Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Hotel Living: Then and Now

View from hotel

I was lunching at this place in Santa Monica and there was a 60-something-year-old couple with a Golden Retriever on the table next to mine. Since I can't really hold myself around dogs, I started petting that sweet creature, which led to a short chitchat with the owners. We briefly spoke about where I'm from and what I do, and also about the book I'm currently writing. When I told them that I grew up living in hotels they both looked at me and almost at the same time they merrily said: ‘Here's another book you could write.’ Then before leaving they asked about my name and were astonished when they heard it. We shook hands and the lady looked me straight in the eyes and said: ‘You will do great things.’ Just a simple interaction that left me with some needed positive energy.

I wrote the above lines a little less than two years ago. Even though the following is not a book about hotel living, it’s a piece I enjoyed writing while staying at a hotel...

My earliest memory of living in a hotel goes all the way back to when I was 4-years old in Alexandria, Egypt. My father was appointed to Hotel Manager of the Montazah Sheraton and that was when we moved from Cairo to there. He then moved to Saudi Arabia and I went to Cairo to live with my grandparents for a couple of years. When they came back, we moved to the Cairo Sheraton and ended up living there for 17 long years. Knowing that this was a major hotel in the region, it only shows that the man was doing a great job. 

Of course this was an unusual life for all of us — to reside in an actual hotel with housekeeping, room service, laundry, swimming pool, and all these restaurants. It sure was different growing up in such environment. 

As a young boy, I recall that I sometimes wanted a normal house with a building and neighbourhood. You know, like my friends at school. I wanted to have neighbours and to play soccer in the street with the other kids and the ‘bawabeen’ — doormen. Not that this was the norm in mid-80s Cairo, but the stories from my father’s 1950s childhood were always on my mind. 

I often wished to ride the school bus with the rest of the boys instead of having a driver, who worked for the hotel.

Other times, probably as I grew up a little, I appreciated having a driver because it allowed me to leave home in the morning later than all those who ride the bus, hence wake a little later. I could also leave late after school so I play basketball.

In room 2109 at the Sheraton just living a kind-of-normal life

Then as I reached my mid-teenage years, I began to realize that I’m pretty lucky to have that kind of life. I began religiously using the gym, like six times a week, as I also began to have friends and girlfriends coming over to spend the day — usually at the pool. I got to know lots of people throughout the years, though I never had many close friends, only a group of maybe five or six real ones was always more than enough. 

At the time, none of the boys had a private place to go to with their dates. In fact, some of them had to drive to Maadi — a relatively far neighbourhood — and put a cover on the car to be able to get some privacy and play. Others had to go park somewhere on the Cairo-Ismaileya Desert Road (highway)…at night. This was around the time when most of us began legally driving at 18. 

I, for one, despised car action. In fact, much later I learned that a teenage boy who gets caught fooling around in a car by a cop, or a parent, or any kind of authority can later in life develop erection problems — or erectile dysfunction (ED). That’s because the memory keeps haunting them as they keep replaying it over and over in their heads. No doubt such early traumas can equally affect females.

One major thing I am grateful for is the way my parents brought my sister and I up. I am certainly grateful for more things when it comes to them, but this is related to living in hotels in particular.

My father would always tell us to shut the light in your room or bathroom if you’re not using them. And if you’re not having lunch at home, then let us know beforehand because we cook for you and your sister everyday.

Knowing that we did not pay for the food or electricity or water, this still made sense. Not because we can order from room service or eat by the pool and sign a check which would later be rebated, then we shouldn’t think about these things.

My mother was more general; she would constantly remind us that this kind of unusual, luxurious life wasn’t going to last. And I always knew that. 

Fortunately, we never had more money than sense. 

As a teenager at the time, though, I still couldn’t fully value these early lessons. Let alone my younger sister. Only when I matured a little and we left the hotel and I had my own place for about 10 years, have I truly understood their meaning. Growing up living in hotels, we could have easily turned out to become spoiled assholes if we were exposed to a different upbringing.

Enough with reminiscing about the past, let us now fast-forward to right after this decade when I lived alone. 

