Hotels are on my mind for 3 reasons today. I just finished a funny, profane, very educational book about them called Heads in Beds. Ruth and I saw a terrific exhibit called Grand Hotel in Vancouver, British Columbia, 2 months ago that I just got around to reading about. We’ve stayed in some great accommodations during 2013. And, of course, some barked.
Heads in Beds‘ subtitle is “A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality”, a perfect description of the book. Jacob Tomsky earned a brainy but useless degree in philosophy and couldn’t find a job. He became a valet parking attendant at a hotel in New Orleans and quickly moved inside to the front desk. I may never valet park again after reading his experiences. Over ten years in The Big Easy and its polar opposite, New York City, he learned the business. Jacob entertainingly shares his knowledge and advice with us. Bellmen, for example, do better financially than a lot of other hotel employees. Those tips add up rapidly and Jacob talks about frequently turning wads of ones into hundred-dollar bills. He tells readers how to avoid paying for a hotel room when you’ve passed the specified cancellation time. Some of what I read truly disgusted me, but I appreciated a frank insider’s report.
Jacob explained that the word hotel once only meant French government buildings. In fact, it still does, but by 1765 the word also began to be used for places where overnight accommodations were offered. In the United States, new President George Washington made a tour and found public houses gross. Staying in taverns and inns, he complained about our new nation’s ways of accommodating travelers. In 1794, a 137 room hotel, the first really grand one, opened on Broadway in lower Manhattan.
Grand Hotel, the exhibit we saw in Canada, has since closed and is not traveling. It had the subtitle “Redesigning Modern Life” and approached hotels historical development with 4 themes: travel, design, social impact, and cultural influence. The world’s first inns were known as caravanserais and developed along The Silk Road connecting Europe and Asia. Many were elaborate structures that provided hospitals, baths, libraries, shoemakers, mosques, etc. and looked like castles from the distance. After World War II the U.S. State Department was developing its Marshall Plan and wanted to help the economies of war-ravaged Europe. It appealed to anti-Communist Conrad Hilton, who had been hoping to expand internationally, to build western-style accommodations in places like Egypt. Hilton International happened. The Tehran Hilton opened in 1965. Since this excellent exhibit has closed, I’ll tell more about it in later blogs.
This year we had some outstanding accommodations: the Hilton Hotel on The Strip in Las Vegas, the Castle Hotel in Huntly, Scotland, Club Quarters in Philadelphia, etc. We also stayed in some that should be condemned. The Comfort Inn in Oxford, Mississippi, comes to mind. Now that I’ve read, and laughed at, Heads in Beds, I will be able to reduce the # of awful rooms in 2014.