By Yonette Joseph
The New York Times
Road Warriors Take Note! From Our NYT Files: 40 Sea Gulls Wrecked His Hotel Room. 17 Years Later, a Pepperoni Pardon.
Nick Burchill has been called “the worst hotel guest ever.” It isn’t because he left a suitcase filled with pepperoni in a hotel room in Canada in 2001. It’s because, as Mr. Burchill tells it, he left it next to an open window and about 40 sea gulls invaded the room, drawn by the smell of the cured meat. The ensuing chaos — and most likely the cleanup bill — got Mr. Burchill barred for life from the Fairmont Empress in Victoria, British Columbia, according to him and the hotel. His Facebook post about the strange saga and his plea for a “pardon” from the hotel last month unleashed an outpouring of appreciation online, and ruminations on forgiveness. When reached via Facebook recently, Mr. Burchill said the public’s reaction had been “overwhelming.” He added, “It’s been a little out of the ordinary.” Tracey Drake, a spokeswoman for the Empress, confirmed the ban and said hotel officials were “as amused as everyone else” by his letter. It all started, said Mr. Burchill, a 49-year-old salesman from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, when he went to Victoria 17 years ago for a conference hosted by his new employer. He planned to see friends from the Canadian Naval Reserves, and had promised to bring them a local delicacy from home: Chris Brothers TNT Pepperoni. He filled a whole suitcase. “I brought enough for a ship,” he wrote.
When he landed, the airline could not find the bag. But it arrived the next day, after he had checked into the Empress on the fourth floor. His room had no refrigerator, and he worried about keeping the meat cool. But the room had a nicely appointed window, and there was a chill in the April air. A plan formed: Why not spread the meat on a table next to an open window and on the window sill to keep it cool? So he did. Then he went for a walk. The sight that greeted him when he returned to his room hours later can only be described as “an explosion,” he wrote. About 40 sea gulls had sneaked in through a small opening in the window and were having a feast, he told the CBC radio show “As It Happens.” “They’d been eating Brothers TNT pepperoni — I’m specific with the TNT because it’s hot,” he recalled. “They’d been eating that for about five hours, and you can imagine what the room looked like. They were carrying on their life processes in there.” Excrement, feathers and pepperoni chunks were everywhere. “Brothers’ TNT Pepperoni does NASTY things to a sea gull’s digestive system,” he wrote. “The smell,” he recalled in the radio interview, “was overwhelming.” “The shocking thing for me was the saliva,” he marveled. “I didn’t know that sea gulls drooled. The slime was covering everything. They were whipping it up into the air. It was like a tornado.” His sudden appearance startled the birds, which tried to leave but kept crashing into the lamps and the curtains.
Most people would’ve probably called housekeeping then. But Mr. Burchill waded in and tried to take back his room. He said he opened all the windows to let the birds out. When one tried to return, he hurled a shoe — light brown. Shoe and bird sailed out of the window. One bird did not seem to want to leave, so he flung a bath towel over it and threw it out, as well. “I had forgotten that sea gulls cannot fly when they are wrapped in a towel,” he admitted. This all occurred during high tea at the hotel. Tourists were lined up beneath his window. Both the wrapped-up sea gull and the shoe landed on them. His troubles weren’t over. To get to a work dinner, Mr. Burchill retrieved his shoe, cleaned it off and jammed a hair dryer into it. But the phone rang, and while he was out of the room, he said, the hair dryer “vibrated free” from the shoe and fell into a sink full of water, knocking out the power. Finally, sitting amid the mess, he summoned housekeeping. “I can still remember the look on the lady’s face when she opened the door,” he wrote. “I had absolutely no idea what to tell her, so I just said, ‘I’m sorry,’ and I went to dinner.” Why didn’t he call for help straight away? “To tell you the truth, I thought I could handle it,” he told the radio hosts. Afterward, the letter sent to his company laid out the stark terms: He was never, ever to set foot in the hotel again. In March, Mr. Burchill was across the street from the Empress when he decided to send the letter, emphasizing how much he had matured. And who knows? Maybe memories of feathered slime and pepperoni chunks had faded.
Two days later, Mr. Burchill said, he received a phone call from a manager — who was laughing. The ban, at last, was lifted. “I have to say, it absolutely made our week,” the hotel’s general manager, Indu Brar, recalled of the letter. When his story bubbled up on social media, it buoyed readers far and wide. Mr. Burchill said it might be because “the whole world is so stressed out right now that they were looking for an excuse to laugh.” He recently made a bold peace offering to the hotel staff: a pound of Brothers’ TNT Pepperoni. He also asked Ms. Brar for an official written version of the “pardon.” She obliged, and invited him and his family to stay at the Empress the next time they visited Victoria. Ms. Brar had one stipulation (well, two), she said by email: “As long as he leaves the pepperoni in Nova Scotia and keeps his hotel room window closed, he is welcome back any time.”