My Home Away From Home

This is the review I wrote of my extended stay hotel experience on Trip Advisor.

I used to watch Hotel Babylon, which was a fascinating British television drama about the goings on at a luxury hotel in London.  I’m convinced that there could be an equally engaging show following the set of parallel dramas unfolding simultaneously at properties like the one I stayed at for 6 nights in Little Rock while recovering from surgery.

 The part of town where this property sits is hard to describe.  On the outskirts of the McMansion district, close enough to the Interstate that you can hear the cars whizzing past if you listen carefully, and within walking distance of a Barnes & Noble, two Starbucks stores, several office buildings, and a defunct Christian bookstore, this property has evidently been here for some time.  While it has been retouched recently with new carpet, vinyl flooring, flat screen televisions, and WiFi, its maturity shows through in the walls, ceilings, and infrastructure.  The stories this property could tell would be enough to fill volumes, I’m sure.

 I reserved a non-smoking queen room for 6 nights.  In town to have surgery, I chose this location for its proximity to my surgeon and the availability of a non-smoking room with both an accessible bathroom and a kitchenette.  I selected this property over its sister location less than a mile away because of the $5 per night price difference.  Having never stayed at an extended stay inn, and never at “Extended Stay America,” I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  I read up on the room features, the floor plans, and the differences between extended stay norms and traditional hotel norms on their website.  I called the reservation center with a few questions, which they happily answered.  Convinced this was the room for me, I booked it from my mobile browser while in my surgeon’s waiting room for my final consult before the operation.

 My surgery was scheduled for a Wednesday, so I arrived Tuesday afternoon at the designated check-in time to get the room squared away, shop for groceries, pick up recovery essentials, and scope the place out.  I waited in line as a resident negotiated his past-due rent with the clerk, who granted him an extension of an additional day.  Like any other hotel check-in, the agent asked my name, found my reservation, and verified my details.  Adamant about needing an accessible room, and always booking non-smoking, I pressed him to confirm those attributes.  Looking somewhat uncomfortable, he asked, “Does it have to accessible?”  

In a former life, I used to be a professional mystery shopper, called upon to put people in all sorts of situations just to see how they would respond.  As a part of the evaluation process, it was up to me to remain neutral, giving no guidance to the tone of the conversation or situation.  I used my neutral posture, tone, and stance when responding with, “Yes.  I need an accessible, non-smoking room.  The one I booked online was a queen, but any number or size of beds will do.”

The clerk, perplexed, worked very hard to find a solution.  He tapped at his computer.  He called the adjacent property, whose phone rang and rang with no answer.  While he did that, he also looked over paperwork of other rooms bound to a clipboard with a lot of handwriting on it.  The room that I had booked was apparently still occupied by guests who had decided to extend their stay.  Fortunately, he found a room that was accessible, had a queen bed, and was recently vacated but not listed in the system as available, as it hadn’t been cleaned.  He coordinated with the housekeeping team to get the room reset as soon as possible..  Apologetically, he asked if I could wait an hour for the room.  I agreed.

In that hour, I went shopping.  I picked up the groceries that I intended to eat while recovering from surgery — a lot of high-protein foods including chicken and Greek yogurt — and some fresh fruits and vegetables.  I grabbed items that I thought might be handy to have for surgery recovery in a hotel room including hydrogen peroxide and antibacterial ointment.  Had I the experience then that I do now, I would have also picked up disposable cups,  gauze, Depend’s, a giant pack of washcloths, some bleach-based spray cleaner, and a deodorizer optimized for combating cigarette smoke.  From home, I would have brought my scissors, nail clippers, a thermometer, and some old towels that I wouldn’t mind discarding.

By the time I returned to check in, my room was ready.  A different clerk was present at the front desk this time, and I caught her up to speed on the situation.  The staff seemed to use a combination of text messaging, walkie-talkie chatter, and telephone calls to coordinate their efforts.  While in the lobby, I overheard a side discussion about there being “new towels” available, which is apparently a very special event.  One of the clerks advised a resident to return within an hour to get some of the new towels.  I made a return trip to the lobby myself to get some new towels, too.

