I learned an important lesson today: If you have to be in a disaster, do it in California.This was the scene at Qualcomm Stadium, the largest evacuation center for victims of the fires burning in this part of SoCal. Some people have actually compared it to the Louisiana Superdome after Hurricane Katrina.
I know what you're thinking: "Are those evacuees getting massages?" Yes, they are.
And this guy is having an acupuncture treatment.
The stadium had the look and feel of a neighborhood festival and business convention expo. There were balloons and food (some evacuees complained that there was too much to eat) and plenty of water and sodas and army cots and newspapers and children's corners and performances by improv theater groups. And, oh, did I mention massages and acupuncture?
These evacuees were checking e-mail on laptop computers and watching a movie on high-definition TV at the AT&T tent. Yes, there were many corporate-sponsored tents lining the walkway around the stadium that normally is home to San Diego's NFL team, the Chargers.
For those who just couldn't bear any more food or drinks or massages or balloons, there was refuge in the stadium's comfy seats that offered views of televisions broadcasting live local news coverage of the fire disaster.
You won't be surprised to learn that I saw no one starving, no one dying without their medication, no guns, no broiling tropical heat, no packed crowds covering ever available square inch of space, no one hopelessly searching for his missing relative. Oh, and the fire wasn't burning all around the stadium.
Qualcomm certainly is no Superdome. And the wildfires are no Katrina.
That's not to say that there isn't plenty of suffering going on here. Thousands of people have lost their homes, businesses and possessions to the infernos. At least one person has lost his life. And it could be months or years before the lives of victims are put back together.
But Qualcomm Stadium has managed to be everything the Superdome wasn't - a refuge, a source of comfort and a ray of hope.
Except for the blue-gray haze and the smell of smoke, it's hard to tell from the center of San Diego that a disaster of near biblical proportions is unfolding only a few miles away.
More than a few people are wearing masks over their mouths and noses to keep from inhaling the particles now filling the air.
That might not be such a bad idea. I woke this morning to find my car covered with a thin layer of ash bits.