Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Conflagration Will Be Televised

The San Diego wildfires got official CNN disaster certification when Anderson Cooper and his black t-shirt arrived on the scene. To be fair, he was actually wearing a dark brown safari shirt – I suppose it won’t show ash smudges. Certainly the all-wildfire-all-the-time coverage was more palatable than some of the recent round-the-clock stories – all-Britney-all-the-time got pretty tired pretty fast. But there was something pretty annoying about Anderson hanging out in somebody’s burned-out yard, giggling with Dr. Sanjay Gupta about their madcap disregard of warnings to wear face masks.

All the same, at least with cable news, we know that the point is to exploit events for our entertainment. The next day, George Bush showed up, and my annoyance turned to disgust. As far as I know, the last time he showed his face in this purple town was to declare “Mission Accomplished” on an aircraft carrier a mile offshore. (And you thought he was in the Persian Gulf! That flight suit was necessary for him to travel one mile from shore to a ship they had deliberately turned around so the San Diego skyline wouldn’t be visible.) This time around, he “consoled” the well-to-do Republican voters of Rancho Bernardo – I’m betting FEMA will come through for them like they never did in the parishes of New Orleans. Governor Schwarzenegger asked him to go console some evacuees at Qualcomm Stadium, but Bush declined. I guess they concluded that people who don’t have the means to find private lodging may not vote Republican.

Sad how in Bush’s America, all turns to anger and politics. As far as I can tell, the city has handled the crisis very well, even without the National Guard, who are all in Iraq. I hope it’s clear that this was no Katrina. I can hardly begin to imagine what a nightmare it must have been for those who were evacuated with minutes to gather up their precious belongings, spending days in limbo, not knowing whether they have a home. But in a few weeks, except for those most directly affected, life in San Diego will be back to normal. New Orleans may never be back to normal.

And that’s the strange thing – for many of us, life was never really not normal. I live near downtown, and work downtown. My company closed our offices, but I kept going to work. Traffic on the freeways was light, NPR was off the air because their transmitter burned, and the air quality was really bad for a few days – that’s the sum of the impact on me. It reminded me of how I felt after 9/11: I was aware that others, including people I knew, were terribly, terribly affected. But it was somewhere else, far away, and the direct effects on everything I could see were small.

But maybe I minimize. We watched CNN morbidly, debating whether we should start pulling important papers together, though the nearest fire was at least 10 miles away. The day the fires started, before we knew how bad it would be, we happened to drive through a thick cloud of smoke that went on for several miles, and it was very alarming. The next morning, the sunrise burning red through the smoke, the office empty except for the few of us who lived nearby, I felt a vague dread. This lifted as the fires got worse – more upsetting not know what’s going to happen, than to know what has happened, if you have been spared.

The number of friends who have reached out from around the country has been deeply touching. When the news says the fires are in San Diego, people don’t realize that, like Los Angeles, the land area of San Diego is vast. I reassured each one that we are fine, our home is intact, and those we know who were evacuated had places to sleep. One friend asked if people in San Diego were talking about the implication of global climate change in this. I’ll admit to feeling irritated – no, I responded, this week, people in San Diego are talking about whether each other’s homes are still standing. But we’ll get back to politics soon enough. George Bush was in town, after all.
Posted by Picasa


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home