Glamour of the Traveling Job: Part One

“Wow! You are so lucky to be traveling to all parts of the country, seeing the sights, rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous on planes, and staying in five-star hotels.” This was a typical response when I talked to people about my career. As an author of a mainstream high-school biology book I not only wrote and rewrote, but also talked to teachers, chairpersons of science departments, and superintendents in school districts all over the country. Sales representatives usually picked me up at the airport and sometimes made room reservations on my behalf if they knew the safest part of town or the closest hotel to the presentation site.

On a cold November night, after many flight delays and three connections, I finally arrived by taxi at a hotel where the local sales rep made a reservation. It was a national chain, but a lower end hotel as all suitable hotels on Long Island were totally booked. He apologized for not being able to procure more appropriate accommodations and indicated that he had gone to the hotel himself to make sure the rooms were clean and presentable.

It was past midnight and my usual routine was to call my husband on the room phone as he wanted to know of my safe arrival. Dragging my suitcase and projector case (they were huge in the early 1990’s) into the room, I immediately noticed that despite the neat and clean appearance of everything in sight, there was no phone—hmm, unusual. I had never been in a hotel without a phone in the room. Most people did not have cell phones in the early 90’s. I knew my husband would worry if I didn’t call, so I went back to the main office and said I needed a room with a phone.

“None of our rooms have phones,” the desk agent replied. “There’s a public pay phone on the wall over there,” he indicated by pointing. At the same time, I noticed a young woman also behind the counter checking in a line of men who had just arrived. She seemed to recognize them and greeted them by name. She was very scantily clad for a November night. I  wondered if there was a convention in the area with lots of flights delayed as mine was—maybe that was why so many men were checking in after midnight.

I proceeded to the pay phone and chatted with my husband about the flight delays and my plane seat-mate who kept falling asleep with his head drooping over onto my shoulder. There was lots to report: My luggage took forever to arrive as several other planes arrived at the same time. It took way too long to get a taxi as most were out on trips, and I was determined to wait for a “non-smoking” cab. The stench of a day’s worth of cigarettes and cigars could be overwhelming. My husband also had his news of the day to discuss.

Suddenly, the woman in the skimpy outfit was at my side. “You are on my phone! I’m going to lose business because of you. Now get off my phone!”

“The guy at the desk said this was a public phone,” I replied.

“Well, it’s my business phone. Now, get off. NOW! If you don’t, I know what room you’re in!” she hollered.

“Okay, I’m done. Sorry, I didn’t know.” I was feeling a little fearful. I noticed that at the front desk, more men were checking in, men alone, no women with them, no women at all. Finally, on my way back to my room, I figured it out: No phones are needed in rooms of a “house of ill repute!” I was booked to stay in a brothel! Grabbing my bags, I high-tailed it back to the office and told the manager I was checking out, that he should call a cab and make a reservation for me at a nearby hotel.

“That’s a good idea he said. I’ll take care of that right away.” After making a couple calls, he said a cab would arrive in a few minutes, and that he had booked a room for me in a place called, “The Executive” where he assured me, I would be more comfortable.

After the taxi dropped me in front of The Executive, I noticed that, even in the dark, the place was a dingy motel that needed repair, front step crumbling, door creaky and difficult to open, and their lighted sign missing the lights on the “ive” portion of the sign. A most baffling sight greeted me. The entire lobby floor was covered with sleeping men dressed in homeless attire, ripped and stained jackets, unmatched socks, shoes covered with duck-tape.

The manager looked up from his desk and declared, “Don’t worry. They’re all harmless. After midnight we open our doors to let the homeless in, so they don’t have to sleep outside in the cold.” Awakened by the sound, one man jumped up, rushed over to me and said he would take me to my room and help me with my bags.

“No thanks,” were my first startled words.

“He just wants a tip, just wants to make a little money, harmless,” encouraged the manager. “Step over to the desk and I’ll get you registered. I’ll make sure you are safe. I can see you are worried. I’ll take you to your room myself.”

It was around 1:30 AM. The sales representative was scheduled to pick me up at 6:00 AM to drive to the presentation site. I was exhausted after navigating three airports and a brothel. If I went somewhere else, it might be worse! I signed in. True to his word, the manager accompanied me to my room.

After locking all four chain locks and bolting the door, I wondered how safe I would be in my first-floor room with a large window at sidewalk level. The lock on the window was broken, but at least there was a phone. I called the sales rep. to leave a message that I had changed hotels so he would know the new pick-up location.

The towels were clean, but that was about it. I decided the sheets hadn’t been changed after the last person slept in them. The room was cold with no ability to alter the temperature. I was hoping there were no bed-bugs, didn’t unpack anything, and just lay in all my clothes, coat, and shoes on top of the bed cover. So much for the “glamour” of the traveling job! 

Linda LundgrenComment