Sunday, October 22, 2017

What would you take?

15 seconds:  you take nothing but yourself, your kids, your pets, maybe your phone.  Shoes on your feet, count it out.... 1, 2, 3 ......15. It's not enough time to think about anything except the flames and the heat and the sirens and your kids, your life, what you love.  You run.  You regret nothing.

15 minutes: the same as above but now you can take your laptop, coats for your kids and shoes, maybe some food for the kids and the dog, a blanket, there's no time to look for papers but you grab your wallet, that jar of cash hidden in the sock drawer that you have been saving for a vacation, the painting your Dad made when you were a kid, it's smaller than a book so easy to carry, some underwear, socks, that's it, time to go, there's your kid's favorite stuffed animal, as you run out the door you grab the blanket on the couch, who knows, it will be cold, maybe and then into the car, thank goodness you have the keys, you drive away. Flames are coming into the backyard of your house, you know you will never see it again like this so you stop the car and you are crying, everyone in the car is crying, for every reason: loss, gratitude, wonder and fear.

30 minutes: it seems like a gift, you think, this time to gather up what might be the remainders of your life. Your family has clothes and blankets and coats and the dog and the cat and they are all in the car, waiting for you. What should you take?  You have your passport, your wallet with the small amount of stashed cash you always thought would be your escape hatch, you have that box of your Mom's jewelry which is probably worth nothing but it's easy to carry. This is the home you have lived in for 20 years and yet there is so little to grab.  Flames are across the street, you can hear voices from the car, your family needs you now, you have to run. Shoes? Are you wearing them?  A coat? Oh, yeah, OK. You aren't afraid, you are calm. Part of you wants to stay and see what happens but you know what will happen if you stay and while part of you wants to stay and watch, now it's no longer about you, it's about others.  You run to the car and you speed away, there are flames everywhere and everyone but you is crying.  You think: there will be nothing left, and you are fine with that. You are fine with that. You drive your family away and you are fine with that. You have your family, you have yourself. You are fine. 

We Californians know how to pack for an earthquake, to take food, water, flashlight, identification, etc.  What we would take in a fire is completely different.

What would you take?  Given 15 minutes or 30?  Think about it.



Friday, October 20, 2017

Video on the fire from Monday morning, pre-dawn hours

I sent this to some people yesterday.  Some firefighters were dispatched from Berkeley to Santa Rosa in the wee hours of Monday morning, October 9.  This video shows the Coffey Park fire and other parts of the fire, but what makes it the best video I've seen is the immediacy of the fire and their reactions to it.  Watch it.  Keep in mind that the K-Mart that burned was about two miles from where I live. Coffey Park is about three miles from my 'hood.  Had the winds changed course and had they become southern winds, my neighborhood would have been a duplicate of Coffey Park, as would most of central Santa Rosa.

Here it is:

Return to home for many = ashes

This morning I drove to Bottle Barn (perilously low on bourbon) and one of the roads that lead to BB is Airway Drive. Airway is one of the streets leading to the Coffey Park neighborhood that burned in the early hours of Monday morning, October 9.

Today was the first time residents could get into the neighborhood and see what, if anything, remained of their homes.  In order to get in, one needed proof of residency in that area, so no gawkers were allowed past the checkpoint. They started letting people in at 10:00 a.m.  I was on a side street that didn't go all the way through to Coffey Park, so getting to BB was a snap. But on the way out I came back on Airway because there's a traffic light there and it makes it a lot easier to exit that industrial area.  Already, at 10:30 this morning, there were hundreds of people on the two access roads, waiting in their cars, barely moving, inching north towards the burned areas.  I was driving south and it was impossible to not notice the grim looks on those drivers' faces. I just heard on the radio that the lines of cars now, at 3:00 p.m.,  stretch for blocks and blocks, possibly for miles.

Imagine it: you are 100% sure your home and everything you owned has been reduced to ash and yet you are 100% compelled to return to that home and experience that sorrow first hand. The grief is now even more real than it has been for the past 11 days.  You have masks and gloves because you know there are particles in the ash and in that air that you do not want in your lungs or on your skin. No street signs exist, it's almost difficult to find the street you lived on but you find it because police have written the names of the streets on pieces of cardboard, or they have spray painted them on a curb that remains. 

Then what? Do you look to see if some tiny scrap of your life from October 8 still remains? Do you cry, do you curse, do you take photos?  Or do you just get back in  your vehicle and drive away?  Any small relic remaining might be too painful to keep but at the same time it might be too precious, memory-wise, to leave behind.

