Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Written and owned by Greg Miller 2011
Chapter XX: Flooding of Union Station
Meanwhile, in front of the Jefferson building.
There isn’t much left to watch seeing as how it is not safe to stand in front of a burning building, and the Jefferson Building is definitely burning. If I was a little gay I might have kissed the drunken cop, but big guys who smell of alcohol aren’t my cup of tea. The stunning fellow from England, Mary, clings tightly to his side. The police dog looks young and fierce.
I didn’t know its normal for a police dog to be so friendly.
The K9 smells my palms as we hurry down the street. She or he is covered in dust, leaving the dog looking as if it’s a ghost coming deep from the Amazon. Larry tells April the dogs name is Pixel and she is female. The sidewalk underneath my feet is uneven. My back jolts each time I land on a jilted fragment of pavement. My work shoes lack traction. I didn’t have the fortune of being able to wear my tennis shoes to work today seeing as how there was a public function.
Staff in Washington DC often keeps clean slacks and suits in their offices. Those who are prudent find ways in working with soft shoes. My disability allows me to have darker colored tennis shoes in the office but I felt I have to look the part when being seen by the public.
Damn, my shoes are already cutting into my feet and I can feel a blister start to form on my right heel.
Whining I comment to no one in particular, “I haven’t made it a block and my back hurts.” April and Mark sound apologetic for they understand my plight.
Larry snorts, “How can you work in the Capital without being able to walk a block?”
I feel like an idiot and decide to be quiet for a time. The sidewalk lies fragmented for about thirty to forty feet. I’m reminded of my child hood in Marquette Michigan. Often I would go to Presque Isle and hop giant rocks to a lighthouse. Each step was perilous as dark blue waves lap in ever twirling whirlpools near my feet. One false step leads to a cold abyss at the bottom of Lake Superior. Locals call Lake Superior an unforgiving bitch.
There is no water under my feet as my toes grip man made pavement chunks through my ill fitting work shoes. Instead multiple layers of rock and gravel give testimony to once finely engineered city sidewalks. Two people ahead appear to be heaps in burned clothes, a cable line dangles near them.
Mark yelps, “Not that way. How is the wire doing that?”
April dryly answers, “Look, there’s a rail. The cable line must be touching the metal rail which electrocutes anyone who touches it. Don’t touch the fences or rails. Why is some cables life while other utilities aren’t operational?”
Larry sounds a little soberer as he comments, “Different utility companies equate to different lines.” His voice carries a hint of dislike towards my wife. I can’t believe the fellow from England as she swoons on his words, she reminds me of a bee going for honey.
Mark decides, “Let’s simply walk around them. There’s really not much to E Capital Street, now is there?” No one argues as his voice sounds like its strains to keep it together. Without incident we pass the still corpses. No signs of thousands of volts of electricity.
It doesn’t matter, just because you can’t see electricity doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
Up ahead the US Supreme Court is to the left. The Asian teen makes an interesting sound, reminding me of a mix between oh and awe. Pixel rubs his leg.
Where did the rest of the teen’s group go?
Last he remembers, they were going into the Capital Building. They must have died. A whole bunch of reporters mingle on the front steps of the Supreme Court and hail Susan. Susan says bye to us. The building is still intact as another dozen workers mill in the front yard. The side walk has many cracks but it’s not anything as bad as the block before. Many spots are currently smooth. Aftershocks are occurring every few minutes but last only twenty to thirty seconds. The earth rolls gently, no longer abrupt shifts tumble buildings and blocks.
We make it to Constitution Avenue NW; this street connects the capitals northeast and northwest region. Hundreds of people stumble with dazed and confused expressions to our left. Innately I understand they are heading towards the white house. Mark comments people should be going to designated evacuation centers and he doesn’t understand why a declaration hasn’t been made.
My wife goads him by saying The President is probably watching television in a ranch in Texas. Not knowing how to positively contribute to the conservation I add, “Did I make mention my feet and back hurt.”
The cop mutters I’m a sissy but doesn’t put any venom behind it, I shrug it off. Any cop who wants to save me is a hero.
Mark switches the conservation as he becomes the ever familiar historian I learned to love, “Did you guys know this street was originally named North B Street? Back in 1931 Congress spent 75 million dollars and made it what you see today. People used to throw garbage into a canal which was the foundation of the street. Washington DC is build over many water ways. You know, I’m soon going to have to go see if my dad and mom are in Lincoln Park. “
April reflects on our last Christmas, “I really loved the National Christmas Tree Lighting.” Now the street is broken in many places. Unlike earlier, there are no deep holes or splits. None the less we all pass the street with a quickened pace. Like a fool I find myself looking both ways before I cross the street.
