It's the little freebies that give reason to live


For reasons clear to all of us, this is not the time to live the good life.

This is not the time to wallow in luxury, to call attention to yourself, to upgrade to the convertible at the Hertz counter even if it is just $4 more a day.

After a few decades that all seemed to be the "Me Decade," we are now in the "Them Decade," the decade in which we have to worry what other people think of us and how we live.

I am listening to a discussion of all this on "Nightline," up to my chin in Hermes soap bubbles in a marble bathtub in a marble bathroom that contains a color Sony TV with 54 channels of cable.

If I require it, I need only push a button and a steward will be dispatched to do my bidding. There are two stewards for every floor of the hotel I am staying in, and they are on duty 24 hours a day.

On the TV screen some man in a dumpy gray suit that he probably shares with Ralph Nader is railing against all the perks that politicians get in Washington.

"Damn right!" I say, pushing the button for the steward. "These fat cats make me want to puke." As soon as the steward gets here, I'm going to have him change the channel. Or bring me a cheeseburger. Or both.

I am in Los Angeles in the hotel where they filmed the movie "Pretty Woman." (I won't bother telling you the name of the hotel, because I don't think it has a listed number. Besides, it may have been burned down by now.)

I am staying here because a magazine has sent me to the West Coast to do a story, and some of the people involved in the story are staying in this hotel.

When I arrived, I told the desk guy I wanted the same room Julia Roberts had, the one with the bathtub the size of the English Channel.

"That would be the eighth-floor Presidential Suite," the desk guy tells me. "That would be the one with the Corinthian columns, the crystal chandelier and the Chinese lacquer furniture. That would be the one in which Elton John, Ringo Starr, Michael Douglas and Martin Scorsese have all stayed."

"Yeah," I say, "that's the one. And if Julia hasn't checked out yet, tell her I won't be a bother."

"The suite is currently vacant," the hotel guy says.

"So how much?" I ask.

"Forget it," he says.


"Because if you have to ask 'how much?' you can't afford it," he says.

So I stayed in a regular room. And I did what I always do when I get to a hotel room: I checked out the free stuff.

There were giant bottles of fancy shampoo, conditioner, bubble bath and moisturizer. There were big bars of perfumed soap. There was a terry cloth robe (which had a little sign saying I couldn't steal it -- a sign, I bet, that Julia Roberts ignored) and slippers. There was a lint brush, clothes brush and shoe horn. There were Q-tips, emery boards and cotton balls. There were fresh flowers.

And there were bottles of French water in the refrigerator along with a silver ice bucket filled to the brim with ice. This last item is something I consider critical to a super luxury hotel because it meant I didn't have to sneak down the hall in my underwear to the ice machine with one of those white plastic buckets and then hear the room door slam behind me and figure out whether I should go down to the front desk for another key or just die instead.

Room service, I also found out, was so quick it came before you ordered anything. A few moments after I checked in, there was a knock at the door and a uniformed woman was standing there carrying a silver tray bearing three crystal domes.

Under the first dome was brown sugar. Under the second dome was sour cream. Under the third dome were strawberries each the size of Richard Simmons' head.

"I didn't order these," I said.

"With our compliments," she said.

After about three days of this, I decided to actually call the room of the person I was supposed to interview, and he told me that he had just been down at the pool and had seen Robert Redford there.

This struck me as kind of strange. Robert Redford doesn't own his own pool?

And then I figured it out: He sneaks into the hotel pool to try to glom the free strawberries.

When I finally checked out, I told the guy at the front desk how much I liked his hotel.

"But next time you see Redford at the pool," I said, "ask to see his key."

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