Friday, July 4, 2008

Hotel Arabela

Hotel Arabela
Hagai Cohen
4 July 2008

“God will save your soul; the checklist will save your ass.”
This slogan with various language variations is one of the first things a trainee pilot learns.
Some of us aviators take this slogan very seriously and turn it into a way of life. Some of my best friends use a checklist to handle their entire lives.
Well, I am not one of them. In the cockpit, yes, but I have to confess I do not read a checklist before going into a bathroom or taking a shower.

Stationed in Frankfurt to operate a flight the following day, I arrived late at night and very tired. It was my first time in the fancy Arabela hotel. My room was neat but dark and unpleasant. The sign on the door read ‘700 DM per night, no doubt a high-end hotel. ’ I lay down on the bed wearing my uniform, “just to rest for a few seconds” and woke up the next morning at six forty five.

I slept very well. It is a well-known phenomenon that a uniform is more soporific than a sleeping pill. The moment you put it on you feel sleepy. I woke up fresh and rested, but definitely needed a shower.

I could not help being impressed when I walked into the bathroom. All the bathroom fittings were gold plated and shining. A huge mirror hung over the bathroom sink, Neither the German nor the FBI forensic laboratories would find any incriminating evidence in this bathroom, I thought. The bathtub was so white, it was hard to look at.
The showerhead at the end of a hose was clipped to the wall above the tub.

As a seasoned traveler, I already knew that most architects, who specialized in designing bathrooms, never take a shower in those they design. Judging by the results, I believe, many of them never have taken a shower at all. The architect, who designed the bathroom in the Arabela, was no different. To adjust the water temperature before getting into the shower one had to lean over to the shower fittings and place oneself in the “line of fire” when the water began to flow.

Being familiar with the subject, my first action was to remove the showerhead from the wall and lay it on the bottom of the tub. That was a big mistake. The moment I turned on the tap, the hose and its head came to life; the water pressure turned the sprinkler into a V2 rocket. It jumped around like a wild young mustang, when the rope encircled his neck for the first time.

The by-product of this vigorous wiggling about was water spray all over the bathroom. I took cover. First, I did not want to get wet. However, the more serious consideration was the fear of being struck by the uncontrolled wild agitations of the hose. Of course, nobody but I was to blame. I should have remembered: German showers are notoriously dangerous.
After a few evasive maneuvers, I managed to grab the hose, restrain it and decommission it completely.

I gave up on the shower and decided to try the bathtub. “This should work,” I said to myself while turning on the lower water tap. Unfortunately, the spout was short of the tub, the water very forcefully bounced of the rim of the bathtub, spraying like a garden sprinkler all over the place. The result left me officially wet with water all over the bathroom floor.
Eventually, after removing my garments I got into the bathtub.

As I placed my foot on the bottom of the tub, I found the rounded curved bottom was not made to fit flat feet like mine. The tub floor was very slippery and dangerous. Very carefully, I directed the water to the showerhead and was very spare with my movements. No vigorous scrubbing, no fast movements. Thorough cleansing was impossible. To minimize my exposure time to danger I finished very quickly. Slowly I shut the water off and stepped out of the tub. I was very proud to be in one piece on the wet floor.

Had I read a checklist before taking a shower, I would have found there was only one tiny washrag in the bathroom - not a single towel. Nothing. Conveniently and probably for cases like this, a telephone was installed on the bathroom wall. Wet of course, but who cares in time of crisis. To my surprise the telephone worked. I called the front desk. I explained to the woman my awkward situation.
“Look ma’am” I said, “I am naked and wet and I cannot find a towel to dry myself.”
“Do you want some extra towel sir?”
The woman did not listen to what I was saying.
“No ma’am I need a towel, not extra towels.”
“Sir, the maid will be on your floor at eight o’clock and she will give you some extra towels.”
“You do not seem to understand; it is now seven o’clock and I am wet. I cannot wait until eight. I must have a towel now. Do you understand what I was just saying?” I was angry and I raised my voice.
“I am sorry, sir. I will put you on to my supervisor.”

The phone was silent for a very long time. Finally, a man’s voice said to me, “I was informed you yelled at the lady on the reception desk. She told me you claim to have no towels in your room. This is inconceivable, sir. I have just checked the housekeeping record. Your room was made up before you checked in and was checked by a housekeeping inspector. Are you sure you looked thoroughly, sir?”

“Look, sir, I did my best with the meager light bulbs you give your guests and, no, sir, I did not use a flashlight to search for the towels. Nor, sir, did I look under the bed.” I took a breath and continued: “Listen, sir, our conversation is at a dead end and you too do not seem to understand. Why don’t you put a higher authority on the line? The assistant manager maybe?”
“I am sorry, he is not in and I have to page him for the call.” I noted he did not address me as ‘sir’ this time.
“Ok then page him and tell him he can call me from any phone. He does not have to return to his office to call.”