Larry doesn’t seem to want to stop being a jerk as he comments, “I think it’s safe to cross the road, if you haven’t noticed there has been an earthquake.” We closely stick to 1st Street NE. Union Station is a couple of more blocks down the street.
The next block goes by without incident. Half a dozen people ask us where they should go or if we knew what’s happening. We answer no and I tell them I am sorry. We quickly come upon C Street. Police officers seem to be having an issue at the police barricade. Teenagers looking like they are in a gang lined up with their hands behind their heads, on their knees. Four officers pat them down while a fifth tries desperately to get in communication with someone from dispatch. The teenagers are becoming hostile but two of the officers are busy putting confiscated handguns in plastic bags. All the teenagers had either handcuffs on or white plastic wires around their wrists.
Strangely Larry quickens his pace and doesn’t acknowledge the cops. We are now upon D Street NW. I am a little nervous as I look upon the buildings to our left and right. Once smooth polished walls are broken and risk falling on our heads. Until this moment I never noticed how tall and solid the buildings in DC look. I marvel as cold smooth marble loom over us. Images of rock slides and perilous mountain valleys flood my vision. April reaches for my hand and comforts me with the logic there isn’t another safer path.
For the first time it dawns on me we are losing Washington DC as a whole. A ball of remorse threatens to overwhelm my senses but I steel myself for the task ahead. Not looking at the walls which loom to our sides we move forward.
Something plops itself in the newspaper stand to my left, a echo vibrates down the street. I knew it was a bullet but I can’t seem to make my body respond.
Why is someone shooting at me? What in the hell did I do? I am confused. The group scrambles for shelter as my wife screams at me to get down. I stare at her in confusion.
A second bullet sends metal flying in all directions. The hole is three inches closer to me, near the side of the newspaper stall. A add in the paper shows the time and place of my public event. Underneath it a caption saying two suns are going to be increasing temperatures in the week to come.
A third bullet whizzes past my head. It hits the cold marble of the building I am currently passing. Rocks braze my back and one hits my ear. I feel a sharp pain enter my awareness. Looking up I see someone who looks like a gang member pointing a gun in my direction. He doesn’t look rational. I’m drawn to his amber eyes which are flat. He points his gun at me and pulls the trigger. I can’t do anything as I think I’m about to die. The gun clicks. It’s empty.
Pixel growls and leaps forward. Within seconds she’s across the street and leaps at the armed man. He shrieks and tries backing up but falls over broken asphalt. The man reaches for something which looks like a knife as he begs for someone to get the dog off of him.
Larry commands Pixil, “KILL!”
Pixel doesn’t hear as she continues to sound menacing while gripping the thugs arm tightly to the ground.
Larry repeats, “Kill! Pixel, kill!”
Pixel stops growling but doesn’t ease up on the man’s arm. A look of satisfaction crosses the doomed man’s eyes as his firmly grips his small rusty blade. Pixel doesn’t see him lunge forward with deadly intent. It’s obvious the thug is a junky.
Maybe he is friends with the ones with cops caught a block earlier?
Unlike the thug’s cheap Sunday Special pistol, a new bullet can be heard as its echo ricotta's a boom throughout the street. The hand wielding the knife obliterates in a single plume of bone and blood.
A second bullet is both felt and heard. The thug doesn’t have time to respond to his hand being blown off as a second bullet takes out his surprised expression. His body slams into the ground leaving a confused Pixel holding a limp arm. Looking up and half way down the block I see a lone figure on a roof.
Pointing I shout, “Look, a military sniper! What the hell is he doing on the roof? I thought they all evacuated?” For some reason my blood pressure didn’t rise. It was too surreal.
My wife is at my side, “Oh my God, Mike are you alright? You’re bleeding!” I didn’t feeling anything, the sharp pain ebbs away. My body simply feels nothing at the moment. I note in disbelief the numbness in my back and feet.
I hear Mark, “His adrenaline must be running. You will feel that tomorrow.”
I mutter, “Sure.” My mind starts repeating what just happened but I don’t have time to further as more gun shots can be heard.
What the hell, is he crazy? The thug is dead.”
This bullet echoes distant, it’s obvious the shooter is firing at something or someone else.
BANG BANG BANG.
Multiple gun shots can be heard. Larry screams for the group to run as he loads a new clip. The gang members who were caught earlier on Constitution Avenue appears to have overwhelmed the police officers and are heading towards us.
Maybe their buddies came to the rescue?