Afterwards I moved to Canada for a few years, then again to the U.S until this very day. I had already started writing my book and was looking for novelty and inspiration through traveling.

Then after a tour throughout the U.S, which lasted almost four months, I arrived to Venice Beach in California and instantly knew that this was it, at least for now. The right amount of crazies, the right amount of artists, the right amount of conscious people; the weather is amazing all year through; the beach is right there; and last but definitely not least, the Drum Circle. I found this Bohemian hood to be a truly inspirational place to live. 

On and off I have been residing in Venice for over two years now. When I recently went back to Egypt, the place I was renting was sold, which means I’m currently back to the hunt for affordable rent. And thanks to Gentrification, that’s no easy feat.

This last trip has actually reminded by how my life there is filled with comfort and abundance, which also reminded me by why I must leave it. So I keep leaving.

Since I was still in Cairo, 

I have been trying Craigslist, AirBnB, and other Facebook L.A Rentals groups, but no luck until now. The alternative was to take a bike and pass by everyone I know in the area and ask them. As you may already know, I like to ‘connect’ with people. So from Steve on the Boardwalk, Jose the bike guy, Mani the server in Lemonade, to Honey the Hawaiian lady from the tobacco shop, I told everyone what I’m looking for and exchanged contacts.

Words of mouth can sometimes be more effective than searching online. You never know, the universe does work in mysterious ways. 

Echoing with Honey's encouraging words: “Keep manifesting.”

During this search time, I had been staying at my aunt in the Valley. After about three weeks there, I realized that it’s not convenient to be looking for places in Venice while I’m so far away. So, I called up my buddy Awad, the Egyptian receptionist/concierge/guest service from the Jolly Rogers Inn where I have spent multiple weekends before, and asked for a room for the long President Day weekend. 

After knowing about my dilemma, on my last day at the Inn Awad offered me a weekly “long stayers” rate — it’s a slightly older, unremodelled room.

I pondered for a moment…

My own room, AC, hot-ass high-pressure shower, fridge, microwave, fast and reliable Internet, the comfy bed, the clean white towels and sheets and pillows, the small jacuzzi-like pools, housekeeping, having someone on call 24/7 (think a burnt out light bulb or a clogged toilet), and more importantly, the location of the property — 1.2 miles to the beach, or 6-7 minutes by bike. 

One of the two small pools in the hotel is just underneath my room

Perhaps above all, it was the special rate I was offered; it was the same as what I was paying for the room in the shared bungalow during that last year, including taxes and all. Despite having a full kitchen, a spacey garden, and the full bungalow to use, I was still sharing a bathroom and there was no AC or pool.


I am still willing to pay the same for a one bedroom with private bath in the area. This arrangement, as I previously mentioned in Countering Gentrification — Eating Cheap and Healthy in Venice Beach [With a List of Places and Their Menus], leaves me about $20 for food per day.

The slightly frustrating thing is that with the same rent in Venice, one can afford a fancy two-bedroom apartment in so many other places around L.A —with pool, sundeck, Jacuzzi, 24-hour fitness centre, billiards, air hockey in the building. Only that you have to move further from the beach, which in my case, as someone who uses a bike to move around, is not something that would benefit me much.  

The normal rate at the Jolly is about $100, with a rack rate of $170, which I doubt anyone really pays. The one I got, however, was actually quite appealing. The room is right there and I’m not sharing anything with anyone.

All these things considered, I spontaneously agreed and made my first weekly payment in advance.

Later that day, I went back to my aunt’s house and brought my one luggage and one handbag.  

Hotel living...and writing

Of course being settled like that in a hotel made me relive 20 years of my life of being a ‘guest’. Since we left the Sheraton in 2001, I don’t remember staying for long periods in hotels, usually because they are expensive. Ten days have already passed since I first arrived at the Jolly and everything seems to going seamlessly.

Being an organized minimalist, I only need housekeeping once a week, mainly to change the bed sheets. Though as I came to realize, there are even more perks: No worry about washing or drying any linen or towels, not even attempting to fold those damn fitted sheets. Endless supply of toilet paper, tissues, lotions, and shampoo (not that I use the shampoo myself). 

