Another trip, another crappy hotel.

I wish that the online or website postings for hotels were more accurate. The best ‘glamour shot’ photos of the facilities are on the cover page. They never show the aging process that affects us and everything around us. Entropy.

It’s reminiscent of the photos of Ann Landers or Dear Abby that adorned their advice columns back in the day. I confess that reading advice columns was a guilty pleasure of mine growing up. These sarcastic biddies did offer some sage advice, but what drew me to the columns as a young kid were the taboo topics they sometimes tackled.

In the 1940’s, Ruth Crowley was a pioneer of advice columns. She actually created the ‘Ann Landers’ persona. When she left the Chicago Sun-Times in the mid 1950’s the column was taken over by writer Esther ‘Eppie’ Lederer. The column ran for 56 years and the photo of ‘Ann’ never changed.

Esther and Pauline

Esther Pauline’s twin sister was Pauline Esther Phillips (now Lederer). Pauline Esther wrote an advice column under the pen name Abigail Van Buren. Remarkably, she and those who took over her column after her retirement continued to use the old, black and white outdated photo of the ‘Abigail Van Buren’ persona we came to know and love.

I was thinking of the old advice column photos as I mentally reconciled the photos on the hotel website that showed the spanking new gym. Comparing them now to the dated equipment and run-down room in which I actually ran. Three things came to mind at the same time.

What your hotel gym really looks like.

The first was that there should be some sort of truth in advertising laws. Perhaps something as simple as a requirement to put the date the photo was taken somewhere on the actual photo. Next, that a true ‘run mix’ should be a finely mastered work of art or the ‘shuffle’ function will make your workout miserable. Finally, I made a new friend. As I ran, the adorable black, brown and white cat stood watch outside the massive glass door-walls leading out to the pool deck.

He (or she) stood just inside the trees that surrounded the deck. The pool was closed, covered, and had accumulated errant trash. The water on the cover was frozen in places. January in Plainsboro, New Jersey.

Let’s get to the run mix. I’ve already shared with the loyal readers that the shuffle function on any piece of electronic equipment leaves a lot to be desired. It’s repetitive and predictable and stretches the definition of the word ‘shuffle’ to its very limits.

There are certain songs that you can run to, songs that allow you to really let loose and get into a pace that get’s you sweating. For example; Candy’s Room by Springsteen. Underappreciated, a love song that starts fast and only gains momentum. The only problem – it’s too short. Therefore, you have to back it up with a number of similarly upbeat songs or you will lose your pace and have to rebuild your workout intensity. RUSH, AC/DC, Tupac, various Motown artists – so many to choose from that have a beat you can dance to and run to!

I had a ‘bad shuffle’ moment while the cat watched, silently amused.

I was coming off the Black Eyed Peas “I Gotta Feeling” (from the E.N.D., the band’s fifth album). I was just over three miles into my run and at my current pace I would finish my six-mile target in just over an hour. Shabby – but it was a late night and now an early morning. I’ll get to that momentarily.

I ran right into Alicia Keys’ song; “No one.” If I wouldn’t have ‘slammed on the brakes’ mentally I probably would have careened off into the glass door walls forever scarring the cat and marring the gym. Alicia Keys is an incredible talent out of Hell’s Kitchen, New York who started her career at age 12. Keys had five Grammy’s by 2020 and an additional four Grammy’s a year later. Here she was now keeping the timing of a funeral dirge singing;

“No one, no one, no one can get in the way of what I’m feeling. No one, no one, no one, can get in the way of what I feel for you, you, you. Can get in the way of what I feel for you. When the rain is pouring down and my heart is hurting, you will always be around, this I know for certain. You and me together through the days and nights, I don’t worry cause everything’s gonna be alright.”

And now it wasn’t just the songs tempo that threw me for a loop. Listening intently, I was certain that Alicia said that her “Art” was “Urting.” Listen for yourself. I don’t know what language nuance she was going for, but it was hugely distracting. I can barely hold together running, reading and listening to music. Now, I was showing off for the cat trying to keep my run pace within the machine’s suggested range and here were a number of weird events coalescing to further unnerve me. 

When you travel a lot, you encounter situations at hotels that are memorable simply because you frequent hotels more than the average person. Further, because travel is fatigue inducing, sometimes you aren’t in your right mind when you encounter these situations.

I’ll give you an example. My dear friend Shon Clemons and I drove 23 hours straight from Detroit to Avon, Colorado so I could test for the open Chief of Police position there. We arrived in a small town called Edwards, Colorado and – too exhausted to continue – decided we would sleep for a few hours, shower and then make our first meeting. Shon was along to support me and take responsibility for half the driving, an absolute necessity when driving non-stop for long distances.

The hotel was brand new and the rates were discounted for Veterans and Law Enforcement so we got a great rate and the double discount whammy. It was probably 02:30 in the morning when we checked in.

