Ride with Me: Hillside Coyotes, the Gambling Senior, and Passenger Talks Before and After recovery narrative in Richmond, CA

More and more people are moving to Richmond, a city of 109,000 occupants, as rent prices increase in Oakland and San Francisco. In recent years three breweries have opened, and it’s projected to be one of the next hubs of gentrification. Despite this, it still carries a reputation for being dangerous and undesireable, much like Oakland once did (and to some extent still does). 

Some of its surrounding towns and cities include Hercules, where all the streets seem to be named after Gods; and Pinole, quieter and with more of a suburban feel (One Yelper writes, “Location is great, reasonably close to SF, Oakland, etc– close to Napa and Marin for getaways, but you still have some peace and quiet and space.”). 

After a jaunt through the rolling green hills of Pinole I end up at East Bay Coffee Company, which I find to be surprisingly vibrant inside, with people studying, creating, and chatting–a contrast to the emptied, serene environment of the street it resides on.

~~~

Passengers

I pick up a group of four older people with Irish accents from a Peruvian restaurant.

 “Did you hear the coyotes last night?” one of them asks the other, as we ascend the hills of Richmond.

 A younger woman has just gotten off work providing around the clock care for a 100-year-old lady. She says the woman likes to browse the internet for online shopping deals at 11 at night. 

Towards the end of our ride, driving through a residential neighborhood of Richmond, I spot a cute boxer dog sniffing at a Mickey Mouse stuffed animal, next to an overturned walker on the side of the road. 

When I drive by it again two minutes later (after dropping the passenger off), I see that the boxer now has his paws on top of Mickey and is biting Mickey’s ears.

~~~~~

Reader questions: Have I ever gotten the same passenger twice?

Any time I receive a request in a new area, or one that I don’t typically drive in, it’s intriguing. I’m met with the thrill of the unknown as I wonder who the passenger will be, where they are coming from, and where they will go. 

This is especially the case right now, as I think to myself: “Where would someone who lives in El Sobrante– a quiet, residential town of mostly older people tucked into the hills– be off to right now on a Tuesday night, past 10 pm?”

The passenger is Edna, a slight, older Asian lady, and the answer is San Pablo Casino. Casinos seemed to be a theme that night, as I received this request about an hour after dropping Yutaka and Marie off (see entry here https://bit.ly/3DVqTNk ).

I learn later that the San Pablo Casino–operated by the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians– used to be a supermarket and trailer park, and was only converted into a casino as recently as 2002.

