Tuesday, January 02, 2007

New Year's From Hell

I mentioned at the end of my last post that Brandi and I were heading down to Hocking Hills, a national forest area located in Southeastern Ohio, for our New Year's celebration. The rental of our secluded cabin in the woods was a gift from our wedding party when we got married in June, and after the frenetic Christmas weekend, we were looking forward to some low-key relaxation. Unfortunately, it didn't quite turn out that way.

The first part of the evening, up to and including the ball coming down in Times Square, went off without a hitch. We arrived at Getaway Cabins around 4:30 in the afternoon to check into our cabin. It seemed like it was going to be everything we had hoped for. The cabin was out in the middle of the woods--there were other cabins nearby, but just barely in sight of one another. The back patio had a hot tub and a really nice view. I took some photos with my awesome new camera; we spent some time in the hot tub; Brandi made dinner for us; we watched some football; we drank some champagne and watched the ball drop; there were some activities no one wants to read about sprinkled throughout.

The downward spiral began shortly after midnight when Brandi and I went out on the patio to spend some more time in the hot tub. When I closed the sliding door, the security bar fell into place, locking us out. I certainly didn't slam the door; I just slid it closed, no harder than either of us had any of the previous five to ten times we had gone through it. This time, though, now that both of us were outside, the bar fell and we were stuck.

At this point I want to mention the one tiny bit of good luck we did have in this whole mess to follow. I'm extremely glad we had left our bathing suits on the porch after our previous trip into the hot tub; we weren't exactly wearing them when we went out after midnight, if you catch my drift. Had they been inside with absolutely everything else we brought along, who knows how much worse things could have been. It's also a good thing it was unseasonably warm. Being stuck outside just after midnight on New Year's Day in Ohio wearing nothing but bathing suits would normally be unbearable due to the cold, but with the temperature on the night in question being somewhere in the 50s, it was a lot better than it could have been.

At any rate, once we realized we were locked out, Brandi pretty much started to freak out right away. I was mostly just amused at first, and I thought we should go ahead and enjoy some time in the hot tub. I've locked myself out of places before and managed to get myself back in, so I was confident we'd figure out a way to do so in this case if we took some time to just think about it. As it turned out, it was probably good that we each reacted the way we did--my calmness kept Brandi from totally losing her mind, and her need for action kept me from sitting there all night and just thinking about it.

So we're locked out of our cabin after midnight wearing only our bathing suits, but as we start thinking about how to get back in, we realize that it's even worse than that. The need for a security bar in the sliding patio door is questionable, as the patio itself is designed in such a way that it is extremely difficult to get onto (or, as it turns out, off of). The back is the only side that is really open; a trellis on each side closes the sides off. It is possible to climb over the railing on the back of the patio; however, the cabin is built on the side of a hill, and the back of the patio was probably (at a guess) about fifteen feet above the ground. Too far to jump, at any rate. So we're not only locked out of our cabin; it seemed like we were stuck on our back porch as well, and it seemed like our only option, unless we could find a way to get the patio door open, would be to wait until the staff came to check out the cabin, which would be after 11:00 a.m.

It quickly became apparent that there was absolutely no way for us to get in through the back door without breaking the glass. We could see lights in the nearest adjacent cabin, though, so Brandi decided to try to go get help. The only way for her to get off the patio, though, was to climb over the railing at the back of the patio, slide along the rail to the side, and then climb down part of the house to a spot where the jump to the ground was only about five feet or so. It was quite a process, but she did it--in a bikini and with no shoes on. She tried the front door, which we knew was dead-bolted, and each of the windows, which also turned out to be locked. From there she had no choice but to head down to see if she could get help from the neighbors.

Now, there are no telephones in any of the cabins, and cell phones generally don't work in this area. There is a public phone available on the porch of the office, but the office was about a mile away from our cabin. So our neighbors, who fortunately turned out to be very, very nice people who went way above and beyond the call of duty throughout this whole mess, drove Brandi down to the office, where she hoped to find a contact number listed for such situations that take place after hours (the office closed at 6:00 p.m.). The only instructions on the phone, however, were to dial 911 for an emergency, and that was the only number listed. So Brandi dialed 911, explained the situation, and was connected to the county sheriff's office. She explained our situation again, where we were located and the whole deal, and was told that they would try to contact the owners and would get someone out to us, although it may take a while. It was about 12:30 a.m. at this point.

The neighbors drove Brandi back to our cabin, where they also tried to figure out a way to get inside. They could not, but they told her to come back to their place if we needed more help. She then climbed back up onto the patio where we got into the hot tub to stay warm while we waited for the owners and/or the police to arrive. We waited. And waited. And waited. The person she had spoken to at the sheriff's office had said it might take some time for someone to get out to us, but by 2:30 a.m., we had begun to wonder if anyone was coming at all.

At that point, Brandi decided she wanted to call them again, so she went through the process of getting off the patio once again. I thought I would go with her, so I did my own little climbing act, but when I got to the jumping point, I couldn't do it. I had a nice little panic attack up there. It sounds stupid, and it is, but it was just a total clusterfuck--the foothold was only wide enough for one of my feet; I didn't have shoes on; I didn't have my glasses on (they were inside, of course), so I couldn't see to judge the jump; I could, however, tell that the ground was slippery and possibly treacherous. I could just see myself jumping, landing wrong, and breaking an ankle or something, which would have taken an already bad night to another level altogether. It's all rationalization, of course, but I really do think that if even one of those factors had been different (particularly if I had my glasses) I would have done it. As it was, I had to shinny my way back onto the porch and hang my head in shame while Brandi once again made the trek down to the neighbors' cabin for another drive down to the office.

