Thursday, March 25, 2010

Hotel Play

When I was little, less than 10 years old, I used to play a "game". I would draw floor plans of hotels, the rooms, the amenities in the rooms. Some rooms had King beds, others had doubles. Some rooms had bunk beds and kitchenettes. Some bedrooms had whirlpools. My favorite rooms had pools. I loved swimming and thus pools. The rates of the rooms depended on the desirability (in my adolescent mind) and the floor. The higher the floor, the bigger the room, the greater the price. How I knew such secrets of the hotel world at age 10, I do not know.

I do know that I loved hotels. I particularly loved them because my parents would often choose to "drive straight thru" than to stop at one. I remember at least two trips from somewhere south of Virginia heading somewhere north of Pennsylvania when we would reach the 11pm mark and my Dad would declare, "we are too close to stop now." And on we would drive, as I pointed out all the hotel options by highway sign... Look a Holiday Inn! A Red Roof! A Super Eight! Oh, wow, this must be a nice area, there a Marriott! or a Ramada! My parents joked once that they thought I was getting a kick back from Ramada...

Nights like those would end with me asleep in the back, as my parents forged on down the highway. On at least one occasion, I think we pulled over somewhere around 4am to catch some zzzzs. I vaguely remember the comment that there was a "Penn State" game and every hotel between Mechanicsburg and Indiana was full. No Vacancy. I hated those words.

I remember the first time I stayed in a hotel myself. I considered this a coming of age. I was flying from Portugal (having stayed a week with a former Assist student and his family) to New York. The trip consisted of a charter flight to London-Gatwick. There I had to stay over night, catch the bus to Heathrow the next morning and fly out to New York in the evening. Between the multiple bus connections, my young gleeful expectation that I would be fine, and a passport declaring me a world traveler, I arrived. Checking into the hotel, I remember fumbling with the paperwork, my confirmation number, what time was it? where was I? should I call my parents? I had this internal voice telling me that I needed to report to someone because right now, I am completely anonymous. No one knows me. It was a glorious and terrifying feeling.

It was late that night that I embraced the freedom of the hotel experience. There is no routine in a hotel. You can do whatever you want. Brush your teeth twice - turn down the temperature to an insane chill - pile on the pillows, use multiple towels - who cares?! Not my problem. I set the alarm early and worried that I would get up in time. That worried kept me awake most of the night. And its no wonder. This was a single story hotel and I was in a room with double beds. According to my already proven hotel knowledge, this was the lowest form of hotelery.

The next morning, I had my second first, eating alone. A buffet no less. I wished for a corner booth where I could slink in, disappear with only the waiter knowing my solitude. I rushed to get my breakfast as if every suit in the room was wondering what this eighteen year old girl (not yet a woman) was doing alone. All alone. I rushed my breakfast and then the room.

After that first trying stay, I learned to love my solitary hotel trysts. The Embarcadero in San Fran, the Renaissance in Walnut Creek, The Ritz Carlton in Battery Park and Atlanta, the Harvest Inn in St. Helena, The Loews in Miami Beach, The Sofitel in Philly.. I loved each languid moment of escapism. In each hotel I adopted the decor as my own, lavished in the crisp linens, the pristine baths, the simple soaps, the remote control. I slipped on my sunglasses, held my favorite book, and slipped into whatever corner booth was available. I was living the visions of those childhood blue prints. Each window held a new view I had yet to see.

I sit in a new city. Alone. In a lovely hotel. The decor is modern and sleek. The bathroom is wallpapered in metallic red. The beds are covered with pillows and the view - well, it could be better, we got demoted to the 3rd floor. But, I am impressed by the offerings that hadn't occured to me at age 10, free walking tour kits with directional Ipods and pedometers, choices of pillows (down, buckwheat, magnetic therapy, sound, or Swedish memory foam), L'Occitane toiletries, and other goodies. I have tasted the room service (salted fudge brownie heaven) and snuggled in the bed of pillows. I have cranked the AC and ogled the luxurious shower. I have enjoyed the silence and made a dent in my novel...

It is the first time that I can remember that I miss the noise. I miss the ramblings of my toddler and the chubby kissable cheeks of my baby. I miss the half conversations with my husband as we talk to each other about our days. I did this - he did that - sometimes all that matters is saying it, not actually hearing. I miss my bed, its lack of pillows, its infestation of cats (sorta). The simple duvet and metal frame....

It is a joy to visit hotels. As an Aries, it makes me feel childlike and new. I love new. But, I must be getting old, cause I love home more.