In hindsight, I believe I was never in danger, but in the moment…the unknown, the adrenaline, the confusion…
My hotel in SanFrancisco was in a decent area–a busy, tourist area filled with restaurants and shops and people. It reminded me of Chicago’s Michigan Avenue because there were high-end stores, plenty of travelers and also plenty of homeless people. I never felt unsafe going to and from my hotel, even though I had heard and read that the area near the hotel was a little questionable. I just did what I do here at home…I paid attention to my surroundings and held my bag close.
On Sunday night, I was scheduled to fly the red-eye home so I said goodbye to my friends, went back to my hotel, gathered my belongings and made the two-block trek to the BART (the subway that goes to the airport). If you are familiar with subways, typically you walk down from street level to the station, then go down another level to the train platform. That’s how the Powell Station was, and the first set of stairs down from street level is circular, giving you a wide view of the station from above (and the city from below).
I was walking down the first set of stairs (down from street level) lugging my suitcase and big bag when I heard three pops, right above and in front of me.
Pop. Pop. Pop.
I stopped in my tracks. I knew it was gunshots.
Then, in my head, I was thinking, Nah…there is no way that was a gun. I’m on vacation. This is a nice area full of tourists. That was performance art or something.
So I proceeded into the station where no one seemed to be affected by what I’d just heard. Tourists were filling their BART card with money, the transit workers were sitting in their booth chatting…everything seemed normal. Maybe it was just a fluke or something. I headed over to the gate to pay and go down to the train platform. Just as I was getting ready to scan my card, people started screaming and running in the station about someone with a gun.
I was frozen. I felt like I couldn’t go back up because that was where the shots were fired. I couldn’t go down, because the gunman could be down there. I didn’t know enough about the station to navigate a plan. Then some guy ran down screaming at the BART workers to call the police because someone had been shot. People continued to panic and scream around me but I can’t even tell you where everyone was going…I felt like I was in slow motion, but my mind was racing and rationalizing a plan. Although people were running through and around the station, no one was running up from the train platform, so I scanned my card and cautiously proceeded to the escalator down. No one down there even knew what was happening and I saw a group of ladies and asked them if they knew someone had been shot. They looked at me blankly and responded in another language.
I suddenly felt really alone and scared, so I did what any normal person would do…I tweeted.
OMG! A shooting at my train stop. I’m not going to stop shaking until I get home.
I was hoping my fellow mail-loving travelers, most of whom were staying in the area, would see it and know what was going on and maybe send a comfort tweet or two. (My friends did not let me down!)
In the meantime, more people were coming downstairs and no one seemed to be running from a shooter. In the back of my mind, I knew he still could be on the platform, but a train going the other direction had left, so I figured if he was escaping, he’d probably take the first train out, not wait around for mine. A United Airlines worker came down to the platform and we chatted a bit about the shooting and about the BART ride to the airport. He was going to work, he seemed nice and normal and I was feeling a little better because I knew if I stuck with him, I’d get to the airport.
I was still shaking, but I felt better. Tweets were coming in, Naoto and I were texting…it was going to be okay.
Then, the BART came and didn’t stop. There was no real announcement except that the train wasn’t stopping. My heart fell. The United guy assured me that the next train would be in about ten minutes and I had plenty of time to make my flight.
Then, the next BART didn’t stop. Still no announcement but everyone started making their way upstairs. The United guy lamented about taking a cab to the airport and just as I was going to ask if we could share a cab, he disappeared. In the meantime, Carolee is tweeting and asking if I was in Chicago or SanFrancisco…a completely logical question.
I got out of the station went outside. Of course in my confusion, I chose the street that the police shut down for the shooting. I desperately asked a security guard where I could catch a cab and he sent me out another exit and through Bloomingdales to a busy street.
Once I walked into Bloomingdales, I started falling apart. I could not find the exit. I was kind of wandering around the perfume counters, staring off into space, completely overwhelmed. Carolee tweeted me her number and told me to call her. I found the door to a street finally. I got outside and attempted to make a phone call.
I have an iPhone. Typically, when a phone number appears in the iPhone, you can just touch it and make a call. Apparently, not through the Twitter app though. I tried copying and pasting Carolee’s number. That didn’t work either. So I had to switch back and forth between the app and the phone to dial her number. I’m usually good with remembering an entire phone number long enough to make a call. I could not even remember two numbers at a time to make this phone call. My hands were shaking, my mind was racing, I felt this crazy relief that I was out of danger but this intense panic that I had come crazy-close to danger…all wrapped up with the fear that I would miss my flight and end back up at the hotel again. It took about six tries of going back and forth to finally get Carolee’s entire number dialed into my phone. I was on a busy street, there were kind-of-crazy homeless people all around me and it felt like they were all yelling at me. At this point, I felt a lot like Brenda from Adventures in Babysitting. (See clip below if you need an explanation.)
The second Carolee picked up the phone, I started crying. Instead of telling me where to catch a cab, she sent me into the City Target (right at the corner) to wait for her to come and get me…as Naoto put it (so dramatically) she “swept in and rescued me from the battle zone”. I felt an immense relief and although she doesn’t live around the corner, it felt like she got there in a flash. She had tissues waiting for me just in case, she kept me entertained with funny stories the whole way to the airport…Carolee was pretty much the most perfect post-shooting super hero ever.
And that is why all of my postcards came home with me…I completely forgot about mailing them at the airport after all that excitement…
So that’s how I ended my trip…with a scary situation and kindness of friends.
Needless to say…it feels good to be home.