Sunday, April 22, 2012

Notes From The Future

[I was going to write a pithy piece about some terrible local theatre this morning, but when I signed into my blog I found this:]

June, 2016 or 2018, depending.

As a Time Traveler, I will have several points I needed to warn you about. They shouldn't have alarmed you terribly much. When it comes, there will be nothing you can do to avoid it.

If you had listened, you will probably live.

The first thing I need to tell you is that, at least where I'm writing from -- and I'll explain that in a minute -- the earthquake was far larger than any of you (including my respected uncle, Geologist Edward Cargile, recently of the USGS), had ever supposed possible. Now there are those among you who would note that if there was any future from which Edward would write, it would be from a future where The Big One on the Hayward Fault is epic beyond even James Cameron's budgets. Just as Harold Camping would end up in a future where the Rapture is a reality and Carol Channing would end up in Modesto. Which is where she was, until recently. Seriously, in your time, the right now that applies to you, Carol Channing was living in Modesto. I'm not kidding.  And, as she has moved away from Modesto, I suspect that she knew what was coming.

The first thing I need to tell you is that you are not prepared.

Did you buy a duffel bag with a week's worth of supplies and "first aid"?  Buy maybe thirty more of them. Then, if you're in the western end of the Tri-Valley Area, store them in your attic. Build a trapdoor on your roof so you can get in and out of that attic easily.

This blog is cobbled together from things written just after the quake, when power was in-and-out, as well as notes made by hand in the weeks following, when there was absolutely no power and the stultifying heat of Livermore in the Summer carried the sickly-sweet stench of the terminally unlucky, if ever a breeze dared move.  Switches in tense are frequent. I apologize; my daily window of time is brief.

At one time, the USGS had an animation on their website of the likely major destruction zones in the 92510 area; I think they took it down because it upset people.  If more people had paid attention to that animation, things might be better where (and when) I am.  The animation was quite conservative, but you won't believe me so I'll dive right in to what you are least likely to believe.

Everything West of the Hayward Fault moves about ten feet North in about two seconds' time, snapping overpasses, destroying the 238 interchange and the BART line leading to Dublin, Pleasanton and Livermore. The houses on stilts on the hills above 580 in San Leandro and Oakland fall down. So do the flimsy-looking atrocities in the old quarry. 580 itself is a wreck, as is much of Mission Blvd., all the way down to Fremont and beyond. But things are worse right there at 238/580 where a BART train, passing at the moment the quake strikes, is on the tracks when the back two thirds of the train move ten feet North along with everything else.

Simultaneously, the Calaveras Fault -- which is really the Eastern Auxiliary Arm of the Hayward Fault -- works some special legerdemain of its own: it cracks open and swallows large portions of 680 all the way up to Martinez. The bridge is permanently damaged, of course; all the bridges are damaged, and the Benicia bridge falls down. Now think of those elegant arching roadways at the 680/24 interchange in Walnut Creek, knocked down like a cranky toddler's wooden blocks. Think of the refineries in Martinez and Benicia, none of which were built with anything like this earthquake in mind and, Fukushima-style, begin to spew toxic materials into the estuaries and the bay when their pipes are snapped like the flimsy plastic tunnels of a Habitrail left in the sun since 1978.  Alamo, at the base of Mt. Diablo, feels earthquakes every day; a woman who lives on a house on a hill sufficiently elevated from 680, sees smoke rising from Mt. Diablo and calls to report a forest fire.

It's not a forest fire.

You have no idea what you are in for and you're not even really taking it seriously because I write funny blogs and how could I possibly travel back in time to warn you about some over-the-top disaster that matches my worst fears and every prediction I ever made after too many beers at your barbecue?  What am I, some kind of Noah? Some kind of Cassandra? Harold Camping's first disciple? High Priest of the Seismic Soothsayers? None of this reads funny. I might delete this paragraph. I haven't decided.

