A Curmudgeon Rerun: "Breathtaking Views"
(This column originally ran on 1/20/2020)
As I travel the land bestowing corrections upon the wrongly behaved, I often find myself staying in hotels. I like hotels. Though these boxy oases never quite live up to the fantasy world depicted in their commercials—in which euphoric guests experience an otherworldly sense of enlightenment, inner peace, opulent comfort, and clear-headed efficiency while luxuriating in relaxing swims and sumptuous meals that always involve some sort of flame—even still, I must say, I tend to enjoy the experience.
There are, however, two significantly unpleasant features of today’s hotel rooms that really raise the Curmudgeon’s ire and ruin my otherwise lovely visits. The first (as regular readers of The Weekly Curmudgeon may recall) is the relatively recent shift to those awful, evil fluorescent lightbulbs everyone is using nowadays, bulbs which emit the very least relaxing lighting imaginable (see “Light Torture,” July 9, 2018). The second—equally unpleasant and just as ubiquitous even in the most luxurious of hotels—provides the topic for this week’s justified diatribe: windows that are welded shut.
I don’t know when it started. It seems to me I remember a time when hotels didn’t seal you up like a fish in an aquarium. But these days, permanently sealed windows are the norm.
Now, friends, the Curmudgeon doesn’t ask for much (beyond logic, common sense, common decency, a respect for language, and to be left alone). But air . . . well it seems I must now add that to the list. And when I assert that I require air, I don’t mean the canned, recycled, never-the-proper-temperature kind provided by the hotels. I don’t mean the kind of air controlled by complex systems that cannot be mastered without rigorous study. I mean that I want to at least have the option of opening a blasted window and allowing in the freshly polluted city air I know and love. That’s what my lungs yearn for, and after all, isn’t it my right as an American to decide what to breathe?
It seems to me that suffocating guests doesn’t quite line up with the advertising one sees for these alleged meccas. Courtyard boasts, “Our thoughtfully designed guestrooms give you the space and comfort you need.” Well, I need the comfort of oxygen, so perhaps a bit more thought is needed. A commercial for Hilton hotels claims that at a Hilton, “you can open your mind and fill your soul.” Unfortunately, what you can’t do is open a window and fill your lungs. Marriott invites you to “unlock extraordinary experiences.” Honestly, I’d rather unlock the blasted windows. Most ironically, The Garden Inn advertises what they call their “Breathe Easy Weekend.” I ask you, how can I breathe easy if I can’t breathe? (And incidentally, the phrase should be “breathe easily.” But as usual, I wasn't consulted.)
As is so often the case, my topic this week has led me to strange and specific research. Namely, I wanted to understand what could have possibly instigated this no-air-for-guests policy. Why did hotels—which regularly offer such comforts as room service, dry cleaning, wireless internet, business services, and sometimes even a warm cookie at check-in—opt for housing visitors in airless, tomblike enclosures for the length of their stays?
As far as I can deduce, there are two explanations for the suffocation treatment; neither is pleasant to learn about. First, it seems that hotel rooms have been popular destinations for those wishing to leap to their deaths. It’s believed that sealing the windows may keep them alive. I'm not convinced of that, but that's the theory. Secondly, open windows run up the hotel’s heating and cooling bills. Both of these rationales are completely discredited when one considers that some hotel rooms have balconies, which facilitate both of these undesirable consequences. Not to be grim, but someone that determined to end it all would surely think to book a room with a balcony. And as for the heating and cooling bills, if I’m paying hundreds of dollars for someplace to sleep where a sandwich costs sixteen dollars and a pot of coffee costs eight, I feel I’m doing more than my share to offset utility costs.
Mind you, I’m not demanding great big gulps of outside air. But surely these big fat hotel chains can spare three or four inches of open window—enough for breathing but not enough to climb through—especially when they’re throwing around lofty language like this: “Marriott Hotels tucks inspiration around every corner. We relieve stressors and anticipate every need of our guests to stimulate new ideas. Because when our minds can travel, inspiration follows.” That’s a lot of fancy talk, but it so happens that the word “inspire” comes from the Latin word spirare, meaning “to breathe.” So I believe we can call that false advertising.
Honestly. It’s enough to make you want to jump out a widow. [Apologies to my editor for that one.]