Before I share this story with you, I will say that I have told it before; however, my modesty demanded that I leave out certain rather embarrassing and explicit details. But, there comes a time, as each day we get a little closer to the final chapter and the last page of our lives, we begin to realize there are some stories that are just too damn good to take to the grave. So, with that in mind, I have set aside my modesty and pride, and present, THE RIDE OF MY LIFE!!!
Back when I was assigned to Iraklion Air Station on Crete in the late 1960's and early 1970's, someone told me of an island that was just too good to miss - almost too good to be true...where there was lush vegetation, the natives were friendly, the food was great, and thousands...and I mean thousands of beautiful "touristas" from Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Holland came in droves to visit the island...and the vast majority of those "touristas" were beautiful, blond haired, gorgeous young ladies. That island was Rhodes. One of the reasons for its popularity was that Rhodes had an international airport, while at that same time, Crete did not. They could fly directly from their native Scandinavian countries to Rhodes without having to go through Athens, or pass through customs in Athens, or having to change planes to a domestic airline flying out of Athens.
The same person who told me about Rhodes also suggested that I stay at the Hotel Angela in the capital city of Rhodes. It was inexpensive and it also gave a military discount to those of us serving in the U.S. Air Force on Crete. So, armed with this information, I set out in the early summer of 1969 on what would become the first of many adventures on Rhodes. After my first visit there, I knew I was hopelessly addicted to Rhodes. I took several leaves there in 1969 as well as many of my four day breaks there. And, again in 1970, I returned there numerous times. But, in mid-summer of 1971, I took what would be my final leave on Rhodes, as my tour on Crete was drawing to a close and I would be leaving in August to return to the USA. Each time that I visited Rhodes I always stayed at the Hotel Angela, and when I returned to Crete, I would tell my friends about how nice the staff at the Hotel Angela were and how inexpensive it was. Yes, I know what you are about to ask. "Bob, just how inexpensive was it?" Well, it cost the equivalent of $2.50 per night!
During my many visits to Rhodes, I had become friendly with several of the staff at the Hotel Angela. I had gotten to know Angelo the bartender extremely well...a young man in his twenties with dark hair and dark eyes, and with lean features. He could mix a mean whiskey sour or just about anything else you could think of. Behind the bar, Angelo was a combination of artist and chemist! His movements were sure and fluid as he moved quickly behind the bar, grasping this bottle or that bottle, pouring specific amounts of alcohol, tonics, mixers, or seltzers into the glass, and then, when finished, raising the drink into the air almost like an offering to the god of drinking, all the while gazing at it through the light, and then smiling to himself much like an artist who has just completed a masterpiece. He would then place the drink in front of you on a napkin, and with his heavy Greek accent, would say, "Try this. I think it is just what you wanted." If there had ever been a Nobel Prize awarded for bar tending, Angelo surely would have walked away with the prize and the medal! After having visited Rhodes and the Hotel Angela just a few times, Angelo started calling me "Boss". It sort of reminded me how Zorba referred to the Englishman as "Boss" in ZORBA THE GREEK.
Then there was Alex, the manager of the Hotel Angela. He was probably in his mid-thirties. He always wore a white shirt that seemed to have too much starch in the collar, for he was always running his finger around the collar as if to loosen it from around his neck. But, whether this was just a nervous habit or if the starched collar really was irritating his neck, I guess I will never know. He was constantly going from guest to guest, trying to make sure that everyone was satisfied - everyone was happy. I got the impression that Alex was one of these guys who was always afraid of losing his job. After all, he was just the manager of the hotel and at the mercy of the owners. Alex's face seemed to always appear a little red, like his blood pressure was high. I felt rather sorry for him; he worked his ass off, and whatever the owners were paying Alex, wasn't nearly enough! He was the type of guy who you knew was working himself into an early grave.
