Over the 4th of July weekend, my family and I jaunted up to Philadelphia to see my nephew race in the “Independence Day Regatta” on the Schuykill River. My dad was there too, it was a family thing, reminding me of my many weekends spent at boathouses as a child watching the rowers glide by.
We left home around 5:45 and, got to the river around 8:30am to watch his qualifying heats, then we all went to the Ritz-Carlton to check in.
Before you start thinking I’m dripping with cash, let me edify you: we are not. We aren’t doing much traveling this summer and decided to splurge on ourselves for a weekend.
It was a splurge. Trust me.
What happened to me, however, was so “Mom’s holiday from home” -esque (read: no such thing as a mother’s holiday from home, even at the Ritz).
After we pulled up to the valet parking (in our 11-year-old super trusty MomCar / SUV) we started to unload our hansom. My kids are not seasoned travelers. For our 2.5 hour jaunt up to Philly, they packed as though we were planning to leave Earth and never return. Pop-tarts, blankets, pillows, water, extra things…
It was just 180 minutes in the car.
Along an interstate highway.
Traveling between three major metropolitan areas.
Because my children learned all their best practices from me, I have my shit to get out of the car: my drinking vessels, my Kindle, my car / lap pillow upon which my hands rest whilst I read my Kindle, my reading glasses, my new prescription sunglasses, my new prescription seeing glasses, my mini-fridge, and my apocalypse gear.
Just for an overnight, mind you.
It reminded me of the countless times my family and I would cross the border into Canada as a child, listening to the questions from the Canadian Customs officer, among them, “and how long will you be staying in Fort Erie?”
“Just an overnight…” and the officer would surveil through the glass windows of our loaded Volvo wagon, rest back on his heels, take in a breath and say, “Ok…” and wave us through.
As I was putting my rations in a duck cloth bag, my catastrophe-grade travel coffee mug (which my beloved gave me last Christmas) managed to leak the recently begotten mocha latte I bought from an amped-up sales dude at the Peet’s Coffee nestled inside the Maryland House rest stop. Unbeknownst to me, mocha latte was forming burnt-sienna coronas all over the Ritz’s marble floor as well. I was a 21st Century Gretel, instead of breadcrumbs, it’s a latte. I’m a little ashamed… my decanter has been a super reliable device. So I blame the Ritz. All that pressure to be poised. Anyone would leak.
However, it wasn’t until we had walked in through the breathtaking three-story, marble lobby with its dozen or so 30-feet, 4′ columns and gleaming crystal chandeliers that I managed to smell the experience before seeing it. “Mocha?” my nose said… I looked down and witnessed the dark chocolate watery fluid flow through the seams in the bag… A further glance down revealed it had dotted my son’s seersucker pillowcase.
“MOM!” He sort of hissed at me, with as much class as possible, in the lobby. “My pilllllllowwwwwwww….” The bellman noticed what was going on and I asked him where the nearest restroom was. He directed me. I unhooked the soppy bag from the luggage trolley weighed down with our steam trunks and rucksacks, and I was gone.
A trail of mocha latte giving me away.
My husband, who was smiling and nodding, dealing with the front desk and being handed his flute of complimentary champagne upon check-in, was oblivious to my “situation.” My other children were getting their bottled water and chocolates from a statuesque hand servant bearing a tray with all manner of vittles for the travel weary 1%.
Like scullery maid, I got nothing.
To the left, down the hall on the left… restroom.
It was not a room of rest.
Not for me.
Oh, it was glorious: byzantine marble everywhere, byzantine byzantine everywhere. Gold handles, paper hand towels so thick you’d think they were deerskin. My destination was a bank of sinks. Two to be exact, the farthest from the doorway possible.
With a murky mocha trail behind me, I dropped my leaky bag into the sink basin, and exhaled.
Out came all my items. First, the travel mug, that little shit. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know HOW it happened, but my mug betrayed me.
Then the eyeglass cases, all three of them. Two are hard and one is soft. The soft one looked like a biscotti, dipped in the mocha. Then the Kindle, its polka-dotted case besmirched by Peet’s coffee. Then the pillow and my headphones (forgot about those), and then my water bottle: containing Tazo passion tea and a now-clump of chia seeds.
