Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Texas by the turn signal light: Day 7

And we’ll leave the hall light on for you … so you can’t sleep
If you are lucky enough to afford one of those rolling mansions on wheels (with the ability to afford its purchase and its gasoline bill), finding a place to stay overnight is a matter of hooking up at the proper campground, state or national parksite.
The rest of us have to place our heads on strange beds in a motel or hotel. Those emerge in all different shapes, labels (suites, extended stays, luxury, bed and breakfasts, etc.) and prices. In our Wal-Mart world, where the cost is everything, the lower the price, the better. But it is also true that cheap is cheap and you certainly get what you pay for.
On this trip, we are staying with the same national chain, who shall remain nameless but, in Spanish, stands for “More costly than you might think.”
No all outlets, even under the same chain name, meet the same standards. They should, but they don’t. Y’all might need help.
So here are a few yardsticks I’ve set for judging whether the hotel I’ve chosen is worthy of a repeat visit:
* I avoid motel chains with numbers (Motel 6, Super 8, 7-Heaven) and the words “Econo” in them. It’s a clue that it ain’t that grand.
* If the towels are soft, then it is a quality place. If they feel like sandpaper and rip away the first four layers of your skin, you might want to tell them about this new discovery called “fabric softener.”
* The softer the mattress, the better the stay. The ones that actually use large sheets of plywood boards in place of box springs? The ones with the mattress no thicker than your thumb? And the ones with the short sheets? Ah, catch ya later, buddy.
* If the bathroom and tub area is no bigger than the average coffin, you might be in the wrong place. Sitting on the commode with your feet resting in the hallway is not a happy experience.
* If there are two beds in the room, chances are there are two people staying there. Why hotels have only THREE bath towels is beyond me but it is common practice. The same for pillows – three is the magic number. True, you can always ask for more but that feels like imposing. It should be standard policy.
* The extra pillow and blanket in the closet is a pleasant surprise and always appreciated. Since most air-conditioning units have all the subtlety of Rosie O’Donnell, you often need to readjust YOUR body temperature, not the room’s.
* So many business people travel these days, and others, like me, drag their laptop computers … just to stay in touch (or so they say). Having free Internet access is vital to choosing the proper hotel-motel.
These days, not having wireless capability is almost incomprehensible. And when it is an uneven checkerboard among the properties of the same chain, it leaves a strange taste in the mouth and keyboard.
And to charge for access? That is nonsense (attention, Red Lions, I mean YOU!).
* Finding luggage carts in a multi-story hotel (that does not employ valets or bellhops) is akin to a treasure hunt. Hotels should restrict their use (such as using them as boogie boards by idiot children too bored after a long car ride).
* Because of the brutal costs of maintaining a long-term food service in a hotel, many chains are going to the free “Continental” breakfast form of enticement. That moniker is as confusing as the “International” House of Pancakes. Do you think they serve whipped cream covered strawberry flapjacks with Mrs. Buttersworth’s in Thailand or Turkey?
Most entrees are edible, sometimes … but it would help if the premixed waffle batter didn’t smell like old socks.
* Speedy registration is always a good sign. Having the front desk clerk decide to take a lunch break just as you step up (after standing in along line for 30 minutes) is NOT a good sign (true story at the Red Lion Hotel in Redding, Calif.).
* The best hotel we’ve ever stayed is, hands down, the Halekulani on Waikiki (on our honeymoon). Not only was the view of Diamond Head spectacular (even from the bathroom), but every employee knew our names and treated us special. Check-in happened in our room, not a lobby.
The food was incredible and the décor was breathtaking. A perfect experience all the way around.
* The worst hotel was, also hands down, the Comfort Inn LAX in Los Angeles. From the first whiff of incense to the smart-ass attitude at the front desk to the cable network that offered only a few stations in English (a majority were in Korean or Chinese, not Spanish) to a location that can only be best described as “dangerous,” it was one of those times when one couldn’t wait to leave.
When asked for my name at check-in, the young man at the front desk laughed in asking, “You related to Orlando Bloom (the actor)?”
“Yeah, I’m his rich uncle who got that way staying in dumps like yours.”
I wish I could afford the high-end luxury places, but most people cannot. It must be a thriving business because they keep popping up in more small cities than ever. The new “W” hotel in the Victory development is being touted as the key to revitalization of downtown Dallas.
I’m not sure about all that; I just want my waffles not to smell or taste like my dirty laundry.
On a consistent, affordable basis.

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