I too have to pee real bad in the mornings.
I’d been receiving all kinds of reports of and from San Diego regarding the fires. Anytime I turned my phone on or checked my email in the last week it would light up so full of messages that it was almost annoying. I only wanted one report and that was the one from my roommates, Bush or Eric, currently evacuating the premises. It seemed a few of the fires were too close for their comfort. Plus, the police had arrived in the middle of the night to suggest the early departure.
It was a harrowing feeling just experiencing some of it on the phone. Bushwalla sounded slightly nervous asking, “Is there anything you want?” He and Eric were loading up their cars to flee the valley. I was standing in a busy coffee shop in London. Helpless. I scanned the bedroom and closet in my head. I couldn’t think of one thing I needed them to grab. Then I made a short mental list. “Well, My favorite Polaroids are at the print shop. I have my Guitar and Ukulele with me here. Anything of interest is on my back really.” I almost said to pull a surfboard but it’s size would be a burden and I can always get a new one. “Just grab the kitty and go!” I pleaded. Everything can be replaced.
The news in the UK had been brief about the wildfires. The story on the loop is “Stars like Mel Gibson and Kelsey Grammer evacuate their homes as fires rage through Malibu and other parts of Southern California.” Then they show stock pictures of Jennifer Aniston and Courtney Cox along with aerial photos of their sunny mansions. Then the news breezes through a quick montage of real homes really burning. In California so many neighborhoods look the same. Track homes. Cut out like cookies on a sheet. On the news I’m convinced I know whose house that is. I thought of everyone. Thoughts turned to prayer.
Kelsey Grammer, left, pictured here with Golfing buddy, Chewbacca
My mates in London ask me how come I’m not on the list of celebrity evacuees. “I’ll get my publicist right on that.” I deadpan.
I hear from Toca. He’s evacuating too. His town is on fire.
Before I know it I’m on a plane for home and all I can do is think about the neighboring farms and place my faith in the old trees that hug my home. They’ve provided so much love and shelter this long. They won’t let me down during this storm either.
Approaching lake Arrowhead I already count three fires from my window seat; wind blowing everything west. Welcome to Earth. All of a sudden I’m a stranger to this place. Once the plane passes we ride in a dark cloud the rest of the way to LA.
The view from my private space jet.
I hear from Eric when I land. He says the only way up to my house is with proper ID. The roads are closed to prevent through traffic and looters. Good thinking. But none of us have ID’s that say we live there. Bad thinking. All my DMV info is based out of LA. But. I get my best people on it, and before I know it I’m bound for my home with a million documents in my hands proving the place is mine. Close call.
It was dark by the time I arrived at Camp Pendleton, the vast deserted stretch of brush owned by the Military. It doubles as a gnarly training camp and pleasant divider between San Diego County and the megalopolis of LA suburbs that pour down the coast like a lava flow of homes and burger joints. Highway 5 runs down the Camp’s barren mesa coastal spine with nothing in site for at least 15 miles. The mighty pacific plays the fourth wall to the Mountains upstage in the east. Tonight it was blaze orange in the inland hilltops. Smaller fires illuminated the smoky skies nearby but the grass beside the freeway was too tall to see over. Who knew how close it was? We were already pedal to the metal but at those moments you want to press harder. Even with the windows up we could taste the char in our throats.
I just wanted to go to my house for 5 minutes. I was honest with the police at the roadblock leading to my hood. I told them about my arrival from overseas. I presented my paperwork without question. I introduced Bush, with whom I would be staying at the beach with he and his girlfriend. I just wanted to get my car and fill it with surf supplies and towels.
The cops couldn’t promise us that we’d make it all the way in. Said we may run into another blockade and if so we’d have to turn back. Now I was getting nervous. I hadn’t seen the freaky orange glow on any horizon since back at Pendleton some 15 minutes ago. But I knew there were 12 or more other fires running rampant on all sides of the county. Yes sir I said. And they wished us good luck.
Bush and I try to make sense of everything while driving in on the empty street. It would probably be empty at this time of night anyway, but the presence of police makes it feel like ET has landed and the area has been quarantined. We see lights on and cars still in the driveways of many homes. Not everyone is gone. We’re relieved and can’t imagine the ordeal to be too close anymore. For some stupid reason I ponder the idea of staying at home after all, forgetting my cat was elsewhere and how I would be alone in the hazy forest. But at that moment our jaws let out a synchronized and slightly harmonized, “Whoa.” Straight ahead on the horizon at the back of my neighbor’s farm was an eerie orange light, much wider than the roads on the farm, too wide to be headlights, panting like an angry mob about to summit the slope. No matter which way the wind was blowing or how many miles away it was or just who was watching after it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered anymore. It felt like we had done something wrong by being there. It could probably smell us and by that mob was coming straight at us.
I lasted about 10 minutes in my house before I decided it had been way too long. My car had in it more than I needed, which is nothing but a tall stack of towels, some surfing boards, toiletries and first aid, a guitar, a few last minute precious Polaroids stuffed into favorite books… I felt silly shoving a stuffed duck I’ve had since I was 5 into my backpack. But you never know.
I walked thru every room in the house and surveyed it as if I’d sold the place and wasn’t coming back. I flipped the lights on in the studio and sang a loud note and listened to it merge with the silence near the ceiling. I thought the piano looked a bit dusty and noticed where Eric had already saved his vintage keyboards.
As I strapped on a surfboard to the roof I admired the falling ash in my headlights. It never snows in San Diego. Smell those chimneys. This is kind of nice I pretended. And with my car half full, I drove off as if I was headed somewhere for Christmas.
The glow on the farm across the street was still on the backside of the hill. But it gave me chills and watered my eyes a little to know it was there.
I can’t think of a thing to listen to in the car while I follow Bush to his lady’s pad to meet my cat and write all this down. The quiet makes a lovely soundtrack to my pace on the throttle up and out of the hills under a full moon masked in brown by the soot. I try to do some math and figure out what time it is but I’m still not right in the body to know. All I know is that couldn’t sleep last night for fear I’d miss something today. And that I got up way too early for this.