One afternoon I was sitting at the bar in the lobby of the Hotel Angela. Angelo the bartender and I had been talking - I don't remember about what...and after forty years it really doesn't matter. I saw Alex, the hotel manager, approaching from the direction of the registration desk. He walked over and sat on the bar stool next to mine, and with his Greek accent spoke: "Bob, we have a slight problem on Rhodes, and I want to ask a big favor of you, my friend." "Sure, Alex. What can I do to help?" I asked. Alex then proceeded to tell me there were more tourists in the city of Rhodes then there were hotel rooms. Tourists were sleeping in parks, on sidewalks, and even on the floors of open-air tavernas after they had closed for the evening. Alex further stated that the Ministry of Tourism had even asked individuals to open their homes and rent a room for a few nights to some of the tourists to ease the burden and get them off the streets. Then, Alex asked, "Bob, how many hours a night do you spend in your room? Six? Seven?" "Well, Alex, to be honest I probably don't spend more than four or five hours sleeping, and then I am up and gone at daybreak. Why?" I responded. I was a little curious as to where this conversation was leading. "Well, the Minister of Tourism has asked the hotel managers to try to find a way to free up more rooms - to help ease the problem. So, I have a proposition for you." For a moment, I could almost visualize Alex stepping out from a little souvenir shop, taking me by the arm and gently guiding me inside, all the while saying, "My friend, come inside. Look around. I have special deal for you - just because I like you." "And, what are you proposing, Alex?" I inquired. "Well, there is a rather large room in the basement which we normally don't rent out; however, these are not normal times. It has a bed, wardrobe, sink and toilette. It has no tub or shower, but there is a utility bathroom on the fifth floor which does. If you want this room, I will let you have it for 50 cents a night. That would free up one more room for the touristas. And, I would give you a key to the utility bathroom on the fifth floor." Now, I have never been one to walk away from a good deal; however, when I saw this one, I didn't want to appear overly eager to accept it either. "Well, Alex, I don't know...", I hesitated. "Oh, please, Bob," Alex pleaded, all the while looking at me with his sad, little, puppy dog eyes. "Oh, O.K. But, I want you to know that I am giving up the comfort of a nice room with a beautiful view, just to help you out, my friend," I said. "Yes, yes. I know that. And I am deeply indebted to you, Bob. I will get the key to the room in the basement and the key to the fifth floor utility bathroom. Thank you," Alex replied. "You're welcome, Alex. After all, I always want to do my part to help keep those lovely touristas happy." I smiled. I was actually a little proud of myself for having landed such a sweet deal, especially on the salary of a Sergeant! Alex returned in just a few moments with the keys to my new basement bedroom and to the fifth floor utility bathroom. I then left and removed all of my belongings to my new abode in the basement. It really was a very spacious room...almost too big, and because of its size, it almost seemed rather bare with just the bed, sink, commode and wardrobe.
The following afternoon, I had decided to walk down to the beach, catch some rays (lay in the sun), and check out the lovely Scandinavian lady touristas. Because I was so fair skinned, I applied a liberal coating of suntan lotion all over my body before stretching out on my blanket. I made certain that I didn't overdo it, so after just thirty minutes on each side, I decided to play it safe and return to the hotel at about 4 o'clock that the afternoon. Standing in front of the elevator door in the hotel lobby, I pushed the arrow pointing "down" toward the basement. Even though there were others waiting to get on the elevator, when they saw it was headed to the basement, none of them got on. Once in the basement, I unlocked my room door and went in. There was a full length mirror on the back of the door. I stood before it and looked to see if I had got too much sun. I was relieved to see that I had just a hint of pink, but, I also noticed