by: Shawn and Annette Hall
How is your summer shaping up? I know that in most universes, summer is the time to take a trip, head out for greener pastures and live a little. We all know or - at least we should by now - that all vacations are not created equal. Why must we always learn the hard way?
Recently, we had the occasion to leave our cares behind (or so we thought) and take a little mini-vacation. With a thriving business that requires my husband and I to be available to our clients, "getting away" is a rare occasion, which is one of the reasons we live in vacation-land. We've created a little oasis on our deck that is both relaxing and entertaining.
I've got a question for you: When is a vacation not a vacation? Answer: When it takes you twice as long to recover from it.
We left on a Friday, returned home a day earlier than we planned (on Sunday) and I'm certain it took more than a week to fully recover from our weekend trip.
Oh, how I long for the days when we would just hop in the car and drive around exploring the world around us. It was a carefree time; with no worries (I was ten, of course I had no worries), but what wonderful memories I have of driving down lonely isolated lanes - where no man had gone before. Plenty of times mom would struggle to turn around because our little lane turned out to go nowhere. We laughed, we sang, we enjoyed the drive and most of all we enjoyed our time together.
Who can afford to even simply drive around these days with no destination in mind? With gas prices such as they are ($3.19 in our neck of the woods) every mile of every trip is scrutinized, analyzed and justified.
Our trip to Alleghany should have been an enjoyable trip, after all, driving up and down the mountainside should be a lovely - even inspiring - jaunt, not the harrowing experience it turned out to be. All the indicators were there, screaming, "stay home", but did we listen? Of course not!
The day before we were to leave for Alleghany, our son was invited to spend the day at Brentwood Lake with friends. He was thrilled, as were we, because it would allow us much needed time to pack. We packed a lunch and sent him on his way. Somehow his sandwich was left behind.
Being the wonderful, caring parents we are, we took the sandwich to him. After dropping off the sandwich, I smeared him with sunscreen, knowing that my fair-skinned little redhead has a propensity to burn in the sun. I cautioned him to put more on if he stayed out in the sun much longer.
How many ten-year-olds do you know that will willingly come out of the water to have his body greased down? The answer to that would be zero, and burn he did. He looked like a lobster fresh out of boiling water. That night he was sore, tired and cranky. Should we have stayed home? Yes. Did we? No.
We left the house on schedule for a trip that everyone should have been looking forward to; after all, we hadn't seen Granny since before winter. We were all dreading this trip and for good reason.
In order to get to the mountain paradise of Alleghany, one must first drive through hell. Locals foolishly call it "Sacramento." It was hot, which was expected this time of year. The traffic was a nightmare, which was also expected, but one is never really prepared for it. Where on earth was everyone going? We hit Sacramento around 2:00 pm on a Friday afternoon and while the traffic was flowing, it wasn't exactly smooth sailing. It oozed. Moving inches on the highway was worse than getting catsup out of a new bottle. The highway was packed, bumper-to-bumper-to-bumper-to-bumper for at least fifty miles - as far as the eye could see. Being the seasoned traveler I am, I was having a full-scale meltdown by the time we reached Citrus Heights.
I screamed at my torturer (my husband (hey, I resemble that remark!)) to get off! Get OFF the highway NOW! He was convinced the side streets would be just as bad. After fighting with traffic to migrate an entire lane, he managed to pull into the exit. Fortunately, the surface streets weren't nearly as bad as the highway. We made our way out of town, weaving through the growing communities in eastern Sacramento. The goal was to drive as close as possible to Alleghany, stop and get a room for the night.
Normally when our family takes off for a weekend event, we like to wing it. Making decisions as we go and more often than not, things work out for the best. Since working in the hotel/motel industry, I'm no novice at negotiating for a room...but this weekend was no ordinary weekend.
We pulled into the Gold Miners Inn at Grass Valley around 9 pm, hot, tired and highly frustrated. We expected to relax and get some sleep. Neither was ever going to happen. Upon arrival we were promptly informed that they had one room left and that staff had called around earlier seeking a room, only to find none available. I certainly wish we had verified that information.
