I had a feeling the day would be atypical when I saw the Heavy Duty fire truck driving the wrong way up the Avenue. I was coming out of the office with my cash drawer, ready to start a swing-shift at the Nightclub Store.
I followed my early routine, getting my shift’s accoutrements together. People kept asking me what was going on next door. “I dunno! I just got here. Probably a fire drill. They have them all the time. Or somebody is cooking bacon in their room. That’s the biggest “emergency” most of the time.”
Except… The street doesn’t usually fill with fire trucks, and fire marshals in red Jeeps don’t usually come in such numbers. Time to stick my head out and see what was happening.
The whole intersection was blocked off, and hotel occupants were standing on the sidewalk across the street, some fully dressed, some in pajamas and blankets. It was a who’s-who of store clientele. Festus wandered up. He lives there. “Fire alarm prankster?”
“No, this is a real fucking fire.” He wasn’t kidding, A window had popped and smoke was coming from the third and fourth floors. There was also smoke coming from the roof.
“Oh well, I will sit here and sell concessions to people while they watch the neighborhood burn down.”
I texted Grinder, who texted Master P.
A police officer walked past. “Either get back inside, or go over behind the crime tape.”
“Any idea what happened?” I asked.
“Um, a fire?” he said sarcastically.
Fine. See how cooperative I am with you, Snottyman.
Temperatures in the upper 20s froze the water in the gutters. 30 MPH winds weren’t helping the fire fighters. I would step outside, take a puff on my vapor pen, get too damn cold and return inside. I was there a couple minutes when Festus and Steel Rod approached the door. Before they could enter, Mr Edamame, the building owner who looks like Elvis from India, barged in front of them. “Fire department says you should close and evacuate. There is a four-inch gas line in the restaurant. You should call Master P and tell him you are locking up for safety.”
I didn’t have time. Master P came up as I was putting my coat on. (I figured I could call him from across the street. Priorities! Don’t want to be standing there playing with my phone if the building came down.) He reiterated what Mr Edamame said. We waited outside, in the street, on the far side of a fire truck. Buffer.
We walked around the block, checking on the hotel residents. Festus called his parents, who were already on their way to pick him up. Others weren’t so lucky. Sunshine, an old guy who is undergoing chemotherapy in a super-sensitive place, could only stand or lay down. No sitting for him. I found a volunteer to help him get comfortable. These are some of society’s most vulnerable, and all their stuff, their lives, were in that hotel. I foresee a lot of backsliding and distress in their future.
Festus suggested we go to the roof of the parking garage. The eighth floor was the perfect height, we could see firefighters hacking into the ceiling, sawing on a metal thingie to release smoke and flame. The block was completely circled.
We watched the activity from above. It was live on the news. I texted people back east who might watch us on Channel 8’s live feed. After a bit, even with my puffy orange coat, I was getting cold and restless. We returned to the store. A firefighter said the danger of the store’s building collapsing was over. We could go back into the store, as long as we stayed out of the way of the firefighters.
Festus didn’t bother to ask permission, and Officer Snottyman threatened to arrest him. “That’s crime tape!” he said in his snotty tone. Festus talked his way out of it, but we stayed inside. Soon his parents were picking him up. One down, seventy-nine to go.
I was averaging a customer every 45 minutes for a couple hours. I read my newspapers, pulled out a library book. Read my Twitter-feed. Nothing newsworthy there.
I pondered my neighbors’ fate. Eighty people displaced, for a night or an eternity? The bar underneath the hotel had been sold within the past month, and immediately there’s a fire? How convenient. Conspiracy theories began forming. The Hotel is a respite for troubled souls. I’ve heard there are four or five people there with a history of arson. The aforementioned bacon cooks are usually the culprits, but this fire was in the walls. Insurance mischief? Or a wacky coincidence? Time may tell, but I have a sneaky feeling someone somewhere just got rich.
While they may annoy me sometimes, my heart aches for the residents of the hotel. None of them are troublesome enough to warrant this kind of inflicted misery. Often I would roll my eyes. Today I want to give them a hug.
Updates to follow. This is a big story in the Master P world. Supersized hugs to my less that fortunate neighbors.