A New Kind of Fine

GilroyStrong (2)This post is long overdue. I've been mentally composing it for some time, but always seemed too busy to actually write and post it. So here goes.

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote about my experience surviving the mass shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. If you missed that, you can read about it here. So how am I doing now? I'm fine, but not in the way I was before. I call it a new kind of fine.

I've Got to Admit It's Getting Better

Department of Obscure References

After the shooting, I knew I wasn't OK; at least, I figured that was a good possibility. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do about that. But I knew I didn't want to just sweep the experience under a rug, as if nothing happened.

Talking about my experience helped. A number of friends and family members called to see how I was doing. When I answered the "what happened?" question I found that it helped calm me down. A friend who had survived the Las Vegas shooting reached out. I talked to her for a long time as I drove home from work one evening. It helped to hear her thoughts, since both of us were now members of a club neither had asked to join.

One day, I went to the Gilroy Public Library to return a book. There was a tent set up outside, with a sign about assisting with recovery from the Garlic Festival shooting. I stopped by to see if anyone had turned in the shirt I had purchased at the festival. I had left it behind when we began the process of moving to safety and eventually evacuating the park. The volunteer took me over to another building to talk to an FBI agent about my shirt. (Talk about surreal: young adults that could have been the college freshman welcoming committee, escept for the black T-shirts with FBI in large letters on the back.) They didn't have it.

Afterwards, the volunteer told me that there was a counselor on site if I wanted to talk to someone. I met with the counselor, and we walked around the block several times while I told her my story and how I was feeling. She said it was normal to have flashbacks, and gave me a great tool to deal with them. She said to note five things I could see in that moment, four things I could hear, three things I could smell, two things I could touch, and one thing I would want to remember. (To be honest, I don't remember what the "one" thing was). The tool has been great for those moments when something I hear, see or smell triggers a memory.

Action is the Best Therapy

I have gotten involved with Everytown/Moms Demand Action, which has also helped. I wanted to do something that would turn the whole experience in a positive direction.

And how am I now? I feel fine. But some things have changed. When I hear a popping sound, I start looking for a shooter. I evaluate buildings I enter to see what route I would take to escape a shooter. When I go to restaurants (at least, when I did pre-pandemic) I sit facing the front door.

I don't live in fear. But I know that "it could happen here" because it did happen here. And I know that, as my friend said, we all come with an expiration date that could arrive at any time.

Carpe diem, as they say.


Fine | Not Fine

At some point while volunteering at the Gilroy Garlic Festival I started mentally composing a post about my experience. I thought it would be a briefer, hopefully humorous, follow up to my post about volunteering at the US Open.

I worked on Friday at the “Pepsi3” refreshment booth. It was no big deal. The most arduous parts of my shift were when I had to sink my arms into a container of ice water to retrieve a Pepsi for a customer.

On Sunday moprning I report to the concession stand in the Children’s Area. This is actually a relief. For a while I thought I was going to have to handle the Bounce House or strap kids into the bungee jumping device and wasn’t feeling confident about that.

It turns out that they have more volunteers at this stand than they need. So, I’m reassigned to Gourmet Alley because I’m wearing long pants (protection against hot spills). What a qualification. If you’re not familiar, Gourmet Alley is two long tents with maybe 25 order/delivery windows apiece. The tents are separated by the kitchen/barbecue/pyrotechnic calamari and shrimp cooking stations.

I spend some of my time doing meal plate assembly or getting food out to customers. But mostly I work as a cashier. My shifts are busy, I get plenty of breaks. I manage to sneak in some more of the jerk chicken that I had first tried on Friday. Everything is fine.

And then, everything is not fine.

It’s a little past 5:30 PM. We’ve been super busy filling combo meal orders. A bunch of volunteer shifts have just ended, and everyone is coming by with their volunteer meal ticket to get a combo plate. (Half steak sandwich, pasta with red sauce [we ran out of pesto earlier in the day], shrimp scampi [ditto for the calamari] and garlic bread, if you were wondering what’s included.) On top of that, there are lots of festival visitors that are buying food to take home. First, we’re handing out extra plates to they can fashion a carry-out tray. Then we’re told not to do that. Then we’re told it’s OK. Whatever. I joke with the Gilroy High cheerleaders who come by to eat. A couple wants to order ribs, which we don’t carry. I direct them to a stand over near one of the festival stages.

