a tale of two hotels

me in hotel room bathroom which is too big

I travel for work a decent amount. I’m not the world’s best sleeper so it can be a little tough lining up places to stay that are

– near the venue
– within my price range
– good for sleeping in

The last two Wednesday nights have seen me in two very different places. Two weeks ago I drove into Boston to give a talk at BU (notes and slides here). I often stay at AirBnBs in cities but it’s tough to find a place in Boston that also has parking. So I asked BU what they suggested and they suggested Hotel Commonwealth. I mainly asked because all of the nearby options seemed so expensive I had a hard time imagining that someone would reimburse me for staying at any of them. I am frugal to a fault and a little out of step with the cost of anything outside of the rural 1950s where I usually live. The hotel was lovely but noisy. The check-in desk was a card catalog and the woman at the desk was incredibly nice. When the room I was first assigned to–right over Kenmore Square, great view of the Citgo sign–was too noisy, she moved me upstairs to another room. I went out for dinner and came back and realized that the room was … I’m not sure, was right under the HVAC on the roof? It was literally vibrating.

I have earplugs and medicines and even can make Audacity play noise for me so I can sleep better, but none of this can combat vibrations. I also get agitated before talks which doesn’t help. So I called the nice lady at the front desk and said “Look I know it’s late but this isn’t going to work for me. I totally understand if there are no other options but I either need to switch rooms or check out.” She consulted with her supervisor and pointed at the screen of her computer and said “Well we do have THIS room…” and the supervisor nodded and I was given one more room key, a free upgrade because I am a princess and the pea and this woman was nice. The room turned out to be their signature suite (check this page for The Loft) and it was larger than my entire apartment and cost more per night than a month at my apartment. It had a pool table, fireplace, television, coffee maker (other rooms at HC did not have these), walk-in double showerhead shower, and separate sleeping nook behind “modern sliding barn doors.” It was definitely the hook up. And yet, it had un-adjustable AC that ran constantly (including right in to the walk-in shower), was bright because not all of the windows could be covered with curtains, had a noisy neighbor who was complaining loudly into her cell phone (“Mooooooom, it’s not FAIIIRRRRRRRR”) and despite the incredibly comfortable bed, was just not restful. I managed some sleep, but it was fitful. When they forgot to charge me for the valet parking, I did not correct their error. The talk went well, despite this.

The next week saw me with a bit of a headcold driving westwards towards Painted Post New York to stay at the Watson Homestead which is some sort of spiritual retreat center and the location of the Southern Tier Library System annual conference that I was keynoting (notes and slides here). I had emailed to make a reservation and said I’d be arriving late and they said they’d leave a key for me in an envelope. When I got there at 9 pm there was no key. I was 20 min from the nearest big town and had been driving for six hours. I was looking for sudafed and a bed. I was wandering around looking for someone when one of the guys in the lobby, Gary, asked me what was going on. I explained the situation. Turns out he was another guest in for a Roads Scholar event but he basically knew how the key system worked and he made a few phone calls, gave me a room key, and left a note for the office people about my general whereabouts. He also said that I could help myself to food in the fridge. I brought a ham and cheese sandwich and some tootsie rolls back to my room.

The rooms were simple and no frills (picture). No television in my room meant I was pretty sure that no one else had one either. The shower was a normal one with a curtain and a handle that just said H and C. There was an orientation guide that started out “Welcome Home…” and hoped that I had a joyous time. I turned a fan on for some noise, piled all the blankets on one bed and slept like the dead. In the morning I went to alert the office to my whereabouts and the woman there said “Oh great kiddo, glad you got it sorted. You’re fine where you are, have a great time.” I stayed the night before and the night after my talk. The talk went great. When I checked out, they charged me the dormitory room rate despite the fact that Gary had put me in the fancier West Wing. It was 12% of the room rate I was charged at the Hotel Commonwealth, 4% of the rate of the room I actually stayed in.

