Monday, September 2, 2013

Vacation Horror Stories

After a night of many, many pints at several pubs in Halifax, I woke one morning to a Pepto Bisbol-tinted, insufferably hot room in a bed and breakfast over in Dartmouth.  It was more like a house with a couple of old people and a ceramic dalmation on the ground floor. We were the only guests and there had been quite a wait that morning by the proprietors. She with a beehive, he unremarkable.though he was clearly not in favor of letting strangers who stumbled in drunkenly in the middle of the night and who laid in bed until past ten in the morning into his house; his displeasure was conveyed with disapproving grunts. The long minutes that constituted our consumption of Corn Flakes, with the only other choice being bran cereal that looked like hampster dung, was a wee bit awkward.  It was 1990, and I was pleased to have found the room on the World Wide Web.*  My hangover was my fault; the pink room helped lead me to chumming off the side of a fishing boat in Halifax Harbour later that afternoon, to the eternal amusement of my sturdily sealegged friend Hugh. 

Through this summer, NPR has recorded a hilarious series entitled Vacation Horror Stories.  I don't think I've ever had a bat land on my leg in the middle of the night, and I've never spent a night in a foreign jail.  But I've had a couple of good ones.

There was the Motel 6 in Gary, Indiana, with the first bullet-proof glass I'd ever seen at a check-in desk. The little guy behind it looked terrified, and I slept with one ear open. There were lots of loud arguments in the parking lot and some rather interesting business transactions taking place in the rooms next door. It turned out my instincts were right, as Gary was then and perhaps now the murder capital of the U.S.  I might have checked that on the WWW before choosing that Interstate pit stop. 

A few years earlier in Corfu, Greece, I crept through a darkened bedroom where a middle-aged man lay snoring and his annoyed wife let us in after a night of cheap moussaka and even cheaper retsina.  We didn't even think it was that late, but as the old saw goes, youth is wasted on the young. We dozed on the floor in sleeping bags in the extra room until we woke to banging pots. The wife had snagged us at the train station and despite what could have been disapproval, fed us a lovely breakfast with wonderful fresh bread in the morning, and I remember a much-desired shower in a tiny stall in the confines of the kitchen.  It was weird to be rinsing off while the proprietess prepared lunch right outside my curtain. It actually seemed pretty good.  Earlier in my European tour, I'd schlepped down the hall in an ancient hotel in Paris to a shared iron bathtub.  It filled up with remarkably hot water for its eighteenth-century pipes, and I'm grateful I didn't think much about who might have been soaking earlier.    

I thought those days were over.  I'm now spoiled rotten, used to solicitous staff and Frette linens, pristine soaking tubs, and a Wall Street Journal under the door.  But last year T and I went to a family wedding on the Outer Banks, NC.  We landed late in Norfolk VA, and got to our pre-booked hotel, where a desserted lobby and a dark restaurant greeted us.  Our room turned out to be next to the elevator and had a nursing home-style bath.  We'd made it to the hotel guided by the delivery guy from a local pizza place, and then realized we'd brought good wine but no corkscrew.  Neither of us remembered the last time we'd stayed somewhere that didn't have a wine opener. The front desk was no help, so T went off in the night in search of one.  I fretted and called and T finally appeared, as did the pizza.  It was one in the morning, but it turned out to be a great meal, after all that.

Another night with one ear open, and then around eight in the morning a staff member walked in and interrupted what would have been a rather happy beginning to the day. I declined a soak in the bath with the security rail, and we found a Starbucks ten miles down the road. The worst trips really do make the best stories. 

*As noted by a reader, clearly I didn't book this online in bloody 1990.  How the hell did I find it?  One of the worst things about being divorced and old is that there isn't anyone I can ask, but then again, he might not remember either.  At some point it may come to me.  Maybe it involved a fax machine.  All I know is that without Google, I might not remember anything.


  1. You were pretty leading-edge to have found the room on the World Wide Web in 1990.

    (turning off smart-ass-pedantic-fact-checker mode now...)

    1. Too true. See note above. Seriously, how would I have found a B&B like that? I know the lady with the beehive didn't meet us at the ferry station. Maybe we tore off one of those little pieces of paper with a phone number on it and called from a payphone. Oy.