The tsunami that occurs out there in the Pacific is a doozy. It's the Queen Mother of a royal earthquake swarm just itching to infest.  Lots of damage done along the coast, and it's large enough that what makes it into the bay, while lessened, is still an Incredible Hulk-style punch to anyone and anything at or near water-level. As of this writing, it is understood to have occurred because of a piece of the continental shelf that snapped off somewhere near Monterey. The resulting tsunami travels right up the coast of California and slips directly into the San Francisco Bay. I'm thinking of some kind of E-Ticket joke, here, but who is still alive that remembers the E-Tickets? Anyway, the East Brother Lighthouse spends some time fully submerged. Think about that.  Moving through the bay, the wall of water finds a large wall of debris where the Mothball Fleet came loose and careened into the collapsed Benicia bridge; the water, however, finds a delicious new pathway and follows what is already flowing into the Calaveras gorge that was 680.

The estuaries, having flooded and filled with water from the bay and reeking effluvium from the burning refineries, have now caught fire; water, following the easiest course and pouring into the gorge right around the 680/242 interchange, is now bolstered by the tsunami and the gorge is full of cars and screaming people trying to get their kids up and out of this unexpected canyon and stop to think for a moment what it would be like to be clutching your toddler to you as you scramble up what might be an escape when your child says, "Mommy (or Daddy), look," and you turn and there about twenty-five feet away is a flaming wall of water moving too fast for you to outrun it. Of course, you won't be around to participate in the class-action lawsuit that even now is taking aim at Chevron and whomever else it can blame for the negligence that sends this flaming wall of water right down 680 through Walnut Creek into Alamo, Danville, San Ramon, Dublin and into Pleasanton.

To be clear, the gorge that was 680 actually goes into the bay itself, and as the bottom of the gorge is at a lower elevation than the level of the water, well, it should be pretty clear that even without the tsunami, things were bad. If you've ever built a sandcastle and watched the tide come in to destroy it, you have some idea of what occurs.

Power is out in a lot of areas. Footage of Fukushima and everything that happened in Japan doesn't begin to approach what occurs here.  680 is largely gone. 580 exists in chunks. Roads at sea-level in the 510 and 925 are flooded. BART is broken. Silicon Valley is entirely submerged. No sea-level servers were prepared for a tsunami. Nobody was prepared. FEMA, being FEMA, is already poised to fuck it up worse by "helping" us.

Livermore is not as badly hit because it's 500 feet above sea level. It's still bad, though. And the water levels are rising.  We don't know where our neighbors are, and Veronica and I haven't been to the store in a week when the quake strikes. I've been waiting for a check from a voiceover job and it was supposed to come today or tomorrow.  The only things we have in the pantry are some jars of vinegar, some pasta, a few cans of corn, sardines in mustard sauce, a jar of dried Eucalyptus leaves and a box of Malt-O-Meal with moths in it.  We have one third of a large bag of dogfood left over for Max.

Power is intermittent here -- probably some lab-related perk -- so we suspect that the food in the fridge will not last terribly long.  We have carrots for Chauncey, and much of a bag of food for him. When that runs out, he can live off lemon and dandelion and jasmine leaves; there's even alfalfa growing in the yard because I scatter it after the Halloween party. But I suspect that, eventually, we may have to eat him. I promise that I will take Max down to the railroad tracks at the end of the street to hunt wild hare before we ever turn to eating the Ambassador from Rabbitania. He is, after all, an excellent source of fertilizer for crops; to eat him would truly be unwise. We shall see.

We've been watching TV when the power is on, watching from traffic cameras as the wall of flaming water and debris advanced. If this blog is disjointed, it's because I only write when the power is on. I'll see about smoothing it out later. We have briquets but no meat. A barbecue but no matches.

Veronica just walked in with a plastic bag of food from the bottom of the pantry.  My heart leapt.  Then I looked in the bag.  The first thing I saw: Dandy's Brand Oatmeal Coffee Cracker. Golden Oatmeal.  Coffee and oatmeal, good partner! more healthy.  The exterior features a picture of the crackers, front and back, detailing both Oatmeal and Coffee Cracker.  We have this food because of Sam Craig.  He delights in giving me bags full of food from Asian markets.  Every one of my birthdays for the past several years, and even on his own birthday back in 2012, Sam gives me these odd products.  Veronica tells me that the entire bottom of our pantry is full of these bags.

