Hotels of North America

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For Laurel and Hazel

Hotels of North America:
The Collected Writings of
Reginald Edward Morse
Preface by Greenway Davies, Director, North American Society of Hoteliers and Innkeepers
With an Afterword by Rick Moody

by Greenway Davies, Director, North American Society of Hoteliers and Innkeepers

As I write these lines it’s early spring in the Northeast, and Americans of every age and station are getting back into their cold, muddy, salt-befouled automobiles. They are lining up again at the airports, notwithstanding the humorless security protocols of the current air-traffic moment. The siren melody of spring break is calling to the college-age hedonists of America. And before long it will be Memorial Day, one of the heaviest travel weekends of the calendar year. We here in the New World are “on the move,” going where the “weather suits our clothes,” where we have business, where we have family, or where there is simply good old-fashioned entertainment.

With almost five million guest rooms in the greater United States, and another two hundred and forty thousand available in Canada, these hotels and motels are our residences, here in this part of the world, when we are away from home. Think of that motel by the side of the interstate at two in the morning when you’ve put in eleven or twelve hours driving your son’s dormitory furniture back east, and the double lines on the road are starting to blur into four. That motel is there for you, like a friend outstretching a hand. Think of that big sexy flamingo-pink Art Deco hotel on the beach in Miami that you stayed in during your first trip to the Florida coast, when you were amazed by the mashing up of Cuban intrigue, dance clubs, and beach culture. What a mark that hotel made on you. That hotel was where you danced until you aggravated your lumbago.

Where once we spent the weekend with family and friends, now we have some fifty thousand distinct hotel properties from which to choose. Think about it. Wherever exhaustion takes place, wherever a young couple wishes to pull over to dance the dance of new love, there’s a hotel at the suitable price point. Hotels hilarious, anonymous, modest, opulent, strange. And how much finer is the welcome of that hotel or motel, how much more discreet and accepting is that hotel address, than the household of someone you barely knew in high school who has in the decades since fallen into some pretty unusual habits, including middle-of-the-night binge eating as you lie sleepless atop the uncomfortable foldout couch in the living room. Or, contrarily, how much better is that hotel than the apartment of some down-at-the-heel washerwoman who is now capable of taking into her “guest room” a few foreign nationals and sharing a percentage of her profits with an online front operation funded by Middle Eastern venture capitalists and their cronies.

Only a North American hotel can earnestly equip you with a mint on your pillow. Only a North American hotel has the fully outfitted minibar complete with selection of salty snack foods and popular sweets. Moreover, in today’s fast-moving digital world, when you go to choose from our fifty thousand distinct hotel properties, you can have evaluations of the hotels and motels right at your fingertips with just a few clicks of your smartphone. These reviews, through which you might browse at this very moment, provide important criteria. We know that you often rely on ratings for your hotel choices and we appreciate that. And while we here at the North American Society of Hoteliers and Innkeepers think that each and every one of our thirty-two thousand dues-paying members are rolling out the welcome mat in a way that is designed to give you, our customer, exactly what you want, we recognize that you have strong feelings about where you are going to stay tonight, and it is our job to honor those feelings. When you write a review of our member establishments, you should do so without reservation, with joy in your heart and the kind of word choice that we associate with the romantic poets.

However, we here at NASHI recognize that there are times when no matter what we do, despite our best efforts—it’s not often but it can happen—very occasionally we are going to let you down. Or we are going to misunderstand your wishes. And we realize that instead of trying to hide away these bad experiences somewhere you will never see them, in some Arctic Circle digital-storage facility, such that we never learn from our shortcomings, we might use your evaluations as part of an ambitious plan to
hotel service in this country beyond its already significant level of achievement. We ought to listen to our critics and prize their sturdy unshakable opinions.

Accordingly, NASHI has conceived of this small, high-end run of books of various online reviews of lodging: the harsh, the laudatory, the fanciful, the elaborate, the joyful, and the melancholy. The inaugural volumes are off the press as we speak, including the hotel pet stories and the frothy poolside-party stories. We also have the already very popular anthology of hotel-related hauntings.

But we have gone even further. We think that whenever we find particular travel writers who are of unique and enduring value, we ought to commission a selection of their finest writings about hotels too. You may not always agree with these writers in our travel-writing series, but you will find something to make you laugh!

