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Sitting here at my desk in the niche on the second-floor landing a little while ago, I started to realize that I had been hearing some kind of small aircraft overhead for a few minutes. I didn’t think terribly much of it, as there’s a small private airport not far from here. But — and not for the first time — something made me get up and look. Back in spring 2001, I heard circling helicopters at about 6 am, and for some reason was possessed to get up and turn on the news to see what was going on. If you knew my town you’d know the extent to which this makes no sense whatsoever; Claremont is 35 miles from downtown L.A., and whatever happens here isn’t exactly breaking-news material.

Except this time it was: I turned on a local affiliate and was immediately greeted with an aerial shot of one of my college’s dorms, on fire.

Today, remembering this, I almost went straight for the TV; instead, I decided to look out off my front balcony.

Smoke. Tons of thick black smoke.

The old Claremont citrus packing house, a block down from me, which has been in the process of renovation into what promises to be groovy gallery, retail, and beverage service spaces, was on fire. They got the fire under control in relatively short order, but between the fire and the water damage, this will no doubt have set the renovations back by months. Which is a major drag for those of us living here: I want my fabulous wine and cheese shop, and I want it yesterday.

Anyhow, I went outside and down the block to make sure that the fire wasn’t threatening to jump toward the condos across the street, and managed to meet several of my neighbors, whom I’d never gotten to meet before. They’re wonderful people — sweet and warm and really happy to chat. I’ve lived here for a year and a half, as has one of the women I was talking to; the other woman and the guy who lives next door to her have been around for at least a year. And yet we’ve never talked.

It’s sad, and somehow revealing, that it takes something like this to bring us together.



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