Matte’s Blog

The Excursion of Death

OK, in the first place, nobody died. It was a memorial gathering for my friend Nina Youkelson, about whose death I recently posted. The only thing that died was another little piece of my pride.

So yes, I went overboard for a snappy title just because not everything went smoothly even though the memorial itself was a joyous occasion. Nina’s family held it at Huckleberry Flat #2 in the San Mateo County Memorial Park, a sylvan chunk of redwood forest astride CA 84 about three quarters of the way between Woodside and Pescadero on the coast. CA 84 wriggles all the way to the top of the peninsula hills and part way down the other side with 15 MPH turns, highly scenic and untrammeled with route signage.

As I’d mentioned in my earlier post on her, Nina cut quite a swath in San Francisco because she directed the Noe Valley Nursery School for 37 years and thus had students whose parents had been her students. Everybody in Noe Valley knew and loved her, as did the residents of Coleridge Park. So the family knew they needed to find a large venue for a memorial. They chose Huckleberry Flat #2, nestled in the redwoods and described as accommodating 200 people, which it did on this occasion. The family laid out a huge spread of delicious food in this beautiful venue, and we ate and socialized for a couple of hours before her son Jason delivered a brief and moving eulogy and offered the mike to anyone who wished to say a few words. Many did, and most were quite moving even though some went on to quite a few words. It was a marvelous, heartwarming occasion.

So what’s this bit about “excursion of death”? Well, it was a breakthrough learning experience for me and, like many of its ilk, harrowing. I’d offered a ride to anyone who wanted to join me for the memorial, and immediately three women took me up on the offer and filled the car, making the trip ecologically sound.

It was a beautiful drive down to the park for all of us even though when we came to an unmarked intersection out in the wilderness and I asked a young man who looked like a local which road led to Pescadero, he smilingly responded with an incorrect answer. After a few miles, we figured out that we’d been pranked and were on the wrong road. So I backtracked to the intersection to get back on CA 84. I’d studied maps of the park beforehand, and when we got there knew to take the second left directly to Huckleberry Flats. Easy.

After the memorial, all I had to do was backtrack to get us home.

Well, yes, except that when we got back to that intersection of great sorrow at which I’d been misdirected on the way down, I somehow took a wrong turn all by myself and ended up totally lost.

Finally we spotted some people at a clearing and asked them for directions. It was then that I learned that I’d somehow got onto CA 35 headed southwesterly and was just a handful of miles from its intersection with CA 17 at Los Gatos, way south of the CA 84 route.

Well, OK, I thought, I sure am taking us the long way home, but at least once I get onto CA 17, getting us home will be easy since I’ve taken that route many times over the past few decades. I even remembered that as we approached San Jose I should take CA 85 as a shortcut to US 280 and save a dozen miles. So I did that, and fairly soon saw the sign for 280.

And somehow missed it, and just continued forward on 85, which did not go unobserved by my passengers. Fortunately 85 fairly soon crossed US 101, where I had the presence of mind to get in the correct lane to get us back home in about the same time as taking 280 would have. Whew.

I crept back to my room and started mixing myself a drink. I was so stressed and needed a drink so badly that I’d already poured three jiggers of vodka into my glass with the fourth in the jigger before I realized what I was doing and carefully poured the fourth back into the bottle. Even so, the three jiggers got me quite pleasantly drunk, that being the largest amount of alcohol I’d had in one day in many years.

And as I mellowed out, I sat there analyzing what had happened. I do not recall ever before in my life getting lost at the wheel with passengers in my car. Twenty or thirty years ago I used to drive aimlessly out into the country admiring the scenery until I’d had enough and then, when I was ready to turn back, looked at a map at a crossroads to see where I was, but that was the extent of my getting lost before this.

Oh, but wait! Last fall when I’d flown to Albuquerque to see Charmazel, I ended up getting lost both to her place and back to the airport; but I’d thought of that as a bizarre aberration, since it had never occurred before, my being such an expert with maps.

And then it sank over me. I’ve lost my ability to navigate, yet another aspect of the decline into senility. What I haven’t lost is the ability to learn from my mistakes, so I’ll never again let a passenger into my car except for short trips on totally familiar terrain.

Aging is so interesting. I feel like I’m on the sidelines watching my abilities fall away from me one by one. What’s strange is that I view this with equanimity, perhaps because there are still so many things that I can do that I don’t have time for them all. Oh, and my passengers were good sports about my ineptitude, and we got a big laugh about it at the Monday Coffee Hour the next morning. Some of the sting was taken away by my learning that one of the other cars of folks from Coleridge Park also got lost on the way home. Whew. And in our defense, would it be too much to ask the state to stick up some signage at that damn intersection?

Meanwhile, here’s a shot of folks at the memorial listening to one of the speakers.

Nina's Memorial
Nina’s Memorial


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6 Comments

  1. ckm3
    Posted 7 December 2013 at 09:18 | Permalink

    For most people, what stays in Las Vegas is the money.

    Most excellent turning of the phrase

    • Matte Gray
      Posted 7 December 2013 at 14:26 | Permalink

      Many thanks.

  2. Chimpus_Dorkus
    Posted 21 December 2013 at 19:59 | Permalink

    Ouch. Poor bb, here’s hoping you have some good holidays etc to cheer you up and a speedy recovery.
    Be careful, will ya?!?

    • Matte Gray
      Posted 21 December 2013 at 20:50 | Permalink

      The holidays are most definitely cheerful, the recovery is progressing apace, and the caution level has been dramatically increased.

  3. Posted 24 January 2014 at 12:08 | Permalink

    Thank you for remembering Barry. And for loving him, as I did. I am glad he got to see a loving face before he died. You are right, he wanted to go out on his terms and it was never going to be pretty. Barry, even though he’d be cleaned up, was always disappointed after falling or having a heart attack, being picked up by ambulance, treated and then dumped right back onto the streets… He gave up hope for a place indoors after realizing that even that level of frailty was not enough to deserve housing in this city. he did admit to me he would have preferred to live inside. As you said, he was not crazy. 🙂 Again, thanks for the love and kindness you and others showed him. I know he appreciated it.

    • Matte Gray
      Posted 24 January 2014 at 12:26 | Permalink

      Since i wrote that account i’ve been back to the makeshift shrine several times and have talked with folks who knew him longer than i, people who were also there the afternoon before he died and to whom he also expressed very clearly that he did not want to go to the hospital. Some of the people who knew him better are organizing a little wake for him on the 1st of February, and i’ll post more details here as i learn them. Meanwhile, a useful resource is castrobiscuit.com, with an article on 22 Jan that has extensive comments.

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