The only reason I know where Arcadia or Sierra Madre — the communities closest to the Bobcat fire in Southern California — are is because I used to do traffic reports when I was a talk radio host. Traffic and weather together. For traffic, I talked to Captain Jorge up in his helicopter. For weather, I just read the report, which tended to be the same every day: high in the 70s, low in the 60s, a few degrees higher in summer, a few degrees colder in fall. Not so anymore. This summer, it was record-breaking heat and no rainfall. You don’t need to know where Arcadia or Mt. Wilson are to know we are all in trouble.
Before I moved to Los Angeles, I thought that cities were a place you could get your arms around, that it was possible to know where every neighborhood was, along with close-in suburbs. I thought I could get in a rental car and learn my way around Los Angeles. That’s how it is in many cities. That’s not how it is here.
Los Angeles County is like another country, certainly another state. I don’t know anyone but traffic reporters who can begin to pass a test that would require them to place all the cities in the county on the map. States I can do; countries I’m all right; cities and towns in LA, no can do. Before we had phones, people here had Thomas Guide maps in their cars, page after page of street maps, and we would give direction by saying what page of the guide we were on.
After my first quake here, my mother — may she rest in peace — called in a panic. “Nordstrom’s just collapsed,” she said in horror. “I recognize it.” I had taken her to a Nordstrom near me. I had never taken her anywhere near Northridge. I told her the equivalent distances in Massachusetts (she was in Boston), which, in her case, put her in New Hampshire.
That satisfied her, which was all I hoped to do. What I didn’t tell her was that we felt huge shaking, that I did not put on the sneakers under the bed, which you are supposed to do, and instead ran down the hall in bare feet to check the baby, amidst the broken glass everywhere. My feet were bleeding; the fireplace had cracked; and pipes were bursting in the basement. And, honestly, we weren’t particularly close to the epicenter.
Smoke and ash don’t stay in place. The cloud from the Bobcat fire has moved all the way to D.C. But it seems most of it is right here in the West. The fire may be far away, but the smoke and ash are everywhere. If you park your car outside, you know what I’m talking about. It did not get covered with dust overnight. That’s ash.
The sky looks different, the sun surrounded by smog, and what look like pretty colors are signs of our planet’s slow demise.
Good news, I told my daughter, who can’t go running: The air is only unhealthy, when it could be very unhealthy or hazardous! We’re two whole categories away from destruction. Air quality is now part of traffic and weather together. Weather is more important than the traffic on the 405, and in Los Angeles, that is saying something.
Advice to everybody: Stay indoors if you can. For all the essential workers who work outside, outside was just the right place to be, except it isn’t now. So, considering the air, stay inside; considering the pandemic, stay outside.
President Donald Trump refuses to acknowledge that our planet is warming. Instead, he offered the west an answer that rings horribly familiar. Having unceremoniously dumped the carefully negotiated Paris climate accord because he could, and having undone practically every effort the Obama administration made to address global warming, Trump told us not to be too concerned about the unprecedented heat this summer and the unprecedented fires this fall because it will soon get “cooler.”
Remember how COVID-19 was supposed to disappear when things got warmer?
The president as weatherman doesn’t work, not because he can’t tell the temperature but because only science will explain its highs and lows and what they mean. And without science, the president can hope to do no better than the meteorologists I grew up with on Boston TV, who were wrong too often to be relied on but often very good for a laugh. Which is OK if you’re a weatherman in Boston but not if you’re president of the United States.
The song “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” was about romance. The smoke in my eyes is painful and itchy, a reminder of things so much worse.
To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.