Tens of thousands of good-hearted Californians, friends and neighbors, are getting a taste of what it’s like to be homeless, cut off and pushed around a little as another series of natural calamity descends upon us – compounded by some man-made calamity thrown in just to make things interesting.
We spent our Friday talking to recent evacuees smelling of woodsmoke and living out of SUVs stuffed with their animals and grandma’s pictures down off their respective ledges, wiring off money and sage advice to “keep calm, work the problem.”
Only that’s really hard when the last image in your head after the deputy knocks on your door and tells you to get the F out is of your house with this really intense glow around it. We know, we get it.
We were treated to a firsthand glimpse of homeowners in full panic mode after getting a panicky 2:20 a.m. wakeup call that “we’re bailing out, we’re on the move” and the caller thought they hung up – but didn’t.
For the next ten minutes or so we watched their frantic escape from their Southern California neighborhood, the sound of approaching sirens and helicopters background music for 50,000 New Evacuees calling for “the dog leash,” “my glasses, have you seen my glasses?” and “do we have any money?” as they loaded the Suburban and bolted.
And, while people were generally good and fair and – in several documented instances – remarkably kind during this latest Survival Lesson, it didn’t take long for people to realize that those lucky enough to have infrastructure still required cash from those without it – and that survival, even for 48 hours, can be tricky.
Friends with good jobs and BMWs and mortgages sought shelter, clean air, and news in campgrounds, camping out at outlet store parking lots and the local coffee house – pressing their sooty noses up against the glass until the business opened its doors.
The shock was jarring for some. One couple turned up at a popular Mexican restaurant in Santa Clarita, the husband rummaging for pocket change enough for a meal after paying for gas and boarding for their critters, the woman of the house obviously wondering if they still had a house – and breaking down.
“Don’t worry,” a Hero Waiter said, approaching to mercifully suspend the husband’s frantic search for funds. “This is on me.”
Many in Sonoma and Los Angeles counties are slowly filtering back to what’s left of their neighborhoods and homes this morning, as the rest of us prepare to be cast back into the 19th Century for the second stretch of time this month – living by lantern light and cooking on camp stoves. Moragans, presumably, are hoping we can stave off another neighborhood fire the likes of which scorched the hills behind Sanders Ranch shortly after the lights went out for us earlier in the month.
Those among us crusty enough to have realized that these events would eventually come may have a slight edge on those who didn’t, but that isn’t making what we’re dealing with any easier. And while some hardy souls may privately gloat about their backup systems, house-wired generators and underground food pantries, most know that The Wolf that hunts their neighbor can come for them just as easily the next day.
We have friends who can track, shoot, gut, and cure their own game, their larders full of home-made preserves and condiments made by utterly charming and self-reliant women for whom “grow your own” is a reference to their crops – not Junior’s personal consumption stash out in the garage, and we admire their self-dependence.
Being descendants of gold panners and miners and ranchers, with one or two really big disasters on the ancestral registry, we remember our predecessor’s stories and remain close to those able to live off the land, doing the same as much as we can.
But as the area grows, more people crowd into canyons and valleys prone to fast-moving fires and gas prices make us long for the days when grandpa got around on horseback, we realize that change is upon us, that life can be hard and – if history is any teacher – it can always get harder.
As always, keep in touch this weekend… let us know how things are going in your slice of California.