Labor Day Weekend, 2007

We spent a long weekend touring Virginia wineries recently. I recommend it if you like wine, scenic vistas and pleasant driving through the rolling hillsides of rural Virginia. We saw several wonderful places and samples some very worthwhile wines.

Overnighting at hotels along our way proved less pleasant, however, We checked into a Comfort Inn hotel in ____burg (every three miles you hit a new ____burg or ____ville in this part of the state) and as we were unpacking in our room, I glanced at the receipt I'd been given.

I noticed in addition to the Room Charge, State Tax and Town of ____burg Tax, a $2.00 charge for "Safe Fee". I wondered what the hell this meant, until I noticed a small metal cube near the desk, bolted to the floor. It appeared to be some sort of small combination safe. The sticker on it gave instructions for how to set the combination for yourself, along with an admonishment to leave it OPEN when you were finished using it. It was closed and locked, and there were no instructions on how to get it open. I phoned the desk, and asked what the "Safe Fee" was all about.

The snotty clerk informed me that it was "...for use of, like, the amenities. Uh...  and, like, you already signed for it."

 I got the feeling I wasn't the first person to try to discuss this with him.

 "The amenities?" I asked.

"Yes. Like, uh, the things in the room."

"Uh-huh. 'Things'.? Like... doorknobs and pillows and the TV and the air conditioner and the sanitized-for-my-protection paper band on the toilet seat, and so on?"

"Yeah. Right. Amenities."

"But, surely all that comes with the room, yes? See, it says 'SAFE FEE', and doesn't say anything else. I've got a locked safe here that I can't open, don't have the use of, don't really have any use for, and I'm actually being charged *extra* for that?"

"Uh... yeah. Everybody pays it."

"I really don't get it. I mean.... a fee for a safe? That I can't open? That I don't use? There's no instructions on how to get it open if it isn't already open."

"It's an amenity."

"No-- it's actually a useless lump on the floor at this point, and consequently it's pretty much a nuisance fee.  How am I supposed to..."

"Wait a minute."




An annoyed-sounding woman said: "This is Linda. How can I help you?"

"Why, hello there, Linda! Can you possibly explain to me why I'm paying extra for something I can't use?"


"The 'SAFE FEE'-- why am I being charged for use of the safe, please?"

"It's an amenity. Everyone pays for it. So..."

"...an amenity. Right. Like...um.... soap, or the curtains-- except, they work. The curtains do; I can attest to that because I've opened and closed them. I assume the soap does, but I haven't tried it yet. If it does not, in fact, produce abundant lather, then by God, you'll hear from me again. The safe, however-- and this is the reason for my call-- does not work."


"I'm frightfully sorry. Do you have some form of hearing loss? Let me try again. I said: it__ does__ not__ work. As in, it is unusable by me. It is totally devoid of implied function."


"Is there someone else I can speak to, or someone who can open this alleged amenity for me?"

"It's not open?"

"BINGO! Yes! Bravo! Now we're getting somewhere! Yes; assuredly so! It is closed and locked and there are no instructions for opening it, do you see? It is, as a result, quite useless and beyond my ability to employ. "

"It's got instructions right on the..."

"No. Never. Nay, I say!  It has instructions for setting a combination if you want to use it, and it says to leave it open after you have used it. It's closed, locked, and it doesn't open-- and, oh, lordy, I'm afraid to say there are absolutely no instructions for how to overcome this! Now, Miss Linda, I am practically beside myself with grief at this turn of events! I cannot begin to tell you how terribly, terribly disappointing this is. Here I am, with all my precious valuables-- my bearer bonds, priceless family heirlooms, costly lagniappes, expensive cumshaws, and obscenely decadent and ostentatiously overpriced fripperies-- and no safe in which to place them prior to my planned sojourn out into the environs of downtown... um...
Wankerskburg, or wherever it is that we currently are. Why, my good lady wife is simply aghast! Aghast, I tell you! She's already suffering what could well be an advanced case of the vapors! And in her delicate state! However do you intend to remedy this most unfortunate situation, Miss Linda?"

(I found I had gradually slipped into a blustery, oratorical, Southern voice somewhere between Rhett Butler and Foghorn Leghorn as I spoke to her...)

"What ... are you... talking about?"

"Why, I am distressed, of course! I cannot-- I say, I cannot-- use the amenity you fully intend to charge me for, and that offends my sense of propriety, do you see? You make no accommodation for this, and expect that I should graciously assent to this lack of service? Oh, no; this will most assuredly not do, dear lady. Oh, you'd better come right away! Yes; send someone instantly to deal with this unfortunate state of affairs! This is dreadful! Please hurry right along, Miss Linda! That's room 402! Be swift!"

CLICK. I hung up.

Marsha stood there, arms folded, toe tapping briskly on the carpet, and glared at me.

"What good do you think THAT'S going to do?", she asked. "You can't imagine they're going to respond to...  you just like to fuck with people, don't you?"

