Monday, February 27, 2017

Trapped in the hotel

This is not at all related to environmental geology, but it's a good story and I do have a "travel" label. A while back, I mentioned getting trapped inside a hotel room with an intruder:

My senior year in high school, I went on a class trip to Europe. One of our hotel stays was in the middle of nowhere, Greece. It was not exactly updated for the modern era, and it had a particularly interesting room key system: There were two keys. Each key locked or unlocked both sides of the door. So you could easily be locked inside. I'm not sure what passed for fire safety in that area back then, but the rooms also connected to a single outside balcony that you could leap from if you couldn't get out the normal way. The hotel also had a policy that you had to leave your keys with the front desk if you left the hotel.

There was some sort of local bar/discotheque, so everybody immediately vacated the hotel to go dancing, and all the chaperones followed. My friend Jane and I were not big drinkers/partiers, so we came back around 9 or 10.

Let's go back to the key situation for a minute. Everybody had relinquished their keys upon leaving, including the other two girls who were sharing a room with me and Jane. The keys were hanging up behind the desk. You could see at a glance who was in the hotel, and you could just take the spare key if there was just one, and unlock the door of an occupied room.

Imagine my surprise when the door to our room opened and some dude let himself in. We didn't really know any Greek, and he at least pretended not to know any English. We tried to explain/pantomime that he should leave, and eventually he did, but not before pocketing our key, which was on the table right next to the door. And then he locked the door from the outside.

So we were locked in our phone-less room in an empty hotel, long before the era of cell phones or internet or anything. I immediately ran out to the balcony and started trying the other doors, but they were all locked. It would have been pointless to get into another room anyway, since they were all locked as well.

15 minutes later, the dude comes back bearing a little tray with three glasses of what he says is ouzo, snack cakes, and the keys. As we uselessly flutter around him, trying to tell him that he needs to get out, now (remember, he claims to not understand English), he sets down the tray and locks the door, trapping us inside with him. When he sits down and I go to unlock the door, he gets up and shoos me away with a torrent of Greek.

So. We are teenagers in a foreign country, locked in a hotel room in an empty hotel with a guy who is making outward gestures at being friendly and gregarious. Strange dude sits on the bed, right next to Jane, and over the course of his conversation, his hand comes to rest on her thigh. Both of us together maybe weigh as much as he does. Jane is frozen in fear, and I'm mobile but have the size and outward appearance of a 12-year-old. Is the guy volatile? Does he have a weapon? He's cheerfully ignoring my "you really need to go" pantomime. What would be the tipping point for me to yank Jane out of there and jump off a balcony?

Eventually, someone else came back - I heard female voices in the hallway. I was "casually" leaning against the door in order to secretly unlock it, and I immediately turned the key and yelled for help, and the four of us bodily yanked the guy out of the room and locked the door behind him, this time retaining both keys.

When we got home, we made an Official Complaint to the tour organizer that they had booked a school group into a hotel tailored for sexual predators. We got a $200 voucher for our next tour (ah ha ha!) and that was the end of it.

I've internalized two things from that experience: 1. in a pinch, I know that I will not freeze up and will at least do what I can to resolve a bad situation, and 2. I hate the loss of control involved in group tours. I'll make my own travel arrangements.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

not atwitter

People have been announcing the death of the blog and the great migration to twitter for a while now. A good example is here at Dynamic Ecology.

I have zero interest in twitter. I'm not really a 140-character person. Blogging is more my pace because I like to let my posts gestate for a while, and then write up exactly how much I feel works for a particular subject.

I also don't care to follow my scientist friends on a real-time basis. When I'm at work, I work. When I'm at home, sometimes I sit back with a glass of wine and relax on the couch with a book. Perhaps I'm inherently antisocial, but I'm not interested in the back and forth of discussion on twitter - or other platforms. It's not a surprise that I'm not a terribly active facebook user either.

 For me, blogging is a way for me to build up a repository of opinions experiences that I can share for anyone who's interested in the environmental biz or geology or working outside for a living. I'd like to be somewhat relevant, but I'd prefer to have more freedom with what I write than to be timely.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

administrative record fail

Many federal cleanup sites (and a large number of state cleanup sites) have publicly available administrative records. Depending on the agency involved, this may include just the legal records and the major reports used to document completion of the cleanup, or may include just about every piece of correspondence written along the way.

I've reviewed my fair share of administrative records. Most of the time, I can get what I need online and don't need to trek to a records facility or local library.

I was reviewing one administrative record online, however, and apparently some additional documents got shuffled in accidentally. The EPA technical lead's performance review (for his annual review for his job) was attached to the end of a very long, very dry technical report.

I'm happy to report that Mr. EPA technical lead was considered to be generally competent, and his peer reviewers had only positive things to say. That's nice, since his review is permanently enshrined online.