Saturday February 8 (just)
It’s 2.30am and I can’t sleep. This doesn’t bode well for my planned 8am start tomorrow.
It’s very noisy here. There are lots of sirens in the night, some of them stopping directly below my window. Lots of shouting, too, occasionally punctuated by screams - some of it seemingly connected to the sirens. I feel safe here, in my room, but I still can’t relax. I was in the lobby for hours tonight, working on my computer and taking advantage of the free wireless. With the streets outside the hotel becoming even more unsavoury after dark, I have a self-imposed ban on venturing outside (or returning from outside) much after 6pm. So, there’s not much else to do.
My first night here, I disembarked from the Market Street tram in front of the hotel to a series of shouts from one of the men ‘loitering’ outside. ‘Hey baby! Come here!’ As I picked up my step, eyes and mind fixed on the hotel door, he continued, stepping up the menacing tone. ‘You got something I want!’ As I shut the door gratefully behind me, I made a mental note about the after dark rule.
Tonight, in the lobby, I witnessed a French family - mum, dad, two young boys – arrive, look around and leave. The little boys scampered around the lobby, climbing on the ornate lounges and playing tag, chattering in French. Their parents were occupied at the front desk, presumably protesting. They left looking angry, trailing their wheeled luggage behind them. I guess they weren’t comfortable staying in the area, especially with those two little boys. I don’t blame them! I’ve been grateful a few times that I didn’t bring F with me – for that reason.
Once, while I’m browsing routes to San Diego, a homeless man wanders in off Market Street, through the rear entrance, and looks around. I deliberately frown at my screen, and am grateful when he turns back the way he came.
Then, I watch one of the hotel staff get into a fight on the opposite side of the lobby to where I’m working. A French woman comes in, clutching her camera and a handful of brochures. At first, I think she is the same woman who flounced out earlier. One of the staff, a twentysomething now in casual clothes, is sitting chatting with his girlfriend. He storms up to the woman and tells her to get out, NOW, his voice heavy with threat. She protests. He knocks her camera to the floor where the lens cap and batteries skid across the tile. He snatches the papers she is holding and throws them to the floor, too.
‘I don’t care what you do to me!’ she spits, defiantly.
‘I’m calling the cops,’ growls the off-duty staff member. ‘HEY!’ he shouts to the front desk. ‘Our friend is back. Call the cops! Now!’
More scuffling and shouting ensues. I try not to watch, shocked and confused by what is happening. Soon after, I pack up and return to my room.
The lobby doesn’t feel quite so safe anymore. But my room is still a refuge – albeit one where the outside world rages outside my window, and three fire engines come to a screaming halt there at 2.45am.