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Chapter 42

Life at the Sheraton

I was impressed by the Sheraton Heliopolis the moment I walked in the front door. We had flown from DFW to New York, changed to an International flight on Pan American and finally made it to Cairo International. The last leg of the flight was most uncomfortable. The airline was in trouble and I am sure this clouded the judgment of the stewardess assigned to our flight. We were supposed to fly a wide body aircraft in business class. Instead we boarded a 727 or MD-80, can't remember which and were herded in to tourist. When we asked for beer, even offering to pay, we were told none was available. I made the mistake of telling the flight attendant we had business class tickets and that she should check that part of the airplane for drinks. All I did was pour salt on an open wound.
Steppe Pyramids at Memphis
Many tourists only see the Great Pyramids at Giza.
This is a photo of the Steppe Pyramids at Memphis,
much older than the ones at Giza.

We had been advised of the procedure to follow when we entered customs in the Cairo Airport. There are always the ten percent who don't get the message and they caused a delay of over an hour. A couple of them even tried to tell the customs people how to run their business, a real no no in Egypt. More delay.

After the scariest five minute ride I have ever experienced from the airport to the hotel, we finally entered that lovely cool atrium that served as the lobby. A host of bellhops stood by our luggage, ready to whisk us to our rooms after we completed the registration formality. This consisted of turning in our passports, signing a guest registration card and picking up our key.

My first room at the hotel was ideal. Third floor near the elevator with a view of the garden and pool area. One elderly gentleman tended the gardens and he was one of the best I have ever seen. Lush areas of St. Augustine grass were manicured with a push mower and the variety of flowers seemed to change every day. The hotel was a rest stop for many of the airlines that served Cairo and it was not unusual to see twenty to thirty young, beautiful flight attendants tanning around the pool. They drove the young pool attendant wild. Muslim law and hotel rules forbade topless attire but this didn't seem to deter some of the girls.

flight attendant for Air France
A flight attendant for Air France who liked to
tan topless. For modesty sake, I made sure I
always photographed from the neck up.
Me out by the pool.
I got a little dark during my stay.

It didn't take me long to make myself acquainted with some of the staff, notably the bartenders and wait staff in the Cafe, one of five top notch dining areas. My camera made friends from day one. "Take my picture" was a common greeting. As soon as I found a photo shop that could develop my prints, I started giving copies to the help. At last count, I shot over a hundred thirty-six exposure rolls of film. A roll of film with processing four by six prints ran about five dollars US compared to ten back in the States. Money was not a problem as we were paid a generous per diem plus our salaries. After I moved to a pool side cabana, my expenses were even more reasonable.

Captain and favorite waitressfavorite waitress
This is the Captain and favorite waitress at the Cafe, one of five dining rooms.

One afternoon I was having a drink in the pool cafe. A group of men at one end of the area started arguing in loud voices and pretty soon fists started flying, all aimed at one individual. The waitress tried to hustle me out of the fracas but I had my camera and wanted some pictures. Wouldn't you know it, I was out of film. Still didn't see any reason to leave, they were not mad at me. Later on that evening, I was in the men's room just off the lobby. The man who had lost the fight was there. I had no intention of starting a conversation but he asked if I had seen the fight that afternoon. I told him I had noticed a disturbance but had not paid much attention. He was insistent and asked how I thought he had done defending himself. The guy was obviously drunk and not wanting any trouble, I told him it appeared to me he had taken a pretty good country licking. I dried my hands and left. As I came around the corner near the elevator I heard a thud behind me. When I turned, I saw the man from the restroom lying flat out on his back with the head of security bending over him. Seems he was about to attack me from the rear. The guard had "clothes lined" him and laid him out on the carpet. Later on, I asked the guard what had started all the fuss and he told me the man had insulted the sister of one of the guys who had beaten him up.

housekeeping staffsupervisors
Housekeeping staff, supervisors and maid. These people made sure my room was spotless
and every thing was in order. Honest to a fault. The man was a waiter from Room Service.

If there was a disadvantage to living by the pool, it was during Ramadan. No food, or drink from dawn to dusk during this religious period for Muslims. Every night for a month, the hotel booked huge parties with loud music that lasted all night. I didn't require much sleep and it is a good thing. The entertainment was great and I had a ringside seat. Jugglers, belly dancers and magicians performed most of the night and the food was some of the best the hotel had to offer. One night, my friend Sonny Bowles stopped by to see for himself what I had been talking about. The hotel had erected a platform on the adjacent cabana with steps leading up. Sonny and I loaded a tray from the buffet with watermelon, placed a couple of chairs on the platform and settled down to watch the show. We had barely taken our seats when the band played a fanfare and a spotlight lit us up like a Christmas tree. Not knowing what else to do, we stood up and took a bow. It seems that a famous singer was supposed to perform on the platform. It was dark and whoever was running the show thought Sonny and I were the singer and called for the music and spotlight. Someone from the show came flying up the steps to tell us to leave which we did after taking another bow. The singer took our place and we endured and hour of caterwauling Egyptian music. The watermelon was outstanding and we had received a nice round of applause when we left the platform.

bellhop and me
Me and the first bellhop I ever met at the
Sheraton in 1983. Very accommodating
young man.
Carinne Tischmann
Carinne Tischmann, daughter of Vice
President and General Manager of
Sheratons in Egypt. She was also my
worthy opponent playing Monopoly. I think
she was almost thirteen in this photo.

After making friends with the children of the General Manager/Vice President Sheraton Hotels, I pretty much had the run of the hotel. Knew all the staff and it was hard to pay for a drink and a lot of meals.
fuzzy bartender
This is Muhammad, first bartender I met
in Cairo. The photo is a bit fuzzy but so
was I after a couple of his "man sized"
drinks. He taught me a lot of Arabic
words and how to use them properly.
My friend Don Dewveall and I had our guitars and would sometimes jam out by the pool or on the verandah outside my room. One day the pool boy asked if we would give a concert for the staff in their dining room. Why not. They love Kenny Rogers music and Don had a number of his songs committed to memory. The most requested was "You picked a fine time to leave me Lucille." On the evening selected for the concert, we were escorted two floors below ground level to the staff dining room where a small PA system, a stage and two chairs had been set up. One of the three microphones was used by the dining room Captain who acted as interpreter. Really wasn't necessary as most of the staff understood English along with several other languages. I made a short speech thanking everyone for the fine service we received, the food they prepared and how many friends we had made in the short time we had been there. The Captain would tell them in Arabic what I had said after every sentence and there would be a round of applause. We played for over an hour and finally ran out of material. Don must have sang "Lucille" five or six times and then did it for an encore. Then it was time to eat. We were seated and a couple of waiters brought us a dish of rice and something. I don't know what kind of meat it was, probably mutton. It was not beef but I didn't discount camel either. At least it didn't make us sick. We performed several more times over the next six months and also with the steel drum band that performed every night in the atrium bar.

I spent almost fourteen months at the Sheraton. Only one person had been there longer, a gentleman from London. He had checked in the day the hotel opened and had been there ever since for a total of five years. He left the hotel every morning in a limo and returned in the evening in time for dinner. Pretty much kept to himself and was not popular with the staff. I observed him in the Cafe and could see why. He seemed to find fault with every thing his wait person did and I was tempted to tell him if he was so unhappy, why didn't he just find another hotel.

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