Before I left home, I had heard a bit about some fires in California, but nothing big - just a blurb or two on the news. Then on the flight from hell (it was freaking hot, there was a "big sitter" beside me (you know, the kind that don't know how to tuck their arms in and CLOSE THEIR GOD DAMN LEGS a smidge), and the kid behind me had two notes: crying and whining), the pilot came on the intercom and advised us that if we look out the left side of the plane we'd be able to see the fires. I looked out the window and saw great plumes of black smoke billowing into the sky. Obviously this was bigger than I thought!
When I got to my hotel, the place was all abuzz. A dozen people were in line to check in, people were walking to elevators with boxes of household items clutched in their arms, and dogs on leashes were around every corner. After I got to my room, I turned on the TV to see if I could get some news on the fires. Could I ever! Fire coverage was all that was on. I found out everything I wanted to know about "FIRESTORM 2007" in a few minutes. The Santa Ana winds were making the situation worse. There were 5 major fires to the north and the east of San Diego and they were between 0% and 5% contained. Nearly 600,000 people had been evacuated, many to Qualcomm Stadium, home of the San Diego Chargers. FEMA was coming to the rescue! California had to import energy from Mexico. And on and on and on. It was information overload.
The whole state-wide crisis helped reinforce something I've always maintained - it's not individual Americans that I have a problem with. It's America. The people are very much like me and those I know. A lot of people in my class were from the area and had their families staying with them due to emergency evacuations. My classmate were both stressed and relieved. Stressed over the proximity of extended family and relieved that every was safe. People everywhere were helping any way they could - cooking meals, providing shelter, donating tents and blankets. Whenever it was obvious that I wasn't from around there, someone invariably asked if I was there because of the fires. Upon seeing me pouring over a city map, one server at a restaurant even asked if I needed a place to stay because a community centre in his neighbourhood had free beds. After I explained that I was there from Canada for work, he aplogized and said sadly that my timing was unfortunate because usually it's a really nice city. He apologized for the inconvenience of a bit of smoke and no Sea World! People are people. They love and fight and fear and care and hate and they can amaze you wherever you are. Even in the U.S.
On the way back home I did a lot of waiting in the San Diego airport as my flight got delayed again and again. One of my fellow waiters was this guy in the red sweatshirt:
He had just graduated from basic training (or whatever you call it) and was on his way back home. I know this because he spent much of his time calling loved ones on his cell phone to tell them the good news. Here are some snippets I overheard:
- I got sharp shooter! It means I can kill bodies at 500 yards! Awesome, hey?
- I'm different now. It's amazing. I've definitely changed.
- I can't wait to put some of my new skills into action. I'm definitely in a combat frame of mind. I want to show those terrorists who's in charge!
- I love you Uncle Bill....Yeah, I'm proud of me, too. God bless you.
The whole thing made me really sad. The fact that he had to go kill and possibly be killed didn't phase him at all. He was so happy about such a scary thing.
To end this off, here are a couple of reasons why for you:
Why I Like Travelling:
Newness. When one goes to a new city, it's all so different. I love wandering around with only a vague notion of where I'm going and how to return. I get to discover new types of trees, flowers I haven't seen before, flavours I've never even though of. (Speaking of new flavours, there was a Ben & Jerry's not too far from my hotel in San Diego that had a new flavour - pumpkin cheesecake! If you get the chance to try it, do!). I want to go everywhere and see everything. I want to experience what life is like in that particular place. What makes it fun/unique/boring/sad? I want to know it all.
Anonymity. It's pretty neat to be in a place where absolutely NO ONE knows me. I could make a complete idiot of myself in the middle of downtown and it wouldn't matter. I could trip and fall on my face. I could run around with a sign declaring that the end is near. I could dress in a clown suit and dance a jig. Some people might think, "Who is that whacko?" but that would be it. Um...not that I did any of those things. Ahem.
Why I Like Coming Back Home:
Familiarity. I know exactly where I can buy stamps or a good cheap meal and I know where I can walk alone when it's dark and where I can't. I can find all my stuff in my apartment, even with my eyes closed. I know the city well enough that I don't feel like I always have to go exploring. It's nice sometimes to do nothing.
Music. When I'm away I usually just have my mp3 player with me. I'm able to consume music (through the earbuds, the radio, or the TV) but not make it. I miss my stereo and my piano and my flute. The first thing I do when I get home is put in one of my mix CDs where I know all the songs and belt out the words so loudly that even my toes vibrate. It's wonderful.
I will leave you with another photo from my trip. One thing I can say about all the smoke in San Diego: it made for some awfully nice sunsets!