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Travelwise

April 4, 2009

While at Autumn’s tumbling competition this weekend, I heard a story from another mother that made the hair on my arms stand on end, and I had to pass it along to you in the hopes that it might help every woman who reads this travel more safely. This is not an “email hoax” or anything like that (speaking of which…did you know that most of those can be verified by snopes.com before forwarding? Very handy.) This is a straight-from-the-horse’s-mouth, it-happened-to-me tale from the mother of another tumbler on Autumn’s team. I’m going to try to dialogue this as faithfully as I can recall it so it’s not boring—

 

The conversation started off innocuously enough. We were all chitter-chattering about our various accommodations and their amenities. A couple of us, including Autumn and I, had lucked out with the Crowne Plaza. This mother (I’ll call her Susie and her daughter Q to protect their identities) laughed and said, yeah, “Q loves the C.P.—they have those eye thingies, and the ear plugs, and the lavender linen spray…”

 

“I was lucky to get it. I’d actually called a couple of other places first, but all they had were exterior rooms, and I just didn’t really feel comfortable staying in an exterior room traveling without Duane.”

 

Susie’s eyes got big. “No way will I ever stay in an exterior room again. Not after what happened last year.”

 

“What happened last year?”

 

“It’s a long story, but to make it short, we had gone to bed, and something woke me up. I never wake up in the night, ever, but I got up, went to the bathroom, and just stood there for a minute, kind of disoriented. A voice in my head was telling me, ‘BAR THE DOOR! BAR THE DOOR!’ and all of a sudden it occurred to me that I had not put that security bar across the door, so I went to do so. As soon as I flipped that bar, the door started to crash open. That bar stopped it, thankfully, but whoever was on the other side of it kept trying to push the door in. They had a room key to my room. I panicked…I was yelling ‘who are you? What do you want? You’re at the wrong room! Go away!’ but they just kept on trying to get it. I grabbed my cell phone and called my husband, who of course was several states away. He said, ‘honey, you need to calm down and call 911.’ Q, meanwhile, is still half-asleep and not nearly as agitated as I was. I was so panicked, and had so much adrenaline flowing through me, that I was literally not able to figure out how to dial 911 on the hotel phone. I pressed 0 for the front desk, and eventually he picked up. He had a thick accent…Jamaican or something like that…and he acted like he couldn’t understand me when I told him what was happening. He hung up on me. I just kept yelling at the men trying to get in my room to go away, and after a few minutes I heard the desk clerk outside my room. Then quiet. I looked out and the desk clerk was walking away with two other men. I didn’t waste any time. Immediately Q and I gathered up all of our stuff and we hightailed it out of there, in our pajamas. We went to another hotel, and believe me, they gave us some looks when we walked up in there like that, with tears all down our faces, but they called the police for us, and they gave us a room for free. A policeman took me back over to the hotel to make sure I hadn’t left any of our things over there and to check out the situation and that was very interesting. When we asked the same desk clerk for my paperwork (I didn’t want to leave any personal information at that place), he acted like I had never been a guest at that hotel. I was not in the computer, there was no paperwork. When I pressed, and said that I could show my own copies of the paperwork, he rooted around and finally managed to pull my paperwork out of a satchel behind the desk…”

 

This is Susie’s story, in effect. It’s fairly simple to look at all of the pieces of it and see the end goal…robbery, abduction, rape, something worse. The desk clerk’s culpability or involvement is pretty clear, too, either in providing a room key to associates or at the very least looking the other way. The good part about it is that by the grace of God what looks to be a pretty serious crime was averted. The sad part about it is that nothing was ever done about the fact that such a crime was attempted. Susie wasn’t able to press charges. She wasn’t able to really speak her mind and gain satisfaction from this hotel chain’s CEO. She wasn’t even able to get that scummy desk clerk fired.

 

There are valuable lessons to be learned from this story for women traveling.  One is to not be fearful, but to be cautious, wary, and aware of our instincts. Another is to secure your hotel door not only with the deadbolt, but with that bar or chain. If you get into your room and see that the door does not have one, request one that does, or be old-fashioned and stick a chair under the knob. Finally, Susie said she got a lot of flack over the whole “you couldn’t dial 911!” thing. Panic and adrenaline are the real deal. They cloud your ability to reason, and compromise your ability to learn and apply new information—even something that seems very simple. Whenever you enter into a new situation (think: plane, or hotel room) take a few minutes to read over the escape routes and methods of dialing out…you never know when it might come in handy.

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