Thursday, October 5, 2017


Last night, I was stuck in an elevator for approximately three minutes.

To get out of it, I had to jump through doors that had been pried open by an elevator technician, which seemed unsafe and possibly deadly.

Before that, I had to drive to Atlanta.

I've been in Atlanta since Sunday, when I came down for a conference. Since it's only a few hours from Knoxville, I drove rather than flew, and that was an adventure in itself, as it taught me two things: my car hates Chattanooga; and when robots take over the world, they will use the navigation system in my car to kill me and I will allow it because just driving where the car says is easier than arguing.

I started Sunday on campus, because I needed to drop something off for someone else to have on Monday, and when I was leaving I programmed the hotel's address in. I know how to get to Atlanta, but I didn't know how to get to the Sheraton Atlanta Hotel, where the conference was. The trouble started when I was driving from my office to Cumberland Avenue, to get onto I-75.

"In 400 feet, turn left onto Andy Holt Avenue."

"I can't. That's not a street anymore." It's not. That part of Andy Holt Avenue was closed and turned into a walkway several years ago. Also, don't pretend you've never talked to the navigation system in your car when it talks to you.

"Turn left."

"I can't."

"If possible, make a legal U-turn, and then turn right onto Andy Holt Avenue."

"I can't! I'm just going to get on Cumberland!"

"Make a legal U-turn."

"I CAN'T!"

"Why aren't you making the legal U-turn, Joel? Do you even want to get to Atlanta?"

Lois Lane, the car, freaks out if you have the navigation on and don't do exactly what it says. Because of that, I went ahead and did exactly what Lois said for the rest of the day, which is why, as I followed I-75 south to Atlanta, I listened to the car when it told me to get off of I-75 at Cleveland, Tennessee. I followed one road, then another, then another, and then on the far side of Chattanooga Lois told me to get back on I-75. For reasons completely unknown to me (traffic? construction? Lois' intense and previously unknown hatred for the city that invented the MoonPie and the tow truck?), we detoured completely around Chattanooga rather than driving through it.

I realize now that Lois was just testing me, and lulling me into falsely believing she knew best, so that she could trick me into driving her directly into the seething traffic filled heart of downtown Atlanta.

"Bear left."


"Bear right and continue on I-75, then bear left."


"Bear right."

"OK. I'm bearing right."

"Your destination is ahead on the left."


"Kill all humans."

When I finally arrived at the Sheraton Atlanta Hotel, I decided not to move the car again until Thursday. I should have also decided not to stay at the Sheraton Atlanta Hotel, because the overall hotel experience was not good. In no particular order:

1) My friends Myrinda and Alison found someone else's panties in their room.

2) My friend Aaron tried to eat at the hotel bar the night he got in and could not. He sat at the bar for fifteen minutes and then left, because the bartender didn't come over and the manager passed him twice and waved. I'm shocked that the manager didn't come over, since I ate at the same bar the same night, alone with a book, and the manager came over to talk to me six times while I was eating despite the open book in front of me.

3) There was some elevator drama in the north tower. Besides the freight elevator, which was hidden around a corner and down a hallway, the north tower has a bank of three elevators. Two of these elevators were out of service for the duration of my four night stay, with the exception of last night when the right hand elevator was briefly back on.

Just long enough for me to get stuck in it.

I got on the elevator on the second floor lobby level, and pressed six. As I passed the third floor, I thought, "Hey, I don't think the elevators doors are all the way closed. That seems bad." Before I could think anything else about it, the elevator reached the fourth floor, where it stopped moving, but the doors didn't open. I pushed the door open button, but they still didn't open. I pushed the four button, then the six button again, and still nothing. I pushed the alarm button, but it just rang a bell until I stopped pushing the button. Then I saw the "call" button on the opposite panel.

"How may I help you?"

"I'm in elevator three, and it's stuck on the fourth floor."

"Are you inside it?"

How the hell do you imagine I'm pushing the call button from outside the elevator, lady? "Yes."

"In elevator four?"

"No. I am in elevator number three, on floor number four."

"How do you know what floor it's on?"

"The display says four."

"OK. I'll call someone."

And that was it. No offer to stay on the line, no asking if I was ok, nothing. Whoever she called must have been close, though, because I had enough time to post that I was stuck on Facebook, but not enough time to tweet it, when suddenly the doors were pried open.

And I actually mean pried.

The Otis elevator technician's fingers pulling the doors apart were the first thing I saw.

When the doors opened, I was looking down at him, because the floor of the elevator was about two feet above the fourth floor hallway.

"Sir, are you ok?"

"I'm stuck. The elevator is stuck."

"Yeah. I need you to jump down here."

"...out of the elevator?"

"Yeah. I'll hold your hands, and you jump into me. I'll catch you."

"I have to jump out of the elevator? I COULD DIE."

I'm not going to lie: I started freaking out, worse than the car does when you don't follow the navigation directions or you let the air in one of the tires get low. You know how people die in stuck elevators? They die trying to get out of the stuck elevator. They try to climb to the next floor, or jump to the one below, and they fall into the shaft instead and die. My friends, especially my friends Keri and Sandy, have discussed this for years. Google says 26-30 people die this way in the US every year, and my heart said one of those people could be me.

"Jump, sir. I'm right here. Just jump."

"What’s below the elevator floor? Am I gonna slip and fall into the shaft? BECAUSE THAT’S HOW PEOPLE DIE GETTING OUT OF STUCK ELEVATORS."

"We have it blocked off, sir. Jump into me. I’ll catch you."

To prove his point, he kicked something below the floor of the elevator. I couldn't see what it was, but I could hear his foot colliding with something, so I took his hands, and jumped into him. It turns out that the elevator car has a metal apron that reaches down about two feet, so it covered most, but not all, of the space between the bottom of the car and the hallway floor. No sooner than I was out of the elevator than I was confronted by a hotel security officer.

"How did you get into the elevator, sir? Because they’re working on that one."


I didn't even have to add "I could have died" before he was offering to escort me to the front desk and comp me a meal. Since I didn't want to eat dinner in the hotel again, I requested free breakfast, and the front desk manager promised that he would leave a note at the restaurant that my breakfast was comped.

This morning the restaurant didn't have that note, and I had to loudly explain to the manager in front of the other diners that I had been promised that my breakfast would be comped because I was trapped in their elevator and could have died. She went ahead and gave me the free breakfast after that.

They only had waffles, though, and no pancakes.

Because the Sheraton Hotel Atlanta is a terrible place.

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