I have had the opportunity recently to be a guest in a big, impersonal skyscraper hotel and I have to say that it has left me a little cold. Why do we put up with this kind of hostelry? And why does it absolutely HAVE to be so impersonal?
The lobby is muted tones and big, modern design, uncomfortable chairs. It could be the offices of Architectural Digest; it looks way more comfortable in a magazine than it actually is. At the elevator banks, you punch in your floor number and a read-out tells you which elevator will take you there. Inside the elevator, no floor numbers. Whoa! What if the elevator forgets? No human can take you where you want to go.
My room is like the Great Plains as a design statement. Nothing at all remarkable. If I decide to look out the window, I have a beautiful view of other tall hotels nearby and how empty and impersonal they are. Far in the distance, on the ground floor of an impersonal office building, I see a Subway sandwich shop. No one goes in or out, but at least the neon sign is on.
Do we really require this kind of distance from the world at large when we stay in a hotel? Not in MY hotel.
My hotel would not have pictures of sleek modern buildings on the walls. We separate ourselves too much from what makes us great. Are riches and luxury interconnected with not participating in the human experience with other people? Is that what we really want? I don’t think so.
My hotel would have beautifully taken art photos of the chamber maid who will clean your room after you are through. As well as pictures of her home. In fact, the coffee machine in your room is compliments of her, she has the nice one the hotel bought in her house, and you have a photo of it by your old-fashioned coffee maker, which is reliable and probably makes better coffee than hers.
By the TV there is a button you push to have face time with a person in a homeless shelter on the other side of town. You get to know someone who is homeless, tell them you have some leftovers in the hotel room fridge and to come on over and watch a movie on demand. Have they seen Coco?
The hotel fridge is behind the usual modern dresser like thing, but it was bought at a yard sale and refurbished by inmates who have a knack with old refrigerators. It still has the dent in the side where Flo tried to hammer the door open, after Larry had secretly screwed it shut. It retains those screw holes too. But the inmates have featured these things and in fact painted them red, white and blue–because as you know inmates are so patriotic–and the whole thing could go on a pedestal at MOMA with a little sign about the inmates’ life and not be out of place.
There would be other design touches that made you feel like you are not in an episode of Star Trek. Like an old telephone from 1934 (no one uses hotel phones these days anyway, so does it matter than it doesn’t work?), a bed quilt made by Grandma and a video of her telling you how she made it that plays all day, including the ending where she tucks you in.
In the wellness fitness center and pool on the 42nd floor, instead of an enormous porcelain tile mural of the skyline, which is just a repeat of what you can get when you look out the window, there is a huge porcelain tile mural of Gandhi’s Salt March in 1930 to protest British rule. You can see the number of people who support him, the righteous indignation in their eyes and the ability of humans to be ordinary and superhuman at the same time. That will inspire your next treadmill session.
And on the sound system, to keep the rhythm of your aerobics strong, not Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You,” but King’s “I Have a Dream” Speech with a saucy bass track underneath it.
At the fancy hotel restaurant, we would have businessman breakfasts, but instead of $7 cups of tea, no refills, and cottage cheese “caprese” salad with 10g of fat, 34% protein and 10 grams of carbohydrates for $16, our Executive Chef better known as “Mom” would sit down at your table with her electric skillet and make you blueberry pancakes and pork sausage.
And instead of giant flat-screen televisions with your choice of ESPN, CNN or local morning news on the wall to help your indigestion, there would be windows on the day-care center we share the premises with. If businessmen want to let their minds wander away from their breakfast meetings, instead of “the News” which they already get in myriad ways on myriad devices, they can watch the machinations of non-device play, the ingenuity of the little boy who builds blocks only so he can knock them down, and the tears when one of them accidentally falls on a little girl. These are the tragedies they should be digesting, not those other ones which make them think, liberal or conservative, that the world is falling apart and forces them to bring their most positive life condition, their reminder that they love their family, and their basic good nature to fend off the bad news. Let them think instead about the little girl who was crying one minute and jumping on a hobby horse the next.
And, in the lobby, since bunnies in nursing homes have been so successful in bringing people together and raising their life conditions and empathy, bunnies. What businessman can turn his cold heart to the raping, pillaging, merger and acquisition of American business when bunnies are excreting little greasy pellets on his shoes?
The rooms, floors, restaurants and banquet rooms aren’t named for fancy cities, or monuments but have actual names and paraphernalia from Ma’s Old Garage, Gramps’ Back Room and Don’t Look in Here.
In the bathroom, nothing need change. Everyone wants a nice clean towel, a warm shower, a germ-free environment. But the mirror isn’t one of those that magnifies your face so you can tweeze giant nose hairs, it actually makes you smaller and puts you in context with other people. Go ahead. You’re lonely, away from home. Choose your context. It can be your family–download old family photos to the mirror technology and it will place you in the middle of friends and family who are having fun—or see what you look like as an agent of change in a meeting of lawyers, doctors or indian chiefs; or you can go historical and take selfies with pre-installed historical figures – only the heroes – Winston Churchill, Harriet Tubman, Honest Abe.
My hotel would have a selection of great arts performances on its TV and that’s all. No Rachel Maddow soliciting our worst and most sentimental righteousness, suffering with us over legislation that is going nowhere because gun victims can’t vote, no Sean Hannity acting bullishly like he is making complete sense and building a case for the fact that humans should have eleven fingers, to the cheers of the nine fingered crowd.
My hotel is unique, but it doesn’t have to be. You the consumer, can simply ask for these things. You have the power. Lie. Tell the Marriott that the Hilton has better Grandma tuck-in videos than they do. Fill out the survey form at the Hilton saying that the Marriott has a super secret weapon – a March of Salt mural — and where is theirs?
Because to be honest, I don’t want to go into the hotel business, I just want hotels to be more humanistic.