Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Night at the Hotel

I despise hotels. No, wait, it’s stronger than that. Revile? Abhor? Loathe? Whichever, I find the chain hotels—the Hiltons, the Shorehams, the Sheratons—a true blight.
I had occasion recently to spend a single, $226.41-night in such a place. It was a long walk from lobby to room and I made the trip twice because the electronic key given me when I checked in did not work. Its replacement was recalcitrant too. The room, when I finally got in, smelled of ancient smoke and overlooked a pier where a giant cruise ship was docked among the water-borne detritus. A connecting door in the corridor slammed irregularly throughout the night.
There were bottles of spring water available for a buck at any convenient store but priced here at five dollars each. Neither the clock radio nor the little automatic coffee maker worked, and the television remote’s batteries were so weak I had to get within inches of the screen to make it change channels. Not that there was much of a choice if I was looking to watch something for free. The large selection of adult porn features (I was really tempted by Babes, Breasts and Butts but decided against) was $4.95 a pop. Regular feature films were $5.95.  A postcard propped up on the bedside table announced with smug self-satisfaction that in order to conserve energy, the hotel changed bed sheets only ever third day. I assume the staff did change the linen after each room occupancy, but to tell the truth, the announcement did not specify this. Had I wanted to call out using the room phone, I would be charged money. There would be a charge to get Internet service. The vending machines at the end of the corridor demanded three dollars for a bottle of soda. Ice was free, though, a nice touch.
Riding from the airport to the hotel, I noticed there were not restaurants anywhere within several blocks, and when I asked the cabby about this, he told me the three hotel chains that dominated this tourist area had essentially bought out all competing eateries, which of course explained the $17 cheeseburger.
This particular treat was the least expensive entrée available at the poolside café, considered the affordable restaurant. At breakfast, something vaguely resembling an enchilada went for $14, though the second cup of coffee and a finger-sized sliver of pastry were free.
What amazed me was watching middle-class families scarfing down the equivalent of McDonalds meals and paying a hundred or more for soggy fries and doubtful service. I wondered if this was a budgeted part of the vacation stay and thought it must be, along with the $190 Hawaiian shirt offered by the gift shop and the $47 battered shrimp dish on the menu of the hotel’s principal eatery.
The incredible rapaciousness of the hostelry trade confounds me. I don’t remember Arthur Hailey dealing with this aspect of the trade in his novel. Not only is everything criminally overpriced, but the most minute service outside check-in implies a tip.  Money to the young man who whistles for a cab, to his colleague who opens and closes the car’s door, to the people who come and make the bed without changing the sheets, to the waiters, bartenders, maitre d’s, sommelier if there is one, and to the smiling duo who microwave the $14 not-quite-an-enchilada breakfast item.
For such princely sums, one would expect peerless service, but this wasn’t the case. The check-in counter was manned by two grimly cheerful young employees struggling to deal with the demands of a boatload of orthodontists and their spouses on the return leg of a Caribbean cruise. The pool-side wait-staff was overworked and undermanned, and when I called the hotel’s main number around 10 p.m. after arriving home, all I got was a recorded message. I had forgotten my car and house keys in my room. These had been turned in, said the hotel security officer when I reached him the next day. He asked for my credit card number. I gave it to him. There would be a $10 charge to have the keys mailed to my home.

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