by Cherie Knox
We drifted off that night of August 24th – most of us anyways – finally letting go of whatever had busied our minds that day, settling into slumber for the night. Caught up in the routine of our daily lives, we tend to focus on our own little microcosm of life. Worrying about safety and solid ground is not usually top of mind. Then Mother Nature strikes, in the form of an earthquake, in the middle of our good night. For most of us, it was a humbling experience. My friend Charlie Toledo reminded us in a Facebook post, that it was a good reminder that we are merely guests on this planet. Wow.
When Connie called, asking me to write a story that focused on all the good that came out of this tragedy, I accepted. I didn’t know then that the interviews and writing would be such a huge source of healing for me.
People in and outside of Napa showed up in big and small ways to help others. Truthfully, there are just too many stories to tell in the space of this article. Within seconds of that terrifying and devastating quake, though, I can tell you with complete certainty, that our immediate and collective response all over town was to rise from the rubble, shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart. And, this surprised none of us.
Special recognition and deep gratitude goes out to our police, fire, elected officials, city and county leaders, employees and work crews – all of whom were tireless in their efforts to restore us and our town.
Here are a handful of stories about the good that helped light our way
Helping Others Release the Trauma
Mimi Glavin (The Playful Garden) and Rhea Zimmerman Komerek (Blossom Chiropractic/Love Bomb The Movie) partnered together to find a massage chair as well as a quiet location for Mimi to offer massage after the quake. Rhea, caring for her patients off site, offered to share her temporary location with Mimi. Unable to enter their own businesses, these two women focused instead on healing the minds, bodies and spirits of those affected by the quake.
Catalysts for change can come to us in unexpected ways. As many would share with me, this earthquake changed, awakened or shifted people’s minds, hearts, and souls. For Mimi, she recognized a renewed passion to return to doing bodywork and helping people on a deeper, more spiritual level. For Rhea, with the trauma of her personal experience of 9/11 resurfacing, she wanted this quake “not to break me down, but to break me open.”
How Does One Calm an (Earth) Quaked Town? With Coffee and Pastries,
Alexis Handelman (ABC Bakery) tells me that employees were working when it happened. She and her staff connected immediately. Smelling gas, they told Alexis they feared the place ‘would blow’. She urged them to vacate the building, which they did right after turning off the gas line. Alexis called Barry Martin to find out what had happened. Barry told her it was quiet downtown, but her front windows were busted out. She dressed and went to see for herself. It was pitch black, but peering inside she could see forms of broken glasses and plates everywhere. Wine and spirits flowed out from underneath the liquor store next door. Mike, a nearby neighbor and regular at ABC, said he would stand vigil over the building. Alexis walked through her bakery. Breads and pastries, their baking rudely interrupted, lay on the floor with cookware and equipment. “Everything”, she said, “was catawampus.” Employees showed up to help, as texts began to fly into her phone. Her reply, “Bring brooms, gloves. The power is on!” Suddenly Alexis announces to her staff, “We’re going to make coffee! Set up a table outside. Put out ‘to go’ cups. Put everything we have out in baskets.” It hits her. This is the time to be comforting people. They do just that, served up along with hot coffee and baked goods set upon a folding table on the sidewalk out front. For eight hours.
People were so grateful, she said. Strangers and friends – guests from Andaz, her regular customers, weary first responders, and homeless folks – all huddled together to share stories. Alexis realized that what they created outside that morning is what they create inside every day – a place for people to gather. She tells me that not until late that afternoon would her tears flow. “Not because of all the loss I had” she quickly clarifies as tears come again, “but for my own sense of gratitude.” Chuckling, she jokes that the morning was her own Hanukkah miracle (a reference to a story from the Talmud about a small cruse of pure oil, enough for just one day, that burned for 8). “We had enough baked goods and coffee to serve everyone who showed up that day.” What has she taken away from this experience? I see tears appear again, but this time they come with a tender smile. She says, “Life is precious and it’s short. It reminds you to fill the moments of every day in the best way you can, to bring the best part of you to each day.”
They All Said Yes!
Joan “Joni” Dittrich (Founder, Kali-Ki Reiki & Wisdom School) saw pain and trauma on the faces of those that attended her classes. She knew this was a mirror of our community as well. She wanted to do something to help people begin to heal. So, she called out to others. On Friday evening, the 29th, Janet Kuhn graciously opened her Yoga Passion Studio for the event. As Joni and Janet tell it, every person asked to help or participate said yes. Some members of the local Threshold Choir (Sudie, Jody, Rende, Marcy, and Rosemary) sang. Rosemary Gallagher (also involved in the Fuller Park event) gave a ceremonial blessing that honored the earth. Joni coordinated and facilitated all of it and led a guided meditation that evening to a room packed full of people. Heavy-hearted and subdued upon arrival, attendees left feeling quite a bit more grounded and peaceful.
I Am Not a Hero!
