Elevator Art

What do hotels consider when deciding whether to decorate their elevators — and, if so, what to use for elevator art?  You’re talking about a space that every single guest uses multiple times during their stay, when they may be in multiple mindsets:  when they first arrive after a day of travel, first thing in the morning when they’re heading down for breakfast, and when they’re heading back up to their room after a long day.  How much care and attention goes into the decision of how to decorate that very unique setting?

You could, of course, choose to leave your elevator unadorned, with just standard elevator walls, the basic mirror facing the door so that people entering can check their hair and their tie, and some information about the hotel restaurant and the daily weather forecast by the row of floor buttons.  Or, as has been the case with some hotels I’ve visited, you could turn the elevator into a kind of tropical rain forest, with photos of exotic birds and insects and foliage and an accompanying sound track with the gentle patter of raindrops and distant thunder to soothe the jangled nerves of your guests.  Or, you could feature compelling photos of noteworthy places to see in the city where the hotel is located, to entice the traveler to leave the hotel premises and explore the city they are visiting.

Or, if you’re the proprietors of the hotel in Phoenix where I’m staying for meetings, you could post this big photo of a reclining woman wearing ripped blue jeans kicking up her heels, with a cowboy hat on her airborne foot.

What message are you sending this this image in an otherwise generic hotel elevator?  The cowboy hat signals that we’re in the western United States, for sure, in case the guests had forgotten that fact.  But what else?  That the friendly folks in Phoenix often lie down and balance their hats on their feet, just for kicks?  That, in a world where ripped jeans seem to be everywhere, in Phoenix they are really destroyed?

I’m guessing that the choice of the kicky gal’s legs was the product of a careful process that included some other potential choices.  Wouldn’t you like to know what some of the other finalists were?

Faucet Shock

Back in the ’70s, futurist Alvin Toffler coined the phrase “Future Shock” to refer to the mindset of many people in modern societies.  According to Toffler, “Future Shock” occurred when constant technological advancements and other changes in the world produced a peculiar psychological state in which individuals were overwhelmed by experiencing too much change in too short a time.

Me, I’ve just encountered “faucet shock.” 

That’s the baffled condition you experience when you go into a bathroom in a hotel where you’re attending meetings and the sink complex looks like the controls of a motorcycle, or maybe a video game, with nary a lever or handle or anything labeled with a C or an H in sight.  So, what do you do here?  Which gleaming device supplies water?  Do you grasp the wings sticking out of the central column and twist or turn?  Or just wave your hands around underneath the whole complex, hoping that there are photoelectric cells somewhere that will activate the water flow?

If you’re confronted with this bathroom set up, here’s what I learned after some embarrassing “faucet shock” trial and error.  First, you stick your hands under the little unit to get a dollop of soap foam, then insert your hands under the central column to activate the water flow — with no option to change the lukewarm temperature of the water, incidentally.  Then, after your hands are soaked, you place them under the wing pieces to have a Dyson unit blow-dry your hands. 

Or, if you feel silly doing that, as I did, you just grab a few paper towels, briskly dry your hands the old-fashioned way, and back away from the whole enterprise.

Terrible Towels

Lately Kish and I have experienced a weird phenomenon:  every time we go out to buy towels, the towels we bring home don’t work very well.  In fact, you might say they suck — except that “sucking” suggests a moisture absorbency that these towels totally lack.

Rosie, the waitress from the old Bounty TV commercials, would tell you that the key quality of towels — paper or cloth — is their ability to soak up fluids.  That’s why she was always accosting customers, butting into their conversations to yammer on about the “quicker picker-upper,” and sticking Bounty towels into half-filled glasses of water to show how much water the towels could absorb without dissolving into wet paper nubs. 

But modern towel manufacturers seem to have forgotten — or perhaps they never learned — this essential lesson about what a towel should be.  They make towels that look delightfully warm and fluffy and soft, but that don’t actually soak up water.  It’s as if the cloth has a kind of coating on it that prevents it from sucking up fluids.  So when you use the fluffy towel after taking a shower, you’re just smearing water around on your arms and legs, and your hair stays wet.  The difference between the old towels in our house and the new breed is like night and day — or, most aptly, dry and wet.

It’s absurd.  It’s like buying a pillow that is hard and jagged, ordering a drink that is so brackish it  doesn’t quench your thirst, or purchasing a vacuum cleaner that doesn’t actually suck up dust and dirt.  Modern towel manufacturers consistently produce a product that doesn’t even perform its principal purpose.  How in the world did this happen?

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 Supreme Challenge

Everyone has something they can’t resist. Maybe it’s Hershey’s kisses, or honey-roasted peanuts — but we all have some weakness that we are powerless to defy.

