May 212012

A couple of months ago, I wrote about reclaiming my local pub. I haven’t quite gotten there yet. But today marks a milestone in my grief recovery. (Not that grief is something to recover from, I welcome it, a heart-opening experience that honors Nancy and makes me more human.)

I picked up dinner at Grilly’s. Let me explain how wonderful this is. Grilly’s is the nearest place I can get Mexican food, the stuff I grew up on, and Grilly’s VERY good. Informal, inexpensive, community-oriented, mostly a take-out place, food that is delightful, fresh, well-prepared. For perhaps five years, during and after our housebuilding project, we would grab something there as a quick and easy dinner. It was nearly always the same thing, a Chicken Taco Salad and a Steak Quesadilla, which we would split as we argued about lighting fixtures, artwork placement, planned hikes or vacations or whatever. This worked when we were living in our 1BR apartment in San Rafael during construction, when we were coming back from a meeting on the construction site, when we were camping up on the hill above the site, even after we moved into the house, and came home too tired to cook for each other. We grabbed dinner from Grilly’s often, sometimes weekly.

I haven’t been able to go there since October.

So tonight I called Grilly’s on the way home and ordered a Chicken Taco Salad and a Steak Quesadilla. They are sitting here before me, awesome as ever, and I am so happy I could dance like Fred Astaire. I’m not swamped in feelings about my loss, I am happy to have this wonderful food in front of me.

The honest truth is, I am enjoying my evening home alone. January and February, I couldn’t do it, and in fact it’s been hard for me to relax and enjoy a solitary evening ever since my twenties. But the last couple of months, I am welcoming solitude as much as I welcome evenings out with my friends. I’m tending to the balance of how I spent my time, so that I can feel my feelings, and learn more of who I am outside of relationship. It’s not easy to sit in the tension of myself. It would be so easy to spend all my time with friends or doing things to stay distracted.

So there is joy here, as much as sorrow. The food and the smell and the experience of plating it reminds me of all the good times we ate delicious things, drank nice wines, banged our engineering and design heads together, stubborn and negotiatory, making our house better and better. I’m finally feeling some connection between who I am now, a widower blinking my eyes in the sunlight of a new life, and who I was then, the partner of a design perfectionist, creating something that is amazingly cool.

Damn, this food is good.

May 152012

Last week, I mentioned returning to my younger years. The honest truth is, I haven’t been ‘single’ since my mid-twenties, and in some weird way, I seem to need to reconnect to who I was then, in order to move forward. Let’s see, I had British and Italian sports cars, a Honda CB350 motorcycle…and discovered BMW’s. OMFG, fun vehicles that are well-engineered, where I don’t have to re-sync the carbs or fix some damn electrical connector on the way to work every week. I became a hard-core bimmerphile…

Some years ago, while we were building our home, I sold off my beloved BMW M cars to help pay bills. The years without a BMW (except my favorite, the old airhead) were tough, but I was driving the F150, cleaning our construction site and recycling stuff and hauling fixtures and lighting and equipment to keep costs down. In the mean time, we bought this nice white ’97 BMW 528i (which Nancy mostly drove) to help transport our parents. Last year, we added a Mini Cooper so I could economically commute. All so practical.

(And yes, the Mini is a hoot, a throwback to my days with Austin Healy Sprites. An awesome fun, 36mpg car.)

Then last summer, the head cracked on the 528i when Nancy was driving it. Engine trashed, not worth repairing. The white bimmer has sat neglected in front of our home ever since. I’ve honestly felt bad every day, seeing her there, forlorn, of course a reflection of how forlorn I’ve felt. Until last month, when I looked at her in her layer of dust, and decided she was my girl (vehicularly speaking, of course!)

So I’ve started turning her into a Q-car. Pardon me, I’m going to geek out here. The E39 BMW body is a simple, classy and compact vehicle with great handling, one of my favorite designs. The six-cylinder M52 motor is light, the weight balance is great, so this car is toss-able on twisty roads. Roomy for four, big trunk space, quiet and elegant.

