17 April 2014

Puttin' on the Ritz

It isn't often that someone offers you a free trip somewhere, much less housing at arguably the swankiest hotel in Philadelphia.  When Drexel called to invite the Spousal Unit for a campus visit, we expected that they would cover his travel.  What we did not expect was that they would also be covering my travel, or that they would be putting us up in the Ritz-Carlton of all places.  Helloooooo, decadence!  It's hard to believe that yesterday morning I was scrubbing my own toilets and yesterday afternoon I was answering emails from the Ritz about how they could "better personalize your service" and, oh, "what would you like in your honor bar?"  Because those two things go together.  But if Drexel wants to schmooze me too, who am I to argue?

Mario the Magnificent, Dragon Extraordinaire.

Our trip this morning started off with a bang--literally.  On the way to the airport, the Spousal Unit and I had to leave early so we could drop the Resident Diva Dog off at the kennel.  As soon as we got there, I opened the door and turned to grab the dog's leash before she could bolt out the door over me in her excitement to examine the calling cards of the innumerable pets who'd been to the parking lot before her.  As I turned to climb out of the car, I promptly slammed my head into the top of the door frame because I possess all the grace of a drunken rhinoceros (think hippos in tutus à la Fantasia).  Still, I figured if I was going to be a head-banger, then I might as well distract myself from the throbbing dent over my ear by composing a little ditty to the tune of I've Been Working On The Railroad:

Mary smacked the car door this morning,
Then Mary muttered loudly, "Ow, ow, ow, ow."

[And by "ow," I mean "string of enthusiastic swearing."]
Mary smacked the car door this morning...
And rung her personal Liberty Bell.

Mary whacked her head,

Mary whacked her head,
Mary whacked her head and swo-o-ore.
Mary whacked her head, 
Mary whacked her head,
And now her scrambled brains are sore.

Ginger Whack-a-Mole

And because I didn't want to forget these things so I could blog about them later (since that's what I frequently do and why I've been so bad about writing lately), I started dictating them into the notes app on my phone, which resulted in the Spousal Unit looking at me like I had perhaps done more damage to my head than he first thought.  On the one hand, he should be used to such things by now.  On the other hand, it's payback for forgettingto bring his CPAP machine, which basically means that now I'm going to be spending two sleepless nights in a swish Philadelphia hotel while he makes objectionable noises that I can only equate to the sounds a velociraptor might make if it were attempting to mate with a cement mixer filled with hardened chunks of concrete and a pre-oiled Tin Man.

On the plus side, because we had to get the dog to the kennel when we did, we arrived at the airport much earlier than usual, allowing plenty of time to cruise through the interminable security lines and checkpoints.  As usual, the Spousal Unit escaped the TSA Glove of Love, while I was given the Traditional Pat-Down of Unmitigated Smartasses®.  At least the grope du jour was efficient and unenthusiastic this particular time.  I've got to give the Atlanta airport props; considering how many people go through there (94 million a year, according to our pilot), they're surprisingly good at not letting invasive security procedures get out of hand.

Apple's latest governmental contract:  iPat.

Security: Not just for lonely adults anymore.

Once through security we still had ample time to grab a bite of something to eat other than a reconstituted potholder burger and soggy fries.  After hoofing it down a different concourse, we finally settled for Longhorn Steakhouse.  Generally speaking the food was tasty enough, though my salad was swimming in vinaigrette in spite of my asking for it on the side, and the bread (which you apparently have to request specially at the airport restaurants) was frozen in the middle.  But I chose to Let It Go (see what I did there?)  I was mildly surprised to be given a plastic blade in lieu of a real steak knife but realized that I can now rest easier knowing our national security has been ensured as a result of my sacrifice and that Longhorn's making me feel like I'm eating in an institution out of a Ken Kesey novel is purely coincidental.  Probably.

Keeping steak secure for travelers everywhere.

After lunch we headed back to our gate just in time to begin boarding.  I admit I smirked smugly at the Spousal Unit because I got to board in Zone 1 while he had to wait for Zone 2 because he doesn't have the gold Delta Amex card and I do. Plus Drexel's administrative assistant made our reservations separately.  Clearly I'm a very supportive spouse.

The flight itself was uneventful, aside from a few "woohoos" from the back of the plane as as we took off;  turns out half our plane was loaded with a high school girls' volleyball team on its way to a tournament.  Everyone found them amusing, particularly before we deplaned when one of the attendants wished them good luck (resulting in even more raucous cheering) and welcomed the "other five of you on the plane" to Philadelphia.

As it happens, the volleyball team pretty much dogged the rest of our day.  First, I had to wait in line with several of them in a bathroom with only 5 stalls.  Afterwards, I headed towards ground transportation to get a shuttle to our hotel, which involved me negotiating a rather surly desk clerk.  Eventually the shuttle came, however, and we were loaded up our luggage along with four other people.  The shuttle started to drive off, slooooowly, only to stop a few yards ahead at which point the driver disembarked and promptly disappeared.  Some 15 minutes later he came back and installed one of the many volleyball players on our shuttle. Then he disappeared again.  This time he appeared to be arranging shuttles for the rest of the volleyball team with 2-3 other drivers.  Once again he climbed aboard and started to drive off, only to stop again.  A few minutes later, two more people were climbing aboard.  For a shuttle that's supposed to be running every 10-15 minutes, I found it interesting that no fewer than three vans were stalled across from the terminal for a good 30 minutes.

