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I need a plan

Earlier this week, I found myself potentially facing a situation I’d only been exposed to on the evening news. It began mid-morning when I started hearing a helicopter circling over my house. At first I didn’t pay much attention. Then the circling got more frequent and the helicopter got closer…so close, in fact, that the pictures on the walls started to shake and I thought for a minute that by strange coincidence we were having an earthquake at the exact moment a helicopter was hovering over my roof. I started to wonder what was going on.

During my years at USC, hearing helicopters circling overhead was the norm, but here in my peaceful suburban neighborhood the only frequent noise is that of lawn mowers and weed whackers. I tried peeking out the windows, at first to no avail, but then I finally spotted the source of the disturbance – a big helicopter with a bright red tail. Also, was it my imagination or did it look a bit smoky outside? And was that ash on my car or good old fashioned dust? I started to wonder if there might be a problem.

Then, I walked to the other side of my house and smelled smoke. The smell was pretty strong, and I realized that something was going on, and it was going on close to me. I flipped on the KCAL local news, the only local news on at the time, but they didn’t have a reporter standing by interviewing people determined to stay in their homes and fend off flames with their garden hoses. So, I went online to, but again, didn’t find any “breaking news” about a fire. I was starting to feel a bit panicky – and a bit confused. I Googled fires in my neighborhood and nothing turned up. Clearly there was a fire, but nobody seemed to know about it. Could I be the only person aware of this potential threat?

I called Hubby #1 at work.

“I think there’s a fire in our neighborhood,” I told him. “What should I do.”

Now, as I think I’ve mentioned, minus the day of the Brazilian Blowout parallel universe, Hubby #1 is always the voice of reason. After a quick look at the internet that was far more productive that mine, he informed me that sure enough there was a brush fire quite close to our home. Since he tends to know what to do and when to do it, when he told me I should probably start to collect the things we would need in case of an evacuation, I jumped on it. But then I paused.

“What am I supposed to bring?” I asked suddenly feeling pretty stupid for not having a plan.

My BFF, who recently moved home to California after a decade in NYC had once mentioned something called a Grab Bag, presumably a post-9/11 preparation that New Yorkers are supposed to have. The problem was that all she had said about the Grab Bag was that her friend was upset she couldn’t find hers because it had $500 in it. So, besides $500, what does one put in a Grab Bag?

I started to make my way through the house. I readied my laptop, jewelry box, and both our still and video cameras. I put them by the front door. I also collected whatever cash I could find from around the house. Then I had to stop and think. What else? Photo Albums? They could definitely fall under the category of unreplaceable…but they were so heavy, and as I’ve explained there are ten steps to get to and from my house. How many trips with heavy photo albums was I prepared to make without having been warned of actual imminent danger? Not to mention our glossy (and most definitely fragile – and heavy) new iMac which has all our photos safely stored somewhere deep inside it… Yes, evacuation was starting to seem like more and more work. Plus, I had Baby #2 with me who is deep in the throes of his terrible twos which means that cooperating and listening aren’t exactly his strong suits.

I called Hubby #1 back.

“This is going to be a lot of work,” I said. I realized that when it came to saving our most prized possessions that my laziness shouldn’t be a factor, but come on…ten steps.

“Why don’t you drive around, find a firefighter and ask, ” the brilliant voice of reason suggested.

Perfect. Taking Baby #2 and Dog #1 on an information seeking mission made much more sense than trying to get my wedding china to the car without breaking it. So, we loaded up and quickly found more fire trucks, engines, hoses and gear than Baby #2 could ever ask to see. The child was downright delirious as I approached a firefighter who didn’t look much older than Baby #1 and asked if we needed to prepare to evacuate.

“No, I think this fire is pretty much contained,” he told me.

He thought it was contained or it was contained? Perhaps from a firefighter old enough to have a beer after work I would have felt more confident, but the truth was that the sky had returned to a perfect shade of blue and the sounds of the helicopter had faded away. So, I returned home and put all my valuables away. I was lucky. I’d been given the opportunity to learn the lesson the easy way. I need a plan…and I need a well stocked Grab Bag. It should be something light and easy to carry down ten steps. I can put it next to the four cans of black beans and canned salmon that were intended to become a well-stocked earthquake kit in preparation for the long predicted Big One. I guess planning is just not my thing.

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