It must be really hard to run a hotel. There are so many things to get right—rooms to clean, carpets to vacuum, toilets to scrub. Reservations to keep straight. Phones to answer. Breakfast to dish out. The elevators have to work.
And still people complain. All the time. Even when everything is perfect, as the Hampton Inn & Suites in Streetsboro, Ohio seemed to us, at first. We had a long drive, from New York City, over 400 miles, and had one more night before we gratefully reached home. We were tired.
This Hampton Inn, a modern, smartly-decorated lobby, all muted orange and tomato red. Square water container with sliced oranges. A tray of cookies. Free newspapers. A pool off the lobby that looks inviting—most motel pools are gross. This one you wanted to sit beside, and I did. Outside, a basketball court. Next to each room was a different black and white art photo of some comforting, homey object: a compass, an Adirondack chair, a vintage pickup truck. A well-equipped fitness center.
Every little thing was considered. Our room happened to look out on, well, nothing—a tar paper roof filled the window. I never would have noticed, might not have pulled back the curtain—I didn't care about the view. But there was a small, plasticized coupon, apologizing for the view, offering us a free snack, soda and a sweet, from the gift shop, their way of saying, "sorry for the vista of shingles." Thoughtful. I let the boys use it to pick treats.
But it wasn't quite perfect. In fact, there was something wrong, something bothersome. This one little thing, this fly in the ointment, and I'm reluctant to say it. Makes me sound nit-picky, which I certainly am. But the Hampton Inn was having a big advertising push, a media blitz, that included the above poster, affixed across the entire inside elevator door—a promotional technique I had never seen before—plus Post-It notes on each headboard, another first, ballyhooing this special feature that the hotel was extraordinarily proud of:
The poster read: "daily special: clean bed," in lower case letters, perhaps to stress the e.e. cummings modernity of this benefit. The fine print drove home the wonder: "duvet covers & sheets are laundered fresh, every guest, every room, every day." A blissful blonde child and her teddy were shown sleeping serenely on their clean sheets.
My first thought was: so much for the environmental kick. Because up to now, hotel communications on this topic were mostly trying to shame guests into not having their sheets changed every day and to urge them to hang up their wet towels instead of tossing the towels on the floor, in order to save the whales. That too was a bit annoying—it seemed a disingenuous gambit to cut down on the laundering bill disguised as environmentalism. Now this; now they were lunging the other way, making a grand show of washing your sheets as a quotidian gift, which is nice, but it's not as if you don't leave them on the bed for a week or three at home. The pendulum swings.
That they wash the duvet cover before you get there is unquestionably a benefit; most hotels don't—most hotels don't have a duvet, which is sort of a pillowcase the comforter goes in. Rather, they have a bedspread, and my wife immediately, ritualistically, cringingly strips it off the bed, expounding about God knows how many people have done God knows what upon it. She doesn't quite burn the bedspread in the sink, but the attitude is the same. She flings it in a corner as if it were crawling with smallpox and vermin and lice, crusted with secretions. Maybe it is.
So clean duvet covers, hooray, and had it stopped there, it would have been welcome, although better had they just done it a little more quietly. This was a step away from "We Dig the Hair Out of the Drain." Well golly, thanks.
Then Hampton Inn took it a step too far, as sometimes happens in advertising. They included sheets, which to me should be a given. Plugging the cleanliness of the bedding struck me as, not an improvement, but a ratcheting down of standards. It implies that giving guests fresh sheets when they arrive is suddenly an option at Hampton Inn. This week they're doing it and proud —the "daily special" they called it—next week, who knows? No special sales event lasts forever. Maybe the clean sheets promotion won't either. "Oh the sheets are stained in your room? Yes, that is how we do it now. Clean sheets are only in August...."
Up to now, I've never considered whether the hotel I was in wouldn't automatically—and modestly—give me clean sheets, and I've stayed in hotels in Haiti that cost $16 a night. Hampton Inn, however, thinks doing so is special -- they're proud of washing their sheets, lately. Gosh, I hope they did so before. I just assumed....
Enough. I should say, before I let this go, having gnawed the topic too long already: the place was great. Even with the strange blurt of pride over basic hygiene. I'd stay there again in a heartbeat. The Hampton Inn & Suites, just off I-80, in Streetsboro, Ohio. Redecorated just last year. Run by nice, proud people. Big, tasty breakfast. And I'm sure not one guest in 100 would be annoyed by the clean sheets promotion. I just happen to be that one guest.
And if you need something to read in your motel...
The paperback edition of "You Were Never in Chicago" is officially published today: