SOCHI, Russia — My greeting after finally checking into the open-since-Wednesday Gorki Grand Hotel could not have been more five-alarming.
It came over the hotel intercom first in Russian, then in English.
I actually figured out the Russian part because there were sirens wailing on top of it.
The message was, in essence, this:
“Fire! There has been a fire reported in the building! Evacuate at once! Do not use the lift!”
You didn’t have to tell me twice.
I was scheduled to check in the Gorki on Sunday, but it wasn’t ready. It still wasn’t ready when I dropped bags Thursday and to had to side-step half-opened boxes in the hallways.
With exposed wires everywhere, fire, to me, seemed a very real possibility.
I grabbed my Olympic credential and passport and ran down four flights of stairs. I rushed outside and then back through the front entrance of the hotel.
“Where is the fire?” I asked the lady at the front desk. Other guests had also wandered down to the lobby.
“No fire,” she said. “Just testing.”
“But it didn’t say it was a test,” I said.
“Do not listen to that man,” she said of the voice on the intercom.
Listen, I understand people don’t care about the problems of journalists covering the Olympics. Who gives a rip if media housing was the last to be completed before the start of these Games?
Worse things that can happen here -- you could be a stray dog.
Another journalist standing in the lobby, though, made a good point.
If the Russians were smart, he said, they would have completed the media hotels first because journalists are the ones crafting first impressions of these Games.
It should be said the Russian people working the hotels have been generally terrific, and apologetic. They are not to blame for the construction delays that have led to disgruntled guests.
The phony fire evacuation, in fact, gave me a chance to tell the nice lady at the reception desk there was no toilet paper for my brand new toilet.
A few minutes later, she personally arrived at my door.
“Me again,” she said.
She held out one toilet-paper roll, with two hands, and said, “Here.”
I said the one Russian word I say over and over here: Thank you (Spa-see-bo).
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