So as you can see in the below video, the room is kept clean and tidy, the garbage is taken out daily, and all is under control.

The property may not be a 5-star international chain — only 3, which isn’t that bad — and I’m not the son of the General Manager. There are no pool cabana, fancy restaurants, room service, or laundry. In fact, I suspect that one of my next doors neighbours lives between the room and his car, the other appears to be an actual homeless person who until quite recently was living in the street.

But, I am a step closer to where I want to be. So for now, and until I find that affordable place, being here seems reasonable…and affordable. Unlike the hotel life I was born into, this time it’s my own choice, which itself is based on my own priorities.

The stay reminded me by how I used to hear from my dad that so and so was an extended-stay guest and had a special treatment — along with a special rate. Those people were often artists, some of whom were writers, others were singers and dancers who worked at the hotel and whose contracts included the accommodation. Long-stayers could also be training and business folks; of course those don’t have to worry about rates since they are almost always covered by their companies.

I saw the same when I later worked in hotels for seven years. And always, the longer the stay, the better the room rate becomes. 
This was the time when I saw hotels from a totally different perspective. Obviously the long hours and the night shifts could not match with living there. Yet, it still remained an experience which had taught me quite a few things — about life and, more importantly, about myself.

At the time, I didn’t really understand those who willingly chose to live in a hotel. Now that I myself am a freelance writer on the road, I can relate to those long-stayers. At the moment, I am enjoying being a “homeless” wanderer. I am enjoying this captivating state of never arriving, this state of transience. There is a certain freedom to having my luggage ready for leaving at any time I wish. 

As I found out, the creative excitement such a fully nomad, unattached life-on-the-edge can bring is truly exuberant.

When all you need is a luggage or two, one also feels light and unburdened. That’s because ‘Stuff’ weigh us down. 

Interestingly, there is a book by Paul Carr called “The Upgrade: A Cautionary Tale of a Life Without Reservations”, which tells the story about giving up his flat in London and permanently living in hotels around the world.

Just like everything in life, as there are advantages to hotel living there are some disadvantages as well.

Personally, I do love to cook. So unless it’s an apartment hotel with an en suite kitchen/ette as we used to have in the Sheraton, I’m not too certain if I can keep living in a hotel room or even a suite for the rest of my life. After all, I have already spent half of my life there. A reason why I’ve written before that I think because I've spent 20 years living in hotels I can mentally afford living pretty much anywhere for the next 20.

By the time I was done with this article, I had to do something about the food issue. So I got a burner and a pan, mainly to be able to make the morning eggs which are essential to my veggie diet. 

Mission eggstraordinarily accomplished

Another concern is that I would have to either have a garden or a balcony, since this is where I usually take my breaks from writing. Then again, many hotels offer such accommodation, probably a tad more pricey than my rate, depending on where one is in the world. 

An additional drawback for living on the road is strictly for dog owners. Even though some hotels allow dogs, sometime for a certain fee, others don’t.

In summation, full-time hotel living is an outré lifestyle and it isn’t for everybody. The idea of not having a permanent residence or being ‘homeless’ may appear scary to many people. But for those of us who enjoy it, these sojourns can be highly adventurous, learning experiences…even wild and romantic at times. This makes them worth writing about. 

Now if you excuse me, I've been writing for quite a while so I'll grab a glass of rosé and a smoke and go chillax by the tiny pool in this magnificent City of Angels' sun.

A sign at the pool that I have never, ever, seen before. I later found out it has been required by law in
California since 2013.


Personal Questions I'm Often Asked and Their Answers 

Funny Hotel-Related Stories

Countering Gentrification — Eating Cheap and Healthy in Venice Beach [With a List of Places and Their Menus]

Things I Couldn't Quite Understand After Being On The Road For Seven Months 

Why Hippies Are Sometimes Called Bohemians

The Joy of Being a Wanderer and the Credit Card Number

A Dollar & Thirty Four Cents in Me Pocket and Feeling Fine

World Art Through My Lens 

Some Soulful Travel Quotes

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