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Naked in Orlando
The Wall Street Journal, November 1, 1993
Recently I was scheduled to introduce the president of my company to a large group of customers, meeting at our annual convention in Orlando, Florida. I was late, and didn't show up until long after he had given up on me and introduced himself. My excuse? I was somewhere else, in a hotel, locked alone in a room, naked. I woke up in plenty of time that morning, sailed into the bathroom, closed the door but didn't lock it. I was alone and the outer hotel room door was deadbolted against overeager housekeepers. I showered, dried myself off, and headed to the door. But when I turned the bathroom doorknob, it did not budge...
There I was, and I was stuck. The room, at the end of the hallway at the end of the hotel, faced nothing—just outside air, 20 stories up. And I'd hung the "Do Not Disturb" sign on the deadbolted door. I was booked for a one-week stay. No reason for anyone to come by until it was time to check out. Under the circumstances, I asked the question any seasoned executive would ask in the same circumstances:
"What would MacGyver do?"
Of course! I could blow the door off. I looked around for some charcoal, sulphur and potassium nitrate to make gunpowder. None. Nor was there a magnesium pipe that I could file into shavings and make into a blowtorch - as there would be for MacGyver.
I poked through my travel kit and finally found... a fingernail clipper. I wedged the clipper into the door jamb and scraped the bolt to slide it out. But the bolt had broken off in place. Rats! I searched the room again: useless towels, soap, little plastic bottles of shampoo, conditioner, moisturizing lotion, a plastic shower cap. Hmm... metal towel bars! I yanked one off the wall and was able to hammer the hollow end flat using the thick bottom of a drinking glass and the marble sink top. A pry bar! The stuff of legends! I pushed it into the jamb and pried. The towel bar bent. The door frame was steel and solid wood, nearly two inches thick. A strong door.
Valiantly, I tried my pry bar on the hinge pins, again using the drinking glass for a hammer. I'd removed plenty of doors at home this way: pop the pins out, pull the door. Freedom! But this time the glass broke and the pins didn't budge. On inspection I saw that they were welded in place. Next I examined the door knob and pushed on its own clip to pull the knob off. Hah! Progress! But this only exposed the knob mechanism screwed tightly into the door. So I tried the fingernail clipper as a screwdriver. Too soft, it merely bent.
And I started to sweat. The mirrors, with many high-wattage lights, were turning the room into an oven. I unscrewed most of the bulbs. No need to cook my goose in more ways than one. By now I was glad to be working in the buff. I made a half-hearted effort at tapping out S-O-S on the wall and shouting "Help! Help!" I began dismantling the bathroom looking for a makeshift screwdriver. I took apart the tiny TV, toilet, and a wall plug to find a right-angled piece of steel to use on the screws. All were soft metal and plastic. I unplugged the cable and power to the TV, hoping for security devices there to alert the front desk that they were being stolen. For naught.
My MacGyver bravado was beginning to wane. How long before I got out? And if I didn't, how would the obituary read? ("Naked man wrecks hotel bathroom, starves to death.")
Will renewed, I began to chop up the wooden door around the lock to pull out the mechanism. I used the sharp end of my homemade pry bar and began hacking away. This was slow going, but I was out of clever alternatives. I remembered horror stories of people being buried alive and trying to scrape their way out of wooden caskets with their fingernails. At least I had a towel bar.
And then I heard a tiny, distant voice. It was a security guard, outside my room. Someone had heard my SOSs, and reported them to the front desk, not sure if they were real or a prank. (I don't know who you are, but if you're reading this, thank you.)
The maintenance guy couldn't get the door loose either, and he couldn't get the lock mechanism out because it was screwed in from my side. He slid a small screwdriver through the narrow space under the door so I could undo the screws, but it was too small, and it bent. Finally, he pounded a larger screwdriver under the door with a hammer. I removed the screws, and he pulled the main mechanism from the door. There was a three inch peephole now; he could see a whole lot more of me than I could of him.
Still, the broken bolt remained in the jamb. The door stayed shut. Now he passed me a very large, flathead screwdriver through the circular hole. I stood in the bathtub, out of the way, trying to use it as a pry bar to pull the door away from the jamb. Then, as I pried, he threw his shoulder into the door, and it thumped open. I emerged at last.
I finally made it to the auditorium, an hour late, but with the single best hotel story anyone had ever heard. The group nicknamed me "MacGyver."
The hotel did not apologize. Nor did it send me a bill for the bathroom damages. At least not yet.
Mr. Koch is senior vice president of Oracle Corp., a software company in Redwood Shores, Calif.