On my way to buy my morning coffee, I found myself in a take-out line with a view of a local hotel. There they were, an older couple, 60, maybe older, sitting on a bench in the shade of the hotel portal.

He, in that “I wish I were home” slump, was wearing his travel hat and wrap-around cataract glasses, his hands folded on his lap, both corners of his mouth turned down. Easy to read: “Should I go to the men’s room one more time?”

She, on her smartphone, was chatting away, probably with friends back home in Williston, North Dakota.

I hate traveling. Until I was 10 years of age, I thought the world started on my front porch and ended six blocks away at the Michigan Avenue movie house.

I’ve traveled across the country by train, car and Greyhound in the late ’40s, (rent a pillow for 25 cents in Chicago, turn it in in Butte, Montana, and get a fresh one from there to Seattle) fallen asleep on hard benches in Chicago’s Union Station and a bus stop in Boston.

In the ’50s, I crossed the Pacific by ship and came back across the same water by plane. I thought that was the end of it. It was only the beginning.

There would be two years of touring and summer theater with She, who at one point, decided our two-year engagement had gone on long enough.

So we married at City Hall in St. Louis, still wearing makeup from the last play (“Marriage Go-Round”) and spent our wedding night on a Greyhound to New York, with screaming babies and steamy windows.

She, who had a normal childhood in Waterville, had left Maine only twice: for college in Washington, D.C., and to Florida on spring break; and despite the misery of life on the theater road, is to this day still crazy-fond of traveling, and misses it.

She would be happy to be sitting on a bench like that in front of a hotel anywhere. She adores hotels. She yearns for the big tubs and power showers that someone else has to clean, the never-ending flow of big, thick, white towels, the tiny soaps and bottles of lotions, the views from the windows, and chatting with the concierges.

This went on for years. Breakfast in a hotel was her favorite event. She loved the silver coffeepots and teapots on the white linen cloths and never ordered from the menu. After chatting up the waiter in Spanish, she would dash over to the buffet with its array of steaming steel tureens of sausages, waffles, eggs, bacon, six different kinds of fruit and eight kinds of dry cereals in tiny sample boxes. Hotels for her were big, endless multi-storied cement-and-glass entertainment centers.

For me? Let me count the ways. Travel is a nightmare, and hotels are the monsters in those bad dreams.

Even though, as a young actor, I worked in five of the best of them, all hotels will be, for me, models for the Overlook Hotel in the “The Shining.” Those long corridors when you come back at night, and no one else is there? I look for the ghosts of the twin girls. I avoid the empty lounges at night, with that smiling, lonely bartender waving me in.

The breaking point came at the nice hotel in Boston in 1989. At 2 in the morning the fire alarm went off. We were on the sixth floor, and I imagined the smell of smoke.

I had visions of 9/11 and, shaking her awake, pulled on my clothes. The front desk wasn’t answering the phone. In the hallway, a group had formed, and a tall, blonde woman in a stunning negligee stepped out.

“My husband is a firefighter in New York. He told me to get my ass out of this hotel immediately.” As a group, we all rushed down the stairs and pushed open an emergency door to an alley. Four of our party shared a joint. When I reached for it, She pulled me away. Then it was over. Apologies were made. It turned out to be a false alarm.

I have not been in a hotel since that night, and despite the steel tureens of sausages, bacon, waffles and fluffy towels, I will never stay in one again.

 

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. 


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