Emeryville Amy

This blog will be a combination of my favorite places in the Bay Area and abroad, memoirs, recipes, restaurant reviews and travel experiences.

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Location: Emeryville, San Francisco Bay Area, CA, United States

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Year Everything Got Cancelled

I am scrambling to redo my travel itinerary in light of the tragedy in New Orleans. It reminds me of another time when my plans were cancelled 16 years ago.

I had big plans for the summer following my senior year at Cal. My friends JoAnn, Erik, Ron and I decided to go on the Trans Siberian Railroads across China and the Soviet Union. We spent months planning out our itinerary, getting visas and passports, plane tickets and train reservations and reading up on the areas where we were going to go. We were very excited and practically had our bags packed when our attention was drawn to the horrific news on the TV. We watched the footage of hundreds of students being killed while they stood helplessly in protest of their freedoms in Tiananmen Square. China closed its doors to visitors from the West and effectively cancelled our trip. So I spent the summer temping for Kelly Girl Services and lived at Joann’s house in San Rafael. Not quite the grand adventure that I had hoped to have.

I began my internship with the senior high students at church in September. One of the fun perks of the job was being able to attend the National Youth Workers Convention, this year being conveniently held in San Francisco. It would just be a quick drive over the Bay Bridge. The day before the convention my suitcase was packed and I met a friend to play tennis in Berkeley at the tennis courts on North side of campus above a parking structure on Hearst St.

In the middle of our game we suddenly heard a lot of car alarms going off all at the same time. Then the chain link fence started to rattle and the ground to shake. We crouched into a surfing position, trying not to fall over as the cement shook violently under our feet. A German couple who were playing next to us headed for the stairs and we yelled at them to not go down them in case the entire structure was about to collapse.

After a number of very long seconds the shaking stopped. Then, in true Californian fashion, we casually made a guess to the number on the Richer Scale that we thought the quake was and then went back to our tennis game. We played for another half hour and noted that part of Berkeley was on fire down by the main library. As I drove to BART to drop Michael off, I noticed that the radio in my car wasn’t working, but didn’t think much of it. I then drove over to my brother Thomas’ house on Oxford St. and joined my friends there watching the TV. The reports were crazy, there was talk of the Bay Bridge collapsing, freeways crumbling and killing thousands, fires and gas leaks everywhere. I had had no idea of the magnitude of the quake, even though it had felt quite strong on the tennis courts. BART was closed and Michael was stuck in the East Bay, but I knew that it would be too hard to try to locate him.

We were glued to the television for the next few hours and days as the extent of the damage was revealed. The Youth Workers Convention was cancelled and the new hotel where it was to be held was declared unsafe. I was disappointed, but it was hard to feel too sorry for myself when so many people had died and everything was turned upside down in the Bay Area.

A month or so later at a Jr. High mini golf outing we had to stop mid game due to an electrical storm that suddenly came up. Having a bunch of kids swinging golf clubs in a lightening storm just didn’t seem like a good idea.

In February we had a big high school ski trip planned. We named it,”Bill and Ted’s Excellent Ski Adventure,” playing off the hit movie. We spent days making a home movie starring the youth leaders and pastors on staff. I was keeping an eye on the weather forecast which wasn’t looking very promising. Everyone was supposed to meet at 3:00pm on Friday at church to load up and head to Tahoe. But that morning a killer storm moved in and by noon the roads were shut due to blizzard conditions. With much frustration we decided that we had no choice but to cancel the trip. All of our planning and organizing again going to waste because of circumstances out of my control. By this time I was starting to get a bit paranoid about planning anything. It seemed like some disaster was ready to happen if I cam close to packing a suitcase.

Luckily nothing occurred to cancel our high school choir tour that summer. Maybe that was because we were only going to go down through the central valley to LA, instead of some exciting location. Nature did have something in store for us along the way though.