As you know, having laid your hands on this book on the coffee table or atop the desk or perhaps in the bedside drawer, right alongside the Scripture, our idea is to make these collectible volumes accessible to you right in your room, wherever you are lying down, talking on the phone, or watching the television, having kicked off the standard-issue paisley comforter, as it were, and eaten that chocolate mint on your pillow. Many more of these titles will become available in your favorite boutique hotels over the next twelve months. A few will be found exclusively in some of our finest five-star establishments. Consider these one-of-a-kind travel books our gift to you for spending your hard-earned income on hotel rooms and thereby providing, in an unprecedented show of consumer support, a livelihood for our hoteliers and their employees, many of whom are newly naturalized citizens of America and Canada, as well as a rich vein of revenue for states, provinces, and local municipalities. We thank you. Our belief is that your stay in our hotels is not an isolated, forgettable experience, a blip on the screen of twenty-first-century existence. Our belief is that your journey through the many dozens of hotels in which you have stayed is a second life of a sort, an additional life story, a place somewhere between your everyday, commonplace existence and a dream world where your every whim is catered to and your every appetite fulfilled.

The Collected Writings of Reginald Edward Morse,
which you have before you here, is one such account. It is a heartwarming, funny-bone-tickling volume about the peaks and troughs of itinerant life. It’s about rebirth and rehabilitation. (Or so my staff tells me; I haven’t had time to read the whole series yet! Which means I need a vacation!) It is also, they say, not strictly chronological but is being presented in the same manner in which it was composed, which is to say, most impulsively, as if it were a rack of picture postcards at a roadside attraction overturned by a truculent child and reorganized haphazardly according to the admonishments of some furious dad. Why did Mr. Morse choose to review in this way? Because this is how the nomadic life is organized? Haphazardly, according to the pressures of a grueling economy? Well, we all know how important the top online reviewers are to the future of the industry, and when one of these reviewers, a top-ten online hotel reviewer, strikes a chord, no matter the unorthodox fashion, with a fervent online audience, we can scarcely resist his charms! We hope that tonight, after you get the turn-down service, and after you order the curly fries from the extremely courteous room-service staff, you might read a little here of what hotel life has been like for one man and see in it a reason to book another room, maybe for that spring-break trip you’ve been planning, that second honeymoon, perhaps, or for Memorial Day. Or maybe just because. After all, everyone deserves a break.

In fact, I expect I’ll meet you out there myself one day soon, when we are both on the happy trail of weekend trips to the hinterlands. I’ll be the guy with the wife and two teenage children lugging some left-handed golf clubs, looking for the next public course where I might play a round or two. Maybe we could have a drink, or a cup of coffee. We could talk about books! I’ll look forward to it.

—Washington, DC, April 2015


Dupont Embassy Row, Massachusetts Avenue, Washington, DC, October 31–November 2, 2010

There is a style of hotel that we in the reviewing business refer to as
assisted living,
because of its interior stylings, its floral wallpaper, its imperial draperies. An assisted-living-style hotel always has cotton balls in a little ceramic dish in the bathroom, and a scale, because the elderly lobbyists who stay in a hotel like this, lobbyists for the concrete industry or for pork-products trade groups, are constantly worrying about the extra fifteen. The Dupont is one of these senior-services habitations. The bathroom is heavily outfitted with doilies, the counter faux-marbleized in brown, the wall equipped with a magnifying makeup mirror, an essential accoutrement due to the macular degeneration of the guests, and there’s a photo, just above the shitter, of the White House. I did not attempt it, but I am certain that you could, while crouching on the shitter and looking into the mirror on the wall opposite, see yourself with the White House hovering just above your head like a sort of pith helmet.

We did not belong at the Dupont Embassy Row. K. and myself were far from the senior-citizen demographic. It was the Toastmasters who suggested we stay here so that I could participate in their public-speaking contest, which I had, delivering a speech on the subject of first impressions. The interior of our bedroom there at the Dupont was fine, if small, but it somehow reminded me of my alcoholic grandmother back in Westport and how on occasion, as a small child, I would sit with her on her enormous king bed while she swigged her distilled spirits and did crosswords. It is not possible, at this remove, to reconstruct the stink of decline that was probably indelible in these moments—juniper and toxic waves of grandmotherly perfume—and yet I have a lingering horror of any kind of interior decorating, assisted-living interior decorating, that suggests to me these memories. Too much mustard and brown, and drapery everywhere.

Did I say that the Dupont has cookies on a table in the lobby? I adamantly oppose the attempt to buy hotel allegiance with cookies. Where was I staying just a couple of weeks ago? MA? Or was it OH? Or MI? In any case, another dismal locale where they had individually wrapped cookies on a tray, as if the cookie were enough to curry favor. The cookies in that instance were heavily machined. They had been produced in an enormous airplane hangar somewhere and trucked to this and other identical locations, and the cookies were perfectly chewy. No doubt a focus group had indicated the characteristic of the ideal chip-based doughy confection was
There was probably some kind of anti-compulsive psychiatric medication liberally added to this trucked-in gross of cookies so that people like me, who could not stop eating the cookies once they were offered, would not continuously sneak down to the lobby in the soul-slaughtering hours between two and four a.m. to steal six at a time, finishing most of them before getting back to the room.

