Wisecracks & Roadside Flats: Rocky Mountain false alarm


I was on a run of winter shows through the ski mountain towns of Colorado with fellow Duluth singer/songwriter, James Moors. I felt hung-over but hadn't a drop to drink. Some sort of flu? Perhaps. Or, maybe Tommy Larson was right.

"Two rooms at the best hotel in Steamboat tonight will do you guys some good."

Tommy was an administrator at Colorado Mountain College where we had played that afternoon. I had seen Tommy encourage and coddle a few students while we were there. He was now doing the same for James and me.

Motioning toward me, Tommy continued, "You should get some rest and a hot shower. We're up over 7,000 feet, ya know. You might have altitude sickness."

I was short of breath, couldn't eat, couldn't sleep. Never heard of altitude sickness. But Tommy's reasoning sounded logical compared to the clamor and gibberish in my own head.

It was 9 p.m. Mountain Time when I arrived to my private room, dropped my duffle bag on the thick red carpet, undressed and walked into a hot shower. I turned the faucet all the way to the red and kept the hot water running as I slowly dried off with a fluffy white towel. The moist air was good. Eventually my entire hotel room filled with a dense steam.

I turned down the lights and lay my head on the big, soft pillows of the big, soft bed, breathing comfortably for the first time in three days.


I jumped off the bed. The smoke alarm! Each blaring BLEEEEEP invaded my skull. Every movement I made sent electric shocks through my forehead as I struggled to hold balance.

"Aaahhrrgghh," I groaned.

I laboriously opened the window to the freezing mountain air. Being the type of cook who can start a fire peeling a cucumber, I've had plenty experience disengaging smoke alarms. Generally a few rapid waves of a towel would do, but it was like a sauna in there. I could hardly see across the room.

Another option was to remove the cover of the smoke alarm and pop out the 9-volt battery. Easy. I dragged over the desk chair to stand on. The cover was difficult to remove but with force, it came loose. No 9-volt batteries were inside this smoke alarm. No switches. No knobs or on/off buttons. Only wires. One red. One white.

From close range, the stentorian BLEEEEEP tortured my skull. The confusion was worse. I closed my eyes, slumped my shoulders and started to feel sorry for myself. BLEEEEEP! BLEEEEEP! I squeezed my palms into my forehead and looked around the steamy room for a solution to this calamity. BLEEEEEP! BLEEEEEP! I saw only two options. Red or white. I reached up and pulled out the red wire. BLEEEEEP! BLEEEEEP! Nothing. I stubbornly yanked on the white wire. BLEE ... Silence. Hallelujah. The bloody bleeper stopped bleeping.

There was one thing. The instant I removed the white wire and my smoke alarm turned off, every other alarm in the hotel turned on.

I stepped down from the chair one foot at a time. Soon the draft coming in was cool enough for me to close the window and wrap myself in a comfy blanket. Though it wasn't the spa environment I had created before the interruption, there was still plenty of steam in the air. The evacuation alarm in the hallway wasn't nearly as loud as the smoke alarm had been. The sound of people complaining as they herded down the hall toward the stairway was slightly annoying, but with the game on the tele, I hardly noticed it. When everyone was safely out of the building, the alarms were turned off, my peace and quiet restored.

Sirens and flashing lights aroused my curiosity enough for me to lumpishly get up and walk to the window. My room on the top floor provided a paramount view of the parade-like scene below: two fire trucks and an ambulance flanked by hundreds of hotel guests in pajamas and bath robes on a beautiful clear winter night in the Rocky Mountains. The guests looked cold, and a few were noticably perturbed. I couldn’t blame them. These folks had paid good money to stay inside the best hotel in Steamboat tonight. Instead, they were outside shivering in the parking lot. You could spit an ice cube out there. I closed the curtain and crawled back under the covers.

When I awoke the next morning, I felt I could finally eat something. The hotel breakfast area was lively with conversation. "I heard somebody on the third floor broke the circuit," said an exasperated woman.

"I never did get back to sleep," said one droopy-eyed stranger to another, united in their discontent over last night's hullabaloo. "I still can't get the chill out of my bones. We were out there over an hour."

Incorrect. Everyone was back inside within 45 minutes. Fifty minutes at most. I pulled my winter hat down around my sunglasses, poured a cup of coffee and returned to my room on the fourth floor.

I was feeling better after a night's rest. My head didn't hurt, I was breathing fine and with my logic slowly returning, I decided it was time to go. I carried my guitar and duffle bag down the back stairway, around the side of the hotel, across the snowy parking lot and into the passenger seat of James' white Ford Econoline van.

"Hey man," said James. "You look better. Can you believe that fire drill?"

"Yeah, hot topic in the breakfast area," I said. "Ready to hit the road?"

"I didn't see you outside last night." James buckled his seatbelt and shifted the van into low gear. "You must've known it was a false alarm."

"Yeah," I said. "Let's get out of here."