Keeping Up With The Devices

In 1950s America, people spoke of “keeping up with the Joneses.”  The phrase captured the desire of suburbanites to match whatever they noticed their neighbors were doing in the area of home or family improvements.  If the Joneses bought a new car or one of those newfangled TV sets, the pressure was on for the Smiths to make the same upgrade.

In hotel management classes these days, you might talk instead about “keeping up with the devices.”  It refers to the efforts of hotels to equip guest rooms with all of the plug-ins that a traveler might need to hook up the array of electronic gear they might be lugging along. 

This effort by the New York City hotel I stayed in this week is a good example of what hotels have tried to do — and why it seems forever doomed to failure.  It offers one measly electrical outlet, but a smorgasbord of other options that seem awfully dated — and hence not usable (by me, at least).  It’s got a labeled plug-in for an iPod, for example, the three yellow, red, and white holes that I associate with TVs from the ’90s, an old-fashioned phone jack, and a weird, bulky white plug that looks like it might be needed to power a Russian listening device.  And that curious gadget just highlights the additional challenge facing hotels in cities where foreign travelers are commonplace — it’s bad enough to try to keep up with American technology, but it becomes overwhelming if you add in the different kinds of connectivity people from other countries might need for their gizmos.

Of course, most of these options were useless to me; I used only the electrical outlet for my laptop and then had to search for another outlet elsewhere to charge up my iPhone.  And that, I suppose, might be a good takeaway for hotels.  Give up the self-defeating quest to identify and anticipate what your guest might need so that you look like you’re on the cutting edge of personal technology, I say!  It’s never going to really work, and within a nanosecond you’ll just be dating yourself.  Since all of devices currently known to man need electricity, do yourself a favor:  supply plenty of outlets and leave the other hook-ups to the traveler.

The Biggest TV Competition

The success or failure of a hotel chain obviously is going to depend upon how successful they are in appealing to potential patrons. It stands to reason, then, that hoteliers must have a lot of information about the preferences of their guests.

My recent experience suggests that hotel chains believe that visitors want to watch a lot of TV — and on the biggest TVs imaginable. In fact, seems to be a competition, pursued with nuclear arms race intensity, to see who can install the biggest TVs in their rooms. This TV, in a room at the Hyatt Arcade in Cleveland, is the largest one I’ve yet encountered. It’s gigantic, takes up the entire top of the dresser, and dominates the room. It’s got to be 50 inches across — if not more. It’s like having a drive-in movie screen in your room, situated directly opposite the bed.

I’m clearly out of step with other hotel guests, because I almost never watch TV in my hotel room. And frankly, I’d be afraid to even turn this TV on. With a creek this size, the volume would probably blast me out of the room.

Mean Trick

IMG_20160303_043331I’m in  Atlanta for meetings today.  During the wee hours I got up to use the hotel room bathroom, and after I was finished I decided to check the time on the clock radio next to the bed.

It read:  6:20.

Wait, 6:20?  Crap, I’ve overslept!

So I got up and turned on the lights and began doing the work I needed to do before my meetings started, dealing with that jagged surge of adrenalin that you feel when you realize you’ve overslept.  I started reading and answering emails on my iPhone, and then I noticed the time indicated on my phone — which was 4:20.  Huh?  I then went to my tablet as the tiebreaker, and it read 4:20, too.

So somebody had messed with the hotel room clock, moving it two hours ahead.  Why would somebody do that?  The only thing I can think of is that they thought it would be a funny, mean prank to give an unpleasant jolt to an unsuspecting traveler who was checking the time in the morning — because that’s the only time you look at a clock in a hotel room.

What kind of stupid, inconsiderate jerk would do such a thing?  I’m guessing it was a Trump voter.

The Call Home

 When I’m on the road for business, there is one unvarying element of my travel routine:  the call home.  I’m like ET that way.  In fact, it’s usually two calls home — one when I get to my hotel room and drop my bags off,  and then another when I’m back in the room for good and ready to turn in for the night.
Why two calls?  The first one is easy to explain.  When I’m traveling, I just want Kish to know where I am.  So, I’ll call and remind her of the name of my hotel and give her my assigned room number.  In the age of cell phones, this is probably pointless — who wants to hassle with a hotel switchboard when you can call somebody directly? — but it still makes me feel good that she knows where I am.

The second call has a deeper, less rational purpose.  Business travel is weird.  You’re alone in an unknown hotel room, with all of its alien sights and sounds.  Hearing the familiar voice of a loved one just makes the strange room feel less strange. 

