Before I’m able to explain how or why a mature male ended up trapped on the 27th floor of the Nugget Casino Resort in Reno, Nevada, inside a pitch black elevator, sitting on the floor, strumming my ukulele, it would only make sense if you knew:
HOW WE DISCOVERED THE UKE
Bobbie and I were on a beach in Maui with Renne and Jenny, longtime friends, waiting for the call of the conch shell to celebrate another perfect sunset when disaster struck. Our pitcher of Mai Tai’s reached bottom and we were out of rum. A major dilemma. Although we were almost certain there would be another perfect sunset the following evening; suppose the entire island ran out of rum? Renne and I, the kanes (males) of our quartet were elected to remedy the alcohol situation. The game plan? Abandon chaises lounges perched on the cliff overlooking the Pacific, sprint through the condo complex, dodge through traffic on South Kihei Boulevard, purchase a bottle of rum and Mai Tai mix, reverse the trek, refill our pitcher, arrive back in time for the final trumpet blast from the conch and watch as the sun disappeared beneath the waves.
It was a good plan, well thought out and executed until we reached the counter of the A.B.C. store. With beverages in our arms and fists full of dollars Renne and I came to an abrupt halt. There, dangling on nylon strings, strategically placed at eye level were two ukuleles. Dramatically, reduced in price from $11.75 to a “ONE TIME” offer of $10.99. Who doesn’t love a sale?
“Are those hard to play?’ Renne asked.
“You ever play a guitar?” asked the clerk.
“A little.” We both replied.
“Then no problem. You’ll love the ‘jumping flea.’ He snipped the strings of both ukes, deftly tuned each and handed them to us complete with a plastic ukulele chord chart. We decided to surprise the ladies with a song. As the sun set, Renne and I stopped near the pool and practiced the C, F and G7 chords. On the beach fifteen minutes later we fumbled through a horrific version of “The Sloop John B.” Fortified by a fresh batch of Mai Tai’s, undeterred and to the horror of our condo neighbors we played every Kingston Trio, Elvis and Beatles tune we could using only 3 chords. We got better quickly and even quicker, other beach-combers joined in. We got requests. I didn’t know it, but I was hooked on the ukulele. Addicted. During the past nine years, to the chagrin of my wife and friends, my uke seldom leaves my side. My jumping flea’s traveled to New Zealand, Africa, Turkey, Tahiti, Bali, Turkey, Singapore, Mexico, the Galapagos and Machu Pichu. And in November we will be returning trip to our ninth trip to Maui. I just hope the A.B.C. store still carries rum.
The ukulele is enjoying a second renaissance throughout the world. Ukulele clubs are everywhere. Accompanying, this explosion are ukulele books, performances, classes and workshops. The latter was how I ended up trapped in the dark, screaming “HELP!” on the 27th floor of the Nugget Casino.
I just finished the morning ukulele classes and decided to head up to my room on the 11th floor. I entered the middle elevator on the right bank of the West Tower of the Nugget Casino. I hadn’t even touched a button when the door “slammed” shut behind me. Of its own volition, the car made a feeble attempt to leave the ground floor. A “crunch” sound was followed by a “grrrrind.” The elevator car rose a couple of feet then crashed back down. The lights went out. My stomach churned. “Help. Help.” As a United States Marine, I was not proud of the timbre in my plaintiff plea. The lights came on. The lights went out. I felt like I was a mile down in the Carlsbad Caverns around midnight. “Help.”
Someone in the lobby assured me they were going to get ‘somebody.’ That was an encouraging tidbit. “Yeah, get somebody.”
“How long have you been in there?” asked a prepubescent voice. I immediately came up with a few clever retorts and ignored them all.
“Mom, I’m hungry. Can I get a hot dog?” So much for a child’s compassion.
“We’ll be right back,” promised a female voice.
I felt around for a phone or an alarm bell --- but it was really dark. Resolved to my fate, I took out my uke and began strumming some tunes. Time passed. Someone with an obvious ear for real talent exclaimed from outside the door, “How are you doing in there? Keep making music.”
I tried to make light of my situation and broke into a few lines of the Beatle classic, “Help! I need somebody help! Not just anybody, Help! You know I need someone, Help.”
“Hey buddy, we’re looking for the manager.”
“I don’t want a room,” I shouted through the door. “Look for an elevator mechanic.”
A second later the elevator began to move. It started with a lurch and then we were on our way. Up. Up. Until that moment, I was doing okay. But now the elevator seemed to be gathering momentum. Up we went. I could hear the floors pass by. Clicketty –Clacketty. Little slivers of light flickered off the rear wall. Up we went.
I felt like we might blow through the roof and I’d end up somewhere north of Carson City. Chunk-clug. It stopped. Then dropped a foot or two. Then another foot of two. My stomach lurched. Lurched is the only word to describe it. I must have been strumming like crazy. A voice shouted from outside. “Are you in there?”
“Help, where am I?”
“The Nugget Casino.”
“Yeah, but where?”
“In the elevator.”
Who was this clown? The elevator bucked. I almost lost my ‘Grand Slam Breakfast.’ The hairs on my arm stiffened into little, steel spikes. I was really scared. Mumbles came from outside.
“He means what floor.” Now here was a perceptive lady. “You’re on the 27th Floor.”
Now I wish I hadn’t asked. I’d traveled higher in a lot of elevators. But those elevators had lights and buttons and doors that opened and closed. My mind flashed to the 27 story abyss beneath my feet and the trip to Carson City no longer seemed so daunting.
“Please get me out of here,” I whined.
“We’re trying, pal”
A young voice joined the chorus, “You’re real brave, Mister.”
Little did he know.
The elevator dropped. UGH. My fingers would not stop strumming.
“That’s it, pal. Try to distract yourself.”
Funny, but when someone asks you to ignore a predicament, it only seems to make you refocus and realize there’s a pretty good chance you’d be dropping 27 floors to the bottom of an elevator shaft. Later a parachuting friend told me if I fell outspread I’d being falling at about 120 miles per hour. But If I dove head first I might get up to 200 miles per hour. At the time I didn’t have this little factoid to dwell on. My mind did a back flip and all I could think of was the brand new ukulele I was holding. Talk about selfless.
Four or five months later I heard a crunch and a ray of light appeared on the back wall of my elevator. Another crunch and I saw the blade of a screw driver jimmy its way into the door and two fingers that rivaled King Kong’s pulled apart open the door.
I know it’s not an Olympic event yet, but I currently hold the world’s record for a standing leap from a pitch black elevator on the 27th floor while carrying a ukulele and landing 8 feet away on a down-strum.
There was a crowd on the 27th floor. Apparently, no elevator cars had arrived for some time. No one asked for an autograph but I did feel heroic.
The general consensus was that I should go down to the desk and they would probably comp me a room next time. I’d already decided there wasn’t going to be a next time – not here.
As it turned out, I wasn’t the only victim of the elevator god; other participants were gobbled up too. The Ukulele Workshop is no longer held at the Nugget Casino they moved to the Pepper Mill in Reno, where I understand all the elevators are in working order.