Friday, March 11, 2011

parlous, part 2

It's been a bit of a freaky day here. In what I think is an unprecedented way, I got a call from my floor manager at shortly after six in the morning, saying that there had been a massive quake in Hawaii and that Santa Cruz was on tsunami alert. Of course, it later proved to actually be Japan, which I'm sure everyone knows about by now.

Currently, I live up the hill toward the university, but it was not so long ago that I lived down near the Boardwalk and Beach Flats, which, as you can tell by the name, is an area that would be particularly prey to a big tsunami.

Although when I watched the news before I left for work, it already seemed pretty clear that the bookstore would not be directly affected, it is on the flood plain, and there was a short period of time when I envisioned walking down the hill at the hour when the tsunami was expected to arrive, and seeing the whole lowlands inundated. It's funny, because this brought back another parlous time, that of the 1989 earthquake, and one of my own distinct memories of that period was that we had been wrangling over where to put a rack of postcards for days, and when the earthquake hit, I remember seeing the stupid postcard rack toppled over. And I could not help but see our recent hopes and tensions and disagreements over the fate of the bookstore after the demise of Borders in something like the same light--how insignicant they all were in the face of a force of nature like an earthquake, or a massive wave.

It was an eery day. It was beautiful out, but that did not alleviate anything. I started to walk downhill to work, and passed a house where the family was coming out to go to school, or so I thought. I'd probably said "Hi," to its residents a few times over the last year or so, but today the little boy immediately asked me if I had heard about the earthquake in Japan. I said I had, and rather stupidly, I told him that I had heard about the tsunami warning from my boss, but that it sounded like it would be okay. He said, "We're not going to school today, we're going to work with my mom." His younger sister said, "She works in the mountains." "Well, that sounds like a really good idea," I said. "We have to leave our dog here and hope she'll be all right," the boy said. "And my fish," the sister said. I said, "I think they'll probably be okay," as matter of factly as I could. And of course I knew they would be (particularly the fish) but it seemed a very poignant thing to think about these kids who didn't and couldn't know that and were having to leave them behind.

I went to work, and it was sort of normal there. By this point, the idea that the tsunami would come that far inland--really, the problem was that it would come up the river and flood the banks--was pretty unlikely, so there was no real fear for ourselves. But one of my friends and coworkers had had to leave her twin daughters off at daycare, which was just outside the area that had been 'voluntarily evacuated', and for some reason, this morning of all mornings was the one that they had chosen to stand at the window and wave goodbye.

The downtown was dead. It probably would have been slow in any case, but there was a still feeling that was different than other mornings. Everyone had either fled to higher ground or had gone right down to the water to watch, and we heard that the traffic was terrible from the delivery people.

Everyone was getting calls from out of state relatives warning and wondering. We had all been woken up at five or six by someone,  it seemed. It seemed faintly ridiculous until we reminded ourselves that they had only heard the words 'tsunami' and 'Santa Cruz', and it wasn't at all laughable to them. I had my own bittersweet feeling about all this, realizing that my mom would have been one of those people who would call, and there was a feeling of relief that she was beyond those kinds of needless worries and also a personal sadness that she would not be calling ever again.

The only real destruction that seemed to have hit Santa Cruz was the harbor (as pictured above), and though this was bad enough, it was only property, not life. One of they guys was champing at the bit to go out surfing. Another came in later that day. He had lived closer to the water than anyone, and after a late night of gaming, woke up to see that everyone had left  his Beach Flats apartment  complex. His was the only car left sitting in the parking lot. He had to call the police to find out what was going on. His main concern was that he had left the area with nothing and wasn't sure if he would be able to get back in.

When I was working the register later in the day, a young woman, a total stranger said to me, "What a weird day." We agreed that you could feel it in the air. An energy. A vibe.

Of course, when I got home, our day was rendered insignificant by the tragedy Japan faces, and by their nuclear dangers. But I thought I would post about our own small parlous moments, such as they are. All day, I've had this kind of image of the Pacific being just a small pool, or lake, or bathtub, calm and still except when a big rock is thrown in on the other side, and the ripple laps up on our shores in no time at all.   


