Thursday, September 4, 2008

Panic

There's nothing more important to me than having a refuge, a place into which I can retreat and feel safe or even isolated. The notion of being cut off from that sanctuary in any way causes great unrest and fear in me.

Even with the Republican National Convention happening a mere three blocks from my dwelling, I never figured that I would be at risk for being cut off from my home. Yet, Tuesday evening, protesters were herded up my street with tear gas and flash grenades. Where was I whilst this was occurring?

On my home from work.

A half hour or so before the end of my shift, I received a jesting email from my houseguest informing me that there were riots and blood running in the streets. I chuckled to myself and made a smart-allecky reply back. His follow-up email made it clear that things had gone from amusing to bad and that I should be careful coming home.

I called him at once when I was on the way to get the skinny: hundreds of people were fleeing up my street toward the Capitol building. The skyway that links the hospital across the street was lined with people watching the spectacle in both directions. Three or four vehicles were idling facing northbound into what should have been southbound traffic.

Thankfully, the longer we talked, the more things wound down. When I exited the highway and turned onto my street, it was nearly vacant, only a few cars moving in the proper direction. I pulled into the garage and went directly upstairs.

It would have been something to see from my seventh-floor apartment, all that bustle and panic. I wouldn't have had the slightest problem watching it all unfold. In fact, it would have been fascinating, even though it was happening on my street, only 80 or so feet below.

I called out from work the next day for a couple of reasons: if there were to be a recurrence, I'd like to watch. An event that draws such polarized people who are prone to almost anything isn't something that happens with regularity, not anywhere. In addition, the notion that I might not be able to get from work to my home for an undisclosed period provoked a feeling of panic in me. So home I stayed and it was a nonevent. Up until the traffic below started to congeal at about 10:00 into a solid mass, all was quiet. An hour later, even the traffic jam had dissolved.

But I made the mistake of watching part of the news last night. The protesters' representative stated that they would be starting at 5:00 tonight. The anchor just had to observe that their permit actually expires when they plan to begin.

I had figured that I would go to work today and leave early, in time to get home safely. But I'd have to work until about five and, after 30 minutes of commute, who know if I'd be able to get anywhere near my apartment.

So I'm calling out again. I shouldn't, but I have a need to feel safe too, more for my spirit than for any actual threat of harm. It feels foolish to say all of this "out loud" but the feelings of near-panic are really quite real and won't be denied.

Steve and I will walk over to the wall they've erected around the arena during broad daylight today, before any of the weirdness can start and, by protest time, I expected to be holed up, watching movies and waiting to see what happens next.

Thankfully, I learned a long time ago that the world revolves quite nicely without me. I don't feel like I'm letting anyone down by not going in to work, although it will limit my ability to call in sick later.

The way I look at this, it guarantees my attendance through the festive retail holiday season. They'll be grateful I elected to call out now. Seriously.

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