I, for one, can try to imagine the feelings but I cannot fathom their reality.  The sadness must be overwhelming but it is coupled with the anguished gratitude that you and your family are still alive. 

It will be a weekend of sorrow and acceptance for all those people who lived in that neighborhood.  Please keep a kind thought for all of them.  And bottom line, be kind, be kind to anyone you interact with.  Give money to the organizations who are helping the fire survivors who are in need. 


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Day 10 of the fire

Who would have thought a fire would last this long?  But then, who would have imagined a fire that could take out more than a thousand homes in a couple of hours?

Day ten, brother Steve can finally be in his house tonight, safely.  He has water and power, the air is relatively clear, it's a day to sit on the porch and toast the fates that his house made it through unscathed. There are thousands who still cannot get to their homes or to where their homes once stood. Thousands still in shelters.  And thousands who are going to have a long, hard road back, no homes, no jobs, for many, nothing left of the life they knew on Sunday afternoon, October 8.

Even for those of us who lost nothing except some sleep, it's been unsettling (duh, to put it mildly) and physically confusing. "Why am I so tired, I did so little today?"  One moment you feel so lucky and so comforted by your own bed and five minutes later you have to pull over to the side of the road because you can't see to drive with all those tears streaming out of your eyes.  You have no appetite but you want to eat a pint of ice cream and then you want someone to make you spaghetti and meatballs, which you don't even like.  You want to cook for someone (lucky I had Steve to fulfill that need) and then you want someone to cook for you (and I had a family of people who wanted to feed us.)  It's so _______   fill in the blank. Actually, fill in the many blanks. How you feel, how you think (or can't), how sad you are for the people you know and the thousands you don't, how relieved, exhausted, guilty, alive, zombie-like, dull, aware, and overwhelmed.  So many blanks, so many adjectives and adverbs and some words that probably haven't even been invented yet.

Plus, thinking about all those who are dealing with the loss of everything.  I sat in the Honda dealership today to remedy a recall on my car and there were a lot of people buying cars!  At first I thought "How can you buy a car at a time like this?" and then I thought "Oh, if your car was melted in the fire, of course you will buy a new car because you need one."  Maybe that wasn't the case, but maybe it was. It's probably just one more element in the ongoing slog to try to get back to a point where you can move forward. 

I have little (or no) work now, but I have time.  I have signed up with the Redwood Empire Food Bank to help organize food products in their warehouse. It's an ongoing organization, so it's not only for the evacuees but for anyone who needs food. I will try and sign up for other volunteer positions as well.  The local businesses and restaurants and retail places have been very generous so far and I hope that continues. Santa Rosa JC is giving out free boxed dinners tonight, to anyone, even if you aren't a firefighter or an evacuee, even if you are just tired and need someone to cook for you. Generosity prevails.

Again, anyone who reads this blog, please give something.   Redwood Credit Union is handling tons of donations and they are charging no administration fee, all the money goes to those who need it.  Even $25 makes a difference.  If you read this, it means you have a computer or a phone, it means you have power. It means you can give $25.  Here's the story.

If you can't access that, let me know and I can make sure you can give something. Give some money to the Redwood Empire Food Bank, you can donate online.  Buy some gift cards (or just one) to Safeway or Target or anyplace someone can buy food or clothes. Send them to the Santa Rosa Fire Department, you can google them for the address. 

OK, that's all for now.  Thank you for helping Sonoma County and thank you for reading this blog. Be thankful and happy you are whole.  Be kind.


Monday, October 16, 2017

And on another note: "The Meyerowitz Stories" on Netflix

I refuse to say something like "in the midst of tragedy one needs to laugh" or anything like that. It would diminish the sorrow, the unbelievable devastation that Sonoma County has experienced.

But last night Steve and I needed to watch something, and this is on Netflix right now and it is very funny, very worth watching. Dustin Hoffman, Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Emma Thompson and several other wonderful actors bring us this very clear picture of an incredibly dysfunctional family, one we have seen over and over but not quite like this.  To say that "The Meyerowitz Stories" is quirky is to call POTUS stupid or to call Bill Maher slightly opinionated. This is like a Woody Allen film on steroids, dialogue-wise. But it is very fun to watch and we highly recommend it.

Three adult children of a totally self-absorbed artist father try to make sense of their father at this random point in his old age. He doesn't listen to anything they say, he only talks about his greatness and how he has been overlooked in the art world and then, wait!  There's a brain trauma that threatens the old man's life! Given what a total dick he has been to his kids, it's not quite clear if that is a good thing or a bad thing.