Fifteen minutes later the assistant manager was on the line.
“You wanted to speak with me, Mr. Shamir.”
“Yes. Twenty minutes ago, I called for a towel. Instead of getting it I was told your records show towels were placed in my room. For the record
there is not a single towel in my room. And with my bad luck, I found it out only after I came out of the shower.”

“Yes I understand, sir, and I am very sorry for the inconvenience, but it is very early and the chambermaids are not yet at work. Only one house cleaner is on duty at this time and she is busy. It might take a while.”
“Look sir” I said quite out of patience, “don’t worry about the towels. I am already dry, I used the bed cover to dry myself and now I am using it to dry the floor. Thank you.” I slammed the phone down.

Exactly forty minutes after my first complaint, I got my towels.
I was quite upset all morning; I did not leave my room and had no breakfast. At one o’clock that afternoon, I hung the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign outside my door and went out for lunch.

At two o’clock, I retuned to pack for my flight. I noticed my entire wardrobe, including my dirty laundry were all neatly folded. This was odd. I did not do it. No one in this world ever saw me folding dirty laundry. My first impulse was not to touch my suitcase. My security sense told me to look for a “device” that may have been planted in it. Checking my suitcase before a flight was already second nature. Very carefully, I visually inspected the contents of my suitcase.

“The wine,” I said to myself, “I have two bottles of wine in my bag and if any one would try to plant a bomb, replacing sealed bottles would be the best way.”

Again, very carefully, I removed a few things to uncover the bottles. I looked at the bottles. The bottles were mine and so were their packaging. The bottles were at the side of the suitcase and quite heavy. As I moved some objects around in the suitcase, the suitcase became unbalanced. Very gently, it started to tilt over. I was not too fast to catch it, the suitcase fell down and the contents were all over the floor. With all my things scattered, the picture became very clear.

“I get it now,” I said to myself. “The bastards sent security to check if I had packed towels in my bag. The wine must have turned the suitcase over. They had to collect my things and put them back into my bag. A chambermaid was called in to fold my clothes and she, not knowing how it looked before, put it back with my dirty laundry folded as new.”

I was furious. If they want to play hardball, I am ready. I grabbed the telephone.
“I want to speak to the general manager,” I said to the operator.
“He asked not to be disturbed. He’s in a meeting. Can I help you, sir?”
“Oh, sure. You can tell him please, when his meeting is over, somebody visited my room while I was out and tampered with my things. Please express my concern to him about the security aspect of it. You may tell him, when his meeting is over, of course, that according to my orders, I have to inform our security officer about any intrusions into my room. I must also call the bomb squad if I suspect an explosive device was planted in my suitcase.” I knew, from previous experience, the bomb squad checks the room and the hotel thoroughly. “I understand Ma’am,” I continued, speaking very fast, “the general manger cannot be disturbed so I am going to make my calls without informing him. You will notify him about it after the meeting is over of course. Oh, and don’t worry, Madam, his meeting will be over the moment the police evacuates the hotel.”

I hung up the phone without waiting for her response. Less than a minute later, the general manager was on the phone.

“What seems to be the problem Mr. Shamir?
“Well, sir, it is very simple. While I was out to lunch, somebody came into my room and went through my suitcase. I shall not touch my case unless the bomb squad inspects it and I am just about to call them. There are in my opinion two possibilities sir. One, a terrorist may have planted a bomb in my bag. Two, one of your people, for reasons known only to them, illegally searched my suitcase. This too, sir, is a matter for the police. As a respect to you sir, and to your hotel, I will wait five minutes before making my calls. You have this time sir, to find out the answer, whether it was one of your people or not. If your answer, sir will be vague or negative, I will call my security people. They will call the police and the bomb squad. They will probably evacuate the hotel, with all the usual consequences to your five stars hotel and your seven hundred Deutsche Marks per night guests.”

”Thank you, Mr. Shamir for the five minutes, I will return to you immediately, Mr. Shamir. Please wait for my call.” The general manager sounded very disturbed and that was all to the good.

Very apologetic and sleekly he came back a few minutes later.
“Look, Mr. Shamir, it was the chambermaid. She came to make your room and accidentally knocked the suitcase down.”

“Oh, I see, sir. Let me understand this clearly. Are you saying, the chambermaid who came to make my room ignored the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on my door, knocked down my suitcase, and then folded up my laundry?

“Yes, yes, Mr. Shamir, that is exactly what happened.”
“Then why didn’t she finish making my room? I would like to have a word with her. Is she still working for you?”

“I-, I-, I-, I don’t know sir, but I can find out.” The general manager could not steady his tongue. “I will speak to housekeeping right away and they will send some one…”

“Sir, when you do speak to your people, ask them if they found the missing towels in my bag.” My words lingered in the silence like a vapor trail. After a few moments I asked, “Are you okay, Mr. General Manager?”

The only response was a click as the receiver was returned to its cradle.

German manners, and German efficiency aren't they a bit over-rated.?

The end

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