Finally, we work through the rush. I’m staring out at some of the people lounging on the grass in front of the tent, eating their food. I’m wondering which I prefer: being super-busy or having nothing to do for another 30 minutes until the festival closes.

Realize that what happens next takes about two seconds. I hear a noise that sounds like fireworks or firecrackers. I even look up into the sky to see the fireworks display. “Gilroy wouldn’t shoot off fireworks in this kind of dry weather!” I think. I hear more popping sounds and I notice people running. “Maybe this is some sort of routine they’re doing, to let people know the festival is about to close,” I think.

Three things happen next, more or less at the same time.

  1. I realize that the popping sounds are happening at regular intervals. I hear a pause, and then more regularly spaced popping sounds. That's a gun; probably a semi-automatic weapon.
  2. The food delivery guy I’m working with says, “those aren’t firecrackers!”
  3. Someone behind me yells, “Everyone get on the ground!”

Holy shit. Is this two gangs shooting at each other? Is this a gang hit? Was the first set of shots from the shooter, and the second set from police? Or was that just the shooter reloading?

I’m lying on my stomach behind the fiberboard barrels we used as a table for the food trays. Thank you, Kassi Lieberman and CrossFit Gilroy for showing me how to hit the ground quickly in burpees. I’m not feeling too safe right now.

The crew supervisors are opening the tent walls to let bystanders inside the tent and out of sight. People are diving through. There are parents with kids. Lots of crying. I’m telling someone to stay below the sight level of the tent wall openings. At this point, we don’t know how many shooters there are or where they are. I’m starting to imagine scenes from other mass shootings. Killers casually walking around, spraying bullets. Nothing feels safe.

From this point forward, I’m focused on one thing: How do I maximize my chances of surviving?

We’re down on the ground for minutes; it seems longer. There’s confusion, probably owing to not knowing what the situation is. The police are no doubt still trying to understand scope of the threat. Festival security are there and it’s clear they’re following a protocol. But it seems that it all starts with instructions from police, which aren’t happening yet.

Next we’re told to move—quickly!—to a refrigerated trailer about 20 yards away. We’re up, walking quickly, loading into the trailer. There are still tubs full of ice. They used to hold 500 pounds each of calamari. People are told to move to the back; there's a lot of people being packed into this trailer. Someone is handing out bottles of water. Teens and children are crying. Security is consoling one of the teens. People are on their phones. Looking for information? Looking for friends and family? Contacting loved ones? I don’t know. I’m staying off my phone, mainly because I can’t document this or joke about it until it’s over and we’re fine again. Mostly it’s because I don’t want to lose my focus on staying alive.

Are we in here so the authorities know we’re together and they can move us more easily? Are we hiding from the shooter? If we’re hiding, we’re doing a terrible job. People are talking, crying. I’m thinking about how thin the walls of the trailer are. We’re sitting ducks in here. I compose a message to Crystal, to let her know that there’s an active shooter incident happening but I am safe. Figuring she’ll freak out, I don’t send it. I want to be able to say what’s going to happen next before I call or send a text, but no one knows. Not sending that message was a mistake.

Next, they announce that you “can” go to the area that was set up for volunteers to eat and take a break. Can? Based on what? Is it safer there? Or here? A few minutes later, police contact security and say to move everyone to the volunteer area. Instructions are beginning to come in from the authorities. There’s the outline of a plan. The far end of the park is apparently secure, and they’re going to move everyone down there while they search the rest of the park for an accomplice or second shooter.

More confusion. One person in the volunteer area is telling everyone to come in and sit down. Another person is folding up the chairs and stacking them. Others are taking the tables and making a kind of barricade against the fence. Is a wooden table going to stop the bullet from a semi-automatic rifle? Are we safe here? Should we get down? Should we hide behind something? What if the shooter comes along the lane behind us? It would be so easy to kill us all. More teens are crying, trying to find their families. I’m trying to help but I’m just some stranger in a Cashier’s apron. I can’t blame an upset teenager for not wanting to talk to me.

