The universe gave me an interesting test last night. At about 3:20am, our fire alarms started going off and woke us from a sound sleep. Before I went to bed, I was reading a book called Unthinkable – Who Survives When Disasters Strikes and Why. I’m not very far into it yet, but it was talking about how when disaster hits, people often move in slow motion, using both the 1993 and 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center as examples. It said people didn’t run screaming down the stairwell, but more waited around for someone to tell them what to do (some people even organized their cubicles). The thing is that you can never really be sure how your brain will react in that kind of moment, but by having some awareness of this conundrum, you might increase your chances when the shit goes down.
So last night when the fire alarms went off, I got a taste of how I REALLY react when panic sets in…and it was surprising. First off, I was out of bed on my feet instantly (while Thor never even made it out of bed) and instantly thought, “Grab the cats,” noticing that two had shot out of the bedroom and one was still sitting there. What slowed me down, though, was that instead of turning on the light, I was scrambling around in the dark…I also wasn’t wearing pants and reached to put something on even though if we needed to be OUT, pants sure wouldn’t matter. Then the alarms went off.
My friend, Courtney, was in a pretty heinous car accident last weekend and she’s totally fine, but we were just talking about how even in times of total emergency, our weird sensibilities check in. While trying to squeeze out of her car, she was still worried about the way she looked. In my head, I had a split second image of the neighbors coming out while our house was on fire and seeing me in my underwear.
The other thing that ran through my head right before the alarms went off, was, “This is it! Now’s my chance!” If you saw the stacks of books next to my bed, you would think I was a nut. Most everything is about real life disasters, or how to get through a disaster. I can’t STAND fake disaster movies – there are so many real life disasters that make the movies look like a Disney production. Thus, I figure this is a good time to list my top five disaster books.
1. Albatross – Deborah Scaling Kiley – I first heard Deborah Scaling Kiley tell a shortened version of her story on a podcast, and instantly needed to buy this book. While an experienced sailor, Kiley finds herself with a poorly matched crew and a bad storm, leaving them stranded on a life raft out at sea with no supplies for five days. Only herself and one other member survived lack of food and water, sharks, and insanity.
2. The Wreck of the Medusa – Jonathan Miles – Dudes. You wouldn’t even believe me if I told you this story. Back in the 1800s, a totally inadequate captain and navigator run their ship into a sandbar off the shore of northern Africa. With 146 people aboard, some scrambled to life boats (including the captain, that bastard!) and the majority of the rest ended up on a makeshift raft tethered to the lifeboats (some even stayed on the ship because the life raft was too sketchy). When the raft began holding up the captain’s lifeboat, he ordered the rope cut and left them adrift. For some reason only alcohol made it onto the raft causing a drunken murderous riot that killed most people, and when they ran out of food they began eating each other. Only five survived. In the meantime, the lifeboats made it to shore only to be faced with a 200 mile trek through the desert (including alligator attacks!) to be captured and beaten senseless by the Moors. When the raft survivors made it back to France, the government vilified them for cannibalism.
3. Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors – Paul Piers – Granted, I read this book at 11 years old, but then again in college. Most people know the story of the rugby team whose plane crashed into the Andes and resorted to cannibalism to stay alive. Some died, but it’s considered miraculous how many stayed alive, mostly due to the team-player element and good leadership.
4. Capsized – James Nalepka – Four guys get stranded in the Pacific for 119 days (I think the longest on record) after their sailboat capsizes. They lived inside the upside down sailboat (mostly filled with water), crammed together in one bed. They learned to fish from the deck and hunt albatross, and finally saved themselves by making it to land and pillaging someone’s kitchen. Apparently, there weren’t a lot of copies published of this book but I happened across it at a used bookstore.
5. Into Thin Air – Jon Krakauer – Perhaps one of the most famous disaster books, but definitely worth it. I never even cared about mountain climbing until Krakauer chronicled the ill-fated expedition to summit Everest. They made it up, but not so many made it down because of a slowed slog up the mountain and a storm that rolled in too fast. Krakauer himself was a survivor, making it only that more real.