City On Fire

May 11, 2007

A few nights ago I sat in my living room and watched on TV a fire that was ravaging over 800 acres of land less than four miles from my house. Griffith Park was burning, and while I wasn’t one of the homes right on the perimeter of the park I could see the smoke billowing over the hills above my neighborhood. The smell in the air was reminiscent of old campfires where you used to sit around and toast marshmallows, and if you were lucky someone had brough a guitar and could actually harmonize with you. Only it was magnified by a thousand percent. And not nearly as pleasant. And there were not s’mores at the end.

I’m being flip, but in that scary evening I felt real panic. I now know that a fire’s burning through four miles of city streets is much more difficult than its burning through 800 acres of wild brush. I now understand that, dry though it is in this city right now, the fire would have had to jump a city freeway AND the LA river in order to get to my house. But in the wee small hours of that long night, I was making my list.

You don’t know until you’ve had to make it. But the question is: if you woke up in the middle of the night as someone banged on your door and told you to evacuate because your house was about to catch on fire, what would you take with you?

For, me there were only a few things. Grab the child. Grab the dog. Grab the laptop. In that order. If there’s another second, grab the passports and the birth certificates and the marriage license. If there is really time — an hour or two — there are pieces of original sheet music. Maybe some spare diapers, some bottles of water. Who knows how long we’ll be or where we’ll wind up? And, oddly enough, I thought I might need the cell phone charger because people would be trying to call and what if my cell phone died? And then… that was it. I looked around the house and I couldn’t think of anything else that we couldn’t replace or wouldn’t need immediately.

It was a shocking revelation. We are a country that rewards the accumulation of stuff. I can’t go on a trip without overstuffing a suitcase and worrying that maybe I’ve exceeded the baggage weight limit. And yet, when you really get down to it, it’s just stuff. Books. CDs. Baby’s toys. Exercise gear. Tables. Pots and pans. Clothes.

As midnight rolled around I turned off the TV (reluctantly), locked all the doors and fell asleep in my comfy bed. By morning, the fire was more or less under control and I felt silly that I had been so worried.

2 thoughts on “City On Fire”

  1. Real History Lisa on said:

    Don’t feel silly. Fire is a very real threat here in Los Angeles, and you definitely have the right priorities.

    A friend of mine recently spent time in Africa. She felt so guilty coming home to the land of over-plenty that she read by candlelight for weeks after she returned. Actually turning on the lights seemed so–egregious, I think she said.

    Nothing like an emergency to bring instant clarity. I hope you write about that in some way in some upcoming song. People are WAY too attached to things that really don’t matter, and the world is the poorer for it.

  2. -William on said:

    “…what would you take with you?” really makes me think. Your list is sweet and selfless.

    It’s such a scary thing going on in in LA and I am very very very glad you and your family are safe.

Leave a comment!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *