Sunday, August 15, 2010

Writing Prompt: Sin City

This writing prompt from Lisa Romeo's blog, where you can sign up to receive daily writing prompts in your inbox. I usually give myself 10 minutes for these prompts.

To say he wasn't much of a gambler is an understatement. Joseph was a planner — someone who contributed regularly to his 401K, who made sure his bills were paid on time and that his sole credit card was paid off monthly to avoid interest charges. In fact, the only reason he had a credit card at all was to help develop his excellent credit rating and because his job required a lot of traveling, which in turn required a credit card rent a car and reserve his hotel rooms.

Joseph traveled at least two weeks a month, staying in modest, virtually indistinguishable hotel rooms. They tended to be clean, but boring, ranging in color from beige to taupe to tan — more than neutral, the decor (if you could call it that) was practically invisible. Joseph preferred it that way. No surprises, no need to adjust your sensibilities or compare one hotel room to another. Blandness bred contentment, which was more consistent than happiness.

Last week, Joseph was stunned to attention when he checked into a newly remodeled hotel in the heart of an undistinguished mid-sized city in middle America. His records indicated that he had visited this hotel before, but other than the receipts he kept and the Excel spreadsheet where he listed expenses and tracked his experiences (if you could call them that). 

When he drove up to the hotel, he was not surprised that he did not recognize the facade. He was surprised by that this hotel, one he had presumably stayed in before, did not sport the ubiquitous brick or stucco front with a canopied driveway. Instead, he pulled up curbside and was greeted by a liveried valet, who took his rental vehicle God knows where and left Joseph staring after him with the valet ticket clutched in his hand.

Turning slowly, Joseph took one step toward the doors, which automatically slid open to the left and right. The familiar Formica clad concierge counter had been replaced by a stand-alone semi-circle desk in polished aluminum. The entire lobby was shiny metal and red lacquer, lit by a galaxy to tiny, pinpoint lights. The mirrored elevator doors reflected the lobby as he saw it, with the exception that it also showed a beige man in a rumpled suit, with hair and skin that had greyed before its time. It took Joseph almost a minute to recognize himself.

Joseph was brought back to reality when the shiny concierge flashed a digital camera in his face. Her hair was black and blunt cut, and her flawless white skin was bisected by a cut of red lipstick. She smiled and said it would be just another minute and he couldn't help but notice how young she looked, even though he was not yet 30. Her black suit was perfectly tailored and the collar of her red silk blouse seemed to cradle her delicate face. Suddenly, she walked out from behind the semi-circle, pressed a key-card into his hand on top of the valet ticket and guided him by the elbow into the waiting elevator. 

"Tenth floor, suite B," she smiled, taking his key card and waving it in front of a small screen inside the elevator where the button panel should have been. "Enjoy your stay," she said, and as the doors closed, the last thing he saw were her implausibly high red patent leather pumps.

I'm not quite sure where Joseph came from, but the hotel is much like the one my brother recently stayed in when we met up in Seattle. My family and I were stuck in two tacky rooms at a national chain, paying $185 a night per room; he stayed in an edgy, newly remodeled place just a few blocks away for a mere $60 a night with free parking. 

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