“This summer one third of the nation will be ill-housed, ill-nourished, and ill-clad. Only they call it a vacation.” — Joseph Salak
I live in a creaky old house, sans air conditioning, and am sometimes visited by bats. Better yet, I often choose of my own free will to go camping in an actual tent that involves sleeping ON THE GROUND.
Yet, put a hotel room passkey in my hand and suddenly, I’m Princess and the Pea.
“This bed is too soft.”
“That bed is too hard.”
“This hotel is too grubby.”
“That one room smells ‘funny.’”
At home, I am comfortable with “lived in.” On the road, I insist on white-glove clean. I’ve only barely HEARD of bed bugs, yet I submit all hotel mattresses to the kind of inspection that stops short just this side of a microscope.
A recent three-night stay convinced me that I am, in fact, higher maintenance than I realized.
This trip was ostensibly a three-night, four-day adventure with my cousin and our respective children to a little summer adventure.
It shall forever be remembered as our whirlwind five-hotel tour. Note that’s five HOTEL, not five star.
Our first hotel, booked from home via the magic of the Internet, turned out to have little resemblance in person to the sparkling on-screen persona. The disclaimer should have read: Objects in reality may be shabbier and dirtier than they appear.
The room was dank, cramped, and offered an unappealing combination of tattered bedding (I can get that at home, people) and crumbs scattered about. We quickly canceled our reservation and set out to find cleaner quarters.
Next, we pulled up in front of one of those complexes where various hotel chains are all clustered so close that only by checking the name badge of the employee smoking outside the door can you really be sure which lodging you are entering.
We piled into the lobby like a carload of Clampetts, only to realize that the lush surroundings and indoor waterfall clearly indicated that we were in the wrong place.
Ducking next door, we found our kind of people. A solid, mid-level establishment noted for comfort, cleanliness and free cookies at the desk. They had foregone the waterfall in favor of not charging you the equivalent of your firstborn for the night.
Committed to truth in advertising, they called it the Airport Travel Inn.*
The first room they showed us was clean, comfortable, and so small that it would have required one member of our party to sleep standing up in the corner. A quick call to the front desk found that we could upgrade to a room large enough to land one of those airplanes that kept roaring overhead.
Of course, with the distance between said planes and the roof of the hotel being so minimal, it’s a distinct possibility that this was the plan.
Lest I sound completely insufferable, it should be noted that I really do not hold impossibly high standards. I willingly and of my own volition chose to stay at a hotel with the word “Airport” figured so prominently in the name. I could hardly complain when we were treated to the sounds of jets roaring overhead throughout the night. It only took a few low passes to tamp down the automatic startle reflex that causes a person to duck when the plane’s wheels appear ready to skim their forehead.
Our third night, we were forced to change hotels when we significantly underestimated how many fellow travelers wanted to stay in a hotel situated directly in a flight path.
One hotel reeked so badly of mildew and bad ’70s decor that we never made it past the lobby. The shag was frightening the children.
We finally settled, out of desperation, on another mid-level chain known for being the best deal around — about 50 years ago. Their decor choice was a sort of faux Victorian opulence that was meant to be impressive, but came off eerily reminiscent of The Shining.
I know they really appreciated my sense of humor when, passing the bathroom, I asked “was that Jack Nicholson’s head back there?”
Unlike the Airport Inn, however, they were not quite as forthcoming in their signage. “Strange Metallic Grinding Noise will Haunt your Sleep” Hotel apparently didn’t test well?
Back home and contemplating my certainly not-white-glove standards, slightly cluttered, creaky old bedroom in what we would be forced to call “May Have Bats” Hotel, it occurred to me that the fatal flaw in all hotel environments is this: They are not “home.”
Be it ever so humble, it’s comforting — and acceptable — when the tattered bedding, creaks and crumbs are our own.
*Names changed to protect the innocent and clean.