i, passenger

by tobias crabtree

this morning i’m sitting on a stoop outside the Carville Annex in the outer sunset of san francisco. it’s early enough that people are still wearing their rubbery, morning faces. the N train is cruising by every so often, pausing at 48th to re-sync, and then on forever and ever, amen. the thought of writing this morning feels difficult because i know it’ll be lacking compared to what really is. this is a common feeling of mine, i just write anyway, hoping some of the realness will rub off onto the words.

this morning i’m a passenger, like the people on the N train. the world is my conveyance and i am jotting down some things i see. my dad might call them “signs and wonders” because he’s a preacher, but i’ll just call them “things i’m seeing.” (i like what my dad says better).

yesterday i woke up in the headlands. i stayed at eamon’s house. his front yard falls away to the ocean and the cyprus are tall with mussy hairdo’s. in the evenings and mornings, during what Steinbeck calls the “pearly hours”, a big ol’ great-horned owl visits. he sits and calls out his questioning on the top-most branch of a huge mossy timber. he tips and nods and listens for a response to his calls. i don’t think he’s lonely, i’ve heard his ladies calling back from the distance. there’s a female deer that nibbles at the bunch grass in the yard. the wild is creeping in and with it, magic. eamon nurtures this communion on the cusp of things that are wild and things that are cultivated. it’s in the wrinkles around his eyes and is manifested in the contrast of his actions. the callouses on his hands are from moving stones and his fingers click as they play a sad, minor tune on his piano. he can teach music theory and show you where grow the nettles on the hillside.

we laughed at the deer when she tugged at the netting over his raised bed of beets and kale…them deer know a good thing when they sniff it. then she was gone and so were we; into the city on the other side of the Bridge. from Land’s End i can see everywhere that i will go. i can see past the Haight and on through the Mission. i’m riding eamon’s beach cruiser and it’s a big strong bike. ain’t no gears and so i’ll be testing my conditioning on san francisco’s ridiculous landscape. through the park and down onto the Wiggle, 16th to Guerrero to 24th to Folsom (whoops there’s Philz and everyone all jacked on caffein) to Caesar Chaves and under the highways and on to Evans and then 3rd…and back again. i don’t ride the same roads but the scenes are similar and urban. i don’t need to go into detail, better writers than me have told the stories of this city and the humans that define it. there are moments, though, that stand out so vividly. the glance from the tough, skinny man and the tougher looking woman at his side as they walked from under the overpass where it’s dark even in the day. every race is represented in those hidden places. and then there’s the tiny person sitting outside the vietnamese store up on 25th and Irving; here is this person who’s gender is disguised by age, a small person who is shrinking with time and who is growling and barking like a dog. i wonder at that person’s dragons. do they fill the skies and crowd the sidewalks of that tiny person’s mind? people pass and answer texts and sip coffee. the world goes on while the dragons breathe their fire on that corner of the inner sunset. i ride away and drop toward the sea.

katherine has a loop that she rides on her long board. i’m kinda scared of skateboarding. i know what happens when you fly off of one…the pavement is so damn unforgiving. katherine makes me feel brave because of the casual way she says, “i get scared too, ” and so i go. as we skate toward the park i am calling out all the different kinds of body armor i wished i was wearing. “i want a helmet with a chin-guard and a mouth piece, and some big knee-pads and those weird wrist protectors.” i can see katherine grinning and quietly laughing at my stupid banter, and she’s so cool, like really, with her dark khaki ball cap and her chuck taylors. i just kick and fear and carve (oh my, it is so fun) and laugh all the way. and then we are done and our eyes are teary from the wind…and maybe from happiness. katherine is good for hearts like mine. she’s helped put me back together before.

in the evening i cut cards and write on them as i sat outside of Outerlands. dave came out and made me feel famous by talking to me about the realest of things. we are going to draw something one of these days; i think they call that a collaboration. we will collaborate to create something. chris made me one of the best drinks of my life…something about rye and vermouth and chartreuse made by carthusian monks in france, it tasted as perfect as it could possibly taste, and then it sent me to bed.

the friends that know me and know my love for the wild country have asked me about how i cope with the big cities. i wonder about that. i know this: the city holds wild things. the wild wants to take the city back; it’s right on the doorstep waiting till the time is right. if you walk down to Ocean Beach, right there at the end of Judah, and if you swim out into the cold San Francisco water, into the savage waves, you will find all the wild you can handle. if you wanted, you could swim on out and never come back. i don’t mean that in a morbid way, i am just pointing out the wonderful truth. there is much to ponder as we pass. we are all just passengers and regardless of the seating, we are moving and moving toward something outside of what we understand. from where i sit, i can hear the ocean calling…it’s time to get in. don’t worry, i’m not gonna swim on out too far, not yet anyway.