  1. Seana

    The strange thing is that of all the places to go in Japan, I went to Sendai last November and spent a couple of days there. Its ghastly to think that the whole city has been largely destroyed by the Tsunami.

  2. I didn't remember that it was Sendai. It is incredibly sad. It felt a bit weird to come home after all of us focussing on our town and really taking in the images. Unbelievable in what is probably the most earthquake readied place in the world. But I did understand from our own big quake 20 years ago that you think you know earthquakes until you are taken to the next level of them.

    Well, I'm glad you got to see Sendai. Is that where you were taking all the pictures of those buildings you liked so much?

  3. Seana

    And Matsushima Bay which I loved is just five miles away. I imagine that's been wrecked too.

  4. This is what it used to look like:

  5. Very beautiful and dreamlike. I hope in it's case it will be possible to just restore it when the time comes.

  6. Thank you for this post. (And I will be linking to you in mine, today, as it all works together. Later.) Glad you and those kids and their dog and fish are probably fine...

  7. We don't watch T.v hardly at all so I've only heard bits and pieces of what others have told me, which is mainly about Japan. I didn't know Santa Cruz was even supposed to be hit and I'm glad you guys all made it through with minimal damage.

  8. That footage of vehicles being swept along so rapidly by the water was probably the scariest I’d seen on television since Sept. 11, 2001.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

  9. Kathleen. thanks, I'll check out your blog when I get home this evening.

    Peter, yes, I think we really can have no idea what the experience for those people is like right now. Trauma upon trauma upon trauma.

    It pales in comparison, but even this little ripple effect we had here apparently sunk 18 boats in the harbor and damaged many more. Preliminary estimate is 17 million dollars and rising.

    But no loss of life here, and that's all that really matters i the end.

  10. Just jumping back in here to add that my friend pointed me to what is I think a very Santa Cruz kind of quote. A deputy chief here said that he understood why people would be curious, "A tsunami watch does not mean watch the tsunami."

  11. Seana -

    Glad to hear you're okay! What a strange day Friday, is right. And good guess on the word "parlous." My deductive capacities would have led me just the opposite direction: i.e. it sounds like perilous, so it can't mean perilous because that would be really redundant.

    It's a good thing I don't have to take the SATs any time soon.

    And that shot of the harbor is just eerie.

    -Brian O

  12. Thanks for dropping by, not so anonymous Brian O. Yes, there were many strange sights on the water that day, we watched a live webcam at work of a lone boat drifting backward through the harbor like a ghost ship.

    On 'parlous', I think our deductions were about the same, I was sure it was wrong, but just thought, well, it works well enough that I can kind of glide over the true meaning.

  13. Just jumping back in here to add that my friend pointed me to what is I think a very Santa Cruz kind of quote. A deputy chief here said that he understood why people would be curious, "A tsunami watch does not mean watch the tsunami."

    Is there something Zenlike to the statement, or was he just telling Santa Cruzeros to get off their duffs and take protective measures?
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

  14. I apparently left out a crucial "though" as in, "though he understood why people". Also, though it was a direct quote from the paper, it might have been better served if written like this: "A 'tsunami watch' doesn't mean hightail on down to the beach and watch the tsunami."

    Interestingly, there was some divide over how parlous the community felt about the threat. A friend chanced to be coming over the summit from San Jose that morning and first saw a tsunami warning side on the other side of the hill, and then found the summit packed and cars clogging the roads to get up there. On the other hand, our friends were doing a lively breakfast trade right down there on the flood plain and people seemed to regard it as a big party. And for some reason the Hispanic community seemed to have fled more than the white community, not, I think because they were ignorant or anything, but because they were getting their news through different channels of information. And it is true that a lot of that group happen to live in the flats, which was "voluntarily evacuated". It was the kind of morning where hearing the wrong rumor could easily trigger panic.