Fire at the Clift Hotel
It was 4:30 in the morning at the Clift Hotel in San Francisco when the alarm went off.
It woke me up from a deep sleep, and at first I was completely bewildered. I thought it was the clock radio alarm in my room, and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out how to shut the fucker off. I was pressing buttons, looking for a volume control… but the fucking thing wouldn’t stop it’s screeching.
I turned on the light, and as my eyes were trying to adjust enough to read the controls on the clock a voice came over the loudspeaker:
“Attention, there has been a fire reported in the building. Please evacuate immediately.”
I thought at first it was some sort of a recording, but then I realized that it was just a live woman reading it in a mechanical voice. I realized this when she kept the mic keyed open in between announcements, and I heard a much less calm and robotic man’s voice behind her saying, “We’ve got to get these people out of the building!”
The whole crazy picture was starting to come together.
The hotel is on fire, and I’m on the 15th floor. FUCK.
I threw on my clothes, stepped out into the hallway, and was prepared to make a mad sprint down the stairs, but I encountered a river of sleepy travelers funneling into the single file stairwell.
The people were nervous and more than a little out of it, and the line going down the stairs was moving maddeningly slow.
It was one of those stairwells where you could see straight down from the top floor all the way to the bottom, and if you were so inclined you could really freak yourself out by leaning over the railing and thinking about how far a fall it was.
I looked down the well as the line slowly shuffled down the stairs, and at each floor more people were jamming into the herd. There was smoke obscuring the view of the bottom, and as we slowly creeped down this retarded single file pathway to safety I kept my eyes peeled onto that smoke as we went down, holding at bay all thoughts of drastic measures until I saw flames.
People were moving so fucking slowly. It was a very nerve racking and helpless feeling. My humanity and my chimp DNA were having a tense conversation in my head. The humanity side was looking at all these people that were having a hard time walking; old people, obese people, the chronically timid that wilt under any sort of ordinary, every day stress, never mind being a part of a slow chain of hundreds of people making their way down a single file staircase into a hotel fire.
People were freaking out, and my humanity was feeling for them. It must be a terrible feeling to not only be afraid, but to feel like you’re slowing down hundreds of able bodied people from getting to safety in time. My chimp side, however, was ready to climb over their shoulders and run on the top of their heads all the way to the bottom.
The chimp in my head reported ready and able, “Just say the word, boss. We’re ready to take over at the first sign of the flames.” The chemical smell of fire extinguishers filled the air. People were covering their mouths with their robes and t shirts. I could hear humanity turn to the chimp, not quite dismissing him anymore, “Hang on, lets just see how this plays out.”
Some people were really freaking out and not handling it well.
It took at least 2 minutes to get from the 15th floor to the 12th floor, and it seemed like it was slowing down. The announcement got more specific:
“A fire has been reported on the second floor. Please evacuate the hotel immediately.” 10 more floors until the fire, and we’re fucking crawling. FUCK.
One guy stopped.
He just stopped walking, and slack jawed with fear turned around to face his wife, “What is happening? What’s going on?”
It was at that point that humanity and the chimp started to sound rather indistinguishable in my head – “Move, you fuck.” “Just let me yell at him, I won’t touch him…” He stopped in his tracks only for two or three seconds, but the urge to murder him was extreme and immediate. He stuttered backwards a few tiny steps, feeling the will of the crowd, and his wife turned him around and pointed him down the stairs.
“I don’t know, just keep walking.” She said.
He turned over his shoulder to look at her like he might argue with her, and decided to just keep walking.
I focused on him intently as he re-merged with the crowd, and as I studied his dopey shuffle I imagined reaching through his asshole, pulling out his guts and his skeletal system and wearing his skin like a fire suit to run through the flames. This fantasy distracted me for the next 30 seconds that it took to make it half a flight lower. Maybe it’s going to be OK. Hopefully we’ll make it out. Keep it together.
The painfully slow march down to safety continued. It was around the 10th floor where the worry really cranked up a notch.
It was taking fucking forever to get down, and if I look down and see that we’re walking down into the fire, what the fuck am I going to do? Do I keep walking and hope to get through it without getting burned? Do I run back upstairs and hope they can get the fire out before it reaches the upper floors? Just the thought of that was fucking terrifying. What if the fire was out of control?
As we slowly got down to the bottom I was relieved to see how calm the hotel staff was. That was comforting. They were guiding people outside, and as I was stepping out onto the street, one guy who worked there informed me that some drunken douche bags on the second floor were horsing around and one of them started blowing off the fire extinguishers. There was no actual fire.
Relieved, I got outside and walked across the street to find my friends. We were all a little shook up, and as we stood out there on the street lined up on the sidewalk with hundreds of other disposed travelers, lit up by the flashing lights of the fire trucks, it really struck me how random things can be sometimes.
We were lucky as fuck, but it could have just as easily been a real fire. Our reality had been severely jostled.
There was a sleazy little rub and tug massage parlor on the side street across from the hotel and one of their “masseuses” stepped out for a cigarette and to take a peek at all the commotion. She was wearing a short skirt, and had some disaster of a tattoo on her fat tits that you could see spilling out over the top of her sports bra. She looked over and made eye contact with me, and as she took a drag off her cigarette I imagined the smell of a thousand cocks on her hand mixing with the fumes of the Newport she was smoking, and I thought to myself, “That might be the saddest smell in the whole world.”
I suggested that we all go in for hand jobs – my treat – to try to relax us after our ordeal. We joked about the sweet pleasure of being handjob number 1001 for the day, then we all agreed that probably none of us would even be able to get it up. As fucked up as the night had been so far, it would be far worse if it ended with my limp dick being tugged on impatiently by a stinky runaway. I went back up to my hotel room an hour or so later, feeling humbled and thankful.
Redban wrote about it on his twitter, but to me it just felt a little too personal.