Monday, November 9, 2009

A Hotel Run by Children

My mother lives near the Santa Anita Race Track. Thanks to the Breeder's Cup race, all the regular hotels were booked months in advance. We didn't start looking for a November reservation until September. We finally found a bed in a 1920's art-deco building that was listed in the historic registry.

When we arrived, we parked our rent-a-car on the street. A 10-year-old girl was sitting behind the reservation counter, eating an egg-salad and reading a fat worn-looking school book. She looked capable, and I remember being 10. I could have used a cash register, looked up reservations, and handed out keys. She was sitting at the desk, alone. I figured her parents trusted her to run the hotel.

A large sign in the lobby read, "No bandannas or other gang insignia allowed. Be polite at all times. No foul language."

"Hi! I have a reservation. My name is..."

She replied, "Would you like a grown-up?"

Okay, she doesn't run the hotel.

"Yes, please."

She left and returned a few minutes later with a teenaged boy.

When I was 10, I didn't regard teenagers as adults.

He asked her, "Has your mom had the charge card machine fixed, yet?"

The girl shook her head.

The boy looked in all the cubbies where keys were kept, read all the notes, and put them back. He went into another room and came back with a 3-ring notebook. He clearly could not find our reservation. He asked when we had made the reservation. Did we know the rates?

Finally, the teenager gave us a room key. Then he led us to the bar, where we paid for the rooms. After we'd signed the paperwork, he offered to get us a key. My husband showed him the key already in his hand.

The boy led us to a secret doorway than opened on a dimly lit stairwell, freshly painted with Aztec designs, but the carpet was stained and old. "Go up, turn left, turn left again. You'll find it."

"Does the hotel have a place to park our car?"

"It's behind the hotel, but it's full now. We're having a funeral."

I thought or hoped that the funeral was what was occupying the adults.

The room was adequate. The mattress was too soft and saggy. The sheets were clean, but had tears, and the top sheet had a different pattern and color scheme from the bottom sheet. This is okay in my house, but odd to find in a hotel. The bathroom roll of toilet paper was nearly gone and there were no spares anywhere. 4 mini-soaps were stacked up on the sink. There was no shampoo or hand lotion (good thing I pack these things when I travel.) One of the light bulbs was missing. The tub didn't drain. The shower head needed a new gasket. This is the kind of maintenance children aren't tall enough to do.

When we stopped at the desk to request the toilet paper and a plunger to drain the tub, a grownup took our written list.

And while we were gone, somebody did bring a new roll of toilet paper, and somebody made the tub drain. Nobody made our bed. It's like that at home, too.

The hotel had loud parties at night. The guests did not wear bandannas. I don't think I'd recognize other gang insignia. But if a 10-year-old and a teenager can run a hotel, the gangs don't seem to be a serious threat. Both the children used polite language at all times.

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