Now someone is on a chair, explaining that we’re all going to walk down the lane to the amphitheater. From there we’ll be taken out of the park. Only people within 10 feet of her can hear the instructions. Someone translates the instructions into Spanish for those that don’t understand English.

Now we’re walking to the amphitheater. I decide to take the lead; I want to feel like I’m helping solve the problem. Part of me thinks about the potential danger of being the first person in a line of people. Weren’t the guys who were on point in Vietnam patrols always the first ones to be killed by the enemy? The Jamaicans I befriended on Friday seem to have grabbed their cash box and are joining the crowd. I ask another vendor about leaving. He signals that they’re staying.

We file into the amphitheater. Friday night this place was packed for Colbie Caillat. I’m not sure I want to file in and take a seat on one of the amphitheater tiers. It reminds me of the arcade game where you shoot the ducks as they swim by. I’m not feeling safe.

Finally, someone who seems to be in charge, with a microphone. More people handing out water bottles. I see some friends from the Elks Club. The speaker tells us that the police have declared this area safe. There are arrangements to lead us out the back of the park and over to an elementary school a short distance from here. There, buses will take people back to whatever parking lot their car is in.

Right after the speaker says that the area is safe, about 10 officers, sheriffs and who knows what else walk by, They’re in full body armor with fingers on their rifle triggers. Is this a show of force? Or are things not safe?

Crystal calls. “Oh, so you’ve heard.” I say. “Heard what?” she responds. Fuck. She thought I was working until 4:30 PM. It’s now after 7 PM and she’s wondering where the hell I am. I explain the situation and tell her I’m fine. Then someone in the crowd thinks the shooter is behind us and everyone starts running away from the amphitheater. “Uh, honey, hang one minute” I say as I start running. There are people running and screaming all around me. One thing I’ve learned by now: when you see people running, you run. You don’t stop someone and ask why.

I run a short distance and crouch behind a tree, wedged up against the (rotting) 4x4 of a low retaining wall. This is probably where I cut my hand. As I’m crouched down, I’m telling Crystal that everything’s fine, I’m fine.

She’s not buying it.

We get the all-clear to return to the amphitheater. Dustin (my nephew) has texted me, are you OK? Before I can compose an answer, he calls me. I give him the run-down. They announce the plan again. We’ll exit the park, go to the elementary school and buses will take you back to your parking lot. Fine, but if you’re a vendor who parked at the festival, or a volunteer (like me) who parked in the empty lot next to the park, you’ll have to either leave with the others or wait here for some hours until those areas are declared safe. Should I stay or go?

Within a few minutes the plan is amended. Everyone is going.

By now you can hear the sirens screaming toward the festival from every direction. There’s a police helicopter in the air, flying at treetop level. You can see the CalStar air ambulance coming and going. That means there are definitely casualties. Later, my sister Cheryl tells me about the call for nurses going out.

We walk out of the park, over a small hill and across the road to the elementary school. Crystal is on the way to pick me up. I see a text from Sean and that’s when I lose it. Then a text from Brian.

IMG_0549
IMG_0549

The whole time I’ve been focused on getting out alive, leading where I can, helping others where possible. Now, the enormity of the situation hits home.

Given the calls and texts, it’s becoming clear that this has become national news. I call Cheryl to let her know I’m ok. It turns out they didn’t go to the festival on Sunday. Her son, wife and grandson left to drive home earlier in the day.

We go to Cheryl’s for a drink and debrief. I call Brian and Sean on the way, to let them know I’m safe and out of harm’s way. After a bit we drive home and start watching the news. Some details start to emerge, but there’s still a lot that’s in motion. I’m scanning the faces on the TV clips, wondering if I served a combo plate to any of these people right before the shooting took place. Someone says a Gilroy High School cheerleader was shot. Was it one of the cheerleaders I sold a meal to? I’m thinking about the couple who had asked about ribs. Did they go to the BBQ vendor I told them about? The one right near where the shooting took place?

Calls, texts, social media posts start coming in from friends, coworkers and extended family. I post a short Facebook message to let people know we’re OK.

I’m thinking about the line of people we inadvertently created, when we were selling meals faster than the preparers could assemble and deliver them. Thank God those people weren’t standing around when the shooting started.