Curiously, too, the more mundane the conversation, the greater the degree of emotional comfort that is imparted.  I don’t need to be entertained by some abstract discussion about a recent Supreme Court decision or the latest episode of a hot TV show.  Fill my ear with talk about the HVAC systems guy’s comments about what we need to do to our ducts, however, and I’ll be a happy camper.  Those are the conversations that make me feel like we’re at home, talking on the sofa about the events of the day.  It’s exactly the kind of comforting mental image that helps me to slip into slumberland. 

Hotel Room Horrors

Last night Kish and I went out for a nice dinner with the Cleanliness Queen and her husband, the Dessert Dude — so-called because he somehow is able to eat two large desserts at every dinner we have without putting on a frigging pound.  At the midpoint of the meal the CQ mentioned, with a grim shudder, that she had watched a disturbing hidden camera show about hotel rooms.

IMG_3452If cleanliness is next to godliness, then one day the CQ inevitably will replace St. Peter.  She’s the kind of person who takes Lysol and other cleaning supplies when she travels to wipe down her hotel room, just to be on the safe side.  I suspect she’s got a secret compartment in her luggage for a toilet brush, and it would not surprise me if she carries an ultraviolet scanner to identify any stray unclean areas.  She’s probably sufficiently fluent in other languages to grill hotel maids in every country in the world about precisely what they did in cleaning her designated room.

The CQ explained that the hidden camera show revealed that some maids were using the same dirty towel to wipe down — in this precise order — the toilet bowl, the toilet lid, the sink top, and the shower stall.  Ugh!  And, rather than running them through a scalding water device, used glasses were just put in the sink run under warm water, dried with a towel, and then the little white cap signifying germ-free status was misleadingly put back on top.  No!  This then led to a discussion about bad hotel hygiene incidents, including people on a beachfront vacation who found sand from a prior occupant in bedding that supposedly had been changed.  Arrgh!  By the end of the discussion, the CQ was profoundly troubled.

Let’s face it — if you use hotels regularly, you just have to acquire a willing suspension of concern about the fact that your room has been used only hours earlier by complete strangers, much less what they did when they were in it.  I’d like to think that the room has been completely sanitized with some powerful cleaning agents, whether that’s actually been done or not.  I’ll cling to that illusion because it helps — which means I just need the room to be clean enough that there is no visible evidence of predecessor guests, and I’ll gladly avoid any TV shows that expose an inconvenient truth to the contrary.

Please, Travelers, Don’t Set That Alarm!

Our first night in Vancouver, Kish and I were jolted awake because a prior occupant of our room had set the clock radio alarm.  We stumbled over, bleary-eyed, to paw at the device and shut it off.

ButIMG_20140424_091322 then this morning the alarm sounded again.  We obviously didn’t shut it off entirely, and now we have two options — spend precious moments trying to figure out an alien clock-radio that is far more complicated than our home unit, or just suck it up and accept that we are going to be awakened at the same time tomorrow.  Since the first scenario is undoubtedly beyond our stunted technological capabilities and the second is unacceptable, we’ll probably just unplug the damned thing.

Please, travelers, don’t set that alarm!  Use the alarm function on your smartphone, or get a wakeup call from the front desk instead.  If you set the clock-radio alarm, you know you won’t disable it before you leave the room — and if you don’t no one else will, ever. If you set the alarm on the clock radio, you therefore are dooming generations of future guests to fumbling with that screeching alarm at your designated time until doomsday comes — or until some other thoughtless individual resets the alarm for a different time.

No hotel clock radio alarm that gets set ever gets fully turned off.  It’s as permanent as the pyramids.  So fellow travelers, please have mercy!

Stripped-Down And Uber-Cool

IMG_4832I’m in Manhattan today.  This trip, I’m staying at a new hotel, the Andaz Wall Street.  It’s been something of a revelation.

Normally I like older hotels, but what I really search for is a reasonably priced hotel within walking distance of my destination for the day.  The Andaz fits the bill — and happens to be ultra-modern and ultra-cool, besides.

IMG_4833My room looks like it was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright on a feng shui rush.  The sleeping area is all blonde wood against a dark wood floor, with a bed that is low to the ground.  The light fixtures are metal frames with a canvas covering, and the reading chair and desk chair are of sharp, contemporary design.

The feeling is bright and open and airy, and there’s not a bit of clutter to be found — except when the weary traveler lets his bags drop to the floor with a clunk.

The bathroom area also is striking — a huge, black, walk-in shower where you can take three steps in any direction before hitting a tiled wall and a separate bathtub with a large window looks out over the sleeping area.  (My Midwestern sensibilities suggest that the reason for this configuration is to allow a bather to watch the big-screen TV in the bedroom.)  The sink and vanity area are in a separate room, and the sink is a glass bowl.

