Notes from Our August Road Trip

This past week we took a road trip to visit our daughter’s family in Virginia. Ordinarily, crossing seven states would call for a plane ride. Given problems with the airlines, increased fares, and dysfunctional airport terminals, however, we decided to drive.

Two-Day Road Trip

road trip, Route 81, Virginia, Pennsylvania, trucks

Route 81 in Virginia

Well, it was a trip in more ways than one.

We declined to do the whole 10–12-hour journey in one fell swoop, choosing instead to break it up halfway. That was the right decision. We’re not in our twenties any more—up for anything and out until all hours.

But it did mean a two-day road trip each way. I noted several things in the process of being on the road and staying in hotels.

One: Service Ain’t What It Used to Be

We stayed locally instead of with the family and bumped up against a surprise—a first for me after years of traveling both for business and pleasure. A small sign behind the registration desk warned customers checking in that they would receive no housekeeping services. None.

No warning about this appeared on the hotel’s website. Instead, they took they negative option approach: if you don’t see housekeeping on a list of hotel features, you don’t get it. Make no assumptions.

We missed the sign at check-in and thus were surprised when we returned to our room in the evening to find the bed unmade and wet towels in the bathroom. That morning, on our way out, we had requested some amenities, like shampoo, and a bath mat. Instead of putting them into the room, the hotel held them at the desk until we returned, then handed them to us.

Welcome to the new world of post-pandemic hospitality.

Under-staffed or Over-booked?

Now, part of me thinks this is the hotel’s fault. Places are claiming that they’re under-staffed and thus can’t take care of their guests. I suspect that in most cases the hotel is over-booked.

Overstaffed-Understaffed, hotel, overbookedIf you only have enough employees to clean and service 50% of your rooms but you take reservations for 75% of the rooms, then you are not under-staffed. Your business has chosen to take the money without providing the service.

One of the places we stayed at on the way home offered a different perspective, however.

To Work or Not to Work

When we registered at one of those ubiquitous interstate hotels, a sign on the desk informed us that “Please be patient as we are short staffed. Appreciate the ones who came to work today!!”

Please be patient, we are short staffedHmmm. Food for thought. And speaking of food, we went next to a local restaurant for dinner. There a sign informed us that the people who had shown up to work were doing the best they could.

Admittedly, a business can’t easily plan ahead when they don’t know how many of their employees will appear. Can you take the right number of reservations if you don’t know how many bellmen, chambermaids, and reservation clerks will come to work?  How many complementary breakfasts can you cook if you can’t be sure the chef will arrive on time? Or at all?

I confess that I’m not familiar with the idea of just not coming to work because—whatever reason. In the past, that means you wouldn’t have that job long. On the other hand, the pandemic has changed a lot of things. Perhaps the hotels and restaurants should be paying their employees more — as, you know, an incentive.

Two: Disposable Dishes

Comfort Inn, complementary breakfast, styrofoam, plastic, eggs coffee, orange juiceMost places still provide those complementary breakfasts and that’s a good thing in my book. The only thing better than a good breakfast is a good free breakfast. But I do quibble with eating off Styrofoam plates with plastic utensils.

I know, I know: never look askance at a free breakfast. It’s not just the unpleasant experience of soft plates and bendable forks, though. I look at the trash and wonder why it’s cheaper to throw away plastic that won’t decompose for thousands of years than it is to run a dishwasher and re-use the place settings.

The answer, of course, is that throwing the trash away is free but running the dishwasher costs money. Until we fix that equation, the trash will keep on flowing

Three: A Politics-Free Zone

Given that we were traveling through a number of red states at a time of political upheaval, I expected to see signs of a political nature. James Carville once famously said that, “Pennsylvania is Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between.”

Driving through the heart of Pennsylvania, I expected to see yard signs and advertising boards promoting red candidates and positions. We saw maybe two. That surprised me.

Four: The Eighties All Over Again

Virtually every lobby, coffee shop, restaurant, or diner we went into was playing rock music from the eighties. Everywhere. In multiple states.

For us, that wasn’t terrible, just odd. Why the eighties? I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

Back to the Friendly Skies

airplane, sunset, air travelI don’t’ plan to ever do this road trip again. We expected the drive to be grueling and it was.

Experts predict that the airlines will get their act together this fall. I sure hope so. I would much rather travel the friendly skies for a few hours, even without a direct connection, than spend two days on the road, playing leapfrog with semi-trailers up and down the hills and dodging bad drivers on I-95 at rush hour.

Just sayin’.