Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More

Sonoma Explosion

The Girl And The Fig, Sonoma, California, USA

August 27, 2013

It's not something that happens all that often in California - at least, not when I'm around. I'm sitting with a friend at a table in a courtyard of a nice restaurant enjoying a fine dinner and great conversation when suddenly there's a massive explosion - one massive explosion actually comprising three blasts one after the other.

My thoughts automatically go into slo-mo. It seems to take a while to register it's actually happening - but it's really only a split second. The thought "Terrorist attack?" is the first to cross my mind. Time has slowed down, and I do what can best be described as the classic double take. It's a "What was that?  ..." moment which is anything but ordinary, anything but business as usual. Fortunately for us patrons, the explosion isn't inside the restaurant. Rather it's outside in the street alongside the courtyard where we're sitting. As for anyone out in the street ... my imagination turns decidedly un-pretty.

With each of the three distinct component thumps, smoke immediately fills the air, thickening with each successive blast. A huge orange fireball lights up the side of the building and the night with each blast. With the first and second blast, the lights of the restaurant and all lights in the buildings and streets around it, flicker and fade, then come on again. With the third blast, they go off entirely and stay off. The courtyard is now filled with smoke and eerily lit by the votive candles on each table. All conversation has ceased. The sudden silence, too, is eerie. Seven seconds has passed since the first of the three blasts. It seems like an eternity. Then the first screams start.

There's no damage within the courtyard, neither to property nor to persons - I've looked around, and of that I'm certain. The screams are of fear and shock, and are somewhat automatic - understandably so. My own inclination and that of my dinner friend, once we realize there's no damage to property or persons, is to go back to our meal. But it's not to be. The fear gives way to panic, and soon people are rushing out, pushing into each other, shoving tables and chairs aside in a rush to leave the courtyard through a side gate and into the street.

Most of the momentary smoke dissipates. The place now has a soft (shall I say romantic?)  glow from all the candles without any electric light. There's really no need to go anywhere. What eventually gets me standing up and slowly walking out to the street (my initial "What was that?  ..." has become "Just a moment ...") is only my curiosity and my inquisitiveness for what actually happened out there, and my concern for any people who were closer to the explosion.

Out in the street, what happened immediately becomes clear. A crew from the local electricity company are servicing an underground electricity substation. It's that which exploded. There's its open hole in the ground on the street corner, the two huge hundred pound steel plate covers of which have been blown about fifteen yards away. Fortunately no one was walking over the substation pit or driving by when it exploded. It's now clear there are no injuries to anyone outside either. And aside from the exploded substation itself, amazingly there's no property damage at all. As for what caused the thing to explode? Who knows. I see a lot of water in the vicinity of the substation pit on the sidewalk. No, it's not from the fire department. They haven't arrived yet. I surmise some of it got into the pit, causing short circuiting and then the explosion - but that's just speculation and conjecture on my part.

People are milling around in the street, most of them talking nervously, frightenedly. All the surrounding shops and restaurants have emptied. Except for the orange glow of the rapidly receding flames in the blown open substation pit, the place is in total darkness lit only by the glow of hundreds of luminous cell phone screens. The electricity company crew are replacing the blown off pit covers - no doubt they also have bigger things to attend to now as well.

Having seen all there is to see, we walk back through the side door into the courtyard. We sit down at our table and continue our meal. It's actually quite nice - intimate, really. We're the only ones here now. Pretty soon a waitress emerges from the darkness and says to us "Please leave. You have to leave.". "Do we have  to?" I ask. "It's fine here. The fire's out. The electricity company guys are taking care of things. Must we?". "Yes" she says, "we have orders to evacuate everyone.". I offer to settle our bill before we leave, realizing that all the other patrons have left without paying. "Just go!" she says, smiling appreciatively.

Back out in the street, people are still in shock. Some of them continue to whimper audibly. "It's alright, it's ... O ... K! ..." I think to them - but I don't say it out loud.

The next morning I call the restaurant. "Hello" I say when a woman answers, "I'd like to pay my bill.". "I'm sorry Sir, we're not open yet" she says. "No, I'd like to pay my bill from last night. I don't want you to think I'd walk away without paying - explosion or no explosion.". She's silent for a pregnant moment. Then she says quizzically, unbelievingly "You're calling to pay your bill from last night?". "That's right" I say, "let me know when you're ready to take my credit card number.". I give her all the credit card details she needs, tell her what I had from the menu, and specify a tip to add for the waitress. The line is quiet for a while. Then she says "Thank You Laurence. I really appreciate this.". "I'm just paying my bill" I say, "that's what people do when they eat at a restaurant.". "Yes" she says, "but you're the only one who's called in to pay.". "Well" I say "hopefully I'll not be the only one but just the first one.".

I don't know how many people called in after I called to pay. Aside from my friend who also called in later to pay her share, I wouldn't know if anyone  else called in. Hopefully many if not all of them did. But if there are still some people who haven't yet called in to settle up, there's no excuse.

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