Dec 9, 2005

Waiting for the final wave

It's not an ominous place. It's not the sort of place that just somehow sets you off on a line of thought of wonding about the end of the world, or how to spell 'armageddon.' It's a suburbia full of mostly nice old people and temperate weather, with mountain views and sea air and it's pretty much like a travel brochure, tinged with that sappy quaintness. All the old people are always moving there because of how nice it is and the only undercurrent of uncomfortableness they say they feel is a niggling concern for the almost final obliteration of the rural Northwest community it once was. There are only two dairies left. I guess they'll be there until their owners die. There's one for-show horse farm, an organic farm, some tourist-friendly lavender fields, and a rusted grain silo.

The silo is square, an ugly tin tower in the middle of town rising from the tile roof of a Mexican restaurant. The restaurant's painted up tastefully colorful but then the silo comes out of the roof like a hideous interruption, looking really weird with walls of dull tin ungracefully rising to the top with corrugated gables. It stands there towering with all the horror-flick animosity and ominousness of a monster rising from the sea.

Mr. Bodds owns the copy shop under the silo. Every day he drives to work in an RV. Every day he drives the RV fully loaded with canned foods and valuables and everything he'd need to survive and he backs it into the lot behind the silo so he'll be ready, ready to run. So he'll be ready to run from the tsunami wave. He's been predicting a tsunami for at least ten years now, writing weekly warning letters to the weekly paper citing a mixture of opaque apocalyptic legends from local tribes and scientific papers from out-of-work scientists who have short wave radio shows. Sometimes Bodds says it'll be an earthquake that sets off the tsunami, breaking that whole peninsula loose from the land and sinking into the sea, setting it loose to go crashing into Canada. Sometimes he says it'll be a planetary alignment disaligning the gravitational pull and pushing the water up into a wave wiping up the mountains. Always, though, every time, he says it will be total disaster.

He's got a big map on the wall, color coded for disaster. It shows the whole stretch of land from the Puget Sound to the Pacific, everything above the Cascades and below the Strait of Juan de Fuca is there and all of it's inked over in pink and green and orange and blue and each color is linked to water, how much water will wash everything away.

He sells survival kits but his plan isn't to hide out and survive. If you ask him what he's going to do, he's going to escape. He's going to run out to the supply-stocked RV and drive the two-hour road along the coast outrunning the tsunami's wall of a wave to the turn where the road sneaks down the side of the mountains going south.

People ignore him. They ignore his letters and survival kits and ominous predictions. They think he's a kind old man but little kooky crazy and they try to get his wife to make their copies so they won't have to talk to him. So he wanders around making copies and fantasizing and muttering everything will be destroyed, and it's kind of quaint.

Another retiree moved in last month. Gray-haired and from California, another one in a town full of people seeking this temperate zone, a pleasant place to pass away. He has gray hair and a beard he's let grow and he's like everybody else. Except for the sign. He walks up and down the street with a handmade sign lettered in black electrical tape. COMING, it says, in capital letters, The tsunami is COMING to the Northwest. They had a picture in the paper and my mother clipped it and sent it to me and he doesn’t look crazy. He's smiling and he looks like someone who likes to laugh when his grandchildren open Christmas presents.

So the other day someone was asking what I was going to do, when this was all over. I said grad school if I can get in and he said what if you don’t and I said journalism. But that's a finicky field too and hard, you know, can be hard to get into so he said so what if you don't do journalism and I thought about last options and about the ominous shadow of that ridiculous silo.

Street prophet, I said, taking a drink of water. Apocalyptic street prophet.