And Then I Got a Root Canal

A Roundabout Way of Getting Home from San Francisco

by Stewart White

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October 2009, and the end of a delightful long weekend in the City by the Bay. Oh, the sights: Cliff House, Fort Point, the Palace of the Arts, Lombard Street, the Muir Woods, and, yes, the local cuisine. My hosts had been most gracious, welcoming me to their beautiful property on the peninsula south of the city.

Sunday night arrived and it was time to get to the airport for the redeye back East. Baggage in hand, we crossed the backyard headed for the car. I gazed skyward at the velvet night, loving the stars, absorbing one last look. Unfortunately, this meant my attention was not directed earthward, and my left foot caught the hard edge of a paving stone, going off at a bad angle.

My companion (first cousin, once removed) looked concerned and maybe a tad bug-eyed. And well he might, because the baggage went into the air at great speed as my body pitched forward. He later reported hearing a distinct snapping sound. And so, the adventures began.

The woman of the house found us an emergency room in nearby San Mateo, and a fine emergency room Mills Hospital was: no waiting and a most professional staff, probably glad to finally have some action on a slow night. The obligatory x-rays were obtained and the doc confirmed what he suspected: broken like a twig. A temporary set of the fracture was accomplished and we were sent on our way with two admonitions: get it properly set by a competent practitioner back home and don’t get on that plane tonight; a broken ankle in a pressurized cabin leads to absolute misery, and at 30,000 feet there’s no relief.

Nothing daunted and now accessorized with crutches, Cousin zipped me to the airport, but once there, even the highly-experienced counter clerk advised me not to fly with a newly broken ankle. In hindsight, this was sound advice—thank goodness it was too late to catch the flight because I would have been, as we used to say in the 80s, one unhappy camper. All credit must go to Cousin, who brought his A-game that night. Personally, I lack the cojones to leave my car parked at the curb of a busy airport.

The new arrangement was a noon flight to Miami the next day. Since that was to be my original changeover point to Jax, I figured once there I could just get a rental car and drive to my hometown. Simple. With this comforting plan in pocket, Cousin and I returned to his abode where he set me up with some cushions with which to elevate, and I am certain this is the reason I had no severe pain through the whole experience—spending that crucial first night with the foot in the air was the right call. Before too long, I was out like a light.

Cousin was out the door the following morning for an 8:00 meeting. His beautiful and brainy helpmeet took their young one to school and brought me coffee and a muffin upon her return. Her whisking me to the airport seemed ideal but as the carpet cleaners were to arrive at 10:00 a cab became a necessity.

And don’t you love big-city cab drivers? He navigated his way with one hand on the wheel and one holding the GPS (in those pre-hands-free days), all the while delivering himself of comments such as "I hate this area," and "I hate this f*****g street." He made me guess where he was from, and being an accented, swarthy type, I tried Jordan and Syria, and after he said "further south" I realized what he was getting at: yes, he was a Palestinian, and a Christian to boot. And boy, was really, really glad to be out of all that. He said in America people leave him alone, as opposed to the less-than-cordial relations back home with his countrymen who follow the teachings of Mohammed. As I departed, he didn't bother to count the wad I handed him, a sure sign of rapport with a cabbie.

All credit to those guys whose business it is to roll people in wheelchairs through airports; mine was another Middle-Eastern type who responded to my every request, with, “Okay, boss.” It was nice to be called Boss. It was also nice not to have to wait in line at TSA, but I did have to get the whole (seated) wanding treatment.

On to the gate where I neglected to check in (well, I had to overlook something) and for a few unpleasant minutes as everyone else was boarding I sweated out the possibility that I wouldn’t make it onto the plane. Fortunately, a seat for me was available, and right behind a bulkhead so I could prop my leg up—thank you airline folks. I chatted with a very pleasant flight attendant whose jump seat faced mine, and indulged myself with a shot of The Glenlivet. We arrived in Miami about 8:00 pm.

To the courtesy phone and the games began.

I first tried a Best Western and got no answer. Frustrated, I called some no-name motel who said their van had just been there but would be back within the hour. And I believed it. I gamely wheeled myself out to the curb and waited. And waited. And it was muggy (yes, Miami in October). And I waited some more. And I wiped the sweat from my brow. And after an hour, it was back to the courtesy phones. You must picture the scene: my shoulder bag and suitcase on my lap, forming a stack that came up to my chin forcing me to peer over the top. Crutches in one hand, wheeling with the other, steering with one good foot—in all, quite a sight. Down the elevator, across the lobby, to the courtesy phones, contact with a reputable establishment, another promise of a van. Back to the curb. Another sweaty wait during which I could only think, "what if this were July?" Too horrible to contemplate. Hooray, the van arrived and off to the motel where the air conditioning was blessedly efficient. And into the arms of Morpheus I gratefully fell.

Tuesday morning came and with it the realization that the most effective way home at this point was to leave the skies and simply avail myself of a rental car. It was only three hundred miles from Miami to my hometown; I could do that standing on my head. At the car rental place, to my great relief, they had a sedan that could go one way. I rejoiced, I was thrilled, I was finally going to get home, the end of my great ordeal was in sight. I got in the car with a big smile on my face ... and it reeked of wet dog. I could only laugh.

Time to hit the Florida Turnpike. I could handle hours of cruising across identical gently rolling hills of former orange groves (wiped out by the freeze disaster of 1980), but making it to the men's room at a rest area turned out to be a lot more effort than I thought it would ... it’s so easy to take two functioning legs for granted. The simple act of swinging my non-working leg out, pivoting the crutches and hobbling across the seemingly endless expanse of concrete from the parking lot to the building was a trial I would never have expected it to be. Thus, I obeyed my bladder but once on that trip.

What a feeling of relief settled over me when I arrived at my hometown airport to drop off the rental and retrieve my luggage. My family had a professional driver we used from time to time and I had called him an hour out of town so we could rendezvous for the final leg from the airport to the house. I was happily sitting in the rental drop-off lot waiting for Richard to arrive when ... the heavens opened up. It hadn't rained in North Florida in 3 weeks, and Nature finally decided to catch up just as I was sitting there so close to putting a period to my troubles. A good old tropical deluge.

When Richard arrived I gave him my umbrella which the wind saw fit to promptly turn inside out, but my soaked bags and soaked self eventually made it into Richard's truck. By some miracle, the skies finished their downpour by the time we arrived home, and by God, I slept in my own bed that night. Soundly. Thus a most interesting vacation came to an end.

Wednesday I woke up, showered for the first time in three days, and went to the office to start getting caught up on work. Oh, and I also got a root canal.