It didn’t matter. The military sniper on the roof makes quick work of them. April, Mary, and I lose our cool. I feel emotion again as I propel my feet forward. No longer am I trying to safely hop rubble or miss cracks in the side walk. I run with my wife.
I don’t want to be here. Why are teens in gangs shooting at military snipers in our Capital?
Fear courses through me. Never once in my wildest dreams did I think I was going to be dodging bullets down town DC after an earthquake destroyed everything! The sun is extremely warm; the heat in the breeze only makes me sweat heavier. We make it to the Liberty Bell and I gasp for air. My sides start to hurt from the exertion. I struggle to find my balance. April and Mary catch their wind quickly but Mary swears as she shows us a broken high heel.
I can’t believe I was complaining when Mary is in heels!
Mark looks fit and barely broke a sweat. Larry reprimands Pixel for not killing the armed man and looks to see if anyone followed. The Freedom Bell is on its side. A new crack crisscrosses with the old. A three to four foot marble wall blocks us from outside of the street as we huddle together, bushes are torn and no longer look impressive. It doesn’t feel safe to be in the open or in a building. I am at a loss of what to do. My wife dabbles part of her sleeve on my ear. It stings. I can’t help but see a memorial on the ground which has the inscription, ‘…given by the American Legion…’ the rest is fragmented and broken.
We don’t hear any more shots. The sniper must have met his mission objective.
April tries to find some humor in the situation, “At least it wasn’t a crazy shooter like in New Orleans during Katrina. Thank God for people who don’t abandon their posts! You were right Mark. Sorry about my attitude earlier.”
Mark takes the moment to tell April a little about Union Station for he doesn’t hold grudges, “Did you know this station is a national treasure? In 1981 Congress spent 180 million dollars on it; the task made it the biggest public/private restoration project America ever took. Did you guys know there is a fallout shelter somewhere in here? Back in the day there was a swimming pool and a steam room for privileged travelers.”
I ask, “Is the fallout shelter still functional?”
Larry responds, “It is. But it only can hold a few hundred for a long time or a few thousand for a very short span. I know where it is.”
I flinch as I notice a homeless man buried underneath rubble near the entrance. He was one of the homeless men I saw earlier, I think it might be the one I gave a few dollars to.
It would appear it was a good day for him to die. Not me though. Today I live.
Looking up I see a gap in the roof, white granite from Vermont makes up Union Station. I assume a large chunk fell on the hapless victim when the earthquake first hit. There used to be sayings inscribed in the marble on the roof but I can’t see it.
The Columbus Memorial Fountain is totally destroyed, granite no longer fits together but rather it appears the fountain could have been in the production stage, the plaza was simply in ruins. Flags from around the world lie in heaps, dust bellow while warm wind creates an impressive visual of mini tornadoes that lack substance.
Red bricks are still intact; the road isn’t in as good as condition as the granite. Looming in front of us is some very impressive Beaux-Art architecture. No longer can I see gold leaf or other materials that once made this building breathtaking, at the moment it looks scary. Knowing a little about Union Station I attempt to impress Mark and my wife while secretly hoping to quell my fear, “Augustus Saint-Gauens was the dude who inspired this place. See that statue still standing? It’s about the American Renaissance movement. Back in the day it was all about fire, electricity, freedom, agriculture and a few other things.” No one says anything; my narration isn’t as impressive as Mark’s.
The exterior spans 600 feet and has a waiting room of reaching hundreds of feet. A very impressive gilded ceiling shows cracks allowing sun light to stream in. The Grand Concourse parallels the Baths of Diocletian in Rome. None of it matters as two children catch our attention.
Two nicely dressed kids need our help as they pinpoint us as their possible saviors. One of them runs towards us with pleading eyes. Before we could ask what’s happening her companion shouts, “Please help us! Our family is stuck in a train on the AMTRAK; or I mean, we were supposed to be on the AMTRAK but they are stuck in the AMC movie theater and can’t get out! Water is flooding the lower level and they are going to die! Please help us!” Pixel doesn’t growl at them, but immediately runs to help the best she can. The children cry and look like pure as angels. The girl grabs both Mary’s and Marks hands as she directs them to the lower levels. I feel compelled to follow.
Larry says stop but not with much force. He is drawn to Mary. Mary responds, “They need our help! What’s the big deal? You’re a cop, this is what you do.” Larry sighs and tells Pixel to follow him. He doesn’t look to happy.
Mark looks at me and says, “They need our help.” I don’t hesitate as I tell my wife it might be safer staying out here.
