Zen and the Art of Elevator Repair

It turns out earthquakes have a funny way of shaking things up. Puns aside, this is a far deeper and more spiritual sentence than you might think. Early this morning, I awoke to the gentle rocking motion of my second floor top bunk. I’m staying in a hostel for startup nerds in San Francisco, while I wait patiently for my first paycheck from a new job. Without said paycheck and its included signing bonus, I will not be able to afford a luxury refrigerator box (gently used) under the I-280 overpass, let alone a tiny studio apartment within walking distance of my new office.

This was my first earthquake experience, and I must say it was “A++++ would ride again!!!!11!one” After a few seconds of realizing I was not, in fact, dreaming the whole thing, I lay in my bunk evaluating my options. I could hear people in the common area considering running outside to avoid the imminent collapse of the building. As a diagnostician and engineer, I feel qualified to assess the imminence of said collapse, as well as the logistics of the ensuing chaos.

Sure, there would be trouble if the building came apart. That much is clear. It would certainly make my transition period more challenging; damned inconvenient, really, given the current state of my credit card and bank account balance. Still, I took solace in my assessment, surmising that there would be less building to fall on my head if I were to stay on the second floor than if I vaulted from my bunk and sprinted down the stairs, attempting to make it outside before the ceiling did. Then, there was the nagging little problem of my belongings.

Part of my assessment included the time it might take to gather my essentials. Laptop was first on my list. I can fish my clothes out of the rubble. The laptop seems unlikely to survive. Also, I can sell the laptop to buy more clothes, or at least trade it for an Uber ride to a friend’s house and/or an AirBnB for a few nights. The laptop is also fairly easy to carry, as it is already conveniently in a backpack, ready to go on a moment’s notice. After about twenty seconds of evaluation, including anecdotal reports from the other occupants, I concluded that my time was best spent tweeting about the experience.

I considered tagging USGS in the tweet, but immediately decided against that, presuming (incorrectly, as it turns out) that their Tweet Earthquake Detection (TED) system was already aggregating data from others in the area. Hours later, I would learn that the TED system was sadly offline at the time of the event. Instead, I chose one of my favorite half-snarky announcement styles, as follows:

“Achievement unlocked! Woken up by earthquake”

I briefly considered using the word “survived” in the tweet, but I thought better of that. What supreme irony to be accidentally overly optimistic in a tweet about my first earthquake… I feel good about this decision. By the time I had found my phone and brought up the twitter app, the earthquake was over. So I sent the tweet and went back to sleep. Later in the morning, after I awoke at my usual time of 7:29am, I began reviewing notification activity on my phone, as I do every morning. I had a few text messages and twitter alerts from concerned friends. I went on to review photos posted by others affected more severely by the earthquake. Let’s just say Napa Valley wines are going to be expensive this year. I especially loved the photo of a skateboarder catching some wicked air on a ramp formed by the recently reorganized road surface. How perfectly California!

Shortly after making sure my parents knew I was still alive, I went on with my day of email review and video gaming as an effective means of procrastination. In my email, I discovered a curious message from someone at the office. As a result of the earthquake, the elevators had sent themselves to the ground floor and locked out the controls. The express elevators to the upper floors (where our office is located) would not be operational until an elevator technician came to reset them. I imagined myself as an elevator technician for a moment, thinking how boring that job must be, except on days like today, when suddenly you’re the most important person in the lives of thousands of people, desperately hoping you won’t make it to their building, so they can take the day off tomorrow to get stoned in the park, like any self-respecting Californian.

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