I treasure watching a good story unfold, especially when its ripple effect ignites movement in the right direction. I just love this one from last October.
It couldn’t have happened to a nicer, more congenial group. That’s what I decided once I woke up enough to thoroughly comprehend what they were asking us to do. Startled out of a very deep sleep, I understood the voice over the speaker to say, “This is an emergency; please exit the building on the stairs. Do not use the elevators. I repeat, do not use the elevators.” Thinking it was an errant alarm going off, I glanced toward the light of the clock and saw 2:33 on the digital screen. I heard the voice again, and wondered out loud if it really meant us. It didn’t take a third time before my roommate and I realized that we’d better put a coat over our PJs, find a key, and head downstairs. Neither one of us even thought to put shoes on. As we made our way bleary-eyed down sixteen flights of stairs, our “upgrade” to the 16th floor no longer seemed advantageous. I remembered that there had been a bomb scare at the airport earlier in the day and tried to keep from catastrophizing, wondering what happened to get all of us up and out of bed during the wee hours of the morning like that. Was San Francisco always this chaotic? I really empathized with the elderly and the families with small infants, both of whom seemed completely disoriented. I marveled at the fact that the stairwell was as peaceful and calm as it was.
Once outside, we watched patiently as the firemen entered the building to check things out. We visited with people we’d met earlier in the day at the National Forum for Character Education that we were attending. We even found things to chuckle about despite the fact that we’d all rather have still been sleeping. The sidewalk was slick from the mist that was falling and we wished we’d have grabbed our shoes like most everyone else had. As time passed, I thought about the fire drills at school and imagined getting the all-clear with a message that went something like this:
Good job, Hyatt partners. We were able to completely evacuate in 12-and-a-half minutes. Thank you for your part in making this fire drill such a huge success.
After about what seemed like an hour but was really only fifteen minutes, we did, in fact, get the all-clear and we were invited back into the building. Here comes the challenge, I thought. Going down was probably the easy part. We inquired about taking the stairs, but were told that the stairwell doors are locked and they don’t have the manpower to unlock them at this hour, so we’d have to take the elevators. Take the stairs down, but don’t take the stairs back up, really? As the lobby filled up, frustration levels went up and the once-friendly Hyatt partners were fired up. Tired people, who had to wake up, wanted up. Now! I know, ‘cause I was one of them. It really seemed like this might take forever! And the fact that it was the bagel shop nextdoor and not even the Hyatt with the smoke issue didn’t help.
The first elevator door opened and a woman who had been separated from her friend called to the back for her to join her. We all looked at her to see what she’d do and we could tell that she REALLY wanted to take her up on the offer. “No, that wouldn’t be right,” she called back. “I’ll wait here until it’s my turn.” That’s when it happened. The people between the elevator and her gave her permission - encouraged her, even - to bypass them and ride the elevator up with her roommate to their room. It was as if the waters parted so that she could go up.
With everything that people say is wrong in this world, there’s SO much right with the world, too. There was peace when there could have been panic, sensitivity when there could have been spite. There was empathy when there could have been exasperation and compassion when there could have been covetousness and chaos.
It was on my ride in the service elevator back up to the 16th floor to go back to bed at 3:15 a.m. that I realized that it couldn’t have happened to a nicer, more congenial group. Way to go, Hyatt partners!