Yesterday we left Santa Barbara at 9am to travel to Burbank for our flight home to Sacramento. At about 10:45am we were in Simi Valley heading towards smoke on the 118. Climbing up a ridge traffic stopped bumper to bumper. Helicopters were circling into the smoke that changed colors in a matter of seconds. It took one minute for the smoke to cover the sun and turn everything dark. Flames started to jump over the ridge quickly and chaos struck. An entire freeway that had become a parking lot full of cars and big rigs needed to turn around and get out. Fire trucks and police came in as fast as they could with sirens on, windows down yelling to get out. The last thing I saw as we left was an elderly woman, alone, slumped against a police car sobbing.
It would take us another 3 hours to find a way to Burbank, which was only about 20 min away. We weaved through neighborhoods with residents in masks taking watering hoses to their rooftops. When we could get through Calabasas it felt like an eerie ghost town. Everything empty. Everything black and scorched. Reaching the Burbank airport felt like some small victory so when they told us we couldn’t get a flight until 6:20pm, we both exhaled and said “That is fine.” We just want to get home. The woman next to us was getting a flight to see her brother because she was evacuated. I wanted to reach out and hug her. I wanted to do something.
By the time we boarded the Southwest flight home, there were no seats together. Like many Southwest flights, the last seats are the middle ones. Midway through the plane, I heard a man say something I can’t shake. He was sitting on the aisle and another man at the window. The aisle asshole put the tray table down on the middle seat, looked at the other man and said “Don’t they get it? This is the international sign for you can’t sit here.”
People are fleeing their homes. People are running at a moments notice with nothing but their breath. Fires are still burning. Fires are still starting. To the man on the plane…
Take your headphones off and look out the window. Everything is burning. That is the international sign for HELP.
In the dark middle seat on the flight back all I kept thinking was, WE NEED EACH OTHER. This has always been true. But why can’t we realize that now? With horrific stories every day? With loss and running for your life? Why can’t we get that? Why can’t we offer more than a seat, eye contact, a place to land, understanding? We need each other. This I know. I will find a way to help. This I know.