Last Friday I was an emotional ping pong ball, bouncing from one side of the net to the other. I lost an old friend, found a new one, and realized at the end of the day my small corner of the world is a really good place.
After my beloved broken Volvo sat for several days collecting grime on Clement Avenue while I weighed getting top dollar against the risk of inviting bad guys into my life, I finally made the decision to donate it to the Alameda Boys and Girls Club. I felt as if I checked the box on a DMV form, making it an organ donor. (It did have a brand new radiator…)
The dispatcher called to say the tow truck was out front and I headed down the warehouse stairs. As I handed the driver my key, I relayed the tragedy of its Bay Bridge breakdown and the terminal diagnosis of a probable cracked head gasket too expensive for me to repair. (See previous column.) He looked at me kindly through big brown eyes. Maybe this happens to him on a regular basis, because his curbside manner was impeccable.
I stood in the doorway as he tilted the steel flatbed, drove the gray sedan up onto his truck and strapped it in for the ride to Auction City. I began to cry and stepped back into the warehouse so he wouldn’t see me.
But as I did, I remembered the day our old lab mix, Callie, could no longer walk a few feet without her back hips failing. We took that final trip to the veterinarian where I handed Callie’s leash to the tech and watched her disappear through the wooden door. I couldn’t bear to see her put down.
I regret it. I should have held her tightly in my arms.
So I dragged my sleeve across my cheeks and forced myself back through the doorway to watch the truck pull away from the curb with my old friend on its back. The driver waved through his open window good-naturedly, and when he turned onto Grand Street I headed upstairs to distract myself with work.
Later that afternoon I received a package from a stranger — a Patch reader who read my column about the homeless Alameda 10th grader. The padded envelope contained a handwritten note, a $500 gift card, and a copy of a college paper dated April 7, 1999. She asked me to read the card and paper to make sure they were OK to pass along.
Her card began, “Dear ‘Jane’ — You don’t know me, but I know a little about you. When I read your story, I saw a little of myself in you. It took me back to the family stress I experienced at the age of 15.”
I won’t share the entire contents of the note or paper. But I cried for the second time that day. This stranger reached out to offer strength, advice and encouragement. She wrote, “I want you to know you’re not alone. People go through all sorts of rough patches in life. Things will get better. Twenty years later, I’m proof of that.”
In addition to the package, I received generous donations from a few close friends and a string of Patch comments with advice for the family. Christopher Ward of is working on establishing a donation link for them as well.
There may be bad people out there preying on unsuspecting used car owners, but there are many more good ones. Some are friends, and some are strangers.
Some reached out after my awkward attempt at professional journalism at the America’s Cup “Meet the Skippers” briefing. A neighbor offered to arrange an interview with a sail maker. A Weight Watcher buddy invited me to be her guest at the Encinal Yacht Club for a chance to meet the Artemis team. My eldest niece left a voicemail saying I could get a device for my not-so-smart phone to record more clearly so I don’t have to depend on illegible notes scribbled on the fly. Finally, while I was watching the evening news, my personal “Deep Throat” called with a tip on where to find Alameda-based sailors at the end of their day.
I’m not telling where, but I found them! At first they seemed worried I was a complete nutcase but became friendlier when I mentioned I had a 28-year-old daughter who once sailed for UCLA. (I had to break it to them gently that her Facebook status was “in a relationship.”)
So from breakfast to bedtime, it was a ping pong day — completely exhausting.
My reader (and new friend) said it best in her college paper 13 years ago: “Without my friends I probably wouldn’t appreciate the world for all that it has to offer. To know that the love you get is the love you give.” She quoted a poem taped to her computer monitor as she typed — “to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden path, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. That is to have succeeded.”