Friday, May 18, 2007

Brush Fires and Salsa

I had lunch with my friend Cork and his tennis pals on last Thursday. We had set it up a week in advance, which is pretty spontaneous amongst his crowd. The older, gentrified Hollywood Hills set, they tend to rely on a routine as a means of stability in the frantic world that can be Los Angeles. Cork lives in a stately Tudor style home on the southern edge of Griffith park and hosts the most elegant of Christmas Eve celebrations. He reminded me on the telephone that he and Lars would be hosting again this year.

All was well until Tuesday, when an enormous brush fire broke out in Griffith Park. The accumulation of approximately four decades worth of chaparral ignited and the hillside was suddenly aflame. Afternoon winds fanned the fire and soon there was a very serious fire indeed on the backside of the hills of Los Feliz. By evening, fingers of flame were beginning to creep into the residential side of the hills. A command post was set up at the Greek Theatre, streets most in peril were evacuated, and helicopters flew all night dropping water on the flames. Their refueling site was the Hollywood sign, to help add visual perspective. This was nothing short of extraordinary, as it is highly dangerous to fly these missions after dark, but the loss of the entire neighborhood was in all likelihood avoided because of this heroic mission. It was very much like a Hollywood disaster picture, with all the famous locations on camera, except that this time it was a reality show.

By Wednesday morning, the evacuees were beginning to return. The water drops had made serious inroads overnight and the flames were on the retreat. By Wednesday afternoon, all that remained was smoke and a charred hillside that had been a rather large section of Griffith Park.
Cork telephoned that evening to say that all was well, most of the exposure had been the on the next hill over, and that both tennis and lunch were still on.

I arrived at Casita del Campo, a classically camp Mexican restaurant in the heart of Silverlake, on Thursday at the appointed hour. Cork, his tennis cronies Rob and Michael, his neighbor Dale and myself. We sat on the outdoor patio and ordered Margaritas. The lunchtime conversation, as we munched on chips and salsa, had more to do with the eccentricities of Howard Hughes and the attempts of Bank of America to collect IOU's that he had written on scraps of paper than the brush fire we had just been through. There was concern expressed for the animals who were affected, and who would be wandering aimlessly through the residential neighborhoods. And of course, appreciation for the fire fighters and the nighttime water drops.

While no one took the favorable outcome for granted, they certainly took it in stride. Natural disasters are part of life here in sunny Southern California. We drank a toast to the Fire Department and moved on with the day. There were theater plans that evening. This is no place to be frail.

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