Noises Off!

by Eric Lucas

“Quiet, please.”

Who needs ice at 3 in the morning?

No one. But that didn’t stop the ice machine out in the hall from heroically performing its appointed rounds, manufacturing fresh delectable ice in a steady, cacophonous landslide for all those hotel guests who simply have to have martinis at vampire time. It was 3:12am. The relentless clatter of cubes into basin sounded like the dwarves of Moria hammering orc swords. Clack. Thwark. Thunk.

That’s what it seemed like to me, jet-lagged and testy after flying into San Francisco from Vienna. It’s a long way. You cross nine time zones, and when you arrive your “day” has stretched nine extra hours.

All I wanted was a quiet room. Peaceful sleep.

Quiet is the ultimate travel luxury, the almost unattainable Holy Grail of journeying through the 21st century. In airports you will listen to CNN or Kenny G whether you want to or not; if you do find a corner that has escaped Orwellian electronic coverage, that’s where Nadia Sulaiman is changing the diapers on all eight of her brood. On the plane, unless you’re in first class, Dennis the Menace is practicing soccer on your seatback; if you are in first class, you’re right behind two robber barons gobbling Bloody Marys at 8am and planning a leveraged take-down of Amalgamated First Second National Global Savings & Loan. If you buy noise-canceling headphones, you discover that they cancel only ambient noise, thus magnifying conversation.

So when I finally reach a hotel room, I only want one thing: no sound. None. Silly me.

The hotel industry these days offers more emollients, enhancements, inducements and add-ons than the Mustang Ranch offers drive-by truckers. Check into a hotel of almost any description and you’ll find leaf-mold neem-sage aromatherapy skin balm; 72-inch liquid-crystal TVs as thin as the daily paper; rock-star porn on that TV; Nintendo for 8-year-old pipsqueaks; credenza bars with 50-year-old Scotch at hand. You can get 800-thread terrycloth bathrobes, thrice-daily housekeeping spiff-up, seven-line conference phones. But you cannot get quiet.

I’ve stayed at hotels, resorts, inns, B&Bs and accommodations ranging from none to 1 to a zillion stars, in 40 states, four provinces and two dozen foreign countries, and it’s the same everywhere.

Doors slam like cars at demolition derbies. Pepsi cans rumble out of pop machines like boulders.

Bratty, squalling kids thunder up and down the halls playing Custer’s Last Stand. Custer still loses.

Intergalactic executives use Skype to call Hong Kong and Nairobi, shouting into their computers to be heard.

Drunken rednecks quarrel with Emmaline over who’s going to go get more Coors.

There are people who can sleep through anything. You see them in airports around the world, sprawled across five seats, snoring away like Russian soldiers, ear buds firmly attached. If you sit close by, you discover they are snoozing through Iron Maiden’s Greatest Hits, which leads me to conclude that they sleep so easily because their brains shut down at a moment’s notice in defensive desperation. I suppose these are the ideal modern hotel guests. Hotels today are designed for them.

The walls are made of crepe paper.

“Hey, dude, I didn’t tell your sister you spent the night with Tiffany. You better talk to that bitch yourself,” Rory snarls gleefully at Ruben at midnight.

That’s next door. Down the hall, the elevator arrives, pinging loudly enough to wake the dead, in case there happen to be any blind deceased people waiting for it.

Out the window, which is made of cellophane, the South Texas LGBT Harley Owners Group pulls up in the parking lot. I’ve always wondered why Harleys are so hard to keep running, since it’s necessary to gun the engine every 10 seconds, even when you’re parking the things.

Overhead, attendees at the International Dancing Elephant Society are practicing salsa at 5am, which I enjoy through the cardboard ceiling. Their confreres, members of the North American Galloping Ox Auxiliary, are warming up in the hall, which I hear quite clearly through the 2-inch gap at the bottom of the door. All that ice made next door is needed to soothe their hamhocks after a tough day of stampede competitions.

When I booked the room at this 4-star hotel, I specified quiet: “Upper floor, not near the elevator, ice or pop machine.” I suppose the check-in clerk felt it was adequate that the ice machine is not actually in my room. I discuss this with the night manager, who offers to put me farther down the hall. A young fellow arrives with a new key and leads me to the new room.

“Before I go, do you need any ice?” he asks.


Eric Lucas travels more than 100 nights a year; visit his website at

photo © Morozova Tatiana |

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