I've always been a bit vague on the details of my financial life, which means long-time readers have been a little confused as to whether I live in the suburbs or the city.
The answer, of course, is both. We live in the suburbs during the week, but we have a weekend/vacation apartment in the city. It's a wonderful luxury. It makes it possible for us to enjoy city pleasures like fine dining, opera, ballet, the symphony, and drinking cocktails while gazing awestruck at views of Lake Michigan and the city.
It also comes in handy when BlogHer decides to hold its conference in Chicago. As many of my blogging buddies can testify.
So yes, I live in Newtopia, but I also live in Chicago. In a high rise. That just had a fire.
See that black smudge? That's our bedroom window.
Are you feeling me when I say THANK GOD THE APARTMENT WAS EMPTY? Good. Because if your home ever burns, I hope you find out the way I did--by email. Email puts what I consider to be the appropriate amount of distance between you and physical danger.
Now, I don't know whether you've ever thought about it, but a fire in a high-rise is a complicated thing--what pretentious smarty-pants like me call "hydra-headed." Because everyone who lives under the fire has to deal with water damage--the after effects of the hundreds of gallons of water that were used to put out the fire. And because like heat, smoke rises, everyone who lives above the fire has to deal with smoke damage.
On top of which, even assessing the damage is difficult because getting in and out of the building is extremely complicated. There are 250 units, all with people who need to get in and out, and the elevators create a huge bottleneck. Especially when the freight elevator is flooded and the high rise elevator stops working.
So when we got there, the sidewalk was cordoned off. Fire department, police, insurance and contractors' trucks were parked and double parked around the block. The lobby was filled with dozens of men and women in hard hats. Some were trying to bring rolling carts of specialized cleaning equipment upstairs. Some had pressboard or sheet rock. Insurance adjusters were talking on cell phones. Building management employees were trying to prevent "chasers" from buttonholing unit owners. And unit owners, dressed every which way, were leaving the building with rolling suitcases and bags of clothes.
The high-rise elevator wasn't working, so we had to take the low-rise elevator to the 23rd floor, then walk up to our apartment. I was afraid my husband would take off up the stairs and I'd be huffing and puffing all the way up, but we actually had to walk up very slowly because workers were carrying huge sheets of particle board to board up the windows on the 36th floor.
Around the 36 floor, we passed this
It's a rescue plan written on the wall by the firefighters.
Our hallway didn't look that bad, but our front door was broken in. All the front doors were broken in, actually, because the firefighters had to check every single unit in the building to make sure they had accounted for everyone in the building.
The first bedroom we saw was my son's. Here's the floor going into his room
Somewhere under that mess is his blue striped wall to wall carpet.
Here's the vent above his door.
To give an idea of the mess, I picked up this little robot guy
and moved him.
Then there is the matter of his walls
My daughter's room was showered in ash, but her walls and windows are intact
Here's her ancient rummage sale Babar lamp with the scotch-taped shade which is supposed to be white, but is now covered so in soot that its shade looks like it was made of tweed.
Last but not least, our bedroom. The door was closed, probably because the windows were broken
This will give you an idea of the soot.
The whole thing was complicated by the fact that it was zero degrees outside.
See the water coming out of the bathroom faucet?
That's actually ice.
Our "white" ceiling
Apparently the fire snaked out of the apartment where it started, crawled up the outside of the building, and tried to get back in through my bedroom window.
Amazingly enough, the only evidence of this is the shades, which were pulled down from the windows. You can't really tell from the picture, but they're charred, and in some places, they melted.
We stayed in the condo for about five hours until we'd had the chance to go through everything with the insurance adjuster and the contractors who'll be doing the restoration. And then, finally, they told us we could go.
On the way out, I snapped this picture of the hallway below mine.
This? Is as close as I ever want to get to hell.
Then we checked in with the management company to make sure they knew to board up our bedroom windows. And I fell in love with them because they had coffee and doughnuts, bless them.
I'm not blogging this because I want you to feel sorry for me. If you feel sorry for anyone, feel sorry for the 84-year-old woman who called 911 because there was smoke in her unit. She died in the fire. And now they're saying they think the fire was caused by a faulty toaster oven.
Just think--a $25 kitchen appliance caused all this.
I'm blogging this for two reasons. First of all, a similar fire broke out in 2002 when a unit owner fell asleep with a lit cigarette. I'm outraged that the building didn't install a sprinkler system in each unit. They decided to install sprinkler systems in the common areas, and a PA system in the halls, because individual sprinklers would be too expensive.
I will not implode with rage. I won't. I'll just say that the saying "penny wise/pound foolish" comes to mind.
But the second reason I'm blogging is that I feel so blessed. At the time of the fire, our apartment was uninhabited. If you watch the videos of the fire when it was burning, you can see my neighbor looking out of his window to see what's going on. Our windows are right next door, and they're dark.
We lived in the condo full time in 2007 when we were having some renovations done in our house in Newtopia. I can't imagine what it would be like to wake up with my building turning into the towering inferno. Imagine having to evacuate in the middle of the night when it's zero degrees.
Or, as could easily have been the case, not waking up at all.
And when we're not there, we frequently put up guests. The Jokes have stayed there. My in-laws stay there all the time. My friend Liz jokes that our place is a bed & breakfast for her overflow guests. My BlogHer buddies have stayed there several times. Hell, I threw a cocktail party on our roof deck during BlogHer09. You were all invited. Some of you came.
My 87-year old mother stayed there last month. And partied! With her 87-year-old cronies!
No, I'm not whining about a thing. I'm walking on air.
Smoky, stinky, thick air that's full of particulate matter--but air, nonetheless.