Friday, February 22, 2008

A Canadian Wake-Up Call

Okay, there we were, the 27th floor of the Fallsview Sheraton Hotel, (on February 21st) a gorgeous place overlooking Niagara Falls - and I mean "OVERLOOKING" Niagara Falls!

Well, there was a evening meal "en suite" - it is possible that wine was involved, though the police report is vague on this point, and then we drifted off to a blissful sleep . . .

To get a full picture of our "soon-to-be predicament" it should be noted that I was somewhat "de'shabbiler" (those French, it's like they have a word for everything). Karen who prefers people to think that she showers in, at least, a three piece negligee' was, shall we say, a piece or two off.

Anyway, around 2 a.m. Eastern time (which by any time zone is translated to "middle of the f%$^ing night") - there was an incredibly loud and persistent alarm sounding off. I leapt out of bed (a sight which I was fortunately spared and no children were present) and immediately commenced my emergency procedures which involved repeated shouts of "what?" and "huh?" followed by the occasional "oof!!" - as I walked into miscellaneous doors and walls, somewhat like one of those wind-up dolls that walk in straight lines until they hit something.

All this while Karen, equally bleary-eyed, instructed me to turn off various items, including the alarm clock, my Blackberry and the phone.

At some point, which could have been hours later, but might have been a couple of minutes, I'm not sure, it dawned on us that this was a fire alarm. We looked at each other, dazed (we had that part down really well) and said, "what now?" The helpful hotel staff, with their unified voice in the form of one person who either spoke English very poorly (with a thick accent which I'm not supposed to say sounded Oriental) or was doing a magnificent Andy Kaufman impression, said repeatedly, "The Hotel alarm bell is sounding" (duh) "The fire department has been called to determine the problem." Okay, what do we do now? No further instructions, just the alarm bell, and the occasional repeating of the same damn sentence which you got the feeling he was reading from the card, possibly the same card he used at the restaurant, "The soup is cold, the chef has been called to determine the problem." It was like we were trapped in a Berlitz nightmare with the possibility of flames at 300 feet.

First order of business, we remember now that you are to immediately head for the door in whatever you are wearing, feel the door to determine whether it is hot and, assuming it is not, then head for the fire escape and immediately descend, taking nothing else other than your loved one. We got the last part down, neither Karen nor I headed off without the other, but hey, it was February, we were in Canada near Lake Ontario, we knew we needed something other than cologne to fight off the cold if we were so lucky as to make it down 27 floors! So, we threw on some clothes first and then headed out the door. Out in the hallway, which thankfully was not doing a "towering inferno" as our method of checking was to throw it open, we looked for the fire escape. It was late, we were tired, we noticed the next day that there was a fire escape across from our door - at that point of the evening, we bumped around until we actually hit a door down the hall that was a fire escape. I'm sure there were any number of points that evening where there could have been a sign for us, "If you are still here at this time, you are toast." - but God favors the stupid and unprepared, so we were in luck.

So, like Edmund Hillary descending Everest, except he didn't have the constant alarm with the repeated phrase "The Hotel alarm bell is sounding. The fire department has been called to determine the problem." - if he had, I am sure he would have been one Sherpa short of a climbing team - we started our descent. It was long, it was winding, but we weren't thinking about Paul McCartney, mostly we were thinking, "27 floors, it would still hurt if we had to jump." and so on, pretty much until "second floor, we might be able to make it with only life-threatening injuries" - some time after my fortieth birthday I lost the ability to bounce, I don't jump over fences or down from even short walls anymore, I grunt and moan and painfully climb (I'd say clamber, but that really doesn't give the correct picture). Well, we didn't have to jump at all, the fire escape emptied us into the hotel lobby where there were other dazed people, many standing in their pajamas, I did notice that everyone was wearing something, which suggested that our decision not to immediately flee with only what we had on was perhaps the correct one (even if not quite, "Fire Marshall Bill" correct).

I would note a couple of items for Fire Marshall Bill (or whatever his or her name is in Niagara Falls) that he might want to take above instructing grade schools to take down posters in their hallways because of fire hazard. Let's see, a large section of the hotel fire escape was carpeted, which, while very comfortable for bare feet if you are descending naked per Fire Marshall Bill's instructions, appeared to us to be somewhat flammable. Also, on the 21st floor, the heating system vented into the fire escape which is a really nice way to make sure we are appropriately "smoked" if there was a fire. Oh, and the hotel was expanded about ten years ago, so that all of the heating, boilers, etc... for the lower 20 floors was still at the 21st floor, which technically was what we call "below" us on the 27th floor. Not a problem if you have an alternative descent mechanism apart from using the stairwell from the 21st floor to the lobby, but we couldn't find one. Oh, and one more thing, the fire escape, even as poor as it was, emptied into the lobby. It seems like we would have been better served at the higher floors if they just had the occasional arsenic bottles in containers in the hallway with the instructions, "In case of fire, break glass."

So, we made it to the lobby and there were scores of people standing about looking dazed and confused, with an impressive number of Canada's finest standing about in full fire attack gear looking determined and confused. Through it all, there was Andy K, standing by this panel of lights, periodically saying, "The Hotel alarm bell is sounding. The fire department has been called to determine the problem." You got admire his pluck, but I still wanted to kill him.

I walked up to the hotel reception and told them they had my wake-up call wrong, asked what seemed to be the problem and informed them of a smoky smell on the 21st floor, observing that we had ample opportunity to inspect most of the hotel on our way down. They told me that the fire department had been called to determine the problem and, though it seemed to me they were all down in the lobby, a group of the more helpful fire people were supposedly focusing on the 21st floor - what that meant, exactly, was not clear.

So, there we were at the lobby, there did not appear to be any immediate peril apart from the nuisance of the alarm and Andy K, so I went to sleep until the alarm stopped, with nothing but the soft glare of my lovely wife and that "how can you?" look.

It's a skill.

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