Saturday, December 30, 2006

APA Burn...

The end of an American Philosophical Association (APA) meeting often is characterized by burn outs. Job candidates are burned out from talking too much. Interviewers are burned out by job candidates, to the point that they cannot remember which candidate is which. This year the APA conference ended with a more novel and worrying kind of burn out -- a two alarm fire in the hotel! Brief news coverage can be found here and the fire department statement, including pictures is here.

A little after 5am, the fire alarm in my room went off. I was up and shaving, as I had an early shuttle for a flight. Having had to act as a fire officer during previous lifetimes, I know that all such alarms should always be taken seriously. I threw on clothes, grabbed my passport and computer, as they were packed and ready to go and headed out. When I reached the corridor, there was a heavy smell of smoke. "Hmm, not a drill and not good" I thought to myself. As I was on an upper floor, this could have been a bad situation.

I headed towards the nearest set of stairs, but as I did, the smoke smell got stronger. On this basis, I decided that taking an alternate route was the correct course of action. The fire doors close to my room were closed. As I approached them, I tested their temperature. They seemed cool, so I went through. I managed to find the next set of stairs and hiked down. As I did this at some speed, I decided that I was due for a work out after all the chatting, so that it was not too bad, albeit too damn early for such things.

When I got outside, there were people hanging around, looking a bit bemused. I walked around to the front of the hotel to discover a whole bunch of fire trucks, with hoses, firemen and all their tools. There was even a ladder raised. So, this was clearly the real thing. Wow! When I moved into the lobby, there was someone who appeared to be getting medical attention. I hope that they are OK.

Even though it was 'before coffee' (I subscribe to the 'two coffees for consciousness theory') I realised that I had a bit of a problem. My airport shuttle was about to arrive, yet my big bag was still in my room. Where the shuttle was supposed to arrive, was also totally filled by fire department equipment. I called the shuttle people. They said that they could pick up some other people and then come back.

At this point, things were a bit chaotic, but the hotel staff were totally on top of it all. They deserve a big load of praise. They had people stationed at desks, answering questions. Where they found enough people at that hour in the morning is an utter mystery to me. The people answering the questions were informative, professional and, at times, even amusing. Marriott senior 'suits' -- give all these people big pay raises! They did not 'spin' the situation. When they did not know, they said as much. As soon as the fire was out and the fire guys were in the 'investigation phase' they seemed to know almost at once.

By this point, I was getting a little worried about getting to the airport on time for my plane. I was concerned about my luggage, which was still in my room. I asked a gentleman called Laddie who was working on the front desk what to do. He suggested that my only real option was to hike up to my room, if the fire department guys were OK with it. He showed the correct set of stairs to use. So, I began to climb. It was surprisingly easy, due to the high levels of adrenaline in my system by this point. On the seventh floor, I had to climb over hoses. I kept on going. A little further up, I ran into the fire department guys. I asked the if it was alright for me to go back to my room. They laughed at me. Apparently, I should have been stopped at the first floor, but seeing as I was so close and there was no real danger, they told me to go ahead.

I got to my room and grabbed my big bag. As I started back down the stairs, I was very happy that I prefer to travel with serious backpacks. There are so many places where there are no luggage trolleys I prefer to be able to carry all my stuff on my back. Had I had a regular suitcase, or one of those odd things with wheels, it would have been much harder. However, thanks to Karrimore, I was able to get my stuff down easily.

When I got back to the front desk, Laddie had my carry on bag. He called the shuttle people and discovered a problem -- there would not be another bus until too late for me to make my flight! He handled this situation simply. He gave me cab money and then told me where to go to find a cab (at this point all the streets around the hotel were closed off). Thanks Laddie, you saved my bacon!

Actually, the story does not quite end there. When I got to the airport, my flight had been cancelled! Fortunately, the airline people were able to book me through with another airline and I made it home (eventually), just fine. However, the whole idea of APA burn out now has a totally different meaning for me now. I am glad to be home though. Eighteen days on the road is a long time, even for a Combat Philosopher. It may have flooded a bit here, but at least it is not burning!

The CP


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