2 hours ago I boarded the Amtrak in Austin after a week of optimistic planning for a San Francisco vacation and work trip. I spent a few hours, too many, I know, researching perfect San Francisco hotels to stay in for the 2 days before my work event- where I would recreate the one time I was in San Francisco before with my husband. When we got engaged on the side of a cliff near Carmel, when I saw the ocean and the waves crashed on the rocks and we drove to San Francisco and power walked the city. Lombard street and 2 minutes on the corner of the Golden Gate bridge (terrifying) in the pouring rain when I forced my new fiancé to take selfies- overjoyed with the buzz of the city, the new engagement ring on my finger, the San Francisco air- clean and cold. We ran on the beach and wrote messages in the sand and ate food in Chinatown and rode a cable car and I knew then that I was in love with San Francisco.
But its five years later. And the Facebook messages from my San Francisco friends who had been messaging me positive thoughts for days had begun to turn negative. I’d been up late at night reading Twitter articles about the fires engulfing California, 30 minutes from San Francisco, the beautiful hills of Napa and Sonoma where I celebrated my engagement. The city of Santa Rosa, where my father passed away years ago, and I had visited once. Gone to the exact place where it happened. Likely all in flames.
Now I'm looking at air quality reports. My mother brought me pollution masks to my office- you know, just in case. Articles like “San Francisco Air Quality expected to deteriorate in the next few days” and maps with bright red colors – detecting unhealthy levels of pollution and smoke in the air filled my inbox. Because California was burning- and I was speeding toward it in the dark, on a train bound for somewhere, unsure of what city I was going to and what I would find when I actually got there.
By 9 pm, I changed my plans. I sweet talked a nice hotel representative into letting me cancel my fancy hotel without penalty. I booked a last minute deal for a hotel in LA, semi near the beach. My husband cancelled his flight and booked a different one for the next day to LA. We ate the cost of the previous ticket. I bought a megabus ticket that would take me, 2 days later then planned, to San Francisco before my event began. I made 3 calls to Amtrak agents, whispering quietly, to cancel my connecting train to San Francisco, each call cut short by the dropped cell signal that happened over and over again in the vast expanse of Texas.
Did I mention that it was hours away from being Friday the 13th?
And so the train rolled on, and I stayed awake, my seatmate shifting quietly in his seat- unsure of what the next day would bring.