You Gotta Have Friends

I woke up yesterday morning, April 18th, after having had a whirlwind trip to Los Angeles from the Bay Area, flying into Burbank and out in one day. Was I nuts? I'm struggling with a heart condition, borderline diabetes and the last thing I should be doing is stressing myself out with the downright annoyance of airports, rental cars and grumpy people on an 80 degree afternoon in April. But I'm a loyal Leo. And my close friend and colleague Madeline was having one of her fine playwriting pieces performed at the Stella Adler Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. I promised I would go and I did. It was great. I got to see new and old friends, applaud her sweetly funny incisive piece and witness the passion of an African-American theatre company exploring why black lives really do matter.

Except the trip had taken its toll and the next day, I was a wreck physically. I had the usual tightness in my chest, kept popping baby aspirins to make sure I didn't have a stroke and then ended up with indigestion and lethargy. At 2 p.m. I remembered suddenly I had a 3 p.m. appointment with an endocrinologist to get the results of important blood tests. I was still in my PJs, old makeup caked on my oily face, hair matted and dirty. No time for a shower, I erased the grime with a wet facecloth, grabbed my little black backpack that was surprisingly light, hmmm, jumped in my red Prius, and speeded like a drunken lunatic down the street. Did I mention that the endocrinologist charges $500 for a missed appointment?

Of course, I got lost once I turned on Ashby Avenue because my mind was still back in my home office messing around on Facebook. It was about 2:45 so I decided to regroup, trying desperately to remember where the hell Colby Street was in Berkeley. And then it hit me: it was the one going in the other direction, a mile back. I did a U Turn (illegally? who knows?) and finally reached Colby, banged a right and ended up staring at the only parking lot in the complex and a big red and white sign: FULL. Okay. I knew there was no readily available street parking so I decided I'd just wait there until someone exited and then there'd be a space, right? It was now 2:55. At exactly 3 p.m. (according to my I Fit), someone drove through to pay their parking fee and I waved at the woman in the booth who ignored me. I jumped out of the car and pleaded with her to let me in. She stared right through me and mumbled, "Fine. And good luck." The gate rose, I zoomed up the ramp. And up ... and up and up (no spaces) until I reached the top level where there were still no spaces anywhere. It was now 3:10. I spotted a sign: concierge parking only. I jumped from my car and hollered to the parking attendant, "Here! Me!" He sauntered over (how dare he!) and said, "Sorry, lady. No spaces." I begged him, telling him I had five minutes to get to the doctor's office or it would cost me $500 for a missed appointment. I was crying. (That always works but I added "heart condition" for insurance.)

He took my keys, handed me a ticket, I grabbed my surprisingly light weight backpack ... hmmm ... and ran like the wind to ... the wrong building. It was now 3:20. I was so screwed, I could have been a cork in a bottle of Chardonnay. As I am running to the right building, it suddenly occurred to me that my backpack was light because it had NOTHING in it! Dear god I had forgot to switch the contents from my traveling on airplanes backpack to my going to the doctor's backpack. I had no money, no license, no health care card, no proof of identity, no PHONE and I was pretty certain my Chase account was now $500 lighter. But worst of all I had no way to pay for parking and no way to call anyone. This moment of realization that you are completely a bag person on the streets of Berkeley with a lot of other bag people is a huge wake up call. Would I have to beg? Would I have to say, "I have no bus fare? Can you help me out?"

Oh well, I realized it just was what it was. And in that moment the panic left me. Something told me it would all be okay. The doctor would understand and not charge me $500. The receptionist would only charge me an extra 15 bucks because I could not pay my co-payment. I could live with that. And someone in the doctor's office would lend me a couple of bucks to get my car out of parking, right? Nope. "Sorry, that's just inappropriate." "Not much I can do." "Oh that's funny." "Poor you. Better be more careful next time." I left Dr. WhoShallBeNameLess's office vowing to switch over once and for all to Kaiser where they had nice people and a more efficient system and walked back to the parking garage one and a half hours later. Which meant I would need at least 5 bucks and some change to get my car and drive home. And then I heard it. Jingling coming from ... wait ... was it emanating from my backpack? Yes! I reached inside and found a little red velvet bag of quarters. The bag of quarters I was supposed to bring with me to Los Angeles but had accidentally left (okay, I'm a senior ... I forget a lot of stuff) in my "going to the doctor's" backpack. But how much was there? Would there be enough? I sat on the curb and counted, like a greedy addict hoping to buy another cheap bottle of gin. Or vodka. Or whatever. Any way there weren't enough quarters.

I approached the woman at the window yet again. She slid open the window and said, in a beautiful Haitian lilt, "What do you want, crazy lady?" And I proceeded to tell her my story. I offered the red velvet bag to her. She looked at me and laughed. "Give me your ticket. Go get your car." I drove up to the window 10 minutes later, waiting as she helped another driver and then she said to me with a wry smile, "Go. Oh and here. You have change," and handed me back the red velvet bag. I drove very carefully, looking out for police cars, and made my way home. When I was in front of my house, I opened the red velvet bag. Inside was a shiny new penny that I am pretty certain had never been in there before. I smiled and felt something warm and lovely filling me up. Much better than any shot of gin or vodka. I was completely at peace, knowing that there are still truly fine and beautiful souls in this world.

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