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Weekly Column by Andy Grieser
Column by Andy Grieser

May 17, 2002

I had planned to use this column to talk about my recent vacation in Manhattan, a city the Sunshine Girl and I loved living in and miss dearly. And one that has proven to be bigger, more powerful than any crazed group of evil men. That column will wait; instead, I bring you my own Drama in Real Life.

Yeah, I used to read Reader’s Digest as a kid. Invariably, I’d first turn to the Drama in Real Life, which usually had to do with plane crashes or bear attacks and probably formed most of my current neuroses. Well, while at a conference in Washington, D.C., last week, I had my own drama: Trapped in the Hotel Bathroom!

Washington’s Omni Shoreham is a nice hotel, despite the fact that they lost my reservation and then put me in a room a long, long walk from the front desk. That would be room 2308 — if you find yourself at the Shoreham, avoid it. Hell, avoid the hotel altogether. You’ll see why.

So, it’s Tuesday morning. I get up early (got to get to a seminar) and hit the shower. It was steamingly hot, which is why I kinda shrugged when I pulled at the bathroom door handle — I’d closed the door on reflex — and it didn’t open. I thought the door had stuck. So I tried again. That’s when I noticed the little "tongue" part was only pulling a quarter of the way out of the doorjam. Also, it looked like it was installed backwards, so the angled edge wouldn’t slide toward the direction the door opens (and thus meaning the door won’t open unless the tongue is fully retracted). This, I knew, was a huge problem.

See, the Shoreham doesn’t have phones in its bathrooms, so I couldn’t call the front desk. And I’d latched the room door the night before (again, out of reflex), so there was no chance I could just wait for housekeeping. Plus, there was no window. My chest got tight, a feeling I’m reliving even now. I’m a bit claustrophobic, which didn’t help. That condition is far worse now; I certainly hope it fades.

I kept calm by treating my incarceration as a computer game. First, I unscrewed the hinge caps, but the pins were too tight and I had nothing to hammer them through. So, no taking the door off its hinges. Next, I unscrewed the robe rack on the back of the door and tried to use part of it to force the tongue to retract. It was too big. I emptied a tube of toothpaste to try and do the same; it bent. I tried to use a zipper to unscrew the handle. It was too big. All the while I could feel the cool air from the other side of the door, so close.

Meanwhile, half an hour passed. I was seriously starting to panic, and my claustrophobia was really acting up. I tried to be rational, and prepare myself to spend the night in that hot, damp bathroom (hoping a colleague would notice my absence and call the hotel). Instead, I started praying under my breath — something I do far too infrequently — and pulling at the door handle. Even built like a football player (6’1" and 225 pounds), I had little hope. To my surprise, I had a rush of adrenaline and ripped the handle off the door.

Without hesitating, I manually worked the handle mechanism and was able to open the door. I leapt out of the bathroom and immediately called the front desk. I explained what had happened, and they told me to come down so I could switch rooms. I threw on clothes, gathered my belongings and went. Once at the desk, I had to explain again and was given a new room. I expected some sort of apology, but got nothing. Also, I had to rush to get to my seminar, so I dashed to the room — an older one, complete with creaking floor and unidentifiable stains on the carpet and chair.

For the next few days, I kept expecting an apology or fruit basket or some damn thing. Meanwhile, I told a few people and the story spread. Finally, checkout day came. The bill reflected absolutely no compensation for what had happened.

I called the manager on duty and re-told the story. He told me nobody had made a note of it, and he could comp one night, and he sincerely apologized. That was the first time anyone had done so. Still, I told him I thought the whole bill should be comped. I mean, I spent days in meetings reliving my claustrophobia instead of paying attention. (Plus, I left the bathroom door open at all times, something I find myself doing even now that I’m home.) Had I not been a strong young man, the situation would have been far more serious — and it was a mechanical problem on the hotel’s end, not some stupidity of my own. He said he understood and referred me to the general manager.

I called said GM and explained again. He also offered one night, and said he understood when I asked for more. But he would have to call me back, and promised to do so before I had to check out. So I waited. And waited. Finally, checkout time came, so I went to the front desk. He was away. So I waited some more. After a few minutes, the GM wandered by and started talking to one of the front desk folks about my problem in less than serious tones. Another front desk person, who knew I was waiting, gestured for them to stop and waved me over.

Well, the GM said "senior management" had decided one night was all they could do. Because today was the first they’d heard of the problem — despite my two complaints while switching rooms, including an admonition that the hotel not allow anyone into that room until the door was fixed. I explained as much, and the GM looked a little surprised but said both people I talked with had made no record. Which he forgot moments later when he asked why I waited until checkout to complain, though I had done so immediately. He actually said I’d had ample time to switch hotels. Well, I’d kinda been waiting for any sort of apology, without realizing I’d have to beg for one.

He said my "condition" — that is, being a strapping young man who could pull off a door handle — made the problem less serious. I pointed at an older woman sitting in the lobby nearby and said had it been her, she’d still be there. He just agreed and rolled on, wondering aloud why I hadn’t called Engineering. Not being an employee, I had not, nor had I even heard of them. Then he wondered why I didn’t just call the front desk or security — despite already being told of my confinement in detail, this guy thought I’d just been trapped in my room!

Not that that made a difference. He wouldn’t budge on the one-night comp, and I had a plane to catch. I disgustedly took it — better than nothing. Besides, I plan to complain to everyone at Omni Hotels who will listen, and tell everyone else in earshot. So, quick recap: Omni Shoreham in Washington, D.C. = bad. For God’s sake, if you must stay there, keep all the doors open.


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