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Beware of the Cheap Hotel!

 “So, Mom, if I pay for everything, do you want to go New York City this summer with me?”

    “Yeah, if you pay for everything. Sure.”

Two months later, my mother and I were on an American Airlines flight to La Guardia Airport. My sisters, one flying from Austin and the other from Seattle, planned on meeting us in the City. The Seattle sister was going to share our room at the wonderful hotel I found, the Ellington Hotel. “Don’t worry,“ my travel agent assured me it’s within walking distance of “everything I want to see.”

Going to New York had been I lifelong dream of mine, well, um, forever. Yet little did I know, that when I booked our room at the Ellington Hotel on 111th street, that we were about sixty blocks away from Times Square and even farther from downtown. The only thing within walking distance is the subway stop. Also, little did I know was that anytime that the detectives on “Law and Order” wanted to interrogate an informant, they would hop on down to 111th.

“Hey, Lenny, we got a call from a CI over on 111th.”

“Okay, Logan, we’d better get over there.”

Being the “smart” travelers we were, Mom and I caught an airport shuttle.

“They say it’s the smart thing to do. Why take an expensive taxi?!”

The shuttle was fully booked. Pretty soon, that shuttle drove over the bridge into downtown Manhattan, dropping happy tourists off at their hotels. Mom and I brimmed with anticipation.

“When was our hotel going to come up?”

And yet, the shuttle kept driving…and driving…and driving. Eventually, everyone else had been dropped off at their hotels; ready to start their magical vacations in the Big Apple. Must have been a real big apple, cuz the driver just kept driving…and driving…and driving.

“Okay, the Ellington Hotel.”

There was no mistaking our luggage or fighting to crawl over other passengers. Mom and I were absolutely the last two people on the shuttle. Happy to finally arrive at our hotel, we grabbed our bags and entered the hotel. So what if we had to pass a couple of junkies barely conscious on the stoop? It’s New York! It’s got character.

“It’s named after one of the great Jazz musicians of the twentieth century. How bad can it be?”

Upon entering the building, we were confronted with what I was pretty sure was the Russian mafia. More character! Check-in complete, the rickety elevator took us to our room. Ahh, finally a chance to get some rest before walking to Rockefeller Center to see the golden angels.

The door creaked open. [Horror music.]

“Uh, are you sure this is the right place?”

“Sure, Mom, it’s the Ellington Hotel! The travel agent recommended it.”

We threw our bags down on the bed.

“Don’t mind that puff of, umm. It’s got character. This is going to be a great weekend! Just us girls. Also, ignore the smear on the wall. I’m sure that’s not blood. It’s, uh, probably just, um, rust. Yeah.”

“Okay but let’s see what our view is like.”

Mom threw open the unwashed curtains. Now, you all have seen the scene in any number of sitcoms where our hero opens the curtain in their shoebox apartment or hotel room downtown, only to reveal a brick wall. We thought that was only an unrealistic Hollywood stereotype of life in New York. Oh God, how I wished we were wrong. Hello, Brick Wall.

“Well, let’s just open the window. Oh, look, gang members fighting in the dark, narrow alleyway. Reminds me of “West Side Story.” How quaint!”

More character. Just a part of big city charm. Right?! Please, someone tell me I’m right!

The T.V. didn’t work, so Mom and I just sat on the edge of the bed, trying to connect as little as possible with the actual surface. Knowing my sister’s plane was soon due, we waited. Eventually, our door flung open, my sister stood in the doorway, her eyes wide.

“We are not staying in this hotel!”

“But what can we do? It’s nine o’clock at night. Can we get another hotel this late?”

After much trying, no, we couldn’t get another hotel room that night. But after we each slept with one eye open, we moved the Days Inn on Eighth Avenue  between 48th and 49th streets as soon as the first rays of light passed over the city.

It was certainly a night we would never forget. And a lesson that maybe there’s more than meets the eye to a “good deal.” Sometimes we need our mistakes to learn from, and we certainly learned to do more independent research for future trips. Remember, beware of the cheap hotel!

Erika L. Durham

30 July 2012