The feeling of my body buzzing didn’t go away. I had what I guess were flashbacks, where the original quake would pop into my head and I’d star to sweat and my body would panic, I felt sick. It was like psychological aftershocks. Sometimes because of a real aftershock, sometimes just because. I was alone in the hotel room when the phone rang. It startled me so hard I felt like I was electrocuted. I answered the phone, which wasn’t easy because my hands were shaking.
The owner of our hotel was a nice lady. She knew Santiago and she spoke some English, some Spanish and lots of German (first language). She was calling, “I am calling all of the guests, because we will have a mandatory meeting with all ze guests on the front patio in 5 minutes. We will have zis meeting because zey say maybe will be anozzer earthquake tonight in ze night time, and we need to be prepare.” My stomach lurched. What?! Geologists can predict lots of stuff. Can they now predict quakes although the first one was entirely without warning?
I went out to the patio immediately. There were 3 or 4 people milling, including a very elderly German Couple. The husband had his pants pulled quite literally up to his armpits, and the woman had a calico dress belted at the waist and tennis shoes. I had noticed them before. They were quiet, but they spoke to each other either in German or Spanish, and it didn’t seem to matter much to them which they used. They spoke very little english.
There was another man wandering around the front patio of the hotel with a broomstick. He was accompanied by the son of the hotel owner (he had his own, smaller stick). They walked around banging their sticks very industriously against the eaves of the building, on the fascia boards, on the giant cuckoo clock on the patio. They tapped all over with their sticks while people gathered. If they found something that rattled, they pulled it off.
Annie and Diane were off together, so I made small-talk with some of the milling people. The Old man and the Stick man were engaged in conversation. The stick guy had sweat running down from his hairline in front of his ear. He needed a shave. He was standing too close to the old man and I froze and listened. Stick man was acting weird. He was very angry at Old Guy. Old Guy kept his head lowered but didn’t back away. Stick man seemed to think he had been criticized in some way and was on a rant about his qualifications to lead this meeting.
Old guy asked (and I could tell it wasn’t the first time he had asked) in English, “Do you speak Espanish?”. Yes I speak Espanish, I speak great ESpanish! “Please Speak Spanish.” Sweaty Stick guy was insulted Truth be told, we all understood his Spanish better. But the important thing to BroomStick Man was that someone had questioned his authority. He listed off his qualifications (lived in the area all his life, been with the hotel for 20 years, knew Santiago, knew earthquakes). He had important things to talk about.
Another important thing was that Broomstick Man was drunk and distraught. His family was in Concepcion which was the epicenter of the quake. He had not been in contact with any of them since the night before, not his kids, not his wife, not his brothers… His eyes started to get red and his nostrils flared. He gripped his broomstick. Now I was really buzzing. I stepped forward (what was I thinking?). Hotel Owner stepped forward. Broomstick man backed off and got down to business.
His business was to tell us that if something (and it could, it really could… he didn’t want to scare us but…)happened in the night time, and if maybe (god forbid) the hotel collapsed or the society collapsed, or the electricity went out, if there were an explosion or fire…we needed to have a plan.
The plan involved moving cars to outside the gates of the hotel (some of them) and parking cars way inside the gates. It involved a tree outside the gates of the hotel, a gigantic tree on the boulevard. We were all instructed to avoid panic and screaming, to come quietly to the gate and leave, (switch over to english) One For One. One For One. He didn’t want to see a panicked scramble. We would go one by one out the gate of the hotel and stand under the (powerlines, branches) tree. Old people and Children would stand nearest to the trunk of the tree.
There was some very confusing talk about giving us each a number so that we could be counted. They wanted to know that everyone was accounted for. The hotel owner agreed to go in and make a number tag for everyone staying in the hotel (What?). She never did, but she did rattle off number of the guests in each of the rooms in the hotel off the top of her head. As we were standing under the tree I started to think “This is how mobs start, this is how society breaks down. Every body gets scared and wants to do Something even if it’s Nothing. People start carrying sticks. Hotel owners listen to lunatics because they speak with a strong voice and want to be in charge. This is how it starts.”
Was this happening everywhere around Chile? Was it as weird and scary as I thought it was? A drunken guy going toe to toe with an old guy during disaster planning because Old Guy wasn’t being a good enough follower? Shit. We were in trouble.