For the past day and a half, a dozen strangers have gone through what is, literally, one man’s routine: checking their phones, endlessly texting friends, obsessively following the situation on Facebook.
The man, who is not going to be identified out of fear that his presence could put others at risk, said he was acting as an “ambulance chaser” for those concerned about family and friends who were locked inside, and as a support for those trying to figure out how to get back home.
The man called his first ambulance at around 11:15 a.m. He was whisked out of the Peninsula Hotel, a sparkling icon of all things in Marina del Rey, before 7:30 p.m. — finally.
(The man, who works for a construction company, has checked his email dozens of times throughout the day.)
By nightfall, the same day firefighters gave a shout-out on Twitter to their heroes, with photos of about 80 firefighters and EMTs at the scene, the man continued to check his phone for updates.
“It’s the guy who knows everyone,” he said, laughing. “The first 10 minutes are just checking your phones. You see different groups of firefighters, and that’s because they know this guy.”
Please be on the lookout for hundreds of firefighters in front of Peninsula Hotel building – Marina del Rey Blvd. — Los Angeles Fire Dept. (@LAFD) October 14, 2020
I believe I may be the only one at the scene. pic.twitter.com/DV3xSxnckq — Claire Forlani (@claireforlani) October 14, 2020
After checking his phone, the man quickly returned to the hotel lobby, where the man noticed one of the firefighters was there as well. “Oh, I know that guy,” he said. “We go way back.”
When the fire trucks went by the hotel, the man said he heard muffled fire. “I thought it was just the constant pushing of a window,” he said. “When I first saw him, I thought there might be something wrong with the building.”
The man, who was equipped with a medical kit with two first aid gloves, three bandages, a bag of gauze, 30 tourniquets and a hypodermic syringe, recounted what it felt like for him to check in at the door and see dozens of people standing in front of the doors and windows who were watching what seemed like a scene of devastation. “I didn’t really have time to process it. I just ran in and tried to help as best I could,” he said.
Shortly after being knocked out by cops, the man said he got back in touch with friends and family, who had also been evacuated. The first of his calls went to his brother in Las Vegas.
At 3 p.m., the man said he spoke to his father, who, like him, had to evacuate the hotel because it was deemed unsafe. When he returned to the hotel, the man said he was in disbelief that many people, including himself, were still stranded inside.
“It was surreal. Everyone’s stuck in there. It’s been hell,” he said. “All the people who are stuck there are really good people. It’s horrible.”
But what’s made it worse, he said, was the frustration people had at not being able to leave. “A lot of people were not coming out,” he said. “There were a couple of fights.”
The man, who said he had just finished loading drywall into a lift to move into his home in the Valley, said he had been joking with his bosses that he was up and running, but that the joke was quickly fading. “This could get away from me in a minute,” he said.
But, he added, the sheer number of calls that he is fielding on his cell phone — an iPhone — is making him think about quitting work soon.
And whether it’s being distracted by his phones, or by the news of mass shootings in his town and from around the country, the man said the reaction of someone waiting outside his hotel room is always the same.
“First, I hear, ‘Gosh, they’re still here. What a hell of a saga,’” he said. “‘Second, I just hear my brother or my friend, and they start to cry.’ And then I realize, I’