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Somebody Put Those Flames Out!
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by Kass Johns (a true story from my life!)
My life is bizarre. Let's just get that out of the way right now. I don't know why, I just seem to be 'gifted' (yeah, gifted, that's it--gifted!). There is even an ongoing game on CompuServe's DTP Forum to find the best personalized license plates for my car. (Presently, I am torn between 'RunAway!' and 'OverEZ'.)
It was December 1994, and I was in Denver at an Apple Partner Briefing. It was at the Regional Marketing Center on the 20th floor of a skyscraper. We all came out of the Apple Center to realize that the elevator doors were sealed shut and fire alarms were blaring. So, we decided to run down the 20 flights of stairs. Now, I don't know if you have ever run down 20 flights of stairs, but it seemed like it would be fun. Fun for the first 10 floors or so, I found out... the hard way. At about the ninth floor, my legs turned into Gumby legs! They began wobbling and weaving. The fun had quickly left the descent!
Anyway, I got to the bottom and got to my Ford Bronco. I drove the 65 miles home to Colorado Springs. Hey, before I get back to work, and as long as I am out, how about run downtown to the local Apple Dealer for some business.
I was pulling up to the light at a major downtown intersection. The Bronco died. OK, fine, I'll just try turning it over again. Gee, what's that smell? Whatever it is, it is getting worse! Rrrrr, rrrr, varoom... ftttt. Dead again. Wow, now it really stinks! What is that steam coming out from under the hood? Damn, it must be the radiator. Pull the hood release.
FLAMES shoot out from under the hood as it is released! Oh maaaaan! I really don't need this! Two weeks before Christmas. Here, I am getting over a clinical depression, my tooth broke a few days earlier, a few other disasters, and I am just not needing a car fire! I decide to get out of the Bronco--excuse me, I mean Gumby legs decides to get out of the Bronco! Well, the 60 mile car ride turned them into Jello legs!
I turn to look for help from bystanders. For some reason, they are all glued to the sidewalk as if statues. They all stare, but nobody moves to help or even call out to me. Help? Fire? Somebody? Anybody? Stares. I decide that I have to help myself. So, Jello legs takes off for the art supply store on the corner. I looked like a bad Jerry Lewis imitator running! I make it inside. Nobody appears to be in the store.
Hello, anybody here?
Yes, may I help you?
Yes, could I use your phone--my car is on fire?
They call 911 for me. I return outside. The guy from the art supply store comes out. He has a small fire extinguisher.
I don't want to spray this in there in case it's the wrong kind.
It could hurt the car.
Hey! It's on fire! I doubt we could do much more damage!!!
Suddenly, I see some policemen driving by in the cross street. I flag them down. They pull in front of the Bronco.
What seems to be the problem?
Huh?! It's on fire! (...as I point to the fire 30 inches away! Sheesh!)
Oh! They snap into help mode. They pull around and block traffic and start ordering folks away. Hey, it's not like I have had a horde gathered around! They send me back in the store to call for a ride. I spend the next five minutes trying to tell my mom that I don't really care to chat about my Denver trip as there are FLAMES coming out of my car. I finally get it into her that she needs to drop everything and come get me.
I return outside to the fire in time to see the firemen have arrived and are about to pry open my hood with a large metal crow bar, as the cannot find the latch! By now, the paint on the hood is bubbling nicely. I return to the scene just as they locate the latch and open it.
Stay away, it could blow!
Hey! My purse is in there! And my Apple T-shirts! (The regional Apple guy had donated a dozen T-shirts for a drawing at out group meeting later that week.) I am not gonna stand here and watch Apple T-shirts burn!
I go to the car and remove my purse and the T-shirts. I go stand by the policemen. They are attempting to make conversation with me.
Wow, you know lady, you are unusually calm for someone who's car is on fire!
Uh, well... you can thank the Prozac for that!
Okaaaay... Well, insurance should cover it.
