Archive for September 4th, 2014

Well, to be sure, what’s one man’s meat is another man’s poison, and the same is altogether as true of women.  –  Henry Fielding, Tom Jones (VII, vii)

Most people understand that everyone is different, and that things which are vitally important to one person may be of no consequence to another.  In fact, some people might invest a great deal of energy in avoiding that which others invest equal energy in seeking.  There are morning people and night people, city mice and country mice, carnivores and vegans, introverts and extroverts.  But it seems as though economics often favors one set of priorities over another, so that the things which are prized by the majority are more expensive – often much more expensive – than those prized by the minority.  That’s usually a boon for those of us with minority preferences, but trying to explain that to those with majority preferences can result in strange looks and expressions of incredulity.

penthouse viewTake real estate, for example; needless to say, property in a city is more expensive than property farther away from one (and the farther out, the cheaper).  I discovered this the very first time I bought real estate: the things I felt were important in a property (such as its size, relative isolation and lack of laws, rules and covenants restricting its use) nearly always reduced its price rather than raising it.  Similarly, my aversion to annoying bells and whistles that make machines far more likely to break results in a preference for less expensive models with fewer options.  Even most of the food I like best tends to be on the cheap side; I find that with a few notable exceptions, expensive restaurants are not usually better restaurants, and that larger numbers in the price column rarely translate into better taste, larger portions, more interesting selections, better service or anything else I value in a dining experience.

During my book and speaking tour this summer (which, BTB, ends today; I’m leaving New Orleans this morning and should be home by dark) I discovered another way in which my priorities are almost upside-down from most people’s:  what I consider the important and desirable qualities of a hotel.  To be sure, I value some things just as much as everyone else; I want my room to be clean and well-kept, with attractive furnishings and a comfortable bed.  I want it to be conveniently situated in a safe neighborhood and to have helpful staff that are available when I need them, and it’s nice if there are restaurants nearby.  But beyond those basics, it seems as though the more expensive hotels are less likely to have amenities I want, and more likely to have qualities I find annoying, unpleasant or even infuriating.

First and foremost, I like to know exactly what I’m paying for a room when I check in.  Obviously, if I were staying in a five-star hotel on someone else’s tab this really wouldn’t matter because I’d still know exactly what I was paying, namely zero.  But that generally isn’t the case, and there’s no better way to irritate me than to subject me to a constant barrage of nickel-and-dime charges for parking, internet, telephone (back in pre-cell days), coffee, things “helpfully” left in the room and other “incidentals”.  Next, I like my privacy; one would think most people do, yet the more expensive hotels are the ones more likely to pry into guests’ business, spy on their comings and goings, and rat them out to the thugs should they decide something is amiss.  Oddly enough, expensive hotels are also busier and noisier than mid-range ones; in my escorting days I discovered that the noise level and number of obnoxious drunks per capita was often almost as high in the four-star places as one would expert in a scary no-star dive.  And since the fancy hotels are often downtown, that means a lost guest is much more likely to find himself on skid row than he would if he were staying in the suburbs.

Hilton breakfastAll in all, I find that I tend to enjoy the two-and-a-half or three-star business-class hotels best.  The rooms are just as clean as in the ritzy places, and the staff friendlier; most of the guests are businesspeople rather than tourists or locals going “out on the town”, and that means they’re quieter and much too busy minding their own business to be minding mine (the staff tends to be the same way).  Many of them have refrigerators and/or microwave ovens in the rooms, and many have free breakfast (which in the case of Hilton properties is really excellent, with lots of delicious choices).  These hotels generally don’t require complicated rigmarole (or entrusting my car to a stranger) to park, and since they regularly deal with accounting departments they know better than to provide amenities a la carte.  And since they are used to dealing with businesspeople, the staff at such places are much more accustomed to dealing with practical issues like “can you print this for me?” and “where’s the nearest post office?” than the staff at the snobbier places…and they don’t have their hands out afterward.

I’m beginning to get a lot more requests for speaking engagements these days, and will thus be staying in a lot more hotels (rather than just visiting for an hour or so) than in the past.  So if you find yourself in charge of making my arrangements, please keep this column in mind; a Hilton Garden or something of that type will make me much happier than a “better” hotel which would cost  you much more.  And I’m a sucker for those delicious fresh cookies they put out for guests in the evening.

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