Where There's Smoke . . .

wine and smoke.jpg

Honestly, I want a glass of wine. Make that, need a glass of wine.

After several weeks out of the office posing as a newly-minted semi-retiree, I had to go back downtown the other day to take care of a few things. But it wasn't the usual commute. The ferry dock was being repaired so I drove to the city. Getting there was no big deal, but I began to notice something disconcerting upon arrival.


The smell of smoke.

Not real smoke, mind you, but the kind only a former smoker who has quit can smell. The kind you notice when you're standing in an elevator and a guy steps in next to you smelling like an ashtray. Your lip curls up at the corner, then you exhale through your nose and try to tolerate the unpleasant odor for the short ride to your destination.

"Disgusting," you think to yourself. "I can't believe I ever smoked."

It was like that, only something else. It was an unpleasant aura emanating from every person rushing down the sidewalk in the financial district. Strained, furrowed brows darted this way and that, as if their owners were being tracked by a hunter. The suits and briefcases and clickity-clack of high heels pulling wheeled litigation bags to and from the office buildings told the story of the world inside this bubble. At once I felt out of sorts; as if I didn't belong. As if I had never belonged.

Just an hour earlier I had stopped for coffee on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge. There, people lounged with their newspapers, chatting about politics, a new yoga instructor, and the organic veggies at Whole Foods. The sun shone on the dogs lying lazily near their humans' feet. It was a world I had grown accustomed to in just the short time since beginning this new retirement experience. But now -- downtown -- I was confronted by that hazy, unnatural vibration that permeates every living being. My first instinct was to get away before "it" got on my clothes; before it melted through my skin to unleash that once familiar anxiety and stress that is part of any given day as a trial lawyer.

While I managed to get through an otherwise uneventful day, the experience was punctuated by a drive home that was more akin to a NASCAR event. Though I left early to avoid the traffic (I thought), the rush-hour commuters had long since beat me to it. Cars darted this way and that. Thirty-mile-per-hour signs were boldly disregarded at speeds exceeding sixty. Everyone, in every direction, was in a rush to get away from the rat race and back home to where they had started this morning. Tensions were high, patience was gone, and it was mano-a-mano all the way home. I was exhausted and relieved to finally reach the driveway, and the first thought that hit me the minute the key was in the door was, "I need a glass of wine!"

Just like the old days.

No wonder people are hospitalized left and right from heart attacks, anxiety, and other stress-induced illness. Has our collective human barometer broken down completely? Seems it has. Seems like nothing ever changes, no matter what good intentions we maintain about doing something different or adopting a different lifestyle. We stay stuck in the trap until something -- something -- pries us loose. Illness? A catastrophe? A unplanned and cataclysmic shift in our comfortable routine? That's usually what it takes to get our attention. Absent such an event, precious few of us take the time to consider a reset of priorities, or our relationship to the true meaning of life. We never seem to have the time. 

Maybe it's time to make time, and get out of the smoke-filled room.

It's not too late.



Posted on April 25, 2016 .