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The only difference between first class travellers and first class idiots is the price they pay.

The need for speed

Hotel elevator journeys into the Twilight Zone - and back

Vijay Verghese/ Editor

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I HAVE JUST RETURNED FROM THAILAND where I undertook an arduous and dramatic journey. People said it couldn’t be done. Friends scoffed. Well, I am over forty, but why give up adventure for an armchair? In the fine tradition of adventurers before me, I took up the challenge “because it was there”. I will say at the outset that I undertook little training for the task I was to embark upon and hope my account offers inspiration to those being advised to prematurely hang up their travel boots.

My journey commenced in Bangkok, as the sun rose, at 6am. Without the aid of a compass, map, or guide I hoped to travel unaccompanied and unassisted, from the 29th floor of a major hotel’s spoiling Executive Lounge, all the way to the uncharted reaches of a place few have ventured before – the 27th floor, where my room was. I set off with a smile on my lips, a song in my heart, and an electronic smart card, in my hand.

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This is the sort of card top-drawer hotels increasingly offer business guests as an added item of security. You cannot use it to purchase green curry chicken, or to video-conference with Svetlana and her friends to research the impact an unclad human body in a grainy matchbox-size screen can have on your shrinking wallet. This card cannot even be used to get a cup of coffee. That’s a pretty versatile spread of things you cannot do with this card and it is this bit of inspiration that makes the device utterly secure. No one can hack into your bank account when you carry a hotel “smart” card. Why didn’t Amex think of this first?

In the fine tradition of adventurers before me, I took up the challenge simply "because it was there"

The card has one purpose, and just one purpose alone – to help get you from one floor to the other in the hotel lift, securely. Of course, you could simply press the floor button in a conventional lift, but that’s so primitive and passé. Nowadays, smart travellers, carrying smart cards, simply breeze past the sliding metal doors, smile at those sleek, preening women you always find in really good elevators, and then spend the next few days trying to figure out how the heck to get to their floor. Move over James Bond.

Thus it was, on the trail of this last romantic frontier in an otherwise over-travelled far-from-lonely-planet, I set off. Combine a hotel elevator smart card with that high-speed demon of modern transport, the Express Elevator, and you begin to grasp the challenge. From the moment you step into the hushed cubicle, the clock is ticking, and fast. I was prepared. With card in hand, I swung around gracefully and in one seamless motion inserted the card into the slot and hit the button for the 27th floor. Whoops, I had forgotten to pull out the card first before pressing the button. By now the lift had passed my floor, racing to the lobby. I looked at my watch. We would be in Moscow within five minutes. That would be great but I needed to get somewhere closer – the airport.

I repeated my intricate manoeuvre, this time slowly and deliberately. I heard someone gasp in admiration. Okay it was me, but, too late. We were in dizzying motion again and streaking to the top floor, hair flattened against our scalps by the G-force and eyebrows down to our chins. Others joined the queue and had a go – businessmen, surgeons with far nimbler fingers than mine, pilots trained in complex calculations like the rate of descent if all the engines fall off. No luck.

Hair flattened against our scalps by the G-force, eyebrows down to our chins, we streaked upwards again

What might modern would-be terrorists do in this situation? “Hello, this urgent please. I need to get to the US Embassy to, uh, um…check the weather in Florida and make a gift to the American people of this bulky, inconspicuous jacket I’m wearing with wires, blinking lights and ticking sounds.” “GET IN THE QUEUE MATE. I’ve been here three days trying to get to my room for my anti-haemorrhoidal ointment. You can get to the lobby LATER!”

I took my place along distinguished gents with white hair who bounced from floor to floor as the doors whooshed open to reveal tousled hair, smudged lipstick, and young mini-skirted companions, all the epitome of discretion and genteel, civilised conversation. “Darling we must head to Sudan and help those poor Biafrans get home to Bangladesh.” “Jack, you sweet mouth. Okay special price foh you…only foh hunded dollah.”

In the end I made it. Nothing quite beats the satisfaction of a task well done. I was about to call my friends and let them know I had truly “arrived”. It was then I realised I had left my room card on the 29th floor. Wearily, I called the lift. The doors opened. “You sweet mouth, Jack…”

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