Sunday, June 05, 2005


Last night my cousin Greene flew into LAX from Australia, on my drive up there to pick him up, I got a voicemail (must have been in a dead spot) from Tragic “Hey sweetie it’s me, I’m going to call you back later. Okay, there’s a huge fire on the highway and I don’t exactly know what to do, I’m going to call you back later, okay? Bye, I love you”, she sounds more panicked and tearful then I’ve ever heard her. My stomach dropped and I immediately call her back and her voice mail picks up… and picks up again and again, finally I get through. She’s driving home on the 5 freeway between Bakersfield and San Jose and there’s smoke and flames in both directions, she can only see 3 cars ahead and has already driven through places where the flames have jumped into the median. It’s hot, stuck in a traffic jam and she’s talking to me and coughing. I’ve never felt this powerless. It’s one thing to be in a war zone to expect people to be shooting at you, but to have the most important person in your life in danger? Everything is heating up, a couple of off ramps back, she had just filled up the tank. People are driving like mad down the side of the freeway, cars are coming in the wrong direction and the only advice the 911 operator offered was “there is a big fire out there” before hanging up. What kind of craziness is that? She tells me of a fire truck behind her but when she turns around to look it's gone. Everything is like a scene out of the Twilight Zone. I tell her to wet a teeshirt and breath through it. I keep talking to her, turn off the van to keep it from overheating, take some pictures to go with the tale later (my thoughtless evil black medical/photographer humor rising up) Then, she tells me traffic is moving again, though I loath to do so, I let her off the phone so she can concentrate on driving through the smoke.

Half an hour later, I’ve picked up my cousin and she’s clear of the fire and a little way from home. Smelling like smoke but physically none the worse for wear. Today, the fire hasn't even made the news. Now I know what the family of the people that were on cell phones felt like on 9/11. I never want to be that scared again.

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