Driving is a privilege you take for granted from the time you get your license. It had never occurred to me that it was a privilege that could be taken away. It had always felt more like a right. The fact that I had my license taken away for having a seizure, lying down in bed in my Mom’s backyard, felt grossly unfair. Just thinking about it was almost enough to induce another seizure.
What are you supposed to do if you can no longer drive? Bum rides everywhere you go? Buy a bus pass? Not in Orange County. Take an Uber to work and back? You can’t just run to the store. You can’t visit a nearby city. You can’t take a drive up the coast or go on a camping trip. You need to be able to drive just to have a life.
To get my driver’s license back I had to be cleared by a doctor, and submit the extensive paperwork I’d been sent, back to the DMV before the hearing. Because of COVID, the hearing was to be conducted over the phone.
Before I could even make a doctor’s appointment, I had to figure out why I’d never received my Medi-Cal card or provider information, even though I’d been approved for the program five months earlier. I’d made some calls, first to Covered California, then Cal Optima, and finally to Social Services, and had been told someone would get back to me. That seemed unlikely.
Then the unexpected happened. A plucky social worker went full Sherlock Holmes on my case and unearthed a glitch in the program. One day she left a message on my Mom’s landline answering machine, out of breath, like she’d run up basement stairs with a box full of evidence that she’d just dug up. It had been their fault, she admitted. All their fault. She was sending out my Medi-Cal card that day, and backdating my benefits until November.
That meant all the expenses from my emergency room visit would be covered. Thank God for that. Someday I’ll write a story about the case worker who dared to care, and send it to the Everyday Heroes section of Reader’s Digest. Things wouldn’t get much better for a long time, but at least the hole I’d fallen into wasn’t as deep anymore.
Once I got my Medi-Cal card, I could then get an appointment with a doctor. I chose to go through Alta-Med, since I’d been to their clinic in Huntington Beach before, and knew it was close enough to ride a bike to. When I called to make the appointment, I told them any doctor was fine, so they assigned me a Dr. Wu.
Now, about the bike. My Dad’s old bike, the one that looked like a black and white spotted cow, was so rusted out that the brakes seemed to be welded into a locked position. When I’d taken it down to Jax, where I’d always been able to get work done in a day or two, I was told that due to the pandemic, they were now backed up two to three months on repairs. Then I had my Mom drive me to Target and Walmart to look for a bike and they were completely sold out.
One day my Mom took a walk around her neighborhood, social distancing the whole time, and came upon a bike that was locked to a tree with a For Sale sign. She took the initiative to write down the number and get a hold of the owner. When I got home later, she couldn’t wait to share the good news. She felt like it was an answer to prayer. I asked her what kind of bike it was and she asked if it mattered. I said that it did kind of matter, that a touring bike with curved handlebars and thin tires, the kind you ride in the Tour de France, probably wouldn’t work for me, and that seemed to hurt her feelings. I told her I’d talk to the owner.
The bike turned out to be a Schwinn Voyageur. It was a blue road bike and worth the one hundred and seventy-five they were asking for it, although I figured you could probably get a new one for the same price if there wasn’t a global pandemic going on. My Mom wanted to buy it for me, so we walked over, wearing face masks, made the transaction, and then I took it for a ride.
Nine months earlier I’d sailed up the Amazon River, from the mouth of it, at Belem, Brazil, to the port of Iquitos in Peru, a distance of four thousand miles. Now I was living in my Mom’s backyard, with a bicycle as my only mode of transportation, eating a bowl of ice cream before going to bed each night. At that rate of devolution, I figured my next two projects might be getting braces, then looking for a paper route.