Locked on a Balcony

An interesting thing happened last night.  I missed my flight and had to get a room for the night.  Ended up on the seventh floor.  I paid $10 extra for a room with a view of the mountain, so I went out on my balcony to check it out.  It was chilly out and the heat vent for the room is right in front of the balcony door, so, as I walked out, I closed the balcony door.


The click was coincident with the emergence of an idea that left waves of disquiet crashing upon the shores of my being.  The door just locked.  Huh, probably not.  I’m the careful sort and I actively reduce the possibilities of negative events emerging in my life.  Besides, I’ve found I’m pretty lucky.  Sort of blessed.  I’ve always figured the two go hand in hand.  Like an employer’s matching contribution to 401k.

No time had passed since the door had closed.  My fingers were still in the depression in the door made just for fingers.  I merely had to reverse the direction of the application of force by clockwise rotating my wrist so my fingers were on the opposite ridges.  I did so.

I turned around to look at the mountain.  Just a small proturbence of rocks, really.  Cylindrical and maybe 3 miles round at the base.  Houses (probably quite nice ones, but they were too far away to see) grew partway up the side.  The lights were on in the city and there were plenty of cars agitating dust a few blocks away, drawing their red and white analog to veins and arteries that I’ve always admired so much.

I leaned over the balcony and studied the sides of the brick hotel.  There was a pattern to its L shape.  The windows at the center of the L were embedded in pure brick.  A solid face of brick and windows and balcony holes.  But, towards the edges of the L, on one side, the windows and balconies were accented with what are probably concrete shapes.  Also, the balcony facade, if you could call it that, was concrete instead of bricks, and protruded out.  On my side of the edges of the L, the balconies were flat, but there were concrete squares protruding from the wall beside the balconies and windows all the way down, far enough to make the jacuzzi fit comfortably within an 1/4 inch between my fingers.  The building was quite ugly, really.  Random is the best word I can think of.  The concrete was obviously put in to give some kind of depth, but in reality, there was no rhyme or reason to any of it.  It only worked for passing glances.  It did not survive a close study.

But wait! Climbing is not an option.  I would have to yell first.  It’s not so far up (more on that later) that I have to resort to drastic measures.  The sinking feeling in my chest let up a bit.  I looked to the door.  Sliding plate glass, solid.  Steel fittings secured it into the brick.  I went to the door at the base, near where the side of the door opposite the locking portion meets the steel guide rail.  I tried to lift the door, thinking I could remove the door from the side of the building.  Several failed attempts lift the door followed.  There was not even the slightest give.  The door was well fitted.

I would have to break the lock.  This will probably cost me a thousand dollars or more.  That really sucks.

I’m just not the sort to go yelling at people from my balcony to try and get them to help me.  I’m just not that sort.  I’m definitely a thousand dollars not that sort.  I’ll yell in anger, but it isn’t appropriate to yell in anger at someone I want to help me.  I have never yelled in desperation.  I’ve never been that desperate.

I could probably yell in a sort of blase detached annoyance.  I mean, my life isn’t at risk here (unless I try to climb, and I already put that at the bottom of the list), but I am getting more and more annoyed at this situation.  But that annoyance was tempered by the realization that my life wasn’t truly in danger.

I looked again at the lock.  I was actually happy for the finger depressions over a traditional handle.  I could see a handle breaking off.  The finger depressions were in the door and would certainly never lose their purchase.  I should have been rock climbing more, though.  Nothing better demonstrates how inadequate your finger strength is than rock climbing.

I mean, who has auto-locking doors for BALCONIES??!!??  Oh I could get very angry about that.  HOW STUPID!!!!!  HOW DANGEROUS!!!!  HOW NEGLIGENT!!!!  HOW CULPABLE!!!!

Adrenaline coursing, I put my fingers into the depression, braced a leg against the brick wall and pulled!  Nothing.

Hmm… I pulled!!


Okay.  I have a sense of the strength required.  I now know something about these materials.  Kind of like the mechanical feel required to screw a screw in to the right degree of tightness without stripping it.  This requires truly all out.  Lift the car to save the child type of exertion (well, maybe not that much, because there’s no child.  Just my pride.)


Something gave.  Hah!  I could see a sliver of light from my room between the edge of the door and the edge of the wall.