Did I mention that I only have liability? (Hey! It's a 1985!)
Well, what about savings?
Did I mention that I have just left my job?
Oh, wow lady, I don't know what to say! Too bad about that hood.
Hey, it was oxidized anyway. Shrug.
He just sorta stumbles away, even more dazed than me. The fire department remarked about how I was the calmest car fire they had ever had. I asked if they had any hot dogs or marshmallows! I only wish I had sung Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire!
Two days later, I was out to lunch with a friend. We were coming back over the crest of a hill to my place when we both spotted a red pumper truck and a billowing plume of smoke from a house on the corner of my street. Karl looked over at me and said, "Now your house is on fire." I replied, "Of course it is. Why wouldn't it be?!" (It turned out to be a leaf fire from a downed power line.)
Then, a few days after THAT, I am sitting in the office working when I hear the rumbling of a huge truck. Well, what could that be? I step into the other room where the window is. There sat a fire truck. The bushes of the place across the street were on fire! (Some kids with a cigarette butt.) Aiiiieeee! It's coming after me!
In June, I was going in the door from a trip to the bookstore. Before I go on, I would like to point out that it has been implied that, because I bought a magazine with Tim Gill, founder of Quark, Inc. on the cover and an additional copy of Accidental Empires (the Cringley story of Silicon Valley) that the following was destined to happen! As my key hit the door I heard a crackling sound followed immediately by the thunderous CA-RACK of lightning. Omigod! I couldn't hear for several minutes. Afraid to move, I froze in my tracks. I just knew it was gonna be like a giant arcade game of Whack-a-Mole, if I moved, I'd get nailed bigtime! (Thar she is, let's get 'er!)
Two weeks later, the lightning came again. This time it was about a block away, but close enough to send me to my knees in terror with hands clenched over my ears.
That's it! Somebody is trying to tell me that I was destined to become a smoldering pile of ash! I am never going outside again!
BTW, the first thing I put in the new car? What else... a fire extinguisher!
**December 1995 update!
In a four-week period, I had two (count 'em, two) computer displays burn-up on me (smoke rolling out of them burn!)! I assumed the first one was "just my luck," but when the second one happened, I realized it may be just more than fate! (I am presently investigating spike and line problems on my system.) Now, I am really bummed, since my very own beloved computer equipment seems to be turning on me! (boo hoo)
**October 1997 update:
It has been pointed out to me that wherever I go, firetrucks seem to follow. I am so used to seeing them that I had thought nothing of it. My friends now laugh when they see a truck. And usually when I am out with a friend, we see a firetruck of some sort. When in San Francisco last September, a friend and I were walking back from lunch when I informed him I needed a cab as my feet hurt. So we decided it was easier to hail one from the Sheraton's cab curb than any other place on that block. We stepped up onto the curb and turned around to face traffic to begin hailing. Just then, a large hook and ladder truck came around the corner. I looked at Dave and deadpanned, "My ride's here." Dave wondered how I had managed that.
Then in San Francisco again last month, we were all at an after-conference brewery party. We were telling a gentleman from Minneapolis about my fire history. He laughed and a few minutes later we decided it was late and time to head back. We exited the building. Just as we stepped out, there across the street was a firestation. The door rolled up, the lights started and the sirens began blaring. The hook and ladder came roaring out of the station. Our new friend from Minneapolis looked at me in disbelief as he screamed, "Omigod, it does happen to you!"
The rest of that trip was full of firetruck sightings. In fact the next day as another friend and I were heading back to our hotels via the conference shuttle bus, another firetruck came by with sirens blaring. Pete looked at me and said, "I believe they are playing your song." After that I didn't even notice them anymore. Only my poor friends, who were a bit leary of my company, seemed to notice them.
Hey, they don't call me "Flames" for nuthin'!
But wait... There's more!
© Copyright 1996-2001 by Kass Johns, all rights reserved world wide.
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