"Their world crumbled. The cities exploded. A whirlwind of looting, a firestorm of fear. Men began to feed upon men..."

UPDATED TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 18, 2008 (See note at bottom of post*)

We should all wake up to a blue sky. Or at least the prospect of a blue sky dawning, should the sky happen to be
dark with clouds on that day.

I thought the sky was just dark with clouds on Saturday.

I had looked out of our living room window on sporadic occasions throughout Saturday morning, and had just thought it was going to rain at some point. I noticed the wind was whipping up to enormous gusts here and there, and figured we were in for a crazy storm. Into the afternoon, with Jen arising for the day, we configured a plan to take the recycling out and then head to the Cinema City Theatres for a hopefully comedic double feature of Kevin Smith's Zack and Miri Make A Porno (you'll see no pussyfooting around that title here, pun intended) and Paul Rudd's Role Models. And then some light shopping for household necessities.

And then I stepped outside. There was an acrid taste to the air, and I noticed that the sidewalk at the bottom of the stairs, where my view of the street is encumbered by the retaining walls between apartment sections, was suffused with an orange glow. Walking through the courtyard, still unable to see the horizon, while I still thought that what I saw in the sky above was simply a mass of clouds, my nose told me that somewhere, possibly close by, was a fire. And then I turned the corner to the carport and saw the sun. A dim orange bulb poked through the dark mass passing in front of it, bringing light so weak that it could well have been portrayed by an uncarved pumpkin instead. The smokescreen swirling past which I had mistaken for clouds all morning seemed like a curtain only barely pulled upwards to reveal a teasing glimpse of the blue on the horizon which normally would have encased the rest of the sky on a normal happy day. I started to cough from the taste of the air and ran back inside.

Jen and I still endeavored to carry out our plan for the day, and this meant skipping a pass through the local television channels to find out what was going on, and hitting the road. We did, however, have the presence of mind to turn on a news station on the radio, and we find out the whole story: we were surrounded by vast firestorms. The strange post-apocalyptic mood that my initial peek at the day had built for me was now confirmed to not be so much "post" as it were current and dangerous. Freeways had been closed, including the 91, which rolls right past our home on the other side of a massive wall. It is likely, had we not taken care to listen to the radio, that we would have perceived such a fact from the lack of cars that we saw on the normally buzzing thoroughfare.

The mood got even stranger at the recycling center. By then, we had found out that one fire had jumped the 91 freeway about six to seven miles away from us – to our side of the freeway, and about the apartment complex that it was nearly completely decimating at the time, a thought that hit close to home for us in numerous ways. We heard about the fire in the Yorba Linda-Brea area, and my thoughts turned to my friend Lisa, who lives in Brea (and as it turns out, did have to be evacuated from her hillside community over the weekend). We heard about the huge Sylmar fire that destroyed over 500 mobile homes, and was still raging unchecked in the area. By the time we got to turning our bottles and cans in for $18.36, we were sick to death. The wind jostled our recyclables about as we sought to get out of the nauseating smell of smoke in the air as quick as possible. Hearing about the 91 freeway jump, and knowing that the theatre we were planning to attend lied a couple of miles in the direction of the main focus of that fire (in fact, our veterinarian’s office is down there), we decided that spending five hours in a theatre while a firestorm rages outside is probably not the best plan in the world. We decided instead to hit a grocery store really quick and fulfill that portion of our afternoon agenda, grab some In-and-Out and then head home to check the news.

Normally, I don’t watch the news. Not locally, that is. Too many stories about drive-bys and home invasions makes Rik an even edgier, very fearful boy. The fact that the local news seems to intersperse these tales from the dark side with celebrity trivia about Lindsay and Paris makes me hate the local news even more. It’s already irresponsible to fill our lives with an unfocused blanket of fear – why do you have to make it worse with outright idiocy? But now it seemed absolutely vital that I follow the news. Funny how we change so quickly when lives are on the line. I honestly didn’t know what I really should feel in this case. I make a lot of statements about ultimately not caring about society, and not giving two shits about whether the human race will prosper, preferring instead to believe that we are a doomed race due to our own inability to rise above prejudice and corporate greed and outmoded religions and that we will never find a way to right the ship because of this.

And then the Earth really does start to fight back against us, and I suddenly find myself worrying about society. I start to see the cracks in civilization in situations like this, and looking past the news reports of spot looting incidents, instead of using the worst behavior to solidify my standing, I start to concentrate instead on what is good and noble in mankind. I see the bravery and selflessness of the fire crews, and I realize that all is not lost. Even as my mind brings to life wild scenarios of Mad Max-ian behavior as the freeways close and evacuations increase and everyone grows more desperate and fearful, I am comforted by the fact that there are people who fight for the common good and safety.

This did little to convince me that all was well as I retired to bed at midnight with the fires still raging on my television, even more impressively so due to the darkness that surrounded them, wondering if we would be woken up at four in the morning for our own neighborhood evacuation. But it was enough to allow me to actually fall asleep after a time. Rising in the morning, I noticed far more blue sky than the day before, and the sun returned to its normal, unforgiving stare. There was still a massive cloud of smoke filling about a third of the sky to the east, but its darkness has dulled considerably, and the air was slightly clearer in our area as a result. As of right now, this afternoon, most of the news is about the Chino Hills fire, but the situation overall had died down enough that most of the local channels were carrying on with their normal football and religious coverage.

Only the ABC affiliate (Ch. 7) continued on as the day before, covering the tiniest minutiae, though by 11:00 am, my doomsday sensors had died down, and I returned to my normally scheduled program of psychotronic film fare. You know, where the apocalypses are the result of crafty filmmaking, not dried out scrub brush, low humidity and possibly even asshole arsonists. For all I mire myself in these fantasy worlds, never mistake me for one who cancels out reality. I know the difference. If civilization is going to crumble and mankind is to perish, no matter what I might blurt out in a persnickety moment or two, rest assured that I would rather it happen on a movie screen, and not just down the freeway from me. Or especially right at my front door. Or at the homes of my friends.

[*My good friend and co-worker Lisa, who was evacuated from her home for 48 hours this past weekend, was good enough to allow me to post these photos taken near her neighborhood during the firestorm. They were taken by her daughter Stephanie, who is awesome about doing things like this. Thanks, Steph and Lisa!]


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