Meeting in Person

In this modern world, we don’t always have contact and communication with people live, in person. I have 5000 Facebook friends, for instance, most of whom I have not shaken hands with. Some I wouldn’t recognize on the street, either, because their profile picture is one of their cats, or a grandchild, or a political slogan. When you know people in a casual way, this seems fine to me. But there are a few humans I’ve grown very close to, and not having been in their physical presence feels unnatural.

So when my coaching client of 13 years Dan, his wife Ona, and his guide dog Boone decided to fly from Philadelphia to do a reading in San Francisco, I got myself into gear.

I’m not as spry as I once was, and I’m out of practice driving in cities and in traffic, not to mention both at once, but I don’t need a guide dog, so I knew every step of the way that I was having an easier time than my client and friend, the poet Dan Simpson, who has been blind from birth. When I felt some trepidation about the trip: before and during, I took courage from the way Dan moves through the world: on foot, on trains, on escalators, in Ubers and cabs, getting help from strangers all the time. I’m also in a stage of life that’s about recalibrating what we do to accommodate our age and blooming infirmities, shall we say, and I’m trying to help myself be as courageous as possible. Last month I drove myself to Utah and back, which involved cricket swarms and many mountain passes, but neither traffic nor cities.

I’m not an early adopter, nor very tech savvy, and have somehow ended up with a phone service that can make calls but rarely works for anything else unless there is wifi attached, so using GPS is not possible. What I do instead is to figure out a route on my computer before I go to new places and then take pictures of the directions with my phone. This works fine, though I do sometimes have to stop and read a photograph if the route is complicated, which this one was. I can still get around in San Francisco — the city of my birth — to places I’ve been before, but this reading was in a book store in Glen Park. Where is Glen Park? Somewhere on the slopes of Twin Peaks, it turned out.

I got to Bird & Beckett three hours early, having left my house five hours before. I really hate to be late. I had actually read there once myself, but on Zoom from the comfort of the desk in my own kitchen. Full to the brim with sight-seeing, meandering, and did I mention some traffic?, I wrote a poem in my car, and then ate supper in a nice Italian restaurant called Manzoni. For dessert, I had “eggless panna cotta with preserved cherries.” I had never seen it called eggless before, and no recipe I can find includes eggs, so I assume this is just announced to forestall urban food allergy questions. Me, I would put “scrumptious panna cotta” on the menu instead.

Thus restored and fortified, I went back to the bookstore and there were Dan, Ona, and Boone the guide dog, as well as Zack Rogow, the third reader.

Giving Dan a hug was definitely worth any and all traffic I may encounter, and same for Ona. Boone rested his head on my foot through part of the reading, which I took as a high compliment. Both Dan and I said that because we know each other’s voices so well, it didn’t feel strange to be together in person at all. Zack and Ona each read from recent memoirs, and Dan read poems from his latest collection, Inside the Invisible. (I’ll put links at the end.) The mix was very good, and the whole feeling of the evening was deep and intimate and welcoming.

Bird & Beckett is serious about poetry, as you can see from their new-book section. The place can only seat 25, though, so if you go there for a reading, don’t be late. 😉

The next morning, Dan and Ona and I (and Boone) ate breakfast together in a Brazilian cafe in Oakland called Paulina, as one does, and talked for two and a half hours in between espresso drinks, omelets, and lemon muffins. A good time was had by all. They were staying the weekend with relatives, but I had to beat the Friday and Father’s Day weekend traffic, so we said goodbye. When I go on my book tour for Walking Wheel in 2026, I will visit them in Lansdowne, PA.

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