Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A Balagan in the Bronx

My home away from home, the place where I spend more time than anywhere else, my comfortable scientific nook ... thats right, the Forchheimer building where my wonderful lab is located (I know, a little sad that I can say all that about any building, particularly where I work), had been struck down.

Woe is me, enforced vacation and periods of inactivity. Not going to work for 2 days straight over the weekend ... craziness. Normally I would be thrilled with this sort of temporal windfall, but I would have preferred better circumstances this time.

The building was laid low when I was not even around, struck down by a blown power line underneath the street in front of the building over the weekend. I was at Avivas in Astoria, and had actually called a friend in lab to take care of my cells because Aviva was sick and I was sticking around to make her soup. As it turns out, my call put my friend, Clarisa, directly in harms way, as she was just about to add the media to my cells when all the lights went out and the power shut off. Being smarter than me, she immediately fled the building. Then she called me, half-hysterical about the building going up in flames and ending her graduate career as her notebooks burned up. She rambles on about smoke coming out of the ground and such before I can ask her to move away from the building. Like I said, smart girl, she was already two blocks away.

No one was hurt and no flames engulfed the building. A power line under the street that was supplying power to both Forchheimer and the gigantic, brand spanking new translational research (yeah, no one really knows what that means) center blew out. This caused the generator in the basement of Forchheimer to explode, resulting in the smoke from the ground that Clarisa observed.

By some miraculous feat of planning, the emergency generator for Forchheimer was in the same room as the normal generator, quite close by, and the explosion in the first generator took out the emergency power as well, leaving the building powerless and full of carbon monoxide for around 12 hours over Saturday night.

Our lab was lucky, we did not lose much relative to some groups who lost years worth of tissue and other samples when their freezers warmed up while the emergency power was out. The power was out until Thursday, and I have to say that the maintenance/engineering staff are fairly heroic for putting in around 5 18-24 hour days in a row, in awful weather of course (because the weather is always the worst here when you need it to be good, like when you are driving somewhere or need to be outside, and is always nice when you don't have time for it) ... I personally didn't lose much, just some slides, but I was set back about a week because there were a number of things I could not get done with out power, and since I have a conference coming up getting that stuff done earlier would have been nice. Still, not the end of the world.

I have to say, it is a bit scary how completely reliant we are on things that we have control over. Food at the grocery store, power from the power company, water from the water company, gas for most of us ... I mean society has specialized and now we can do an amazing number of things we never dreamed of in the past but still, its a bit scary how many of our life necessities are provided for us in ways completely beyond our control ...

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