No Time for Socks
I was somewhere in the South Pacific, aboard a nuclear attack sub, 300 fathoms down. The submarine’s steel hull amplified the emergency klaxon, “Ahhuughaa! Ahhuughaa! This is an emergency! Evacuate your room. Do not use the elevator, use the emergency stairwell exits! Ahhuughaa! Ahhuughaa! This is an emergency!”
Elevators? Elevators and stairwells in submarines? Possibly… It did seem an usual detail. My adventure dreams don’t normally provide that kind of information. As I slowly rose to the surface from my dream state, I began to be aware that the klaxon horn continued blaring. In my confusion of what was real and what was a dream, I realized that the only logical source of noise had to come from the clock radio that I had set the night before. It wasn’t an emergency klaxon on a submarine, it was an alarm clock from Hell!
This was my second night at the Hyatt Regency in Irvine, CA., where I was attending the Community College League of California’s annual conference. Every other year presidents, chancellors, faculty leaders, trustees and recently some classified staff meet to attend seminars and workshops.
I had just finished my first full day of seminars and meetings, and the evening’s rest was extremely necessary. I was just plain dog-tired, and I really needed to wake up on time. The next day started at 7:30 so I set the alarm at 7:00 am. Being a techie I found the digital settings of the clock fairly easy to deal with, but I do remember wondering about the quality of the alarm. I’m not the “soft music” type of alarm person. I much prefer the straight forward buzzer, but I never expected the klaxon. This was a noise to wake the dead. And what was that “elevator stuff”?
The klaxon continued to wail so I reached out with a flailing hand to somehow hit the snooze button. I remember thinking that I must have goofed in setting the alarm because it was still very dark outside. Groping the entire surface of the clock, I failed to find a working snooze button. While I was developing a grudging respect for the small digital clock’s alarm, the noise was getting annoying, so I did what every normal person does… I began beating it with my fist. The “Ahhuughaa!” continued, and the clock kept bouncing around under my pounding fist. Eventually it bounced out of reach, and I was forced to open my eyes in order to find it.
All this couldn’t have taken more than 4 or 5 seconds. Somehow opening my eyes brought logical thought into play, and I began to understand a little more of what was happening. The poor digital clock, which was now cowering behind the table lamp, was not the source of the sound. The klaxon was really a klaxon, mounted near the ceiling by the front door. I wasn’t in a submarine, I was in a hotel room on the second floor, a hotel that was quite possibly on fire and announcing that fact on the internal alert system.
I really did jump out of bed, not sure how it is possibly starting from a prone position, but I somehow managed. The next few seconds were spent in mindless lunges from door, to bathroom, to the window. I’d like to say that my actions were appropriate to the situation, but I can’t. Finally, I just stopped in the middle of the room to make my first major decision. Do I leave now, or do I take time to put my pants on? Pride or fear? Fear or pride?
I moved to the door to place my hand on the door panel. It was cool…I had time for pants. If I had time for pants, then I had time time for my turtle neck, I had time to slip on shoes. No time for socks.
All this bargaining began to make me a little uneasy, what if the fire had worked its way down the hallway while I was debating on whether I should get my jacket? I made one more palm test of the door, cool… I opened the door I looked down the hall. People were leaving their rooms and heading for the stairwell, but no smoke hung in the air or none that I could see. I went back in the room, grabbed my hat, wallet, then I left.
As I headed for the stairs, I knew I was leaving my Macintosh sitting on the desk. The fear and bargaining had reached a crisis point. I didn’t have time to pack the PowerBook down the stairs, I might need both hands free. I was also trying to remember if toxic fumes were colorless, heavier than air or lighter than air? Probably both!
I was about to enter the stairwell, and I thought that I might be the last on the floor, so I yelled “Is there anyone left?” It was an odd feeling, yelling in an empty hallway in the middle of the night. Seeing no response, I double-timed it down the stairwell, ending up near the pool enclosure at the back of the building. Looking up I could see no lights for any of the floors above the second floor. Power outage for the nine floors above second floor. Poor devils!
It was about 2:00 am, and fairly cold, even for LA. Looking at my companions I realized something was odd, even considering our various states of undress. There was only about a dozen of us. Some were classified, a couple were chancellors or presidents that I had seen earlier, and perhaps some were trustees or random guests. Everyone was confused, hoping for the best, thankful that they were out, but where was everyone else? We were milling around waiting for someone to lead us away to safety. No one came!
I had been at this hotel several times before, so being familiar with the terrain, I led the group through the maze of poolside table and gates, around to the front of the hotel, where we expected to see hundreds of fellow evacuees stamping their feet in the cold. There was no one there! No one in the lobby either, no one behind the desk in the lobby…
Somewhat frustrated and maybe even angry, I stepped behind the desk to get someone from the back room. I was rewarded by a young woman who was very concerned that I was on the wrong side of the front counter, and I should ring the bell! “Ring the bell?” I had just escaped poisonous fumes that had obviously killed the entire hotel except for my twelve companions and she wanted me to ring the bell?
Actually, the petty bureaucratic nonsense was oddly comforting. If we had time for this then maybe it was a false alarm after all. More second floor people were coming in from the wings, apparently only the second floor was evacuated. Finally, we were all told to wait for the fire department’s okay before returning to our rooms. Most of us camped out in the lounge area, some clutching blankets and robes, some organizing a few personal possessions.
I felt a special kindred connection to these presidents, chancellors and trustees walking around in shoes with no socks. We came to the conference as fellow professionals, colleagues in education. Shared governance was beginning to bring us together in our professional lives, but there were still bridges to be built, differences to overcome, mutual understandings to be met. Sometimes accidents and unforeseen events point out qualities that are normally missed. At two o’clock in the morning we had a little glimmer of an understanding, that beneath the titles, and the clothes, and the political rhetoric, that we are all people struggling to make our way in the world, trying to make wise decisions, choosing to wear shoes with no time for socks.
There was no fire, just the smell of smoke. By 2:45 we were allowed back in our rooms, some of us even went back to sleep. I, on the other hand, lay wake, sniffing the air every few minutes, and wondering if the alarm clock would ever work again.
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