Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Five Days Off the Grid

I'm back home, back on the grid, in front of a real keyboard. To briefly recap my last several days:

Friday, 6 AM, near San Diego Airport - I leave the rental car lot in a Chevy Aveo. Compared to the '92 beater Tercel I get around in, this thing is an SUV with all the bells and whistles. It even has a radio that works.

Los Angeles, an eternity later - I finally get to Sylvia's place somewhere in Westwood. I've only fried 99 billion brain cells in the local freeway traffic, so I'm in good shape. Since getting my license last year after 30 years of not driving, this represents my longest drive ever, and we have miles to go before we sleep.

We're headed off to the two-day Russian River Jazz and Blues Festival deep in the woods of Sonoma County in Northern CA. Our hosts Sherman and Liz have extra beds in their two RVs, but just in case I've brought along a tent. I met Sherman two years ago at a state NAMI conference. Sherman is on the CA NAMI board, runs his own business that delivers a range of services to people with disabilities, and is very active in civic and human rights and mental health efforts on local and state levels.

At the most recent state NAMI conference, I got a chance to hang out with Sherman, plus his girlfriend Liz and "little sister" Sylvia.

Los Angeles, a coffee and a fruit smoothie later - Sylvia and I are off. She has thoughtfully brought along some great CD's to match her sparkling company. The miles go by ...

The Bay area - Darkness is closing in fast. I am wearing down and I'm way out of my comfort zone, on sensory overload close to panic. Sylvia acts as my Ground Control to Major Toms and gets us over the Golden Gate Bridge in one piece. Then I settle down and focus on the last leg of the journey.

But Sylvia lays down the law: No driving back for me. I simply wasn't ready to take my driving to this level. I'm smart enough to listen. With my diagnosis, I need to accept that from time to time other people need to be my brains. We will be turning the car in up north and flying back.

Late evening, Guernville, Russian River, way behind schedule - We pull into the RV camp. Thankfully, I have two operational neurons. Sherman greets us. I just want to crash and break Rip Van Winkle's record, but someone pours me a wine, and the next thing I'm partying with everyone else. Liz graciously offers sleeping space in her RV, and I'm out like a light.

Saturday morning - Today is Jazz Festival day. Framed by a river and mighty redwoods, with ospreys circling above, God is the master builder and special effects guy for this venue. Sylvia has laid out a gourmet nibbles spread at the site, where the music comes in loud and clear. We spend the better part of the day migrating from one locale to the other.

Afternoon - Like driving, I can easily reach overload being around people. I manage to steal some time to myself with a nap and a walk.

Evening - Sherman's friend Charles has prepared an off-the-hook meal for everyone. More partying. I haven't thought about my usual daily garbage since leaving San Diego. I've left that world far behind, and am fully engaged in this one. This is good for me - so long as I don't overextend myself. Fortunately, I'm in bed by 2 AM, so there's nothing to worry about.

Sunday morning - I'm helping Charles cook breakfast. Today is Blues Festival day. Down below, the joint is jumpin'.

Later - I don't do my nap or walk, but I'm chilling out quietly in Sherman's RV, with several others. I'm ready to call it a night at 9, but Sherman leads us to the local bar, where the house band is blowing the roof off the dump. Suddenly I'm wide awake. Much later, in Sherman's trailer, a bunch of us wind down with chunky monkey ice cream. Life doesn't get any better than this.

Monday morning - Life is balance, yin and yang. This morning is all about yin. I'm walking along the river bank with a new friend. The clouds that have been hovering below the redwood canopy are breaking up. A great blue heron is sunning itself on a nearby spit. Still, peaceful. A perfect moment. Perfect.

Monday afternoon - We break camp and head out to Sherman's who lives a short distance away. I spend most of my time in the kitchen, prepping food for Charles' next masterpiece.

Definitely an early night for me. Then Sherman suggests a quick visit to the local karaoke joint. We end up closing the place.

Tuesday morning - I need to be at a NAMI San Diego Board meeting at 5:30 PM. I make a quick tactical decision and decide to book a flight that will get me there after the meeting is over. I don't like missing meetings, but I'm no good to anyone if I don't put myself first this time. Two months earlier, I canceled an LA trip in order to make a board meeting that had been rescheduled. So I have no guilt feelings over opting out of this one.

I turn in my car, and am off on a shuttle bus to Oakland Airport. In the Southwest terminal I'm confronted by the depressingly dreary sight of sleep-deprived business travelers with cell phones glued to their ears.

Nine PM - I'm back home. I call for my cat, Batty. No show. Twenty minutes later, she makes an appearance, clearly expressing her displeasure over my absence. She decides to forgive me, sort of.

This time, I do manage to get to bed early.

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