Friday, June 08, 2007

Ire, Ire Stop the Liars

During the last ten weeks I have stood transfixed in amazement, at the endless horizon of the Pacific Ocean. I have also come within a crow’s craw of dipping my toes in the warm salty brine of the Atlantic. In between the sands of that San Diego beach and the Georgia coastline has been a long parade of food and lodging establishments that have not lived up to the hype touted on their billboards and in their print and media ads.

Ire, ire how do we stop the liars, that tell us a visit to their particular establishments would have us slumbering on mounds of soft cotton, in lavender scented rooms full of balmy tropical breezes or feasting on the ambrosia of treats taken from a king’s own table.

For many years, my dear husband made it his practice to stay at one particular hotel chain, even though its rates were usually higher and he would occasionally have to travel miles farther to locate one. He believed its name meant quality and consistency, so was worth some inconvenience or extra expense to seek it out. As newlyweds on our cross country honeymoon we began our journey by looking for his favorite chain each night; but by the tenth week of travel we were pulling off the interstate at any likely exit to play "rock, paper, scissors " or flip a coin as a way of selecting which available motel or eatery got our business.

In other words, we found that having a trouble free and pleasant stay or a tasty and appealing meal was nothing more than a crap shoot having nothing to do with the name on the sign or the promises made by a parent company’s multi-million dollar advertising , and everything to do with the diligent care, concern and supervision of the management and staff or lack thereof. After 70 days on the road and stays at many of the best rated national chains, with only one exception, our stays would best be rated between barely tolerable to just passably adequate. If I were a teacher grading a student,this assortment of hotels would all receive grades in the D-plus to B-minus range, with only one deserving a resounding A.

My husband’s favorite hotel chain the "Comfort Inn" fell into disfavor because of the consistent lack of care given to their well advertised deluxe breakfast. Three separate stays found the breakfast area closed for reconstruction and once the lobby had become a minefield of packing crates. My nieces First Communion found us spending two nights at a Inn in Omaha that moved their food service into a guest room so cramped that if any guest sat at the tables provided, no one else could pass by them to reach the serving area. Even the staff found it impossible to service the room due to lack of space. In Springfield Missouri, the food service was moved into a basement area near the pool and the room reeked so strongly of chlorine that it flavored the coffee. Another, chose a room across a narrow hallway from the laundry room and the constant passing of maids with their noisy carts blocked both the doorway and the elevator. A family wedding had us spending two nights at the Comfort Inn in Lincoln Alabama which gets our award as the "bar none worst" stay of the entire trip. There we found the staff repeatedly in front of the large screen TV in the lobby or huddled in conversations with their visiting boy/girl friends. The breakfast selection was extremely meager, the coffee pots always empty, dishes empty or the food old and unappealing. The second morning an out-of-order sign hung on the juice machine and the waffle machine’s timer was broken. Suspecting that the staff preferred to place the signs instead of actually attending to the machines I went to complain to the desk clerk. The young lady explained that the night girl would set the breakfast bar before she left at 6 am and that they did not have anyone else assigned to work the area until it was time to take it down at 9:30, so they just posted "out of order signs" to keep guests from pestering the desk clerk. In fact, the girl said they had so few guests wanting breakfast that they could not see a need for better staffing. I suggested perhaps the reason so few wanted breakfast was actually due to the poor quality of the items and service provided, at which she just shook her head and gave me her best "It's not my problem" look.

At a Ramada Inn in Oklahoma the medal steps to the second floor had no safety treads and during a light rain my husband lost his footing and slid down the entire length of the stairway causing him to have tender ribs and bruised elbows for several days. Our room had loose ceramic tiles in the shower and the bathroom floor appeared to have been coated in WD-40. I slid across the room and barely missed conking my head on the side of the tub. What had once been a outdoor pool had been enclosed but was located at the end of the building down a long unlighted sidewalk and the only access was through a deserted and dark banquet room making it a scary place to visit at night.

At a Super Eight in Alabama we were serenaded by a stereo concert put on repeatedly by the whistling plumbing pipes and the clanging air conditioner. Their breakfast bar consisted of frozen waffles heated in a toaster with only one working coil on each side, watered down juice and tepid coffee that smelled of motor oil.

During our time on the road we seldom found a room with a heating or cooling system that worked properly. Most rooms had stale, stuffy uncirculating air upon entering and then we would either freeze or swelter depending on the unit. It was a very rare day that we were able to sign on to the internet on first try or finish reading that days e-mails without getting booted off at least once. We found dozens of sagging mattresses, lumpy smelly pillows, stained carpets and countless dirty coverlets. Twice we had to wedge a fork under the stopper of the bathtub or sink to hold it open so the water would drain out. Seldom did we find that a hotel provided a cart we could use to transport our luggage between the car and the room, and when they did it would have a bad wheel that required a tug of war to use. Even though I would seek places with a pool and dress for swiming, I can count on one hand the number of times I actually got my suit wet. I found that many pools were locked before the posted closing time, or they were either to unsafe to use or a complete turn off. Some were dark and isolated, a few just plain dirty, many unheated and artic cold or so full of unsupervised children that I would do an about face and return to my room.

While a hotel in Alabama gets our "worst of the worst" vote, another Alabama facility also gets our "best of the lot" award. We are sending kudos to the Holiday Inn in Dothan Alabama for restoring our faith in the American hotel system. They provided the best appointed room complete with a comfy wing chair and floor lamp, had everything clean and in working order and served the best breakfast of our entire travels. This hotel not only had a full hot breakfast complete with bacon, eggs, grits, biscuits with gravy and fresh fruit; they also had Jamie as our table server. Jamie was straight from central casting and made us feel as if he was a Pullman Porter serving drinks on the linen draped tables of a Southern Pacific dining car as we glided alone a Mimosa and Magnolia lined railway. He was witty, efficient, and oozing southern charm and hospitality. Our time spent with Jamie was worth the price of our room. Of all of the hotels we stayed in this is the only one that we are actually looking forward to revisiting,

Can anyone recommend a great hotel in Omaha? We are heading back your way to celebrate July Fourth.

Please, check back for my upcoming review on the eateries we have encountered on our travels.

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