I’m an avid road tripper. I haven’t kept track, but I’m fairly certain that I’ve visited just about every major city in the Western U.S. at some point in the last two decades.
Given that I don’t like camping, all this traveling means I’ve stayed in a lot of cheap hotels — enough to know that not all cheap hotels are created equal.
Some real gems that consistently come across as a great bargain have earned my family’s loyalty. One place just outside Boise was our default waypoint for years. No one would have mistaken it for a luxury resort, but the building was well maintained and the rooms were always clean. And the hotel’s mascot — a pet cat who helped man the night desk — was a real charmer.
But I’ve also stayed in hotels where one night’s stay was just as memorable. On one occasion, while visiting Arizona, we pulled into a hotel parking lot filled with cop cars, lights ablaze. Even before my sister and I had managed to check in, a police officer stopped us to ask whether we had seen anything suspicious.
Me: “So what you’re saying is that we might want to find alternative accommodations lest we happen to, right?”
It was far from our first awkward hotel greeting. Sometime prior — I don’t exactly remember when or where — a random gentleman walked into our hotel room just after my sister had settled down for a late-night snack. Turned out, the hotel had assigned both parties the same room.
It was a wonderful surprise for all involved.
Until recently, our wildest hotel experience took place at what we still call the Tower of Terror — so dubbed because of the hotel’s uncanny resemblance to the Disneyland ride. This hotel, which had exposed plumbing in the hallways and featured a pervasive, thinly-masked smell of raw sewage, had a creaky old elevator we were convinced could fall at any moment.
We didn’t discover the real kicker until we boarded the elevator on our way to breakfast the next morning. Breakfast, it turned out, was distributed from a art-deco dining room on the top floor at 7 a.m., an hour later than we were lead to believe. So when our elevator doors opened to what I’ll call the 13th floor, they opened to a musky, dark old room with upturned chairs and torn wallpaper.
We only started laughing about the experience after we’d scurried back to our hotel room, which, despite a myriad of disconcerting issues, suddenly seemed much more inviting.
Improbably, two weeks ago we had a hotel mishap that may actually trump even the Tower of Terror.
To be fair, the line at the front desk, and the fact that each floor had a unique, off-putting odor of its own, probably should have tipped us off. But we were running late, cold, hungry, and, on account of the fact that we had just arrived in Seattle, drenched — and these seemed like much more pressing issues at the time.
Initially, my sister noted that she couldn’t get any hot water in the sink to wash her face. But this didn’t seem too big a problem until we woke up the next morning to discover that the shower, likewise, refused to produce so much as luke-warm water no matter how far you turned the knob.
Upon inquiry, we learned that the hotel had shut down its water heater on account of some kind of natural gas issue that threatened a possible explosion.
This was all moderately entertaining until the toilet stopped working the next day. We waited in line again to report that the toilet had quit flushing, and a few minutes later the concierge showed up in our room with a plunger to repair what was clearly a mechanical problem.
We would have suggested that this wouldn’t work, but by this time my sister and I had already crumpled to the floor with laughter. Outside our window, a plumber truck was parked behind the hotel.
It was no longer funny the next morning. The hot water had finally returned, but the toilet still refused to flush, and our room’s heater had begun emitting a loud groaning noise instead of warm air in the middle of the night.
We had to get the concierge again to help us check out. Our key had quit working that night as well, locking all our belongings in the increasingly defunct room.
Sixteen hours later, I rushed through my chores and jumped into a warm shower for the first time in three days. There’s no place like home.