Fred Corona (from Taqueria Rosita) is quick to say he is not an earthquake hero. He wants me to know “what really happened.” Miraculously, his building didn’t suffer much. He was ready to open Sunday, until he saw the beleaguered look in his employees’ eyes, impacted by the quake themselves. He sent them home. They opened Monday. They were slammed with business. TV crews, business people, and locals all showed up. Fred’s restaurant was one of just a few open downtown. His staff was overwhelmed. Tuesday was even crazier. “The same people as before, only now add construction workers to the mix.” Fred contemplated hiring more people. Checking on his friend Baris (of Ristorante Allegria), he noticed the owner of Don Perico’s standing outside his restaurant with his wife. Fred and Marcos knew each other casually. It disheartened Fred to hear the couple discussing their options, all of which were grim. It was clear the restaurant would not open right away and Marcos expressed concern for his employees. While driving home, Fred realized he had a solution that would help both of them. He would offer to hire Marcos’ staff to work for him until Marcos could hire them back. Two of Don Perico’s three employees went to work at Taqueria Rosita. In the midst of many crippled businesses downtown, his was open and thriving. The irony of it all was not lost on him. He was grateful for his situation, but saddened by the plight of so many others. Creative thinking and a sharp business mind provided Fred with a solution that helped both restaurants. I’m fairly certain those two transplanted employees and his own stressed out staff are grateful to Fred for his efforts, even if he insists
he is no hero.
Silver Linings and Comfort Dogs Come to Roost Napa
Like other downtown businesses, Patricia Trimble (Roost Napa) was doing her best to weather the impact of the two-way street conversion. Then the building that houses her store caught fire. Then the earthquake came to town. Enough already! Once the plywood was up where her storefront glass used to be, she took some red chalk paint and wrote “We (Heart) Napa.” Her plight and her plea to viewers, to please come to Napa to dine, shop and sleep here, was captured during a televised interview, along with an image of that piece of plywood. It garnered the exposure that she and all of downtown Napa needed for the upcoming Labor Day weekend. “Come! We are open for business!” became the rally cry of downtown. Reuters, the LA Times, the SF Chronicle, the Wall St. Journal, and others picked up Patricia’s story. She talked to me about the silver linings that came afterwards – a man drove from Lafayette just to haul her trash away; two Afghan teens from SF made a point of buying one thing from each downtown shop; a Swedish couple on honeymoon came to help her sweep; a fund was created for donations of Sloan Chalk Paint to help restore her inventory; an out of town girlfriend unexpectedly showed up to comfort her in the midst of what felt like yet another aftershock. Strong and humorous through so much adversity, it was the Comfort Dogs that brought down her wall and allowed her to cry publicly. She sits across from me with that 100-watt smile and says her earthquake experience “made me fall completely
in love with
Hmmm, I Know Some People
Dale Carriker (President, Rotary Club of Napa) is a no-nonsense guy with a wickedly sharp sense of humor. After he and his wife Lynn – a proud Kiwaniian, by the way – cleaned up their home, they drove their truck to the Garaventas floral shop to help them. So many neighbors and friends did this for one another that day. Dale then decided to invite his fellow Rotarians into action at their upcoming meeting. He asked them to consider making a donation to the Salvation Army, which they would use to help Napa’s quake victims. The basket was passed. The donations collected. At the end of that lunch hour, they had $5,000 in donations! The Salvation Army purchased gift cards to help those in need, like seniors on fixed incomes with no money to replace spoiled food. Dale tells me, humbly and without pretense, “We all have an opportunity to help someone else. That’s all we did.”
Have Plywood, Will Travel!
Mike DiSimoni (Adobe Lumber) arrived downtown at 4:30 that morning to check on his buildings. After assessing them, he headed back to his lumberyard to pick up materials he would need. Loading plywood, it struck him that he should load up as much of it as he could and deliver it to anyone downtown who needed it. With the help of his daughter Gia and her boyfriend Daniel Collins, they drove back to Napa. In a few hours, they delivered 100 sheets or so of plywood. Mike was touched to see several carpenters, with their nail bags on and tools in hand, running alongside his truck, offering to help put the plywood up wherever it was needed. What compelled him to act that morning? Mike says he reached back to his experience in Richmond after the Loma Prieta quake. Like in Napa, he saw people dazed and shocked, who needed help. So (in a cast from a shattered ankle), he put his focus on doing what he could to help other Napa businesses. Asked if anyone stood out to him that morning, he recalls Alexis. “She came running over, wanting to pay me for the plywood.” He refused her money, and instead took a cup of her coffee!
Did You Hear the Angels Singing?
Kate Munger (Founder, Threshold Choir) arrived in Napa on August 30th, along with choir members from Napa and beyond, to sing for and with Napans under the trees of Fuller Park. Choir members sang, soft and sweet, while seated next to Napans, who took turns reclining in chairs, eyes closed and bodies gently coaxed into relaxing. Everyone was invited to sing along. For some, the experience brought tears. For all, it brought an afternoon of peace and calm to a community still very much on edge. With 117 choirs in the US, UK, Canada and Australia, they sing to ease and comfort those at the threshold of living and dying. Kate also sings with prison inmates and wants to expand that singing to communities that have suffered trauma. “I knew lots of people in Napa were having a hard time releasing tension, coping with agitation, and so on. I know singing grounds me and I simply wanted to offer this to Napa.”