The Zero Mile Post marked the meeting of two railway lines and possibly the beginning of the city of Atlanta. Zero Mile is a series of sometimes fictionalized and sometimes real stories based on life in Atlanta, Georgia.
By Nicki Salcedo, contributor
I hate the idea of earthquakes. The first year I lived in the Bay Area, I avoided the bridges. The act of driving over one meant I would certainly beckon The Big One. A Big Bang started it all, and another kind of Big Bang will one day wipe us away.
I love the idea of an apocalypse. But not disaster.
I know what to do for a tornado. You stay low in room without windows. You get into a bathtub. This assumes you have a good iron claw foot tub and not a pre-fabricated bath, light plastic that might get lifted into the wind. This assumes you will remember what to do when the disaster comes. Will I remember what to do? Will I notice doom coming my way? I have a lot of questions about survival.
I know what to do for an ice storm. Open the cupboards under the sink, and let the faucets drip. Don’t let the pipes freeze. Ice clings to tree branches and shadowy places. Ice forms when snow lands on warm ground. I know what to do for an ice storm. Tread lightly, better yet don’t tread or drive on ice. Make fun all you want, but I’m no fool. At least not about ice.
I bristle when they say we have snow storms in Atlanta. We don’t get snow. We get ice. I can only remember a few times in my life when we had actual snow. You know snow. That light and fluffy stuff that can be rolled up and tossed and shaped into a man. A man of strange proportions. Balls balance on balls. Of course that’s a man. For the women, we become angels. If we have real snow, not ice, I can show you my wings.
Inuit and Yupik people have all the words for snow. We have one. It is a beautiful, quiet kind of disaster.
Last year, smoke filled the city. Wildfires burned far away, but the wind brought the smell of burning to Atlanta. We are a city that has burned before. Firefighters went to contain the blaze. It is a special type of fighting the storm. Can you prepare for fire? Can you prepare for lightning? I think of all the ways the planet reminds us of our place.
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
— “Fire and Ice” by Robert Frost
Lightning is random. Earthquakes unpredictable. A tsunami is a disaster that follows another disaster. How high should we climb? How far can we run? Can we outrun a flood? I don’t know. What are we to do when the end comes on a Tuesday during the daylight, and I am the only one to perish?
I’d like to think it’s why we look to space. Silent and organized in its rhythm. We forget solar flares and meteor showers await us. A comet hurled an asteroid toward the dinosaurs, and this is how the sunny sky looks to me on the happiest of days.
Until I attended a survival class years ago, I was afraid of earthquakes. The first lesson was how to pick up another person. They asked the women to pick up a male student who was on the ground.
I remember my surprise.
“Put him over your shoulder,” they said. “You are stronger than you think.” I pulled on the prone person. I squatted to the ground. I slipped under the heavy body and was able to stand up. I could carry him. A strange exercise in saving, if not the world, then one human. It seemed like enough. It seemed like something important.
It was an earthquake preparedness class. They told us to keep a bag ready with supplies. Water, flashlight, blanket. They told us to find a doorway or stay under a desk or table. Stay away from falling debris. Protect your head. I thought of my years hunkered in hallways for tornadoes in Georgia. There would be no tornadoes in California.
During those California summers all those years ago, we watched the hillsides blaze in the night. The fields of gold turned to burning embers. Wildfire looks like something alive.
I try to be prepared for the things we can’t prepare for. Be prepared for the unexpected. I want to tell my kids this about floods and riots and their grandfather’s name who is becoming foreign to them. There are disasters ahead. Bangs and whimpers.
I don’t know why we ought to survive, but I remember that class on earthquakes and how my fear went away. I can find someone in the debris of a damaged building. I can fill sandbags. I can move rumble. I can pick up another human being who cannot help themselves. I could be shelter. That’s enough of a reason to be ready. To try to survive.
Nicki Salcedo knows the loops and the back roads of Atlanta. She is a novelist, blogger and working mom. Zero Mile stories appear on the Atlanta Loop on Wednesdays.