I was bicycling home, as I do, and I stopped at the four-way stop. As I do. I looked around the dial, as I do, and checked for other traffic. There was a car to my left, whose driver gave what I assumed was the "after you" wave, so I proceeded into the intersection as I do. That's when I heard the driver of that car yell out after me, "Do you know who I am?" I put my head down and kept pedaling, giving a quiet "Thank you" and a wave back. As I do.
I spent the next few blocks ruminating on the challenges and periodic terrors of riding a bicycle through urban Oakland. Mean streets. This is why I am grateful that my commute tends to be at off-peak hours to keep me from experiencing all the excitable motorists on their way to and fro. I went over and over the incident in my mind, trying to imagine how I could possibly have been in the wrong. I was to the driver's right, giving me the right of way. And I had been waved through out of what I assumed was consideration for my two-wheeled conveyance. Some people just shouldn't be allowed on the road. Not me, of course.
I was on my way to shaking it off when I saw that same car, or one that I was reasonably certain was the same car, pull into the intersection in front of me. Oh good, I thought, a chance to have a cathartic screaming fit on the side of the road with an enraged motorist. As I rolled up, a woman stepped out of the car, and my mind began to size up possible confrontations. She looked familiar, and I began to wonder if this wasn't the parent of one of my students. As I came to a stop, a smile appeared on her face. "Mister Caven! Don't you remember me?"
Now my brain dropped into facial recognition mode. This looked like someone I knew. A long time ago. "How are you? Are you still teaching computers?"
I confessed that yes, I was and I was still at that same old school. The same old school from which she had been promoted nineteen years ago. This was Alice. She was among the very first crop of kids that I shepherded through the ups and downs of elementary school. She was the cousin of two of my fourth grade students who came in a later episode. She asked me about all those teachers who had come and gone since she had been there. Along with our cafeteria supervisor, I was the lone survivor of all the departures, retirements and disappearances.
Then she recounted all the adventures she and her family and friends had experienced in the two decades since we had regularly crossed paths. She had just turned thirty. Her cousin was twenty-one and getting ready to return to college after some time off. She told me she met regularly with her elementary school friends. "Those are still the best friends I have."
We talked for fifteen minutes or more, standing on the side of the street. I asked if she wouldn't mind coming by and seeing the old place. She offered to help out, "When I can." Before she got back in her car and I rode off, we exchanged an awkward sideways hug. As I do.
And I reveled in how quickly a day can turn around.