I couldn't resist the subject for this week's Sunday Scribbles - Hotel Stories, because one of the most memorable nights of my life was spent in the Algiers Hotel/Motel on the Strip in Las Vegas.
Many years ago when I was first married (before kids, mortgage and life sucking debt) my then husband and I decided to be spontaneous and meet my parents in Vegas for the weekend. They were flying in from Pennsylvania and had reservations at Caesar's Palace. Since it was a last minute decision on our part, the only room we could find was a generic hotel located on the strip, across the street from Caesar's. No big deal we said, after all how much time will we actually spend in the room? We basically needed a place to pass out and take a shower.
We drove from Los Angeles on a Friday afternoon and were not expecting much when we checked into the hotel. It exceeded our expectations in bad taste. It was built in the fifties and everything was original from the furniture to the bedspreads to the towels. But Vegas being Vegas, it didn't matter because we casino hopped Friday night and all day Saturday. Saturday night after dinner, a show and gambling till two in the morning, we returned to the room. We were feeling no pain that night and true to form, passed out as soon as we hit the bed. The room was facing the strip, so there was a lot of traffic noise, and the typical sirens and drunks. Around two thirty, I was jolted out of bed by the sound of sirens, really loud and getting louder by the minute. Almost sounded like they were in the room. Was I going out of my mind or did I smell smoke and hear the crackling of a fire? Immediately there was a loud knock at the door, and I knew it wasn't someone coming to visit. In a panic, I open the door in my nightgown and lo and behold there are three firemen attired with gas masks, telling me to evacuate immediately. They asked if we had kids and when I said no, they figured we were old enough to get out by ourselves and ran to the other rooms. My ex was barely awake and thought I was over reacting till he got a good whiff of the smoke. I was shaking, but realized I needed to cover my ass. Luckily, my clothes were right on the floor where I had left them so I was able to throw something on in record time. We were on the second floor (there were only two floors) and had to run down a flight of stairs, through the smoke, to get out to the pool area. The smoke was so thick and powerful, it permeated my body and sucker punched my lungs. It felt like a heavy, wet blanket wrapped around my body, suffocating me. At that moment I realized the true meaning of dying of smoke inhalation. Choking the whole way, we made it out and I never appreciated fresh air more in my life. We were evacuated to the bar/restaurant area which was at the opposite end from the fire.
We spent the next four hours in a bar/restaurant, which had the decor of a convalescent home, with hundreds of the the most motley assortment of people you could ever imagine. People from all walks of life in various stages of dress, drunkenness and age brackets. The electricity was out, but they still managed to serve drinks, which had to be paid for in cash! My father saw the fire from his hotel room and came over to check it out. Good thing, because he had the cash on him and ended up buying all the drinks. Strangely enough, not too many people remembered to grab their wallets, except for my ex, but it was empty from a night of gambling. For some strange reason, the governor of Nevada was staying at the Algiers and it is the only reason the fire was mentioned in the LA Times the following week. I guess what happens in Vegas doesn't always stay in Vegas. We did meet some other couples our age, and it was sort of fun to sit there and reminisce about waking up in a burning hotel and how we would laugh about it at a later date. As the night progressed, the stories got funnier.
Around six thirty a.m., after they had finally put the fire out and everyone was accounted for, we were allowed back in the room to gather our belongings. Luckily for us, the fire had stopped right before our room so it was still intact. The windows were broken and water and smoke had damaged everything in the room. You can imagine our surprise when we went to check-out (I wanted to just bolt, but my ex, being an attorney had to make sure everything was in order) that they charged us for two nights! I went ballistic. I told the manager in so many words that we were not paying for a hotel room that scared the shit out of me, ruined my clothes, and caused my lungs to be permanently scarred!
To the disappointment of my mom, we choose to drive back to LA immediately and skip the infamous champagne brunch where you could eat your weight in Lox. You usually had to drag my ex out of Vegas kicking and screaming, but this time he couldn't wait to leave. It took days for my lungs to recuperate not to mention the fact that I have been paranoid about staying in hotels ever since. I refuse to stay above the fifth floor, and after locating the all-important ice machine, I immediately memorize the fire escape chart on the door.
The next time we were in Vegas we discovered they repaired the damage and the good old Algiers was back in service. Years later, I was watching "Leaving Las Vegas" and realized that this was the hotel where they filmed the movie. Good choice, since they didn't have to do a thing to it to make it look seedy. But all good things must come to an end, and a few years ago, it was razed to make way for high rise condominiums. All that remained was the sign, and many, many memories.