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45 Stories High Java Fudge Ice Cream Pie Recipe and My Achilles Heel

Everyone has their own Achilles’ heel [1] – the thing that sends dread seeping through their pores.  That one thing that takes hold of their breath, brings them to their knees and gets their hearts racing like a runaway freight train.  There often  isn’t any rhyme or reason to it.  It just is.   And, it’s terrible.

My Achilles’ heel – the one I spent most of my life, including years of therapy, trying to conquer – is my fear of elevators.  There is no scientific name for it.  However, that doesn’t make it any less real.  Many describe it as a combination of acrophobia (fear of heights) and claustrophobia (fear of closed spaces).    I don’t care how science defines it.  I call it terror. 

For years, whenever I have had to ride an elevator,  I have manipulated the situation so that I wouldn’t have to ride alone.  I’ve loitered in more building lobbies than I care to admit, waiting around for someone – anyone –  else to come along and push that “up” button.  I’ve even grabbed people off the street and begged them to ride the elevator up with me!  Oh, the shame…

These past few years, I’ve gotten a lot better about dealing with elevators.  I told myself that if I wanted to start traveling on my own to various blogger conferences, I would have to suck it up and “get over it”.  So, I found a relatively tall building here at home, and practiced going up and down its elevator by myself until I could do it without breaking out in a cold sweat.  After attending several conferences, I began to get pretty good at it.  Sure, each time those big steel doors snapped shut on me, my heart skipped a little beat.  But, I was okay.  Dare I say that I even became a little blasé about it.  Score one for me!

Why am I telling you this?  Good question.  I had intended this to be a lighthearted post about my experience in Atlanta last weekend for BlogHer Food.  I reconnected with several old friends there and made some great new ones too.  I gleaned lots of valuable information from the lineup of talented and generous speakers.  And, though it wasn’t everything I hoped it would be, I had a pretty good time – until I was ready to go home.

On Sunday morning, after the conference, I went out for a late breakfast with Andrea Meyers from Andrea’s Recipes [2] and Sean Timberlake from Hedonia [3] and Punk Domestics [4].  We went to Café Intermezzo and had some delicious food and great conversation.  I was feeling pretty content and relaxed about my flight home.  My bags were packed and ready to go and all I had to do once I returned to the hotel was grab a cab to the airport.  Easy peasy, huh?  Hah!

Once back at the Westin, Andrea, Sean and I hopped into the elevator to go to our respective rooms.  There were also several other people with us – two cute, young Chinese girls who didn’t speak any English, and Greg and Annette, a nice couple from Jacksonville visiting with their teenaged daughter.  Their significance will soon be revealed.

Andrea got off on the 18th floor.  Sean and I were riding up to the 29th and 30th floors.  We were chatting with our elevator-mates, when all of a sudden the damn thing stopped.  That’s right.  STOPPED! It took a few seconds for me to grasp what was happening and then…


My Achilles’ heel had just been stabbed.  And, it took me down.

OMG. OMG. OMG.  I kept repeating it over and over in my head like a mantra.  I didn’t know what to do, but I knew that what I didn’t want to do was have a full blown panic attack in front of my fellow prisoners.

Everyone else seemed pretty calm, especially the Chinese girls, who didn’t seem to even realize what had happened.  They stood huddled in a corner, chatting and texting nonstop.   “Were they crazy?” I thought. “Don’t these people realize that we’re trapped in a giant tin can?”

As it turns out, Annette works for Starwood Hotels, the company that owns the Westin.   She immediately took charge, sounded the alarm and pressed the call button for help.  Annette was the epitome of cool, calm and collected professionalism.  The voice of the Westin’s head of security was soon piped in to us, telling us that help was coming.  She unsuccessfully tried to reset the elevator several times.   I had no idea that they could be controlled remotely!   Finally, she was able to get the elevator moving upward.  We went up, up, up to the 45th floor, and then we stopped.    But, the door wouldn’t open.  We couldn’t get it to open, and the Westin’s head of security couldn’t get it to open.  So, there we were, dangling like bait on the 45th floor in a nonfunctioning elevator cab.

