Comfort seeker

  • ISO: 640
  • Shutter: 1/50 sec
  • Camera: NIKON D80

Slidell, Louisiana

I like hotels, or at least I used to before I spent so much time in them. Simple in my everyday life, I have a penchant for the pricey when it comes to fantasy. Point me towards a glass-chandeliered lobby and I’m a happy girl.

The first time I stayed in a hotel was a math team trip. I was only a sophomore, and the rest of the team was juniors and seniors. As for the room, it was unremarkable — your standard issue La Quinta or Super 8 or Motel 6 or whatever — four taupe walls and a smear of puke green carpet. It had one thing going for it though — a door that connected rooms. Our teacher thought we’d use it to pass quietly back and forth, going over formulas, plotting last-minute strategies, and perhaps having a raucous pillow fight.

Instead, all the girls ended up in the boys’ room, leaving me to sit alone on the double bed, imagining what they might be doing. A peek through the door confirmed my suspicions. As INXS sweated their way through the raw sexuality of “Need You Tonight,” my classmates were working out complex geometric equations of their own.

For a brief moment, the guy I liked looked up from the girl I despised, sweat dripping from his hair onto her bare chest. Our eyes met and I looked away, clicking the door softly closed. Had I been a different girl, I might have smiled and waited to see what would happen next. Instead, I thought she meant something to him. I thought he liked her. And so I let her have him.

By the end of the night, I’d been branded a prude. I wasn’t invited to the strip poker game, nor was the purloined vodka shared. It was little solace to be the only one without a hangover the next day. My high school years were marked from that point onward with a label that was never quite right, but not exactly wrong. I wasn’t so much shy as I was slow, thoughtful, introspective. I wanted to be asked. Invited. Encouraged. Reassured. I wanted someone to show me how to be someone else.

The one thing I didn’t want to be was part of the crowd. I wanted to belong without being engulfed. To be special but remain anonymous. To be cherished but not smothered.

Hotels — the really nice ones — offer all that. Set apart by their sheer extravagance, you can be anyone or no one. From combed percale to French champagne, every fingertouch speaks of luxury. When you haven’t seen much and have had even less, it’s intoxicating.

Or at least I imagine it must be. The truth is, the nicest hotel I ever stayed in was the one night I spent at Tuscaloosa’s finest — the Four Points Sheraton, and it’s really not all that special. Compared to my spider-infested apartment less than a mile away though, it seemed like heaven. I ordered room service from the television and soaked in the garden tub. The next morning, I regretfully paid my $150 and returned home.

There was the Holiday Inn overlooking a lake, where Nicholas and I laughed at Boogie as he chattered at the mallards outside our window. There was my first real freelance gig shooting a magazine cover in Fairhope, so close to Mobile I had to lie to my mother and tell her they were requiring me to stay and footing the cost. Nicholas and I had an argument and I sulked in the tub while he went to bed early. It wasn’t as much fun as I thought it would be.

Then there was the hotel in Pensacola. Non-descript in most ways, but unforgettable in others. As my first trip completely alone in a strange city, it will always stand out as a growing up experience, the moment when I stepped out of the shadows and fully embraced being a writer. Nothing was the same after Pensacola.

Since that time, every hotel seems to bring something new, some life-changing mind shift. There was the swanky bed and breakfast in Columbus, where I fell into my four-poster exhausted and woke up to the most amazing meal I’ve ever eaten, and there was the other bed and breakfast in Columbus where I found a dark streak of loneliness and an ounce or two of grit I didn’t know I had.

Then there was Baton Rouge. A slummy hotel, a sleazy town, a story gone wrong, a disaster from the beginning. I haven’t wanted to go out of town so much since then, not until this trip, and it wasn’t so much a matter of wanting to go as needing to go, if for no other reason than to prove I could. The images here are from the Slidell Sleep Inn. It was nice. Better than the Biloxi EconoLodge where I spent the next three nights.

Still, I have a list of dream hotels and cities — places I imagine filled with laughter and comfort and all the things I like best. The Peabody in Memphis. The Wynfrey in Birmingham. The Omni Parker House in Boston. The Maison Dupuy in New Orleans. The Waldorf-Astoria in New York. The Four Seasons in Paris. Claridge’s in London.

Whether I’ll ever sleep beneath those halcyon sheets remains to be seen, but that’s ok — I’ve learned a thing or two about luxury. There are fresh roses on my dresser and a soft fuzzy blanket to wrap around me. And though it may not be fanciest accommodations, I have to admit — the combed percale on my own humble bed still feels pretty good after a long, hard day.

Music: Through Glass by Stone Sour (lyrics)

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