I have my wits about me: I know this is not a real issue, a true tragedy. I know it’s not bankruptcy or cancer. I get it: I was in the bathroom of a Ritz-Carlton. But just… it sucked. I didn’t know about the free champagne until my kids asked me later, “Mom! Did you get your champagne? They were giving it away to adults in the lobby when they checked in …”
So I started to stake my turf in the bathroom. I turned with my back to the corner, eyeing all I could claim, reasonably, as I imagined a meth addict would as she scoped out where would be the best place to … do whatever it is meth addicts do in public restrooms.
In the sink on the left went all the most inoffensive things that were covered in sticky, opaque, and overpriced coffee.
In the sink on the right went the bag.
To the left of the left sink was the stacked chamois-like disposable hand towels.
I took two.
Recalling crisis data from my early motherhood days, I determined to go after the biggest, the source spill first. Dabbing furiously at the interior of my duck cloth bag, I realized my endeavor was feckless. The bag had a liner, which was all cotton, but which was also coated in sizing which makes it semi-impervious, causing the mocha to bead and collect, like quicksilver.
I had to turn the bag inside out. I was wearing white. I started out wearing white. I felt like Peter Graves in a 1960s Mission Impossible episode trying to defuse a bomb. Carefully turning the bag inside out and daring to not to let the now almost-funky smelling mocha spray all over my white shorts and dress shirt, I held it like dirty diaper dusted with uranium.
Get more napkins.
Dab dab dab…
Now, we can begin to rinse.
The faucet. Not the right kind of faucet. It was an infrared faucet. I had to get my hands directly beneath the faucet, just so, and hold them there in order to manifest a flow of water.
I was begging the water to flow.
But I had to turn the bag to get the other areas cleaned too.
But the faucet would turn off.
And then on.
And then off.
And then not back on.
And then stay on.
But I needed it off. I wasn’t positioned correctly.
It would turn on when I didn’t need it to and turn off when I needed it on.
And then off.
And then on.
And still off.
Off some more.
Was I a meth addict?
Same with the soap dispenser. It was automatic.
“Fuck it.” I said to myself.
Harkening back, for some really strange reason, I heard the last few lines of the Serenity Prayer’s “… and the wisdom to know the difference…”
I decided to work on the things I could.
More paper towels… and I started to clean off the eyeglass cases and the Kindle and the pillow.
I’m full on now… GSD: getting shit done. In the zone.
Never mind I’m a mom in the bathroom of a 5-star luxury hotel… cleaning out my travel bag in the marble sinks … constantly checking my clothes to make sure they’re not getting filthy, cleaning the cabinets beneath the sinks and wiping down the counter… suffering under the whims of the infrared faucets and LiquiSoap dispensers… there are no holidays for mothers…
Scrub a dub, making progress … In walks four of the most beautiful women, all related, I’ve ever seen in one place.
My hair… it’s in a “bun” but Medusa style; my arms are covered in soap and my gear is taking up one sink while my canvas bag is inside out, dripping brown goo into the sink to my right. I swear I look like a meth addict. A new one. One who’s not totally savvy to carrying shit around in canvas bags.
Two empty sinks and my vast unease separate me from the other women.
“Mmmm… it smells good in here. Like a Starbucks…” says one of the younger girls.
“Peet’s. From Maryland House.” I say. With no irony whatsoever.
The mother of the group, she turns and smiles.
“Peet’s coffee. It’s a mocha latte. I got it in Maryland. It’s all over my bag here. I’m cleaning myself up. I’ve been here for about 10 or 15 minutes…. Feels like an hour. It’s hard. These faucets… they don’t stay on…”
“Oh, yeah. They’re the infrared ones…” said one of the daughters.