IMG_4828There are some other interesting aspects to the room, too.  The light fixture panels right above the nightstand have buttons that are clearly labeled, so you don’t have to guess how to turn something on or off.  I particularly like the “All Off” and “All On” buttons.  The two “blackout” buttons control the window coverings.  And, rather than the standard hotel room pen that lacks ink or skips when you use it, the Andaz provides a black pencil, complete with sharpener and separate eraser.

It’s all very sleek — and comfortable, too.  After we arrived last night, one of my traveling companions said “I’m not sure I’m cool enough to stay here.”  I know I’m not cool enough to stay here, but I’ve enjoyed this visit and a peek at a different approach to hotel room design.

The Flush Factor

Travel always presents challenges and requires some accommodations.  One little-mentioned point of travel-related adjustment involves the bathroom area.

After all, you’re accustomed to your home commode.  You’re used to the height, the seating, the back support, and the sound that is made when you flush.  So, when you go the road and find one of those new-fangled devices in your hotel room, you have to adapt.

The low-slung, hotel room miracles of modern plumbing are different in almost every way.  They’re down at squat level.  The seat is deeper, somehow.  It’s like you’re riding a motorcycle.

My principal objection, however, has to do with the flush factor.  I know that they are supposed to be low-flow and more environmentally friendly — but I don’t like turning that weird rectangular handle and hearing that uncertain gurgling sound, where you don’t know for sure whether the entire reason for flushing has been fully and successfully accomplished.  I don’t want to send the contents of the bowl on some gentle journey, as if it were taking a languid cruise on the Blue Danube.  No, I want it harshly jettisoned, ejected, and expelled — shot, with unmistakably effective, torpedo-like force, deep into the plumbing, never again to be seen or even contemplated.

I’m all for hotels conserving water.  When I’m staying at a hotel for multiple days, for example, I don’t ask them to wash the towels.  I’m not guzzling tap water, leaving the faucets running when I shave, or taking ridiculously long showers.  I’m doing my part for water conservation — but flushing is where I draw the line.

The Cricket In The Room

The other day I was walking through a parking garage when I heard a cricket.  I thought it was weird to hear a cricket in a downtown parking garage, and almost immediately thought how irritating the sound of a cricket is — and suddenly I remembered something I hadn’t thought about for years.

It was the summer of 1968.  Mom and Dad had loaded the five kids in the Webner clan into our Ford Country Squire station wagon to drive from Akron, Ohio to Fullerton, California, where Uncle Gilbert and Aunt Barbara and their kids lived in excitingly close proximity to Disneyland.  (To get a sense of what the trip was like, think of the Griswold clan making their cross country trek in the Family Truckster in National Lampoon’s Vacation.)

We had stopped in Las Vegas, Nevada, where Dad wanted to do a little gambling and get blissfully away from his five brawling, bawling brats.  We were staying at a strip motel with a swimming pool.  With seven people in our family, there was no way we could stay in one room, so UJ, Cath and I were in our own room.

Of course, we stayed up much later than we should have — what self-respecting kid wouldn’t take advantage of that opportunity? — but when we finally decided to go to bed we heard the cricket.  It was chirping away, somewhere in our room.  At first we tried to go to sleep anyway.  It was just a tiny cricket, after all.  But we couldn’t sleep.  The chirping was like a rusty saw scraping against the brain.  Even though we were exhausted, with eyes that felt like they were coated with sand and brains that yearned to lapse into slumber, we couldn’t fall asleep with that insistent noise.  And the cricket seemed to taunt us.  It would stop chirping for a beat or two, and we would think that maybe it had stopped.  And then it would start up again.

Finally, giddy with fatigue at about 3 a.m., we decided we had to find that cricket and shut it up.  It was us, or him.  UJ and I scoured the room and finally found the cricket behind the dresser in the room.  We moved the heavy dresser, exposed the cricket . . . and then killed it with a shoe.  I am ashamed to admit that I was ridiculously happy to have killed a living creature, because I knew it would finally let me get some sleep.  And that is exactly what happened.

The Tao Of Hotel Room Ironing

You awaken in a strange, darkened room, perhaps to the shrill jangling of the unfamiliar alarm of a clock-radio that you don’t know how to turn off.  You stumble to the bathroom, hoping that you do not crash into furniture that is not where you expect it to be.  Moments later, as you check your iPhone or Blackberry, you become dimly aware that you need to get ready for the morning meeting.  This necessarily means your shirt must be ironed, because it is impossible to pack a man’s dress shirt in a suitcase without the shirt become wrinkled, and wearing a wrinkled shirt to your meeting would be . . . unseemly.

