Today’s song came out in 1994. IBM had just purchased the company who employed me; that company had purchased the start-up that I’d been working for. So my employment record was like Russian dolls (which originated in Japan, BTW).
We were living in Half Moon Bay, CA, and had a comfortable life. But I had an uncomfortable feeling it was going in the wrong direction. We started making plans about where we could move. Texas? North Carolina? Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Mexico, Washington…we roamed the net, searching for answers.
I’d just sold a few short stories, so I as feeling good about that. This song came out. Catching me by surprise on the radio, the repeated chorus, “What you waiting for”, seemed expressed directly at me. I listened to see who it was, but the radio didn’t say.
I hunted it down on the net, learning it was Gwen Stefani, “What You Waiting For?” Later, I read that she’d written the song in response to having writer’s block. That resonated with me.
All of that is background. Today, it was about the cats. Our air is at 52. Don’t even smell smoke any more (which reminds me, check on the fires up north and down south). The cats had been released when we hit moderate on the AQI scale, much to their joy. Today, I had the door open to let in Tucker.
He paused to sniff the air before entering, then sat down. Looking up, he intently regarded me. To which I said (yeah, you know), “What you waiting for?”
It’s a good song for today. What are you waiting for? November? Clean skies and better weather? An end to the pandemic? A sign of God.
Nothing to see here. Just some first world venting blended with some humbrag complaining.
My writing concentration today has come like a reluctant child who’s itching to leave as soon as possible. I blame events, beginning with yesterday.
Yesterday was another hot one. Not a scorcher, it reached 99. It’s a scorcher when it goes over one hundred. Night temps had gone down to the mid-sixties the night before, enabling us to open windows and cool the house at night in the morning before buttoning up and enduring the day.
The temp was slow in dropping, though, still at 86 at 9:30 PM and 84 in the house. The office, where we read, surf the net, and watch our telly, was the hottest room, at 87. We, being staunch supporters of the church of miserly spending, eschewed the air con and just turned on a fan. Finally, though, I did a skin test. Walking outside and then returning in to feel the difference, I decreed it felt cooler outside, so I opened up windows for a welcome breeze.
Thirty minutes later, a strong wood smoke scent russhed in. “Winds must have shifted,” I said, mostly to myself. My wife was doing a puzzle and didn’t acknowledge my comment. The cats heard me, but I’d not mentioned food, so they were already on to staring at one another again, in case one of them tried something. I hoped that shifting winds was the source, even as I worried. We have several smaller fires burning within twenty-five miles. Sometimes, though, California wildfire smoke follows I5 up through the pass and down into our valley.
This smoke was worryingly strong. I closed the windows, muttering curses as I did. Going outside, the smell hit me like a broom to the face. Going back in, I said, “Wow, that smoke is really strong. You should check it out.” Worrying about new fires and evacuation, I hunkered down on the net.
Yes, the AQI had skyrocketed from around a pleasant and green twenty-five to a red, unhealthy one fifty-seven.
Nothing from the city nor the fire department, but others on our local nets were wondering and worrying, too. In the fire department’s opinion, the smoke was coming from the 350 acre Grizzly Creek fire that firefighters have been battling.
Yet, they had noticed the smoke — and now there was falling ash. “There aren’t any reports of new fires,” the fire department said. “But if you see some flames, call us.”
Well, sure as shit, we will.
Responding to my comments, my wife went outside. Returning with wide eyes, she said, “It’s terrible out there. The smoke is really thick at the bottom of the hill.”
I went out to check again. The smoke was worse than before.
Nothing to do about it but grit our teeth and stay vigilant, my wife and I told each other and the cats, retiring to our evening routines. It was midnight. She went to bed to read while I stayed up watching telly and checking the net for new local fire news. The cats asked to go out. “No, dummies, it’s too smoky. You’ll ruin your lungs.”
Later, in bed, the wind was suddenly howling like a lonely beagle outside our window, beating up the trees, and punishing anything loose in the yard, knocking things around like a hyper cat expending energy. My wife whispered about her anxieties. I listened, wondering, is that the fence? The trash can was on the street because it was trash day. I worried about the can getting blown over, letting our contents flee on the wind.
6:30ish, I looked outside. The gray ashy sky made me gasp. Shit, to the ‘puter.
The net was down.
Verifying the trash can was upright and in place (and the fence was standing, and nothing was damaged), I reset the system. Walking around outside, the wind was still strong (forty mile an hour gusts was what I later read), shaking the trees and bushes. The cats were with me on the inspection round, but each time a sharp gust struck, the three headed back into the house floof haste
The net returned. Hallelujah. Eagerly I hunted news. It was there: a grass fire had sprung up in the city on the other end of town. With the winds, everyone was told to go to Level 1 and be prepared to leave. Those in the immediate area of the fire were issued immediate leave orders. I5, just a few hundred yards behind the fire, was shut down in both directions. The traffic cameras showed empty lanes southbound and double lines of idling traffic northbound.
Looking out the office toward the northwest part of town, I confirmed, yep, I see smoke.
Damn it. I reviewed checklists, supplies, and go bags. Which way to go. Well, north, of course, because south led to California, which was on fire. Except north required us to use I5. I5 was closed, and all of the town would be leaving on highway 99, a road that varies between two and four lanes and has multiple traffic lights. However, Highway 99 was also closed, just outside of town. Thus, we can’t go north.
A situation update arrived. People were returning to their homes. The city was issuing reassurances that nobody needed to evacuate the city. It looked like the interstate was being re-opened for travel. The wind faded away like…a dying wind. The sky is blue and smells fresh again, though the horizons are smudged.
Fire damages from the area are trickling in. We fared better than Malden, Washington, Colorado, California, and other places. No one was hurt. Yet, there are reports that another neighboring small town, Talent, had parts evacuated. The story continues.
I have my coffee. (It’s my second cup, if I’m honest, but why start now?) Time to settle down and write like crazy, at least one more time.
The glimmer of a character
the thread of a tale
fires up yearning
that maybe I won’t fail
another cup of coffee
and time spent offline
trying to hear a story
from people in my mind