As a normal rule of business travel, I don’t eat at the restaurant — if there is one — at the hotel where I’m spending the night. I think it’s important to get out and at least see some of the surrounding area, and if I don’t get out I feel trapped and confined.
Sometimes, though, when you’re in a remote area and the only nearby food option is a bad chain eatery, there really is no alternative, and the hotel restaurant is the only viable option. So it was that last night I found myself eating in the hotel combination bar-restaurant and reading my book — or at least trying to, because there was a group of about a dozen guys at the bar area who were raising a huge ruckus, eating chicken wings and arguing very loudly about what kind of pick-up truck has the best towing capability. (One guy actually said, with total, high-volume conviction: “I’m a Ram Man until the day I die.” Who knew people had that kind of a deeply personal connection to a consumer product?)
These guys weren’t complete jerks. They didn’t get into a fight or harass the waitresses or start calling out people in the room. But they were loud and thoughtless and annoying, and they obviously didn’t care that they were intruding upon the worlds of other hotel guests. It’s one of the realities of life in the hotel zone: it’s a transient existence, on the road in a faraway place that you’ll probably never visit again in the future, and the social mores that would otherwise tamp down your behavior if you were in your home territory aren’t present.
This is one of the reasons why I hate to eat at a hotel. I’d rather not see my fellow guests up close and personal, truck-loving warts and all. I’d rather operate under the illusion that my fellow hotel guests are all anonymous, well-mannered types. When you get a good look at the complete strangers who might be staying in the room next door to yours, it can be unnerving.
Last night I got to my hotel at about 9:30 p.m. after a terrible travel day. I hadn’t had dinner and it was raining cats and dogs outside, so I decided to just take my book and stick to the hotel bar for a bite to eat before turning in.
At this point, alarm bells should have been sounding. Normally I won’t eat a late meal at a hotel bar because it almost always is unpleasant. People go to hotel bars to drink. They don’t need to drive home, and they often rationalize an extra drink as helping them to sleep in a strange room. So if you get there late, you’re likely to encounter people who have been overserved.
Taking a book to a hotel bar is also a mistake. Hotel bars aren’t well suited to quiet reading. And there is something about a solo traveler with a book that seems to provoke other bar patrons to unwanted interaction. Whether they feel sorry for you and think you are crying out for human companionship, or are liquored up and believe their conversation with you will be the highlight of your evening, they’re inevitably going to pester you.
Sure enough, when I arrived last night and sat at the bar where the light was best, it didn’t take long. I read my book, and then a boozy woman nearby became intrigued. She was one of those types who seemed to laugh at everything and whose braying howls had already intruded on my mental space. “Hey, how can you read when the World Series is on? Whatcha reading?” Curiously, I didn’t feel like having a deep discussion about my book with a braying stranger, so I said I wasn’t much interested in the Series this year. Fortunately, the conversation petered out quickly and ended when my food arrived, and I gratefully went back to my book.
With the Mets getting pounded, the couple went reeling back to their room soon after, to be replaced by another couple — who asked exactly the same questions. That discussion also was blessedly brief and ended when the woman had an incredibly loud cell phone conversation, apparently heedless of normal tenets of civilized behavior that suggest that a personal phone call shouldn’t occur a few feet from strangers who simply want to be left alone.
So here’s a tip for hotel bar patrons everywhere. The readers among us are perfectly content to enjoy our books. We’re not sad or lonely or pining for human interaction — we just think our books are likely to be more interesting than a conversation with someone who’s had a few belts too many.