Unlike a typical hotel where your room is refreshed once a day, extended stay places only visit your room once a week.  If you need fresh towels, you bring them to the desk and exchange them.  If you need trash taken out, your bed made, your shower rinsed, or something else, it’s on you to handle it.  Additional services are available, but they’re sold a la carte.  I knew this going in, having read up on the Extended Stay America website.  I encountered a couple of HotWire customers who thought they were getting “Hotel” rather than “Extended Stay” and felt cheated.

My first impression of my room was more positive than negative.  As I stepped in, the fragrance I smelled was “freshly-cleaned.”  I’m sure they carry that stuff around in bottles on a cart.  Looking the place over, there was ample room to put my luggage and groceries.  The bedspread, pillows, and sheets all appeared to be in very good condition.  There was a recliner, a flat screen TV, a dining room table with two chairs, a full-size fridge, a range, a kitchen sink, and the all-important accessible shower.  In the cabinets I found dishes, a saucepan with lid, a can opener, a toaster, some silverware, a dish rack, and a colander.  I put away my groceries and headed out to have dinner with a friend.

The mixture of clientele at this property was more diverse than I’ve seen in other places I’ve stayed.  When I travel on business, I’m often at conference hotels that cost several hundred dollars per night.  You see folks dressed in suits and ties down to business casual.  When I travel on my own dime, I book properties that are the least expensive that I can find that won’t get me killed or infested with bed bugs.  At discount places, you often see cut-off jeans, tank tops, and family pets.  At this property I saw all of these on a single trip to the front office.  Fascinating.

The amenities that this property featured that appealed to me included free WiFi and cable TV with “at least one premium movie channel.”  They also advertised personal voicemail, laundry facilities, and unlimited local phone use.  The cable TV had about 20 channels, at least 5 of which were sports.  None of them were PBS, which is generally my go-to channel when stranded in a hotel room for long periods of time with nothing to do.  The movie channel they offered was Showtime.  I ended up watching a channel which I had never heard of called ME TV, something along the lines of a local Nick At Nite / Classic TV channel.  Twilight Zone; Perry Mason; and Murder, She Wrote; are all familiar favorites.  The WiFi, although available for free, offered speedier versions for as little as $3 per day extra.  I found the free version fast enough to use Facebook and watch YouTube videos at acceptable quality.  Neflix would have required an upgrade.

When not watching TV, talking on the phone, or tending to my aftercare, I could hear every word spoken in the rooms surrounding mine, in the parking lot, and by those passing by on the sidewalk and staircase, which was just outside my door.  When all you have to do is sit in a recliner and recuperate, it’s amazing how much of the neighbors’ stories play out within earshot.  For this reason alone, I believe that there is enough drama ongoing at this property to keep a small production crew busy around the clock trying to capture it, edit it, and ready it for broadcast.  Mind boggling.  You don’t need a premium movie channel or the Internet to remain enthralled by the goings on.

Service.  I only interacted with employees upon arrival, departure, and to get some of the coveted “new towels.”  Each time I interacted with the front desk, they were professional, friendly, but very obviously overworked and underpaid.

Value.  For a couple hundred bucks, I had a convenient place to convalesce following surgery that came equipped with a kitchen, an accessible shower, and WiFi.

Sleep Quality.  The bed and recliner were both quite comfortable.  The noise from the neighbors was what most impacted my sleep quality.

Cleanliness.  Had the room not reeked of cigarette smoke once the magic spray faded, I would have given this place a 4/5 on cleanliness.  There were some cigarette burns in the carpet and some other stains, but it was generally a very clean room.  Upon my departure, it was a VERY clean room.

Location.  I couldn’t have asked for a better location.

When I moved in, the place was freshly cleaned.  When I moved out, the place was cleaner than Dexter Morgan would have left it.  I refuse to put down in writing exactly what happened in that room, but it was not pretty.  The day of the surgery, I was accompanied by my “responsible adult,” who at one point uttered the phrase “waterfall of blood.”  I was connected to a pain pump at the time, so I can neither confirm nor deny any details.  On an only slightly unrelated note, I’m not sure what material the bedspread is made of, but it wipes up remarkably well.  The telltale sign of indiscretion is in the stitches, but peroxide took that right out.

My six days at this property were memorable, to say the least.  I felt that it was money well spent!  If you’re looking for a “regular” hotel experience, book at a “regular” hotel.  If you’re open to taking matters into your own hands, this place may very well be a great bargain.  And for the record, I made a point to take very good care of the “new towels.”

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