Saturday, March 22, 2008

Nice ride


Nice Ride
Hagai Cohen

Captain Isaac, First officer Sam and I flew a night cargo flight from Chicago to Amsterdam. It was 7:00 am when we arrived and we were tired. Our station manager met us at the foot of the steps as we disembarked.

"You are booked at the Okura hotel" he told us.
"It is the new crew hotel which had its grand opening last night. It belongs to a Japanese chain. It is the tallest building in Amsterdam. All the rooms have a view of the city".
He was shooting all the information he could remember.
"The rest is on your crew-briefing sheet".

“Who cares now how fancy the hotel is?” I was thinking, All I wanted is to get to bed as soon as possible.
Fifteen minutes later, we were at the hotel.
The station manager was right: The hotel building looked very impressive; the lobby was magnificent but our minds were on the beds.

There was a special check-in counter for crew members. Japan airline crew was ahead at the counter. They were done with the checking in, but they all remained clustered together like children on a school trip waiting for instructions.

When we were done with checking in we started walking towards the elevator. Three Japanese women who left the group were also walking towards the same elevator.

“This is odd”, said Sam
“looks as if the ladies waited for us to press the buttons before they started moving.”
The women walked with tiny steps, as their dresses were long and tight.
“With those dresses” said Isaac
“They could make maximum one mile per hour.”
“How can they move fast enough and get five hundred passengers to the slides, in case of evacuation”? I asked.
“Don’t you know?” said Isaac, “It is all in their cabin safety manual, they get undressed in an emergency.”

One of the women wore a colorful silk dress with an odd looking parcel attached to the back. This lady exuded dignity and authority in her deportment. We let the ladies get into the elevator ahead of us.

All crew members of Japan Airlines have mandatory behavior codes even when not on duty. They are not allowed to use bellboys but have to carry their own suitcases which take up a lot of space in the elevator, so only three people were allowed to ride in one elevator. Well, six of us crowded in the hotel elevator, three Japanese ladies with three identical suitcases, three identical matching pocket books, and the three of us with our flight bags. We pressed the relevant buttons; the door of the elevator closed and we started the ascent towards our final destination; the beds.

Two seconds after the initial movement, the elevator came to an abrupt standstill. The bright light went off and so did the fan. A tiny emergency light came on. Isaac, our captain, was the first to recover from the surprise. He picked up the elevator emergency phone, while saying to us,
"Let’s hope it is not a fire and only an electrical problem. A fire through an elevator shaft could be very incinerating."

The operator was polite:
"I’ll call engineering and get back to you,” she said.

She called us shortly to tell us that engineering had called the elevator Company, and that the emergency crew had been summoned.
"They are fifteen minutes away." She assured us.
The assistant manager broke into the conversation:
"You will be out in five minutes”.

We did have some difficulty with the operator’s fifteen minutes and the assistant manger’s five. Of course we expressed our disrespect to the Japanese management, as Isaac explained about the light and the shrinking of the time was Einstein theory, and we are probably witnessing it now.
Isaac was known throughout the airline for his sense of humour and his ability to give long explanations about nothing. Isaac’s remarks did not change the fact that we were stuck between the second and the third floor, and that inside the box, the temperature and the humidity were rising rapidly.

“It is going to take a while, definitely more than fifteen minutes” I said.
Sam the first officer was a cheerful person that never panicked. He was the right person to be trapped with in a defective elevator. Sam however had one small problem, he was a pathological gambler. Sam would bet on anything.

Even the stalled elevator could not cure Sam’s bad habit.
"I bet you my bottle of vodka that we’ll be out of here in ten minutes" said Sam.
"My bottle of scotch against your vodka". I said in response.

Ten minutes later, as a good gambler who always pays his debts, Sam opened his bag and handed me the bottle of vodka. Of course I had to check the merchandise so I opened the seal and sniffed at it. It did not have any smell, a little sip and again it did not have any taste. Another good sign. I must say it had the smoothness that only good vodka can have and Sam knew his vodkas.
"Let me buy you a drink," I said to Sam and handed him the bottle. Sam took a gulp.
“What about my commission as a witness and the time keeper." said Isaac taking the bottle from Sam.
Of course we had to have a good excuse for drinking at eight o’clock in the morning; we were simply evaluating of the quality of the vodka. We assessed it for smoothness, dryness and the after taste; we found it benevolent, but impish. We checked how fast one becomes thirsty after a gulp of vodka; we studied "the rate of absorption" and more. Already we were a few rounds up when I remembered that we were not alone in the elevator. The three Japanese girls stood behind the suitcases without saying a word and inscrutable.

As a polite gesture, I raised the bottle and moved towards direction of the lady with the colorful silk dress and the backpack. She was ready for it. She raised her index finger and said, in a high musical voice
"NO, NO Japanese lady no drink".
I passed the bottle to Isaac, looked at her, and raised my finger the way she did and said, with a good imitation of her vice: "NO, NO Jewish gentleman no tell". We were already “high” and with good mood. My stupid little joke was the trigger that made us laugh, almost to tears, the Japanese girls remained expressionless.

