Favorite

On fire 

The Observer was sitting at his desk on Monday after a long, long weekend of traveling the roads and back roads of Arkansas in pursuit of a story for you, Beloved Reader, when the fire alarm went off: a shrill, electronic, unmusical blare.

It was a first for us, and those are getting in short supply these days. By our best, spottiest recollection, we've never had a fire alarm here at the Fortress in 11 years, or even a fire drill. That said, as folks made their way to the exits, we found that we were tired enough after our long weekend that we had to consider for a moment whether we'd rather get up and trudge down the stairs to the parking lot or perish in a possible conflagration. Eventually, our sense of self-preservation won out over sloth, though, so we emerged from our burrow and joined the throng.

Outside, on the sidewalk, we all milled around and chatted and stared up at the building, watching for the dragon belch of smoke and fire. The offices of the Arkansas Times nearly burned flat once, back in June of '79 when HQ was a big ol' house down at 1111 W. Second St. Almost snuffed us out, that blaze did, leaving only the company computer, a sodden subscriber list, one charred coffee table, and a chair. Eventually, that particular fire was found to be the result of arson (but don't any of you cranks get ideas). While the grayhairs round here have their suspects, the culprit was never brought to justice. Said grayhairs managed to put it all back together, somehow — one of many brushes with death the Old Girl has had over the years — and here we are, a year from the big 4-0, in a building that actually has sprinklers. We've come a long way, baby.

The Observer, too, is a child of cinders: a blaze in elementary school that reduced our family's tidy house on Crystal Valley Road to a charred hulk and all our treasured belongings — including every family photo not in the hands of others — to ash: clothes, toys, books, bed, cigar box of boy trinkets, everything but our lives (thankfully preserved by an out-of-town trip that night) gone, gone, gone. It was a bit of faulty wiring in that case, not a vindictive firebug who wrote his Letter to the Editor in flames. But you can see why both The Observer and the folks we work with might tend to bite their lips and stare up expectantly at the building when the alarms go off once every 11 years or so. The children of fire are always waiting for that yellow monster to return for a second bite of them.

The Little Rock Fire Department soon came roaring up in their trucks, sirens rolling and lights turning — pumper truck, ladder truck with the tiller-steering cab way at the back, chief's Suburban, another pumper — the brave men piling out in their coats and helmets, making The Observer feel for a second like we had wasted our life in timidity, hard hands gone soft as linen paper. The sight of that red and yellow spectacle couldn't help but remind us of our favorite quote by our favorite writer, Kurt Vonnegut: "I can think of no more stirring symbol of man's humanity to man than a fire truck." If The Observer had his way, that quote would be etched in stone over the door of every firehouse in this country, in letters big enough to be seen from the street. We remember our neighbor's story of more brave men, volunteers, who stood in the dark and poured on the water and tried to save The Observer's childhood home.

The Brave Ones trudged up and down through our building in their boots. Soon, the radio of the chief standing outside squawked back that they'd found nothing. The all clear was given, the men loaded up, the trucks groaned away, and we trudged in with the rest, stuffing the elevators and the stairwell, all the wiseasses joking over who wanted a break bad enough to pull the fire alarm. So too came The Observer, child of cinders, back to our unburned office. There, we sat, and smelled the phantom smoke of memories for the rest of the afternoon, marveling over how, once you get a good whiff, that smell never quite leaves your nose.

Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Readers also liked…

  • I'm sorry

    I'm sorry we stood by while your generation's hope was smothered by $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, just because you were trying to educate yourselves enough to avoid falling for the snake oil and big talk of a fascist.
    • Nov 17, 2016
  • Show and tell

    The Observer is an advocate of the A+ method of integrating the arts and using creativity to teach across the curriculum, an approach that the Thea Foundation, with help from the Windgate Charitable Foundation, is offering to schools across the state.
    • Feb 25, 2016
  • Yawp

    The Observer has been in a funk lately for a number of reasons: revulsions and slights, both foreign and domestic. We get that way most years as the winter drags on, once the tinsel and colored lights of Christmas drop into the rearview, soon after we come off the New Year's Day hangover.
    • Mar 24, 2016

Most Shared

  • 'Cemetery angel' Ruth Coker Burks featured in new short film

    Ruth Coker Burks, the AIDS caregiver and activist memorably profiled by David Koon as the cemetery angel in Arkansas Times in 2015, is now the subject of a short film made by actress Rose McGowan.
  • Buyer remorse

    Out here in flyover country, you can't hardly go by the feed store without running into a reporter doing one of those Wisdom of the Heartland stories.
  • Not Whitewater

    Just think: If Democrats had turned out 78,000 more votes in three states in November, people could be reveling today in the prospect of impeaching and convicting President Hillary Clinton, not Donald Trump, as some Republican lawmakers had promised to try to do if she won.
  • Head-shaking

    Another edition of so-much-bad-news-so-little space.

Latest in The Observer

  • Twenty

    Forgive The Observer a public love letter, Dear Reader. A gentleman never kisses and tells, but he is allowed to swoon a bit, and so we will. Last week made 20 years since we wed our beloved in her grandpa's little church way down in El Dorado, two dumb kids with nothing but our lives stretching out before us like an open road.
    • Jul 27, 2017
  • Dumb and smart, at the same time

    The Observer spent the week at a bar and thought a lot about a joke and its writer.
    • Jul 20, 2017
  • -30-

    A newspaper died up in Atkins a few weeks back, not with a bang or a whimper, but with the sound of change jingling in a pocket, just too little of it to keep the printing presses rolling.
    • Jul 13, 2017
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

July

S M T W T F S
  1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31  

Most Viewed

Most Recent Comments

 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation