By Ron Feldheim
The imperative claxon of the fire alarm forced us into action.
“It’s probably just a false alarm.”
“Yes, but we’d better go down. Besides, the alarm is too loud to stay here. It’s so loud it’ll damage my hearing. It hurts!”
I have always been protective of my hearing. Although a senior, I have remarkably sensitive hearing which is useful for locating birds and listening to other sounds in nature, which I so enjoy. Nancy and I scrambled to put on shoes, grab our phones, wallets and purse, and exit the room. We had arrived back at our hotel room only a few minutes earlier. It had been a difficult, tiring drive back to Reading from Warminster, where we had spent the evening dining and visiting with long-time friends. We were in the middle of a 25-day, 5,500-mile road trip that we had dubbed “The Celebration of Life Tour.” It was the autumn of 2021. We felt as if we were breaking out of prison after months of restrictions and confinement that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the risk of contagion was still dicey as a new variant had reared its ugly head, we were vaxxed and boosted, so we decided to go ahead with our planned trip.
That is why we had just driven through intermittent rain showers on the Pennsylvania Turnpike which was under construction most of the way. The left lane was closed, then the right lane was closed, then the left again, and on and on. Coupled with the bright construction lights and headlights, my eyes were strained. I was tired and wanted to get ready for bed. However, the fire alarm made us think otherwise.
We located the staircase door down the hall, pushed it open, and hurried downstairs. Exiting into the chill night air, we found ourselves at the front of the building with a few other guests. Others joined us as we stood there waiting for the all-clear announcement. Additional people came out through the lobby doors. We waited and waited, but the all-clear announcement still did not come. In fact, nobody was telling us anything. One woman belatedly walked out, telling no one and everyone, that there definitely had been a fire and it was on the third floor. She kept on walking, got in her car, and drove away. It turned out she didn’t know what she was talking about. A family came down and they were saying that they were steaming a wedding dress, and maybe the steam set off the smoke alarm.
It started drizzling. The rain and the breeze felt cold, and we were not dressed for them. We joined a cluster of guests under the porte-cochère in front of the lobby in order to stay dry. A policeman showed up after a few minutes. Then the fire trucks came, and came, and came. There were at least eight that drove into the hotel’s parking lot and adjacent roadside. Some firemen, and one firewoman, assembled their gear and disappeared inside the lobby. Additional firemen eventually talked to members of the wedding family. The firemen and one representative of the family went up to their third-floor room. They spent a long time up there.
Meanwhile, we weren’t learning anything except that we couldn’t go back in. Then we heard a trickle of information roundabout that the sprinkling system had gone off, and that was the problem. Eventually the family representative returned with two other members of this extended family, a young girl and a teenaged girl. They had been left upstairs in their room through the alarm, the sprinklers, and the darkness. Nancy and I were flabbergasted.
The fire marshal showed up. Meanwhile, there was just the one clerk at the front desk trying to manage everything that was going on. Some firemen began coming out and calling out numbers, like “three twenty-one!,” and we figured these were room numbers. We were concerned. I was guessing that the firemen were going through every room looking to make sure they were safe, that they found things that maybe they shouldn’t have, and that these people were in trouble. Then we found out this was not the case; they were being transferred to another room because of water damage.
We were now given the OK to go into the lobby, which had a few chairs, a small breakfast room, a single restroom, and emergency lighting. We went in to warm up and use the restroom. The fire marshal finally announced what was going on. He said the sprinkler system had gone off and had done a lot of damage. It had caused a shutdown in the security alarm, fire alarm, electrical power, the emergency power and the water system. It was going to be a long, long time, hours and hours and hours, before anybody could go back in. They had called in emergency services of all these different specialties, and it was up to us if we wanted to check out and find another hotel somewhere. Nancy and I decided against this. There was already a long line at the front desk, it was the middle of the night, and we were exhausted. We had planned to check out in the morning, anyway.
