Bike Ride with Poet
Around the side of the San Francisco Giants baseball stadium, where summer kayakers and retriever dogs vie for home run balls that land in China Basin, I near two women who are approaching the pier behind the stadium. It is cool, foggy, December, after Christmas. I’m on my bike. The women are pulling suitcases on wheels. One also carries a sleeping bag.
They walk onto the pier. I’m confused. Are they going to camp there like the homeless people? They look far too cared for, for that. Each has blond, streaked hair that must cost a lot to maintain. They take an immediate left off the pier, down a ramp, to the series of block-long floating docks – a marina – where sailboats and motorboats are moored. Of course.
I wonder which boat they’re on their way to. Judging from the hair, a big one. I figure I’ll see them on a boat when I return from the end of the pier.
No one else is on the pier but me. Near the end, I stop, lean my bike against a park bench and sit down. At the bay end of the first floating dock is parked the biggest motor cruise boat in the marina. Several girls, nine or ten, climb out onto the front deck and look out at the bay where huge freighters bide their time, with the brontosaur cranes of Oakland looming behind them.
The power cruiser is maybe fifty feet long. It doesn’t have a helicopter pad but, I am happy to see, it will soon have its complement of cared for women with expensively streaked blond hair. They pull their suitcases abeam, lift them over the side, and climb aboard.
A lone jogger, middle-aged, receding hairline, wearing ear buds, smiles as he trots past me to the very end of the pier. He makes a circle and heads back toward the stadium. As he goes past the second time, I smile, nod, and risk interrupting his jog by saying,
“You know, looking at those people on the boat …”
“What?” he asks, jogging in place, pulling the ear buds out.
“I was looking at those people on the boat,” I say, pointing to the two women who had just boarded The Largest Boat in the Marina, “And I was thinking that I’m really far luckier than they are.”
The jogger breaks into a big grin and says, “That’s great. That’s a great frame of mind to be in.” He pops his ear buds back in, and jogs off, still smiling.
On my ride back to Bernal Heights, once I loop over the China Basin draw bridge, and head down the road that borders the ball park parking lot, I look back at the marina, now a quarter of a mile away, where the tightly packed sailboats create, I have to say it, a forest of masts.
Even as the metaphor lands, it is getting a disapproving stare from Billy Collins, who has been riding along with me in my mind. Too hackneyed. A cliché among boated harbors. Forests of masts turn Billy off almost as much as cicadas do. Having listened to an interview with him on PBS last night, I know he has a comic distrust of poems with cicadas.
I don’t hear cicadas, but as I ride, I am listening to the regular hiss/crash/clang/echo of a pile driver slamming steel piles inch by inch into the ground on the other side of the huge ball park parking lot. The UCSF medical school is adding to the array of buildings that is already tastefully scattered over four square blocks next to the bay. It’s been going on for weeks. Hiss/Crash/Clang. Echo.
Billy might like the pile driver. Not the forest of masts. Definitely not cicadas. But maybe the pile driver.
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