Thursday, June 29, 2017

Sky: Navigating the Biggest Hotel in the World

Do you think a person with a compromised sense of direction might have any issues getting around the biggest hotel in the world on his own?

OK, first of all it’s not the biggest in the world any more.  It was the biggest, when it was built by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1919 as the New York City flagship of the then mighty Railroad. Today, the hotel still towers over Penn Station, and still dominates its hugely busy neighborhood. Due to its superb location and low-end room rates, Jane and I stayed there on the way to the conference in Atlanta. 

The place is a throwback to the glory days of rail travel, when trains were literally the only way to go. The lobby is still crowded with international travelers, and it takes only a bit of imagination to picture nattily dressed sophisticates crossing the lobby to dine at the Statler Grill or dance at the Cafe Rouge Ballroom while listening to the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Count Basie, or the Dorsey Brothers. Today, most of the 1700 rooms are tiny by modern standards, perhaps contributing to the hotel’s decision to reduce rates instead of “upgrading” the rooms’ footprints. Two elegant remaining touches are:

* high (9 foot +) ceilings, a practical way to keep the rooms comfortable before air conditioning.

* massive stone walls on the exterior, providing the same function

Though the hotel’s statistics now rank it as 4th largest in the city, 1700 rooms under one roof remains pretty impressive. The hotel’s architects chose to go with a grid design, efficiently packing the rooms into LONG rows that intersect at right angles. Some, but not all, of these seemingly endless corridors intersect with other rows, always at 90 degrees. Standing at an intersection, I could look into the distance and see the vanishing point, where parallel lines meet in a single spot. Discovering this phenomenon inspired both awe and anxiety. Vertigo knocked rudely on my brain. I experimented with walking to the next intersection and as I had dreaded, it looked exactly like the previous one and had three options for corridors reaching deeper inside. Anxiety was not letting up. Ruder than ever. I reached for my phone for comfort. Yes, it was still there. And, yes, I still had service. So that, yes, Jane could come and rewind the invisible thread connecting me to a world that made sense. 

This time I made it back without help (only 2 or 3 wrong turns….I think…). I suspect that the confidence I felt knowing that my safety net was in place helped me be a bit smarter negotiating the Hotel Pennsylvania fun house.

An adventure every minute. 

All at no extra charge!

1 comment:

  1. Sky, this is so beautifully written. I can easily imagine being in that hallway with you, facing it with both awe and maybe some fear. And rude Vertigo and Anxiety appearing with no invitation-not fair! There's nothing fair about what you face each day.

    Your piece made me think of an idea a clever friend of mine has for a future writing piece. First, picture a GPS as we know them. You put in your destination and the GPS lays out a plan for you to follow. Now think about your life having a GPS. You put in a destination but sometimes you don't follow the plan the GPS lays out (so this metaphor applies to decisions we control vs things that happen to us out of our control- Alzheimer's Canyon). Anyway, you make an alternate decision in your life and rather than scolding or berating you your life GPS just recalculates and lays out a new suggested route. For example, someone's plan may be to have a life partner but for lots of reasons that person chooses someone who's not a good match. Rather than telling you how stupid you've been your life GPS just recalculates, says this is where you're at now, here's the new route.

    While I am sure there are times when you feel incredibly frustrated, sad and fearful-at least that is how I would be feeling- I have also seen you, Sky, do the calm, "recalculating" thing and I so admire that. You and I (and Jane) were recently at an unfamiliar hospital visiting our aunt. You had arrived at her room earlier than I. I met you in the hallway (!) as I was coming in. You were headed back to your car to get your book. I said "Hi" and you said in a natural voice, "Am I lost?". You weren't lost, in fact you found your way to and from the car following unknown hallways, boarding a shuttle bus and navigating an unfamiliar parking lot all by yourself. But I will hold onto what you asked, "Am I lost?" because you asked it like that life GPS- no self-deprecation, no embarrassment- just coming from a place of "This is what's happening to me and this is my new route." You are an inspiration to me, my dear brother. Mary Y.