Jim and I talk about the future sometimes and how we want to scoot around the country in some sort of RV. I am into this idea for a number of reasons but the main one lately is so that no matter where I am, I like the idea of always having a predictable place to sleep and, if it’s too noisy, the ability to move it somewhere else.


community soup-a-thon

This was a heavy civic weekend. Complete photo set is here or you can click through links to see some. Saturday we had the Passport Program wrap-up which celebrated the people who had been to the most libraries as part of the Passport to Vermont Libraries program. I love this program but since I’m gone for a lot of the summer, my attention wanes. This was a wrap-up event and, like many October events in Vermont, was hard to get people to. I brought Jim, one of the other librarians brought her daughter, we decorated and brought cake and ice cream for 30 people just in case and wound up with a nice friendly crowd of about 15 including the woman who had been to the most libraries: 192! Truly that is MOST of Vermont’s libraries. We were all impressed. I gave a little slide show with the history of the program and said thanks to everyone and handed out prizes and it was a good time. Jim played some tunes on the organ that lives in the community room.

Then it was back to Randolph where we found out that there was a soup-a-thon going on in Bethel. The way it works is: community members make a lot of soup and you pay a cover charge and there’s all the soup you can eat (plus crackers and bread, plus desserts and coffee and tea). It’s pictured above. I always run into people I know and the money goes to supporting some of the town’s old buildings. Then we went and–I can not believe I am saying this–enjoyed some of the Bethel nightlife. Bethel got a grant from AARP for a thing called the Better Block Initiative. They put some pop-up stores in some of the empty store fronts, had an outdoor beer garden and a taco truck, some street games for kids, a temporary bike path, and a lot of great signage telling people what was going on nearby. We enjoyed chatting with people at the record store (I bought some records) and popping into an antique store that was never open at night. At 7 pm we went to the Penny Sale which is basically a raffle for 300+ items and another one of those things which the whole town turns out to. We bought maybe $30 worth of tickets (and some pie) and won a life vest worth $32 retail. Good trade. Raised money for the local Rotary and their projects.

Headed home with Jim afterwards to do some bird feeder maintenance, move some heavy items, cook up a dutch baby and catch up on some television (new SNL, Pat’s game, Red Sox) with Kevin and Karen. Jim headed back to MA on Sunday and I caught up on the work I’d semi-blown off while I was off interacting with my neighbors. I’d do it again.

England 2016

thames cruiser boat in front of Greenwich Maritime Institute

I’m very excited to say that I’ve been to the UK and actually left London this time! Kate and I went to England for a wedding and did a bunch of other stuff while we were there. Enough stuff that it may have been a bit too much stuff. But it was fun! And busy. I’ve had to make my peace with not really having a place-by-place recounting of my trips since to do that I’d have to take time off from my trip to write things down or narrate or whathaveyou. So here are some bare bones outlines and feel free to ask me about the rest of it. Trip photoset is here.

We flew into Heathrow and arrived at our weird AirBnB pretty late. Which wasn’t a problem except our host had given us the wrong keycode. Nothing makes you reconsider your AirBnB vs. hotel stance like sitting in the middle of a residential neighborhood in the middle of noplace, ten feet away from the bed you’re supposed to sleep in but with no way to get there. We worked it out (numbers had been transposed) but it was touch and go there for a bit. The place was weird and funky, I liked it a lot. Kate liked it a little less. It was well-situated to go see a lot of London and easy to get to/from places and walkable to some shops and things to look at. We noodled around in London for a few days, checking out museums and libraries and managing to deal with the incredible heat wave that we hadn’t packed for. Vermont is a little like London in that people don’t have a lot of fans or AC since it rarely gets that hot.

