This fall I flew to the Midwest to visit my daughter Emily at her college’s Friends and Family Weekend, and I was trying to do it on a shoestring. I chose a no-frills airline that ended up charging $50 for my carry-on bag, an inexpensive rental car company that later billed an extra $119.40 in extra toll road charges, and a cheap airport parking lot that stored my car a very scary part of Inglewood.
But the biggest lesson of you get what you pay for came from my hotel.
It was the only hotel located within walking distance of the college and rumor has it that in the 1960’s the hotel had been a Holiday Inn. Because it was listed in Priceline, it couldn’t be that bad, right? I mean it’s not like Priceline recommends hotels that charge by the hour or have drug deals in the lobby. At $15 less than the price of a Super 8, this hotel was a bargain hunter’s dream come true, even if it was only rated 3 out of 10 stars. The reviews were so critical they were comical (“I would rather sleep in my car than pay for this dump” and “It smelled like a condemned building”), but I would probably only be there to shower and sleep. At the very least I might have an interesting story to tell about my stay.
As I arrived, it was a little tricky to park my rental car because the cement parking blocks were all broken and scattered, so maneuvering around the parking lot was a little like driving through an obstacle course. Weeds were breaking through the asphalt so thickly that in some areas it was truly nature battling urbanization and beating the hell out of it.
The most obvious first impression of my temporary home away from home was the stench of cigarettes. I could smell it even before I opened the front door. Although you couldn’t actually see any smoke, the remnants were thicker than a 1960’s Vegas casino. I come from Los Angeles, where if you are trailed by a plume of smoke you receive a look nastier than if you’d backhanded a nun, so this noxious surprise was certainly not a treat for my pure-as-the-driven-snow lungs.
The desk clerk was extremely pleasant and she was only missing one tooth, contrary to the guest who was chatting with her and had more gaps in his mouth than a jack-o-lantern. She invited me to the hotel’s Friday Night Karaoke, which I decided I would avoid since one of the Priceline reviews mentioned the “steady trickle of drunk people stumbling out of the bar.”
I asked the clerk where I could buy some water and she told me about a mini mart a block away. Without even asking, she filled me in on the preferred bars within walking distance. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I haven’t had a drink in 20 years, and was hoping that this vacation would not end up luring me to one before the weekend was through.
The hotel was seven stories tall and as I entered the elevator I noticed that a shabby rug with frayed edges was attempting to hide the broken linoleum tiles on the floor. Someone had gotten very creative with the elevator buttons.
The button for the 1st floor was a 2, the one for the 2nd floor was a backwards, upside down 5, 3’s button was tilted sideways and 6’s was handwritten with a ballpoint pen.
I pressed the button for the 5th floor. The elevator rocked and shook like a circus fun house and I made a vow to the Santa Claus/Parking Spot Angel God that if I made it safely, I would promise to hoof it up and down the stairs the rest of the weekend. The contraption reached its destination and the doors eventually, but reluctantly opened.
The first thing I noticed in the 5th floor hallway was the once shiny brass sign announcing that ice and sodas could be found on the 2nd floor as well as some other floor, but that other floor would remain a mystery because the rest of the sign was covered by a note (albeit typed – not handwritten) taped over it, saying that the soda machine was on the 1st floor, the ice machine on the 2nd, and the laundry was on the 3rd. There was also some graffiti created from deep scratches and the evidence of someone who thought himself so important that he wrote his name on the brass plate with a black sharpie.
Most people don’t instinctively study the ceilings of their hotels. I don’t either, but it was hard not to notice the various wires and cables hanging from above. It looked like some weekend handyman possibly installed a surveillance camera and pointed it toward the elevators. However, the cables were also strung into a couple of rooms and I started to get the heebie-jeebies that maybe the hotel employees got their jollies by seeing what hanky panky might be going on in the guests’ rooms. Fortunately the wires didn’t lead to my room – #510 – but nevertheless I decided that I would be sure to disrobe in a discreet corner and make a point of not being seen picking my nose.
