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Wednesday, October 31, 2012
EARTHQUAKES, TSUNAMIS, AND SANDY - OH MY!
BE HUMBLED AND LEARN
I have been through 4 hurricanes and 2 major earthquakes. Always an ominous experience to be humbled by nature. A time when even the biggest control freaks lose their ability to maintain order. On January 15, 1994, I was in a suite high atop of the Mondiran Hotel in West Hollywood to attend a special event. I was a regular patron of the hotel as this is where I often home based when filming our national commercials. But this trip was not for business. I was a VIP guest of a benefit show that raised money to aid the homeless in America. The show; Comic Relief VI.
As a large donor, I was given two premium seats to attend the show. Feeling like a big shot I have to say, I found myself laughing with Whoopi Goldberg, Robin Williams, and Billy Crystal. With all access passes for the evening, I was having the time of my life with a long list of stars and comics who shared their laughter for a wonderful cause while attending the private after party. I will never forget being backstage and staring into Kirstie Alley's mesmerizing, yet eerie hazel green eyes. They're like one of the many wonders of the world...all aglow, but nobody was home that night. She was on another planet having a great time.
We were seated next to Kurt Cobain and a friend of his (I think a base player?) in a VIP section of the Shrine Auditorium. My buddy Eric who was working with Fran Drescher at the time on "The Nanny" was with me and is normally very low key around celebrities, but this time was rather excited about the guests seated next to us. I leaned over the friend seated next to me to introduce myself to Kurt, "My buddy tells me you're a pretty good musician, I'm sorry I haven't heard of you before, but my bud is a big fan." He just chuckled and said with a puzzled smile, "How refreshing. Very nice to meet you." Sometimes I don't always think before I open my mouth around strangers in a relaxed environment. I'm just me. I don't do pretense well. It was an odd way to introduce myself, but it was the truth. I think that disarmed him and he was quite cordial and a bit flirty afterwards. I had so much fun that night.
We chatted a bit between acts and later hung out at the after party. It seemed so strange that only a few months later the man would be dead from an apparent suicide. That whole meeting and weekend still haunts me. I don't think he killed himself, not the man I met that night. This was a man full of life and enjoying every minute of it. I have many moments in my life I question, "Why was I there? Was there a reason? Am I to learn something from all this?" But, I never find an answer to, "Why?" This was only two days before the most profound event of my life that would overshadow all that was happening at this event. I would soon realize we are nothing but a small speck of dust in the vast cosmos of space.
January 17, 4:31 AM, a 6.7 magnitude earthquake struck the Northridge area of LA causing over $25 billion in damages, ranking it the 4th most expensive natural disaster of all time. (Northridge Economic and Social Impact) I was sound a asleep in my suite as it began to tremble and shake. I was literally jolted out of my comfortable bed. Stumbling to the window I grabbed the drapes to steady myself as the panel ripped away from my grasp and I stared at the panoramic view of the city below in awe.
I thought we were being attacked as there were bright flashes of light bursting in front of me like I have never seen. Bombs of brilliant white exploded before me like a war zone. A flash of light and a section of the city went dark, like pieces of a lit puzzle being plucked out one by one. BOOM-FLASH another piece went missing. I would later learn the electrical transformers that fed the city its power were blowing as the ground rattled beneath them. Then I heard a crash of glass. The mirrored sliding doors of the closet had just fallen across my bed and shards of mirror fell at my feet. Holy SHIT! This is serious!
I heard a sound on the roof above. I was on the top floor and I could hear a loud click, then a hum, and then silence. This would repeat over and over. I was unaware that the emergency generators were trying to kick on unsuccessfully leaving the hotel in total darkness.
Then came a frantic knock on my door from a woman next door screaming, "Help me! Please help me." I was sure someone was hurt, in serious trouble, probably bleeding to death. The panic in this woman's cry was blood curdling. I made my way through the living room naked with shattered glass beneath my feet answering the door in total darkness. As I opened the door, trying to hide behind out of sight from the crazed woman, a bright light flashed into my face attached to a uncontrollably shaking arm. I told the woman if she let me use her flashlight for a moment to get dressed I would gladly help her.
I pried the light from the shaking woman and found an XXL T-shirt in a grab bag that had been given to guests with gifts from Comic Relief next to the door along with my shoes. Thank God the shirt was long enough to cover my knees and hide naughty bits!!! After that I never travel without a flashlight.
The woman dragged me back to her room and into the bathroom saying, "Hurry! In here!" Then she said in a panic, "Hold the flashlight so I can put on my make-up!" WHAT????? YOU WANT ME TO WHAT??? Where is the bleeding husband or the small dog stuck in a toilet? Where the hell is the emergency??? MAKE-UP?? OMG! This poor woman was in full panic mode.
She was a fight attendant demanding me to hold a light so she could put on her make-up and get to the airport so she could get the hell out of town! I tried to explain that during emergencies like this they would be shutting the airports down until inspections could be made, but she wanted nothing to do with it. So I held the light until a loud bang came on her door. It was security telling everyone to evacuate their rooms and go down to the lobby using the stairs. The power was still out and dark is pretty darn...well...dark! Later I found out that the emergency generators failed because they were out of fuel. Yeah for maintenance!
The woman was in full uniform, make-up, hair, and packed ready to go as we crept into the hallway with a crowd of other hotel guests. One man had a large candle in his grasp. I yelled at him and blew the candle out. He screamed at me, "What the f*ck do you think your doing asshole?" I screamed back, "I don't want my ass scattered across the hotel in the event of a gas leak you Dipshit! Don't you know what to do in the event of an earthquake???" I learned most are clueless during emergencies because they are too thick to even imagine anything could ever happen to them!