Now: The cookies at the Dupont were somewhat different from the cookies at the chain in MA or OH or MI. These cookies here looked great because they had M&M candies in them, in particular red M&M candies, and, being on Dupont Circle, these cookies shimmered with distant reverberations of American political power. The cookies were also timely because we were staying at the Dupont during a major merchandising opportunity—namely, Halloween. But whatever attempted purchasing of consumer allegiance had resulted in the existence of these cookies, which sat on the serving tray next to some moldering out-of-season strawberries and grapes that had probably been recycled from their use as a garnish for a room-service plate two weeks earlier, there was, I need to say, a significant gap between the perception of the cookies and the actual cookie experience. In this case, the cookies, unlike those in MA or OH or MI, were, in the area of mouthfeel, unfresh, and when I am stressing, in a lecture on motivational speaking, how certain words can do a lot for you,
is often a word I rely on. So I am using
here with a genuine understanding of its merits. The cookies in the lobby of the Dupont, which had M&M candies in them and looked fresh enough to make any granny happy, a granny who would already be bowled over by the presence of astonishing amounts of wood paneling, golden drapery, and elevators near at hand, were, unfortunately,
more like an arid-desert confection. So as K. and I walked out of the Dupont to try to find a steak joint in the Dupont Circle neighborhood, we broke the complimentary cookie obtained in the lobby into small pieces and flung it over the fence of the Indonesian embassy, thinking that the scheming and warlike Indonesians were probably out at the time, and in the event that the Indonesians had not fed their local squirrels.

Have I mentioned that the lounge at the Dupont was the very favorite District of Columbia lounge of a historically important and cadaverous First Lady of the United States of America? Yes, cadaverous, and given to the horoscope, if you catch my drift. That First Lady was known to visit this selfsame lounge in this very hotel where K. and I were staying on this occasion. Perhaps only twenty-five years or so prior, a mere quarter century, she had swept into the lounge with her entourage while elsewhere her man was drifting off into a fog bank of amyloid tangles. Though I am no longer permitted to visit a cocktail lounge, I did walk down the dimly lit corridor to the lounge at the Dupont in order to see the place where the cadaverously thin First Lady once held court. That the Dupont has preserved itself in that bygone time, in the image of the 1980s, reflecting the glory that was the cadaverously thin First Lady, is an observation not to be controverted. The elevators were unchanged, the wood paneling was the same, the gymnasium was the same, with its barely functioning treadmill; the menu had been marked up, price-wise, but was otherwise probably very similar. The rooms had been rehabilitated, but with the same assisted-living color palette. Everything there was knickknacks and designer chocolates, down to the small canvas bag containing the hair dryer.

Now, it is true that K. and I tried to abscond from the Dupont in such a way as to minimize our exposure to the costs of staying, this when we found out that the charge for overnight parking was forty dollars and that the online connectivity would cost us twelve dollars a day and that a bagel in the restaurant went for seven dollars, price points that are somewhat beyond our nomad budget. I do not recommend attempting to abscond, because it does put you in a disagreeable relationship with the hotel management. As I have said, I had competed in the Toastmasters national contest, speaking on the subject of “First Impressions: How to Make a Good One,” a lecture I have delivered with pile-driver-like relentlessness in many regional settings. I had scored high. These days, though, the prize often goes to someone who has triumphed over adversity, someone with a missing limb, or creeping paralysis, or something similar. On this occasion, I also heard speak a certain professional fellow with exchangeable or reversible first and last names, and this professional lobbyist had charm in surplus—he could have talked the entrées in the ballroom off the table—and it turned out that he was the head of some trade association that had to do with, of all things,
. Although it has taken me more than a year to finalize this, my first posting, I am happy to tell you that this was the moment I got the idea to start publishing online my thoughts about hotels and motels. While listening to the fellow with the reversible names talk about the hotel business. I started taking notes then and there.

Let it be said, however, that though I admired his style, his way with a modifier, K. and I could still ill afford even the incidentals at the Dupont, which, at at least sixty-two dollars, were more expensive than some
we have inhabited (for example, the Motel 6 on Idaho Street in, Elko, Nevada: fifty-five dollars a night). Having given my speech on the usefulness of the firm handshake and the importance of making eye contact, and having been bested in the contest by others, I did not feel that it was right to stay another night in assisted living, and so I tried to seize my car by claiming a medical emergency featuring acute pains in the lower-right section of my GI tract, halfway between the jutting of hip bone and navel. It could have been a puncture, I told the valet; there could have been a puncture, as I had recently undergone my first routine colonoscopy. Was he aware of the risks of routine colonoscopy? A puncture in the wall of my sigmoid colon, if untreated, could result in peritonitis or, worse, sudden death, because of leakage of the contents of the bowel into the bloodstream. K. manufactured some tears in order to facilitate our expedient relocation. The guy in the garage volunteered to call for an ambulance, but we demurred, saying we could not wait, we had our bags and were ready to go, and that was when some of the management-level enforcers of the Dupont Embassy Row appeared and presented us with the accounting.
(Posted 1/7/2012)

