In mid-March, had anyone in the Weekly’s offices suggested that in a few days most of us would be working remotely most days, for months on end, they probably would have been laughed out of the building. It’s not a matter of ability – any journalist with a laptop or tablet, a cell phone and an internet connection can work from most anywhere.
It’s a matter of desire.
We like being together. The wisecracking, the snacks, the noise. But most of all, we like being able to rapidly bounce ideas off of each other to see what lands.
We’re now more than five months into this new way of working, and after some fits and starts – Google Meet vs. Zoom (for our virtual meetings), Freshdesk vs. Gchat (to keep track of copyflow) and Gmail vs. every other thing (for mapping out what’s going into each issue)Editor Sara Rubin settled on Trello for keeping track of what comes next week and the week after that.
We’ve all been running full speed since first the River Fire, then the Carmel Fire and – wait, are you kidding? – the Dolan Fire broke out in rapid succession. So with my smoke – and adrenaline-fogged brain, I needed to check Trello to see what I had proposed for this space.
Here’s Rubin’s assignment as it reads on Trello: “Mary can write about the end of the world? What else is there?”
It’s a fair point. In the past 11 days, it’s been easy to forget there’s a pandemic going on because of the fires raging across Monterey County and beyond.
There seems to have been an emotional shift since this weekend, though. Tens of thousands of residents throughout Carmel Valley and Corral de Tierra and Laureles Grade were ordered to evacuate as weather approximating the apocalypse, with dry lightning and high winds, was anticipated. It never showed. And that it didn’t, and that many people are being allowed back to their homes now, seems to have provided a slight mental reprieve.
There’s been a lot of loss, of course. As of this writing, 13 homes have been destroyed in the River Fire, and 10 more damaged; in the Carmel Fire, 50 homes have been destroyed and six damaged. In the Dolan Fire, we don’t have official numbers yet, although one resident told staff writer Asaf Shalev he was aware of several houses destroyed.
In the midst of all the sorrow and uncertainty and fear, there have been moments of grace and sweetness. When I wrote about Steve the fish, the littlest evacuee under the care of the SPCA for Monterey County, County Supervisor Chris Lopez messaged me about another wee evacuee – his godson’s kangaroo rat, Mr. Mustard Pockets, who evacuated with his family from San Benancio. (The Weekly’s business development director, Keely Richter, has since knitted a sweater for Mr. Mustard Pockets.) My imaginary daughter-in-law, Alexia Garcia, has taken a few days away from her job working on housing policy with Monterey Bay Economic Partnership to help care for horses that were evacuated from the fire zones and landed at the rodeo grounds in Salinas. Restaurants that are suffering and struggling under the weight of the pandemic are opening their kitchens and hearts to first responders and evacuees.
My most poignant moment, though, is this. While I was waiting to meet Weekly staff photographer Parker Seibold at the Cal Fire incident command center in Toro Park, a woman drove up and asked how she could donate supplies to the firefighters. A Cal Fire public information officer told her, gently, that she couldn’t due to the pandemic.
But when the PIO saw the kids in the back seat, she asked the mom to wait a minute. She dashed back into the command center and came out loaded with Cal Fire stickers, introduced herself to a little girl riding in a car seat, and handed over the loot – and that moment is going to stick with that little girl forever, as her enormous smile will stick with me.
One of the cowboys from Cowboy 911, a rescue group that goes into danger zones to evacuate large animals and get them to safety, told rodeo ground volunteers that throughout the fire, and throughout taking care of other people’s animals, they were going to see the best of people up front, and the worst of people near the end.
I hope the end comes soon, without the worst involved.