Monday morning, 15/09/2003
I am on the 25th floor of the brand-new San Jose Marriott. I've set up a Webcam to relay the beautiful sights of downtown to London, and I'm feeling good.
As the conference centre is bolted to the side of the hotel, everyone in the place wants to leave for the same presentation at the same time. So I get in the lift at 8:55 for my nine o'clock, and it stops at every other floor to pick up more people. By the time I get to the fourth floor, it's crammed with beefy engineers and a solitary, rather nervous American businesswoman, slight and beige in her corporate suit. There are no stops below the 4th floor, so it gets the chance to build up a small head of steam as it heads down to ground. Alas, even this short run is enough to overload the speed regulator, and with the sort of shudder that has no good vibes whatsoever it thumps to a stop with the floor indicator on 1. The doors stay shut.
After 20 seconds, there's a synchronised sigh. The bloke nearest the buttons presses the alarm, and a bell sounds. Two seconds later that stops too, and there's a minute of silence. "Fercrisakes!" says the chap to my right in a Brooklyn accent. A New Yorker. Good. Other accents pipe up -- we seem to have a couple of Aussies, a small collection of Chinese and even a real Californian. Beige Company Woman says nothing, but twitches from side to side giving off those "I'm about to panic" messages that are so comforting in such situations. The button is lent on, and the bell sounds again.
"Hello?" says a voice from a hidden speaker. "Can I help you?" We express the hope that yes, she can. "We're in Elevator 2, and it's stuck on the first floor. Get us out." is the gist of our petition.
"Hold on, I'll get right back to you." says the voice. More silence for a moment, then "The engineers are on their way. It should be a couple of minutes."
We are just composing ourselves to wait this out, making jokes about not knowing Microsoft did lift control software and the like, when the speaker clicks and starts playing musak. Until now, the lifts in this place have been mercifully silent: why here? Why now? Being engineers, the problem is quickly diagnosed: the alarm circuit is on the phone system.
We have been put on hold.
The music is bad enough, but then the true horror begins. Interspersed with California Lite Easy Listening -- you know, tasteful pianos, swooping strings, muted bass -- are adverts. For the hotel. "Why not try the fine dining in our world class Arcadia restaurant? Acclaimed Chef Michael Lazzo has created the best contemporary menu...." and "Hold your next meeting in the Marriott! Marriott. The possibilities are endless."
The whole hellish compilation is on a two-minute loop.
We are stuck in the lift for 25 minutes. There is no air conditioning. Beige Corporate Woman silently edges ever closer to what promises to be a world-class breakdown. Stereotypes assert themselves: the Chinese are stoic and impassive, the Californian threatens to sue, the Aussies and I engage in cheery banter about the "endless possibilities" and the hotel manager's anatomy, and the New Yorker takes control of the communications with our mystery voice. At one point, the voice asks "How are you doing in there?", to which he replies in a rasp: "I'm pregnant. I'm about to give birth. Get me the hell outta here!". The voice tries not to laugh -- that's not in the scripts for which the Marriott chain is so famous -- and almost succeeds.
Twenty minutes in, there's a thump from outside, and the lights on the controls go out. Another voice. "Is there anyone in there?" We reply as one that yes, surprisingly, we haven't gone anywhere.
And then the doors are forced open, inch by inch and very, very slowly. Bottled water is handed in -- I decline, as it's just too David Blaine -- and two minutes later we're allowed out to play.
I won't describe the subsequent meeting I had with the general manager -- the GM in Marriott speak. What could he do for me? I got my room moved to the fourth floor and had them comp my Internet access bill. Being British, I'm prepared to be reasonable about things -- new hotel, teething problems with the lifts, you know the thing -- but he makes one bad mistake. "It's the first time this has happened," he says. I'd found out that the same lift did the same thing two days previously, and tell him so. "Is that right?" he asks the maintenance manager, who's standing to one side. "Errr... yes. Friday."
Either the GM doesn't know what's going on in his hotel, or he's lying. I don't much care which, but my advice is if you get the choice, don't stay in a Marriott.