“With the pride of the artist, you must blow against the walls of every power that exists the small trumpet of your defiance.” Norman Mailer

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Recently, I flew to Oakland, CA to visit with my oldest son. He lives downtown near the 19th Street BART station. Five days out of every ten, he commutes to San Francisco. There, he works as an attorney with the Environmental Protection Agency.

I stayed for three nights and four days. My primary reason for the visit was to act as chauffeur as he underwent a routine surgical procedure at the Stanford Medical Center in Palo Alto. I slept on his couch, ran a few errands, and badgered him with my usual 20 questions … each and every day.

He felt well the day after surgery, so I was free to ride the rapid transit into San Francisco and visit with my brother and his family. I have written about them previously, here and here.

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We drove out to Ocean Beach for a leisurely lunch at the Cliff House perched above Seal Rocks. We caught up on family matters. Back at their house, a 1904 Victorian high on the slope of Stanyan Street, we spent another couple of hours visiting. My brother and his wife live on the top floor of this former single family mansion. Their daughter, son-in-law, and grandson live on the second floor. There is also a basement apartment that they rent.

I left at dusk. I rode the BART back to Oakland, thoroughly enlivened by the urban diversity; the gritty beauty of cities that prosper in an environment gorged with humanity. I arrived at my son’s apartment after dark. We watched Bill Maher and then the final hour of the classic 1975 movie, Jaws.

My son is a night owl. I am an early bird. I was up late but arose at 6:00 am. I refreshed myself with a Sunday morning’s exploration of the neighborhood, weaving through the side streets between Broadway and Telegraph Avenue.

Wall murals exist everywhere. They transform the dilapidated buildings and grimy parking lots. The artwork defies extinction with gasps of color. Soon, the street’s character will be devoured by sharks, eating machines such as Pandora, Uber, and Google.

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I returned to my son’s apartment. As I prepared to fly home, my daily 20 questions found answers, some vague, others clear. I am always amazed at the successful life he has carved out in Oakland and San Francisco. I find the hustle, the traffic, and the noise intimidating. Yet, he thrives. And I am further amazed at how this is achieved from the seat of a wheelchair.

The word inspiration falls easily from the lips of other people. But our family does not like it much. Resilience yes, and perhaps perseverance, are more accurate accolades. His personal character development occurred before the injury. Now, he applies that to the life he leads.

The flight home encountered turbulence. The plane bounced high and often upon landing in Portland. I sat in an aisle seat in the final row. I read a book about a boy involved in a plane crash. We both survived.


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Tagged: art, Environmental Protection Agency, multiple myeloma, Oakland, spinal cord injury, writing