We went out to the car and tried to sleep. Nancy slept a little bit, but I couldn’t. I think I dozed off very briefly, but I didn’t really get much sleep. Fortunately, though, I keep a fleece blanket in the car, so we were able to keep warm. It rained intermittently. As a consequence, we had to keep opening the windows a crack for ventilation, then closing them whenever rain began to come in. We each went inside the lobby to use the facilities. Nancy struck up a conversation with the hotel manager, who had come in during the night. Later, around 7:30 in the morning, she talked with him again. He described what had happened. Some of the wedding party, staying on the third floor, had hung the wedding dress from the sprinkler head in their room, then commenced to steam the wrinkles out of the dress. The weight of the dress broke off the sprinkler head. This triggered all the sprinklers on that side of the hotel to spray, and continue spraying, until They were turned off. It also triggered the fire alarm. The manager then told Nancy that a woman from the wedding group demanded her money back because they didn’t have use of the room overnight! Some people…
The fire marshal had gone home, and would be back after the hotel was made safe by all the contractors that had been called in. Only then might he agree to let people in again. We decided that while we were waiting we should just go to breakfast, so we went to a nearby IHOP where we had eaten breakfast the day before. We returned afterward, and Nancy talked to the front desk clerk. Nothing had changed. The fire marshal still had not come back. She asked where the manager was and was directed to check the rooms down the first-floor hallway. Finding him, she asked if we could pack up our things, but take a little time to wash, brush our teeth, and change clothes, since, of course, we hadn’t packed up anything yet. The desk clerk gave us the go-ahead.
We climbed the stairs to the second floor. The sight that presented itself shocked us. In the dim emergency lighting we saw that every door was open, there were blowers on the floor, dehumidifiers were running at almost every door, power cords crisscrossed the floor, and wet chunks of ceiling tile obscured most of the underlying carpet. As we gingerly stepped our way along the hall looking for our room, our feet squished in this sopping morass. We found our room near the end of the hall and cautiously entered. The first few feet inside the door had sustained water damage from the sprinklers, with wet carpet and ceiling tile mush on the floor. Beyond that, the room was dry. Oh, joy! We had utilized the dresser and closet for our clothes, since this was the third day of a three-day stay. It was all dry. Apparently, the sprinkler had activated only on the other side of the hall, and water ran across the hall ceiling and floor. All of our stuff was dry. Thank goodness. We brushed our teeth, cleaned up with washcloths, used the bathroom, and put on fresh clothes. We hurriedly shoved clothes in our suitcases. With that, a man pushing an empty luggage cart showed up at our room. He told me that he was a truck driver, but was marooned at the hotel while his truck was being repaired. He was occupying himself by helping other guests. I certainly appreciated his help wrestling the loaded cart over all of the power cords and trash in the hallway. The elevator was running, to my surprise, so we loaded it up with the cart and ourselves and went downstairs. From the look of the place, with water damage to ceilings, walls, floors, and furniture, it would be a long time before the hotel could reopen.
We checked out at the front desk, transferred our luggage to our car, and continued the road trip we were otherwise enjoying. After making several planned stops along the way we ended up early in the evening at Bethesda, Maryland. We had planned a dinner reunion of old friends from graduate school. I doused myself liberally with cologne before joining them. Near the end of the dinner we got around to telling the story of how we spent the night in the parking lot sleeping in the car. Everyone was amazed and told us that we looked so fresh and relaxed.
Another adventure, another story to tell.
Ronald Feldheim is nationally certified, and licensed in the State of Florida as a medical technologist. He has spent his entire career working in hospital laboratories, including fifteen years as a “road warrior” for a major diagnostic equipment manufacturer. He resides in Miami Beach, and his apartment overlooks the beach and ocean.
Writing poems since high school, he was recently encouraged to pull them together into book form. Hence, the recent publication of Butterflies Snowbirds and Passions.
Although his professional career has been in science and technology, being out in nature is the activity that makes him come alive. Ron has a mystical connection with the realms of nature and spirit. He is a devotee and teacher of the work of Edgar Cayce, is a hands-on healer, and has studied Jewish Shamanic Healing.
Ron is a proud father and grandfather. He is an active member of his synagogue and a student of Torah. Ron coined the term Rational Mystic to describe himself.