Dateline: Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, Washington, DC, USA
Friends, I write to you from hotel-world. I’m in DC for the Popular Culture Association / American Culture Association national conference. I got here yesterday afternoon. I have discovered that the conference program is over 400 pages long, and also that Langston Hughes used to work here as a busboy, and got his poems into the hands of a poet in the dining room of the restaurant here.
So it’s not like home, that’s for sure.
I wrote last spring around this time about the annual ritual of academic travel, and here I am back on the topic. Today I’m thinking about hotel living.
When I was a little kid, hotels meant elevators, long carpeted hallways for running silently down, restaurant meals, and having to share a bed with my sister while my dad watched the hockey game in the dark. Then I went a long time without staying in hotels because I didn’t go anywhere, and once I did (backpacking through France) I was staying in hostels. Once I started travelling for conferences in my PhD, hotels were a daunting expense, a source of worry, a rare treat: could I stay somewhere off site, more cheaply? Would I find some one to room with? Should I alter my flights for fewer nights of stay? How would we split the bill? When I started working as an assistant professor, I had a real salary but a tiny travel allowance–I could afford to stay in hotels, but since my then-fiancé wasn’t ever travelling with me, it felt like taking money from our household, since it all mostly got paid out of pocket.
Now, praise the funding gods, I have a grant. And my life is different too: with a kid and a cat and a dog and an executive faculty association position and graduate students to supervise and more intense teaching, now that I have the money, I often don’t feel like I have the time to spare for a conference trip in March.
Hotels mean something different now again. I’m still tempted to run down the long hallways, and it is nice that the rooms are so very big, compared to what I’m used to. But what I’m most focused on lately is the desk. It turns out that what I do when I go to hotels now is get an awful lot of work done. Course prep, grading, catch up on my email, clean out my inbox, some research, a lot of service work, etc. It’s very likely I’ll get my grading backlog cleared up here in DC, 400 page conference program or not.
It’s amazing but what happens is this: first, I get enough sleep; second, I have no chores; third, I get lonely. At home, the period between 6am and 9am is chaos, and when it’s over, sometimes I feel like I need a nap. Then, I work all day (and my husband works all day, and my kid learns all day, and the cat and dog sleep all day, and something in the old house hits its final moments and konks out), and when we come home around 5:30, it’s another 3 hours of chaos before I can sit on the couch with my love for a nice chat before I go to bed.
So if I remove the chaos from 6:00-9:00am, and the chaos from 5:30-8:30pm, I’ve just cleared up pretty much a whole work day worth of time and an incalculable amount of fuss and dashing and negotiating and cooking and dog-walking and calling the plumber. Last night, here at the hotel, I got three hours of work done after supper. Already this morning, I’ve been at it for over an hour.
At this stage of the game, then, hotel living for me means a kind of work retreat. Like a meditation retreat, completely away from the world, refilling the tank, finding inner peace … but with a lot more talking and typing.
What does hotel living mean to you?