Last month, for family business, I drove to Dallas for a couple of days — only the second overnight trip I’d taken since the pandemic began.
The hotel where I stay is usually full weeks in advance. I arrived this time to find it largely empty. The parking lot, typically crammed, was so desolate that I momentarily wondered if I’d come to the right place.
The hotel had emailed me an electronic key so that I wouldn’t have to connect with anyone to open my room. When it didn’t work, I sought help at the front desk, where an attendant sat behind a glass barrier as if shielding himself from a bank robber. As a masked man carrying a bag, I surely looked the part.
We sorted things out, and I arranged for a room service dinner since I was too tired to do anything else.
Room service is something I rarely indulge in, though its small sense of occasion — piping-hot food wheeled in on a trolley — can be one of civilization’s bright little gifts.
A woman with room service phoned to apologize in advance. Because of COVID-19, my food wouldn’t arrive with the customary china and silverware. It would, instead, be served in a foam box with plastic utensils. I told her I understood, and she knocked a few minutes later. We had one of those odd little moments of social distancing as she passed me my dinner, each of us as cautious as a bomb squad.
Since business was slow, I gave her a little something beyond the standard tip to show my support. She phoned later to say thanks. The depth of her gratitude for so small a thing saddened me because it underlined the depth of her need.
We shared a wish for better times. “We used to have to turn people away,” she told me. “The occupancy was 100%. Now, it’s 12%.”
I thought about all of this as I sat in my hotel room at the close of a long day. The hall was quiet — just the kind of calm I usually find elusive in a hotel. I often discover that the lodgers next door like loud movies and even louder conversation. The hush now seemed what I’d always wanted.
I was reminded, though, of the old adage that we’re sometimes challenged by getting exactly what we ask for. The quiet around me didn’t feel serene. It was more like the silence that shadows a house when someone is sick and the spell of routine has been broken by loss.
I knew, of course, that the hospitality trade is hurting because of COVID-19. To see it up close, though, was sobering. The loss is especially sharp here in Louisiana, where so many good people depend on out-of-town visitors for their livelihoods.
Here’s hoping for noisier hotels. I’ll try not to complain about them ever again.