Stephen (of Stephen Saiz Salon, a magical place of miraculous transformation in San Francisco) was just blowing my hair dry when a loud "Woo-err! Woo-err! Woo-err!" filled the salon.
"What's going on?" Stephen, Dwight and several patrons said in unison, looking at each other and around the salon. "A car alarm?"
"Not on the tenth floor" I said. "I think it's the smoke alarm."
Stephen said to Michelle, his assistant, "Honey, look out in the hall and see what's going on."
Michelle came back very pale. The noise had stopped, but you could see a bright flashing light through the door to the hall. "It smells like smoke out there" she said. We could hear people coming out of the other salons on the tenth floor, hear their excited chatter as they gathered in the hall.
Stephen nodded, and picked up his blow dryer.
"Stephen" I said, "I think we should get out of here."
He looked at my thoughtfully and felt my still damp hair.
"Are you alright going out not quite dry? It will only take a minute to finish."
I thought about the Titanic and said "I'm fine!" as I leapt from the chair and grabbed my purse and coat. I was heading for the door when Stephen asked Michelle "Have you collected?"
Oops. Not. I threw my credit card at Michelle and pulled the smock off before I even hit the changing booth by grabbing a handful of the front and pulling hard. I yanked my sweater over my head, scribbled my name on the charge, stuffed the credit card in my pocket and ran for the door.
There were so many people streaming down the stairs I had to wait for a break. I slipped in behind a woman still wearing a smock and foil in her hair, and just ahead of a very handsome (and unhappy) hairdresser. We spiraled down ten flights of tiny narrow stairs. A man ahead of us said "You should have been here for the earthquake - we did this in the dark." Sobering thought. Note to self: Put tiny flashlight in purse.
As we went down the last flight of stairs we could hear the fire engines pulling up outside, their sirens grinding down. "Hurry!" I said. "There's not room for us and the firemen on these stairs." True - they were so narrow some people were going down sideways, like crabs.
We dashed down the last few stairs and slid through the tiny lobby into the cold night air, and almost into the arms of the charging firemen, in full battle gear armed with extinguishers.
I stood in the dusk and watched for Stephen and Dwight. Nothing doing. Finally I called.
"Stephen Saiz" a calm cool voice said.
"Stephen, it's Jill. Firemen are charging up the stairs, there is smoke coming out of the top of the building. Grab your dog, grab your man and get the heck out of there!"
I got an e-mail from Stephen a day later. "The HOT Firemen said it was a tiny electrical fire on the top floor. No flames (except for the hairdressers!) No fire sale today."