We entered the elevator, pressed “2”, and the doors closed. That was it. Doors closed, no motion – nothing. Shon and I took turns pressing every button we could find. Nothing. I used (for the first time in my life) the telephone on the elevator which immediately connected me with the local fire department rather than the front desk.

The fire department must have alternately called the front desk attendant who was now outside the elevator yelling in to us. Directing us to press the “open” arrow buttons. That didn’t work. We could hear the sirens coming. The lobby outside our closed doors was soon a bee hive of activity. Shon and I were exhausted and now embarrassed.

Virtually at the same time, Shon and I got the idea to pull on the doors, he to the left and me to the right and voilà, the doors slid open. There we stood – face to face with 20 firefighters in their bunker gear and a flushed hotel clerk. They fumed; we took the stairs.

 

After a while you think you’ve seen it all. In Dallas last week I was having coffee in the hotel cafeteria at 06:00. I was surrounded by working folks, all dressed for road construction work. They were talking quietly to each other and waiting for the breakfast meal to be served. That service didn’t open until 06:30. There was a big screen television set on the news. The story that came up concerned a Dallas police officer who had been arrested overnight for assaulting the person he arrested. The officer had escalated to using a TASER on the arrestee, and after review it was found that that level of force was deemed excessive by his own agency, hence the arrest.

To me, this was a “Lose-Lose” story. The coppers get a public relations ‘black eye’, the officer’s career is ruined, the suspect was arrested but now the city will pay for the unnecessary, excessive use of force that was being alleged and perhaps next time the suspect is confronted by police he may act out violently to an officer that won’t expect it, and finally the community lost an element of trust with its own police force. Lose lose.

As the story played out, one of the working men sitting in the lobby stood up, pointed at the screen and started laughing loudly. It didn’t appear as though he was acting, it seemed a genuine display of gut busting laughter replete with pointing, shaking and holding his hand over his mouth. Everyone in the lobby was now uncomfortable.

That’s called an incongruent signal. The emotion doesn’t match the situation and many times can indicate a break with reality, a lack of empathy and sometime mental illness.

After the weird vibe, the cafeteria cleared out and only laughing guy was left to greet the breakfast crew. I feared that was an incident that set the tone for my day, I was flying from Dallas to Philadelphia a few hours later.

I suggest that anyone who flies a lot take part in the TSA PreCheck or Global Entry programs. Even when they are bad, they are good. The advantage of time and ease of getting through security adds up over time and anything that can ease the anxiety associated with air travel seems worth the extra money you’ll need to spend every few years.

Still thinking about the guy in the hotel lobby, my attention was drawn to a fellow traveler just across from me in the line to go through the metal detector. My HBPR&A training kicked in and I immediately sensed that he and his female partner (friend, wife, business partner) were engaged in a smoldering argument. She was doing everything to avoid his gaze, he oriented away from her but was still ‘lecturing’ her, pointing in the air, his body becoming rigid each time he “told” her what she was doing wrong.

The man had to go through the metal detector three times, he kept touching the side when he would turn to address her with his “and another thing” attitude.

The TSA agents around him were losing their senses of humor and asked him to got into the full-body scanner. He refused. Now things were about to get interesting. I have a photo I have been asked not to share.

The Atmospherics around the man changed. The TSA agents from other lines began to orient towards him. The man had placed his bag on the conveyer belt, his female accomplice was already retrieving hers, when his bag was chosen for a random check.

This was the last straw, the simple, legal request proved too much for this certain traveler. He walked through the metal detector and grabbed his bag. He was surrounded by TSA in an instant and they were very professional, telling the man in simple words what he needed to do.

An alarm went off and in seconds, local law enforcement swooped in and the man and his bag were gone. Just that fast. Like the kids that got ‘broomed’ from the Willy Wonka tour for being jerks, this guy was disappeared and I never saw him or his luggage again as I moved for my gate. I did see his companion roll her eyes and just walk to her gate. That’s indicative that she’s likely seen this man’s behavior before.

This wasn’t to be the end of the mayhem that was to be my long travel day. Marren and I arrived in Philadelphia at 22:30 hours, and by the time we got our luggage and rental car, we didn’t get to our hotel in New Jersey until after 01:00 in the morning.

Yes, even at 01:00 in the morning there was a line at the check in desk at the hotel. The man in front of us kept giving the female clerk a different credit card to check in, and over and over she would say that the card was declined and ask the man for another card. Sometimes she would say, “Nope, this one is no good either, it says contact your bank.” Other times, just “Nope, try again.” This operation went on for half an hour.

I felt for the man checking in – unless of course he was trying to pull a scam. I appreciated the fact that the counterperson was being attentive to the man even though the situation wasn’t improving. Finally, the man’s traveling companion pulled out a credit card and they were off to their rooms. Time now 01:35 hours.

