Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Fire This Time

New Year's Eve.
It should follow a familiar, comfortable, and comforting ritual. Bringing in the new year should not be filled with trauma.
We celebrated last night with a comedy show over in Oakland (lots of Palin jokes, Bush jokes, husband/wife jokes, a relatively limited repertoire of humor). Then drove back to the San Francisco side for dinner at The House, a terrific fusion restaurant within walkable distance of our house (not to be confused with The House).
We got back to our place in time to make it up to the roof for the fireworks at midnight, then came down the stairs and talked for a couple of hours.
At around 2, our friends John and Adisa took off and as we started to head for bed the phone rang. It was John. We should look out the window, even better, go out on the balcony and take a look.
A block away, an old apartment building was on fire.
I went outside and gaped in disbelief. Flames were shooting out of two windows, about 4 floors up, less than a block away. Smoke was already pouring out of the building, gray-black, thick. Sirens filled the night.
In a matter of minutes the sound of the sirens grew, but so did the sounds of the fire. Glass shattering, flames crackling, the fire growing in size and intensity. Fire trucks parking in the blocked off street. The slow and laborious process of getting hoses laid out on the ground. Ladders up to the building's roof, more ladders at the side of another building down the street, so firemen and lights could get to the roof and take a look.
We watched in disbelief.
Have you ever watched a building burn?
I never had.
Seen the flames spread from window to window. Watch fire come pouring out of the empty windows and take out the wood frames. Watch the roof go up in flames, the smoke swirl into the sky in huge clouds.
And feel absolutely helpless.
Who lived in those rooms?
The building, when I'd walked by it on a day to day basis, looked like a run-down tenement. But people lived in it. Where were they when the fire broke out? Did they all get out? Where could they go if their building burned down? They'd lost everything to the fire--what happened next?
It took more than an hour for the firemen to subdue the flames, and even today there were smoldering chunks of the building that were out on the street.
What a way to begin the new year: political humor giving way to the harsh reality of forces greater than ourselves, disrupting the comfort and routine of daily life.
Whether we like it or not, we'll see more of that kind of disruption in 2011.
We can't prevent it.
But we can be on the look-out, and we can be prepared to respond when it comes.
Stay alert. Already 2011 has a motto.

All Rights Reserved 2009 (c) Alan Webber, Rules Of Thumb