“Yes. They are. They’re moody little minxes too…” I said. Trying to laugh. Trying not to cry. “My family is upstairs in our rooms. We just got here. My mocha leaked all over the lobby and I had to come in here to clean up…All over my son’s pillow case too, here.” I hold it up to show it to them. (WONDERING: WHY DID I DO THAT?) Watery mocha drips onto the floor again. I grab another towel and wipe down the floor again. “I think I got it all…”
“This is one of the times I’m really wishing I had a daughter right now, because she could’ve come in here with me and likely one of us would’ve gotten someone to help us…”
The mother squats down with me, looks at me and says, “How can I help you? I know you don’t know us, but we could stay here with your things while you get assistance… This is no way to start a holiday weekend…”
I wanted to cry. She saw that. She was about my age, maybe a little older. Her daughters were about 19, 20. Her sister was there too.
“No. I’ll stay. Thanks. Could you ask someone from Housekeeping to bring a plastic laundry bag to me? So I can clean this up in the privacy of my suite? So I can work with a faucet that stays on and soap that doesn’t stop flowing?” I asked, relieved that someone saw me and heard me. Feeling like a human again. I figured a plastic laundry bag in the Ritz isn’t such an insane concept.
She knew what I was talking about. “I’ll do just that. A plastic laundry bag… I’m on my way…” And she did. Her daughters smiled at me, wisely kept their distance. Who knows what else could manage to spill from my bag… and they all left the room.
I felt as if I sent up a flare. RESCUERS!
Two minutes later, which seemed like an eternity, a tiny 30-ish year-old woman from Housekeeping came in, empty handed (AGGGHGH! ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!) and with a face full of confusion and … contempt? Did I recognize contempt in her squinted eyes, sneer and open mouth? As though I was interrupting her from something super NOT housekeeping-y? Did I look that bad?!
“What is it that you need? I didn’t understand. A plastic bag?” She asked.
“Yes. As you can see here, I’m a little compromised. I need a bag. A plastic laundry bag? Like the kind people use after they swim? Or even a garbage bag. Like that one beside you. I don’t care. Something to put all this in so it doesn’t drip …” Now I was looking at her with contempt: YOU STUPID LITTLE GIRL.
My inner Walter Mitty wanted to add “…Or I could just let it drip all over your lobby and elevator and hallways.”
Just then, my husband texted me. “Where are you?”
“Are you OK?”
“I need a plastic bag. It’s a mess.”
“Housekeeping is getting one. What’s our room number?”
“We are in 802 and 803.”
Who knows what he thought was going on… He later told me he feared I’d soiled my armor. I had to laugh.
In less than a minute, she returned. With the bag. And she watched me pack up my mocha shit and then walked away. Leaving me in the restroom to wipe down her counter.
I needed champagne. I wasn’t about to ask for it, because I didn’t know they were giving it away in the first place.
I ascended to 803. It was a lovely room. With a huge bathroom with a bar of soap and a tub. The water stayed on when you turned it on. I went to work. Again.
“Mom? Did you get your champagne?” Thing 2, who is now 14 and two inches taller than I am, asked enthusiastically. “They were giving it away in the lobby…”
I sighed. Looking up from the tub, I turned to him and said, “No. I’ve been in the bathroom… it’s a long story.”
“Here?” He asked, incredulously.
“Ha. No. In the lobby… ”
“All this time? With the coffee? Alone?”
“Yes. Alone. Until a lovely mother with sympathetic eyes came to my rescue and did me a favor.”
I didn’t want to talk about it anymore. I just wanted to clean up and get out. It was only noon. We had a nice weekend in front of us.
The bed was lovely and the room was noisy. The windows aren’t insulated against the sound of traffic in a city as large and as active as Philadelphia. The chocolate on the pillows was tasty. When we left, on the Fourth, the door staff couldn’t tell us how to get out of town (because the roads were all closed off due to Independence Day parades). That was a little surprising. Two people had to tell us how to get out of town and they sort of couldn’t agree. Other door staff were practically high-fiving each other over photos on their smart phones. And thinking back, the bellman who first noticed the mocha spill should’ve taken care of the whole thing right there. I would’ve GLADLY paid $50 in cleaning fees to avoid the feckless attempts in the lobby bathroom.
