The Suite and Sour of Life on the Road

All I wanted was a weekend refuge to relax and, with a bit of luck, get some work done. Instead, I checked into a real-life Fawlty Towers

By Lisa Bergson

One of my very favorite things is to hole up in a quiet, comfortable hotel room and write and work. Between room service, maid service, and concierge service, I'm free to concentrate on whatever projects require focused attention. Fortunately, frequent travels for both business and vacations with my husband, Jerry, offer many such opportunities. (I'm spoiled. My cats are miserable.)

This week, after presenting and exhibiting at the high-stakes, high-stress Early Stage East Venture Capital Showcase in Wilmington, Del., I looked forward to hanging out while my husband took beginner sailing lessons. As usual, I packed piles of work, books, magazines, and papers.


  He arrived a day ahead of me. "The hotel's a little strange," Jerry said over the telephone that night. My standards, refined from a lifetime of travel, have rubbed off on him. But I'm still not used to finding him finicky. "Like how?" I asked, looking at the grimy, peeling wallpaper at the hotel where I was camping out for Early Stage. It's the kind of place where your feet stick to the carpet.

"It's just an odd layout," he murmured, noting that there was no desk and the mini fridge was plunked in the middle of the living room. It sounded harmless.

"Is it clean?" I pressed, forgetting that men (mine, anyway) can be oblivious.

"Is it quiet?" I asked next. I was sharing my Early Stage digs with a convention of happily partying middle-aged Elks. In my mind, the suite awaiting me in Annapolis took on dimensions of Nirvana. I imagined the sun streaming into a room decorated with bright, beach-y chintz, pastel walls, and pine furniture -- simple, cheerful, and unpretentious. "It's big," my husband added as a positive. He generally dislikes close quarters.


  The following evening, I meet Jerry. Tired, but excited, I'm not all that put off by the dim décor of rust, taupe, putty, and dark olive, or even by the inadequate lighting. (I'm keen on lighting.) I don't really mind the dingy bathroom and stringy, torn towels so much. And the fact that our room overlooks a noisy atrium, which turns out to be the site of a boisterous wedding a few nights later, hardly matters.

It's the service -- and certain strange occurrences -- that start to aggravate my already frayed nerves. I begin to sense my four days in Annapolis will not be the respite I envisioned. Not only does room service deliver our breakfast with four cups and saucers and one set of silverware, but The Wall Street Journal that the hotel claims to have dropped by the door has disappeared. My husband must have his paper, and, after an irate call, the hotel comps us a replacement. They're trying. Why make a fuss?

Despite poor working conditions, I get one uninterrupted day in. The odd omission of available outlets in our suite's living room requires me to perch my laptop on the arm of a chair and snake the cord around the doorway to the bedroom, while ensnaring myself in the Internet cable stretched to the phone in the opposite corner. It's awkward.


  Day two, and things get worse. I'm on the phone and trying to work when the maid repeatedly bangs on the door and fiddles with the lock. "Go away," I yell, wondering why she's ignoring the Do Not Disturb sign. Not long after, the banging resumes. "Who is it?" I holler, growing even more annoyed.

"Room service."

I march over and lunge for the door. "Can't you read?" I bellow at the poor waiter, who's come to collect our tray. I look at the doorknob and see it's bare. I call the hotel's hotline to complain about the missing Do Not Disturb sign and subsequent mishaps. The clerk listens and says she's going to transfer me. Instead I am disconnected.

As I leave the room to meet Jerry for lunch, I spot a figure walking several paces ahead. "Hey!" I call to a boy of around 9, wearing baggy jeans, high tops, and a baseball cap over his shiny black bowl of hair. An impish round face peers up at me as I gain on him. "Are you the one who stole our paper and took our Do Not Disturb sign?"

A big, wide Dennis the Menace grin crosses his face. "Yes," he drawls.

"What's your name?" I ask, grabbing his chin.


"What room are you in?"



  I report Kyle's shenanigans to the concierge, a wonderfully sympathetic woman. We both tsk-tsk over the way some parents allow their children to commit hostile acts against other hotel guests. She says she will take care of it, but, just in case, offers me a roll of scotch tape and a new Do Not Disturb sign.

Yet, when I follow her advice and tape the sign too high for Kyle to reach, no one sees it, and my husband and I are awakened from an afternoon nap by room service bringing complimentary amenities, with a little note of apology from the manager. Thank God we had the door double latched because the waiter used his master key to practically barge right in. Trying to make amends, the poor hotel just made matters worse.

Later that night, returning from dinner, I catch another glimpse of Kyle, clutching a Big Gulp as he continues to wander the hotel's lonely corridors. I'm seized with the desire to abscond with Kyle and offer him a rich and stimulating childhood, nurtured by two loving adults concerned for his safety and whereabouts. Back in our room, my sea-weary husband climbs into bed. I sit in the living room and try to read, but I find myself staring at the door. I have an unfamiliar feeling that takes me a while to identify. I realize I am homesick.

Lisa Bergson is President and CEO of both MEECO and Tiger Optics. Before joining MEECO in 1983, Lisa Bergson worked as a business journalist at BusinessWeek and freelanced for many business publications. You can visit her companies' Web sites at and, or contact her at

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