This is going to be updated on a regular basis. I have no intention of making this blog and then abandoning it. This is my 35 year-old live at home too-smart-for-their-own-good child. Someone that knows they can make a difference, but isn’t sure how to do it. All I can do is to try. I wish we were all as well intentioned as my child here…
We all eat. We all live in a food world. In fact, everyone of us has run-ins with the food and hospitality business more than we probably realize. We cook food for our kids, we eat out, we stay in hotels, we read cookbooks, we attend catered weddings, and we watch people saying “BAM” on television (sigh). More on that guy in a later post…
I want to put up my most recent experience for example one. It has all the earmarks of a disaster that I’m sure has happened to all of us at one time or another. If you are Alec Baldwin maybe it doesn’t happen to you, but I bet it does. I know I’ve screwed up a few movie star’s dinners in my early days as an aspiring chef and then was summarily verbally, emotionally, and psychologically tormented for it (yes more on that in later pages too). So let me tell you the story of a bad experience gone, well, badder (or worse for you linguaphiles).
It was a late afternoon in downtown Fresno California. Fresno isn’t the kind of town you aspire to “be” in. It isn’t even the town you want to drive through. And certainly not the downtown government area. It’s L.A.’s less glamorous, foul-mouthed, dirty, uneducated, farm worker stepchild. Please note, if you are a dirty farm worker, I’m okay with that. I’m only using it as a reference so you might understand my colorful allusion. We had to be there for business so I wasn’t critiquing anything, though I often can’t help myself when leaving the house. It’s just that I know what I should get and what I shouldn’t when spending my hard earned ducats.
Pulling up to the hotel, oh what the heck, it was the Holiday Inn in downtown Fresno (I won’t always be able to say exactly what or who I’m referring to for legal reasons that will be apparent in later posts), everyone was double parked. You couldn’t even get off the main road and into the car entrance to the parking lot. Needless to say I later found out these were employees cars. So I had to wait in the car while my wife went in and paid for the room. She was told she couldn’t and we would have to go park the car and come back because I personally needed to show identification. I am on the Holiday Inn corporate watch list apparently, so we waited for cars to leave to be able to drive to the parking lot, then go back to the front desk. My wife is none to happy at the snotty attitude of the employee behind the desk and at this point, I’m already fighting a snarky vibe.
Since I’m part of the VIP Gold Platinum Guest Rocket Scientist Silver Mega Club or whatever it is, the young lady behind the desk is now apparently a changed person. No longer does she have anything but the most wonderful attitude. Unlike me, my wife is not fighting her snarky vibe and snarled teeth instinct. But we get our key without incident and go up to our room.
Ah the room! Now normally you would think a Holiday Inn is going to be semi uniform in their rooms and guest service right? I would have thought so too based on my experience. Going from one Holiday Inn to the next isn’t supposed to be like going from the Ritz Carlton to a Motel 6. It isn’t. I know it isn’t. I know there can be some variance if a place franchises individual locations out to individuals as opposed to being owned by Ronald McDonald himself who checks up on each one and then fires everyone if the Big Mac doesn’t measure up. Wait, that’s a bad example because McDonald’s DOES indeed franchise places out (but Ronald can still come down hard on you if you keep a dirty place). Either way, hopefully you get the idea.
The room should be clean right? I don’t walk in with a white glove and check the inside rim of the toilet, although that’s a good way to see if the staff is doing their job in a hotel room. But it looks clean. Now, if you know Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley, you know it can be muggy at times. So first things first. Hit the AC. It doesn’t work or at least not that I can hear. I realize there is a small self help manual next to the thermometer and try again. Still no AC. OK fine. I’m not the kind of person who goes and raises a stink at a small thing. I just stroll over to the balcony, pull the curtains and open the sliding glass door to let in air. This is when I start grinding my teeth just a tiny bit.
