Emergency repair at a hotel

For the most part, my work isn't physically demanding. Occasional bits of strength are needed, back when 20+inch monitors were heavy or moving around a big computer...but for the most part, it's one bit of effort, and done.

This is a story about one of the phsically hardest jobs I did.

To set the scene, it was the early 1990s. Phones are still almost always "land lines". Motels and Hotels made a good chunk of their profits on the phone calls their customers made from their rooms. At the time, I was still working out of the trunk of my car.

About 3:00pm on a Friday afternoon, I got a call from a guy I have done work with. He's a telephone and wiring contractor, he did the wiring, I did the computer support. Good guy, good to work with. He called to tell me about a customer of his who was having "computer problems". It was a small hotel, the place had a telephone controller and a billing computer, and the two were not talking. "It's not the wires", he assured me.

It was the wires. Of course. But I'm jumping ahead.

The hotel was in Ann Arbor, MI, very near the UofM stadium, but a good hour from my house. And...it was a game weekend. So, people are pouring in from all over, checking in, going to their rooms and placing phone calls to people saying, "I'm here". And the billing computer is logging NONE of them. The hotel management is in a panic.

So, I jump in my car, and shoot out to Ann Arbor as fast as I can (an hour away for me). I get there, the customer is very happy to see me, and people are running all over the place. Problem one...where do I keep my car? It's a valet parking place -- their lot is quite some ways away, so I explain I'd like to keep my car out front so I can get tools. They ask, "can we have the ignition key so we can move it if we need to?" Sure - they get the ignition key, I got the trunk key, we are good, and I leave the car in their "tow away" zone as they suggeted.

I get to work, and soon start figuring out, it probably is a wire that's bad. But now I have to find which one -- and sometimes the best way to prove "not my problem" is to make it my problem, and fix it. And even if not my problem, I'd rather fix them up than to have to have them wait for the wiring people to come back out.

The billing computer was on the first floor behind the desk. The phone controller was in a "doghouse" on top the roof, above the third floor, so effectively, the fourth floor. There are elevators, but they don't take me to the doghouse, they just take me up to the third floor. AND...there are people checking in in large quantities, so the elevators are quite busy, and stopping at every floor...so I'm using the stairs.

There are four wires going between the telephone controller and the billing computer. I'm not in the wiring business, so I didn't then have some of the expensive tools that will show you how far away from you a break or short is on a wire -- they may not have worked in this case anyway, as these were relatively "junk" wires with not very predicatable electrical characteristics. But I'm creative, and my toolbox has lots of junk in it. So, my plan is to install a measurable part across two wires, go to the other end, verify I can measure that part -- if it works, THOSE two wires are good. If it doesn't, I try the other two wires, hope those are both good. Once I find two wires I know are good, I can pair a KNOWN GOOD wire with a suspect wire, and find out if the remaining wire is good or bad. And repete until the status of all four wires is determined.

And yes...set something up on one end, go to the other end, test. Back and forth until the condition of all four wires is determined. Using three flights of stairs each time.

I eventually determine one wire is bad. It's on the link going between the phone controller and the billing computer. The link going the other direction is fine. I can't find an obvious problem at either end, so it likely the break may be in the walls somewhere. I think about it a bit and realize the phone controller has a lot to say to the billing computer; the computer has nothing to say to the phone controller. So...I swap the pairs of wires, and the billing computer starts recording data. A small cheer goes up from the manager of the hotel.

So, I gather up all my tools, look out the door, and my car is moved. No big surprise. So I ask the staff, "Where is my car?"    "Oh, was that your little convertible?"    "yes"    "Oh. Sorry, we didn't realize it was yours...we had it towed"

Now, some people would get mad at this point. But, one, I see the humor in many things. Two, I bill by the hour. So I sit down on a chair in their lobby (which after who knows how many flights of stairs, REALLY felt good). I remind them my hourly rate, and tell them the clock is running until I'm sitting in my car and any tow fees are paid by them. "Go get it", I say.

The guy I'm talking to laughs, tosses me my key and said, "Just kidding, it is around the corner".

Gotta love people with a sense of humor!


since 2/14/2021

Copyright 2021, Nick Holland
Return to War Stories
Return to Nick Holland's Home Page