Escape from a Baltimore City School

Homer Simpson: Cure me! Cure me!
Brother Faith: Brother, I sense you are feeling trapped and desperate.
Homer Simpson: Yeeeah… and I gotta bucket on my head.

The Simpsons, “Faith Off” (1/16/2000)


(Note: because I don’t use TypePad’s software to write my posts, it wasn’t until I published this post that I realized I’d written the one below. So you can probably skip the first few paragraphs, since it’s the same story and they’re therefore just preamble.)

You’d think one or the other of us would learn our lesson, but no.

I took this picture while hanging halfway out of my car window while parked catercorner from the building. I nearly got my head knocked off by a truck. When I first joined my current school in August, the office I took over was a consummate mess. Slowly I took on the task of straightening it out and triaging the messes within. I’m still not really done, but the worst of it is gone, I think. However, whipping that office into shape AND doing my regular job meant that I put in a lot of extra time. More often than not, I stayed in the building until someone called over the PA system that the building was closing for the night and we had five minutes to high-tail it out. That usually happened somewhere between 5:30 and 6:00.

One fine evening in October, I was working hard, I was on a roll. At 5:30 I started keeping my ears open but just kept on working till the 5 minute warning came. The problem was…

…it never came. I was so buried in what I was doing that I didn’t have a lot of awareness of time going by. Next time I looked up, it was nearly 7:00. I looked out of my office, through the anteroom and into the hallway, which was dark. I, being ridiculously clever, thought “Ooh, this could be a problem.” Sure enough, I went downstairs and that level was dark as well. I walked over to the alarm panel and sure enough, the system was armed.

Not pictured: a timely arrivalBack up to my office, where I turned my computer back on and looked up the number for the School Police dispatcher. I gave her a call and let her know what happened. She, being the consummate professional, replied, “You what?” She promised to contact a sergeant and get back to me, telling me to stay by the phone.

Sitting by the phone wasn’t really a problem, I reasoned, since I’m in my office. But as time went by and the phone didn’t ring, it suddenly occurred to me that unless the call is coming directly to that phone, it doesn’t ring. The display next to the phone button will flash, but it’s not obvious and the phone itself doesn’t ring unless it’s transferred to my line. I called again and they said someone was on the way. I told them I’d be waiting near the front door.

So I get my stuff and I head downstairs and into the school’s atrium. To get there you have to pass through an open set of double doors. From that point you can go in three directions: to the left is the gym, to the right is the auditorium, and directly in front of you is the front doors. They can close the double doors during an “event” to keep people from wandering around the building. As I step into the atrium I hear a beep. But it’s not just a beep. It’s a long, continuous beeeeeeeeeeeeep kind of beep, the kind that says something’s about to happen. I stepped back over to the alarm panel and sure enough: I’d tripped a motion detector that was in the atrium. Well, that’s it, says I. All hell is about to break loose.

About 90 seconds later I could hear an alarm horn going off, very softly. I thought, Great. I’m disturbing the entire neighborhood with this. However, listening more closely I realized that it was actually playing through the PA system and was quite muted. A few minutes after that, a School Police officer showed up at the door. I let him in and then he re-set the alarm, and we left together.

The next day, I learned that the principal hadn’t heard about what happened, so I told her. She actually thought it was a little bit funny, and even by that point, some twelve hours later, I had to admit that it was kind of funny after all. Later in the day I talked to the custodian who usually closed the building. It turned out that before making the announcement he usually looked into the parking lot to see if there were any cars that weren’t his own out there. Because I’d parked in the street in front of the school and not in the parking lot, he didn’t see my car and therefore he thought I was out of the building.

So a few things happened since that day: first, the custodian paged the building every day to give the five-minute warning, things settled down in the office, and perhaps most importantly, Wife’s father became gravely ill. This really affected my schedule, as I had to get Wee One from school more frequently, and many times I actually left school no more than a half-hour after most of the students do. In the meantime, other teachers were staying later and later, as the Seniors needed to work on projects to get themselves completed with their outstanding school work so that they would get to to all the cool Senior activities like Prom and Overnight Trip and maybe even a little thing called Commencement Exercises. This happened a lot in recent weeks especially because of all the snow days we’ve had this year, which means that time is getting short for them that much faster. Some weeks, the school is even open on Saturday mornings for students who want to come in and work on stuff.

My father-in-law died last week, and I wound up missing several days’ work as a result. Consequently I was a little behind the 8-ball, work-wise. So I’ve been putting in some extra time each day. On Friday afternoon, I pondered coming in on Saturday morning, but Wife reminded me of plans that made that tough to manage. So I stayed late and printed out a bunch of stuff that would help me get work done over the weekend.

armedAt one point I looked out into the hall and noticed that it was dark, but shortly thereafter I heard the principal paging someone, so I figured someone just jumped the gun about turning off the second-floor lights. Finally, around 6 I was done. Still early-ish, but not so much that the “building’s closing” page had happened yet. I packed up my stuff and headed downstairs to the first f

…which was also dark. Son of a bitch. I’d been locked in again.

This time, I went into the main office and sat down at one of the desks. I fired up a computer and looked up the number of School Police. The first time I called, the dispatcher had to put me on hold. After several minutes of waiting, I hung up. A few minutes later I called again. the dispatcher was apologetic and noted that she was the only one on duty. I told her my predicament and she promised to get someone out to the building. I told her I’d be in the main office (no Atrium for me this time, thanks) and sat at the desk surfing the web.

Maybe 35 minutes later, I called her back. This time around, she noted that something was going on and it could be awhile. She suggested I just exit the building, make sure the door is secure and they’d respond to the alarm whenever they can. No problem, says I, and I told her which door I’d be using.

And somehow I managed to trip the motion sensor anyway. The panel was beeping as I left the building. Oh, well.