The Evacu-cation

The first sign that anything might be wrong came on a Thursday afternoon, driving my son Flynn to his baseball practice in Agoura Hills.

As we wound through Malibu Canyon, we spotted a large plume of smoke rising over approximately exactly where the baseball field was. “Uh, Dad…” said Flynn, pointing. We arrived to discover the fire was a ridge away, so practice proceeded as planned.

The next day we could see the smoke from our home, rising like a mushroom cloud over our drought-dry mountains. I was at an afternoon birthday party for a 7-year-old drinking wine when my wife pulled up unexpectedly. “Mandatory evacuation,” she said. She was on her way to our friends Bob and Shoba’s house in the San Fernando Valley. I went back home, gathered a few more photo albums and the important artworks, and descended on the valley to join her.

Bob and Shoba recently moved into a lovely new home that has two guest houses and a guest room. Already at the house when we arrived were our friends Heather and Johnny and her kids, as well as Jon (of previous “Jon” posts), with his daughter. “Come, stay with us!” Bob and Shoba said. Or at least I imagine they said. In any case, they didn’t turn us away when we all showed up on their door.

It was a dire situation. But out came the champagne — the party was ON.

Lovely hostess and two swarthy refugees

I brought a 1994 Chateau Lafite Rothschild my father had gifted me before he passed away — I didn’t want that going up in flames. The ladies stirred Aperol spritzes, there was plenty of mezcal as Bob fired up the grill and put thick ribeye steaks to the flame, the children unable to believe their luck at the spontaneous 9-kid sleepover. We drank and ate and laughed and watched movies.

The next morning we came out of our luxurious guest quarters into the main house to the smell of coffee brewing and bacon crisping. The second day was mostly consumed with watching reports of the fire on the television, subduing our nerves with beer and wine, and planning that evening’s dinner. Leslie called from Costco asking if I needed anything, and I told her I needed crab. Desperately. She came home with two very large just-in-season Dungeness, which I cleaned and cracked and stirred into a tomato saffron sauce for Shoba’s favorite dinner — spaghetti with crab. Now joined by Moira and Dan — never ones to miss a good party and pretending they had to evacuate too — we commenced another splendid meal that also featured spiral ham and stuffing for some one amongst us who, despite the bone-dry weather and fires burning around us, was feeling seasonal.

Gathering around the Evacu-cation table

“I talked to my lawyer,” Jon joked raising his wine glass in the air, “And we have at least thirty days before they can legally begin evicting us.”

By the third day, however, the party was beginning to lose its luster. Our clothes smelled stale, everyone was starting to look a little fried, Bob and Shoba were doing a lot of whispering to each other. We had some obligatory mimosas and then Heather and her clan left for Santa Barbara, Jon departed for Long Beach, and we cleared out for the day. That evening we drove across town to have dinner in Santa Monica with our Malibu friends whose home had just burned down. (“We were ready for new wardrobes anyway,” they said cheerfully as we sipped an Oregon pinot and ate kale salad.)

We stayed one more night, and quietly made ourselves coffee the next morning, as Bob and Shoba got onto their computers and conference calls. There was real life to return to.

Jon, day #3

I had been driving in and out of the eerily empty canyon through a dirt backroad ever since Saturday to feed the farm animals and check on the house. The fire seemed to be contained in Malibu Canyon, there was no longer smoke in the sky and the Santa Ana winds had died down. Our pal Steve had invited us to re-evacuate to his place. But we were missing our own beds. We decided to go home.

As I write this, a full week later, we are still under mandatory evacuation. But most of the canyon, like us, has snuck back in via that dirt back road. And the sheriffs seem to be turning a blind eye.

We got settled back into the house, re-hung the art, put the photo albums and paperwork away, and slouched onto the couches. What to do now? How about invite some friends over for dinner…

 

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Sardinian sheep

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Waiting for our table in the North End

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