The joke, unfortunately, caught Isaac at a bad moment. He was guzzling the vodka and as he heard my comment. He choked and laughed simultaneously and splattered vodka through his nostrils.
It took a split second for the Japanese lady, the one with the pillow, to place herself behind Isaac. She put her arms around his stomach and gave him the Heimlich maneuver. It seemed to work in Isaac’s case quite well. Isaac stopped choking and stopped laughing. Isaac was gasping for air. With the help of some more Vodka, Isaac recovered.
This incident caused the Japanese ladies to loosen a little. Now they seemed to be suffering from ‘internal giggelitis’ a known Japanese syndrome. I raised my index finger as before and said
"NO! NO! Japanese ladies no laugh.” It was the snowball that started the avalanche. The ladies began to laugh and this laughter was most certainly against regulations.

All of a sudden a small hand gesture from the backpack lady and the laughter stopped. She summoned the girls to the corner of the elevator and conducted a brief conference. I had no idea why they were whispering, we would not have understood single word, even if they had used a megaphone.

The conference was over; the three ladies opened their suitcases and got out some clothes. The backpack lady approached us and said:

"Jewish gentlemen turn now, Jewish gentlemen no look". By now this form of speech had become a joke between us, the ladies spoke relatively good English and this was their way to break the ice. Five minutes later she said:
“Jewish Gentlemen now look". We could hardly wait, and what we saw were three ladies in shorts and T-shirts. My immediate comment was:
"Japanese lady can now run fast, Jewish gentleman no catch." Then asked:
"Japanese lady now drink?" We offered the bottle and they didn’t refuse. Starting with the backpack lady, they all took a drink. The suitcases were now flat on the floor, forming an L shape and we sat down on them with a measure of comfort. The only problem was the heat. We learned from the rescue team, that they could not free us unless the elevator is at the top floor.
"There has been a complete failure of the electronic system.
“We are afraid to connect the power". They told us. “Without the power”, the electrician explained we have to crank the elevator manually. It will take a while”.

"I bet you my bottle of scotch” I said to Sam
“ we are out of here before we finish the vodka and I am willing to take an IOU,"
“You are going to lose,” said Sam
“I will get your scotch and it will remain closed. I do not drink scotch without ice.”
"Is that so!" exclaimed Isaac
"That can be fixed."

He picked up the phone.
"Get me the general manager.” He said to the operator.
The man was immediately on line.
"Look sir!" said Isaac.
"We are sweating we are thirsty and we are hungry. Get a long rope, attach a bucket to the rope make sure it is attached to the end of the rope. Put ice and soda inside the bucket and pass it to us through the hatch in the ceiling. In another bucket send some baguettes and cheeses.”
It definitely made the proper impression. The buckets appeared like magic. But it was difficult to get the bucket into the hatch with a nine-floor-long rope. The bucket people started to swing the heavy bucket, the bucket banged against the shaft walls while missing the hatch.

Isaac found it amusing He cried OL’e and clapped his hands every time the bucket missed the hatch. Soon we joined in the Japanese girls too and we all gave encouragement to the bucket-crew.
Finely when I felt that I’d had enough of it, I stood a suitcase against the wall I climbed on it while Sam supported me from the back. Thus with my hands through the hatch I managed to grab the bucket and direct it downwards. The bucket was now in, but it had collected a lot of grease that transferred itself to my hands. The only way to clean my hands was to rub them on the new floor rug. With my dirty hands extended I looked around for approval. They looked at me silently.

“what the heck"! I said "This is not dirt, its elevator lubricant” and cleaned my hands on the rug. The second bucket with the baguette and the fine selection of French chesses came in easy.
As the level of the spirit in the bottle dropped, our spirits rose. We were having a lot of fun. We taught the girls some Hebrew songs and we learned Japanese songs. They made us practice and practice; they were intolerable to mistakes. We learned one Japanese song fairly well.

“The sextet con alto spirito” could be heard all over the elevator shaft. We learned from the ladies that the women in Japan are not allowed to drink in public; a special Jell-O made out of beer was invented so they could eat the beer with a spoon. We covered many topics. We also got to discuss Japanese ladies bathrooms. We discovered that in women’s toilets in Japan there is a button that makes the flushing noise without really flushing; to cover for inadvertent noises.

The hatch in the ceiling gave us some relief from the heat but not much. It was Isaac again that gave cause for laughter. "This box is probably the "mixed sauna" that they advertise in the hotel brochure." He said.

The rescue team worked hard. Two people were cranking us up very slowly. An hour and fifty minutes had passed since the initial movement of the elevator. our salvation was near. They talked to us non-stop but we gave them less and less attention. As we got more and more drunk, we no longer gave a damn about the rescue team or anything else.

Five minutes later, the door opened and we were blinded by the very bright light.

The general manager came to greet the survivors in person. What he saw left him stop short. Six people on the elevator floor, among empty liqueur bottles, a pile of jackets, shirts, ties, a messy carpet with baguette crumbs all over it and of course buckets with the leftovers of the emergency supplies. The general manager apologized but we gestured him to go. He did not seem to understand so Sam had to spell it out, "Go away, and just leave us”.
The general manger instead of leaving us alone, whispered something in the ear of the house detective, who whispered in the ears of some more security people.
The able bodied gorillas went into action and dragged us out, They held me under my arms and pulled me backwards on my heels which plowed the carpet, with my hands I held the sleeves of the gorillas and My finger prints left a very good impression on their shirts. Behind me Isaac was dragged out in the same manner. Behind Isaac the general manager walked in precession.
All of a sudden Isaac managed to get on his feet walking backwards while still being dragged. He eyed the general manager and with a heavy intoxicated tongue said: "Japanese general manager, HARAKIRI now! You party crasher!”

He remained inscrutable.



The end

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