It’s a weekday. The regularly scheduled shuttle between the hotel where I’m staying and the concert venue I’ll be at tonight stops running at 9:00. No good for my plan. A quick trip to the concierge, a few mumbled words, a bit of special paper changing hands and within two minutes, it’s “No problem, Mr. Tharp. Call my cell when you’re ready to leave and I’ll send down one of the hotel drivers.” Motel 6 would have been cheaper, but it’s hard to beat the overall value I’m feeling just now.
Ten hours, 500-ish miles, and three states later, I think I could be forgiven for not immediately checking in to the hotel and sitting down at the keyboard… still, that’s exactly what I’m doing – A) Because WAJTW is a weekly standard that is near and dear to my heart and B) The universe doesn’t stop pissing me off just because I’m on the road. Those two feel like reason enough to sit down and get this done. So, as always, in no particular order, here they are:
1. White Marsh. The area at and surrounding the I-95/I-695 interchange has been under construction since just after the earth coalesced from stardust. There are places where the interstate in that area is at least 20 lanes wide. At the same time traffic flow has never actually gotten any better there. I don’t know if it’s crummy engineering, worthless drivers, too many people trying to cram through too little geography or some combination of the three, but the only time I’ve ever had a good experience traversing that mess is between the hours of midnight and 4AM. For some reason, that strikes me as less than ideal for one of nation’s premier north-south arteries. I’d love to offer a brilliant suggestion for making improvements, but I’ll defer to the hundreds of professional engineers who are working on that never-ending project to come up with something in that part of the highway network that doesn’t suck so hard.
2. Interstate 81. I-81 gets bad press because of the heavy volume of truck traffic it carries on a daily basis. My experience is that 81 may just have some of the most disciplined drivers in the nation. The left lane was kept clear except for passing and even with trucks and passenger cars intermingled, the average speed never dropped much below 70. It was one small slice of the American highway where everyone seemed to know what they were supposed to do. Everyone except the asshole in the powder blue Scion who couldn’t for the life of him find the accelerator but insisted for driving for mile after mile in the left lane. People like him are the reason I’ve not put a push bar on the front of the truck. If I wasn’t worried about scuffing the bumper I’d be too sorely tempted not to give them a helpful nudge in the right direction.
3. Glory days. As few as 4 years ago I use to jump in the truck and drive the 14 hour, 800 mile run from Baltimore to Memphis while only making two stops for fuel and to give back the coffee I’d rented earlier in the day. When I got there I was ready to unpack, make dinner, and enjoy the evening. Today I drove a little more than half that distance, took 2/3 the total amount of time, and made three stops. When I arrived at my destination, I limped to the front desk nursing a bum shoulder and a sore knee and utterly unable to stand up straight. Honest to God, if I remember my 30s for anything it’s going to be as the decade when my body started to completely disintegrate before my eyes.
Just because I’m on vacation doesn’t mean the annoyances stop coming. What? You think just because there’s sand in my shoes I’m suddenly going to be all lollypops and sunshine over here? Right. Anyway, here it goes in no particular order:
1. The parade. Apparently every fire truck in the state of Maryland was here yesterday for a parade. Usually that’s fine. Parades aren’t my kind of entertainment, but people seem to like them, so whatever. At least it’s whatever until it’s an endless line of flashing lights and baton twirlers between you and the hotel you’re trying to check in to. After 45 minutes of looking surly and inching towards the crowd with my bumper, the guy watching the intersection took mercy and waved my across even though the Tundra only has a passing resemblance to a fire truck. Thank God for small mercies.
2. Key cards. I’m sure for hotels they are a vast improvement over losing physical keys and replacing guest room locks on a regular basis. For customers they’re usually convenient too. Except when they aren’t… which in some cases is apparently all the time. I don’t have any real issue with electronic locks, it would just be nice if they were consistent. After a long schlep back up the boards, the last thing I want to do is drag myself down to the front desk for a 3rd time in 24 hours because the key doesn’t work.
3. Traffic lights. Again, probably a pretty useful invention… when they’re set to coincide with the flow of traffic, rather than fight it at every turn (if you’ll excuse the pun). I’m perfectly ok with stopping at every 3rd of 5th light, but getting caught up in every single one is a bit of a stretch. It’s a crowded town. There are a lot of people fighting over every inch of the place, how about we make at least getting from Point A to Point B a smidge easier for everyone?
I’ve been incredibly lucky to travel to some of the world’s great cities over the years. I’ve been even more fortunate to usually be traveling on someone else’s nickel. Though this is on Uncle’s nickel, rest assured, Cincinnati is not one of the cities I mentioned above. The hotel I am staying in, on the other hand, certainly has a “wow” factor, especially if you like “old stuff.” It’s a 30s vintage hotel and Deco to the core. It’s amazing that it’s still around. Sitting here in one of the very basic (i.e. cheap government rate) rooms, you can see that it was built at a time when there was true craftsmanship and thought put into the details. Even my simple room has 6 inch crown molding and 10 inch toe molding. Seven decades of paint don’t hide all the nicks and scuffs at the edges, nor do they hide the beadwork that was probably done by hand in all 500 rooms. It’s a real privilege to stay in places like this, even if they are in places like Cincinnati.
Let me begin by saying that I recognize that the Marriott Corporation is a private enterprise and I recognize their right to do virtually anything the want with their private property.
I have been a good and loyal customer of the Marriott brands of hotel for most of my adult life. With the number of days on the road this year, I have been an exceptionally good customer lately.
I was disappointed to see this morning that as of September 1st, all hotels under the Marriott brand will become “smoke free for the comfort of our guests.” Since I’m a guest, I inquired this morning how that was increasing my comfort. At the moment, I have not received a response from the customer service department that up until earlier this morning had returned my e-mails in a matter of an hour or two. Go figure.
To make a long rant short, I will no longer be patronizing Marriott hotel brands. I cleared my outstanding reservations for the remainder of the year and will be closing my rewards account shortly. I have no intention of patronizing a company that presumes to tell me how to live in this, or any other, aspect of my personal life.
The camel’s nose is under the tent now and I wonder where he will end up. He has found us in our hotel rooms and I can’t help but think our living rooms aren’t far behind.