About half an hour ago, the fire alarm went off in my building. This is not the first time in my years here that the alarm has roused me from sleep, but it’s jarring every time it happens. The procedure is that you are to go into one of the fire escape stair towers and wait to hear either an all clear sign or a must evacuate notice. About three years ago, there was a fire in the middle of the night, that I missed, because I was out on the west coast at the time. My then-boyfriend was sleeping in the apartment that night and was evacuated with the rest of the building. I found out about the fire when I started getting phone calls from family at 5 am Portland time, all wondering if I was okay.
I’ve come to enjoy the “alarm nights” once I’ve dragged myself out of bed, because they are one of the few opportunities I get to talk to my neighbors. Tonight I spent some time talking to a man from down the hall. Many days, I see him in the elevator, or walking into his apartment, but we exchange greetings and nothing more. While in the fire stairs tonight, he started telling me about how he used to work in Center City. How he watched our building as it was constructed out of the ground, and how he used to walk by on his lunch out and observe each floor coming to life. He told me that he finally got a notice that he could come and view an apartment, but there was only one elevator running. A crowd of people had gathered to wait for the elevator to take them to the only completed floor, and when it finally arrived, a little old lady got off slowly, and when she was past, they all moved quickly on. He said he never realized that it was a sign of things to come for the building.
He said he remembered my mother and my grandmother, and called them both beautiful. Then he went he threw up his hands, said, “I’m too old for this” and went back to bed.
I stayed their, on the metal step, thinking I’d go back to sleep right there if it didn’t end soon, when my next door neighbor came into the stairs. She moved in about a year and a half ago and is tall, thin and beautiful. When I run into her in the mornings as we are both leaving for work, I’m always a little amazed at how elegant and put-together she is, compared me in my clogs, blank pants and puffy down jacket. However, she’s friendly and sweet, so I don’t hold her outstanding beauty against her. She lives in a studio, but only woke up to hear the alarm when some friends from another floor called her cell phone to wake her up (the alarms are very loud if you are in the same room as it). We sat there, talking about the number of young people moving into the building, and the need to have a party or happy hour, when the all-clear announcement rang out. It appears that some snow blew into an external smoke detector, fooling it into believing the building was on fire. Who knew that snow could replicate the sensation of smoke!
With that, we said good night and went back into our apartments. Another exciting night in the building.