There were a few more lapses in professionalism and hospitality that I couldn’t really believe I was witnessing in an operation as lauded and as supposedly fine-tuned as the Ritz-Carlton. For instance, when we sat in the lobby after tooling around the city and visiting Reading Terminal Market, one of the staffers placed a menu on the table we were seated around and said nothing. Ever. We all looked at each other and blew him off. We were already guests in the hotel. So if you’re going to propose an item on the menu, invite us to enjoy our stay and let you know if we’d like to order something… It all felt very entitled: as though WE were imposing.
On the way home from the weekend, my husband and I decided to call the local property leadership to discuss it with management. If I were in that business, I’d want to know.
I’d need to know.
I called, and the woman who answered the phone ran through her courteous opening script and then I said, “Yes, I’d like to speak with a manager please.”
She flatly asked. “Which one?”
Suddenly I thought I was dealing with the housekeeping woman. Her crisp on the phone right there was enough to push me into third gear.
“I suppose the general manager, thanks.”
Her response, “Mmmm, oh-kaaaay….”
My jaw hit the floor.
So I left the general manager a message. But later, I thought, “What if this attitude is endemic at this location? What if the manager is part of the problem?” I really hated the way the receptionist treated me.
I went up a notch. To corporate. Y’see, the thing is: when you make a reservation through the toll-free number for staying at ANY Ritz-Carlton, you will deal with calm, modulated, highly polished and exquisite hospitality engineers. “My pleasure,” and “Of course Mrs. Field,” and “Absolutely, not a problem,” and “Please hold for a moment while I connect your call” and “Is there anything else I can do for you?” and “We look forward to seeing you on July 3 ….” are all part of the code and the culture one would EXPECT from a R-C experience.
Not here. Not Philadelphia. Things got downgraded to a Best Western, or worse, Red Roof Inn attitude.
It really was surprising. At first, I thought, “Oh… we all make mistakes…” and then I started to remember how demoralized I felt in that restroom waging war against those faucets and then the attitude on that housekeeper. Then I began to think about our hotel bill, and how much we were looking forward to our stay and how exciting it would be for my kids 11, 14, and 17 to stay in a Ritz-Carlton (my first time was last week!)! And that I wanted to try a robe… maybe buy one…
There is a romance behind that brand. A promise and an expectation that you will be treated with care and pampered. None of that happened.
When I called corporate I did get the kid-glove treatment. The manager on the phone was perfection. He never interrupted me, he waited for me to pause and then asked me if I had anything else to add, and he couldn’t apologize enough. I told him we didn’t get to wear a bathrobe, that there weren’t any in our room, our our kids’ room, and I could hear him gasp. Then I told him about the lobby experience with the silent waiter. Then I hit him with a right hook: “I didn’t get any complimentary champagne. Ever.” And it was as though he were strangling a teddy bear on the other end of the line.
The next day, the executive assistant of the Philadelphia general manager called on his behalf. I suspect she also heard from the manager at corporate and did a little background investigation on her own. We had a wonderful conversation. I had just come back from a glorious row on the Occoquan and the weather was perfection.
In retrospect I feel like I did the right thing. We need to stand up for ourselves. We easily dropped a grand that weekend.
Two days later, my husband received a note from the EA, she wrote of her conversation with me, calling me “quite lovely” (gushing) and thanked us for our valuable feedback. She also added 50,000 points to our Marriott Rewards account, which is effectively a total reimbursement for the rooms we stayed in at the Philadelphia location. So good on them.
I’d like to go back. I’ve had tea and brunch at a few of the Ritz-Carltons here. They’ve all been really lovely experiences. I want to say that this one was the exception to the rule.
The next day, Thing 2 and I decided to grab a milkshake from the McDonald’s drive-thru after running a litany of errands. The young man on the other end of the order intercom was STELLAR. He said, “My pleasure” after every opportunity and then, “Your total is 50,000 Marriott points…” [just kidding.] Please drive forward.” When we got to him, he was super professional, sincere and grateful for the work. My son noted, “He has better manners than those dudes at the Ritz….”
So let this be a reminder: 1) there is no such thing as a holiday for mothers and 2) tell people what’s on your mind.