For me, it’s Frosted Flakes. They’ve been my favorite cereal since I was a kid — at least, since Quisp and Quake crossed the Rainbow Bridge to Cereal Heaven. On a Saturday mornings I would fix heaping mixing bowls of Frosted Flakes and spoon them down while watching cartoons. And, even today, if there is a box of Frosted Flakes around I know I will eat it all, and probably in one sugar-frosted orgy of cereal and whole milk gluttony that will leave me feeling scarred and guilty for weeks. As a result, Frosted Flakes have been permanently banned from the house.

However, I stupidly mentioned my terrible secret to a friend recently, and when we had friends over last night she brought this box as a gift. So now I’ve got Tony the Tiger staring me in the face, posing the supreme challenge: how long can I go before I inevitably succumb to temptation and gobble down the whole box?

Gummed Up

Let me begin by saying that I am not a “gum person.” Even as a kid, I didn’t particularly like the gum experience, except for the blowing bubbles part. I would inevitably end up sawing away at an increasingly tasteless wad — and then the unsightly disposal issue would arise, where no underside of a school desk was safe.

However, as someone who knows some members of the Gum Nation, and who walks through convenience stores from time to time, it’s hard for me not to notice the Gum Renaissance that is currently underway. Gone are the days when choices were limited to Wrigley’s, Beeman’s, Dubble Bubble, Chiclets, Bazooka, and those long cellophane wrappers with garishly colored (and horribly artificially flavored) gum balls. Now there are entire aisles and point of purchase displays devoted to all things gum. New brands like Mentos and Icebreakers have entered the market, along with artisanal gums, sugar-free options, and “natural” gums — and I suspect if I looked carefully enough I’d find vegan, lactose-intolerant, and gluten-free offerings. It’s as if the same competitive processes that broke the Budweiser/Pabst/Miller High Life dominance in the beer market have turned their attention to chewing gum. Are there “craft gum” competitions out there?

And gum is so popular that media-savvy companies like Disney are associating with it. One of the gum packages pictured above features a Frozen II character and is for a flavor called “Arctic Grape” — which seems a bit oxymoronic, by the way. And speaking of packaging, we’ve definitely moved away from the slim, white rectangles that slid easily into the pocket of your jeans. Now gum comes in bulky, bright plastic receptacles that clatter and clearly aren’t pocket friendly. Today’s gum demands attention and a special storage spot.

Yes, it’s truly a Gum Nation these days. Those of us who don’t partake just live in it. And school desks probably aren’t happy about it.

Post-Apocalyptic Brewskis

Back in the 1950s, when American scientists and military advisors were regularly test-detonating new nuclear devices to see whether they should be added to America’s nuclear arsenal, scientists decided it made sense to conduct a special experiment — and “Operation Teapot” was born.  Its purpose was to determine the “civil effects” of an atomic blast on commercially packaged food items, including bottled and canned beer.

small20boy20test201962The Operation Teapot researchers reasoned that, if the United States and the Soviet Union started hurling nuclear bombs at each other, the American water supply would quickly become contaminated by fallout, and determining an alternative source for fluids therefore was important.  The report on Operation Teapot explained:  “Consideration of the problems of food supply show the needs of humans for water, especially under disaster conditions, could be immediate and urgent.”  The report added:  “At various times some consideration has been given to special packaging of potable water, but since packaged beverages, both beer and soft drinks, are so ubiquitous and already uniformly available in urban areas, it is obvious that they could serve as important sources of fluids.”  In short, since American households already had ample supplies of beer and Coke, why not see if the U.S. could rely on those to supply post-bomb blast refreshment?

So, in 1955, researchers at the Nevada Proving Grounds put bottled and canned beer and soda at three locations, ranging from 0.2 to 2 miles from ground zero, and then set off a bomb.  Some of the bottles and cans at the location closest to the blast were obliterated, but others survived and, after testing, were found to be largely unaffected in the taste department and “within the permissible limits for emergency use” from a radiation standpoint.  The canned and bottled beers that were positioned farther away from the blast site showed no signs of change whatsoever and even retained their carbonation and airtight seal.

Some of the two-fisted scientists working on Operation Teapot, no doubt thirsty after witnessing the blast, apparently cracked open some of the beers and soft drinks and downed a few swigs to conduct an “immediate taste test.”  The report on Operation Teapot noted:  “Immediate taste tests indicated that the beverages, both beer and soft drinks, were still of commercial quality, although there was evidence of a slight flavour change in some of the products exposed at 1270 ft from GZ [Ground Zero]. Those farther away showed no change.”  The remaining bottles and cans were sent to several commercial laboratories for further taste testing, and the consensus was that the beer could unquestionably be used as an emergency source of potable beverages.

So there you have it!  After following “duck and cover” techniques to weather the initial atomic blast, Americans of the ’50s would be able to crack open a cold bottle of suds and quaff a few without concern about their beer supply going flat or having a skunky taste.  It would make the post-apocalyptic landscape and the clumps of hair falling out of your scalp a little bit easier to take.