The tour wound its way down through the central valley stopping in Fresno and Visalia for a few days of concerts and then heading out to the coast of Santa Barbara. We spent the morning at the beach, playing volleyball, and swimming in the ocean and getting sunburned and then climbed back on our air-conditioned bus to go to Glendale, my home town which is next to Pasadena. At the front of the bus there was a thermometer which showed the outside degrees in big digital numbers. The Northern California kids assumed that it must be broken because the number rose to 114 as we pulled into Glendale. I knew that there was a good chance that it really was that hot outside. One by one the students climbed out of the bus and let out cries of shock as the dry hot heat slammed them in the face. Many of them had never felt heat like that before. The church, St. Mark’s Episcopal, did not have air-conditioning. A faithful few showed up for the concert, mostly those who had promised home stays for the students. Students were passing out right and left during the concert and had to go sit down and the clarinet player could not get her reed to stay moist enough to play.

Somehow we made it through the concert and the students and leaders went off to their various homes for the evening. We decided that the only sensible way to pass the next morning and early afternoon was to take everyone to the local ice skating rink and then to the air-conditioned mall. This decision was agreed upon unanimously. So, we spent the morning in relative comfort until it was time for the students to practice before their next concert in Burbank.

I took advantage of their practice time to head back to my parents house for a quick dip in the pool. Driving on the side streets towards Glendale, I encountered unusually heavy traffic. I didn’t know why the streets were so busy in the middle of the day. Then I noticed a lot of dark smoke in the sky in the direction of my parent’s house. I arrived home and joined my family and some of the neighbors who had gathered in our backyard by the pool. Everyone was looking across the narrow valley to the hills across from ours at the roaring fire that was quickly burning houses and vegetation. The temperature was still above a 100◦ and the wind was gusty and strong. More people kept arriving and peering over our fence to get a look at the hill. Since we were at the top of a hill and had a good vantage point we invited everyone in by our pool to watch the progress of the fire. A few of the people who arrived had just evacuated their homes and watched them burst into flames. People were calling out the names of the home owners as their houses caught fire. The erratic wind caused some houses to be skipped over while homes all around burned to the ground. Soon there were helicopters loudly circling around dropping water and fire retardant chemicals. The sky turned black with soot and the red and gold flames danced around the hillside.

The atmosphere in our patio was tense and surreal, at times almost festive with displaced nervous energy and excitement that a natural disaster can arouse. It was getting towards dinner time, so I went in and made pasta for 30 to feed the growing crowd in our yard. I decided to skip the concert that night, feeling that the fires took precedent. Over a hundred home were lost in that blaze, including my parent’s first home on Ridge Drive, where I spent the first 7 years of my life. It was listed as partially destroyed, but only the slate fireplace and entryway remained.

After the scorching heat of LA we detoured to Catalina for a day and then headed on down to San Clemente and to only slightly cooler weather. On the morning of the last day of the tour we had a time of sharing and then went out to load up the bus. But the power was out in the bus, meaning no lights or air-conditioning. The driver spent the next two hours attempting to fix it while the high school kids ran around getting sweaty in the heat. It finally was decided that we should just start driving, with the hopes that running the engine would help recharge the power. So the sweaty smelly teenagers got onto the bus, which was no longer air-conditioned and the windows didn’t go down, with the hatch open over the now stinky bathroom and the front door open and we started up the I-5. The heat continued to rise as well as the odor as the day wore on. We had 2 vans in addition to the bus and everyone was clamoring to be the lucky ones to ride in them. Even though I usually did not like driving them, I was more than happy to take my turn that day.

The power never did come back on and it was growing dark as we approached the Altamont Pass. Tim, the youth pastor, insisted that the driver call for another bus to come and change with us so that we wouldn’t have to go over the pass in the dark without any headlights and other lights working. We had to wait a couple of hours to complete the switch and completely unload and reload the buses, but we all made it back safely. And that was the end of what we like to refer to as the “Heat Wave Tour.” And the end of the run of events going awry.


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