Four times last week, I returned to my hotel room at night to find that, mysteriously, the clock radio was playing. The first time it happened, I was concerned, as I had no memory of turning it on in the first place or of becoming the sort of person who listens to smooth jazz. Then I realized that I couldn't possibly have turned the clock radio on, because I had no idea how to turn it off. Putting the radio on, it finally dawned on me, was part of the "turn-down" service: It was the latest symptom of Fine Hotel Amenity-Planning Dementia.
I am wary of pressing random buttons on hotel clock radios. You run the risk of activating the wake-up call of the last person to use the thing. I don't know who these people are, but I mistrust them. These are people who will spend 15 minutes figuring out how to set a hotel clock radio alarm, when a wake-up call can be arranged in 4 seconds. And they are always, always getting up at 5 a.m. They may be from other planets.
I called the front desk.
"How may I help the Roach party?" I was a political movement now.
"Someone has turned on my radio, and I don't know how to turn it off." The modern hotel room reduces us to helpless whiners. How do I turn the showerhead on? I can't get my lights to go off! Yesterday in Las Vegas, I called the front desk to find out how to close my drapes. They were dramatic floor to ceiling curtains, with no pull rod or chain along the side. Unsure what else to do, I grabbed fistfuls of fabric and tugged as hard as I dared. They barely moved. It turned out they were operated by a discreet control panel mounted on the wall near the bed. Four buttons: Sheers Open, Sheers Close, Curtain Open, Curtain Close.
Once I mastered the controls, I began to warm to my high-tech draperies. "Ladies and gentleman!" I pressed a button and sang a fanfare. "The view from the 14th floor!!" The curtains parted theatrically. If only Ed were with me. We could take turns standing behind the draperies and doing our own little Vegas acts.
The week before, I was in a hotel with an unfathomable bathtub faucet system. There appeared to be no way to make the water jump from the faucet to the shower head. I tried every knob, lever, and pull within arm's reach, including, as it turned out, an emergency call rope. This meant that when I finally, some five minutes down the road, figured out how to control the shower, the front desk had responded to the summons for help. Over the sound of the water, I could hear shouting at the door. "Mrs. Roach! Are you okay??"
I had no idea what was going on. "I'm in the shower!"
They thought I'd slipped and fallen. "We'll be right in!!"
"I'm in the shower!!"
This went on for some time. Eventually we sorted it out.
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Mary Roach is the author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers and Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. Her writing has appeared in such publications as Salon, GQ, Vogue, and The New York Times Magazine. She lives in Oakland, California.
Books mentioned in this post
Mary Roach is the author of Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex