Sunday, August 16, 2015

Staying at the Bates Motel

In June, Ron and I drove down to SoCal to spend a long weekend with our children. We booked a room at an inn for our stay, unwittingly falling for the false online advertising of the proprietor of said inn. I have tried to restrain myself from recounting this experience because I don’t like to spread negative energy and I have nothing positive to say about this supposed inn. But the latest event related to our stay, which occurred yesterday, prompted me to change my mind. You remember the Bates Motel, right? From the Hitchcock film Psycho? Our family refers to the sorry excuse for an inn that snared us in its evil web of lies and broken furniture as the Bates Motel.

When preparing for our vacation, I spent a couple of hours on the internet vetting accommodations and selected a name-brand hotel near my son and daughter-in-law’s apartment. But when I told my son where we planned to stay, he said I could get a motel on the beach for the same price and he sent me a series of links to other accommodations. Without researching these others (who has the time for all this?), and not realizing that he had not researched them either but had merely pulled some links from the web and tossed them into an email as examples, I blithely called the proprietor of the first one on the list. There’s a sucker born every minute.

The Bates Motel was advertised on the internet as “a little Shangri-La.” Photographs depicted lovely tropical flowers growing on the property, the beach at sunset, palm trees against a deep blue SoCal sky, exotic birds, pineapples dancing on lily pads, and faerie sprites with daisies in their flowing hair juggling ripe orange mangoes. On the phone, I focused on practicalities and asked the proprietor for a nonsmoking room with a king-size bed and a refrigerator. He promised me he could provide all this. Promised. There should be a special level of hell for proprietors of shabby hotels who promise hard-working vacationing mothers a decent hotel room and then fail to follow through. This was my long-anticipated vacation he was messing with. I work hard. I deserve to have a decent vacation.

Our glorious vacation began with the tedious drive down-state through the parched, drought-stricken valley. We listened to great music, ate a great picnic lunch at a rest stop, napped, read, and caught up with our youngest child who rode with us. We arrived in SoCal late in the evening and ate dinner with our children at a Japanese restaurant by the harbor. So far so good. Then we drove to our little Shangri-La by the ocean, dreaming of dancing pineapples. We arrived after ten o’clock that night, tired from our long day of travel. When I entered the office to check in, I knew immediately that I was in trouble. In situations like this, there should be a clown or a mime or someone who darts in front of a person holding a sign that says, “Run away. Now. Don’t look back.” Where was my angel mime on that fateful night?

The office was grimy and cluttered with papers, mismatched flip-flops, stuffed animals buried in dust, boxes, crumpled towels, and an assortment of many other stray objects, some unidentifiable. The proprietor was seated in front of an ancient computer with a keyboard so worn and dirty that the letters were no longer visible on the keys. He did not use the computer to process my check-in. In fact, I wondered if the computer actually worked or if it was just for show. He logged my information into a ledger by hand with a pencil. Then he wrote out a check-in tag, had me sign it, and filed it in a shoebox. I knew as I handed him my credit card (against my better judgment) that I should have turned and fled, but I was exhausted and didn’t know how quickly (if at all) I could find another place to spend the night. (YMCA? Train station?) Plus my angel mime was not present. After he charged my credit card, he handed me a cash register receipt that listed only the total cost, which was more than what he had quoted me over the phone. I asked about the cost and he declared it was what he had told me and he looked at me as if I was brain-dead, which I may well have been (I have no other excuse). I had allowed him to charge my card so I was hopelessly committed.

We proceeded to our little Shangri-La romantic getaway room, which had a ridiculously optimistic sign above the door that said seaside heaven. (The website actually referred to the establishment as a romantic getaway. Perhaps meaning you could get away from romance at this place.) We received only one room key (clearly the stingy proprietor would not think of paying to have more than one key made per room). It was an actual key, not a key card, and it took a little work to get it to open the door, which was not plumb and needed to be lifted to open and lifted as well as jammed into place to close. We had to carry our luggage some distance from the nearest parking space in the parking lot behind the rooms. The lot was littered with potholes, which I tried desperately not to step in because I didn’t want a sprained ankle.

In front of our room there was a glass patio table broken in half straight down the middle and one wobbly plastic chair. Two tipsy men smoking cigarettes and drinking Bud Light from cans staggered past my nonsmoking room, giggling. “Hey,” I called to them, “do you know if there’s Wi-Fi at this place?” They laughed uproariously and one of them told me, “Good luck with that.” I soon discovered that even though our room was ostensibly nonsmoking, there were other patrons running back and forth between rooms and smoking up a storm. The smoke was leaking into our room from around the unplumbed door and windows. As my eyes began to swell up, I searched for the phone in our room to call the front desk to complain. I would search in vain. No phone.

There was, miraculously, an actual bed in the room, so I decided to go to bed and deal with our predicament in the morning. Before doing so, I attempted to transfer our perishable food from our travel cooler to the refrigerator. There was, indeed, a refrigerator in the room. It was the size of a Kleenex box and the microscopic freezer compartment was frozen shut. At least we could fit Ron’s insulin into it. We would have to either take everything else to my son’s house the next day or binge-eat at breakfast. As I crawled into the bed, I realized that it was not a king-size bed. It barely qualified as a full-size double bed. (It was bolted to the wall for fear we might steal it.) The blankets were as thin as a veil on a Persian belly-dancer, which was not a problem since the room was hotter than a sauna. Ron found an ancient air conditioner crammed into a window high up on the wall behind the very-very-mini-mini-fridge. I couldn’t reach the air conditioner, but Ron could and he turned it on. I suppose I could have reached the air conditioner if I stood on a chair, but there was only one chair in the room and each leg on it was a different length. (What if Ron and I wanted to both sit at the table and have a cup of coffee in the morning? Did the proprietor imagine we would simply share the only chair?)

When Ron fired up the air conditioner, it sounded like a helicopter landing in our room. It did not drop back to a low hum, but kept sounding like a helicopter landing all night long. Unbelievably, the deafening din of the air conditioner did not manage to drown out the noise coming from Highway 1, which ran directly in front of the Bates Motel, a mere few yards from our misshapen door. Trucks barreled past all night long. Had the Shangri-La part of the vacation begun yet? I desperately wanted the pineapples and mangoes.

The next morning, in the harsh light of day, I discovered other interesting features of our room. It not only did not have a phone, it also did not have drinking glasses, a radio or clock, an iron and ironing board, or a hair dryer (not that either of us would use a hair dryer, but they should have had one). There was also no closet. Next to the miniscule fridge and just below the cacophonous helio-sonic air conditioner, we found a rod mounted on the wall sporting a handful of bent metal hangers such as those provided for free by a dry cleaners. Dresser? Definitely not. There wasn’t even the proverbial bible to assist me in praying for a glass or another chair should I have chosen to do so. No smarmy paintings on the walls. Nothing. Fortunately the bedding appeared to be clean, but it was worn and frayed, as were the towels. I actually took my life in my hands and went to the office, found the smug proprietor, and asked him for an extra towel. He asked me how many people were staying in my room! Unbelievable. I have never been cross-examined by a hotel for asking for another towel. Perhaps he would have liked me to take a lie-detector test to assure him I had no angel mimes, pet snakes, or distant cousins staying in my room with me?

Oh, and did I mention that the room was not carpeted. The floor was linoleum. Plus there was a large metal pit in the middle of the room; it was surrounded by the bathroom on one side, the area with the air conditioner and fridge on another, and protruding into the sleeping area. It had a huge metal hood above it, such as might be seen over an industrial stove at a Benihana Restaurant. The contraption looked like it might work for roasting a pig on a spit. I eventually discovered it was the heater. I’m grateful I didn’t fall into the heater pit because if I had I would probably still be at the Bates Motel. It seemed to be a wood-burning device, but there was no wood or fireplace tools on the premises. If the chair was not plastic, perhaps we could have burned it.  

What a disaster; and there did not appear to be a way to set our vacation back on track. I was deeply disturbed that the proprietor had duped me into staying at his little shop of horrors. My daughter-in-law saved the day. She offered us the guest room at her parents’ house for the remainder of our vacation. Her parents graciously welcomed us into their home on short notice and took excellent care of us. When these new accommodations had been arranged, I returned to our room at the Bates Motel and packed everything up as quickly as a tornado racing through the premises and tossed it in our car. I went to the office and informed the proprietor of this illustrious establishment that I was leaving. I asked about a refund. He didn’t have the word in his vocabulary. He gave me an amused smile and waved ta-ta. I behaved myself and did not yell at him, “What part of Shangri-La do you not understand?”

Well, as they say, “he who laughs last laughs best.” When I returned home from a wonderful visit with my children and a perfect stay with my son’s in-laws in their beautiful home, I called my credit card company and asked them how to dispute a charge on the card. They explained the procedure, which I followed to the letter. They reversed the charge on the card for the nights we did not stay at the Bates Motel, giving me a credit and refusing to pay the proprietor. But I was told that if the proprietor of the Bates Motel countered my dispute, the charge might be put through again. Two months went by and I heard nothing, so I thought he had not bothered to engage in the process. Then, yesterday, I received a letter from my credit card company. They requested proof that I had paid for the nights I had not stayed at the Bates Motel and informed me that the proprietor had disputed my dispute. They enclosed the evidence the proprietor had provided to them. The evidence consisted of one of his handwritten check-in tickets; however, the name on the ticket was Cheryl Chamberlain from Seattle, Washington. She drove a 2013 Mazda. He had provided the credit card company with evidence of another disgruntled patron’s payment and stay! I mailed the credit card company proof of my payment for the room as well as a letter explaining that I am not Cheryl Chamberlain and I do not live in Washington and I do not drive a Mazda. I’m obviously not the only patron of the Bates Motel to dispute a charge. We’ll see how that goes.

I never did check out the continental breakfast they advertised. I suspect it was a cauldron brimming with smoke hanging over a firepit in which guests could dip ladles and scoop out a hot concoction with eyeballs and frog legs floating in it. Sorry; my imagination runs away with me. I don’t plan to book a room anywhere else advertised as a little Shangri-La any time soon. Lesson learned. Beware false advertising on the internet.

Still image of the Bates Motel from Hitchcock's "Psycho."

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