Nothing.  Hmm.


Slides open with a click.

What an interesting feeling washed over me.  Relief?  Tons.  Pride?  A bit (another situation conquered by my indomitable spirit, haha!!).  Anger?  Oh yes.  Self reproach?  Definitely (add not closing balcony doors to my hard coded list of things to never do learned the hard way!!).

I walked around for a minute in my room, playing out conversations in my head like some alpha chimpanzee that kept its cool with an upstart adolescent challenging its authority, only to go off into the woods and make all sorts of anxious facial expressions that reveal just how not-calm he really was during the encounter.

It all made me wonder how much tragedy has been engendered by locked balconies.  Someone on the 40th floor could not rest assured that yelling would produce any result.  How many people have been driven to climb?  Or jump?  How many people have died from locked balconies?  I cannot truly imagine the desperation a person would feel being truly stuck in that situation.  I can begin to approach that feeling, based on my recent experience, but it is no different than being jailed in a stone cell in the dungeon of some barbaric prison.  And unjustly, too.

What a strange world we live in.  I looked at the lock.  It’s a defective design.  You see, when I’d unlocked it, I hadn’t fully unlocked it.  The lock latch was loose at the bottom part of the curve of its path, and tight at the top.  To a person who doesn’t muscle everything, it really seems that when the latch is halfway up, it is all the way up, and is unlocked.  Because it isn’t the usual upside down u-shaped hook that most sliding glass doors have, but rather looks like this:

hotel lock open

So, when the lock latch is halfway up, the door will sometimes open.  Looks like this:

hotel lock halfway open

There’s a ledge that those metal ridges catch onto.  When I’d closed the door the click had been that jutting metal being pushed over the ridge, helped along by that curve on the outside of that outermost ridge that allows it to be pushed over the ledge and lock into place, if the lock is only half unlocked.

You see, the fact that the lock is in a halfway state that can lock when you close it is based on the existence of a metal bump in the housing of the lock latch.  In fact, studying this picture, you should become convinced, as I have, that locked-on-balcony episodes are absolutely baked into the system:

middle ridge in lock latch housing


There are two such bumps in the housing of the latch.  At the bottom, as you can see here, is in contact when the lock is totally locked.  This probably prevents jiggling of the locked door to cause the latch to unlock.  The existence, however, of the middle ridge is truly mysterious.  Upon testing, it basically acts as a locked door that sometimes opens.  Because at this point in the motion of the lock latch, the above metal claw that contacts with the ledge on the door sill is halfway raised from the ledge.  When the sliding glass door is pulled or pushed in certain ways that are likely to be encountered from 100s of different people opening the door in their own unique way it will open.  Then, if the person who opened it happens to close it, it will certainly lock.  Then, in order to open it they have to recreate the unique conditions that caused the door to open with the lock halfway engaged, but from the other side of the door.  Essentially, they have to reverse their push-pull.  Except, it’s less likely, because the side that they originally applied the magic force combination had a handle, whereas the outside does not.  So even more transformations are required to get the door to open.  It takes a while, and thus, people are likely to yell for help, or, spirit forbid, try and climb it.

This is probably a feature in prisons and haunted houses.  Everyone likes doors with locks that can only be worked from one side having a mode that (pseudo) locks upon closing.  Especially when they lead to upper floor balconies.  Right?

Am I the only one who has fallen prey to this?  Am I the only one who simply cannot fathom this degree of negligence?

How and why it ultimately opened is a mystery to me.  Perhaps they were watching, laughing, and then realized I wasn’t going to yell for help.  I was going to break their damn door down so they flipped some electronic switch somewhere and regretfully ended their lulz session.

So, International, your company sucks.  How does a company that designs balcony door locks design locks with these obvious problems (Big Fail!).  So do you, Marriott!  How can you let this persist in your hotel?  I recommend, based on this experience, and the nickle and diming by Marriott that has defined my stay in their hotel with, to avoid them.  Avoid them like the plague.

They probably ought to be sued.  I dislike a culture of suing.  However, suing does have a place.  It has a place when big companies that make lots of money put people in danger.  If all someone did was complain, then the result of the complaint would not be institutionalized.

Suing is how individuals teach companies not to do things.

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