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How to Stay Ahead While Playing the Hotel Game

June 26, 1988|BOB O'SULLIVAN | O'Sullivan is a travel writer based in Canoga Park

Because I travel a lot and pay attention to hotels, I'd like to offer some pointers on avoiding the bad ones, of which there are plenty.

Choosing the right hotel can save you time, energy and maybe even a marriage.

Just after I'd made it into adulthood, my buddy Dan and I took a job selling door-to-door. We sold a product of doubtful value whose name I won't mention, but we were told that "because the boss had such great faith in us" he was giving us the entire state of New Mexico for a territory.

As door-to-door salesmen we stayed in a lot of hotels, and because we found that the doors in New Mexico could be miles apart, our meals got a little leaner and the hotels a little cheaper.

One night we selected what looked like a reasonable place, and turned in.

The Lady Returned

About 3 in the morning there was a knock on the door, then the sound of a key in the lock, and the door opened.

Both of us sat straight up in bed. Silhouetted in the doorway was a frumpy, middle-aged blonde woman.

"Did you guys want me?" Dan and I looked at each other and then Dan said, "Hell, no," and I said, "Hell, right." She muttered something, closed the door and clumped on down the hall.

"What was that?" Dan asked.

"Got me," I answered. Both of us, having been raised under at least the part-time influence of the Jesuit Brothers, weren't much up on the ways of the world.

About an hour later we were awakened when the door was opened again. It was the same woman.

"I forget," she said. "Did you guys say you did want me or you didn't want me?'

While I was trying to understand the question, Dan asked, "For what?"

She got a little miffed. "You don't have to get nasty about it," she said, slammed the door and stomped off down the hall.

Having finally figured out what was going on, we packed, complained at the desk and marched out in a self-righteous huff.

We sure showed that hotel a thing or two!

It can get pretty cold in New Mexico. We spent the rest of the night shivering in our frost-covered car.

You'd think the fact that the hotel was simply named "Emily's" should have provided us with some sort of a clue, wouldn't you?

Happy Accident

My wife Joyce and I have found other accommodations within the same general category. We found our first in Morro Bay purely by accident. They aren't always easy to spot.

Of course, if the sign out in front features a woman made out of pink neon, or specifies rates by the half-hour, it might make you suspicious.

There are other indications, such as rubber sheets under the regular sheets, coin-operated machines in the bathrooms that dispense health-oriented products and telephone numbers next to the phone with messages like: "Call Sheila for a really good time."

It's doubtful that Sheila wants to take you to Disneyland.

-- -- --

Early in our travels we learned that one case of jet lag, plus a convention hotel, can just about kill you.

You can recognize convention hotels in the daytime by several telltale features. Invariably there are welcome signs in the lobby: "International Whatever Hotels Welcome the Society of Felt Hat Manufacturers." Sometimes, if the hotel's big enough, several groups will be welcomed.

Convention hotels usually have numerous tour buses parked nearby. If they are parked upwind from your room, some natural law dictates that they will all leave their engines running.

At night, convention hotels have loud bands. The musicians play loud enough to be heard above the conventioneers, who then shout loud enough to be heard above the band.

The ice machines and elevators, one of which is always next to your room, are hyperactive, and you hear drunks from 10 at night till 5 in the morning, singing or talking. This is punctuated by the sounds of people falling up and down the stairs, in and out of elevators or on and off their beds. Yelling in the stairwells to check for echoes is a popular convention-hotel pastime.

No Rest for Weary

The only reason to stay in a convention hotel is if you're at a convention. Then, I'm told, you're less likely to get arrested and might have a lot of fun.

Transient hotels, on the other hand, are never fun. In fact, they are possibly the most dangerous of all because you get no rest.

They are "transient" because their guests pass through and almost never go back.

Brochures may describe them as being "near churches and transportation. A bath in every room and air-conditioned."

Through a tour company's error, Joyce and I were once booked into a transient hotel in Italy.

It was a block from a great cathedral whose bell tolled the hour all night long. The bell was so loud that it produced a secondary harmonic in the springs of our bed. A little spooky and very nerve-racking.

Close to Transportation

The transportation was there, all right. We had a railroad station on one side and a bus station on the other. If you wanted the air conditioning, you opened the windows.

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