that I needed to take a shower to wash off all that suntan lotion. As I undressed, I began to devise my plan...to work out the details of my scenario to get from my room in the basement to the utility bathroom on the fifth floor without attracting too much attention. Confident in my plan, I took the bath towel and attempted to wrap it around my completely nekked (that's Southern for "naked") body. At this point I must remind you that the Hotel Angela was not a four-star hotel, and they didn't provide any four-star bath towels. The bath towel provided me was just barely large enough to wrap around my naked mid-section, but was too short to tie or tuck the ends together. So, I had to tightly grasp both ends of the towel at my mid-section with one hand to keep it from falling completely off. With a bar of soap in one hand and the ends of the towel tightly clinched in my other hand, I stepped out of my room, walked down the hallway to the elevator and pushed the button. I knew that when those waiting in the lobby above saw the elevator was going to the basement, most likely none of them would get on. And, I really didn't want any gawkers on the elevator with me...especially in my modest, almost completely nude state. When the elevator door opened, sure enough it was empty! My plan was put into motion. In order to insure that I could travel from the basement to the utility bathroom on the fifth floor alone and without anyone gawking at this nearly-nude American, I stepped onto the elevator, pushed the "5th Floor" button, and instantly pushed the "Non-Stop" button. I felt confident, almost smug, as the elevator jolted to life. However, my feeling of security was short lived as the elevator began slowing when it approached the first floor. I started banging on the "Non-Stop" button, but to no avail. Obviously, it was either broken or had been disconnected. I stepped back in horror against the back of the elevator as it stopped and the door slowly slid open. Now folks, at the time, I think the world population was about 4 billion people. Well, it looked as if the vast majority of them were crowded into the lobby of the Hotel Angela waiting to get on that elevator. At first they hesitated, staring at this mostly nude young man standing at the rear of the elevator. Then, some brave soul took a step forward and the others followed closely behind. I could hear snickering as some tried to contain their laughter, and others whispered, God only knows what, in foreign tongues. The elevator door closed and there I was - trapped, nearly nekked, with complete strangers closely crowded around me. The elevator came to life as it left the first floor. It was at this point that Murphy's Law was set into motion. There was a man standing directly in front of me wearing a flashy print shirt, flared dress slacks, and thirty pounds of gold chains hanging around his neck. I don't know why, but for some unknown reason he decided to take half a step back. When he did, one of his hard-soled, Italian made, pointy-toed shoes stepped solidly on my bare toes. It was then that events began to move along rather rapidly!! I let out a wild shriek of agony as I dropped both my bar of soap and the towel that WAS wrapped around my mid-section covering my gender, to the floor. Up to that point in my life, I had never been much of dancer, but I suddenly found myself whooping and hollering, while at the same time jumping up and down on one foot like a drunken Indian doing a war dance! Flashes of piercing light shot before my eyes and my screams must have reached a crescendo that only a dog's ear could hear. Others on the elevator quickly turned to see what the commotion was all about. When they saw this completely nekked man jumping up and down, their screams joined mine in a chorus of pain and astonishment - I was in pain and they were astonished! Men stood wide-eyed, older women swooned, and some of the younger ladies just smiled. And then, the elevator came to a stop at the second floor and the door opened. Apparently, all of them must have had rooms on the second floor, because as soon as the door opened ALL of them made a mass exodus from the elevator, none of them looking back, except for one young lady, who took one last brief parting glance. I think she may have even smiled.