[Click on images for slideshow]
Instead, the one room they had left was their executive suite, which we could have for the night - for the low low price of $399, plus tax, title and insurance - ok, we didn't have to purchase insurance. I negotiated for a better rate - $349 and since we wanted to pay cash, we had to put down an equal deposit.
We loaded our belongings onto the cart and made our way to our suite. We were too tired to really enjoy our surroundings, but the room was lovely. Upon entering our room we noticed a strong rancid smell that appeared to be coming from the kitchen area. The smell was a cross between moldy carpets and pesticide - I'm allergic to pesticides and wasn't looking forward to a trip to the hospital.
The suite had two bathrooms: the main bathroom seemed to be in good order, but I was in for a surprise when I entered the master bath. One of the towels had a cigarette burn on it. It happens, what can you do? Then I found two bugs, which didn't make me happy, but then I discovered that someone other than my family had used the lotion and the spot where the shampoo should have been was totally empty.
It was at this point that I became pretty angry and called the front desk to inquire about the horrid smell and perhaps an explanation of why our room wasn't cleaned and properly stocked. A manager and maintenance man were sent to investigate. The manager tried to tell me that the smell was a "new hotel" smell and that nothing could be done about it. "No one else had ever complained." The rest of my concerns were never addressed.
No apology was offered, no compensation was offered, in fact, I felt like I was being humored, they had stuck us for $349.00 and couldn't care less that the room had not even been cleaned properly.
We didn't have much choice but to stay the night, since it was getting late and no other rooms were available in Grass Valley for this particular evening. As a previous employee of Holiday Inn, I am still shocked at our families' treatment. I will never ever stop at a Holiday Inn Express or knowingly stay at any Holiday Inn. There are simply too many other reputable places to stay.
It wasn't until we arrived back home that we received some news that may explain their lack of interest. The headline read:
$1.2M in claims filed against hotel:
Some builders unpaid for work at Holiday Inn Express
Trina Kleist reported on Jun 27, 2007:
Subcontractors have filed nearly $1.2 million in claims against the Gold Miners Inn-Holiday Inn Express in Grass Valley, saying the owners have not paid their bills, according to public records obtained by The Union.
A dispute with one of the subcontractors over the quality of the work done has delayed payments to others, Hayhurst alleged. He is remaining in contact with all of them, he said.
This could explain their attitude toward guests. They were scrambling to take in as much cash as possible - whether or not the visitors ever chose to stay another night.
I would love to report that the rest of our visit was uneventful, but that would be too easy. We made it to Alleghany without incident. The stockholders meeting we were attending for the Original Sixteen to One Gold Mine went off without a hitch. It wasn't until it was time for a tour of the mine that things began to unravel. We had remembered to bring flashlights, only to have left them in our car, so we had to wait to borrow flashlights from the mine, no biggie. The boots that were rousted up for me were two right boots. I'm so glad I didn't try to walk three miles through the mine wearing two right boots.
It was just as well; I walked in as far as I dared wearing my tennis shoes, then came out and sat at the entrance with Ma. We had a nice time chatting it up. After what seemed like forever people started filtering out of the mine. You can imagine my surprise when my son returned from his mine tour covered from head to toe with mud. He had fallen down in a mud puddle and was not happy about it, but I'll bet all that mud felt good on his sunburn. We got him cleaned up, had a quick dinner and decided it was time to head for home. We made our way back to Sacramento and stopped for a visit with my brother-in-law (Tag). Once in the neighborhood we called for directions, as instructed. To make a long story short, we ended up stuck behind a privacy gate and had a terrible time getting out; just another reason not to live in a gated community.
We had enjoyed a very long and very chaotic day, followed up with getting locked into a gated community without any means of exit. After some struggle, one of the tenants helped us get out and on our way, where we met up with Tag and caught up with him. We decided it would be best to catch a bit of shut-eye before continuing along the remaining 4-hour trek home. We stayed up chatting for a couple hours, and then gradually fell asleep, one by one. At O-dark-thirty we rose and headed back home, just before dawn. We made it home just in time to have breakfast out together, then go back to bed.
I was never so happy to make it home and sleep in my own bed, as I was that night. I think we'll be spending the rest of my vacation on our deck, where we belong.
February 14, 2009