Towering Inferno, Waterworld, West WingSeptember 22 in the United States
It's nice to stay somewhere air-conditioned when you're in Dallas at this time of year. It's hot and steamy and there are storms always threatening, some of which appear, some of which don't. And so it was that Chris and I settled into the Sheraton, an older, but gloriously older, hotel in the downtown. They gave us a room on the 31st floor, second from the top, from which we had sweeping views of this part of the city. Come midnight, we were still up, talking, responding to socials, I was tweeting correctives to Lyle Shelton (what can I say), both awaiting the long day's travel to finally hit us and the sleep train arrive. It did, just after 12 of the clock.
At 2.15, we were suddenly awoken by an alarm in our room, a god-awful low sounding howl, punctuated by a human voice that said calmly but incessantly, "Please leave your room. Go to the lobby. Do not use the elevators. Leave immediately. This is an emergency". We both jumped out of our skin at the first sound of the alarm. Chris screamed. I think I did too. We jumped out of bed, processed the message, realised we were in an evacuation and started to pull some clothes on and shoes. We grabbed our personal bags, I grabbed my watch and wedding ring too and headed for the door. I had not had time to put socks on, so I was shod in my shoes only, with no orthotics that I usually wear. Our revestment went all the while to the frightening strains of this man telling us to get out. Trying to tie the laces on my second shoe, my hands started to shake and I was fumblling badly.
Outside in the hallway, we heard others on our floor, but saw no-one at first. We headed down the hallway, trying to find the stairwell. Around a corner or two, we finally came across it. The whole time we were searching for it, we could hear the siren and the message. It was absolutely terrifying. We were both scared half out of our wits. I am old enough to have watched and been terrified at the 1974 movie The Towering Inferno, where a high-rise in San Francisco goes up in flames and residents are trapped on the upper floors to burn to death. But at the Sheraton, there was no Paul Newman or Steve McQueen to save us. We were on our own.
We headed into the stairwell and started what can only be described as the most surreal experience of my life. We were both shaking but descending the steps. There were 62 flights to get down. Gripping the railings as we went to steady ourselves from falling. Some older dude either on our floor or Floor 32 came hurtling past us. We were in his way, but he was determined to get down out of this building, so "excuse me" and we let him pass. "Hmm," I thought, "save yourself buddy". We just kept on going and going, flight after flight after flight. By about ten flights down, I realised that my two big toes were being pressed into the side of their respective shoes in such a way as to abraid them. "O God," I thought, "I'm getting blisters". But it was blisters or possible death, so I pressed on, my feet absolutely killing me. We both stayed relatively calm. We could hear fire engines outside the building speeding toward us and parking. But we managed to just concentrate on the task at hand. Flight 15, flight 16, flight 17 and on wards, down and down and down. VERY scary!
Two people joined us somewhere on the journey down, so for the last third, there were four of us. A man and a young woman, who were not together. They had both come from 32. Eventually, we got to the bottom and opened a barred door and we found ourselves out on the street in the bucketing down rain. Confused as to where we were in relation to the building entrance, for the Sheraton Dallas has three towers, we ended up following the fellow who got it right and got us around to the entrance and lobby. As we entered, the fire engines were driving away and a young girl from the hotel said in THE most cavalier fashion you could possibly muster, "Don't worry, false alarm, just a leak set it off". The four of us just looked at her, hearts racing, panting from hurtling down a skyscraper, adrenalin pumping, calf muscles already painful, wet and dripping somewhat, as if she had murdered our grandmothers and cut them up with an axe. A leak? That was it?
We got ourselves up to the lobby, on the second floor, to be greeted by Robin, who was very kind, thoughtful, offered us water and a sit down, and some reassurance, but the rest of the hotel staff, clearly not in charge, were just lolling about laughing among themselves. Another man and his wife came in just after us and we found out they were also on the 31st floor, in fact two doors from us, and they had just done the same thing. They were older than us, the wife, not the fittest and rather a big woman. If we struggled, they struggled even more.
After some solidarity of our shared experience, we went back up in the lift to the 31st floor and had to process what had happened. It was 3am. We were wide awake and drowning in incredulity. I said to Chris that tomorrow morning, we would ask for another room, something lower down, and perhaps something a smidge bigger as there was only one chair.
We did fall asleep eventually and woke this morning full of promise, joking that we had both had this really bad scary dream last night. Readying ourselves for the day, we headed back down to the lobby to talk to the Manager. I wanted to give feedback. In fact, I wanted to give three pages of feedback, as I had sat down and put a few thoughts on the page so I would not forget anything. It was all helpful feedback, no blowhard anger or anything like that. Accidents happen. They could have handled this better, and I suggested where they might, including looking after the mental health of patrons in a situation like that. The feedback was gratefully accepted by one of the managers, Angela, who also said she would upgrade our room for us to something bigger and lower.
We were being met this morning by my friend Ben Strube and his partner Tino. Ben read my book years ago and we became good friends online. We've skyped a few times, but this was the first time we have met face to face. It was such a lovely morning, a real balm after such a distressing night. Ben and Tino took us first for coffee where we chatted and got to know each other better. We were able to give Ben an original art work that I had asked Chris to do for him. Another beautiful piece. He's so clever.
After coffee, we headed into Tino's workplace which is a gallery where we got to see some amazing Latino art; sculpture, drawings, etchings, pottery, paintings, metalwork, all sorts of media. As we once might have said in Australia in a bygone era - fan bloody tastic. We so enjoyed Tino's gallery and felt we had seen something really special.
Brekky after that at authentic Mexican, which we both enjoyed enormously. The boys looked after us so well and we all connected wonderfully. We'll be seeing them again over the next few days.
This afternoon, we took in the delights of the Dallas Aquarium, which hosts some amazing exhibits, birds as well as fish and reptiles. I loved the owls, as always. They were just huge. The aquarium is kind of in two halves. The first half has you snaking aroung a single track looking at the exhibits as you go. Great idea for maybe thrity people at a time. But when they let in hundreds, it bottlenecks up and gets quite close and you can't see much. They need to allow only fifty through at a time, with a five to ten minute break between groups to allow things to proceed. The second half is more traditional, tanks and pools, and people start to thin out a bit more here. The Dallas Aquarium is rightly known as one of the world's great aquariums. We got some amazing pics.
Home and to our new room. We sidled up to Check-in and the girl said, "I think you'll be pleased with your up-grade.". I joked and said, "it's not the Presidential Suite is it, ha ha?" To which she replied, "I don't make these decisions, I just do the keys, at which point, she handed over two freshly minted hotel room keys and told us our new floor, the ninth. "Much better" I thought.
Arriving at Room 955, we were greeted with a sign on the door that said, PRESIDENTIAL SUITE. "You have got to be joking" we both intoned. We slowly opened the door, and walked into a giant beautiful room lit with charming lamps, with lounge suites, dinner table, coffee table, opening out again into a long lounge room, with bar, then an office with escritoire, at which I am writing this footprint right now, then a bedroom and two bathrooms. This thing is enormous. It is bigger than our living area at home. Not long after, Angela from Managment rang and asked if we had settled in. She was very thankful for our courteous attitude that morning and for the written feedback which she said she would take to the various meetings. How lovely! And what a way to finish off this extraordinary 24 hours.
I have just listened to one Handel Organ Concerto and two Haydn Cello Concertos as I wrote this. Chris is doodling some new art work, a bird I think. We are happy and content in our Presidential Suite and ready to take on Dallas again tomorrow. Till Next.Read more