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Why I Will Never be a Travel Writer

Updated on May 20, 2013
Venable Hotel, Portland, Oregon
Venable Hotel, Portland, Oregon
Hotel room in Wisdom, Montana
Hotel room in Wisdom, Montana
Blenheim Hotel, Atlantic City, New Jersey
Blenheim Hotel, Atlantic City, New Jersey
Newark International Airport, Newark, New Jersey
Newark International Airport, Newark, New Jersey
Miller Hotel, Wausau, Wisconsin
Miller Hotel, Wausau, Wisconsin
Hotel room in Langdon, North Dakota
Hotel room in Langdon, North Dakota
Arcade Hotel, Springfield, Ohio
Arcade Hotel, Springfield, Ohio
Marlborough Hotel, Atlantic City, New Jersey
Marlborough Hotel, Atlantic City, New Jersey
Howard Johnson's Motor Lodge, New York City
Howard Johnson's Motor Lodge, New York City

I will never be a travel writer who rates hotels for a living. Though I have a critical eye, I rarely complain to the front desk no matter how bad a hotel room is because to me a hotel room is a place to sleep, not live. I don’t expect “ambiance” or “atmosphere”—I expect a good night’s sleep. As long as the bed doesn't sag, the water is somewhat hot, and the A/C or heater does what it's supposed to do, I am satisfied.

However, if I ever did rate hotels for a living, I’d start with the one I stayed at during a writer’s conference in an East Coast city several years ago …

I’m staying in an exceptionally sour suite at the Wall of Dis Hotel, which is sandwiched between scenic views of the river Styx and Phlegethon, the world-famous River of Boiling Blood, here in beautiful Sixth Circle, Hell.

Someone or something punched this room. Hard. Bruised and discolored jaundice yellow walls close in on me. Sticky and slimy carpet snatches at my shoes. Unidentified goo the consistency of hair gel and the color of minced asparagus clogs the drain in the sink. When I wash my hands, the water remains. I'm sure George Washington's wig hair is clogging the trap underneath the sink.

Goya’s Saturn Devouring One of His Sons is the only artwork, and it peers down at me from above the bed. It reminds me that I haven’t eaten. I will not be eating in this room.

I open the closet, its doors complaining in several languages, and it smells as if Fidel Castro has been smoking cigars inside it for fifty years. A two-dollar iron rests on a mildewed ironing board, and a clothes bar hangs off its moorings. It takes a degree in physics I don’t have to hang my suit on the bar. My suit falls to the floor. I hang it on the shower rod in the bathroom. It will later block water for my shower because there is no shower curtain—a blessing in disguise, I’m sure. Whomever was here before me most likely used the shower curtain to wrap up a body.

The tea bags on the sink were new during the 1976 American Bicentennial, and the complementary sugar in one unmarked, slightly opened brown packet has hardened to the consistency of concrete. The Colombian coffee’s potency most likely wore off during the Nixon administration. A spotted coffeemaker has rust on the heating element. It begs me to turn it on. I don't want to start a fire here. Yet.

Tile grout a bile-green color brightens up the otherwise dark gray mausoleum of a bathroom. The safe under the sink has no key and is large enough to hold half a debit card. This safe does not make me feel safe.

Closed captioning rolls across the bottom of the television and blocks much of the screen. The television doesn’t swivel, making it impossible to view from anywhere but the foot of the bed. Thousands of tiny fingerprints smelling of peanut butter and jelly dot the television screen. The remote control won't let me surf channels, returning me again and again to the pay-per-view channels at $9.99 per half hour. It also won’t allow me to mute the sound.

The clock radio has no visible words on or near any of the buttons, and there are no instructions, Braille or otherwise. It flashes incessantly no matter how many buttons I push. I pull the plug. It continues to flash. I try to remove the batteries. The battery compartment is screwed shut. I slide it under the bed--and find the shower curtain, now a moldy science experiment and bedbug collector.

The visitors guide is moth-eaten and tells me how wonderful Sixth Circle, Hell, was--in 1989. The phone book is missing most of its restaurant and bail bondsman pages. The Gideon Bible in the desk drawer looks pristine and undisturbed.

A crime scene investigator could probably spend twenty-four hours in this room, solve a dozen crimes, and find Jimmy Hoffa and Amelia Earhart under the soap scum and mounds of matted dog and human hair in the bathtub. This is a hotel room that got into a fight with someone and lost. Even Virgil wouldn’t bring Dante here. Though the bedding is clean, the towels are plentiful, and the pillows are firm (shock and awe), I have to give this room -2 stars out of 5 …

If I were a travel writer, I would probably go insane, and if I really did my job, no hotel in America would ever want me to come back.


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