You must use the iron and ironing board squirreled away in the hotel room’s closet.  You fumble with the ironing board, lifting it from the hooks that allow it to hang suspended against the closet wall.  You open it and hear that high-pitched screeeel of metal on metal, a sound that is made only by the act of setting up a hotel room ironing board.  Perversely, you are comforted by the annoying, yet familiar, noise.  You retrieve the iron from its slide-in storage rack and plug it in, perhaps struggling with either the miles of cord found in half of American hotel irons or the balky, push button/feed out/scroll back cords found in the other half.  As you slowly, clumsily perform these simple tasks, you realize that the morning fog is beginning to lift from your slumbering brain.

You check the temperature of the iron, and the sizzle of hot metal against your wet index finger feels good.  You place your shirt on the ironing board, dragging it so that the collar and shoulder of the shirt are hard against the squared end of the ironing board.  You iron the plain fabric of the back of the shirt first, your ironing strokes becoming more assured as you progress.  You move the shirt around the board as you go along.  By now, the cranial synapses are engaged.  Be careful you don’t plunk the pointed end of the iron into the row of buttons with too much force!  Snap that sleeve and smooth it to make sure that the act of ironing the top fabric doesn’t leave unwanted creases on the bottom side!  You’ve done this hundreds, perhaps thousands, of times before.

And then you are finished.  You confidently snap the shirt as you remove it from the ironing board and place it back on its hanger.  It looks fine.  You unplug the iron, and as it cools you close up the ironing board, anticipating that sound yet again, and lift it back onto its inner-closet hooks.  Finally, the iron is snapped back into its closet holder.

You have successfully completed the morning’s first chore.  The hotel room shower beckons.

What Makes The Ritz The Ritz?

In the St. Louis Ritz-Carlton lobby

On my recent trip to St. Louis I stayed in the Ritz-Carlton.  After staying there, I learned why “the Ritz” is used as shorthand for luxury and top of the line accommodations and why “ritzy” has entered the language as a synonym for elegant.

A vase in the Ritz-Carlton lobby

What makes the Ritz the Ritz?  Well, the lobby, for one.  This is not one of those cookie-cutter hotels with tile floors, a bland neutral color scheme, and a cheap chair and table tucked in one corner of the check-in area.  No, the Ritz lobby features a roaring fire, chandeliers, fine carpeting and furniture, and gilt-edged paintings.  There are multiple seating areas for quiet reading, confidential conversations, or a quick check of the Blackberry.  The tables feature golden clocks, or fine vases, or a Remington-like sculpture.  The entire lobby ambiance exudes comfort and sumptuousness.

The guest rooms similarly have that fine, posh feel about them.  The rooms themselves are considerably larger than normal hotel rooms and are well designed.  (My room had a small balcony, too, but I didn’t venture out to check the view given the arctic temperatures.)

The bathroom soap dish and glassware

The bed, linens, lamps, and chairs are top of the line.  The coffee cup for the coffee maker has the Ritz-Carlton seal and the coffee itself is excellent.  And the bathroom is resplendent in marble, with polished dishes and glassware.  The shower is bright and spacious, with plenty of hot water.

The staff of the hotel were friendly, professional, and quick about their work.  We had breakfast in the dining area where the service was prompt and the food was hot and freshly prepared.  And when we were leaving the doorman held the door open and the bellhop capably carried our bags to the taxi.

What makes the Ritz the Ritz?  Just about everything.

Hotel Pillow Talk

Why do so many hotel rooms look like Parisian bordellos these days?

If you’ve been on the road for business travel lately, you know what I mean.  You get to a hotel room, unlock the door, turn on the light, and flop your stuff down on the bed — and it is covered in pillows.  There are the hotel-miniaturized versions of “normal” pillows, which usually are hidden from view.  Then there are the weird sausage-shaped pillows that look like they were swiped from a Tantric sex clinic or a Lamaze birthing class.  And finally there are the large, faux silk-covered “throw pillows” that are, I suppose, designed to make you feel like a Turkish sultan.  (Here’s a tip for hotel room interior decorators — Turkish sultans didn’t buy their harem pillows from a Target supplier at $2.59 apiece.)

I cannot imagine that anyone uses any of these weird pillows for the purpose of head rest during sleep.  You could not possibly sleep on the hotel bed with the pillows in their initial configuration without risking permanent neck injuries or disk dislocations.  So, the weary traveler must instead try to figure out where to put the extraneous pillows so that the shrimpy “normal” pillows can be accessed.  Usually, the weird pillows  end up on the floor, where they serve as obstacles when the traveler stumbles to the bathroom for that inevitable middle-of-the-night visit.

I can understand hotel designers wanting to add a bit of zing to otherwise cookie-cutter rooms, but I think the pillow approach is an irritating, abject failure.  The hotel experience is bound to be generic  to a certain extent.  I encourage hoteliers across America to resist the weird pillow syndrome, save the few bucks spent on acquiring the unusable pillows, and use that money to provide free wireless instead.