Thursday, September 13, 2018

Tales from the refugee road…

Life would be a whole lot easier if hurricanes would make up their minds earlier, then let all the social media outlets know what’s going on. Our little family caravan has been in three different hotels the last three nights, scooting along hither and yon based on where the latest guess of where Florence will dump the huge load of water she has dragged across the Atlantic these last couple of weeks. We didn’t have a reservation at the first hotel we stopped at in Augusta, GA; having left a half day early to be on the leading edge of the refugee wave. We know what it's like to worry about the gas gauge nudging empty, crawling along with thousands of others on bumper to bumper four-lane highways, short tempers and crazy people in the driver’s seats. Once in a lifetime was enough.

The decision to leave early was a good call, and we landed in a nice hotel after an easy drive. But it cost well over $100 / night. The next night we moved to the hotel where we had reservations for a week, one where the cost was modest. Unfortunately, the accommodations were far more modest than the price suggested, and when the forecast put Augusta well within the flooding and tropical force winds it didn’t seem a good place to stay. There was no inside hallway so the door faced the outdoors. Even closed air, sunlight, and insects had easy access around the edges. Rain would surely just pour into the room when the weather folded, and the families would either be jammed into one small area for the duration or isolated from each other with no inside access. The windows were paper thin and not well mounted. It wasn’t hard to imagine a wind gust driving them right across the room. We decided to bail and head further inland.

The new destination was Chattanooga, about a 4 hour drive away. But the youngest member of the crew, the 8-month-old, went into full volume protest the minute we left the parking lot. She has no clue what is going on; all she knows is that her routine is upset so, so is she. She didn’t settle down even after nearly two hours on the road, Mom and baby both needed to stop. The next exit was Madison, and that’s where we landed.

This hotel has inside access, it also has a toilet that runs continuously, the phone is broken, there is no elevator to our second floor, the ice machines don’t work, there was no toilet paper on the roll or in the room, and the advertised internet connection isn’t. All ours for just shy of $100 / night after taxes and fees. Normally I would bail on such a place, but the little ones don’t really care about any of those things and they are just not up to making four moves in four days. So we will ride out the storm here.

How long that will be is still an open question. It looks like the brunt of the impact will be north and west of Beaufort, SC. There seems a pretty good chance that the boats will come through, so we will have homes when we return. Power, flooding, and road access will determine when we head back. Until then we will settle in here and make the best of it.

I was an airplane driver for decades, and put about a quarter of a million miles on motorcycles while wondering around the country. I have spent more than my share of time in hotels. There have been good ones, bad ones, and average ones uncounted. But it seems to me that, on the whole, “average” has dropped several notches in the hotel industry, while the price of “average” has gone way, way up. I would love to list names and addresses' of the hotels in question with the idea that if no one complains nothing gets fixed. But I don't have that much faith in the "customer service" side of America's economic system any more. I would love to believe that companies have some commitment to providing the best service they can at a fair price. But what I know is that their main, perhaps only, concern is how much profit they can make. I fear the cost of fixing things, if they were fixed at all, would fall on the people who work here instead. Costs to fix the facility would be found by reducing the workforce, cutting pay, cutting benefits (assuming there are any), while increasing the work load. That was my experience even in the high end world of aviation operations. I can't imagine hotel workers are fairing any better.

All and all I would much rather be on the boat. I just wish the hurricanes would cooperate a little more.

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