Mar 2006

Hotel people

I’ve probably spent between 18 months and two years living in hotels. So perhaps it’s no surprise they feature so prominently in my dreams.

It’s interesting how the same dream can go through phases…

… the essence of the dream is always the same though I’m sometimes alone, sometimes with a companion. I’m trying to get somewhere – it’s unclear exactly where – while trying to avoid being seen by certain people. I spot the hotel and decide it would be a good place to lay low for a while… you can loiter in a hotel lobby for a long time without drawing attention (usually in a comfy chair), and hotels have dozens of places to hide. In the dream the hotel isn’t quite a safe place, but it’s safer. It’s a place where I’m at a greater advantage.

I spent several months of my early teens living in the Athens Hilton and then later another spell in the Nile Hilton in Cairo. It always felt like there was intrigue in the air… that a James Bond film was just about to unfold at the top of the stairs next to the hotel casino… or perhaps in the rooftop bar… It was a world full of beautiful, self-confident women and successful, powerful men; a world where the most sumptuous luxuries a palate could desire would be demanded on room service as a snack to eat with a movie; a world of swimming pools and tennis courts and important business breakfasts with Jordanian princes and Kuwaiti sheikhs.

For about a year after returning from Brazil I would dream of grand old colonial hotels crumbling and decaying; overrun with amazonian flora and fauna. It was always night-time in those dreams, and the hotel would be bathed in moonlight, seeping through cracks in the ceilings and walls, splashing off a million shards of shattered chandelier. The air hung heavy with the scent of jasmine.

But recently it’s reverted to a slightly less exotic setting. It’s daylight and I’m making my way through the streets of Chicago. I spot the Hyatt Hotel where I spent four months. Trying not to run, because I know that’ll draw attention, I walk through the revolving doors and into the lobby. The lobby is sparsely populated, and the few people who are there are non-threatening. They’re exactly who you’d expect to find in a hotel lobby. They are hotel people. To my right is the news-stand and beyond that a smaller lobby with comfortable booths and relative privacy… straight ahead is the Atrium Café, currently serving lunch… there’s a hushed stillness to the air and my footsteps make no sound as I begin walking through the lobby.

The hotel becomes a carpeted labyrinthe. I walk through it for a long time, down corridors, past gift-shops and restaurants and bars. Up and down rarely used staircases and through dimly lit lobbies past mezzanine coffee shops. Around me the hotel goes about its business. Ignoring me exactly as it should. All the silent hotel people dreaming of sleep and going about their day. And the far off tinkling of a piano can be heard above the muted hum of the hotel soundscape.

I stayed at a hotel just outside Chicago – a place called Rosemont – for 5 or 6 weeks. The project I was working on required collating and analysing data gathered by a dozen or so field engineers. There were four of us living at the hotel. Four separate rooms. Plus another room which we converted to a makeshift office (the result of our analysis would determine whether or not it made sense to set up a permanent office in Chicago). Another two rooms to house the field engineers who each made regular short trips back to “HQ” to be debriefed and receive further instruction.

I would wake in my room. Walk the short distance to the elevator which dropped me off next to the breakfast bar. There I would choose from a menu and buffet containing every breakfast your heart could desire. I would eat with my three colleagues, and at 8am we would walk the short distance from the elevator to our “office room” where we would work until 8pm (with a sandwich ordered in at lunch). Then it would be back to the room to order room-service and watch a pay-per-view movie.

After work the other three would eat together, with a few beers, in the sports bar. I was seen as a little odd for disappearing as soon as work was over. Me… I just couldn’t spend an evening with the same three people I’d had breakfast and lunch and spent the entire day cooped up in a hotel room with. I need a bit more space than that.

And there’s an amazing sense of space to be found in a hotel room. I mean, these rooms in Rosemont were huge (two big bedrooms and a living area; each with big screen TVs; plus a bathroom and small kitchen… that was one room… like a mini-luxury-flat). But I’m not talking about the physical size of the room.

When you get back to your hotel room after a day working, the time you have in that small box belongs to you in a way that time rarely does. And the space around you expands to compensate. All of the essentials of life are provided for, but you’re coccooned from the real world. The real world may as well not exist when you’re in a Hyatt or an Intercon or a Hilton or Marriott. You’re in a castle outside time. You and all the other hotel people.

The dream continues until I emerge from the hotel through a side entrance. I occasionally become lucid or – more often – wake up at this point… leaving the hotel is leaving a dream.

And finally…

I apologise, by the way, for yesterday’s dreadful joke (the George Bush / bird flu thing). I was trying out a system for styling blog entries by category, and came up with the “NewsBite” category. And that dire attempt at comedy was the first thing that came to hand. I can only hope that my category-styles will tart up better content in the future.

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