Saturday, April 7, 2012

Bad Hotels

     I work as a field archaeologist in the cultural resource management field with a large, international engineering firm.  Simply put, this means my coworkers and I go in before the bulldozers replace the bridge, add a lane to a road, put in a federal prison, etc., and excavate and preserve things of archaeologicial significance.  This all means we're forced to travel a lot, since we never know where the next job opening will occur.  As a result, I spend at least 8-10 months out of every year on the road, almost always living in hotels.  This is one of the perks of our industry--our hotel rooms are paid for, as are our meals.  The average type of hotel we're given is well, average--medium priced and quality places like Super 8's, Days Inns, Holiday Inn Expresses, and Comfort Inns.  Occasionally we stay in nicer hotels, and then sometimes we're stuck in distinctly below average, or even shithole places.  Today I'll be discussing a couple of these.
     First off is the Tuxedo Motel, near the town of the same name in NY state, just over the border from NJ.  Apparently it's still active, but from the photos on the website, and the reviews, it appears to have been remodeled.  I stayed there for about two months back in late 1994.  At the time our client had ridiculously low per diem rates--$50 a day for both hotel and food.  There has been inflation since then, of course, but even so, the average medium hotel rate at the time was about $50-60, and the average food rate $25-30 a day, to illustrate just how low that total was.  The Tuxedo Motel was the only place in the area that would allow us to have hotel and food covered, since it cost $25 a day.
      And it showed.  The hotel catered to hunters, and evidently, hunters with low lodging standards.  I knew something was up when I walked into my first room and there was a S & M porn mag on my night table (and not even a good one--oops, did I just admit that?).  The rooms were old, shabby, and extremely filthy.  A subsequent room had teethmarks on the plastic cups, phlegm on the walls, and mysterious (or not so mysterious, unfortunately) stains everywhere.  I'm betting if you shone one of those UV lights that show protein stains in these rooms you would have been blinded.  Most of the crew slept within their sleeping bags on the beds, not wanting to touch the sheets directly.  I'm sure all of us became like minor versions of Howard Hughes, feverishly washing our hands after touching anything in the rooms
      Not surprisingly, the amenities were lacking, too.  This was back in the days before cell phones were common, and the rooms had no phones--something which is unique in all of the dozens or hundreds of hotels I've stayed in.  There were payphones outside, but it was late fall/winter, meaning phone conversations were typically brief, as longer ones risked frost bite.
     A friend of mine had a particularly gross experience, even by the hotel's incredibly low standards.  When she checked in there was a pair of dirty men's underwear in the trash can in her room.  She was put off by this, but she figured, it wouldn't matter since the maid would empty the can when the room was being cleaned while we were at work.  So you can imagine her shock and revulsion when she returned later to discover that the maid had taken the filthy drawers out of the trash and put them in her clean underwear bag!  Stupidity?  Maliciousness?  Or some bizarre fetish?
     As bad as the Tuxedo was, the Gateway Motel in Waterbury, Vermont was worse.  I believe the Gateway has been torn down, blessedly.  Once again, a deficient per diem forced us into this appalling flophouse.  Its overall cleanliness aped the Tuxedo, and some of the rooms' features were worse.  A couple of the rooms had fleas, and one wing didn't have hot water sometimes--kind of a big deal given that it was late fall/winter once again.
      The Gateway's main drawback was its main employee.  The owner was an old guy, who had literally been a rocket scientist.  He was pleasant enough, but unfortunately he allowed his horrible underling (girlfriend?) to run the day to day activities in the hotel.  She was awful--rude, lazy, and bitchy.  We had phones in the rooms, but they weren't that useful--this woman wouldn't  pick up the hotel's line most of the time, because she didn't feel like it, evidently.  A coworker of mine had several disagreements with this woman that turned into nasty shouting matches--some of which I almost thought would result in my coworker stabbing this lady  (And if I was on the jury, I would have had no problem acquitting my coworker no matter what the facts were.)
      The final straw was the deposits.  We'd been forced to pay in advance for our entire stay, but the project was due to end earlier then originally expected.  This woman refused to issue our deserved refund.  My boss and coworkers enlisted the aid of the local police.  It was really a bluff--it wasn't really an immediate criminal matter, but his presence scared her into refunding our money.  It was also amusing to see the fear in the other hotel tenants' eyes when the cop pulled in--it looked like many had guilty consciences.
     I should mention, too, that part of the disappointment with the Gateway was how pretty and quaint the surrounding town of Waterbury was/is.  It's one of those picturesque small New England towns, with a nice downtown, good restaurants, fun bars, etc.  We'd go out for a tasty meal, throw back a few at an enjoyable tavern, and then have to crawl back into our disgusting ratholes.
     So there are the two worst places.  I don't mean to be too negative--like I mentioned, those are the exceptions.  Most of our hotels are fine, or even posh.  To end on a positive note, the best places I've stayed in were the Hawthorne in Burlington, VT, the Staybridge Suites chain, and the Candlewood Suites chain.  All very luxurious, with the Hawthorne getting top marks due to great rooms, free hot meals, and free wine/beer social hours four nights a week (and not Bud and boxed wine, either, but delicious local microbrews and decent wine.)

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