At 3:30AM on December 10th, the fire alarm to my building went off. In my groggy slumber with earplugs in place, I didn’t react immediately, but my roommate Brad burst into my room only saying “there’s a fire and we need to get out NOW.” Fair enough.
Wondering what I should take, I threw on some shorts over my boxers, my Vans, and a winter coat, clearly a fine choice for the cold, wintry rain dumping on the sidewalk that early morning. My laptop was all I could think to grab.
We didn’t smell anything inside our apartment, but upon exiting, a thick fog of smoke enveloped the hallways. Luckily, we were only a short distance from the exit and were able to leave unscathed. SFFD was on the scene quickly and shortly thereafter we saw that all of our neighbors had escaped safely.
We huddled in the cold under an awning, watching firefighters cut open locks of adjacent businesses and drag in a hose to get the fire under control. Medical personnel and the Red Cross offered us blankets and made us feel like someone gave a shit. My deliriously tired state or perhaps just shock, enabled me to remain calm while hoping that all our stuff wasn’t destroyed. After a couple hours, we were allowed to head back in to miraculously find that our apartment and belongings were safe. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the same fate for two of the apartments in the rear of the building where fire fighters had to hack down walls to prevent the fire from advancing. An electrical fire had started in the kitchen of the restaurant below us and moved up the back of the building.
Displaced for that night at the very least, Jenny and I called up our friend in the Haight to crash and hailed a Lyft Line. At 5:30 AM, our shared riders happened to be someone my roommate knew, drunk from partying the night away. Upon hearing our story, they asked us if we wanted to have a party to celebrate the fire and told us they had a bottle of vodka waiting for us. Too tired to explain how ridiculous and insensitive that offer was, we politely declined and took shelter for the night.
The next morning we awoke and tended to our jobs (coincidentally a work from home day for both of us) as an attempt to establish some sense of normalcy. We still had no idea of where we were going to stay or if we’d ever be allowed back in. After acquiring rations and coffee from the market, we continued to work, remembering that we had lunch plans for today and were going to stick with the plan. Cha Cha Cha seemed in order and after selecting our meals, we decided that, fuck it, a pitcher of sangria was happening. We were both #32andHomeless now, so we deserved it. As depressing as that sounds, it still beats #16andPregnant.
Three weeks have passed since the fire and we still don’t have a timeline of when or if we’ll be allowed back in. Power and water has been cut, even for the units that were not damaged on the inside. Our landlord has been less than stellar in communication, not bothering to ask how we were when I reported the fire, nor attending to their fiduciary duties of returning rent for days we have paid in advance. It’s a very strange feeling to go back in and sense that everything looks alright, but it definitely isn’t. You just want to curl up in your bed and pretend it never happened.
I can’t deny that the situation sucks. But if there’s any consolation, it’s that it has made me think about who was there for me in a time of need. My roommates have been my best teammates in working through the problem together. Countless numbers of friends offered me couches to crash on, use of their showers, or even their whole apartments because they were going on vacation. Several have tipped me off to sublets or more permanent housing solutions. A special lady has been generous enough to take me in off the streets for many a night, even if she ribs me by saying she can’t wait to tell people she’s dating a homeless guy. I feel incredibly rich to have these people in my life. I can’t express my gratitude enough.
My sublet starts in a few days and on my flight back from New York, I began to think about how numerous acts of kindness bestowed upon me have come from individuals residing mere blocks from one another. My move to SF four years ago went smoothly largely in part to a college friend that rented out a room to me at the time. I’m currently staying at a friend’s place two blocks over from that and my sublet is one block over from that. I don’t know what it is about this triangle, but I like it a lot.
I’m surprised how little the situation has bothered me given the circumstances. I think it’s a combination of having had something much worse happen to me in the past, the generosity of my friends and blind faith that something even better will ultimately come out of this. The universe has its way of providing for us, not necessarily with what we want, but what we need.