The fire engine idles, double-parked on the wrong side of the street. It’s a spare rig, threadbare and worn, like the neighborhood surrounding it. The block is short and filled with hulking brick apartment buildings. We pull to the curb in the only open spot, and I resist the urge to declare, “Medic 9 has the hydrant.”
Our destination is slightly different. Yellow brick highlights it amid a sea of red-brown. The front door opens onto a short flight of stairs, tiled in white with the occasional black accent. Polished dark woodwork takes the place of the painted and scuffed trim we expect to see. As I round the corner at the top of the stairs, I’m confronted by a tall, mustachioed man. He’s dressed in a reflective uniform and carrying a stair chair. It takes a split second to realize that the landing is lined with mirrors. An adjacent window is covered with ornamental wrought iron.
Down the short, dark hallway two residents peek into an open apartment door. The interior is more faded elegance; polished floors, oiled wood. The bathroom is turn-of-the-last-century chic, a sea of white tile and exposed plumbing with a giant steam radiator to keep it warm. A firefighter emerges from the bedroom swinging a Lifecall pendant from his finger. “No one here,” he says.