I’m thinking about the people that are searching for family members. They’re evacuating, but their nightmare hasn’t ended yet. Not until they get to Gavilan College and can reunite.

I’m thinking about the kids and teens who lost all innocence tonight. Why is this happening? Why can’t you protect me? Why would someone try to shoot me? The parents are trying to console their kids, but you can see the fear and concern in their eyes. You know the parents are asking the same questions.

I’m wondering what more I could have done. I’m a leader! Why didn’t I do more to help? Maybe in this case, the best thing was to be a good follower.

As I go to bed, sirens are still screaming. A helicopter is still circling. Police are still searching the park for a possible accomplice. Three festivalgoers are dead; twelve more are wounded.

This was the 41st Gilroy Garlic Festival. Everything was fine. Until it wasn’t fine. Now I’m wondering when things will be fine again.


Adventures in South Africa

Crystal and I spent part of September visiting South Africa. We had a blast. Her takeaway, which amuses me to no end, is that after almost two weeks together, "we still like each other!" Yes, there are pictures. Here's a somewhat curated set.

 


 


My Farmhouse Table

Last Thanksgiving I decided to make a dining table big enough to accommodate an extended family get-together. Maybe I was giddy from the sideboard I had finished last year. This project took about four months (which is fast for me) and included a detour into router repair land. Enjoy!

 

 


My Twitter Rules of the Road

I thought I'd share what guides me in my use of Twitter.  Don't expect this to be completely thought out, or even consistent.  How I use Twitter evolves with my use of it.

First: @amicusergoest That's my Twitter handle. Why? When I first started using Twitter, I mainly posted links to job openings, or retweeted posts from career advisers. It was the Great Recession, and I wanted to help people who were looking for work. I especially wanted to help people who were new to finding a job in the age of applicant tracking systems and social media.  So I reached back to high school Latin to come up with a handle.

Remember cogito ergo sum? "I think, therefore I am"? Thank you, Rene Descartes. I was going for, "I help, therefore I am." But I didn't quite get it right. Amicus ergo est is closer to "a friend, therefore he is." I can live with it.

Following

Where I first started with Twitter, it suggested a few people to follow. I started there, and went on to follow people involved in career and job search topics. From there, I followed people that followed me (more on that in a minute) and followed people that sounded interesting. As a result, I don't have a single Twitter "focus." I follow a lot of different people for a lot of different reasons.  Lately, I've been following conservatives, because I want to better understand that point of view.

I started following @realdonaldtrump because I wanted to respond to falsehoods he tweets. I don't expect to change anyone's point of view, but I do believe in getting the truth out.

I tend not to involve myself in what I call "culture wars."  For instance, I'm fine with athletes who want to take a knee during or before the playing of the National Anthem before a ball game. I'm also fine with people that believe taking a knee disrespects the flag. For me, these are two, equally valid, opinions.

Followers

An early rule of Twitter etiquette has been that you "follow back" when others follow you. I still apply the rule, but not all the time.

  • If you follow me, get me to follow you, then unfollow me, we're done. I'm looking at you, indie artists. Apparently there are tools that do this now, in the name of building an audience. I'm looking for engagement, not a follower count.
  • I used to ignore people that followed me; it seemed like too much work to acknowledge them. Now, I respond to each follower with a note. How can I be for engagement if I don't engage myself?
  • If you're a brand or company and you follow me, I probably won't follow you back. It's nothing personal. I might even like your brand or your company. I just don't want to engage with brands and companies. I make some exceptions, such as for wineries.
  • I used to follow people that claimed expertise in social media, but I've begun winnowing that part of my followers, and generally don't follow such people now. These folks tend to do a lot of promoting, which is a bit noisy for me.
  • If you follow me and offer to show me nude photos, you're blocked and reported.
  • If you follow me and I see that you constantly retweet some clickbait site, I'll ignore you or block you.
  • If you follow me and offer to get me thousands of Twitter (or Facebook or Instagram or...) followers, I'll report and block you.

I tweet to promote blog posts like this, but I don't go crazy with it. I still believe in the networking rule: give before you get. If you like most of what I tweet, that's great. If you don't, that's fine too. If I made you think, I'll take it.