My room looked like that in its 50+ years of existence it had never had a renovation, with the exception of the carpeting. There was no carpeting. Instead, there was a layer of faux wood linoleum and an inch of calking around the edges. Also, the acoustic ceiling had been scraped off, but only slightly. There were still mounds of 1/8-inch cottage cheese and bits of the tips were scattered around the floor.
There was an intermittent stream of water running in the toilet, so being from water conservation-obsessed Southern California, I turned off the faucet. For the duration of the trip I would have to lean over, nearly sticking my head in the toilet every time I wanted to turn it back on.
An extremely dated, no-power blow dryer was mounted to the wall. But there was something wrong with the bathroom outlet, so the plug wouldn’t stay in. Also, the toilet paper holder was busted, consisting of two sharp piece of metal sticking out from below the sink. Instead of the plastic-wrapped plastic cups that Super 8 provides, there were two 6 oz. Styrofoam cups which were never replenished after I used them.
There was no shampoo, body wash, shower cap, or sewing kit (which is fine – the last thing I want to do on vacation is sew on a button). The bathroom contained a wicker basket that was the type you get for free by buying two bottles of off-brand moisturizing lotion from Rite Aide at Christmas time, which contained a half dozen wrapped soaps. I’ve seen similar baskets at Motel 6; however these bargain hotel soaps were about a quarter of the size. It was soap for Barbie dolls. That night I used one to bathe, and it ended up disintegrating into 4 smaller pieces which by morning had melted into nothingness.
The room was furnished with the kind of pieces you find in Pennysaver ads – “10 Piece Bedroom Set for only $399!!” – when you find that those many “pieces” include a pillow and an ashtray. It was made of particle board with wood grain lamination glued on. A thin bed spread covered the king sized bed, but three too-soft pillows were thrown together in a single pile as if another guest had taken a snooze (or something that required another guest as well) after the maid had cleaned it, which was kind of creepy if I stopped to think about it. That night I found a pubic hair on the sheet and instinctively brushed it to the floor before I could take a photo of it for this blog. I need to work on my creeped-out instincts so I can get an actual shot next time.
The alarm clock was digital, but circa mid ‘80’s, and I found that it wasn’t broken as I originally thought. It just wasn’t plugged in. The reason it wasn’t plugged in was that there was only one available outlet within reach of both the air conditioning unit and the alarm clock. Guests would have to choose whether they’d rather swelter/freeze or wake up to a local DJ.
I moved the alarm clock to an outlet across the room and found that although the wake function worked perfectly, the off button did not, so the only way to shut off the sound was by turning the volume all the way down (which would defeat the wake function), or just unplugging it, which is probably why it was unplugged in the first place.
A few months ago we finally donated our outdoor patio television to the electronic waste pile. It was too old and too small.
The hotel tv was older and smaller.
The reception of the lower channels like 2, 3, 4 and 5 were grainy dots. As the channels went up, the dots turned to grainy lines. The same episode of Modern Family aired on channels 2, 5 and 13. There was a card with a channel directory and I was thrilled to see that this cheap hotel actually had HBO, so I clicked it on hoping to catch Game of Thrones, but instead found some nudity of a less medieval kind.
A topless blonde with breasts as large as yoga balls was standing in front of a chalkboard wearing a turn of the century professor’s cap. She wrote the word “come” on the board, but she used a different vowel and dropped the “e” and I suddenly was worried if that there really was some hotel night shift pervert watching in-room surveillance cameras, I didn’t want him (or her) thinking a was a porn fan, so I turned off the tv.
The bedside table contained an expected pen that actually did write after a couple of tries, and a 2×3 inch notepad with four sheets of paper. Like the mini soap, this was a notepad for Barbie dolls. No phonebook. No Gideon Bible. No “Things to do when you’re in our quaint little town” brochure. Which is ok, since I wasn’t planning to find the Lord or anything else that weekend beside my daughter’s dorm room.