She responds, “Like hell. I’m coming.” For my first time I look at Union Station and I’m surprised to see the building looking like its withstanding the damage of the earthquake. Sadly I see Burger King having its entrance full of rubble. A small fire rages in Subway to its left, but it appears to be isolated. Roughly twenty people are among the entrance but the children quickly explain they don’t want to help and are waiting for the National Guard or someone to come. Many restaurants and retail shops have metal shutters firmly closed and their employees have long evacuated the premises. A dozen homeless men peacefully scavenge pizza from Pizzeria Uno. No one tells them to stop.
I pause before going down, knowing this is a bad idea. The Asian teen breaks from the group as he runs towards Verizon Wireless. I’m not sure what he plans on getting in a world that currently doesn’t have communications working but I shrug him off, he isn’t my responsibility. Nearby another store flaunting barber hair products is empty; no shutters keep the homeless away. Ironically no one is in there.
The others who are wondering don’t bother us. No one is in charge. The escalator seems to be not to be broken as Pixel leaps three to four steps at a time but. The rest of the group decides to use the stairs. It’s dark down there. The police officer takes his flash light out as everyone else uses our cell phones. Two thirds of the way down mark sees a utility cabinet built within a compartment for a fire hose. He curses as he finds it’s locked.
At the bottom of the stairs we take the northwest corridor. The children talk over each other while thanking us for our help. I gather they came with their family from Boston and were either watching a movie or eating dinner when things went wrong. I see large segments of the ceiling caving in but I am not too afraid when I see what’s underneath the granite. The granite is built over a steel frame that has a brick core. I don’t understand why other buildings were not standing as good but decide to not question those types of schematics.
Sometimes it is what it is.
I freeze and gasp when I see the food court. The floor above which I couldn’t see from the lobby is partially collapsed as a train lies in between two stories. Hundreds of people are dead but there is enough light to illuminate the place. A few people are hurt but many have evacuated. The ones who are left do not want to be bothered. An older woman wale’s as she holds her dead husband. His body is limp as she softly murmurs and brushes his hair. She doesn’t look at them as they pass. Metal from the locomotive twists in all directions but the main body is still intact. Smoke unfolds from the engine but there are no major fires. It appears someone shut of the gas to the building when the earthquake hit.
Water gushes and builds in the far corner but it doesn’t look dangerous.
This place might be under water in a few hours.
Deep down I hope the children’s family is still alive. They direct us towards Union Station the Phoenix Theaters. We don’t make it far. Letting go of my friends hands, both children run ahead.
April yells, “It’s not safe to run, please slow down!”
Not listening they cross the entrance of the theater. A new aftershock rocks the building. The ceiling above the entrance gives as I watch as thousands of pounds of rubble tumble on the children. They don’t have time to yell as they simply disappear.
I yell, “NO!” Everyone stops. No one knows what to say as we look at the entrance in confusion.
This isn’t right! Why did they just die in front of my eyes? Why did I get shot at?
My blood pressure rises as my reality swims. I can’t handle it. The cut in my ear does not alleviate the pressure I feel as my blood pressure skyrockets. A deep vibration kin to thudding a drum hits my temples. Reaching up I try to massage my left temple but feel something moist release from my nostrils.
My nose bleeds as I lose my vision. I don’t have time to tell my wife I love her as I lose awareness.
A few minutes later…
There’s a lot of ringing in my ears. Something licks the cut in my ear and I can’t help but giggle. I feel warm breath gush into ear drum. The saliva has a calming effect on the persistent ache coming from my ear.
Oh that’s right. I’m in hell.
I don’t really believe I’m in hell but that’s the way it appears to be going. I blink a few tears away and see my wife kneeling at my side. She throws herself at me, saying she loves me and not to die on her. Mark stands over her; I see compassion in his eyes as he too is happy I am alive. The cop and Mary are sharing what looks to be a fifth of alcohol? I sit up. We are back on the first floor. People I don’t recognize are around us. They look on with curiosity but no one interferes.
April tells me Mark dragged me back up the stairs and they were thinking of giving me mouth to mouth recitation when I came around. The children are indeed dead. I feel instant sadness and depression I couldn’t help them.
It’s not fair that they died and I didn’t. Children are more important than adults and it’s not fair their lives were so rudely taken!
I can see similar thoughts haunting April and Mark’s eyes.
How can we seriously make a difference under the present circumstances?
I feel nothing but bleakness and futility. Mary says something to Larry which makes Larry respond sounding like an ass hole. I only catch, “You don’t need these people. They are weak and can’t take care of you. Come home with me.”
