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Edward Hopper: Hotel by a Railroad (1952)
"Hostility demands so very little of us other than that we swallow hard, bear it, and tip it a fiver."

Though I've stayed scores of nights in dozens of hotels, I retain romantic notions about them. They're largely unrequited. I've spent sleepless nights in spare flophouses and also in four star suites and have found their similarities more prominent than their differences. Some rooms barely qualified as closets and others had the bathroom down the hall, but all seemed more similar than different, each of a common class. Hotels proclaim themselves The Hospitality Industry, but they might more truthfully advertise themselves as comprising The Hostility Industry, for a certain disdain for guests seems common from marbled lobby operations to caged-in cashier joints. I suppose this result eventually just comes with the territory. Prolonged proximity to humanity can sour optimism with a seemingly well-earned cynicism, I suspect. Everything has a price and that price tends to be set at about two and a half times the going rate elsewhere, due to unavoidable hospitality charges and largely well-founded preemptive presumptions that the typical guest holds no reasonable recourse, not to mention municipal fees and taxes. Dollars and fivers exchange hands in surreptitious silence as bags are carried and taxis called. They "Sir" me an obsequious lot. This leaves me feeling more suspicious than welcomed.

For those who strive to inhabit a pedestal, I suppose hotel living's a dream come true.
For the rest of us slobs, it's damned hard work. The sign in the lobby might exhort me to just relax, but I find myself constantly on guard against another humiliating attack of hospitality ambushing me. Should I accidentally open that thoughtfully placed bottle of water, I'll find a seven fifty hospitality charge added to my bill at checkout. Should I have the misfortune of needing my car parked overnight, a regrettably unavoidable charge roughly equivalent to a third of the room rate simply must be assessed. You see, the man with the unpronounceable title of concierge explains, "We only offer valet parking." Valet parking my jalopy seems like gold-plating a wilted lily and costs about the same. Still, I feel compelled to pass the valet a fiver for his service and even smile as I pass it, for which he delivers a well-practiced smile in return and delivers the valet equivalent of a Chihuahua performing a backflip. It's all so precocious.

Covid precautions have elevated the game. Now, of course, the hotel finds itself unable to offer maid service, they, again regrettably, continue to charge for it, achieving a new pinnacle within The Hostility Industry, charging for services deliberately never rendered. In no other sphere does the word regrettably so frequently enter my ear. Service with remorse, however crocodilian, seems the accepted condition. Two of the three elevators seem to be regrettably out of service and with Covid restrictions limiting each car to no more than two or a family, it might take forever to find an empty car. The stairs, the exit of choice should there be a regrettable disaster like fire, are, regrettably closed except for use during a disaster. The folks in 528 seem to be working on a remake of one of the Harold and Kumar movies. I achieve a backhanded higher consciousness as I pass in the hall.

This hotel, like many others, features a phony inflated address. It claims to be the downtown branch though it sits on the opposite side of the river from there, near the Convention Center, across from a Denny's. The neighborhood's fine for us but features more Motel Sixes (or used to) than rated destination resorts. Appearances notwithstanding, this place carries on as if its guests were landing from foreign countries, with entourages and steamer trunks, rather than weekending from Redmond for a high school pickleball tourney. It's phony from the entry to the laundry chutes, which, regrettably, are presently unused. Vast public dining spaces likewise go begging and we shuffle around masked, largely failing to maintain proper social distancing in spite of the, unfortunately regrettable signage reminding everyone of the protocols. Someone's likely to just jump into the elevator car asking, as the door closes, if we mind terribly if he exposes us. It's all too regrettable and unfortunately unavoidable. Hostility demands so very little of us other than that we swallow hard, bear it, and tip it a fiver for its trouble.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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