At four in the morning the apartment manager knocked furiously. I heard commotion in the hallway and hesitated before I answered the door.
It was April of 2009 in downtown Los Angeles. That year I had already stayed in Venice Beach, Palm Springs, Koreatown and San Francisco. This was a one month sublet, a studio apartment in a 1930’s office building. The regular tenant was working away in Texas for a major oil company. I scrambled in the dark to find a shirt and pants and answered the door.
“You have to get out now! Gas! It’s all gas! The fire department is on their way!” The manager rushed past me and opened all of the windows.
I was still waking up. I stepped into the hallway and was reminded of the propane grills we used on Scout trips. The air smelled thick. I rode in the elevator with other residents from the fourth floor. Nobody said a word.
We all congregated in the lobby in bath robes and pajamas. I could hear a siren getting closer. Through the glass front door we watched the fire truck pull up. Six groggy eyed fire fighters who looked about my age dragged their feet to the elevator with no sense of urgency. The manager went with them. After a few minutes the elevator doors opened again and they all shuffled out and went back through the front door without making eye contact with anyone. The truck drove away.
“It’s okay now,” the manager informed us.
We all returned to our rooms.
About a minute later the manager knocked on my door once more. She showed me how one knob on my stove was a bit tricky. I had turned it off, but it hadn’t clicked. A slow steady stream of gas had been going for about eight hours.
“You’re lucky the building didn’t blow up,” she said sternly. Then she left. Embarrassed, I got back in bed.
The whole thing was my fault.