There isn’t a screen door. Okay, not the end of the world. The balcony looks down onto the busy, noisy, and smoggy smelling bus station outside the Fresno courthouse. No biggie. But I guess it builds up when I see that the balcony isn’t even secured. The room next door’s balcony connects with ours. So we in effect can’t really leave our door open and relax without fear of Fresno’s version of Jack the Ripper hopping over into our room. Okay, well I’ll just keep my eye on it, I think to myself. This is already looking sketchy. But hey it wasn’t that expensive. But the hot and muggy room is bugging me the longer I stand there smelling diesel and watching homeless people.
Right after dark, I say, ‘hey we need some water and snacks up in this place’ (that sounded pretty fly huh… that’s so 90’s. Forget I said it.). I tell my lovely wife to wait in the room for me and I take off to find the nearest convenience store. The only problem is it’s dark now and apparently this is where the movie Escape From Fresno was filmed. The lady at the front desk assures me this is a safe neighborhood, even though I can see a guy sleeping with a blanket of little white plastic baggies right outside the front door. I’m a pretty tough guy having braved bad neighborhoods in big cities when I was younger, so I take off. I soon realize I braved it when I was younger because I didn’t worry about dying. In the 3 blocks it took to get to a CVS pharmacy things are looking pretty sketchy. On the way back I get the usual “I need change for a hot dog” and “my kid is starving can I have a cigarette” thing. I didn’t even bring a gun with me! The ones not begging were groups of downward looking hoodies. Needless to say, the lady at the front desk was full of crap – it wasn’t remotely safe. I was looking over my back the entire time and I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to bring a female with me.
We get to the point where we can relax and decide to watch some television in the evening with some room service. We even decide to splurge and watch a pay per view movie. No, not that kind. It was Seven Psychopaths. I can’t say it was a bad movie, I can’t even say it was a good one because we, well I’ll explain. Halfway through it, the movie locks up. Christopher Walken frozen on screen. The End. Sigh. I call the front desk and explain. They apologize profusely and then tell me that they already knew that our room’s television has a problem and that tomorrow at our convenience maintenance will be up to fix it. They do also, give us the option of packing up and changing rooms at 10 pm at night too. No, I say, it’s okay just please take the movie off our bill and it will be fine. Send the guy up at 2 tomorrow and we’ll get it fixed or move then. They oblige, asking to not try to watch the pay per view movies until then, and I hang up. The food then arrives, and although it’s not great, it’s not terrible. Which if it is, is always an insult at room service prices. The waiter even tells the truth and explains that the 18% auto gratuity is his tip so no need to tip extra (you might think that’s a no-brainer for a waiter to be honest about the simplest of things, but you’d be surprised. Remind me to go through the Colorado Garden of the Gods Country Club later). I do stop and wonder why, if they knew the television had a problem, didn’t they either fix it beforehand or give us another room?
I explain this to my wife, who looks at me like I just landed on the bed directly from planet Zebulon with green smoke coming out of my face and says, “I want to watch the movie.” I realize this is not a crazy request and call the front desk back. “I’d like to watch the rest of the movie please.” They again oblige and ask that if it happens again we just call them so they can refund the movie … again. As we eat our Fresno Burger (a burger with jack cheese and a roasted chile on it) and Caesar salad we watch the rest of the movie, almost. At the last minute it’s frozen again. This time I am not going to wade through it a second time, and forgo the last minute. Enough is enough. We call and explain and this time while I’m at it, I decide to mention the air conditioning that isn’t working. The room is now actually warmer, according to the thermostat, than when we walked into the room. They tell me they’ll add it to the maintenance fix it list of things to do tomorrow at 2pm. If they can’t fix it, they will move us. Good enough. We don’t sleep well with the warm room, but it isn’t a park bench so we’re okay I figure. As I doze off, I see the television lock up again on the regular channels… this time it’s an infomercial frozen on screen. The unmoving guy selling hair removal lube isn’t as appealing as Christopher Walken. At this point I decide to double check the car is locked in the parking garage and decide to stop off in the lobby to discuss my issue with the night manager. He is very nice and I try to be just as nice explaining our problems, but at the same time firmly state that what is happening isn’t acceptable or right. He then asks the golden question (whatever is going on, they got the customer service part down here, I think to myself), “what can we do to make it right? Can we take $30.00 off your bill?” And I reply matter of factly, “How about half.” He cheerfully accepts and I decide to be happy with our deal and go back to the room and fall asleep.
After our business the next day, we make sure we are in the room for our 2pm appointment with the maintenance crew. At this point it would be cliche for no one to show up. It was cliche. I had to call and ask where they were after we sat there for 30 minutes and made it a point to be there for them. They now show up, give a glance to the television and AC, then as they get ready to walk out the door I say, “You know if we have to change rooms, I just want a non-smoking room the same or better than this one. A suite would be nice even I say half jokingly.” They smile and respond that they’ll see what they can do. I sit on the bed in the quiet room with no television or AC with a door open that the flies are coming in from.
Fifteen minutes later, the 2 gentlemen knock on the door and say they can’t fix it and hand me some new room card keys. “I think you’ll be more than happy with this room sir,” says the guy who I later find out is head of engineering for the hotel. They take off and I’m happy. I think. We grab our stuff and head from the 3rd floor to the 9th. This time the hallway out of the elevator requires a key. Okay now I’m special, maybe. So far I’m not really sure what to expect. I’ve been to some dives and some really nice places in my life, so this could be anything. I decide not to hold my breath. We open the door and although it qualifies as a suite by definition, it is one room. Basically our old room with a couch and coffee table. OK well heck the AC works right? Wrong. My teeth are admittedly gnawing more now. I walk over to the sliding glass door and open it. Weird. It has no screen (again) and this time it doesn’t even lock. I guess as long as Spiderman can’t get up her it’s okay. Wait. Our balcony is just one long walkway connecting the banquet room and 20 other rooms. Oh no this isn’t going to work. But I see a small pin at the bottom of the door that stops it from sliding. It’s a kind-of-lock. I must have made some gorilla grunting sound at this point, because I hear a loud “what?” from the bathroom. I tell my wife to come over and lock me out of the room and I’ll pretend to be a rapist.
She obliges and closes the door and puts the pin in at the bottom and shuts the curtains and lays down on the bed. From the outside of the door, I’m able to just kick the pin out and open the door. Voila! Crime committed! The look on her face is not one of amusement. I’ve finally had enough and make my way to the lobby. I’m pretty pissed right now. The AC still doesn’t work and we’re not safe in our room. Why am I paying for this? I calmly explain that the AC in both rooms didn’t work, the television kept locking up in the first room and now the outside door doesn’t lock either (not a problem if the balcony was enclosed, but it’s not). So again we can’t get anything but warm air out of the vents and since we can’t have the door open, we’re in a sauna. I also explain that I understand staffing issues and all the problems that can occur, but this just isn’t right and I need it fixed. After all, I am a VIP Gold Platinum Guest Rocket Scientist Silver Mega Club member. They apologize profusely (again) and send up the maintenance guy to bolt the sliding glass door to the wall so that the only way in now is to break it, and to bring us a portable air conditioning unit. The problem with the AC unit is that it blasts hot air out the back so that whatever is directly in front of it gets cold – meaning the rest of the room heats up. So now we have to huddle together directly in front of the tiny AC unit to get cool. We must have looked like fools fighting for the best spot on the bed for the tiny air conditioning unit to hit us just right.
We decide to go have some drinks and food in the downstairs bar.The food was mediocre, and I was glad to have it that way and not worse. Before handing us our bill, the bartender left and walked into the hotel lobby. After returning, he informed us that the bill was on them due to the issues we’d had at the hotel. Wow. Now that was surprising that they all interacted (or gossiped maybe) enough to know that we were the same people with no AC. Well free mediocre food was better. We decide that since we have extra money now and had nothing but business on this trip, we could stay an extra day, and I informed the front desk we would be here one more night.