Can you dig it?

With 9 passengers crammed in like sardines, the driver finally decided to head out.  Just before hitting the highway, he turned to ask where all of us were going.  One by one, voices called out: "Hampton...Marriott...Home2Hilton...Courtyard..."  Then us.  "Ritz-Carlton."  I know it's probably foolish of me, but I was painfully aware of everyone looking at us with raised eyebrows and for the first time in years felt like sliding down in my seat a little to hide.  I imagined everyone thinking, "If you're posh enough to afford the Ritz, then why are you riding on a smelly, nasty airport shuttle??"  Of course they probably weren't paying the least bit of attention, but it still made me feel self-conscious and I had to bite my tongue to keep from explaining, "Someone else is paying...we're not snobs, I promise!"  (Meanwhile, "One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn't belong..." kept playing through my head on a loop.)

A couple of minutes later our respective destinations no longer mattered because we all became instant comrades-in-arms when we discovered that our driver could have put any NYC cabbie to shame.  He was whipping through the downtown city streets going a good 20 mph faster than the limit and coming so close to other cars as he pulled in and out of spots to let off passengers that half of us kept our eyes shut while he was doing it.  Since it was clearly going to be an interesting ride I took out my notebook and started to take notes old-school since my phone was out of juice.  Writing on that trip was challenging because it rapidly became clear that this particular shuttle's chassis was not blessed with shock absorbers; we were jounced all through town like small children in a particularly over-inflated bouncy house.  My handwriting resembled that of an arthritic, cocaine-addled physician, and not just because the only pen I in my possession had just moments before chosen to spontaneously dismantle itself.

True story.

The entire trip probably took 45 minutes, 90 if you count the Great Volleyball Transportation Negotiation of 2014.  First we drove through a less savory part of town (at which point I began humming the theme to the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in my head), then we passed the famed Reading Terminal at Arch and 12th.  Next, we turned towards someone's hotel and got to watch dubiously as our driver bore down on some pedestrians crossing the road, gesticulating angrily at them to hurry across.  I'm pretty sure he was even revving the engine ominously at them as he kept lurching forward inch by inch.  Once around the corner our drive got close enough to a man waiting to climb in his car that I'm pretty sure he grazed the guy's backside.  Perhaps he was thinking "Buns-zai!" at the time. The remaining passengers exchanged glances of consternation.  At the stop before ours, a lady got whispered to us as she got off that she hoped we made it to the Ritz in one piece and that she hoped we enjoyed it there.  Sadly, she wasn't really joking.

Starring Walter Wait.

Since the Shuttle Ride of Impending Dismemberment, things have gone pretty smoothly.  We are now ensconced on the 15th floor, directly across from City Hall, which I discovered looming over us when I opened the curtain.  And now, as I sit here typing, my window is illuminated by a a glowing orange Big Ben-esque clock tower and a statue of William Penn is presiding over my work.  I guess you could say the Penn is mightier than the Shuttle.

Bigger than your average nightlight.

On the other side of our corner room, directly across, is an apartment building.  Each living room and dining room are made of wall to wall windows that you can look right into, and I can't help wondering if one of them houses an Ugly Naked Guy like in the show Friends.  One of the apartments does house an enormous television, which I can see clearly from my desk and which reminds me of a junior-sized version of the big marquis in Times Square.  Right next to the apartment building is a sculpture of a giant clothespin, which stands there in the middle of Philadelphia as an epic "WTF??" for tourists everywhere.  There are mints on the nightstand, bottles of water with a Ritz-Carlton label, and a bathroom with a glass-encased shower stall and a plush bathrobe.  And there may or may not have been a suspicious shutter click emanating from the toilet stall, to which the Spousal Unit responded with "You just took a picture of the phone, didn't you?" Mea culpa, dude...I guess you can't take me anywhere.  What can I say?  All the free airfare and hotel rooms in the world aren't going to keep me from secretly feeling just a little bit like a fraud who's going to be caught out at any moment.  I simply don't do pretentious well...apparently I'm far too busy embarrassing the Unit by behaving low-class.

Add caption

Still, it's nice to see how the other half lives on occasion if for no other reason than it makes me appreciate even more what I already have and more aware of what I don't really need.  Best of all, while the Spousal Unit gets grilled by Drexel professors for a potential job, I get to traipse all over the City of Brotherly Love on my own, taking in the sights while trying to decide if it's a viable place to live.  Deciding what to do on my day out was daunting, however.  Just looking at the list of available museums was enough to send me squeeing paroxysms of joy, never mind considering all the other arts and activities available both here and nearby.  There's no denying the place has a rich history and lots of potential; the real question is whether or not we could afford a home bigger than a refrigerator box or newer than the clock tower staring down at me.  One step at a time, though...one step at a time.

[Editor's note:  Taking a picture of a phone in the bathroom may be déclassé, but it's still a hell of a lot better than posting one which includes an awkward reflection in the silver toilet paper cover of the photographer in mid-snap while, um, deployed on the throne.  Mercifully, I noticed said reflection moments before I uploaded this post and am therefore not subject to unfortunate memes or plastered across tumblers all over the internet.  Thank heaven for small favors.]


  1. Why is there a phone in the bathroom???? Surely the Ritz-Carlton knows that we ALL go to the bathroom with our iPhones. I mean, really... we ARE 1st world citizens..

    1. Right???? I mean, c'mon. If anything, they should be installing an iPhone charging station beside the toilet paper.