"Well...uh... yeah. That goes without saying. But I really hate people being snotty and officious, toeing the party line, dismissing me and giving me some bullshit, stiff-armed explanation when I ask what I think is a reasonable question."

We debate the exact degree of my alleged assholism for several minutes, and then...



"Uh.. who is it?"

"Is maintenance?"

"Is maintenance? ( ***blink, blink***)   Is maintenance ... *what*? *What* is maintenance?"

"Is maintenance, sir. I am. Is for your safe."

"Oh. Come in."

I open the door and in comes this short, smiling, dapper-looking little Hispanic man who begins to fumble about with the safe. Nothing he does makes it open. I begin to chuckle, because I'm standing over him and looking at the various other printed things arrayed across the desktop.

"FOR YOUR COMFORT THIS ROOM HAS BEEN DESIGNATED AS NON-SMOKING" says the  little plastic stand-up sign (that now sits atop my computer here at my desk).

"Local TV Lineup", says the little brochure leaning against the base of the lamp.

"100% Satisfaction Guarantee," says the card atop the desk.

"We guarantee total guest satisfaction at Comfort Inn, Comfort Suites, Quality, Sleep Inn, Clarion and MainStay Suites hotels. If you are not satisfied with your accommodations or our service, please advise the front desk of a problem right away and give them an opportunity to correct the situation. If the hotel staff is unable to satisfy you, they may give you up to one night's free stay...."

"AHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA!" goes the evil little voice in my head.

"So, Senor; are you making good progress, there?" I ask the Maintenance fellow, who is diligently fiddling and twiddling and poking and prodding and manipulating the face of the safe, to no avail.

"Ahhhmmm... no; I am not able to opening it" he informs me.

I think he sounds kind of like Manuel, in FAWLTY TOWERS.

"Oh, dear. You'd better send for Miss Linda, straight away, then", I tell him.

He leaves, and returns with Miss Linda, herself. Miss Linda is short, dumpy, but not quite fat. Sort of pear-shaped. She's unremarkable. Rather plain looking-- if a tad sour at the corners of the mouth and eyes-- and she wears glasses that are too large for her face and styles her hair in an unseemly bun. She's maybe in her late 20's, hates me on sight, and probably loathes her job. I arbitrarily and unkindly decide that she has never known real love, lives alone except for a few cats and probably wears underwear with the days of the week sewn on them-- but has on the wrong day. Her arms are folded in front of her, as if she's cold or merely to act as a buffer against me. Her expression is one of petulance, as if annoyed she's been taken away from her Big Book Of Sudoku Puzzles For All Skill Levels, or maybe she's just smelled something nasty out in the hallway.

I pointedly look at my watch, and realize that in the time it took to do so, I've instantly forgotten what she looks like.

I assume the pose of a terribly affronted guest, righteously indignant and not willing to brook any nonsense.

I ask: "What, exactly, do you think can be done to correct this distressing situation, Miss Linda? I mean, it's been a half hour or more, now, since we began to discuss this, and I still can't get into this safe. I'm terrified of leaving the room and exposing my valuables to possible predation. Your very ablest technician, here, Manuel, has been unable to effect entry."

"What?" asks the exceptionally gifted Miss Linda.

"Rolando" says Rolando -- for it is he.

"How do you do? And how, I ask you, can I possibly leave the room, with no method of securing my irreplaceable valuables?" I ask.

"We can give you another room...?" she says.

"But... but I've hung up my shirts. I've plumped my pillow. I've laid out my toothbrush and everything.  And my wife might be expecting twins", I say, apropos of nothing at all.  Marsha has long since refused to make eye contact with me, and pretends interest in the winery guidebook.

"Plus, I've come to like this room. Besides, I can see our car from here. It's... strangely comforting-- especially since my valuables are in such jeopardy", I tell her.

"Oh, no. A change of room just wouldn't do, I'm afraid."

I smile. She would dearly love to kick me right squarely in the valuables.

I make a show of looking closely at the 100% Satisfaction Guarantee notice, as if seeing it for the first time. I act dumbfounded and awestruck.

"Why... oh, my goodness! Why, I do think there's a remedy at hand! Look at this, Miss Linda! I do believe I see a way that we can correct the situation and satisfy me completely-- 100%, to be precise!" I say, handing it to her.

She looks at the notice, and a sickly little grin slowly spreads across her face.

"Um... well, maybe we could comp you the room for the night, and..."

"Great! Just so! You may slide a credit against my VISA card under the door, showing the full amount has been deducted, and we're good to go, then! How very gracious and understanding of you! And thank you ever so much for coming right up!" I say, edging her toward the door.

Moments later, Marsha and I depart for a lovely dinner a couple of notches in tone and price above what we'd otherwise budgeted for the evening. Marsha still disapproves of my behavior, but nonetheless manages to choke down the tender breast of duckling she orders at the very fine restaurant we choose...

Yes, Virginia, there is good wine in those hills-- and lovely people at work producing it and offering it to you in their beautiful tasting rooms. And, no, you really shouldn't fuck with me if you run a hotel and want me to pay full price for half-assed service...

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