The Hess Report


Wednesday, March 31, 2004

The Hess Report has now moved to my own domain name. It can be found at http://hessreport.harkyman.com. So, a couple of things on my list from last month have actually been/are being done! I still have a backlogged Report or two to kick out, but that will happen soon.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

The Price of Luxury

In early January, we made the trip into central Pennsylvania to see the family. As we concluded our stay and began to head home, the weather proceeded to worsen. It was snowing hard, the roads were bad, and we hadn't even reached Cresson Mountain yet, the site of a deadly winter-weather viaduct accident many years ago. We decided to bag on the trip and stay in a hotel for the night. The kids see that kind of thing as big fun adventure anyway, and it made sense safety-wise, too.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Altoona. The room cost around $89 for the night, giving us two queen beds, free wireless Internet access, access to the gym (if we had wanted it), and a full breakfast buffet for ourselves and the little ones the next morning. The room was clean, comfortable and not tacky.

When I went to Cleveland for my grilling by Federal Agents, I stayed at the Ritz-Carlton. Cost to the Bureau, around $90 for the night, though that is a severely discounted rate. The standard rate for the room I stayed in was $259/night. So, was the RC three times better than the Holiday Inn Express? Summary: No. Expanded summary: Hell no. Read on for the details of how badly the Ritz-Carlton “experience” chapped my ass.

Who is the RC really targeting for their clientele? All of their in-house literature constantly brags about their elegance and their commitment to the finest in quality and luxury service. My guess is that if you are significantly wealthy, you're not going to be staying at a hotel whose in-room guide to services is fronted by a picture of a white-gloved hand polishing a brass lion's head fixture. I'm not into pomo crap, but I have to deconstruct that for a moment. To the RC, a symbol of luxury is a picture of a servant's hand polishing the finery. I would think that if you were really luxurious/elegant, you would simply have a polished brass lion's head relief actually attached to the fine parchment. So, they really aren't shooting for elegance, etc. They're shooting for what lower and middle class folks would think was higher class. I found that insulting.

This same attitude pervaded all of their literature, which I unfortunately looked through, as I had kind of dropped into analysis mode. Most of the “guides” they had provided in their room consisted of ads for their other locations, with gratuitous references to their outrageous elegance, exclusivity and prestige. Give me a freak (and that's an f-modified “break” in case you missed it.) If your crap's that good, it will sell itself.

After becoming sick of reading their poop, I headed for the bathroom, where I learned something else: people who stay at this hotel because they aspire to its particular package of elegance, exclusivity and prestige (EEP), apparently do not emit noxious odors when they move their bowels. At least, that must be why there is no fan in the bathroom of a $300 a night hotel. It would seem that farts are something they do not wish to acknowledge. I noticed this as well in our rooms at the Venetian in Vegas several years ago. No fan. Do other guests find the fan noise distasteful, as it gives an indication of what's been going on? Who knows, but let me tell you, I was wishing I had fan. Maybe if you ask the concierge, they send up some undocumented workers with enormous lung capacity to suck up all the stink, who then hold their breaths until they finish their bus ride home, where they kindle the upwardly mobile dreams of their sleeping, illegal young by exhaling the dainty whisps of upper-crust farts into their adorable sun-weathered faces. Like I said, who knows?

Of course, the reason I was bothering to read their braggy tracts was that they were charging for Internet access. It was only $10 a day, but so many places are giving that to you as a basic service these days, that I couldn't spring for it, on principle alone. So all of that sucked, and it was time for the dread sleep of the wannabe wealthy.

But, before I hit the sack for the night, I had to make my own bed. Oh, there were sheets and pillows on the bed. But the comforter was folded on the suitcase stand. So, I guess they were assuming that my manservant would make the bed for me, because if I had enough EEP to stay with them, then I most certainly must have had a manservant. I mean, who doesn't these days? So, I made my own bed, feeling ashamed of my lack of menial helpers. Call me crazy, but I had just become used to staying at hotels where the beds were ready for you to actually sleep in.

I've also become used to the automated wake-up call system at other hotels. I like them. When I'm by myself, I tend to stay up kind of insanely late for my age, and the last thing I want to do at 1:30 in the morning is talk to some chipper jackass at the front desk. You should be able to call the computer, punch in your time, confirm and it's done. But no, I had to talk to someone. And the guy said “Good night, Mr. Hess,” at the end of the call. That's freaking creepy.

The next morning, was there a breakfast, or even a bagel? Not really. You could order two eggs, toast and coffee as room service for something like $38. Wow. Those eggs had better cure spina bifada or something. Fortunately, one of the exits of the hotel lead into a business center/mall that had a Panera, so it was yummy stuff for breakfast and for lunch. And, I discovered that Bonus! and Ha! to the RC: the mall food court had free wireless Internet.

Other things bothered me about the place, too. The labyrinthine layout (was I supposed to be in some extensive, elegant nineteenth century parlor?), the sycophantic staff (every time you made eye contact with someone, you got their instasmile, followed by a “Good day/afternoon/evening Sir.”), the folder marked “Stationary” that contained no stationary whatsoever, but in fact contained another advertisement for RC properties. The whole place just bothered me.

I remember staying in a motel, at least ten years ago. It was probably a Comfort Inn. I was walking through one of the inside/outside corridors, when a hotel worker, clearly older than myself, came into the corridor going the opposite direction. He was carrying a mattress. I wasn't carrying anything. When he saw me, he sat the mattress down, waited until I passed, then picked it up and started carrying it again. There had been plenty of room for both of us, mattress included. And when I walked past him, he said “I'm sorry, sir.”

And something about it instantly bothered me, and has ever since. I didn't know what to say to him. In my head, I'm hearing “Dude, you're the one carrying the mattress, here. Get it where it needs to go, put it down, and go take your smoke break. You don't need to apologize to me.” But he did, and I didn't like it, and it stuck with me.

I wonder what it does to a person when people constantly apologize to them for wrongs that didn't exist; when they are always greeted by a cheery smile no matter what they have just said or done; and when the very lay of the land tells them that, in fact, their shit does not stink? It has just occurred to me that I'd take a money bet that the bathrooms in the Kerry/Heinz mansions contain a total of zero fans or air fresheners.

So, is the extra $200 a night worth having to make your own bed, smell your own farts, obtain your own breakfast, go through extra steps to obtain Internet access, and deal with soul-sucking sycophants? Hmmm. Probably not. But, if you consider the incredible boost you receive in Elegance, Exclusivity and Prestige, than maybe it is. Yummmmmm..... prestiiiiiiiiiigggeeeee......

Saturday, March 20, 2004

It's been almost a month since I've written anything, and that's mostly due to pouring a lot of time into my software project that I mentioned here. It does large scale crowd simulation, designed mostly for hand-to-hand combat. It's coming along really well. In fact, the first half that controls gross actor motion across the field is finished. I've put a GUI on it and "released" it to very good (albeit necessarily limited) response.

If you're really interested, you can follow its progress in this forum thread. Or, you can just watch a sample video (1.1 MB, DivX 5.1). In case you (masochist) do read the thread, I'm "harkyman".

So this crap bores you? You like stories about pooping in the tub instead? Try this:

Since she was tiny, Maddie has had her Lovies. They were originally a satin nightgown that belonged to her grandmother. We let her sleep with it one night. She liked it, so we removed the spaghetti straps (no strangling!), cut it in half and made it hers. We bisected it so that we'd always have a fall back Lovey in case the primary one was lost, destroyed or otherwise defiled in some unrecoverable manner. Wait! Did you just hear that? I think it was an Abrams tank backfiring!

Instead of having one Lovey with a backup, she ended up having two, both of which became required bedtime friends. She's six now, and still loves them. They used to follow her everywhere. Fortunately, they were small enough that she could stuff them in here little coat pockets if she needed to. These days, they're mostly only used at bedtime, or when she's sick. But she still loves them like crazy.

A week and a half ago, they went missing. The first night, she was upset. But she is getting older, and her fears/tears were quickly quelled. We knew they were in the house somewhere, but due their aforementioned compressibility, they could have been anywhere. Stuffed into an old slipper and popped in a closet. Crammed between a mattress and a wall. Zippered into one of the many play purses/backpacks/handbags that litter the place. Who knows? Throughout the last week, she would joke about it:

"I think Lovies are swimming in the ocean!"

"I'll bet they got eaten by a cat!"

To me, it felt like she was trying a little too hard. But the true test of her affection for the little things would be when we found them. Would she simply say "Oh, there they are," and return to doing somersaults? Or would there be a party with full course meal and brass band?

We were cleaning the house this morning, and looking, incidentally, for another missing item so we could play "Robot Grabby Arms". The search was failing, and she was becoming frustrated. Suddenly, she squealed "Lovies!"

She had found them. They were underneath the piano, which is a baby grand, so it's not like they were crammed somewhere nigh-invisible. She had crawled under there to make a secret hideout of some sort and apparently dragged the Lovies and a stuffed animal along with her.

Maddie sat on the ground, clutching her Lovies. I knelt down in front of her and told her how happy I was. And I was very happy. She started to smile, but tears welled in her eyes. Then, she was sobbing into my shoulder. Joy suggested that she might have been crying because she was so happy. But Maddie shook her head.

As I held her, I told her that she had been brave about it all week, and that sometimes when we're brave about things that really scare us, when we don't need to be brave anymore, all of our scared feelings come out at once.

Of course, she's been wreck all day. I think she's cried on average every two hours. But we all have bad days, and I've never been a six year old girl, so I'm not going to even comment.