"BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! ATTENTION! ATTENTION! THE SECURITY SYSTEM HAS DETECTED A FIRE IN THE BUILDING! PLEASE EVACUATE THE BUILDING IMMEDIATELY! DO NOT USE THE ELEVATORS! EXIT THE BUILDING IMMEDIATELY USING THE STAIRS! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!"
This announcement by a surprisingly friendly-sounding automated man's voice over loudspeakers hurtled me out of deep slumber at 4:20 AM this morning. I heard the door to Jason's room open as he flipped on the lightswitch for the living room. I was startled first by the blinding light and second by the fact that everything was blurry - I couldn't even see Jason standing not ten feet away from me.
"My gosh," I thought, "Smoke! The apartment's filled with smoke!"
And then I recalled that I was going by glasses this weekend instead of contacts. I groped around on the floor next to the couch, found my glasses, and discovered that the room was not, in fact, filled with smoke. It was, however, filled with a few more pulses of the bright, white flashes of emergency lights.
We kicked into high gear. We knew what we needed to do, and evacuate the building immediately wasn't it. There are other necessities! I dashed to my closet to get a bra and some non-pajamas as I listened to the sound of hangers sliding back and forth across the metal bars in Jason's closet. Sure enough, he emerged a moment later dressed far to nattily for 4 AM in navy and white stripes and sandals (perhaps the Gentleman book includes a section on what one wears for an evacuation?). We took turns using the bathroom and gathering the necessities. I grabbed my purse and added to it my iPad, iPhone, a charger, a bottle of water, my passport, and a pack of gum (Gah! Morning breath!) . We stood for a moment in the hallway, scanning the apartment for anything we may have missed, then locked up and headed for the stairs. Yes, taking the time to gather belongings ran contrary to every piece of emergency evacuation training I've received or given, but I regret nothing. It took less than five minutes, and now we were ready for life on the apocalyptic streets among looters and rioters and youths.
Nine stories down we exited onto the street with surprisingly few other evacuees. The emergency doors let us out right next to the main doors, and we saw a few people standing far too casually in the lobby. Where was the panic? Where were the firemen? Where were the flames?
We went back inside. The elderly Asian woman at the front desk called out, "Sorry! No emergency! Someone was smoking in the stairwell."
We joined the other evacuees in the elevator back upstairs. It took both of us some time to fall back asleep, thanks to the abrupt wake-up and ensuing adrenaline surge, and getting up for church in the morning was much trickier.
Still, we were grateful for the apartment not burning down last night. Moreover, we were grateful for the apartment being cool. The hot topic at church today was the power outage, and many more people than we had realized were suffering through this heatwave without air conditioning or refrigeration.
The power outage was cause by the adventure of Friday night. We had just turned in for the night when there was a sudden wave of the sound of wind and rain outside. We went out onto the balcony and watched as a hurricane-like storm blew through the neighborhood - thunder cracking, lightning constantly flashing, sheets of rain, and such high winds that we had to shield out eyes from the blowing dirt debris. The trees and street lights and plastic construction sheets whipped all about, and we watched the wind make patterns out of the rain on the pavement while an escaped large silver exercise ball alternately bounced and flew down the street. Within moments we were both soaking wet from the rain blowing sideways onto the balcony, but it was enchanting - we didn't want to stop watching.
The storm abated after about 40 minutes and we turned in for the night. The lights had flickered off for about five minutes, but we slept well in the cool artificial breeze.
We were lucky. In our errand-running this weekend we saw tree after tree blown down or cracked in half by the storm. Some ripped down power lines, some fell onto cars, some crashed into houses. We not only enjoyed full power, we went shopping, two movies, and out to dinner at Southside 815.
Still, thus far this summer my home has been flooded, my homestate is on fire, my current home-city was besieged by a record-breaking heat wave and "one of the most destructive complexes of thunderstorms in memory", and my home-away-from-home was evacuated in the middle of the night.
I expect the locusts to arrive at any moment.