Looking on, I immediately found a rare S52 motor from a wrecked BMW M3 for a good price. Recognizing this as a divine gift, I picked it up in my construction truck (“Roy”, the fabulous Ford F150), and brought it to my local shop for transplant. What’s an S52? Basically a drop-in replacement for the stock motor, but rated at 250+ hp. Same weight, so the car handles well, but lots more power.

Ok, this is good, she’s on the road and accelerates like Batman on steroids. But handling is not great. Shocks are worn, and it’s time to replace the tires anyway, so…I found a set of wheels on craigslist from a recent BMW 550i — 8.5” wide in the front and 9.5” in the rear. They are huge, with 275/35-18” low-profile tires, compared to the original 15” wheels. Three days ago, they were installed, and are absolutely the most rubber on the road that can be squeezed into this car without looking obsequious. But in the words of the immortal John D. MacDonald, she’d “roll you sick on a wet lawn”. Mama needs new shocks.


Ja, arrived last week, installed today. Bilstien HD’s, for the automotive cognoscenti. I’m suddenly driving a taut, Teutonic sedan with neck-compressing attitude at full throttle.

My younger self dreamed of ownership of glorious machines like Aston Martin’s, or even the BMW M1 circa 1979. I now have a quiet, unassuming-looking car that cost maybe five thousand bucks to bring back to life, and outperforms the dreams of my youth. Yes, the state of the art, 10 to 100x more expensive, is much better these days…it’s hard to beat a $100K Porsche. But there is a joy in taking a car that could be tossed into recycling, and doing the things needed to bring her back. It’s economical, and a fun “guy thing”. And such a great opportunity to build a dream. She’s mine.

The dream works on multiple levels. I am in a different personal vehicle now, moving through a new life. It’s no surprise that my outer vehicle, the car that I drive, has to change. So cool that it is my own choice, my own expression. The BMW brotherhood understands. The service guy I worked with today (Jeff, at Bavarian Professionals) said “How cool to have an S52 in an E39?”

Peeling another layer, I notice how my resurrection is through a more masculine gateway. I now find paths to deeper joy that are not all about my relationship with my partner. I used to take a thousand or three-thousand-mile motorcycle vacation each summer. I have two great bikes. Perhaps that is coming next. Perhaps I’m saying this to make sure it does.

May 072012

Right on schedule, glorious warm weather has exploded on the San Francisco bay area over the last few days. It’s harder than usual to feel preoccupied with Nancy’s passing. The cycle of the seasons has taken me, loss in winter, rebirth in spring. In fact, I feel more alive and future-focused than I have in a year. It’s so spectacularly nice outside, both day and night as we had a full moon this weekend. It’s my first spring time as a single man in nearly thirty years.

So I hiked, hot-tubbed, dined out, went to the SF ballet, drank tequila, hiked some more. I spent time with important, lovely, kind and affectionate friends. Attended a remarkable dharma talk at Sukhasiddhi, by Lama Drupgyu. Found new wheels and tires for my resurrected BMW sedan, then ironically had to change a flat tire with four new ones in the car. Cooked a delightful dinner late at night, and watched the moon setting over the hills at 6am this morning.


It’s amusing that the ballet was Don Quixote, one of the very first novels ever written (right after invention of the printing press), a story of an older man re-entering his youthful aspirations, making mistakes, going on the Hero’s Journey, finally initiating into maturity. It was a very fine performance by the way, and I have to say that the SF Ballet is Doing Very Well, speaking as a 40-year attendee.

So much of what I do now feels distantly familiar, an echo of my life the last time I was single. I have to start where I am, reconnecting to things I’ve always been passionate about but allowed to slide into the background. I’m older now, so my hips ache after hours of hiking and climbing, I don’t drink like I did in my twenties, I’m not staying up late night after night.

But I feel younger, finally looking forward to what is coming into my life more than I grieve loss in the past. Don’t get me wrong, loss is still ever-present, I water my garden with tears every day still, and I wonder how many months or years that will continue.

And…there are fresh flowers on the altar.