Saturday, January 3, 2009

1/3 Natural Disaster

The dorm is locked by the time I arrive from Nat Sci II. With nowhere to go, I clutch my backpack and head to the west side field. The field overlooks Monterey bay and some of downtown Santa Cruz where dozens of pillars of smoke rise from the town. I can hear sirens as fire trucks and police cars rush to each damaged building. Or collapsed building.

Then I feel another one. An aftershock. It shakes so hard that I have to stop walking to keep my balance. There have been three good ones since the main earthquake and this makes four.
Around me people are sitting in small groups like refugees. Its a pleasant fall evening and there is a slight chill. The light is softened by all the dust. I can't see my friends.

A trio of guys I recognize but don't really know call me over. One of them says nothing but hands me a pipe and a lighter. "This should help" he says. I lit the bowl and inhaled. A smaller aftershock rolled under out feet and I blew out the smoke. I felt tingly.
"When will these stop?" I muttered.
The guy tucked my hair behind my right ear.
"Not sure. That was a pretty big quake. It took out the Bay Bridge. And the 880 is toast."
"Yeah," added another guy in a plaid flannel. "San Francisco is burning."
"Ha ha, dude. You mean flaming. San Francisco is flaming!" the other guy chimed in.
"No, dipshit. It's on fire- like destruction and shit," plaid flannel replied.
"It's flaming..ha ha.. FLAY-ming!" We lost the third guy in a flurry of giggles. So I took his turn on the pipe.

I spy my roommate and my neighbors in a cluster several feet away. I thank the guys for their hospitality, take one last draw and walk towards my friends. The first guy grabs my arm and gives me a long deep kiss. The mix of adrenaline and weed is intoxicating. I make a mental note to find him later.

Liz gives me a hug and David spreads a sleeping bag on the ground. A few of us sit down and look out over the city. You can hear people crying. Radios sounding alerts shouting out instructions.

Don't go into any buildings.
Don't drink any water.
Don't go surfing.
Stay off the phone lines unless you have an emergency.

And then we hear something else. Two violins. A very tall man and a petite woman, both in glasses, walking toward us all playing Pachelbel's Canon. Its a surreal scene,. The sunset is glittering. Dust particle from broken buildings causing the light to shift and bend- creating crimsons and golds and jewel worthy oranges. The jarring radio announcements. The lilting violins. So much beauty out of of so much confusion.

CG notes: On October 17th 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake destroyed most of the downtown Santa Cruz shops, nearly every chimney in town and, as you may remember, part of the 880 freeway. I was a student in my freshman year at UC Santa Cruz and was 10 miles from the epicenter of the 7.1 shaker. We were cleared to go back into our dorms around 10:30 that night. But the aftershocks didn't stop for months.
My dog also died that day in Sacramento.

Assignment Notes: Natural disasters are something that almost all of us will deal with in our lifetime. Earthquakes, hurricanes, fires, tornadoes, tsunamis. They are also great elements in literature, for if it there were no tornadoes, how would Dorothy have made it to Oz?
Today, write about a natural disaster. Either write about your experience with one, or write about a fictional event from a character's first person point of view.


s i n c l a i r said...

I like that "Don't go surfing" was necessary. This has a dreamlike quality, but perfectly captures the surrealism one experiences during a tragic event like this. Really good.

Carol said...

thanks! You know the actual event was FAR less scary than the months of aftershocks. We had no idea of the damage in other places for several hours. But even now, if I hear what sounds like an earthquake, I tense up. It sounds like people running down an upstairs hallway.- only the sound is all around you.

tipsy texter said...

my favorite descriptor was the "jewel worthy oranges". that was really moving-i felt like i was there.