Underneath the crackers is a can of Rice Sweat, Taste So Good, You Scream!, with a label featuring the possibly terrified eyes of a 20-something Asian woman.  Nong Shim Octopus-flavored chips, 0g Trans Fat. Excellent news that I can enjoy the flavor of octopus and avoid Trans Fat at the same time.  Shirakiku Fermented Soybeans Mito Natto -- does not contain Seasoning Sauce, keep refrigerated. Oops. So much for the Mito Natto. A Taiwanese bottle of Plum fruit Vinegar. A 20 oz. can of Aroy-D Banana in Syrup. A gigantic can of Budweiser and Clamato. Hair Lump Sugar Treat, Why So Chunky? For SURPRISE! I honestly cannot figure out what's in this can, because the label features what looks like a bowl of tripe with a radish carved into a rose in the middle of it. Chaokoh Quail Egg in Brine; Ingredients: Quail Egg, Water, Salt, Citric Acid (as antioxidant), Tetrasodium Pyrophosphate (as firming agent). 

It would be nice if the Hayward Fault had a firming agent -- it's Serpentenite, which under pressure becomes talc; anyone who has ever slipped in baby powder on the bathroom floor knows how slippery talc is.  But maybe time was the firming agent, and maybe that's not so good.  Our complacency calcified. We always said we would buy earthquake supplies on the next paycheck.  

This can of Quail Egg in Brine is manufactured by Thep Padung Porn Coconut Co., Ltd. of Nakhonpathon, Thailand.  I wonder why they bother selling Quail Eggs in Brine when they could make a killing off Porn Coconuts.

Sirens in the distance, a helicopter overhead. The silence after the quake was deeper than the silence that followed the 1989 Loma-Prieta quake. The last time there was major movement on the Hayward Fault was 1868; it threw buildings into the air, they landed upside-down; I've seen the photos.  The 580-680 interchange is a burning lake and it's getting larger. The burning tide is still moving South, toward Sunol. It will eventually reach the intersection of Highway 84 and Sunol Road, where it will flow into the Sunol Water Temple Agricultural Park. That's a major source of water for San Francisco. It's the origin of the Secret Sidewalk above Niles frequented by teenage potheads from Livermore High. I don't think anything or anyone will stop the water.

There's an inscription at the Water Temple. It reads, "I will make the wilderness a pool of water and the dry lands springs of water. [Isaiah 41:18b] The streams whereof shall make glad the city. [Psalms 46:4] S.V.W.C. MCMX [Spring Valley Water Company 1910]"

How glad will the city be when its water is toxic refinery waste?

[This is obviously a well-written prank. I have several computer-savvy friends who could pull this off (A certain Mr. Hunt comes to mind. Fess up, B.!), but what strikes me as really odd is that whoever did this has my voice nailed perfectly. It's like watching my doppelganger get naked with Veronica: hot, but I want it to be me. Or at least I want to participate.)

So: who is my literary cuckold? You may expose yourself, zing, in the comments below or in a private e-mail. Until then, you may stay the fuck out of my blog. Changing password. Now.]


  1. Impeccable attention to detail, Mr. Hightower. Fantastic!

  2. High praise from a detailed young actor. I humbly thank you, sir.

  3. I had to go back and reread this. The beginning of the craziness... wowsers.

  4. What happens next, future man? You know what I love (besides kind of everything) about this post? I bet Sam really has given you everything you named.

    And, damn. I love any post that uses the word legerdemain.

    1. My first reply was too much like my reply to Max Eddy. I just want to take a moment to acknowledge that Judy Clement Wall, the most prolific blogger I know -- also author of A Waltz, finest film I've ever been in -- has done me the honor of reading my blog AND commenting on it.
      Friends, if you haven't ready Judy's stuff, get your asses over to her site and read everything -- I mean EVERYTHING. Now. Here's a link:
      Judy, I thank you. You are a gem.

  5. I'm speachless Edward...but really what if? You are so connected to the is your gift, an Awakening if I may.

    Love & light

  6. blog -> novel -> film franchise. begin.