I started my professional life as a tech reporter, covering all kinds of events in different parts of the US. It was a great job I probably would have done for free: All the gadgets I wanted at no charge, I got to write every day…and every week or so I’d get to hang out with interesting types at computer conferences in posh hotels.
My reporter’s salary wouldn’t have stretched to a Motel 6 in Abilene, let alone a fancy hotel in a distant megalopolis. Fortunately, the magazine paid to put me in the same hotel as my high tech interviewees, and since THEY always stayed in the best places in town, so did I.
Covering those conferences was an exhausting 15 hour-a-day job, starting early with breakfast meetings and ending with me writing my stories well into the night. I generally needed some decompression time during the trip, so I evolved a much-loved ritual: Bubble Bath Night.
On Bubble Bath Night, work stopped at 5:30. I’d head back to the hotel, ask the front desk to hold my calls, then turn off all electronics for a blissful four hours. I’d call room service and order their most scrumptious meal (and if you were staying at the Four Seasons Boston, or the Fairmont Grand Del Mar, that was pretty daggone scrumptious).
Then I’d pick out a new movie, curl up on the sofa with my food and a blanket, and eat. I’d follow that by taking a glass of wine into the bathroom, pick from my special stock of sandalwood bubble baths, and run a steamy tub that bubbled all the way to my chin. I’d read and sip in that tub until the water got cold, pat down with some sandalwood lotion, then slip into my favorite white silk pajamas, and sleep like a baby until morning.
It was my own personal reward for working 80-hour weeks.
One week had been especially rough; I’d been covering two different conferences in New York, shepherding a very needy rookie reporter through her first reporting gig, and putting up with surly cab drivers, syncophantic PR people, and failed travel reservations.
I NEEDED Bubble Bath Night, so I was already pulling bubble bath out of my bag as I rode the hotel elevator to the 33rd floor. I was staying at the Marquis in Manhattan, an architectural confection sporting a giant internal courtyard, two-story glass walls that looked out on Times Square chaos, and spangly, lit-up gondola elevators.
I ordered my meal, watched my movie, then turned on the taps and poured in bubble bath. I stripped down and prepared to get into the tub with my wine and book…and stopped. Something stank.
Tonight’s meal had been garlic-rich Italian, delicious going down but now stinking up my lovely evening. I needed to remove the smell to enjoy a distraction-free bubblebath so, sighing, I slipped on my pajama top. It covered just enough that I figured I could carefully crack open the door and slide my tray into the hallway without flashing my neighbors.
Here’s what I didn’t know about fancy New York hotels: They put firedoors on the rooms. Strong, HEAVY firedoors.
I set the tray on the floor outside my room, and the firedoor gently but firmly closed behind me, pushing me out into the hallway.
It closed. I heard the lock snick, leaving me stranded in a fancy hotel corridor, clad only in a pajama top that didn’t quite cover the essentials. No hotel key.
I heard voices. Slightly drunken, boisterous male voices. I panicked, dashing down the hallway to a little alcove of vending machines, and wedged myself behind the ice machine.
While the voices passed, I pondered my options: Few.
The Marquis apparently didn’t believe in house phones–I couldn’t find any way to call downstairs and ask for help. Knock on a neighbor’s door and ask to come in? Uhm…no. Pick the lock? It was electronic, and I didn’t exactly have a lock pick set in my (non-existent) back pocket.
I contemplated getting in the elevator and heading down to the front desk, but the reception I’d ditched for Bubble Bath Night was downstairs, next to those wide-open glass walls and the front desk.
Walk through that party in a see-through white silk top, bum hanging out the back? I could just hear the roars of laughter from rival reporters. My colleagues would never let me hear the end of this.
More male voices down the hall: I ducked back into my hidey hole. My only hope was to wait for FEMALE voices and beg them for help. I settled in to check out dust bunnies and cockroaches (it’s New York; cockroaches are accepted scenery).
Women were scarce on my floor; I waited an hour, through three more groups of men, until FINALLY the elevator doors opened and a woman’s voice emerged.
“You were TOO looking at her! DROOLING!! Do I ogle men like that?”
“Help!!” I called softly, “I’m stuck. Can you help me, please?”
“What the…?” A woman in mink stopped in front of my alcove and wildly scanned the corridor, apologetic male in tow.
I stuck my head out from behind the ice machine and waved politely. “Uhm…I accidentally locked myself out of my room. Would you mind calling the front desk and asking them for another key?”
Her eyes narrowed. “Is this a trick? Who the hell are you?”
I explained the situation. It took a little time.
“You can’t possibly be lying; no one would make up a story that lame,” she said, rolling her eyes, “I’ll call someone for you. Are you stuck in there?”
I stepped out into the hall to reassure her, and her eyes widened. “You can’t stay out here like that. Harry, get a towel! Now!”
Harry–who hadn’t said a word this whole time–slunk into their bathroom and produced a towel, which I wrapped around my lower half. She led me to their room and sent Harry to stay in the bathroom.
With the door closed.
She gestured at the phone; I called the front desk. They called the house detective (not kidding, they had one), and in a few minutes he knocked on the door.
“I don’t suppose,” he said, not bothering to conceal his mirth, “that you have any ID on you?”
I dropped the towel. “Do I LOOK like I’m carrying ID?”
He chuckled. “I don’t suppose so. Hmmm. I can’t just let you into a guest’s room without some identification. Can you describe the contents of the room?”
I eyed him sourly, “Well, there’s a really nice glass of cabernet, half drunk, on the bathroom sink, a book open to page 213 on the bed with the matching pajama bottoms to this top, and a navy blue leather laptop case on the desk. Oh, and probably two inches of water on the floor from an overflowing bubblebath.”
That got him moving–he ran down the hall to my room, opened the door, shut off the bathtub taps, and called Housekeeping for extra towels to sop up the impressive tub overflow.
“Let this be a lesson,” he said, “Next time you need to get rid of a dinner tray, just call Room Service to pick it up. And always carry your room key.”
Gee thanks. I’ll keep that in mind.