Free Nights

george crack

It was the same old script from the same old movie.  Bleary-eyed businessman, half-dressed, swigging from a bottle of lukewarm Aquafina, clacking away at a hot laptop in a cold hotel room well past midnight, strains of ESPN looping in the background.

I was getting everything squared away for a critical meeting first thing in the morning.  They said it was super important. 7:00 a.m. sharp. Be ready.

The Marriott was modern, efficient, and clinical with the soft hues, boxy lines, and rigid design orthodoxy mandated by the newest development template. The waning hum of late interstate traffic, soft murmur of the climate control system, and intermittent flash of alley-oop highlights provided a steady pulse of white noise.  I could have been on any other business trip in any other city in America on any other night of the rest of my life.

But for one small difference: the little guy snoring next to me in the astronaut jammies.

I had promised a handful of the kids a night away and through the magic, redemptive power of Marriott points I booked us a suite at the nearest hotel. I accrue plenty of free nights on my business travel, but we scarcely ever use them.

Alison and I occasionally toy with the idea of going somewhere, but then we’ll start thinking about projects, about all we could do with just a couple days, about our big visions for this place, about how gorgeous it is right where we are, and ultimately we end up spending our vacation on the farm. When we do ever decide to slip away, Alison insists, it will be to someplace Marriott has never even heard of.

“I can’t believe we are going to a hotellll” the kids kept saying, elongating the “L” for emphasis, as we curled through the still frozen countryside. Passing the local lake we noted snowmobiles jetting across the ice, slaloming between the ice fishing huts plopped down like bales in a vast frozen hayfield.

Forty minutes later we were wolfing down $38 worth of pad thai and spicy chicken at a favorite family noodle place. “We’re going to a hotellll,” the kids told the cashier and six other randomly-selected restaurant patrons, “because my dad has Marriott points.”

As we ate they peppered me with questions. Questions which exposed ripple effects of our recent vacation calculus.

“Daddy, is this going to be like the yurt we stayed in?”

“How will we get into the room? Do they have keys?”

“Does the hotelll have a TV?”

We eventually turned onto the freeway frontage road and the Marriott came into view, a very standard-looking limited-service hotel. Brick and composite siding. Four story banks of high-efficiency windows. Over-gabled roofline. Impressive spotlighting. Entirely ordinary stuff, but the way the kids pressed their faces to the frosty windows, mouths agape, the entire thing may as well have been made out of gummi bears.

And up in the room you would have thought it was the Taj Mahal the way the kids bounced around issuing breathless superlatives.

“There’s a TV!”

“There’s three TVs!”

“This is the fanciest place I’ve ever been to!”

Spirits were high as we exchanged winter boots for flip-flops and headed down to the pool.

At least one of our intentions in moving to the farm is to develop family rhythms. We are just getting started, but I think we are on the right track. There are the lambing, kidding, and haying seasons. Sowing and harvesting and the production of firewood and all its various and seasonal exertions. Within those rhythms there is a time and place for swimming, typically at the local lake after a long day of working outside together. Indeed, part of what makes swimming so special these days is that we don’t do it every day, or even every season. There is a certain scarcity to it that makes it even more treasured. I think it feels even better that way.

So it struck me as more than odd to be splashing around in pool water – by my count 96% chlorine, 2% urine, and 2% water – while outside temperatures plunged to twelve degrees. The kids had no such qualms. A portly lady on a mobile phone fought valiantly to stay out of splashing range, rotating around a half dozen deck tables before eventually giving up and walking out, gesticulating wildly to her unseen mutual conversationalist.

A hotel attendant entered bearing a fresh cart of towels. Sweet blessed towels. Something of a rarity in our home. I took three just for myself, held them on my lap, and stroked them like a crazy old cat lady caressing her favorite Siamese.

The kids tired quickly, the caustic chemicals searing their pure little rural eyes, so we headed back to the lobby. Armed with my 20% “Platinum” discount we ransacked the marketplace and then further raided the front desk for a fistful of free toothbrushes and ice scrapers.  We returned to the suite for what I thought would be a popcorn-, chess-, leftover-Thai-, Netflix-, SportsCenter-, and Sierra-Mist-fueled bender.

But the city proved too much for the kids. One by one they dropped off to sleep before the second bottle of soda, the second round of chess, the second episode of My Little Pony, the second half of the game.

With everyone asleep I kicked into extra work gear.  It wouldn’t be a Marriott for me unless I gutted out a few dozen emails, firing them off into the lonesome, vapid late-night digital vacuum.

The travel industry whizzes have done yeoman’s job telling us how, with just a little brand loyalty, the world can be ours. Just a few more mileage runs, a few more bookings, a few more meetings, a few more swipes of the card, a few more nights away from home and it will all be free.

But as with any other freebie, someone else always pays the freight. And, on all those faraway nights over all those years, I realize it’s been mostly the sweet little people in astronaut jammies.

So as the kids added their snores to the symphony of hotel white noise, I toiled on another couple hours, clacking away, trying to process everything tumbling down the sluice, getting everything squared away for that Next Important Meeting. Sometimes those meetings can be hard to predict. But in this case the agenda was perfectly clear.

Back in the pool by 7:00 a.m. sharp, the kids said, followed by free breakfast at 9.

12 responses to “Free Nights

  1. Stroking the towels like cats – what a great image! Love your writing and am amazed you have the ability to put such beautiful thoughts together with all going on in your life. Just the thought of the lifestyle whiplash you must experience overwhelms me. Thank you for sharing! And many congratulations on the newest addition to your family – what a blessing!

  2. Oh my, you had me laughing so hard I was worried I’d wake my little guys up! You see, we just did the same thing: took our farmstead kids to a hotelll for a night. They were so excited about the bathtub! Our house only has a shower and, well, an outside stock tank. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every one of your posts. You give me insight into my husband’s world, since he straddles two realms a bit like you do. This may be the best one yet, or a very close second to “The Very Slow Track”.

    • Thanks for the very kind feedback, A. Candle. I get a kick out of seeing kids express wonder and gratitude over such simple things. I have a feeling that the sentiment will only help in the long run. And kudos to your husband, straddling the two distinct realms is not for the faint of heart!

  3. I can hear and see your bundles of joy while I read your story. Another awesome one Paul. Can’t wait for the next one.

  4. Until the astronaut jammies entered the picture you were churning up memories of many nights I spent like that. Way too many.

    But as with any other freebie, someone else always pays the freight. And, on all those faraway nights over all those years, I realize it’s been mostly the sweet little people in astronaut jammies.

    Well said.

    Great idea to treat the kids that way and burn up some of the points. I’ve had who-knows-how-many points expire since I dropped out of that life. I still have the laminated card my secretary made me with all my account numbers airlines, hotels and rental cars. It fills both sides of the card. These days I wish I could cash in some of those old points for hay.

    We sometimes talk about using some of the unexpired airline miles to fly somewhere. But it’s hard to leave a farm.

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  6. I wonder if Marriott has considered branching out into the yurt industry.

    I came to visit on Bill’s recommendation. I’m glad he did that. Lovely post.

    • Thanks for stopping by Hippie. Here’s hoping Marriott does get into the yurt and permaculture farm retreat businesses – I need a place to burn those points.

  7. Paul, this one left me feeling validated and fulfilled. I’m so glad you took the time for a Marriott stay with those who matter most.

    “But as with any other freebie, someone else always pays the freight. And, on all those faraway nights over all those years, I realize it’s been mostly the sweet little people in astronaut jammies.”

    Tears in my eyes. This is what I try to remember every day….

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