked and gentle. The pavement was groomed to a silken smoothness that eased the passage – no potholes, no bumpy expansion joints, no rough patches. And most importantly, no traffic jams. Actually, not all that many vehicles and certainly no noisy ones, none belching smoke, no exposed Bondo or dents or even smudges. Everything calm and quiet and sparkling clean, rather like the executive bathroom for the board of directors.

Not the sort of highway that trucks and, oh please, buses full of smelly people, would really feel comfortable on, so to spare them the embarrassment, they are excluded – leaving only those of us entitled to this luxury.

And to help us appreciate it, from time to time our hard-earned highway gives us vistas of vehicles on lesser roads huddled in bumper-to-bumper misery and choking in exhaust as they inch, their drivers soaked in sweat and crazed with frustration, to their eventual destinations.

I deserve this tollpike, I realized, and pricing it up to keep the wrong kind of folks off it is, yes, Martha, a good thing.

Don’t know why it took me so long to come around from my former silly liberalism. I guess it was just breathing that Texas air….and well, my friend Mike’s thoughtfully arranging this experience. Oh, how, I wonder, how can I ever repay him?

I’ll think of something. Ohhh, yes, I will.

Meanwhile, a morning shot on Market Street:


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