Yesterday, as a five-alarm fire engulfed a new apartment complex in Houston, a construction worker found himself in pretty much the last place he'd want to: trapped on a ledge, feet from the flames. As he waited, helplessly, to be rescued, others waited with him. The construction site was across the street from an office building, and workers flocked to the windows to see the drama unfold. One of them filmed it. You can see some of their images reflected in the video that resulted, above.
Things ended as well as they could have for the trapped man; he escaped, and no injuries were reported as a result of the fire. In the video, the scene playing out on that ledge vaguely foreshadows this outcome: The person whose life is in danger—who is standing, trapped, as flames lick at the walls next to him—seems relatively calm.
What we hear, instead, is the commentary—the exchanges of people who are watching the scene unfold from a safe distance. And that commentary is … banal. Deeply (and almost profoundly) so. In the same way that your commentary, or mine, might well be were we watching the same scene. Here are some of the sentiments expressed by the onlookers of this terrifyingly unfolding drama:
"This guy is on the frickin' ledge."
"He can't get out, 'cuz he can't get out the door."
"You can feel the heat."
"Look at this, oh my God."
"Oh God, oh God, oh God—oh, my God."
"Look at the glass melting up there."
"They need to get him!"
"Get closer to him!"
"Hell, he can jump from there—I mean, good grief."
"I think that we probably should be going."
"Hey, what about the guy? What about this guy?"
"They got him."
"Damn, I was gonna get an apartment over there, too."
"They're cheaper now."
This is not to criticize the people watching the scene unfold—the people whose commentary, almost literally, upstages the drama of the burning building and the man trapped on its ledge. Again, my own comments, on witnessing the same scene, would probably sound similar. (Though I do like to flatter myself that I'd save the "cheap apartment" hilarity until after the threat of a man being burned alive had officially ended.)