I grabbed the towel from the floor and hit the "5th Floor" button as well as the "Non-Stop" button, cursing loudly as I did so. I rewrapped the towel around my waist and held it even more tightly now as I picked up my bar of soap from the floor. Even though it wasn't really hot on the elevator, I was sweating profusely. I trembled as the elevator approached and then passed the 3rd Floor, next the 4th Floor, then finally stopping at the 5th Floor. When the elevator door opened, I stuck my head out, and looked to see if anyone was nearby. Seeing no one, I limped quickly off the elevator, turned right, and the utility bathroom was right there. I unlocked the door, stepped in, closed and locked it behind me, and sat on the commode seat while I assessed what had just happened and attempted to regain my composure. I looked down at my toes which had been stepped on. They were an angry red, and for a moment I imagined that I could almost read an imprint, "Made in Italy", mashed into one of my toes, but perhaps I was just hallucinating from the pain. As I closed my eyes briefly, I could envision myself confronting the man who had stepped on my toes, and then using the gold chains around his neck to hang him from the elevator shaft. After a while, the throbbing in my toes began to subside, I stopped sweating, and I started to calm down. I decided to go ahead and get my shower, and then plan how I would return to my room in the basement - after all, what goes up, MUST come down...eventually. After my shower, I came to the conclusion that I would come down later...much, much later. By now it was fast approaching 6 P.M. All of the cleaning personnel had left for the day, so I knew I could stay in the utility bathroom for as long as I wished...and I wished to stay in there for a very, very long time. Not wanting to carry out a repeat performance from earlier that afternoon, I decided that I had to stay in my hidden retreat until most everyone had gone to bed, then I would get on the elevator and hope (and pray) I could make it back to my basement room without the elevator stopping to take on any riders. I passed the time by counting tiles on the floor, then the ones on the ceiling, and then the ones covering the walls. Before I left the bathroom, I knew exactly how many tiles it took to cover the entire bathroom, and I carried that bit of useless trivia with me for many years. Years later, when I finally came to the inexplicable conclusion that Alex Trebec on Jeopardy would probably never ask me how many tiles it took to cover the entire fifth floor utility bathroom in the Hotel Angela, I allowed that information to sift through the grates in my mind and fall into the black hole of forgetfulness forever. The minutes slowly ticked by, and then those minutes turned into hours. I was getting sleepy, but I knew that I mustn't fall asleep and perhaps run the risk of waking up later the next morning when the hotel guests would once again be stirring. Finally, at about 3 A.M., I opened the bathroom door, stuck my head out, and listened; I could hear nothing and I could see no one. With my towel gripped tightly around my loins, I made my way to the elevator. I could hear the steel cables straining and groaning as they lifted the elevator to the fifth floor. The door opened and I entered an empty elevator. The ride to the basement was completely uneventful...just the way I wanted it. I slept late the next morning, exhausted from the previous day's events and also from remaining awake until I felt safe about leaving the fifth floor utility bathroom. After getting dressed and leaving the hotel, I ate a light meal and walked around the old city, returning to the hotel later that afternoon. I made my way across the lobby to the bar where Angelo was working. "Hello, Boss. What you want today? Whiskey sour? Ouzo? How about a little raki?" Angelo asked. "No, I think I'll just have a straight Coke," I replied. Angelo looked rather stunned. "What? No whiskey sour? You have a bad night, Boss?" "Uh, yeah, I think you could say that, Angelo," I sighed. "O.K., Boss, one Coke coming right up." Angelo smiled as he sat it in front of me. I lifted my glass into the air, "Yamas, Angelo." As I raised the glass to my lips and begin to sip, Angelo said, "You know, Boss, did you hear about the commotion on the elevator yesterday afternoon? Some guy was naked on the elevator!" The Coke, which had so peacefully started to slip across my tongue and toward the back of my throat, was suddenly and violently thrust upward, making a burning exit out my nostrils! "Boss! You O.K.?" Angelo blurted out. He handed me a napkin as I coughed and gasped. "Yesss," I wheezed, "I'm O.K., Angelo." Visions of being arrested by the Greek police for public indecency began to play though my mind, and I could imagine being thrown into a jail cell with someone whose Greek name translated into "Bubba". "Do they know who he was?" I asked. "No. He was young. Besides, I heard everyone ran out of the elevator on the second floor," responded Angelo, "and I don't think anyone was looking at his face anyway, Boss." Angelo began to smile and then, as he leaned across the bar, he whispered, "Where were you yesterday afternoon, Boss?" "Ummmm,...I was out... out taking a ride, Angelo. Yes, that was it, I was out taking the ride of my life!" I stammered. Angelo and I just smiled at each other across the bar, each knowing what the other was thinking.
Take care, stay well, and let me hear from you.
Your Friend and Fellow "Silent Warrior",
Bob (Elevator Man) Armistead