Next in line was a female wearing shower shoes and pajamas. She seemed dirty and unkempt -like she had been living on the streets – and was trying the old, “Would you take a two-party out of state check with no ID?” scam. She told the counter person that her friends that rented the room had left, but said that it was okay for her to keep the room for two more days and put it on their credit card. Now her dilemma was that her room key didn’t work. The great thing was that the counterperson caught on immediately and said, “Yeah, no.”

This answer incensed the young lady in pajamas. The counterperson asked her for identification, the female guest pulled out her room key and ID card and slammed it on the counter. Time now 01:43 hours. The counterperson acted perfectly, she verbally deescalated the situation and advised the female guest that the procedures wouldn’t allow her to extend the room – but that she and the hotel were willing to allow the woman to stay until morning as it was “the middle of the night.” Not happy but at least placated, the female left and went outside to smoke.

Now it was our turn. We checked in at 01:45 hours. No “Thanks for being a member” BS, just here are your room keys and, oh-by the way, breakfast is an additional 10 dollars each day.

Once we were checked in Brian and I headed out to our rental sled to recover our bags. I mentioned casually to Brian that it was actually colder in Dallas the night before than it was in New Jersey today.

The female who was dressed inappropriately for out of doors, who was now smoking while contemplating her room payment dilemma, engaged me in conversation. “Dallas. Ha. I been to Dallas.”

Not unlike the incongruent signal that I had witnessed hours earlier in the Dallas hotel, this signal was consistent with humans who learn to pull cons and talk fast to get their way. The term “con man” comes from the definition of Confidence Man – someone who scams or tricks someone by first gaining their trust and then persuading them to believe a lie in order to gain an advantage (normally a monetary advantage). Even if she was nervous, her actions didn’t fit the profile of a female who needed help or guidance, rather one that was used to talking her way in and out of trouble.

We grabbed our luggage, bid her and the counterperson good night and headed off to our respective rooms. A few hours later I was awake, groggy and headed for the gym, the same gym where I began this story. The same gym with the happy, attentive cat.

Just before hitting the gym I stopped by the front desk to inquire about laundry. The man at the desk said, “We have a laundry but it takes quarters and we don’t carry quarters.” As I walked away, almost in passing he said, “Oh, and detergent, we don’t have detergent.”

Clearly the Street Gods were going to make my trip memorable whether I wanted their help or not. Approaching my time now, and before I shower and head off to our first meeting in Princeton.

So What?

Travel is fatigue producing. Create a schedule before go. Stick to your schedule. Drink lots of water and stay on a workout schedule even if its hard. The results will be worth the effort. Eat well. Take the time to plan out meals and snacks so you don’t have to rely on hotel food or fast food. Your body will thank you. Get some sleep – you are no good to anyone groggy, stressed and angry.

Computers don’t know or understand you. They predict times to the next gate at an airport based on algorithms and other mathematical calculations and odds. The connections are tighter than ever and you will be left behind even if your luggage makes it on the flight – or vice versa. Check and re-check your itinerary to ensure you’ve allowed enough time to make your connections without having to sprint.  

The person behind the counter isn’t your enemy. Treat them with respect. Treat them as you would expect to be treated. They don’t control the weather; they aren’t responsible for your flight cancellation or the flight being overbooked or the plane configuration changing. Someone is – just not them. Ease up and THINK through the situation. If you have a plan and a back-up plan (contingencies for each eventuality) then you will likely make it to your destination with less anxiety.

Ask yourself, “What would Jesus do?” before you do or say something in public. Specifically, in a public place where people panic about incongruent signals and aggressive behavior. Feel free to swap the word ‘Jesus’ for ‘My Mom’ or ‘My Dad’, literally any smart person whose advice you respect. Generally, The Gift of Time and Distance it takes you to consider the perspective of a sage advisor will be long enough for you to reconsider what you are doing, saying or how you are acting.

Leave your aggressive posturing and social commentary on your social media site, it’s not fair or nice for you to impact others with your rhetoric, scams or anger outbursts. We don’t need your hate speech and I don’t need you to add fear to my already dismal day.

Finally, be observant of your immediate surrounding. Predict explanatory storylines for situations you may encounter while gassing up your rental vehicle, checking in to the hotel or going out to dinner. Think of things to say that will end or deescalate a tense situation BEFORE you get into such a situation.

The best advice I can give you is that training changes behavior so get some training. Training in HBPR&A will help you navigate the rough spots in your daily life or your travel life and greatly reduce your anxiety.

One more thing. When I finished my run, I went over to the door wall to tap and, I guess, to ‘thank’ the cat for being such a good run-partner. For keeping me moto.

What I thought was a cat was actually a wooden stake driven into the ground to hold up a young tree.

The stake had accumulated garbage and bags and paper – and now looked more like a wooden stake with trash rather than my little run partner. Now my Art is Urtin. It sucks getting old! Safe travels.

 

 

Training changes behavior.

  • Greg
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