Half a century of life must be celebrated big. So, reaching this ancient of days, I cautioned my husband: No Party. Selfishly, I wanted all Joe's money and time spent on me, even refusing to travel; that would take his time and resources from this birthday girl too. So we drove over the Betsy Ross Bridge and twenty minutes to a swanky hotel in Center City Philadelphia.
“Is this your first time in Philadelphia?” the woman at the check-in desk inquired.
“We were born and raised here. This is our first time in a five star hotel,” I aswered. She smiled and gave us the lowdown about a breakfast package that included wifi accessability. Turns out, breakfast was the most enjoyable and impressive part of the hotel.
Disappointment set in when I saw how compact our room was, with no double shower or heart-shaped bathtub like in the motels and travel lodges I was used to. Peering back at New Jersey from our panoramic 20th floor window, I wished we had booked over there at the Inn of the Dove.
The portable closet with a safe, full-sized iron and ironing board, wooden coat hangers and dry cleaning bags made it clear the room was for a high-end business person who traveled. I'm still curious why the monstrous closet smelled like cherry candy. A draft bolster hung from one of the coat hangers. With our room so high in the building, this didn't make sense. Until we found in the desk, ear plugs and instructions for light sleepers on how to block out the light under the door and sound.
With all the accommodations for a peaceful night's sleep, I wondered what was in the closet or drawer to help when our headboard began bumping from the other side. This transported me back to when we lived in a thin-walled rowhouse. I didn't mind the disturbance so much after dinner the night before, but at 3:20am I just had to ride it out, remembering it wouldn't continue for long before the shower on the opposite side of ours started running.
On my first trip to our bathroom, I had found banding around the bathroom mat hanging off and the rubber underneath it with chunks missing. Nit-picking began: a hand towel sported a wear spot; the refrigerator couldn't have been smaller; I doubted the bed we slept in was king-sized. We were used to a full-size, but enjoyed king-size when away from home. I asked the friendly housekeeper about the bed but she didn't know for sure since they used only flat sheets to make the beds. A tag on the mattress said it was manufactured on April 10, 2006.
Big city parking naturally has challenges. One upside of staying at a luxury hotel is its parking garage. We paid $30.00 a day to self-park because no one drives my husband's truck. He made the parking attendant promise that we could come and go throughout our stay. Of course. That's how it works for guests like us, business guests, the two brides we saw posing for photos that weekend, and their individual guests.
After a tour of the city's awesome outside murals, a visit to the Rosenbach Museum, and a stroll on the famous South Street, we wandered the cozy side streets and wondered at the imposing two and three-story row houses.
Ready to rest, we pulled up to the hotel's garage. A standing board obstructed the entrance. It said: “Valet Parking Only.” This was the only entrance to the garage. A museum parking lot across from the hotel's was barred with a notice saying it was full.
We enquired about this to the valet director in tails, a flat hat and a whistle, standing at the entrance to the hotel. He apologized and told us to drive back around to the garage, and that he'd radio for the attendant to allow us in. So we did, but found a different board that said: “Parking Lot Full.” The attendant there said, “The only thing I can tell you is to have them valet park your truck. You'll need a large space for it.”
“But we already paid to self-park. We're guests at the hotel.” I waved the ticket Joe paid $60.00 for to park in the garage for the weekend.
The attendant said, “Have them valet park your vehicle. Sorry, that's all I can tell you.”
Once again, we drove to the entrance of the hotel and explained to the whistle and tails guy. He said, “Park in the museum lot.”
“It's full,” my husband and I said in unison.
I added, “We're guests here and have been out all day. I just want to get back to our room. The attendant at the garage suggested we valet park our truck, but I don't want to pay the extra $10.00 since we already paid to self-park.”
The valet couldn't promise we'd be spared the extra expense. He told us to pull up and leave the key in the truck. Joe grumbled, pulling off his truck key from among the rest on his ring. “They better know how to drive this truck.” I think he expected the hotel to contact us and say something happened while parking his vehicle. After a brisk night walk, he calmed down. Until we checked out.
“Hi. We're checking out, but had to have our truck valet parked because there wasn't room in the garage. I don't want to pay the extra fee.” I spoke pleasantly with a tinge of no-nonsense.
It was a different woman at check-out than from check-in. “We're aware of the problem. Please give me your ticket and I'll have them pull your car around.”
Lugging luggage, we waited outside for our truck to drive around the circular driveway in which only two vehicles could pass abreast. One of the brides, now in white ballet shoes and jeans, leaned on a baggage cart draped with a wedding gown and stacked with gifts. Other exiting guests joined us as car after cab circled the drive slowly in single file around two cars and the hotel bus partially blocking one lane.
Then came the longest limousine that Joe, who works in the fair city, and I had ever seen. Our crowd on the sidewalk outside the hotel gasped as the thing's turn signal blinked and its nose began turning into the crowded circle. It braked and the signal stopped flicking, but the guy in tails stopped the limo from leaving.
“Come on, come on, bring it in.” He whistled and waved. Tension built as the long, white monster car backed up, turned, pulled forward, backed up, pulled forward, following the whistler's instructions around the parked cars and curb of the circle. Everyone sighed with relief as it made the turn unscratched.
Joe spied his truck and fidgeted faster than the previous forty minutes. The circling vehicles sludged along. A red car blocked one exit lane now. The hat and whistle guy said he didn't have the key to it in response to a valet driver running back and forth from the hotel garage.
A young attendant yelled instructions from Joe's truck window to the hotel bus driver to move the bus forward. He signaled other valets, attempting to get thing moving. My husband grabbed our laundry bag from me and stepped towards his stuck truck. I refused to go, worried that his impatience in that line of cars would cause damage. He stopped and growled.
Then the lily white limo parked next to the red car, totally cutting off exiting vehicles. Our crowd on the sidewalk gasped again, wondering how our vehicles were going to reach us.
The young attendant finally got out of the truck and held up the keys. I hailed him and Joe took the laundry and his key. Then the circle cleared, starting with the red car. I think my husband was so glad to get his truck back, that he passed the smaller vehicles and great white limo without incident.
“Do you want to go to the shore?” he asked.
I didn't. “Sure.”