I like Christmas. I really do. But when you’re at a conference, a little Christmas goes a long way.
Thursday night I found myself at a reception in the obligatory open atrium space at one of those colossal hotel-conference complexes. I was having a perfectly pleasant time, chatting with other attendees, when suddenly there was a blast of music, strobe lights, and fog machine effects, and some kind of Christmas-themed program starting playing, at bellowing volume, over the sound system. I think it may have been called “A Christmas Wish,” or something along those lines, and it seemed to involve a boy beseeching his Grinch-like grandfather to do something for the holidays. People who love The Hallmark Channel Christmas movies no doubt would have appreciated its saccharine sappiness. Me? I found the kid’s voice incredibly annoying as I was trying to carry on a conversation, and I sympathized with the beleaguered granddad who had to put up with the irritating rugrat.
Eventually the program ended, and everyone at the reception breathed a sigh of relief at the very welcome silence. Before we knew it, however, the program started again, and we realized with grim despair that it apparently was going to be broadcast every half hour. I wasn’t the only attendee who then decided that it was time to exit the reception and get as far away from the imploring kid’s voice as possible.
Lights, trees, other festive decorations, and a little Christmas music in the background are just fine. But forced exposure to some maudlin tale that is supposed to illustrate “the meaning of Christmas” is where I draw the line.
On this business jaunt I’m staying in one of those hotels where every room has a kitchenette complete with refrigerator, two burner stovetop, sink, and dishwasher.
I don’t plan on doing any cooking while I’m here. Frankly, the thought of cooking in my hotel room and smelling lingering kitchen odors, like the smell of microwaved popcorn, while I’m trying to sleep kind of disgusts me, now that I think of it. There’s a reason there’s significant physical separation between kitchen and bedrooms in most American homes, and the smell factor is one of them.
Even though I don’t plan on cooking, a refrigerator seems like a nice option. In fact, a bracing glass of ultra-cold water with lots of ice sounds pretty good this morning. But my refrigerator has no ice tray or ice maker, even though it’s got a freezer. Why not? If you’re going to put a fridge in a hotel room, it should be fully functional — and that means complete ice-making capabilities. How much can a plastic ice tray cost?
Is there some nefarious reason why the kitchenette hotels want every guest to have to walk down to the ice maker?
One aspect of business travel is that you get exposed to unbrand products that you don’t buy yourself. Rather than the familiar names that you use at home, you’re trying some generically named, generically packaged product that some hotel purchasing agent bought in bulk to save a few bucks.
Today I’m using “N’Joy” coffee creamer, rather than the Coffee-Mate we’ve got in the cabinet above our coffee maker, and “freshmint” toothpaste, rather than the tube of Colgate or Crest that we typically buy.
I can report to those who are interested that “N’Joy” creamer has the same dusty consistency of Coffee-Mate as it’s poured, but it once it’s mixed with the coffee it doesn’t produce much of a rich, creamy taste like Coffee-Mate does. Instead, it just lightens the color of the coffee a bit, without having an appreciable impact on flavor. Perhaps it should be called “coffee lightener” instead of “coffee creamer.” As for the “freshmint” toothpaste — which I got at a hotel some time ago and have been carrying in my travel kit and using when I go on the road because I’m cheap and proud of it — it has a more gummy consistency coming out of the tube and going onto the toothbrush, sort of like spackling paste, but once you put it under running water it serves its intended purpose perfectly well and has a sufficiently minty taste to get rid of morning breath. As the photo above indicates, I’ve been happy enough with the “freshmint” to be nearing the end of the tube.
When you’re on the road you’re on the road, and beggars can’t be choosers. Unless you’re going to lug around your own supply of household products, you’re in Unbrand Land, and you’ve just got to accept it.
We ended up at the Algonquin Hotel last night. It’s known as the location of the Algonquin Roundtable, where Dorothy Parker and the American literati of the ’20s held forth. It’s also known as the home of Hamlet, the house cat. There’s been a house cat at the ‘Gonq for at least 90 years -and I think they’ve all been called Hamlet.
This morning, Hamlet was guarding the front desk when we left. I’m not a “cat person,” but I think a house cat is pretty cool.
I’m on the road again, this time in NYC for work. My room at the Hyatt at Grand Central Station is fine, except for one small detail — there’s no desk.
Seriously? No desk? Where are you supposed to set up your laptop, roll through your emails, and get some work done before the meetings begin? I’d gladly exchange the modern sofa and the large hardwood floor area that seems suited only for ballroom dancing for a simple desk, chair, and electrical outlets. But I’ll be using the sofa as a makeshift desk instead.
I’m perfectly willing to put up with the weirdness of modern hotel room decor, but when they sacrifice function for form I’ve got to draw the line. Hotels rooms should always — always! — have a desk.
Sometimes a sign does more than just provide information. Consider this warning bolted to the gate to the pool at our hotel, for example. Doesn’t it leave you wondering what must have happened, on some grim day in the past, to cause a hotel to post a permanent notice that people who have “active diarrhea” — in itself an extremely evocative phrase — shouldn’t swim in the pool? The mind reels!
You’d like to think that it’s not necessary for hotels to notify guests that if they are suffering from uncontrollable physical conditions that are inevitably going to soil the water in a communal pool, thy shouldn’t take a dip. After all, chlorine can only do so much. But apparently that’s not the case. It’s just another sign — in this case, a literal one — that the normal code of behavior no longer holds, and the world is going to hell.