There was a time when Williamsburg was a small town. Civilization seemed to end at the John Yancy and didn’t start up again to just around the Pottery Factory. Even when a person was in town there were places that felt like they were far removed from the slow hustle of Williamsburg. The Holiday Inn 1776 was one such place.
Back when I was a kid, there was a nine-hole pitch and putt golf course in front of the hotel. By the time I was in college there were only a few holes left. The rest of the ground had been given over to time share condominiums. When I was a kid the hotel had a regal feel due to the long drive from By-Pass Road to the front door. By the time I was in college the drive was often a nightmare for it meant that I was going to work.
I wasn’t really cut out for a career in hotels, especially in the 1776. The stately hotel had been the site of high school memories that included a night of hopeful adolescence during the annual cheerleading competition and the luck of a gathering in the Presidential suite. Another instance had been the greatest party of all time that was catered by two kids who knew where all the best deals in Williamsburg were. Besides the parties, this was the hotel where Mr. Poland got everyone jobs as extras in the mini-series, The George Washington Story. Those were three days on the set at Yorktown Battlefield instilled a sense of how good money is when all you have to do is ‘hurry up and wait.’
Alas, though, I found myself making the drive to the hotel for an evening shift of front desk work that would change my life forever. The thoughts of high school high jinks would give way to the life or death realities of the terroristic world that was starting to evolve in the United States during the 1980s. Fortunately, I had been raised on a steady diet of James Bond and Benny Hill, so I was prepared for the night that the satellite transmissions would be felled for all Holiday Inns across our land of the free.
Jim Buchanan was the night manager at the hotel. His polyester suits nearly sparked as his skinny frame walked around at a combustible pace. He smoked his cigarettes nearly as fast as he walked and his orders cut through the tobacco breath in triplicate. Fridays were tough on the front desk because this was the night all the time share meat was checking in. For a free two-night stay and tickets to Busch Gardens and Colonial Williamsburg, families would sit though a high pressure sales pitch about the condos that had taken away part of the old golf course. The night would be hectic as the families were looking to squeeze as much recreational time out of their forty eight hours as possible. Friday was not the time for Jim to pull us away from the desk.
“Come back to the office guys,” Jim said. We walked back and he started with a nicotine fueled panic attack. “Corporate faxed us a warning that the Citizens for Unobstructed Living are planning to sabotage the satellite dishes of all Holiday Inn hotels.”
“Why?” I asked.
“It doesn’t matter. Corporate wants us to make sure that we do everything short of calling the police or media to protect satellite dish. Brad, I’m pulling you from the desk tonight and you are going to keep an eye on our dish. We can’t have service interrupted. Can I count on you?”
“Jim, there will be service through the night. I won’t let you down. Can I put real clothes on?”
“Sure, do what you must. I’ll stay at the desk to help with check in.”
Night came around and it was typical August in Williamsburg. The air temperature was about seventy five degrees and the humidity was about one hundred seventy five percent, but I was comfortable in my shorts and t-shirt. I had pulled the Ford Escort over to the dish side of the hotel and was kicked back with my Walkman and Bruce Springsteen tapes. I quite the collection thanks to the kindness of the caterers of the epic high school party. I had my doubts about terrorists coming to the Colonial Capital to destroy anything, but I was pretty much getting paid for listening to music, so I kept an eye out for anything suspicious. Then, around two in the morning and as my batteries began to die, a car came driving down the long driveway.
I sprung into action and walked over to the satellite dish. My Yale t-shirt was a rescue from Blow Gym and had seen it’s better days. It was starting to turn yellow and gave off a little tie dye vibe. I was also rocking a pair of cutoff baseball pants from James Blair. This was about as close to granola as I would ever get and my mix-matched grab was about to come in handy as two equally shabby-chic looking dudes came out of the trees by the satellite dish.
The first one said, “Hey, are you Brad.”
That was some coincidence. “I am.”
“Glad you’re here, man. We’ve got to find their breaker box and trip the circuit.”
“I know where it is. I cased the place before you guys got here. Hop in my car. I’ll drive you to the box and then we can hustle out of here fast.”
“They were right. You’re, good.”
We got in the car. My two hippie looking saboteurs sat in the very cramped back seat as all my tapes were spread out in the front. Their knees were pushed up to their chests making moving nearly impossible. I drove to the back of the hotel and told them to wait in the car. On the floor there was an empty Gatorade bottle. I pushed it through the tear in my shirt and took it with me. I ran behind the maintenance shed and when I was out of sight, I threw the bottle down so those guys thought I broke a window. I kicked around of bunch of stuff that was lying around and then hustled back to the car. The two guys were still crunched up in back.
“Let’s get out of here,” I said.
“No, we can’t yet,” the other one said. “We have to wait until the battery on the emergency unit goes off on the satellite. We’re not sure what will happen, but it will take about a half an our and then some light or something comes on.”
So we drove back around to the satellite and sat. These guys must have done yoga because they did not move or seem even a little uncomfortable.
“How did you guys get involved with CUL?”
“We’re not. Some guy told us he would give us ten dollars each and a case of Michelob Dark if we would knock out the satellite. He’s sitting in his car waiting for the light to go out on the other side of those trees.”
“Cool. Hey, I’ve gotta pee. You guys stay here.”
I got out of my car and walked around the trees, pretending to do my business, but really checking out the dude in the car. He looked like a serious player in the tear-stuff-up game. He was sitting low in his black B-210 and rocking his mirrored sunglasses even though it was night. He was going to do something and I suppose I was going to have to go MacGyver fast. I ran back to the car.
“Guys, get out of the car. You’re going to go with you’re guy over there. I’m going to stay with the satellite and meet up with you at Frank’s Truck stop. Take this with you.”
I handed them a bag of cassettes. They headed back to the old Datsun. How the guy was able to sit in that car on this night with the windows up was a mystery to me, but it gave me an idea. The maintenance supervisor for the hotel always kept a bottle of Chuy’s Bubble Gum Air Freshener in his truck. I grabbed the bottle and ran for the sporty compact car. The opportunists were getting in and about to close the door. I could see the car’s cigarette lighter glowing and knew I had one chance. I unscrewed the top on the air freshener as tossed it into the car, slamming the door shut just before the flash.
There were reports of an explosion as far away as Second Street, but the smell of bubble gum managed to float all the way to Farm Fresh on Merrimac Trail. The three guys in the car were not injured as the air freshener only exploded with the force of a Hubba Bubba bubble popping. They were either in shock or totally buzzed from the bubble gum smell and just drove away laughing back to wherever. Satellite service was never interrupted.
So ended my career at the 1776.