The Incident

July 26 2013

The Incident Reading the news from the recent Romance Writers of America Conference held in the Atlanta Marriott reminded me of the last time the conference was held there. I had what you might call an incident.

I’ll begin at the beginning. In the late afternoon of my third day there, my legs grew twitchy and my eyelids drooped, so I picked up a slice of pizza and an unnecessarily large bottle of Diet Coke and baled to my quiet single room at the dead-end of a corridor. After my evening snack, I steamed my achy limbs in the tub, slipped into my nightie and lounged on the bed to read about the next day’s sessions.

By then my half-full bottle of Coke was getting warm. I didn’t have a fridge to stick it in, and I hated to waste it. I decided to trot out to the hall, fill the ice bucket and keep the bottle cold until the next day.

I hadn’t packed a robe, and with the ice machine barely ten steps from my door, I didn’t bother to pull on some clothes. Dressed only in my nightgown, I grabbed my keycard and the plastic liner for the ice bucket and stepped into the empty hall. Women’s voices bubbled up from the open atrium fifteen or more floors below. By the magnitude of the cacophony, I realized I must be the only one in the whole conference going to bed early.

Right away I had a problem. With the keycard in one hand, and pressing the button with my other, I couldn’t hold the ice bag wide enough to catch the cubes as they tumbled out. I adjusted my keycard hand so I could brace the bag better and tried again. Again cubes bounced off the edge of the bag and onto the grill.

And then---so did my keycard. Stunned, I watched it slip through the grill and out of sight.

I did not panic. I want everyone who knows me to try to picture me NOT PANICKING. Instead, I stood there in my nightie, limp ice bag in hand, and considered my options. Option one: Take the elevator to the lobby, where all the people were gathering (all those people who weren’t going to bed early), march in my bare feet to the long line and wait to speak to a clerk about a new room key.

Option one: Take the elevator to the lobby, where all the people were gathering (all those peoplewho weren’t going to bed early), march in my bare feet to the long line and wait to speak to a clerk about a new room key.

Option two: Stand like an idiot in the hall waiting for someone to show up on my floor, and then beg for help. Dressed in her elegant black dinner dress, flushed with champagne and the knowledge she’d just sold her thirtieth book, my rescuer would muffle her guffaw at my predicament and then bravely ring hotel security.

I chose option 3. I shoved my hand into the grill of the ice machine as far as it would go. To my surprise, I felt the card beneath my fingers. Millimeter by millimeter, I shifted the card until I could grasp it. But when I grasped tightly, I couldn’t extract my hand from the grill. And when I released it slightly, and the key card slipped from my fingers.

I tried again, shoving my hand deeper into the grill, letting my fingers do the walking, until they gripped the keycard. By then my hand was numb, cold and STUCK. I imagined the first person to come across my almost-naked body hours later would find me sprawled on the carpet, feet angled toward the soda machine, one hand wedged in the ice machine’s grasp, the other still clutching the ice bag.

I gave it one more try. I slid the card upward with one finger and grasped the corner of it with my other hand. Hooray! The key card was out. I could get back into my room! But I still wanted the ice. I gripped the keycard safely between my knees, clutched the ice bag in two hands, punched the button and watched the ice clunk into the bag.

Later it occurred to me if I had zoomed down the elevator and traipsed through the hotel lobby in nothing but my nightie, just as Nora Roberts, Eloisa James, and Linda Howard were going out with their publishers and their agents, I would be famous—or infamous. People would still point at me and say… “Isn’t she the one who…?

Well, who knows what they’d say?