By the time she got in contact with the sheriff's office again, it was around 3:20 a.m. They said they had been unable to contact the owners of the cabins. Why they hadn't sent a deputy out by that point, I have no idea, but Brandi got across to them that we would like to have someone come out and help us get into the cabin as we were seriously locked out and wearing only our bathing suits. So the neighbors brought her back to our cabin once again, and she climbed back up onto the patio once again.

Shortly thereafter, the neighbors came back on their own, bringing us a couple of blankets from their cabin. They had found a number for a ranger's office at a local state park, so they drove down to the office to call to see if they would have any insight on how to get us into our cabin. They came back shortly after that to say they only got a recording when they called. They said that we were welcome to come down to their cabin to wait for the police (or whoever finally showed up) or if we needed any more help.

We stayed on the patio for the time being, but around 4:00, Brandi climbed down and walked down to the neighbors' place yet again. It didn't seem at that point like anyone was really going to come, and we had decided to see if there was a way for us to break into the cabin. The neighbors came back with her to case the joint, and a sheriff's deputy finally arrived on the scene just as they got back. It was at least three and a half hours after our original call at this point, which seems unacceptably ludicrous to me. It didn't really matter, though, as the cop who came out turned out to be absolutely zero help. He just reiterated that they had been unable to get in touch with anyone who might be able to let us in. He looked around and confirmed that there was no good way to get into the cabin, and then he pretty much took off. It totally astounds me that cops don't have some tools or something that would allow them to get into a place without kicking the door in, but what the hell do I know.

At that point, the neighbors offered to let us crash at their place, which was really our only option because there seemed to be no way we were getting inside our own place before the office opened at 9:00. They were able to back their truck up alongside our patio so I could climb down (and yes, I know how goddamn lame I am, thank you), and they took us to their place. They made up their pull-out bed for us as best they could, and we were able to get at least a few hours of sleep. It was after 5:00 a.m. at this point. We had to sleep in our still-damp bathing suits, but it was better than sleeping in the hot tub on our patio. I can't stress enough how incredibly nice our neighbors were. Keep in mind that we did not know these people at all, and they really went out of their way to help us.

It was nearly 10:00 a.m. when we woke up, and the neighbors drove us down to the office so we could hopefully get back into our cabin. The lady at the desk said they had heard we locked out when they opened the office at 9:00 from messages left on their answering machine the night before, and that the handyman had gone out then and unlocked our cabin. Brandi asked if there was any chance of us getting a refund, since we weren't able to get in touch with anyone to let us into our cabin, and we were flatly refused.

So the neighbors drove us back up to our cabin, and we were finally, thankfully, able to say goodbye to them. Check-out time was 11:00 a.m., so we started getting our stuff together to leave. As we were doing so, the lady from the office drove up and said she had talked to the owners and they had offered to allow us to stay that night, Monday night, for free. I had to work today, so that was out of the question, so she said we could stay beyond the check-out time if we needed to do so. We said we would, but after she left neither one of us really wanted to stay any longer, so we went ahead and got on the road. I was just totally done with the place at that point, and I figured we might as well get back to Bowling Green and try to enjoy as much of the day as possible.

We stopped at the office once again on our way out so we could try to get an address for our neighbors so we could send them a thank-you card or something. Instead, Brandi bought a small something for them at the gift shop and asked the office to deliver it for us. Then we came home.

We had some laughs about the whole situation on the way home and for the remainder of the day--I actually made one joke in the car that made Brandi spray a mouthful of water all over the windshield, the dashboard, and herself, as well as (she told me later) pee herself a little bit--but it still left us pretty pissed off. For one thing, it's totally absurd that no one could get in touch with anyone to let us into our cabin. I realize it was a one-in-a-million, fluke situation that left us locked out, but people getting locked out of their cabins after hours could happen to anyone at any time. I totally understand if they don't want to pay someone to staff the office 24 hours a day, but it doesn't seem too much to ask that they have a maintenance man on call or something. Even if we had to wait a couple of hours for someone to let us back in, that's fine, but being unable to do so all night is not acceptable.

Also, what about the seeming incompetence of the sheriff's office in this situation? I can't imagine why it took them over three and a half hours to respond. I have no confidence that help would have arrived in time if there was some sort of actual emergency, like if one of us had slipped in the hot tub and gotten a concussion or broken a leg. I used to think I might like to live out in the country or in the woods at some point later in life, but a situation like this makes me realize that being out in the middle of nowhere is fucking bullshit. I have no desire to put my life in the hands of Officer Michael Kelso of the Keystone Kops.

(On the other hand, I feel totally confident putting my life in the hands of my wife, who I'm beginning to think is a ninja.)

As far as the cabin is concerned, we're still holding out at least mild hope for a refund or something. We've lodged a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, so we'll see if that accomplishes anything. Also, our friend who actually purchased the gift certificate for our stay there resolved to call and complain after hearing our story, as it was really our wedding party who didn't get their money's worth. All of this will most likely come to nothing, but after having our New Year's mostly ruined (I remarked at one point early Monday morning: "2007 sucks!"), we aren't taking it lying down. For anyone thinking about a trip to Hocking Hills, I would say that it's probably a really good time, but I would recommend a different lodge/cabin operation than Getaway Cabins. To be fair, if it hadn't been for this admittedly bizarre situation, it would have been awesome, but they totally whiffed on the customer service aspect.

On the bright side, the year can only get better from here. (At least I hope so.)

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