Margo Howard: There’s a Lesson in This Story

OK, so my husband and I are in San Francisco for a medical meeting (his) and it is 9:15 AM. I am sleeping late because … I like to sleep late. I am awakened by a loudspeaker and bells: “THERE IS A FIRE SITUATION IN THE BUILDING. PLEASE EVCAUATE YOUR ROOMS. DO NOT TAKE THE ELEVATORS.” This is rather alarming, no pun intended. And, to complicate things, I sleep in the altogether; there’s no time to dress because there’s a “fire situation in the building,” so I put on the hotel’s cute little white piqué robe, figure my Oscar slides will be best for the stairs (14 floors of stairs), grab my purse – the one with my room card in it, so I can get back in, should the hotel not burn to the ground – and head for the stairs. I am the only woman in a robe. Actually, I am one of the few women making the trek. Most of my fellow travelers are men in suits.

When we finally get out onto the street, which is where the stairs deposit us, I follow the crowd into a doorway. It is Starbucks. In case you couldn’t guess, I am the only customer wearing a robe. As I figure out where to sit (or even if I should sit, you know, being in the robe and all) I start walking toward a large open archway. I am in the hotel lobby! A vision, to be sure, in my robe holding my purse and a grande mocha latte. The lobby seems quite business-as-usual which is surprising, given that there is a “fire situation.”

I go to the concierge desk and ask if the fire is under control. The woman says, “There is no fire. That was a test.” I could not believe it, and shared some of my disbelief with her at a decibel level anyone who was not a sound engineer might categorize as “loud.”

Back in my room, I call the manager’s office so I can tell him that I am a major old bag, I have traveled the world, one former husband used to own hotels, I have a bad back which the 14-floor walk did not help, I have NEVER been in a hotel where a “play fire drill” is not announced as a test, that even on ships they say, “This is a test!” and if this is hotel policy they need to change the policy. His secretary said he was on a call. I’ll bet. So the real lesson here, kids, is not to stay at a Marriott. They have phony fire drills guaranteed to ruin your morning.

Oh, wait! The manager just called. A nice young man named Greg Lattin. He said yes, he’d had quite a few calls. He said it was not Marriott policy to have pretend fire drills; the system was being overhauled as part of a renovation and somehow the announcement sent itself. “Renovate on, hon,” I told him, “if only for the sake of older ladies in robes.”

Editor’s Note: A longtime journalist, Margo Howard went into the family business (her mother was the fabled Ann Landers) in the 1990s as Dear Prudence. Her broad experience and understanding of human nature provide answers for the troubled — and entertainment for everyone else.

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