"Right, right, RIGHT!" I could hear my sister saying as she tried to navigate our folks from Jack London Square to my house on Calmar Avenue in Oakland via a frantic cell phone conversation. (She wasn't having much success).Typically, it's a short drive, but it was clear something had gone wrong.
"Why are you headed toward Sacramento?" Jill asked, exasperation in her voice. "I told you to stay RIGHT to 580, to Grand Avenue," she continued . . .
"I couldn't get over," my mother responded, "there were too many cars." (Evidently, the navigation on mom's phone wasn't working, but neither was the phone call.)
"You just had to stay right!" Jill said, shaking her head, her pitch getting noticeably higher.
By the time mom and dad found their way to an off-ramp they were on Ashby Avenue in Berkeley, and it was bumper-to-bumper traffic, which added another half hour to their drive. (Geeze, I was just trying to feed them dinner.) It's no fun being lost and confused.
Unfortunately, my parents, Ellen and Harry, are among the thousands of displaced evacuees that have been affected by the wild fires in the North Bay. Residents of Sonoma for the past 20+ years, mom and dad are waiting to hear if they have a home to return to at all. In the meantime, they are staying at Jill's comfortable apartment in Jack London Square (it has an elevator for Harry)and Jill and her dog, Bridget, are bunking with Cliff and me in our spare bedroom down the hall until the coast (and the skies) are clear. None of us knows when that's going to be, but we're all hoping it's soon.
Like everyone else, I've spent the week glued to my television waiting to hear news that the fires are contained and so far, Mother Nature is on the winning side. With strong winds tossing baseball-sized embers across fire lines, the firestorms are outpacing man's ability to tamp them down. Sadly, the news hasn't been hopeful; we're waking to reports of whole neighborhoods wiped out and virtually NO containment. It's almost beyond comprehension. All those homes gone up in flames, seemingly in the blink of an eye. Poof!
Floods, monsoons, hurricanes, earthquakes and now, the MOTHER OF ALL FIRES (!!!); 2017 may go down too easily as the most destructive year in US history. No sooner has one emergency passed, than another takes its place. It's a reminder to us all just how tenuous life - and home - can be.
It's also a wake-up call to check your home owner's insurance policy to make sure you are adequately covered, because none of us knows when or where the next tragedy will strike and while it's devastating to lose a home (and the contents within it) most of us won't be in a position to rebuild our lives again without the security and the dollars insurance provides. (Not that I'm a fan of insurance companies, but when you need 'em, you need 'em!)
"Better our homes than our lives", a close friend reminded me whose stunning Tuscan-like retreat is directly in the line of fire.They awoke to red skies late Sunday night and had to flee. "We're so grateful we got out in time," Andrea said. "We feel lucky, AND we're fully insured!" (That helps.)
And while Claude and Andrea are indeed lucky, there are many who are not. This fire has not only claimed hundreds-of-thousands of acres, it's taken homes, jobs and lives.
I'm guessing that all those affected are feeling as confused and lost as my parents. And while blankets and water are always appreciated, it's our collective contributions that will have the most impact towards helping others get back on their feet in the weeks and months ahead. (I'm hitting the donate button now.)
On behalf of everyone who wonders where they'll sleep tonight, please feel free to join me. It's the "right" thing to do.
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 15 years and has published more than 500 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.