So yesterday on my drive home I passed by a high-speed chase. Some drug dealers were fleeing from the police and decided to fling money out their car windows. Of course, they were smart: the flying money caused all sorts of regular Joes driving North on the 805 to stop in the middle of the freeway to collect the cash. I must have happened on the scene just a minute or two after they drove past (in fact, I think there was a point where I passed the actual car – going the opposite way – but didn’t realize it, since I noticed a police helicopter overhead around Clairemont Mesa Boulevar), because there were literally cars stopped on both sides of the freeway and people running across lanes of traffic to pick up the bills. I don’t know whether I’m just a little dense, because I didn’t get it – I was wondering what all the commotion was about. A few miles south, I heard the traffic guy on the radio describing the situation, and then I saw all the cars backed up in CHP traffic breaks. It was a very strange situation – I don’t know that I’ll ever get out of my head the image of the affluent-looking, well-dressed, middle-aged woman scrambling across three lanes of traffic in heels, clutching a wad of something (now I know it was bills) to her stomach, her breasts flopping madly as she ran. Or the one of the very overweight, balding man who was barely able to lift his stomach high enough to allow him to climb over the median (as I passed, he was sort of flopping over it like a beached whale). It was utter chaos and a scene right out of a movie.
So it got me thinking about other strange scenes and situations I’ve been in; two come immediately to mind.
The first was during the wild fires in 2003; I lived in Scripps Ranch at the time, and my roommate’s father had woken up early and heard about the first reports. A retired Forest Service Firefighter, he and my roommate’s mother were down for the weekend visiting us. Evidently, he decided to check it out himself and drove to a point where he could see the thing moving down a canyon. As soon as he saw the column of fire leap across the (closed) freeway, he turned right around and drove back to our apartment and told my roommate to wake me up. I took about an hour to pack up a few bags and my computer and sealed the doors and windows with rolled-up towels as instructed, and then I hopped in my car to head to the safety of my parents’ house.
The freeway was no option – the way North was completely closed and the way South was so jammed that it would have taken hours just to get anywhere. I turned onto Carroll Canyon Road, to go the back way through Miramar Road – the way I took to work every day. I got about a quarter of a mile from my house and realized that everyone else must have had the same thought. Everyone was stopped, fighting for space leaving Scripps Ranch, just like you see in the movies. I always had thought “Oh, come on – real people don’t panic and STOP like that!!!” but when there is no where to go, you have no option to get out. After a few seconds of claustrophobic panic, I made an illegal U-turn and drove back the way I came.
The sky was almost black with the soot and the smoke, the sun obscured and looking eerily otherworldly. Ash was falling all around me, like snow. It was nightmarish – the smell of burning, the panic on faces as I passed – and no one seemed to know what was going on. I turned left on Mira Mesa Boulevard, directly into another huge patch of traffic going nowhere. I edged along for a block before realizing I knew another way to go. I turned left towards the Junior College and then went through a residential area, thanking God and all his angels that I had a reliable map of San Diego and all the alternate routes I’d ever taken in my head.
For the record, my place was fine. But a lot of people’s homes burned to the ground – and some of them were only a mile or so away from where I lived. For days, ash fell as far away as 20 or 30 miles. There was even a scare when a small fire started only two miles or so from my parents’ home, but it was quickly put out. Still, I managed to take some photos of the “disaster movie evacuation” as it’s labeled in my head, and I’ll try to post them. They’re very, very strange and very, very scary. Especially for someone who, as a little girl, had repeated nightmares about her entire town burning to cinders around her as she desperately tried to get out. Frankly, I’m surprised I didn’t panic more, given my history with the “epic fire” scenario.
The second bizairre disaster movie scenario in my head is from July 2005. If you remember, there were some really heinous bombings on London’s public transport early during that month and several people were killed. My family had already planned a trip to England and Ireland, however, and so we decided to simply go and avoid the tube, the bus system, and pretty much any other place we might run into any potential terrorists.
Unfortunately, the terrorists had other ideas.
I remember quite vividly the day – my birthday, of course – and where we were when we heard that there were more bombs found. We had just gone through The Tower of London; my dad and I were ordering lunch at a chip shop and everyone just sort of stopped and stared at the television. In the background of the city, we could hear distant sirens. The first reports came in: no injuries, but they were trying to figure out if there were more bombs. Tube completely shut down. Police called out in force.
Everyone around us started moving slowly, as though underwater, in shock that this could happen again so soon. We got our food and brought it to my mom and sister and explained to them what we’d heard. We all ate in relative silence and thought about what to do next. No cabs were nearby, but there was a water taxi – a tour of the sights visible from the Themes – that I’d been on a year before and was anxious to show off. Plus, the end of the tour was a few miles downriver, closer to our hotel.
As we travelled downriver, we were passed by two police powerboats, going very fast in our same direction. We departed the tour boat across from Big Ben and watched as a group of students streamed from the tube station, their teacher trying desperately to figure out how to get them home now that public transport was not working. The intersection directly in front of Parliament was stopped – and all the streets leading from it – except for the occasional police car, driving up on curbs to get around everyone, siren screaming.
We decided to seek refuge inside Westminster Abbey and walked around a bit inside their grounds. We stopped at the College Garden and marvelled at how quiet and serene it was; we could barely hear the chaos outside.
Eventually, though, we had to attempt to return to our hotel. Public transit was right out – even had the streets magically opened up, my mother never would have been comfortable getting onto a bus with a bunch of other people after all we’d been hearing. Likewise, cabbing it was impossible – the streets were still completely stopped – cars that we’d seen an hour before had only moved inches. We decided to walk.
It was about five miles, and my poor parents both have physical ailments that made it a slow and painful hour, plus. I had plenty of time to people watch – I just wish I’d thought to use the camera that was in my purse to capture the moment. Because there were gobs of people roaming around, aimlessly. It was as though every business let out suddenly and no one had any place to go. Secretaries lounged outside offices, talking on their cell phones and smoking cigarettes. Young Italians leered at my sister and me as we strode hotelward. Three separate times, police came walking towards us, two unarmed officer flanking another – who was armed with an extremely large semiautomatic weapon. It was a totally surreal, out-of-body experience, wondering if the city was going to start imploding and if we’d be fast enough to get away if it did. Again, the streets were so full of cars and people that no one was going anywhere (although I had to wonder if the police were artificially keeping everyone in one place by closing them somewhere a few miles down, to sort of try to keep the suspects from going far). It was scary and strange and the only time I’ve heard of London’s police carrying such imposing weapons.
I guess yesterday, while strange, wasn’t so bad. At least there was no carnage, and there didn’t seem to be too much of a disruption (in comparison, at least) in traffic patterns (although rush hour on the Northbound 805 had to have been pretty rough), even if it did conjure up these memories in my head. I will never again laugh at the poor stiffs in the disaster movie who are too stupid to make it out alive – because it’s a little too close for comfort – but perhaps I’ll pay a little more attention to the lucky bastards in the cops-and-robbers movies who happen to stumble upon the bad guy’s discarded cash!