Fire Alarms and Widespread Calm

I fear several things when venturing into any restaurant for the very first time but "death" isn't normally among them. Obviously, the potential is always there; various choking hazards, icy sidewalks or an odd ingredient on the floor can create a slipping hazard, and the occasional (though rare) food-borne pathogen waiting to catch you off-guard. For the greater part of human existence, eating has been at least a little dangerous, unpredictable in supply, and something which had to earned. After all, food doesn't want to be hunted; in fact, it seems the more delicious an ingredient is, the harder it is to catch. Tonight, for the first time, the very act of dining itself might just kill me and, if it doesn't, I'll have something to blog about.

I took a seat in a large, possibly "over-done" restaurant, the architect for which is clearly and unabashedly in love with concrete and steel. The bar and floor are concrete, the silo-sized cylindrical wine tower in the middle of the room corkscrewed by a two-person-wide staircase is made entirely of steel. It had all the warmth of a gymnasium.

I was three minutes into my first glass of wine when an announcement came over the P.A. system about a reported fire on the 17th-20th floors of the building above (or at least nearby). Since the announcement lacked direct instructions to evacuate (or to do anything else for that matter), conversations resumed and patrons moods were untempered. They seemed unafraid based on very little information and despite the fact that there may be a fire of some size directly over our heads. In fact, the announcement seemed to trigger more curiosity than panic, as if they assumed it was all just a gimmick. Perhaps the whole restaurant would be encouraged to sing happy birthday to "Sarah" or the threat of fire was merely a segue into their 'hot' happy hour special. If there was any potential threat, not one person took it seriously. No one stood up and left… at first.

I began to wonder how many disasters have been amplified in magnitude simply because people didn't think "this could happen to them". How many times have 30 people died, 10 because they were in exactly the wrong place at the wrong time and unable to avoid it, while 20 others were warned but didn't take the warning seriously? If an evacuation was ordered, how many customers would take their wine glass with them?

The moment the announcements began, someone turned on/up the music, thus muffling the announcements. The potential upside for business is clear; nothing stops people from spending money quite like the threat of perishing in flames. Hence, muffling a life-threatening message would protect business.

Besides, there's an upside to evacuating a building perched above a wine bar/restaurant. Those people need to go somewhere. Being a huge fan of conspiracy theories, I couldn't help but analyze the suspicious sequence of events: it being a Monday - the one that follows Easter no less - what restaurant owner wouldn't be above grabbing a P.A. microphone and "encouraging" those on the most obsessive-compulsive, workaholic floors to make their way quickly, but safely, to the nearest exit. Once outside, most would be unlikely to return to work after such an adrenaline-packed jolt, and would want something to steady their nerves. With the evacuees safely parked at the bar, then - and only then- would the manager announce the all-clear.

I hesitate to mention the name of the restaurant due to their borderline-criminal handling of the fire alarm. They hardly seemed to need my publicity, and are scarcely under threat of going out of business if my scorn should surface.

Everyone, as far as I can tell, left intact and not in flames. We were never actually in danger, though that is only anecdotal evidence. There was a pivotal moment though when all of that could have easily changed. Had the threat been real, 150 people with varying amounts of buzz would have attempted to evacuate at the same time.

All in all the evening was a precursor to a disaster that never was. Oh, the food wasn't bad either.


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