Monday, February 05, 2007


Wyndham Washington, DC

Not really. But if there ever is a fire in a hotel in which I'm sleeping, I will surely die after my experience the last few days.

Friday night was my second night in DC, and I had come back to the hotel after a 13-hour working day. Around midnight, I woke to a loud squeal. At first, I thought it was my alarm clock, and that the night had gone by rather quickly, but a voice soon followed the oddly loud squeal: "A fire emergency has been reported in the building. Please exit the hotel. Do not use the elevators."

I'm staying on the 12th floor, so this was not an appealing prospect. But I dutifully put on a pair of pants, grabbed my coat, and trudged down 12 flights. When the weary band of travelers who joined me reached the bottom of the stairs, our human stream made a quick left turn--and walked right back into the hotel lobby, where many guests, including some of my coworkers, had gathered.

Clearly, the building was not on fire. No one was panicked; no staff members were directing us across the street or telling us what on earth was going on. We just milled about, wondering if we were supposed to go back up or if something was actually wrong. One man flipped out and started pounding the bell at the desk, shouting that if the hotel was not fit for guests it should not be open, and others in the lobby were puzzled. After an hour of waiting for the elevators to be turned back on, I finally took the stairs back to my room. The door to the stairwell was held by a hotel employee, who gave the first explanation I would get for the hour from hell: "We're doing construction. This happens all the time." I subsequently struggled to sleep. Have you ever tried to go to bed right after using a stairmaster?

This incident would seem funny if not for what happened last night. After watching the Bears lose, all I wanted in the world was a good night's sleep so I could go about my Monday--my eighth working day in a row--with a little bit of energy. But two hours after I went to bed--and just as I was getting to the good part of a dream--the squeal returned. I jumped up in bed, but this time I knew better than to hurry downstairs. Instead, I looked out the window, and saw the same fire trucks arrive that had responded to the non-emergency on Friday. As I watched their drivers mosey into the lobby, I knew I was safe staying in my room. This happens all the time, right? I went back to bed and tried to sleep.

Half an hour later, the alarm sounded again. An hour later, again. Then twice in half an hour. Then once each hour thereafter. All told, I think I slept three hours last night, punctuated by seven shocking squeals from the alarm.

When I returned to my room this afternoon, a note on the Wyndham letterhead awaited me. I've reproduced it verbatim below. Text in brackets is mine.
Dear Valued Guest,

We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience caused by our early morning fire alarm. [Note the absence of the "s" that would include the other six times the alarm went off!]

Be assured that the safety and comfort of our guests is our highest priority. As a safety, all alarms need to be investigated before they can be reversed. Although the timing was inopportune. [This sentence fragment is apparently their idea of a mea culpa.] Please know that we appreciate your business.

The Staff and Management
Wyndham Washington Hotel
If you have reservations for this hotel, cancel them now. One day it will become a Westin, allegedly bigger and better than it is today. But right now it is uninhabitable. I just finished reading State of Denial (and saw Bob Woodward speak about it yesterday!), and I feel confident in saying I would have slept better at a hotel in the Green Zone in Baghdad last night.

Have you ever had a hotel experience this bad? And how can this be the second hotel I've stayed in that had to be evacuated for a non-existent fire?


Michele said...

I didn't have that bad of an experience, but I did have an early morning fire alarm incident in the hotel in Scotland when we were staying there on Band Tour. Ask Brad, it was odd--it went off and it wasn't a fire. I think someone smoking in some non-smoking area set it off, if my memory serves me correctly.

Mike said...

I had a transsexual prostitute go ape-shit, screaming and flailing about, in a room down the hall from me in a guest house in Bangkok. I didn't think a thing of it as I was on vacation and could sleep in if I wanted to. Then, I saw the same person walking to their room the next night, and when I complained, the owners of the guest house pretended they didn't speak English, though they had no problem with their English when we negotiated the price.

But again, it only happened once, and I was on vacation at the time.

So, I guess, no, I haven't had that bad of a hotel experience. And, as this is the second hotel you were in when this has happened, if you could post your hotel itinerary about a week before you go to a hotel. You know, just in case I am going to be in the same hotel. I will try to avoid them.

I'm just throwing out an idea.