By Tara Hughes
Our office stretches high above King and University, one block north of the G20 cage.
Friday Jun 18th: The Company transfers all staff to the Mississauga office for the week of the G20. They decamp this afternoon, couriering computers amidst grumbling and moaning.
As the only part-time employee, I do not go with them. If I only work two days in the core, early in the week, how bad can it be?
I watch as bike lockups and garbage cans are removed. Blue bags now sit on the sidewalk. Toronto has a garbage problem, but there will be no recycling.
I promise the receptionist I will bring a box of granola bars to work on Monday, in case the building goes into lockdown for 24 hours.
Monday Jun 21st: This morning all entrances to the building are locked except one. People caught without pass cards surround the security desk. At the elevators, security scrutinizes the photo on my pass card, and then my face. All the workers wear sandals with summer skirts, shorts, or jeans rather than our usual corporate attire; we have been advised by the building management not to wear suits, to keep us from being targeted by violent protestors. In passing, Dave from Building Security tells me the police presence downtown will make any anarchistic protesters think twice. If I were an anarchist, I tell him, I’d already have thought twice and then renewed my commitment.
Throughout the day I get calls from the staff out in Mississauga. Am I ok? Am I scared? I reassure them that with less traffic and fewer people, all of whom are wearing Friday casuals, we get to pretend it’s Friday everyday. It’s a cakewalk!
Wednesday Jun 23rd: Escalating up out of St. Andrew subway station after a 30-minute delay underground, we are greeted by police in body armor by the collector booths. There are two more at street level as you climb out of the station. On the street, a group of six-to-eight police walk by every 45 seconds. All have riot visors and gas masks slung from their hips. All look as though their feet hurt. They scrutinize you blandly as they walk by — examining you from behind their sunglasses. I meet the gaze neutrally, waiting for their eyes to move on, but refusing to budge. I have a right to be here. I look up at the CCTV cameras on each corner, and wonder at the feeling of being watched. This is new. I do not like it.
In the PATH system underground, there are no lineups for lunch even though it is noon. Halls usually choked with people — escaping their jobs for that precious hour — are now empty but for groups of police. Walking by one such group, I hear a young constable say, “It was the stupidest idea to have this happen here.” We all feel harassed, I think, and for what?
At 1:42 pm , something happens. It sounds as if a herd of elephants is stampeding on the 20th floor above me. I stare at the ceiling, which is rattling, and then notice the walls moving. The rumbling grows, the building sways, and my computer monitor shakes on its stand. And what do I think, me, the stoic, fearless secretary?
“Bomb in the parking garage.”
I cannot breathe and I cannot move from my chair. The hair on my arms stands on end and I notice I am panting. Images from 9/11 whip through my mind, images I banish as quickly as they come, but which leave behind the stink of fear.
The rumbling ends. Do I get out? Do I take the elevators? “No building announcement,” I think, “but why would there be? No one knows you are here.”
I send the very-important-cannot-wait email on my desktop. It has incomplete sentences, it is unsigned, and I do not care.
I take the stairs down, but they are empty. Is everyone on the elevators? Did I just imagine it?
I join the people waiting outside who have also evacuated themselves (yes, on the elevator). I learn of the earthquake near Ottawa. I feel foolish, I can’t stop shaking, and I am angry. All this security, but we the people used our own common sense to evacuate ourselves. All this security, but not for my benefit.
When the small group troops inside, 30 minutes later, I can’t. I flee homewards and by 3:00 pm I have a good stiff drink in my hand.
I will be back to work on Monday and all of this will have disappeared.
Except for the CCTV cameras.
I bet you a good stiff drink: those will remain.