Sunday, January 24, 2010

Inns and Inns

It had been a long day on the road: twelve hours and still going even after the sun faded in the west.  I checked the Accomodations list on my dashboard GPS and saw that there was a Hampton Inn up ahead at the next exit.  I had never stayed there but I liked most of the dozens of others in that chain of hotels where I had stayed on previous trips.  I drove up under the well-lit portico and leveraged myself out of the driver's seat. It was getting harder and harder to drive this far.  I might need to rethink these Power Drives.

The automatic double-doors opened reluctantly and I went into the lobby and scanned for the desk - on the left this time.  There was one lone clerk standing behind the counter.  College student, most likely, on the the night shift.  I asked about a room with a queen-sized bed.  The clerk typed something and said they had several (smoking or non-smoking?).  The rate was $109.  I asked if they had an AAA rate?  More typing (you would think she would know by now).  In fact, the AAA rate was $98.  There was also an AARP rate, a veteran's rate, and five other rates if you knew the Magic Words.  I took the encoded room key and went up to my room.  Same layout as a thousand other rooms.  But at least I could go to bed and drift off to sleep...

[Enter right: stage fog blowing across black space]

In my dream, I was bouncing...hard.  The stagecoach I was riding in had no springs.  Coach springs hadn't been invented yet?  There was barely even a road.  Just some little saplings that had been cut down and laid crosswise across the muck to keep the wooden wheels from sinking even further than they already were.  Dimly, I remembered (through the fog of my dream) that these were called corduroy roads.  I was crammed in the tiny box with twelve other passengers.  We all smelled of three days of body odor, and small talk had long since vanished.  It was pitch black, not even a moon.  I was glad that the driver upon the box seat had been over these roads dozens of times before.

We had set out from New York City for Boston three days ago and we were almost half-way there.  This bone-rattling so-called road we were on at the moment was, however, better than the swamps we had driven through for most of the journey.  We even had to get out and push the coach several times to free it from the muck.

Finally, at eleven, we stopped in front of the Sign of the Cock Inn.  It was a two-storied hovel with a shed out back but at least it was warm and dry inside and the night was getting cold.  We all peeled ourselves out of the coach and headed inside to make arrangements with the innkeeper for the night's lodgings.  I was lucky enough to be first to the bar where he was serving hard ale to a local.

I asked if he had a bed for the night?  Yes, he had one spot left in a four-man bed upstairs.  That meant I had to sleep with three strangers with the bed bugs and their snoring and probably lice.  I asked if he had anything else?  He told me I was welcome to roll my blanket out in front of the fireplace on the barroom floor.  I could see in the dim firelight that there were already a dozen lumps laying on the hard boards in front of the fire.  I told him I would take the spot in the bed.  At least it was soft.

I didn't even ask him what the rate was.  I already knew.  It was set by the colony's legislature.  So was the price of all the drinks, as were the prices for stabling the horses.  Everyone thought this was a good thing.  No gouging tired travelers who had been on the road all day.  No preferential rates for the gentry rather than the common, honest man.  This was what a colonial government should be doing.  It was only fair.  There had been an innkeeper recently that had demanded more than the legal rate and he was arrested and fined.

I dragged myself up to the little room upstairs to crawl into the straw-mattressed bed.  I had to wake the other three sleepers to get them to move over enough to allow me a space.  I laid down, fully-clothed, and tried to ignore the concert from my snoring bedmates to get some sleep.

In fact, my little dream was more-or-less the reality of travel in 1760.  It took five or six days to get from New York City to Boston.  The roads were poor to non-existent (imagine the lesser roads). The governments did, indeed, regulate the room rates.  People often shared the same bed or slept on the floor.  No two inns were the same, as they were all family-owned and operated businesses.  Sometimes the inns might be better, sometimes worse but all had to take in travelers and provide a place for them to sleep indoors if they could pay for the "privilege". I think of all this when I see the Inn part of the logo in the Hampton Inn or Holiday Inn.  Inns?  I don't think so.  More like palaces by colonial standards. The technology of travel by road and putting people up for the night has come a very long way.  Personally, I prefer an air-conditioned, private room (non-smoking and away from the ice machine, if you don't mind).

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