CABBAGES & KINGS
If Disaster Strikes
To an experienced Sunday stroller, the large cluster of people, police, and cars assembled last week at the juncture of Garden Street and Mass. Avenue would have meant a traffic mishap. Now to be witness to one traffic mishap is the due of every Sunday stroller, and as the size of this gathering promised something special, I hurried toward it expectantly.
The largest group of bystanders was gathered around a station wagon which had been beached on an island of sludge. I asked a lady in grey uniform what had happened, was there an accident? She turned around and presented me with a paper cup: "No, this is a rehearsal for a disaster. Do have a cup of coffee." The word "coffee" caused another woman to turn in my direction and also offer me a steaming cup.
I inquired of a lady who was wearing officer's insignia on her uniform what all this meant. "We're members of the Cambridge Red Cross Disaster Committee. We got an alert at 2:20 to come to the Common and we all rushed over here. I think it's a marvelous turn-out. Out of about 500 people who were telephoned, around 200 showed up, I'd say." Some of the ladies who were ladling out coffee to each other had come over in such haste that they hadn't had time to get into uniform. One elderly lady said that she had come by bicycle to avoid traffic tie-ups but had misunderstood and been circling at the wrong end of the Common. "People kept cheering me on as I rode by," she said, her checks still flushed from the exercise.
About this time, two large cars pulled up and some people wearing hats and cameras got out. At the same moment, two other men, both very short and both looking a little cold, emerged from the crowd, carrying small but ominous-looking instruments held out before them. One was wearing earphones. They stood off by themselves until the photographers discovered them and them they were told to bend over and point their instruments (one was a geiger counter) at the asphalt.
Two of the men who had just arrived--one who gave the appearance of being just under seven feet tall and who was said to be the mayor, and another in a camel's-hair coat who said he was head of Civilian Defense--were also told by the photographers to bend over and look at the pavement. When that was done, one of the men with instruments was asked to test the shoes of the man in the camel's-hair coat for radioactivity. The latter obliged by sitting on the edge of his car seat, and crossing his legs out into the street. The small man with the geiger counter knelt down beside him, and the cameras clicked. (Both instrument-hearing men later said they were professors at M.I.T., one in graphics and one in sanitary engineering.)
The crowds around the station wagon had begun to disintegrate and several of the ladies were asking if they could go now. The lady-in-charge said they might as well as long as they were sure their names had been checked off. One of the ladies came up and asked what they were going to do with all the coffee they had left over. "All of Mr. Sage's doughnuts are gone, but we still have 15 gallons of coffee left." The Waldorf, which, by pre-disaster arrangement, had donated the coffee, could not take it back because it had sugar and cream in it. A member of the Shelter Committee suggested that they take it to the City Infirmary, but the lady-in-charge said that it was too late for those old people there to drink coffee. "What about the firemen and the policemen, we could take it by there, they've been out in this with us this afternoon . . . Or the city jail? Does anyone know where the city jail is?"