I was driving downhill, westbound with the Bay before me, when I heard about it. Well, not about it as much as the other thing. He’d just been in a ride-sharing vehicle. Someone had gotten out nearby and said something about hearing that people died.
Naturally, he thought of me and texted to ask if I’d gotten to write about it. I hadn’t, but a co-worker had. I told him I’d listened to it the night before as it happened, bits of fact strobing in and out of view through static and signals from other incidents, followed by a tweet not seen in real-time but shared by a different co-worker.
Coming back, I saw there would be just enough time for me to go and see for myself before a newsroom training session on listening to and searching through services that offer archived dispatcher logs. So I went there, parked my car and got out and saw it. I took pictures. Then I left.
A year later, dozens of people are gone. They should still be in the building, arguing about stories and photos, and grumpily wondering where the time to cover meetings and budgets will come from, but they’re not.
The unexpected wonder on the anniversary of this newspaper winning that thing a year ago is having more clarity about why all those people are gone, and seeing what good that clarity does for others in the same situation dozens and hundreds and thousands of miles away.
I wish I could say things were looking up because of this, but all I see are wood beams, metal pipes and the sheet metal that workers have been installing in a far corner of the newsroom to try to slow down a chilly draft that’s been giving us the shivers and creeps for months now.
Nothing about these little ticks of time, these pockets of space, should surprise me. I don’t feel surprised in the moment, only after when I look back and behind me. There is just enough time before my shift, so I call ahead and make an order for pick-up. The person who takes it recognizes me, and I recognize her.
I drive over and find a parking place, get out of my car and walk in, mouth the words to the same early-1980s hit song I remember enjoying years ago and screwing up so badly at karaoke last month. I pay for my order, pick it up and head back out where people with the ability to drink a pint glass of cold beer outside in the early spring midday sunshine do just that.
No matter how busy your day is, you’re probably better off moving, eating or reminding yourself of your humanity. On a day off, you can probably fit in at least one of those activities. If you’re lucky like me, you can hit all three. Today, that also meant getting to huff and puff up and down one of the steeper neighborhood hills, watching the adaptive photochromic material in my glasses do their thing if I caught my reflection in an unbroken window of a parked car, en route to the Grand Lake theater for a matinee of “The Shape Of Water.” Guillermo del Toro occasionally makes great movies but, thirteen Oscar nominations aside, not this time. I’m still thinking hard about just why. Is it better than a classic monster movie with dashes of “Amelie,” “The Artist” and “Hairspray”? Yes, but, argh.
It was one of those days where the branches look particularly bare and the sidewalks seem especially wet, but the rain doesn’t clean the air and the chill just sort of hangs there and taunts you underneath your collar and down your socks, a day for closed conference-room doors and poker-faced concentration while listening to distant decisions heading toward the newsrooms where reporters and photographers and editors work.
It was, as it turned out, also a day for another company’s announcement about a new tool, beta-testing right now in a popular Mid-South city and much, much closer by as soon as next week, after more than a year in development.
Some people start their mornings with prayer, meditation, motivational literature. I don’t spend time around those folks on a regular basis, but I know they exist because I saw a guy waiting to cross Lakeshore Avenue with a Tony Robbins book under one arm.
Me, I start by looking at my cat. I mean, yeah, I also drink water and coffee, but a little time looking at this actual animal is a thing for me. She prefers me horizontal and as still as possible — if she can be said to have preferences. When it becomes clear that I’m going to escape the cozy confines, she’ll slink down off the covers and hide under the bed or out in the hallway, stopping to tune up her scratching post like a boxer tags a heavy bag with a puncher’s touch.
The best looking comes when the cat is off on her own, peeking out through the blinds or staring out at birds from the edge of the bed or seated at the base of a wall, catching the last little bit of wan-as-fuck autumn sun that swings around the corner of our apartment building.
And when I catch her sticking out her tongue, it’s because she’s about to groom herself so she can stand the rest of her day in style, as well as a reminder for me to do the same.
They sit lightly on the bridge of my nose, arms clinging lightly to my temples. Through their lenses, the world rushes at me with greater clarity and richer dimension than ever before. They feel oddly sturdy for their thinness and absence of weight. I do not wish to test their durability. I prefer drinking in the details floating in the air around me, higher-resolution data I hadn’t realized I was missing from squinting at small screens or staring at landscape horizons hurtling suddenly closer. All this before I notice the built-in shade that I’d forgotten about requesting, and here it is, seeping in to shield me from the brightness all around.
Words slide more easily across my eyes. Pages’ edges catch my fingertips and flip just that much more crisply. I can’t see all the way back into a rock legend’s life, but a look back at accounts of his formative years comes easily into focus for a little while this afternoon.
I kept getting up to wander around the newsroom and looking out the windows onto Grand Avenue to see if the rain had started. When I decided to pack it in and tromped out to the car, I found the windshield and the roof wet with spray from nearby sprinklers.
I made it home and got to my bedroom’s desk and noticed the wind rising outside. Then a rush of noise came, spattering buildings’ roofs and slamming down onto the neighborhood park’s basketball court.
As keen as the region seemed for any help from overhead to beat back the recent wildfires and cleanse the air, I felt sure a lot of people wanted every individual raindrop for its own selfish reasons, and not just because gravity meant each was already predestined to fall.
Today’s big errand was a run out to pick up some trial contact lenses. I’d got the ones for my right eyes a week or so ago, but the left ones were out of stock. With those acquired, I could stick them in my eyes and see just how well modern optometry could make the vision thing for a near-sighted and slightly astigmatic 46-year-old man.
Good grief, now I can tell what the hell you people have been doing with the world while I wasn’t able to see it this clearly, chewing it up and spitting it out, wearing it out at the edges and borders. Sure, you leave it with plenty of character, but what about the warranty?
At least I can still roll down the window of my car and see people and billboards and buildings, flashing signals and scattered trash in nearby gutters, and the local movie theater marquee leaping out at me with foreigners and dystopias and other obviousnesses in foot-high lettering. Long may it rave.
It took until about noon before I knew it was another bad-air day. I didn’t even have to leave the house. I just got dressed, ate a late breakfast and made sure to secure my own mask, just like the airlines tell their passengers in those safety videos.
Part of the reason was the fires still burning to our north. Another part was smoke from the Bear Fire drifting up the Peninsula. Another part was the 100-acre Fallon Fire that broke out in the afternoon east of Dublin in the Tri-Valley.
That’s more than enough parts to make a whole mess of a day’s worth of breathing. Still, the mask did its job and I did what I could of mine before going home.