Sonoma County, under smoke-fouled skies Friday, had to absorb the energy of about 70,000 kids and teens who were freed from public schools for the day.
A lot of it spilled out on trampolines, arcade games, a laser tag suite, bowling alleys and other diversions inside the 150,000-square-foot Epicenter Sports and Entertainment on Coffey Lane.
Mackenzie Mexico, a nanny, brought her charge, Alexandra Sebastiani, 11, of Sonoma and two of her friends to the supersized funhouse on a day when health officials said the air was unhealthy to breathe and urged people to stay inside.
“They need to get the energy out and the center’s got tons of opportunities for that,” Mexico said, with the flashing lights and bright sounds of the arcade nearby. “I love it here, too.”
Quinn Mahoney, 10, one of two brothers who attend The Presentation School in Sonoma with Alexandra, said he enjoyed the two-story laser tag arena.
Alexandra said she prefers the more passive XD Dark Ride, a three-D interactive theater experience.
Asked if he missed school, Quinn hesitated a beat and said, “Umm, no.”
Life changed in various ways as smoke and ash from a deadly wildfire 100 miles away in Butte County enveloped Sonoma County for a second straight day.
The sun rose Friday as a dark red disk, and northerly winds carried the acrid smell etched in the public mind as a manifestation of horror and grievous loss.
From kindergarten through college, local schools shut down and canceled sports events. Many workers had an unwanted day off as well, exactly 13 months after the North Bay wildfires that killed 40 people and destroyed nearly 6,200 homes.
Santa Rosa City Manager Sean McGlynn, in consultation with top managers, opted to close most offices, and employees were advised not to come to work, city spokeswoman Adriane Mertens said.
County offices and the courts remained open, but Regional Parks canceled guided hikes and other public programs for the weekend, officials said.
Public libraries were open, and at Northwest Santa Rosa Library there was a morning surge of parents and children coming in and checking out books.
“We were surprised,” said Rocio Linares, a library specialist. “We thought they’d be staying home.”
Movie theaters, as usual, offered shelter in an uncertain storm. Ticket sales were up 500 percent at the Roxy Stadium 14 Cinemas in downtown Santa Rosa, with school out and “The Grinch,” a movie with appeal to all ages, opening.
“Perfect combination,” said Chris Johnson, the general manager.
People turn to movie theaters for relief from physical elements, as well as distraction from the stresses of life, he said.
Loretta Miller of Santa Rosa was waiting outside the theater for her two grandsons, tickets to “The Grinch” in hand.
Miller said she stayed home all day with the windows shut, not walking her dog, as she labored over the paperwork involved in closing out a business of making screen-printed and embroidered items for hospital gift shops. The October 2017 wildfires destroyed her inventory.
She had the day off from work as an aide at Kid Street Learning Center in Santa Rosa.