I escaped to Monterey with the dogs for two days. The sky was white, but I couldn’t smell the smoke that was choking the San Francisco Bay area from the Butte County fire.
I watched the news, forty-eight dead, hundreds more missing, the town of Paradise 80% gone. Telephone poles still falling, burned-out cars along the roadside where people abandoned them and ran.
Today I had to drive back, even though the air quality was still bad, according to my scientist girlfriend, like smoking and inhaling two packs of cigarettes. I had my N-95 particulate mask ready. I’d bought a box last year in 2017 when Napa and Sonoma were burning. Still, it was hard to leave a place with acceptable air quality and drive north toward the smoke. The farther away I got from Monterey, the more I wondered why I was going back.
Chorus rehearsal, mostly. And my sister. I could’ve stayed away one more did if I didn’t have to get up and perform a song with 16 others for the chorus of 130 people. Sis hasn’t seen me since Saturday.
I kept the car on re-circulate the whole way. My two dogs in the back did okay, but when the smaller one started to pant, I wondered if she would be the canary in the coal mine,, letting me know that the passenger compartment was getting low on oxygen.
I flipped on the intake switch, but the immediate stench had me turn it back off. My nostrils were bone dry, my throat filled with bile from the stress of it all. What if I got a flat tire? What if I got waylaid with the dogs? It’s amazing what an OCD brain can do to a simple two-hour commute.
I put on the Beatles to calm myself down. I couldn’t sing along because of the acid in my throat, and my ears were plugged. But John and Paul sang their sweet tunes, and I started to breathe easier.
I looked down at the speedometer. I was going 77 miles per hour. So was everyone else. Were we all thinking the same thing? Get to where we’re going asap so we can get some fresh air? I was looking forward to stepping inside my vacant closed-up house. The air would be better than the air in my Prius. I slowed down to 69 and hoped that the CHP I just passed wouldn’t bother with me.
I kicked on the AC and got a big whiff of nasty, so I turned it off. The smaller dog was still panting, so I reassured her that it wouldn’t be much longer. The normal slow down wouldn’t happened for another two hours. I was getting home in record time.
By the time I crested the last hill and then headed downhill to Pleasanton, I felt as though I had fought off a huge beast. It was fear, acid reflux, and anxiety all rolled up into one.
The last five miles seemed to drag on forever. I finally got to my exit ramp, where normally I would roll down the windows for the dogs to stick their heads out the last two miles. Not today. At the first stoplight, I pulled my hair into a pony tail and positioned the mask. I would be ready to let the dogs out when I pulled in the driveway.
Once inside, I found a cold house with sweet non-smoky air. I used to wonder why some people wore masks on the streets. Now I am one of them.
I hope this ends soon. We haven’t seen rain for 212 days. They are saying Thanksgiving. It can’t come soon enough.
Couldda Wouldda Didda
I made it back with oxygen to spare.