Monday, March 14, 2011
My Amtrak train slowed to a stop about forty-five minutes outside Bakersfield. Outside, lights flashed. Emergency vehicles from the fire and police departments, paramedic units all gathered on a side road in the open country just after sunset. The conductor’s voice came up on the intercom with the explanation. Our southbound train would pick up both the passengers and railcars of the northbound train. We would haul them all back to Bakersfield, where they started. Apparently, the engine pulling that train picked up some sort of heavy metal object on the track punching a gaping hole in the side tank, which resulted in a steady spray of diesel fuel over the tracks for several miles before the engineer realized the problem. “Thank you for not smoking,” one of the passengers joked.
Our mission meant delay. Everyone was good-natured. I finally arrived at my destination – Anaheim – at about 1:15AM that morning. I started up my car, and punched up AM radio for the quick trip home. It’s been years since I listened to late night radio. I soon found out what I have been missing – I got an eye-opening look into the world of conversation that heats up out there while I am generally asleep. It was a full-on discussion of the End Of Days. It was not exclusively the Hal Lindsey Late Great Planet Earth conversation, although the Bible got honorable mention, particularly the Book of Revelation. It was mainly the Mayan calendar and the predictions swirling around the year 2012. Earthquakes. Paralyzing storms. Changing weather patterns. Drought. Floods. Hurricanes. Food shortages. War. Tornadoes. Economic collapse. Depletion of natural resources. Overpopulation. Political turmoil. Civil unrest. Runaway inflation. Global conspiracies. Religious fanaticism. The End of Days. It was a lively conversation. The host taking the calls tossed as much fuel on the fire as the leaky diesel engine did a few hours earlier. The only difference is that the talk show fuel was lit.
And that was a few weeks ago. Before the massive Japan quake.
The Haiti quake staggered our imaginations. Now, the Tokyo quake expands our concept of catastrophe even further. The proliferation of video cams captured sweeping images that heretofore were seen only by eyewitnesses. Without those videos, we are simply left to imagine the incredible forces that caused the astonishing destruction, leaving crunched cars and trucks and boats and trains scattered in the accumulated debris of wood and steel and desks and file cabinets and torn furniture turning an open field into an instant watery landfill. Now, thanks to YouTube, we watch the buildings sway, the cracks open, the falling ceilings, the crashing shelves, the dancing power poles; the wires snap and crackle and spark, the people wide-eyed in stunned disbelief running for cover, the dust clouds form. And then as an encore to calamity, the tsunami appears. Momentarily, it causes the shoreline to recede. This is only a prelude to the sweeping current that rolls in a powerful vengeance that picks up tall ships as though they are bathtub toys and gathers them along with the sailing and fishing vessels and speedboats up and over the seawalls smashing them against the ocean view restaurants and hotels and apartment buildings knocking them off their foundations, clearing the parking lots of their cars and motorcycles rolling the whole tangled mess inland up and down the coast. For most of us, most of the time, the ocean view is peaceful. The great expanse seems benign. Breezy. Calm. But this tsunami released unimaginable force. And the cameras caught it. We watch in horror and amazement. We grieve for the victims.
But the terror does not end with the stillness of the earth or the settling of the great waters. We now stand by as Japanese engineers frantically work to cool down three nuclear reactors. A third horror, after earthquake and tsunami, hangs suspended over the people of Japan like a mushroom cloud: nuclear meltdown. The radiation leaks. These folks are not unaware. The devastating effect of nuclear radiation lingers in the collective memory of the people of Japan like a ghastly nightmare.
So we pray. We give. Some of us go.
And on late night radio, chatter over the End of Days only intensifies.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2010