 A few days later, I got Edna as a passenger again. Bit by the gambling bug, she was headed back to the casino. You go, Edna! I thought.

~~~~~

Bigger Passenger Story: The before and after narrative as it applies to mental health recovery–in what ways can it be harmful?

In the conversation I overhear between two middle-aged women during this car ride, here’s what I glean: Once a temperamental alcoholic, Janine’s* husband Danny* is now (after returning from rehab) a sanguine, reformed man. Janine wants that old man back though. She misses the alcoholic.

Even though on the surface Danny was calmer– he no longer yelled, threw things, or lost control– something still felt off. His relaxed demeanor painted him unshakably Zen and calm; yet for Janine, this came at the expense of authenticity. It arrived with the cost of emotional impenetrability, with Janine feeling like she could no longer get through to him.

Danny had taken to the passive-aggressive ritual of sticking red post-it notes on every object in the house that he disapproved of, with a pseudo-pacifying smiley face drawn on each one (“really no more pacifying than a smile from Donald Trump,” Janine remarked). 

“I might still have one,” she says. She pulls out a crumpled-up red paper scrap from her purse, unfolding it to reveal an earnest smiley face. With my eyes on the road, I’m not able to see it–but her friend comments that it seemed shy even (if that was possible), conveying an air of “I come in peace.”

 To Janine, the one silver lining to Danny’s alcoholism had been that while angry at the very least he was real. And afterwards when apologizing for drunken fits, he’d show vulnerability. 

“He would talk to me as his real self. I could access his pain. It felt like we could get somewhere in the process of picking up the pieces and re-assembling them together. Arrive at some form of clarity. “

Now, vulnerability–or at least humility–was nowhere to be found. Danny was supposedly a perfect man now, so he no longer apologized for mistakes. The inauthenticity made Janine feel lonelier than his volatility ever did.

I hear the sound of the smiley face post-it note being crumpled up into a tiny red ball, and a few minutes later, I drop the women off.

~~

Once they are gone, I reflect on our ride. What comes up for me is the idea that I think that many of us—not just alcoholics or recovered addicts–enact some variation of Danny’s behavior at certain points in our lives. In trying to create distance from our pasts, we end up (perhaps too rigidly) dividing our selves into two versions: “Who I am Now” versus “Who I Used to Be.” 

Aspects of this can be healthy, I think. The mindset encourages a dedication to an updated, perhaps more positive set of ideals. Still, while I do believe that people are capable of remarkable change and growth, I also believe that a lot of the time this growth is a messy, gradual, and nonlinear process. 

“We want to believe healing is purer and more perfect, like a baby on its birthday,” wrote Cheryl Strayed.

As Cheryl Started wrote, “We want to believe healing is purer and more perfect, like a baby on its birthday. Like we’re holding it in our hands. Like we’ll be better people than we’ve been before.”

Healing often doesn’t work like that though. Rarely does it occur as quickly as Danny claimed his did.

Perhaps the speed with which Danny proclaimed himself reborn–rapidly and seemingly overnight—was what disconcerted Janine. Because maybe his insistence that he was a reformed man kept him from feeling any need to think critically about his present actions–as he could now abide by a predetermined script for what constituted “good behavior” rather than be faced with the messy work of moment-to-moment self-examination and acceptance of alternative viewpoints. He could cast aside attunement to the nuances of the present (wherein “goodness,” “the right thing” and “correct behavior” can vary, or at times be relative). 

I think we forego at least some level of self-awareness when we assume that our new self-identification absolves us from any potential wrongdoing. In excess, questioning of the self can be debilitating and un-constructive, but a healthy amount of it is necessary for growth.

Subscribing to a before and after narrative may not only be harmful to other people, but to our own selves as well. Any faltering or mistakes we make from the point at which we’ve decided we’ve undergone a rebirth– when operating from within this paradigm– may be likelier to lead us to the broad, defeatist conclusion that we “must not have really changed after all.” 

For example, a recovered addict who has relapsed might say to themself, “You slipped. This means you haven’t changed. New Danny wouldn’t have over-eaten. You must still be Old Danny then. Which means New Danny isn’t real.” And if he then disbelieves that his new self– therefore none of the accompanying positive changes– are real, then what’s standing in the way of him re-adopting, full-force, the unhealthy habits of before?

As one Reddit commenter (lol) wrote, Change isn’t a linear process, but rather, something much more complex and all over the place. BoJack did change, and for the better, however, just because he, or anyone, had improved and altered their outlook, it doesn’t mean that old habits won’t creep back.”

I believe that who we are, in all of our iterations, to some extent will always stay with us to at least some degree. Even if one lays dormant at a given time in his life, both New and Old Danny are present (alongside the thousands of other versions that constitute our infinitely complex characters). We might make remarkable progress, but the potential for fallibility or slipping into old ways remains. No amount of progress will turn us into an all-knowing being absolved from listening to the perspectives or opinions of the mere mortals around us.

I don’t say this for anyone to feel hopeless, or to suggest that there’s no point in ever trying to change. Rather, my intent is the opposite: to motivate consistent healthy choices and keep from falling into complacency. It’s also to encourage us to dedicate energy towards embodying the best person we can be, knowing that that person is not a constant or a given, but rather, results from our daily actions and decisions. 

**Thanks for reading! Follow us on IG @lyft_tales

~~~

Photo credits

San Pablo Casino– https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww

Published by esteph42190

A 30-year-old queer bilingual writer born and raised in the Bay Area, I’ve been writing since before I knew how to spell. Balancing my generative energy with a desire to inform, as a child I printed and distributed to classmates publications that included The News Newsletter and Health Digest (ironic considering I also ran an illicit candy business that landed me in the principal’s office several times). As a student at UC Davis I wrote for The California Aggie, with pieces ranging from an exploration of gender roles in the movie Tangled to my own weekly psychology column. After graduating I kept a bilingual blog of my 14 months living in Montevideo, Uruguay, and upon returning continued to blog about social issues and human psychology.

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