Hot Times in a Dirty Old Town

Every year, Teresa and I spend a long weekend in Manhattan. We got married in New York four years ago right around Labor Day and always fly back for our anniversary.

New York is easy. Booking a flight is simple. The hardest (and most expensive) part is booking the hotel. With literally hundreds of options, it’s a crap shoot. If you go cheap, you could end up in a bed-bug ridden shit hole surrounded by rats and whores. Your other option is to put out $400 or more a night, but you’re still rolling the dice because even the highest priced hotels can stick you with a broom closet and a view of a concrete wall.

Or you could go with something familiar, like a certain chain that recently opened a hotel in Omaha that we always admired. Their lobbies sport modern linear design, they allow pets and best of all, their business model supports sustainability concepts -- recycling, conservation, use of renewable materials. When the hotels.com search result brought back this specific chain near Times Square at around $250 a night, we figured we couldn’t go wrong.

We flew into LaGuardia Thursday morning and checked in shortly after noon. Yes, the room was small (but all Manhattan hotel rooms are) and the 8th-floor window held a view of a warehouse, but it was clean and even had a kitchenette.

We took a late lunch at Salvation Taco, a swanky foodie-style place on East 39th that served $12 tacos and $10 beers, but what the hell, we were on vacation. The next day was the US Open Tennis Championships, an easy ride on a crowded 7 Train to Flushing Meadows. A day-pass runs less than $100 and gets you into all the courts except the massive Arthur Ashe Stadium.

We split the day between tiny Court 17, where 2nd round play took place literally at our feet, and Louis Armstrong Stadium, where we watched defending champion Andy Murray defeat upstart Leonardo Mayer in four sets.

The problems began that night. The 7 Train got us back around 9. We went up to our room to watch the late-night matches on ESPN2 only to discover the hotel’s version of ESPN2 was showing reruns of “Two and a Half Men.” The problem was a surprise to the folks at the front desk, who helpfully suggested we go to a sports bar.

The next morning I got up early, put on my running gear and took the C Train to 89th Street and Central Park West for my ritualistic jog around the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir running track. Along with riding the subway, it’s the only time I really feel like a New Yorker.

New York in late August is a muggy steaming bouquet of urine, diesel exhaust, rotting garbage, mold, mildew and urine, and by the time I got back to the room I was soaking in it. I stepped into the glass-enclosed shower and waited for the water to turn from cold to hot, but it never happened. The hardest part about taking a cold shower isn’t sticking your head under the stream, it’s when the ice runs down your back. Bracing.

Teresa called the front desk. At first they didn’t believe us. Then they discovered that yes, there wasn’t any hot water. They said they were “working on it.” We spent the rest of the day at the Washington Square Outdoor Art Exhibit -- blocks and blocks of white tents, like our own Summer Arts Festival but with real artists instead of stained glass crafters and wind chime makers.

We spent the next hour sweating in the Times Square TKTS line waiting to buy discount tickets to one of the evening’s Broadway shows. No, you’re not going to find seats to hits like “The Book of Mormon” or “Kinky Boots” but to touristy draws like “Mamma Mia!” and “Chicago.” Still...half price!

We snagged two tickets to old reliable “Avenue Q” at New World Stages. Located “Off Broadway” on West 50th Street, the converted movie theater houses five different stages underground in an elegant, post-modern concrete-and-glass bunker, sort of like a playhouse version of Film Streams. Outside on the sidewalk afterward, Brad Dourif a.k.a. Grima Wormtongue from The Lord of the Rings and co-star of “The Two Character Play” (alongside Amanda Plummer) signed autographs and chatted with fans.

Back at the room, still no hot water.  The front desk said they were still “working on it.” With no water the next morning, Teresa pulled back her hair and slipped on a ball cap and we spent the day in the Bronx watching the Yankees lose to the Orioles. When we got back, still no water. That meant going to dinner at upscale Dos Caminos in Soho smelling like Yogi Berra’s backside.

While the water wasn’t working, the hotel’s free wi-fi was. I got online and “chatted” with an agent at their corporate offices, who said they’d filed my complaint and would get back to me within five business days.

Besides providing a place to sleep, hotel guests really only want two things: cable TV and hot water, and this hotel failed at providing both. I considered doing the common thing -- exploding all over Social Media with #thishotelsucks tweets. Isn’t that how companies prefer to handle customer service these days, by forcing people into public chest pounding on Twitter in hopes that some poor shlock at corporate will discover the tweet and “engage” in digital fence mending?

But let’s be honest, this hotel didn’t care about me and my 900 “followers.” How long does it take to fix a hot water heater? An hour? We’d been taking cold-water “sponge baths” in the sink for three days.

Eventually, just prior to checkout, the hotel manager promised to work with hotels.com to refund our full stay, which is why you’re not reading the hotel’s name right now. They’ve bought our silence, but if you ask me via email (tim.mcmahan@gmail.com), I’ll tell you.

Despite all that, we still had a good time -- maybe the best time ever. Yeah, New York is easy, but it was nice to get home and wash that dirty city off our backs.


Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, the media and the arts. Email Tim at tim.mcmahan@gmail.com.

posted at 03:21 pm
on Tuesday, September 03rd, 2013

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