October 6, 2017. Grand Canyon, Arizona.
The ennui was creeping in, and there was only one surefire cure: Dogs and alcohol. That sounds like two cures, but each is half of one single, larger, panaceatic cure. In the middle of the desert, there is only one oasis with both dogs and alcohol in the required quantity.
Unfortunately, hotels in Flagstaff, and for two hours in any direction from Flagstaff, had quintupled in price overnight. $40 rooms were now a minimum of $200. I was ready to sleep in the car, but we eventually decided that we would book a room in Hated Phoenix for $36 because driving through the desert is easy and fun anyway. Hunter S. Thompson built the highest point of his career around it.
An attempt was made, but Flagstaff had become a disaster. We found out from the tiny blonde bartender who we had so enchanted at Historic that not only was it first Friday, but also parent’s weekend at this phantom university. The town was overrun with humans, parking was a virtual impossibility, and the Girl and I were both dragging around altitude sickness balanced on top of malnutrition, driven deep into a foundation of a hangover. We grumbled our way across the desert at 100 mph, arriving exhausted at Phoenix, the butthole of the continental United States, at 11 pm.
I rolled into the Premier Inn and a recently paroled flesh heap covered in awful black and white tattoos quivered her contoured jowls at me in dubious greeting, or possibly as a threat display. I told her I booked a room through Expedia six hours before.
“No,” she replied.
I explained to her as calmly as recent events would permit that, yeah-huh. I told her the travel agent, the time I booked it, the specifications and price of the room. I gave her my confirmation number and told her how much money had already been withdrawn to pay for it.
“Well, it’s not here.”
“Okay,” I said, “But it says here that the money is already removed from the account. Right there, ‘collected by hotel’. A transaction took place.”
“Well, it’s not in the computer.”
By this point, a leathery woman with teeth like slowly collapsing tombstones entered the conversation, reiterating everything the heavily rouged pile of simple carbohydrates had said, but less confrontationally.
“So you’re telling me Expedia just took my money and did absolutely nothing.”
“Nothing happened on our side,” she insisted. “This happens with Expedia all the time.”
“First time it’s happened to me,” the Girl said.
“Yeah, I’ve been using them for years,” I said, “never had anything like this happen.”
If we were going to sleep that night, we would need to book a walk-in room, which made it suddenly $20 more. The Girl was too tired to try our luck elsewhere, and we agreed that we would do one night in this pit. They took our money and gave us a room with a broken doorknob, lamp, and air conditioner.
We immediately returned to the lobby whereupon the Girl put the key on the table and said, “This isn’t going to work.” By now, the owner of the place was involved, a grotesque little man with dementia tremens who looked like he hadn’t slept since around February. He told us it was his second day, so he was still trying to get everything cleaned up. He also told us he was upgrading us to the best room in the hotel, which happened to be the room he slept in “all the time”. I don’t know how much “all the time” he could’ve crammed into two days, but it’s possible that prior to his hiring he was a regular customer, a squatter, or both.
The best room in the hotel looked suspiciously like the worst, but everything worked. The air conditioner was noisy, but effective. I turned it down to 60 and he contemptuously informed me, “That’s as cold as it gets. Turning the temperature down isn’t going to make the fan blow any colder. That’s how you blow the condenser.” I nodded in fascination at this advanced HVAC lesson, wondering if it came gratis with the room.
“Well? Will this work?” he asked. The security guard had joined him in the door. He was unarmed, but did have a uniform, and was porky enough to look, at very least, more intimidating than the owner.
“Well, give us a minute to check it out, and we’ll let the people at the desk know,” the Girl said.
“No,” the frazzled little shit said, “You gotta decide now.”
“Sure,” I said, “Let me give it a once over.”
“All right,” he said, “But it’s only gonna be ONCE over.”
“Hence the name.”
I was meticulous. The lights worked. The water was hot. It didn’t get real cold, but this is the desert, and we had a refrigerator for the gallons. The beds had no discernible vermin in or around them. The shower worked. The air conditioner was blowing cold, which was really my priority.
“Might do the trick!” I told them, and they stalked off to the front desk to write us out a new receipt. On the way, I told the Girl I really didn’t want to give this halfway house any money, but she was too tired to deal with any more of Phoenix that evening. For our benefit while we were still in the lobby, the owner loudly dictated a report of how he and the security guard forcibly removed a visibly drunk patron from the premises. I interpreted that as an attempt at a subtle threat, and though I was confident I could pound all 5’4” of mouthy dipsomaniac into the ground like a railroad spike, it wasn’t something I was looking forward to having to do if he busted into our room in the middle of the night to rob and/or blanket party us a la Full Metal Jacket. We locked both deadbolts and barred the door with the heavy imitation oak desk, then slept in the best room in the worst hotel in the worst city in the desert.