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Being evacuated in the recent emergency situation has taught me all the usual lessons: Keep your gas tank filled; keep a ready bag handy in case you’re told to leave quickly; know where your vital records and small valuables are so you can pack in a hurry; if police tell you to evacuate, don’t hang around to see if they’re right.

But it’s also caused me to discover an important but unwritten rule.

If you are lucky enough to have the time to pack a few things before evacuating, you will at some point reach safety and open your suitcase.

And at that moment, your first thought will be, “What idiot packed this?”

In my own case, I did great work in the sock and underwear categories, but my shirt selection was barely fit for a sodden trip to Hawaii, let alone someone who actually had to go to work despite being evacuated. No jammies, either; no flip-flops, a grand total of one T-shirt. One charger cable for three cell phones too.

My wife had it even worse. Her bag was groaning with family heirlooms and two bottles of Tom Eddy wine that she had been looking forward to, but no underwear or pajamas at all.

I posted my new theory of evacuation packing on Facebook and was greeted with a very favorable peer review.

“Never a truer statement: if archeologists ever find my evacuation suitcase they’ll puzzle @ the lifestyle of the 21st century—silk scarves, small gnawed stuffed monkey, baby sun hat, burnished coconut, ukulele, 60 year old confirmation cross, 1800’s silver soap dish, Junior Mints,” one fellow Calistogan reported.

“A photo album, three pairs of underwear and a Thermos. And that’s all I need … And this toaster ... and maybe a pen ... but that’s it,” said a friend from New Orleans who has experienced his own share of fleeing in a hurry before natural disasters.

“Seriously—I brought apples,” said another evacuee in wonder, with an unprintable exclamation.

“Frankly I wish I had taken the basket of dirty laundry, which was full and would have clothed me for a week,” a Napa evacuee noted.

“Can’t imagine where my brain was. I have t- shirts!!! Which I wear camping. Shorts. No pants!!! No shampoo. No makeup Did my brain catch fire,” a fellow Calistogan said, adding a fire emoji. “Uggg. At least I have somethings. But I expect a shopping trip is in order. “

My son, who was evacuated with us, had an interesting comment in the midst of this. When we go camping for two or three days, we pack our huge Jeep to the maximum limit, hauling with us every possible necessity of life. We can’t even see out the back window and we have supplies crammed under every seat and in every corner. Sometimes it gets so bad we have to take two vehicles.

When we evacuate for an indefinite period, with no place to stay and the fate of our home on the line, however, our entire evacuation collection doesn’t even peek over the back seat.

Observant lad.

I have no doubt that all of us will learn from this experience, mentally map out all the things we need to pack, perhaps even prepare a disaster checklist to keep at hand for the Next Time.

And I am equally sure that the next time we evacuate, we’ll all look in our suitcases at some point and ask, “What idiot packed this?”

You can reach Sean Scully at 256-2246 or



Sean has been editor of the Napa Valley Register since April of 2014. His previous credits include the Press Democrat, The Weekly Calistogan, The Washington Times and Time and People magazines.