I’m staying at the Best Western Independence Park Hotel on the very quaintly named Chestnut St. in Philadelphia. I arrived at ten-thirty pm, so it was too dark to see the neighborhood, but the map puts me just a few yards away from the Liberty Bell and other famous, historic attractions that I have very vague ideas about. Despite my late arrival, from the shuttle window I managed to catch glimpses of red brick buildings and lots of trees, which makes me anticipate walking around tomorrow during the day.
Already I’m having the strange sensation that I might be on a movie set, like “National Treasure 3: Thomas Jefferson’s Waffle Iron” or “The Seventh Sense: Hunger” – can you tell I’m hungry? Incidentally, the complimentary tourist magazine in my room has a short article on the Philadelphia Movie Sites tour which “whisks you away to 40 different movie sites,” including locations that were featured in “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” “Marley and Me” (which I didn’t watch), “Rocky,” “The Sixth Sense” and “In Her Shoes.” I’m pretty sure “National Treasure” is on that list…
The air here is surprisingly humid, and reminds me of Taiwan. After hopping off the shuttle, I asked the gruff driver if it was always this humid and he said, “Only today,” but I couldn’t tell if he was being serious or if he was still seething at the girl he had dropped off before me and who had only tipped him a dollar. I gave him a fifty-percent tip only because I was too afraid to ask for change, and hurried into the hotel lobby.
There was a fireplace surrounded by tall, worn armchairs and antique-looking reading lamps. I’m not sure, but I think there were a few vases of fake flowers. An anachronistic computer sat idly in one corner – the hotel’s “business center.” It seemed like a set from an Alfred Hitchcock film, with an almost theatrically upbeat and blithe front-desk agent to match.
Blonde and in her late thirties, a frail woman was perched behind a small, polished wooden counter with an antique telephone (“It really works!” she said, when I complimented it) and wooden mail slots. The whole set up seemed to frame her thin body as some memento of the present, the only thing modern about her being her clothes and glasses, which on anyone else would have given them an erudite air, but on her, only emphasized her cheery, spacey gaze. Her simple, friendly manner seemed to be from another era and matched the rosy wall-paper and colonial style upholstery of the sitting room.
Her name was Michelle and, as for all employees small hotels assign to the late shift, it took her a while to locate my reservation. When she did, we had a lengthy discussion about whether or not I would need a roll-away after my mom and aunt arrived tomorrow night.
“Craig already told me all this,” I said, kindly as possible, “It’s okay. I’ll just sleep on the floor when they come.”
“I’m so sorry about that!” she said and proceeded to give a look of such genuine pity that it seemed I had just told her I had a terminal illness.
She was genuine. And dyslexic. It took a few moments for her to realize that I was in room 405 but that she had given me the key for 504 and several more moments for her to tell me a story about the time she told a guest they were in room 804 but that there was no room 804, because the building only has 6 stories.
Kookiness is endearing. So ignoring how badly I wanted to go to my room to change and pee, I smiled and said, “I’m the same way, but with words.” I thought briefly about telling her the time I interviewed at Morgan Stanley and said “Head Fundge” instead of “Hedge Fund,” but looking into her magnified gaze (glasses) and her frazzled side braid (actually quite fashionable at the moment), I thought better of it and bid her goodnight.
“Breakfast is from seven to ten tomorrow morning!” she chirped as I pressed the elevator button. “And we have a wine and cheese reception every Wednesday. I’m sad I won’t be hosting it,” she said, looking genuinely sad, as though hosting the wine and cheese reception was the ray of sunshine amidst a sea of late night shifts, “But I’m sure whoever they get will do a great job.”
Stepping in to the elevator, I turned to see Michelle’s wistful face just as the door closed. Had I known I would be wide awake for the next eight hours, I would have considered going back down to keep her company.