My room contained a balcony, and since I was on the 5th floor, I thought it might be fun to step out and enjoy the view. There was a light switch for the balcony, but it was impossible to turn on because there was no light bulb. And even though there were instructions on how to open the balcony door (“To lock – turn down; To open – turn up”) there was just a hole where the lever should have been. It’s just as well. The balcony was just 18 inches wide, which made it seem more like a ledge than a balcony. Also, there was a fight breaking out outside the bar across the street and it was getting pretty loud – even from inside the hotel. Later it got even noisier when a couple of cop cars arrived. It was probably safer to stay inside.
Even though I was unable to get outside, some unexpected guests somehow found their way in. I discovered a very odd, very large bug on the ceiling. I slid the desk chair over and managed to swat it with my shoe, and down it came with more of the ceiling cottage cheese. One of the bug’s buddies arrived the next night. Same spot. Like it was a bug hangout.
Because I’m a prima donna and like to surround myself with pillows (my poor husband typically gets only about an 8-inch strip of space on the edge of the bed), I climbed down to the front desk to ask for another pillow. The desk clerk very nicely informed me that they did not have extra pillows. I asked if I could have an extra ice bucket (the one in my room was only slightly larger than a coffee cup) but apparently they don’t have extra ice buckets either.
Speaking of ice, as I mentioned earlier, the note on the 5th floor brass sign had said that the ice machine was on the 2nd floor, but when I went to the 2nd floor, I found a broken ice machine with a handwritten note that said “Ice Machine – 1st floor.” I felt like I was on a scavenger hunt. When I finally found the ice machine, I discovered that although it did technically make ice, the mechanism to break the ice into cubes was clearly on the fritz, and the cubes were all bonded together like a Hershey’s chocolate bar you break up for s’mores.
Although the hotel boasts that it has Wi-Fi, the signal wasn’t strong enough for my laptop to log onto the Internet, so I had to use my iPhone as a hotspot. I guess the naked girl with the big ta-tas on tv was supposed to be the Wi-Fi compensation.
The hotel’s website also lists a pool and exercise room, but when I went down to take a dip, I discovered that the pool was completely covered. “It’s the end of October,” you may argue, “so don’t criticize the hotel for closing the pool early for the winter.”
I would buy this argument except for one thing: it’s an indoor pool.
As for the exercise room, although my card key showed a green light that should open the room, the door appeared to be deadlocked. There was a small window so I tried to peek inside, but I couldn’t see anything because the light was off. The same thing happened Friday night, and Saturday as well. Maybe it wasn’t an exercise room at all. Maybe it was the office of Norman Bates, just waiting for some innocent gal to come in late at night and sweat to the oldies. Finally on Sunday morning I stopped by and the light was actually on and I saw that they really did have an exercise room. It consisted of a single treadmill, circa 1985. And a sofa – where someone was probably sleeping the three previous nights.
The second night of my stay my room key card suddenly wouldn’t work, and when I asked the desk clerk for a new one, she apologized and said, “Sorry… yeah, that happens all the time.” Good thing I had no valuables. This obviously wasn’t the kind of hotel that would have a safe.
The second card key did work, but the light switch didn’t. It was a bit scary walking into my hotel room in the dark, and with the toilet running, it sounded like someone was in the bathroom taking a leak. I turned on the bathroom light and saw that the only intruder was another bug spinning round and round the toilet bowl. I obviously had forgotten to turn off the toilet water when I left, and had also turned off the lamp that was connected to the wall switch. Who would have guessed that the switch was connected to a light that could be manually turned off? Good for surprise parties. Bad for women traveling alone in scary hotels.
On Sunday morning I checked out and said goodbye to the friendly desk clerk. Besides the cut-rate price, she was the only decent thing about the hotel. In 3 days’ time, I saved nearly $50 over the Super 8, but on the other hand, I hoped that the grungy hotel didn’t transmit a contagious disease that would force me to pay the $100 deductible at the emergency hospital when I got home.
My final thoughts: A 3 star rating is just too generous for this hotel. And I have a newfound gratitude for my own messy home, where I have extra pillows and the stray hairs belong to my husband.