There are many true, honest and uncomfortable moments in this movie, and I loved every character even when I didn't like them. It has heart but it isn't at all schmaltzy. It might bring a tear or two but you don't feel manipulated when those tears arrive, you almost identify with their origin. Sadler and Stiller are great but pay attention to the sister Jean, she is key to so much but in a quiet, dead-pan way. Dustin Hoffman is off the chart as an egotistical father, in a way that only he can be.  I can't think of anyone better suited to this role than Hoffman. 

Despite the fire, despite the feeling of inadequacy and vulnerability and impotence in the face of this fire, this movie took us out of our angst for 90 minutes.  Let it do that for you as well.  



More on the fire

First the personal update. Steve was finally able to get back into Kenwood today and his house is fine. There is no power or water, but the house and his small vineyard still stand. He was planning on spending the night, decided that it was going to be too cold, dark and waterless, but when he tried to leave he was told he could not. Thus, he is now the opposite of evacuated.

Today I drove past some of the burned areas here in Santa Rosa. It is one thing to see the devastation on the evening news and in newspaper photos. It is an entirely different experience to see it first hand.  The Journey's End mobile home park, which has been shown over and over, is completely gone except for what appeared to be about 8 trailers. I only saw it as I drove past, but the metal from the trailers must have melted because there is nothing there but gray ash. All I could say, in the car by myself, was "oh my god" out loud, over and over.  Also from 101 you can see the edge of the Coffey Park neighborhood, nothing is left. The Hilton Hotel, once sitting high on a hill overlooking the Equus Restaurant, is nothing but burnt timbers. Next to it are scorched hillsides and a few buildings still standing but scorched as well. Random buildings gone.  Outside one gun store that burned to the ground stood a huge stuffed grizzly bear, still intact.  Next to that gun store was a tire store, doing a brisk business, not harmed at all. 

As I mentioned before, the effects are going be enormous, physically, mentally, jobwise, housing, lifestyles.  Life in Sonoma is going to be changed forever. For everyone. 


Thursday, October 12, 2017

The fire

Monday morning, 1:05 a.m., Steve rang my doorbell, having just been evacuated from his house in Kenwood. I was asleep, of course, knew nothing of the fire but we spent the next hour or so trying to find information online. We found enough to be very worried.  I was up the next morning at 5:45, planning on going to work out at the coast.  Showered and headed out to walk the dogs around the block before I drove to Pt. Reyes.

The air was already toxic, so smokey.  Walking down Mendocino Avenue, we could see flames shooting high into the air, and even from my block we could see huge flames. It was shocking and terrifying.  Came back, found radio news and more online, the fire was at Kaiser Hospital, about a mile from my house. The evacuation zone was three blocks from my house, so I just was outside that zone. (Needless to say, I did not go to work.)

The air got worse and worse, the news worse and worse, the fire simply expanded over more and more acres. At 10:30 Steve snuck back to Kenwood, using backroads, and his house was, at that time, still standing. Driving out of there, however, he drove through roads with fire on both sides.  He met me in Petaluma at our friends Stacey and Ben's house, where we spend the next two nights.  We went to Santa Rosa on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, just to check on my place, and yesterday you simply could not breathe the air for more than a few minutes without a mask. The visibility was about one block. There is no way I was willing to stay in that atmosphere, so Steve and I drove to Gabe and Annie's in Daly City.  We are here now and will be for another night at least.

Steve can't get back to Kenwood, probably won't be able to for another three or four days at least.  I won't be able to be in my Santa Rosa place until the winds shift and some of the smoke and particles are gone.  But we have such good friends and family, we have places to stay and we are safe.

There is no way to describe this situation, so I won't try to other to say it is unbelievable and almost incomprehensible.  I know so many people who have lost everything except what they carried as they had to run from their homes. The situation in Sonoma County is catastrophic in so many ways.

This is the fourth day and it begins to wear on your body as well as your mind. Shaky, nervous, anxious, on edge. But again, we are safe and whole and so many thousands are not.

Give money to any charity that is servicing Sonoma and Napa areas, they will need blankets, clothes, so much in the coming weeks.  They do not need goods, they need to be able to go out and buy what individuals require, especially since many are going to be in shelters for more than a few days.

More to you all when I can.  Thank you to everyone for your concerned thoughts.  Knowing people are out there thinking of us and thinking of all who are affected is such a comfort.

much love....