Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Emergency Exit

Several times while in Chicago on work assignments I have stayed at one of those old, big-city "usta-bee elegant" hotels -- the kind where the lobby has a chandelier, the carpet and chairs are plush, and the main desk discretely holds your key while you are out (and knows who you are when you return).

Built in 1893 for the Columbian Exposition, this hotel was the Americana Congress, just off the Loop in Chicago. The best rooms overlooked the fountain in Grant Park, and it prided itself on the early 20th century politicians, bootleggers, and mobsters who were its patrons. Grover Cleveland, Teddy Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Al Capone, and Benny Goodman, just to name a few, have all been guests at the Americana.

I marveled at the rooms whose windows opened onto the black telescoping fire escape ladders (think of Julia Roberts and Richard Gere at the end of Pretty Woman). The hallway door into these rooms had a large, flimsy wooden plywood panel in the middle and big sign over it stating that those fleeing a raging hotel fire could quickly kick in the door in an emergency and scamper through the room to the safety of the fire escape. And, no, I never did, and never would stay in one of those rooms -- I always had visions of either really bad people easily breaking in, or hoards of panicked people racing through the room while the luckless, embarrassed and probably naked patrons were screaming in confusion and fright.

That was the emergency exit of yesteryear. I guess in some ways today's emergency exit can actually be thought of as a "simpler time":

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