Visit a hotel these days, and you’re quickly reminded that vacation season is in full swing across America. Guests pad down the halls in swimsuits and flip-flops, beach towels in the crooks of their arms. They’ll return from the hotel pool in an hour or two — slightly sunburned but apparently happy, smelling of chlorine and coconut oil. The halls hum with children, too, many of them visiting hotels for the first time. Their excitement bubbles over in tones that aren’t always inside voices, prompting parents to shush them down a decibel or two. At the hotel breakfast bars, there are fewer neckties and more T-shirts, the tables filled with tourists who are on the road because they want to be, not because they have to be.
But here’s a fact, one that might make you happy or sad, though it’s a fact nonetheless: Hotels, the playgrounds of summer, are also places where you can get a lot of work done.
This came to mind not long ago, when we drove our teenage son to Natchitoches for a weekend-long educational program. Beyond dropping him off and picking him up, we weren’t required to do much else, but we had to hang around anyway.
Natchitoches is a lovely city with lots of fun things to do, but a deadline loomed for a magazine piece I was writing, so I brought along my laptop.
As things turned out, I made more progress on my assignment in the hotel room than I would have back home. In my own house, I would have been reminded of the lawn to mow, the dinner to cook, the groceries to buy, the errands to run. In that rented room, though, there was nothing much around me but the keyboard — and, I suspected, very few other people around, either.
Afternoons at a hotel are, for the most part, almost eerily quiet. Most of the guests don’t stay at a hotel, exactly, but are lodging there so they can do something else — sightsee, make sales calls, visit relatives. In the daylight hours, if you choose to stay in your room, you have the place pretty much to yourself.
As a cub reporter many years ago, I interviewed a local housewife and mother who had managed to publish a novel. She’d finished the thing, she explained, by checking into a motel room — a technique I’d silently shrugged off as a literary indulgence. Young and single, I couldn’t quite grasp the appeal of getting away from it all, having no “it,” at that point in my life, to get away from.
But now I know. So I didn’t roll my eyes recently after reading novelist Ann Patchett confess that she’d checked into a Los Angeles hotel room to meet a book deadline, too.
“The silence in the room is so intoxicating that I can’t bear to leave it,” Patchett recalled thinking. By her estimate, she completed “a month’s worth of work in five days.”
So there you have it — the hotel as a modern-day work station. Another deadline approaches, and I just might have to go back.