The Calm Before the Storm

It’s hundreds of miles offshore, but you can feel it coming.  The answer to all your prayers, writ large by the Devil himself.  The night-time streets are full of crazy traffic.  Nervous drivers dive two at a time for the same shopping center driveway. Bicyclists shoot out of inky alleys and down the wrong side of the street, nearly invisible.  It’s 8 pm on a Friday night, and people are busy.

Because there’s nothing scarier than a dream come true, if you dreamed too large.  And after five years of drought, five years of water rationing and brown lawns and dying fruit trees, after five years of squinting at brilliant, arid skies: Mother Nature is about to give us everything we asked for. At one time.

Atmospheric river, baby, 100 miles wide.  Gigatons of water scooped out of the tropics by a monster low pressure system, now barreling straight for central California. Tomorrow night and Sunday, the river’s going to flow across Sonoma on the north to Monterey on the south and the beating heart of it is going to pass right over the mountains north of this town, Santa Cruz.

We may get 12 inches in 24 hours.  Or if not us, the mountains.  It doesn’t matter; all the water will flow straight into town anyway.  Whole communities in the mountains will go wet and dark.  Fallen trees will break up the fragile web of roads.  It’s going to be interesting.  Thank God they fixed the river levees.

Hence the flying traffic:  batteries, water, groceries, get it and get it NOW.  Rhumba and I were among them. We bought a hundred bucks worth of stuff at the locals market and navigated carefully home.

But we’re not ready; this town’s not ready.   The storm drains clog when you look at them wrong, there are too many trees too close to roads and houses and power lines.  And we don’t actually have a power “grid:”  it’s more of a long, raveled string.  It’d be a joke to say that one car hitting a power pole could cut power to three towns at one time, except that it’s happened a couple of times.

I work at the university up above town, a woodsy campus on a hillside where classroom buildings loom above the trees like rock formations.  They had to send us home early a couple of days ago because a tree fell across the power line that feeds campus.  One power line. There wasn’t even a wind.

Before they sent us home I took a break and hiked through campus, empty except for a wandering staffer or two, silent save the roar of generators floated by on the mist.  There was no business; it was not usual.

Fortunately, the kids weren’t back from winter break yet.  But they will be, thousands of them.  Tomorrow.  Just in time for the atmospheric river. I wonder how long the power will stay on this time.

We’ve already had a pretty wet season; now, this.  And another storm right after it.  Honestly, if I were single I’d just leave town.  But I’ve got a woman and a cat and a job and a house with a new roof. Not going anywhere, and we’ll hope for the best. At any rate, the drought will be done, for now.  “For now” is the new happy ending.  Really, it always was.

Because after the storm passes, if there’s anything left, the university’s due for a one-day union strike.  A week later, demonstrations on Trump nomination day: a “general strike” called by the town’s budding leftists.  A week after that, who knows?  The depressive civil servant and poet A.E. Houseman once wrote:

And while the sun and moon endure
Luck’s a chance, but trouble’s sure.

“Depressive civil servant and poet:” sound like anyone you know? Anyway, I’ll spare you any weather metaphors for the coming Trump presidency except this one:  sometimes when you wish for change, the universe laughs and give you change squared, change cubed, And it’s up to you, to us, to make something of it.  Certainly to be ready for it, and find advantage in it.  Fewer brown lawns this year, that’s for sure.

Some other famous guy said “Another word for crisis is opportunity.”  It was either an ancient Chinese philosopher, or a  Ferengi on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine; but what the hell?

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