TownHouse Street, Milano Duomo, Via Santa Radegonda, 14, Milano, Italia, July 11–13, 2011

I have found on occasion that the Italians are suspicious of the benefits of air-conditioning. Or skeptical, or resistant, or oblivious to the benefits of air-conditioning. Although it is also true that we were lamentably ignorant about Fahrenheit to Celsius conversion, nor would our exhaustion have made such calculations easier. Our trip had included six hours spent in the international terminal at Boston’s Logan Airport, where Delta Air Lines, the world’s largest, wore us down by putting us on the plane, taking us off the plane, changing the gates, and telling us four different departure times, all of which was followed by the fourteen-hour flight itself, inclusive of a layover at JFK. By the time we arrived at our Italian hotel, at 4:32 a.m. (or, as they say in Milano, 0432), at our wits’ end, K. was consternated to the point of tears, especially when we came to understand the still, humid fact of our interior. Did I say that we were staying at the hotel under assumed names, Jonas and Katherine Salk? The air-conditioning was not the only problem. The others I will itemize herewith.

As a general rule, design-oriented hotel interiors should have some practical sense to them. The sink should make feasible the staging of objects on its edge or beside it. If the sink slopes all the way to the edges, it follows that no items may be put there. The phrenological-skull sculpture on the desk unsettles, and, given that there is one in every room (this we know because we demanded a room change), we might well deduce that the hotel had purchased dozens of these phrenological sculptures. At first we were unclear on the fact that the city depicted in the gigantic wallpaper mural of photos was actually the city we were visiting. Why do we want to look at wallpaper photos of Milan when we could just go downstairs and see the city for ourselves? A faceless and portly middle-aged businessman of Milan massaging some portion of his abdomen, a cherubic boy refugee standing in front of a
etc. We grew tired of them. Yellow rubberized furniture is unappealing. I was in graduate school in sociology during the heyday of the English pop group Culture Club, and I did, I’m afraid, enjoy humming along with their first celebrated tune, “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” But playing this, and “Boys Don’t Cry,” and “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” in jazz versions through the dining-room sound system every day is asking for trouble. Katherine Salk believed that the Culture Club song was what precipitated her migraine, but it could also have been the yellow rubberized furniture.

I didn’t realize she was ill until after I tried, at a morning business engagement, to interest some local Italian banks in collateralized-debt obligations—the kind of high finance I’d practiced when younger, before I became a motivational speaker—after which meeting we attempted to make a visit to the cathedral in town and were turned away because, as a
told us, Mrs. Salk was “too discovered.” She had to get a lightweight cardigan from the yellow rubberized rack on which were placed some unremovable white plastic hangers, and then we headed back to the cathedral. This while they removed our few belongings to room number 2, where the air-conditioning did perform as advertised. There was a very fat man standing in front of the hotel at all hours with his hand outstretched. He superficially resembled the businessman in the wallpaper photo collage. Mrs. Salk says that the door handles gave her “repetitive stress injuries.” And also multiple lacerations. The maid took our unwrapped bars of soap. And: There were people lining up for Hot Pockets, or the Italian confectionary equivalent, under our window, owing to a business adjacent. Was “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” an allegory for our relationship to Milan? Some people like a bidet, but Mrs. Salk said she does not want to shoot water up herself from a spigot that others have also used.
(Posted 2/4/2012)

Groucho Club, 45 Dean Street, London, Greater London W1D 4QB, United Kingdom, January 5–6, 1998

There are times when it is necessary to be apart from K. for extended periods. Travel almost always marks our intervals of reflection and monastic separateness. In fact, there was an epoch before K., an epoch in which I was married. It was in those days, on a trip to England, that I first began developing my skills as a motivational speaker, at which I later became a highly regarded professional in the field. Prior to this career epiphany, you understand, I plied my trade in the trenches of securities exchange. It is true that the buying and selling of securities is related to motivational speaking, because in each case, I rely upon my powers of observation. When I see an undervalued company, I am powerless not to share the potential for shareholder value. This is an opportunity you cannot afford to pass up; if you do, you will be hitting yourself about the face and shoulders later in life; you will be rending your garments.

That cigar-chomping hemorrhoidal bigot who sits astride the riding mower on the two and a quarter acres beside you, he is smart enough to spend his IRA on this stock, so why can’t you? Do you want him to have something you do not? Do you know what will happen if he has something over you? He will come for your possessions, and it will be symbolic at first, he will initially borrow your saw or your dripper hose, but then he will want your car and your fluffy Samoyed, and then, of course, he will come for your wife. Do not find yourself cuckolded! Buy this stock now!

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