After returning to the room we fell asleep. It is worth noting that the bed was clean and pretty well above average. At 3 in the morning I hear a scuffling noise. It is the bill. Through my squinted eyes, I see what must be a glaring mistake. The room has not been comped as I was told it would be. I can’t help but start to get annoyed now. I’ve been good so far. If you’re questioning my patience, I can tell you that I know I’ve been doing good withholding my ‘tude so far.
The next day was umm Fresno. If there was anything to do in California’s 5th largest city we must have found it. The details were boring except to say we were tired and came back for a third and final day and ate at the hotel again. We didn’t even bother to see the nightlife or local food because I was just plain lazy. This is one of the few forays in these blogs that sidetracks off food a bit. It’s still there, but it’s just the giant club footed zebra carny yelling when you really want to see the frozen woman from Mars. This finally gets worse when at 11 o’clock we start hearing a pounding. It’s the banquet hall which also happens to be on the top floor, and it’s rockin’. The drunk people are screaming, the staff is breaking plates, and the music is blasting all through the floor. It’s around this time I realize I don’t feel well. Not only ‘not well’ but very sick to my stomach. I go down the list in my head of timetables and food poisoning symptoms. It’s pretty easy as we ate ONLY hotel food for 3 days. And as I’m trying to run to the bathroom, I trip and twist my foot on a metal support bar for the bed that is somehow sticking out. It was hidden well under the skirt but still stuck out about 4 inches. Now I’m pissed, hurt and sick. I swear, I’ve never had any experience ever come close to this.
I was sick enough to not worry about it and pretty much passed out soon after from flu like symptoms. The next day I sought out the head of maintenance again because the bed frame sticking out was almost unbelievable. I filled out an accident report in case I ended up having a broken foot or some nonsense. I hoped I didn’t have to call them because if I never had to contact this hotel again it would be too soon. I promised the staff I wouldn’t go blasting them to Tripadvisor or Hotels websites. They really had tried to fix whatever they could and were super nice about it. They appreciated that I understood their payroll and staffing issues and hinted that I knew something about restaurants. I asked them nicely to please make sure they were cleaning their salad greens as well. They were a bit embarrassed that they had not comped the bill correctly and took off even more money from the final bill when I pointed it out to them. I know it sucked but it was as good as it could have been as an outcome. I suppose I could have gone all Donald Trump on their asses and gone up the corporate ladder and raised hell just to be a jerk, but I don’t really want to be like Donald Trump and be a football in my next life. I just don’t want to be like Donald Trump in general.
Any lesson that might be gleaned from this would be that you too can get results from pretty much any staff member or management and walk away happy from a bad time. I mean who doesn’t want free money, right? Just make sure you tell them about it so they have a chance to make it right if you can. If you think they are just going to let you eat a whole dinner and then after the fact tell them it was terrible and you want your money back, you might be surprised at the result. You might also be surprised at the result if you start off a complaint by being drunk or with four letter words.
I don’t always have a bad time when going out to places. In fact, some of my greatest moments in life have been in the service industry when something is so out of the ordinary and outstanding that you feel as if the universe is somehow perfect and that humanity has a chance at surviving; that perfect synchronicity of all of life’s parts, like falling in love for the first time, something that you remember forever.
It is worth mentioning that while Fresno isn’t my city of choice, it is for some people. For those of you who fit into that category, please do yourself a favor and go and visit The Frosted Cakery in the Tower District. My mother baked and decorated wedding cakes for a living and I grew an instinct for fine baked goods at an early age. This place was worth the drive to Fresno for their cupcakes alone. And if the rest of their offerings are as good as their cupcakes (the only thing I tried, but the rest of the story and how The Frosted Cakery made more than a few people’s hearts warm unknowingly will have to be another blog) then anything they make must be outstandingly amazing 😀 http://www.frostedcakery.com/
Until Next Time,