Sunday, November 16, 2003

The Day After Red Dawn

Out my front door
Actually, it's been several days after the red dawn and sunsets that Southern Californians were treated to as some sort of twisted consolation prize for enduring the area's recent devastating wildfires. Despite the known destruction, I couldn't help admiring the stunning oranges and reds made possible by the refracted rays of the sun as it rose and set behind the thick, lingering smoke.

Scripps Ranch

That was the only beauty of the fire. Mostly, there was a heavy gloom in the air that hung as heavily as the smoke - as almost everyone in San Diego knew someone who lost a home. I didn't lose a home, so for me the fires were only a major source of inconvenience ... and creepiness.

Satellite photo of So Cal fires
The inconvenience amounted to the ubiquitous ash and being cooped up in the house for three days. The dumb ash was everywhere. Every time I tried to get rid of the sorry ash, more fell from the sky. I felt like the sky was opening a large can of whoop ash on me - and this was no half-ash attempt. Big ash piles were piling up all around my house. Call me a jack ash for trying to clean it up too soon, but it was asking for a thorough ash kicking. Okay, sorry. I'm done now.

The Day After (1983)
Anyways ... In addition to the ash, the fire was also making things kind of creepy. Being a Gen-Xer (I like that youthful title now that I'm 32), I remember watching the groundbreaking and radiating film The Day After. I don't think many people would have actually watched this low-budget made-for-TV movie had it not been for all the controversy surrounding it. Apparently, it was too shocking for the minds of our susceptible youth.

Remains of house in Scripps Ranch Perhaps there was something to this concern, as the film's imagery quickly came to mind as I regarded the changed landscape around me. The first few days of the fire the daylight sky was completely white, and largish flakes of ash were falling peacefully from the sky. It was what I imagined a nuclear winter to be like. This eerie feeling of having somehow survived Armageddon was bolstered by a quick dash out to Vons for much needed groceries.

I hadn't yet ventured out of the house since being forcibly incarcerated by the unhealthy air, so I was quite taken aback by the scene that unraveled before me. The streets were empty. It was10 a.m. on a Monday - a time when our small-scale metropolis of North Park is usually humming with activity.

As I peered through the haze, I finally spotted a lone, surgical mask-clad individual walking slowly to the post office. After turning on to University Avenue, our city center's main thoroughfare, I soon encountered a few other people wandering aimlessly with mouths and noses covered by similar unflattering surgical masks that even Michael Jackson couldn't render fashionable.

Vons strikers Upon reaching Vons, I saw a few other sad-looking survivors pacing back and forth with large painted signs. I half expected them to read "The End is Near," but, instead, they said something about a strike and unfair policies, etc. The grocery strike was about a week old at this point, and I hadn't yet crossed the picket line, but I wasn't about to endanger my lungs by venturing further away from the apparent safety of my home.

The scene inside the store did nothing to ease the surreal setting outside. The store was largely empty, and as I navigated the aisles looking for the essentials, many of the shelves were bare. This effect was particularly pronounced in the produce and meat sections, where more than half of the bins were conspicuously empty. It was as if people had raided the store in anticipation of a Red Dawn or The Day After event - when in actuality it was directly related to the strike.

Luckily, there wasn't any looting in my area of town. While being an odious social phenomenon, such an event would also have added to the "end of the world" style drama that was unfolding all around. Other communities were not so lucky. The local news reported that two individuals were arrested for such a crime in a neighboring community - one woman and a 26 year-old man. Which made me wonder ... why didn't they report the woman's age too? But, I digress.

Despite all the seemingly obvious signs, Armageddon has yet to befall Southern California. Even if it did, there's really no point in worrying now that Ah-nold is looking out for us. He's already saved the world three times - in comparison, So Cal would be a piece of cake.