She answers, “No, these are my friends. I can’t leave them. Give me another drink.”
Its obvious Larry doesn’t know how to communicate with Mary as he responds, “Get your own bottle then! Or come with me and have however much you want.” He downs the rest of whatever he’s drinking and throws the bottle at a far wall. The glass shatters as the bottle explodes in an echo. Mary stomps off, declaring Larry is a prick. Larry doesn’t take long to rethink his strategy as he changes his tune and tries to make up with her.
She’s near the Pizza Uno restaurant when the ground under her feet caves in. She and a half a dozen homeless people instantly disappear as booths and tables suddenly aren’t there. Larry stops his tirade as he looks in disbelief. Disbelief quickly becomes drunken rage as he bellows, “NO, we were supposed to have sex! Mary!” He doesn’t care about Mary, but through his drunken haze it becomes apparent she was a sexual object he was going to use.
April gasps while muttering, “Dirt bag.”
Larry continues to step forward, refusing to acknowledge the floor isn’t safe to cross. Mark yells, “Stop, it’s not safe.” Larry doesn’t listen. Pixel barks but it doesn’t matter as Larry gets on his stomach. He inches towards the hole while shining his light down in it.
He screams, “Mary! Are you alive?” The only thing that responds is silence.
Pixel stops barking and darts forward. Larry insanely yells for Mary as he repeats in his drunken rage they were supposed to have been together. I feel revulsion for the lack of respect he shows.
He only cares about getting laid. Did he know anything about Mary? What did she see in this creep?
It didn’t matter he saved me earlier. Larry wasn’t someone I want to know. Pixel takes hold of his left leg and attempts to yank him back to safety by yanking on the cloth.
Larry will not have anything to do with Pixels noble effort. He kicks her. Pixel yelps but won’t give up. She drags Larry from the edge. Pixel looks at him sheepishly and whines. Larry gets to his feet and storms outside. More flooring caves in. Most of the people leave.
I don’t know what to say to April and Mark. The Asian teen reappears, he points towards Burger King. It crosses my mind to tell him to get lost but something holds my tongue. My head won’t stop pounding but my nose isn’t bleeding anymore. My blood pressure isn’t doing well but I get the impression the bloody nose might have saved my life.
Pixel looks mentally hurt as she confusedly looks towards where the Asian boy points and then where Larry stormed off. In very poor English the Asian teen says, “Help.” I didn't see earlier he is deaf. He gestures with his hands, he grunts while pointing towards Burger King.
I can’t handle my inability to not help people as the day progressively get worse.
Enough people have died. I want to help. I need to help.
I stand up. Mark is on a similar page as we follow the Asian teen. He directs us towards Burger King. It doesn’t look good. Much rubble lay at the entrance and it appears whoever is stuck inside is screwed. Pixel darts pass us and paws at some rubble. Not believing what I was sees, I see some rubble falls as if nothing was holding it up.
Mark tells me, “Perhaps the aftershock moved things around?”
Enough people have died today.
Something snaps from deep within me. I don’t care if I bruise or cut my hands. Enough people died today. I’m at the entrance; my back doesn’t matter as I begin to heave slabs of granite and red bricks from the entrance.
I feel a large rumble and look behind me expecting to see more destruction. It startles me to see April running towards us with a large group of National Guard personnel. I look at Mark in disbelief as I hear my wife shout, “Over here! People need rescuing over here!”
One of the national guardsmen who look like a small guy responds, “Is there any high ranking official needing to be saved?”
I am relieved when my wife lies, “Why yes. There’s a congress man trapped in Burger King. Can you safe him?”
The National Guard unit stops, they are more than willing to help our politicians. I’m doubly surprised when I see Susan and her camera man crossing the broken street. They too are heading towards us. She tells her camera man to start filming.
Unlike other national guards, this unit beams and is happy to be filmed as they become national heroes. Within minutes I watch in amazement as they proceed to clean my wounds and clear an entrance to Burger King.
My wife is by my side. It doesn’t take the National Guard more than fifteen minutes to rescue the people inside; thankfully they are not too annoyed when they find out my wife made a mistake about the congressman. Larry comes back after he cools down but he’s much colder, Pixel forgives him for kicking her.
The National Guard suggests we head towards the hospital to get proper medical attention. If things couldn’t get bad to worse a new threat comes as soon as the people in Burger King are rescued. One of the National Guard reports to his superior the basement has been flooded and the fallout shelter can’t be reached. As soon as he says this a new a siren assures. I look at my cell phones in disbelief as I see a Tsunami evacuation warning pop on the screen.