We then took a train down to Exeter (and then got a ride to Okehampton) where I was going to perform a wedding. I can’t legally marry people in the UK but I can do a nice ceremony (you can read it). It was so great to be in the countryside. Not only was it cooler but the AirBnB we had butted up against a farm which meant familiar smells of home (which was actually fine, I am not being passive-aggressive) and a GIANT BULL who would come by to say hello and we could chitchat with. There was a lot of driving on single-track roads and we met a ton of people every single one of whom was great to talk with and get to know. The wedding was one of those just-worked affairs where people were all up for it, the weather complied and folks were on their best behavior. After getting home from the wedding I just face-planted and felt like I slept forever. Sleep was a little hard to come by on this trip. Neither Kate nor I are great sleepers. I was just reading in a doctor’s waiting room that the first night in a new place, you’re only really half-sleep anyhow because some lizard brain part of you is half-awake being vigilant against… trouble. Makes sense to me.

On the way out we took three trains, missed two (scheduling nonsense, we were on time!) and it all worked out just fine. I even left my luggage on a train and Kate figured it out before the train left and the vacation was completely ruined. Look at me, sprinting in the train station! There were a lot of those little things: victory snatched from the jaws of defeat. We wanted to spend the last day just chilling and sidling up close to the airport so we stayed in Windsor and had a nice afternoon/evening walking along the Thames and checking out the castle and taking photos of swans. Yet another weird AirBnB (just two bedrooms and a kitchen, no living room but we knew this ahead of time and it’s really all we needed) but one that was just what we were looking for. Up and out the next morning and a decent flight home. Jet lag was pretty intense for a few days but it’s really nice to just be able to be awake when you need to be and sleep when you need to. And then Childnado IV happened (pix in the last entry) and I came back to Vermont a few days later.

So I know some people come back from vacation and talk about the food, or the shopping or the views. I mostly enjoyed getting nerdy about the places we stayed (and the libraries we saw) and otherwise it was just great getting to walk and eat and make jokes with Kate in an all new place. I love getting to stay in people’s houses instead of hotels and enjoy staying in neighborhoods instead of business centers and busy intersections. And it’s great getting to see friends and hang out with locals and the wedding was a great opportunity to do that. It was definitely a lot of vacationing for a not-that-long summer, but on the other hand, it was about time for a lot of vacationing.

Extra “bad” Virgo Month of Leisure

a bunch of people clowning for the camera.

So Run DMC has that catchy song where they say “Not bad meaning bad but bad meaning good” and that’s how I feel about forgetting about the Virgo Month of Leisure. I mean it’s sort of a joke already. I have to have a vacation from my life, an entire month, because I am high strung and don’t know how to relax. So forgetting the fake holiday because I was (maybe) busy relaxing? Joke writes itself.

But! This year I’ve been getting better at it. I meditate now (I will only talk about it if you ask) and do yoga when I am in Vermont. I went on nearly three weeks of actual vacation this summer and as a result, forgot about the Virgo Month of Leisure entirely until a few days ago. And then I went back through the old MoL posts to see if I’d been keeping up with them and no I had not. Last year I had a weird shoulder problem and so wasn’t posting much. I’m not even sure what I was doing the year before. In 2013 I did a 15 year wrap-up so I’m pretty plugged in from before that.

This past weekend was both Childnado IV (pictured) AND my birthday on consecutive days. I haven’t even gotten my photos from London uploaded yet but I can just word-picture it for you and tell you it was a good time. And London was a good time. And I miss being home in Vermont but I feel like I really summered it up this time, in every good way. This week is about putting things away and loading up my car and eating all the leftovers and getting ready to teach people how to use computers and becoming reacquainted with smaller towns and emptier roads and woodsier yards and colder weather. Totally ready for it.

For people who are interested in my librarianing, I’ve got a librarian newsletter which I send out more or less weekly, just 500-800 words about library topics. Feel free to click over to see the archives or subscribe if it’s the sort of thing you think you’d like.

