Monday, January 30, 2006

A Drive to Sacramento

I drove to Sacramento to support Clean Money election reform. But that's not the story I want to tell right now.

Riding with me was a man who's been going blind with a hereditary condition since he was six. As a kid, he failed to register the fact that he was supposed to lead a limited life, and went running headlong on country trails with his friends, occasionally slamming into tree branches or later--to his surprise--an actual mature tree. As an adult, he played the game well enough to get a driver's license, and when night blindness crept up on him he would pull over and sleep in his car. He rode a bicycle all over America, and went snow camping solo so he could snow-shoe into the back country.

"There is nothing," he said, "like being in your tent during a blizzard. It's tremendously exciting." Gabe did whitewater kayaking until he slammed into enough objects that he knew it was time to quit. He backpacked all over the Sierra both alone and with his ladylove, and developed a sense of the trail that serves him even today.

Gabe learned early on (he was six when he knew he would eventually go blind) that the only way to avoid becoming helplessly dependent was to charge through life without fear. His headlong approach has resulted in many lacerations, a broken nose, a split scalp, and a somersault over a high sierra boulder and subsequent tumble down a mountainside.

He worked as an auto mechanic and electrician and was so good that supervisors looked the other way when he needed to get help distinguishing the colors of different wires.

Along the way he made bad marriages, got drunk a lot and then got sober for good.

Gabe no longer drives or kayaks. He still strides around his town, preferring to walk late at night whenkthe streets are deserted, so he can walk down the middle of the street.

Doesn't he get disoriented?

"There's a seam in the middle of most streets. Besides, most streets are slightly higher in the middle than on the sides." The sidewalks, he said, are full of obstacles: garbage cans, mailboxes, lampposts, cars. Inevitably, walking the sidewalk, you run into things.

He still runs into things a lot.

His days are filled with political activism--he's passionate about electoral reform--and caring for his grandson Cody.

"I didn't really want grandchildren," he said. And then fell in love with Cody.

Cody's mother is out of the picture and Cody's dad has to work. So Gabe took up the role of caring for him, educating him and turning him into "one of life's winners." Cody is five years old.

(Names have been changed to protect the guilty.)


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