My head was swimming and everyone around me started to look like Dali’s Melting Clocks.

By the way, did you know that hotel security speak for guests stuck in an elevator is “elevator entrapment”?  Neither did I, but I sure do now!

Anyway, I was completely freaking out inside and doing my best not to let it show.  Unfortunately, I don’t think I was all that successful.   My heart was pounding, my palms were sweating and my feet were having a tough time holding me up.  I kept looking over at Sean, who seemed to be doing a lot better than me.  I tried to speak, but the small, weak voice that poured out of my mouth sounded more like that of a three year-old toddler than the polished, self-composed businesswoman I pretend to be.

The others seemed to get that I was teetering on the edge of hysteria.  Maybe you really can smell fear.  Sean kept patting me on my shoulder, and Greg and Annette just kept me talking – and reminded me to breathe.

“So, where are you from?”

“What did you think of Atlanta?”

“Blogging conference, huh.  How interesting!  What was it like?”

“You’re from Sarasota, you say.  Such a lovely town!  What do you do there?”

“Okay, honey.  We’ll be fine.  Just keep breathing.”

Despite myself, and to my great surprise, I was actually able to carry on a conversation with them.  And, for a few fleeting moments I even forgot that I was a victim of “elevator entrapment”.  Honestly, I don’t know how I would have coped with the situation if Greg and Annette hadn’t been there.  They talked me off the ledge.  I am so thankful that they – and Sean – were there with me.  I shudder to think what might have happened if I had been trapped in there alone!

After a while, the disembodied voice of the security lady told us that the Atlanta fire department had been called and to hang on because help was on the way.  Hang on?!?!  Was she kidding?!?! We were on the 45th floor.  What did she think we were going to do – make a jump for it?

We waited for what seemed like centuries before we heard some signs of life outside.  There were sounds of banging and clanging and scraping metal.  Finally, the elevator doors began to part, and I could see the face of a cute young fireman.  As soon as the opening became wide enough for me to fit through, I leapt, practically right into his arms.  I couldn’t get out of there fast enough!   Sean, Annette, Greg, their daughter and the two Chinese girls followed close on my heels.  Our ordeal on the 45th floor lasted for 45 minutes.

After much hugging, email exchanging and blood pressure checking, we all went our separate ways.  It was already past the time that I had planned to be at the airport.  Seeing how shaken up I was, (and probably worrying about possible legal ramifications), the hotel manager personally escorted me to get my luggage, put me in a taxi (at his expense) and sent me on my way.  I think I saw him breathe a little sigh of relief as the car pulled away.  I know I did.

The first thing I did when I got past airport security was head to the first bar I saw and order a stiff drink.  That, and sign in on Twitter.  Ah, the healing powers of Twitter!  My Twitter stream was already aflutter with tweets about the “elevator incident” and speculation about who the unfortunate victims were.  Sean and I were both sharing the gory details and sympathetic @mentions poured forth.

Fortified by enough vodka to drown a whale, I then boarded my flight home.  In the air, I reflected on the “elevator incident”, and thought of the irony of it all.  What were the odds that, of all the things in the world that could have happened to me, the one that I feared most was what did?   They say that God never gives us more than we can handle.  If that’s true, maybe he was trying to show me that I am stronger than I thought I was.  Or maybe the karmic forces of the universe were just f*%#ing with me. I don’t know.  What I do know is that I was incredibly lucky to have had such caring and compassionate people to help me through the ordeal.

I believe that one of the best cures for a wounded Achilles’ heel is ice cream.  And, pie.  So when I finally got home from Atlanta, I made this ice cream pie.    A great big and tall, decadent, coffee, fudge, ice cream pie.  You’ve heard of mile high pies?  Well, I’m calling mine “45 Stories High Java Fudge Ice Cream Pie”, and I’m dedicating it to Sean, Greg, Annette, their daughter and even the two chirpy, clueless Chinese girls (they were kind of cute, anyway).