Hotels are strange places, like airports or hospitals. They're places of transition, places where roots cannot take hold, where hearts cannot find purchase and any sense of normal is lost in the nap of last decade's carpeting.
In the Victorian Age it wasn't uncommon for a single man of any age to live in a hotel. Think about it--crowded city, you don't have a lot of ready cash to maintain a home but you can afford a hotel room. With that hotel room comes meals, maid service, laundry, the works. Why WOULDN'T you live in a hotel? Dr. John Watson did it before he met Sherlock Holmes, and I'm certain that the fact of a hotel-dweller was such a commonplace one that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never blinked when he wrote that portion of Watson's life.
I know it's not nearly as commonplace as it used to be, but there are still people who maintain residence in hotels. Now no longer a status quo thing, it strikes me now as an odd thing indeed. A hotel is no longer a genteel place of quiet elegance, luxury and clean sheets. No, now a hotel is like an eatery--get 'em in and get 'em out as fast as you can while letting your cash filters work on their wallets. Do just the bare minimum, don't worry if the towels are thin and trot out the cheap stuff for overpriced meals. Oh, and stuff the smokers way at the top where the air conditioners can't work enough to counteract the heat rising from all those bodies and all that machinery.
The hotel stay this weekend in Pine Bluff brought this on, if you're curious. On the outside and in the atrium the hotel we were in was lovely. Softly upholstered furniture, lovely plants, huge towering front wall of glass five stories tall. Thick carpets muffled footsteps and the wheels of the huge brass luggage carts that trundled here and there with their loads.
The hotel computer lost our reservation that was made some two months ago. I waited half an hour behind two other people who also had no longer had rooms reserved. The receptionist had all the look and attitude of a greasy spoon waitress and was apparently the only person in the entire place. The A/C didn't work very well, the bed was a piece of styrofoam glued to a wooden box and the low-consumption shower head made you feel like you were taking a shower in a high-powered steam pressure washer; you could lather up but actual WATER never rolled off your skin, it simply evaporated there was so little of it. Now they're trying to charge us twice for the room they failed to reserve after they lost our credit card number.
Then there were the people. There's always the people.
The hotel allowed pets for the dog show, so everywhere you looked people had dogs. Even at 4 in the morning when I got up to let Belle out to pee there were people walking with their furry charges, said canines either headed to the landscape with full bladders or back to their rooms with smiles on their muzzles, towing their sleepwalking owners behind on leashes. They weren't the strange ones, though.
There was Creepy Balcony Guy who was somewhere on the fifth floor with us. Literally every time I walked to the elevator or walked back to the room he'd be there near the little bench set aside for the smokers. He'd be sitting there, or pacing around it, his thick, clay-like face molded into some inscrutable, temper-tantrum writhe. He was almost always talking on his cellular phone to some distant person. He'd have a cigarette clenched in his fingers but never be smoking it, and he'd speak in a low mutter, as though his clay lips weren't quite motile enough to form clear words.
There was The Laptop Person, a strangely waifish, androgynous creature who would appear at odd times on the balcony ringing the third floor. This non-sex person would carefully balance their laptop on the six-inch wide ledge and begin working, the red glow from the bottom of their wireless mouse a demonic counterpoint to the pasty glow reflecting on their face from the screen. The rooms all had hookups for internet; why this person felt the need to precariously balance their Thinkpad on a ledge over a thirty foot fall is beyond me.
There was The Man Mountain, a four hundred pound sack of man who recoiled so hard into the corner of the elevator when our four pound Papillion entered that I thought I heard the glass wall creak. When Belle appeared behind her I thought he was going to begin gibbering in terror. When we offered to take the next car he refused, saying he was fine when it was obvious that he was about to climb out of his own ample skin.
There was The Bartender. We found her working in the tiny bar downstairs, a twenty-something grade-school dropout who didn't know how to mix drinks or worse, use a credit card machine. It was an all-cash evening in the bar for a sold-out hotel. Our friend's husband was helping this waste of oxygen to mix margaritas part of the evening--the only tequila available was Petron which I'm told retails at $35 a bottle and he was mixing them STOUT. The housekeeper-turned-bartender was charging house-brand prices: $3. I wish I'd known this before they emptied the entire fifth.
And then there was The Blue Dog Channel.
Channel 12 on the cable tv showed that image. Only that image. It never wavered, it never changed. I'd be sitting there on the unyielding, orange-striped couch; tired, delirious with the day's activities, wanting only the familiar image of some show I knew to soothe me. I'd start flipping channels hoping for The History Channel or Discovery or Sci-Fi, and there'd it be, always a few keypresses away.
The Blue Dog Channel.
No music, no sound of any sort, just that blue cartoon dog forever begging, that enigmatic dog-smile on it's muzzle, it's paws held in an attitude of beatific canine panhandling. It had to be one of the most surreal things I've ever experienced. Rodrigue would have been beside himself with envy. I first saw The Blue Dog Channel Friday evening when we arrived. When we left near 11 on Sunday morning he was still there, smiling faintly, waiting for some gentle soul to take pity.
* I know this makes the entire weekend sound bad, and it wasn't. I always feel unsettled when I'm in a transitory place like a hotel or an airport, and so I wanted to see if I could share that feeling with you. Everything I wrote about actually happened, I just played up the 'Alice down the rabbit-hole' feelings.
post scriptum: I finally uploaded some of the hotel photos.