As I write this, Roberta and I are on our way home from a week in Pennsylvania.
“What?” I hear you asking, “Isn’t it horribly dangerous to be working on your computer when you drive?” And I would answer, “Not at all! I’ve seen plenty of warnings about the dangers of texting and driving, but never a word about typing and driving.”
We did the usual Western Pennsylvania things. I wandered the woods. I got lost in the woods. We visited family and dropped in on Pymatuning Dam, a lake I haven’t haunted in a goon’s age — and I’ll have you know that a goon has a very long age.
We also watched a Steelers game on television because, well, Western Pennsylvania. They arrest you if you don't do that up there.
New Bern is about a 12-hour drive, especially when you include bladder breaks, and after age 50, bladder breaks increase exponentially.
(There is a reason for this: young bladders are pretty silly and, in their tiny bladdery brains they’re thinking they’re hosting a great pool party for the local microbes. But as the bladder gets older it gets smarter and it finally realizes it is nothing more than a holding tank for salt, water and urea. So it says, “Ewww!” a lot, and it yanks the discharge cord with astonishing regularity.)
Anyway, we are not a long-haul couple and so, after five or six hours we are hunting hotels. Because our cash outlay is well south of, say, Robert Downey Jr., we grab those little coupon magazines at the welcome centers and look for anything cheap.
I know there are people who would be aghast at paying less than $200 for a hotel but, I figure, our plan is to sit on the bed and read, then go to sleep. Mints, towels folded into cute animals, fuzzy robes in the closet, complimentary trays of water bottles that only cost you if you open them — we don’t need these things.
But there are the basics we’ve come to expect, even in cheap hotels.
We’ve had bad luck with hotels before. We went to Niagara Falls years back and decide to be luxurious and go for a room with a water bed. But the hotel, it turned out, was too cheap to keep it heated: “Plug your bed in when you go in there so it will heat up,” the receptionist said.
Have you ever had a waterbed? A hundred gallons of cold water doesn’t become toasty-warm in an hour or two. We felt like we were sleeping on a raft on the North Atlantic that night, and we dreamed of the Titanic.
My daughter and I once stayed in the only hotel where — I am not making this up — the hotel manager tried to fix our TV with a bowie knife and that our lock didn’t work; so we blockaded the door with a chair to keep out the derelict who was sitting outside it with a cooler full of beer and, we were certain, psychotic synapses in his head.
Roberta and I hit a Winchester, Va., hotel that, while it did not include bowie knife technology or iceberg fields disguised as beds, it was a disappointment. We were bringing bags of frozen corn home because, again, Western Pennsylvania, and wanted to put them in the hotel refrigerator for the night. Pretty much every hotel these days includes a refrigerator big enough to cool one pair of shoes (it’s important not to start your trip with hot feet) and a freezer section big enough to hold the frost it’s full of.
But this hotel, while clean, had no refrigerator. Or coffee maker. I’m sure this is a first-world problem but it was depressing nonetheless.
Our bed was ample if your name is Barbie or Ken and you’re 11 inches tall, but we are adult people. It’s a good thing we weren’t fighting before we climbed in, because we were close.
The “deluxe continental breakfast” was everything money could avoid. The inevitable waffle-maker was complimented by mini-muffins with the taste and consistence of the minie balls they used to fire from the old muzzle-loaders. The drink was a Tang-like orange stuff — you know, the stuff that made astronauts so desperately look forward to coming home.
That, some dry cereal chosen form the What No One Eats catalog, and two — count them, two — hardboiled eggs, one from which its hard yellow yolk spilled through a split, looking like it had forgotten to pull its zipper up.
There’s nothing like a good, cheap hotel to rest up at the end of a vacation — or a bad one to make you look forward to getting home.
Contact Bill Hand at firstname.lastname@example.org, 252-635-5677, and follow him @BillHandNBSJ. He’ll leave a light on for you.