At that point I was thrust to the front of the group and somebody said, "So what do we do?" We follow the direction of the security guard who was nowhere to be found nor was the flight attendant with the flashlight. In the commotion she fled to the lobby in a just get me the hell out of here kinda way. I have to admit, that was one woman who knew how to fly. A few people had cell phones and I asked who had the one that cast the brightest light. We crept our way down the cascading stairwell aided only by the light of a few phones.
In the lobby were all the hotel guests that followed orders. There were still some so afraid they refused to leave their rooms. The lobby was filled with sobs and trembling people clinging to each other grateful to be alive. I was surrounded by maybe a hundred people in various states of dress and undress. Yes, there were even some naked who bolted from their rooms with only the thought of safety. They were generously given clothes by those over dressed for the occasion.
The only one fully dressed was of course good ole Mary Kay, the flight attendant from hell, who was ready for her flight, just not getting it at all. Even after her superior, who was still in her nightgown, tried to explain there would be no flight today. She did not want to listen. She was leaving LA and headed to the street to hail a cab for the airport. She was going home! She was in charge! She didn't stop to think that even if she made it to the airport, she needed a pilot who was still in the lobby with the rest of us. Yes, of course she was back a short while later still having a hard time with it all. There were no cabs to hail, not even a crosstown bus. EVERYTHING had ground to a halt.
Cell phones were dying around me and I remembered mine was in my rental car in the parking structure. I was told by the car attendant that we were not allowed to go there, but he would get my phone for me. When he returned, he had some bad news. A portion of the parking structure shook some concrete loose and damaged the Porsche I had rented for the weekend. That was the furthest thing I could worry about right now.
I called my personal assistant to explain I didn't know when I would be back in the office as this might take several days. I called my mom to let her know I was safe to avoid worry. Then I passed the phone around the lobby until the battery died to let others notify their families. It was a surreal moment. You don't know how you will react in the event of an emergency until you are actually in one. I was as calm and level headed as could be until I saw the damage in my room.
The sun had risen as the staff was inspecting the hotel for structural damage. We were told we could go back to our rooms and if there was a major mess that needed cleaning to inform housekeeping. Clean-up was going to take a long time. If structural damage was found we were to report it to the front desk to be moved to another room. When I entered my suite there was glass everywhere. The TV had fallen onto a glass coffee table in the living room. The full bar and broken drinking glasses scattered the floor. The refrigerator door was open and the contents lay with the glass along with a broken jar of salsa that began to permeate the carpet.
It was many hours after the catastrophic event and for the first time I felt my chest tighten. The reality of the situation set in as I looked upon the damaged suite as though it were the set of The War of the Roses. I left this behind unseen in total darkness to help a panicked woman put on her f*cking make-up and now it's real, visual, and seriously happened. I learned that day I have a delayed reaction when facing emergencies. The panic will come after the event has past. Not really sure why that is. I'm wired wrong I guess.
The phone rang and some guy (another hotel guest I didn't know or maybe even a hotel staff member trying to get guests out of the way of the clean up) said, "Grab all the liquor bottles from your bar and meet down by the pool in an hour. We are having an After Shock Party!" I called housekeeping, gathered all the unbroken liquor bottles and headed to the pool ready to shake all this off. That afternoon a majority of the hotel partied poolside and exchanged their war stories of the great earthquake. All the tables that surrounded the pool were filled with hundreds of empty mini liquor bottles and very happy to be alive guests mingling with strangers from all walks of life oddly enjoying the tragedy.
As night fell I was growing hungry. We were all a captive audience with the same problem and nowhere to go. Everything was shut down and we all had to eat. That evening we were forced have dinner with total strangers to fill all tables in the dining room with little choice of meal. The only food available was what was already in the hotel before the earthquake as all deliveries had ceased after.
The room was filled to capacity and yet there was a hush that engulfed us. We spoke softly almost in a whisper learning about each other, grateful to be alive. Peace be with you, and also with you. Like the way you speak in a place of worship with honor and reverence for all. It was something in my whole life I had never witnessed. It was humbling.
I met record producers, writers who were in LA pitching scripts, a few Hollywood elite and their managers. I was even taught a few words of Chinese, by a young male model sitting at our table who traveled between LA and Beijing for work. But that night we were all the same. None greater, none less. Just a collective of peaceful happy (probably from all the alcohol) people humbled by mother nature and all her majesty. It was the most profound event of my life as we were one big family, soft spoken, grateful, and humbled beyond belief with respect for all. Comic Relief with its cast of spectacular stars should have been my highlight for that weekend, but the Academy Award goes to Mother Nature, hands down!.
When I went back to my suite now cleaned up, I looked out over LA once again with some of her dazzling city lights ablaze, something was ominously different. It was so peaceful and beautifully surreal. There wasn't a soul nor car on the street. The stoplights changed from green to yellow to red for no one. The only sound was a wistful breath of wind dancing across my balcony. That night there was peace on earth. A night I will never forget.
Nature has a way of humbling even the biggest of control freaks, the high and mighty, the prim and proper, the holier than thou. You are educated by that fact that as much as you think you have control...you do not. This is the whole premise of the book of my life. This modified excerpt from my book I never intended to post here and has nothing to do with cancer, but it seemed fitting given the current events. My prayers to all those on the East coast dealing with the aftermath of Sandy. I understand your mixed emotions. Be strong. You will be better for it.
Peace B (with you)
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