WestOn20 continues

(This is part two of a two-parter. Here is part one. I should probably mention before I go on that Jim is fine, got a good diagnosis and is back in shape)

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 16.14.19

Day Six – Gary IN to Chicago

We were headed to a meetup in Chicago that wasn’t until 4 pm so Kate and I headed to Miller Beach which was walking distance from our place while Jim slept some more. It was so nice, and just a few minutes from our door. Lots of people and dogs, it reminded me of being in Massachusetts only it was a giant lake and not the ocean. We grabbed Jim and headed out just as the neighborhood was starting to FILL UP with people. Apparently there was an air show happening that afternoon and we scooted out just in time. On our way out we hit the Farmer’s Market which was small and great and we got some exceptional tacos and street corn and other knicknacks including the saltiest string cheese in the world (sorry beardo cheesemonger, you were nice but your cheese was awful)

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route 20 signs in Illinois library

So hey I went on a ten day vacation where I did NO WORK. I’m fairly certain I haven’t done this since I started working at MetaFilter, so that’s over a decade. I had someone filling in for me at the Archive and I’d wrapped up everything else. I didn’t do anything crazy like ignore my email, but I basically just vacationed and didn’t work. I’m not even sure I know what to do with this level of nothing-to-do but it went well! Here’s a wrap-up which stands in for any liveblogging sort of thing. I put some photos up in this Flickr photoset and you can see a few at-the-moment notes from me and Kate on Twitter with the #WestOn20 hashtag.

The loose outline of the trip was this: Kate and I picked up Jim on the 5th of July and headed West on Route 20. We dropped him off in Chicago to fly home and then kept going for another day and a bit and turned around and drove home using quicker routes. Here are the specifics. Anyone who still uses Swarm/Foursquare can maybe see my history there (or not, unclear how that works). Here’s some notes from memory. Part of doing the vacation right was, to me, not viewing it as a blog-for-later.

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hey hey summer

beach scene

I have a sunburn. And my class is wrapping up on Friday (grades due on Tuesday, how unfair is that?) and it’s gone pretty well. I have enough of an impostor syndrome thing with teaching that I am half expecting my student evaluations to say “Um, this wasn’t actually a class at all.” even though I think it’s been a good experience and I think they did great work. There’s just something a little … non-class feeling to me about asynchronous teaching. I’ll probably get over it. Or maybe not!

This was a quiet week or so for me for a few reasons. The class. The (sudden) onset of summer. And I got in a small car accident last week and have been buried in paperwork and car repair. I am fine, everyone is fine. It was one of those slow motion fender benders in stop and go traffic. My fault. My car was crumpled-looking but driveable. The other car was scratched. And I’m fairly bummed with myself because it blows a thirty-year “no crashes involving other cars” record. I’m usually a good and careful driver. I was turning my phone off when it happened, so now I’m one of those people I bitch about all the time, messing with phones. I thought “Oh shit it’s getting trafficky, should turn off this podcast…” and then the car in front of me stopped short.

I’m firmly in the “It’s a crash, not an accident” camp but I think telling people you’ve been in a crash makes them worried for you and I am fine. On the bright side, I met a guy in Westport (where I am for most of the summer) who does body work and he is amazing. A great repair guy but also just a good local guy to know. I still worry I’m going to take my car in somewhere where they chide me for not taking care of it (which pushes all sorts of buttons for me) or overcharge me because they think I don’t know what things cost. The only thing Dwayne said was that for a car that nice–I am driving my Dad’s old CRV, my Forrester stays in Westport and is a beach car–I should probably get collision insurance. And he’s probably right. He took photos of the repair, which he did over the weekend, on his dumb phone. So what I thought was going to be my week without a car turned out to only be about 24 hours since Kate and Jim were down for the weekend.

Kate and Jim and I are scheming to start our ROUTE 20 OR BUST road trip next week. We’re going to drive the length of the nation’s longest highway. In stages! We have maps and apps and snacks and big plans. I’m just really happy to have things mostly back to normal, and maybe getting to travel with someone who can run the podcast machine.

For people who might be interested, I also have a little librarian newsletter that comes out every week or so. Feel free to sign up here if it’s the sort of thing you think you’d like.