Wednesday, June 17, 2009


We were late arriving, as per usual. We were supposed to line up at the parade staging area by 8:00, but we were pushing 8:15 by the time I finally found a parking space. I quickly noted the cross street, then gathered just the bare essentials before locking the car and hurrying out. Water bottles, sunscreen, camera, $20. Did I grab the phone?

The parade was fun, we waited around for a long time, but once we got to marching, we were resplendent.

Afterwards, we walked over to the festival for some freebies and entertainment, and then we grabbed Subway and gathered ourselves to head back to the car.

What was that cross street? Oh yeah, it was Commercial Ave. Right? Or was it Industrial… it was something businessy sounding, I had made a mental note of that fact. Imperial isn’t businessy sounding, is it? Shit.

We walked the area, I kept the kids chatting although they were tired and getting impatient. I scanned the blocks for a familiar landmark; something I’d remember having walked past in our mad dash that morning. All of the parade foot traffic had cleared out; gone were the police on every corner and the festive, welcoming buzz of downtown. The only action on these streets was that of the misfortunate or misguided.

The kids figured out that we were lost. They were annoyed. I was getting nervous. They noticed. I couldn’t believe that I did not have my fucking phone.

The blocks were long and peppered with sleeping figures under blankets, boisterous and staggering groups, and industrious cart-weilding entrepreneurs. At each intersection, I tried to scan my addled sense of direction to try and gauge which way we should try next. There were commercial properties on each block, so we couldn’t try shortcuts or pass throughs. It was hot.

I felt so conspicuous. So white.

When our trek led us toward a small group gathered on a sidewalk, I wanted to cross to the other side of the street. But I also wanted to show my children that just because people are destitute, we should not assume that they are bad. We passed the group, and an outburst of laughter made me jump. Shit.

My girl was the one who finally recognized a stoop from quite some distance, she remembered that she had used those steps to sit and tie her shoe. It seemed like the wrong direction, but she was adamant enough to convince us to head that way. We cheered when we saw our car, and I was flooded with relief to lock us safely inside. The sitting was nice, too. And the a/c.

The whole ordeal probably lasted 20 minutes, but it has stayed with me.

I’ve always bought in to the Gavin de Becker philosophy of trusting your instincts as a parent. From Amazon: “As (de Becker) emphatically states in Protecting the Gift, much of this knowledge is already hard-wired in the form of intuition: ‘This natural ability is deep, brilliant, powerful. Nature's greatest accomplishment, the human brain, is stunningly efficient when its host is at risk, but when one's child is at risk, it moves to a whole new level.’ The trick, he stresses, is trusting and acting on intuition.”

Did I trust and act on my intuition on that hot January morning? What should I have done differently? Was that urge I had to cross the street my intuition warning me of danger, or merely striking embarrassment at the dumbass maneuvers I had made to get us into this predicament? Was it even a predicament? We lost our car, on a Saturday morning, in the commercial district of downtown San Diego. These are not the streets of Calcutta or the gang riddled avenues of south central. Why do we – why did I – fear the people on the street? What did my actions and reactions, albeit unspoken, say to my children? My kids, who yesterday spent the better part of 10 minutes describing a kid they wanted me to remember, including details about his clothes, his voice, his shoes, and his demeanor, never once mentioning the color of his skin?

What would it say to the dude we were marching for on that day?


pat said...

I can really associate with your blog. On my recent trip to San Diego I took my beloved granddaughers to Sea World. It was a misty day but locals assured me it would clear up. Of course, the rain only got worse and everything was cold wet and miserable and I couldn't even sit because of the puddles on the benches. The oldest was my knowledgable guide so I paid NO attention to where we had parked. And, of course, my phone was locked in the generic, metallic gray rental car I had(couldn't even remember the model).
Panic was my worst problem (what did I think would happened in the Sea World parking lot?). A. and I had some notion of where the car was and M. kept looking in every back seat for the pink animal she had left there. We were getting colder, wetter, more tired etc. I finally made a game of calling out the licence numbers (my car key told us that much) and after 30 minutes found the car. Too much excitement for this granny!

Me, You, or Ellie said...

Ah J, I hate those moments, especially when they drag on for 20 minutes or more. Situations like the one you so eloquently describe are incredibly nerve wracking, and knowing that you should not be so reactionary to the situation just intensifies it, at least for me.

I have to admit that I did not feel safe at the Social Security Admin office last month. That place houses the weirdness of an urban DMV times 10. It wasn't race based, it was sanity based.

There are a lot of people out there living lives so different from mine. In theory, I embrace this, but when they're yelling and throwing pamphlets around, or pacing the room in an agitated drugged up manner my internal alarms sound.


Me, You, or Ellie said...

I love that your girl saved the day. Good thing she didn't have velcro shoes that don't require the wearer to *sit* down to fasten...

Such an interesting analysis, Jacquie. Especially when you're smart enough to know it warrants analyzing. And then, of course, you articulate it so well. As per.

I have nothing further to say except thanks for sharing.



Kathi D said...

I really appreciate your story and your musings. I had a similar moment years ago (although by myself, no children to worry about or influence). I was visiting San Francisco and walked to a discount warehouse place, and it wasn't until the walk back to the hotel that I really paid attention to the broken glass in the street and the knots of people standing around drinking, etc. I had some shivers and then chided myself for becoming so damn suburban . . .

Rita.the.bookworm said...

However, isn't it Gavin DeBecker who explains the rationale behind being afraid of public speaking? I lost my Gift of Fear book, but I think it was in that book... where he explains that fear of public speaking really hits us in a primal area, where we're really afraid of making an unforgivable fool of ourselves and then being shoved out of the clan which would mean certain death?

I think that the fear that happens when we get lost is from a similar primal place in us. Even if logically, we know we're safe, all the alarms go off because of some deep survival thing in our primitive fight-for-flight response system? I'd imagine so, and those automatic responses are really hard to override and let real-time signals get through.

So, don't be so hard on yourself, you weren't being racist, you were just being a primitive mom, protecting her young!