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.