Welcome to the Hotel California

beverly_hills_hotel_facebookOur little house in Santa Monica wasn’t air-conditioned, so on the hot days, we would walk down the hill to the beach where there was always a breeze and the water was cool. Weekday afternoons after work were best because the beach was practically deserted then; the only sounds were crashing waves, shrieking gulls, and the occasional zzzzzzing of bicycle bells on the Strand, the paved path that runs from Will Rogers State Beach in the Palisades all the way south to Torrance. We would walk north toward the Pier then sit on the concrete wall bordering the beach to watch the sunset. The sand glowed gold for miles in the pink light while the plashing Pacific glittered at its edge. Palm trees cast their long, shaggy, grey shadows. I always found this experience restorative. Rarely was an afternoon so dreadful that a stroll along the seafront didn’t dispel the stress and gloom. By the time we were ready to trudge up the hill for dinner, the sun had set and the breeze had picked up.

The heat had been oppressive during the week before our twenty-third wedding anniversary. For hours we sat on the front porch in the evening after our beach walks, eating ice cream and trying to decide what to do to celebrate.   I wanted to go away for the weekend but Jamie was too busy at the studio so we tried to devise a day trip or some other out-of-the ordinary event that would be special and fun, but not take us too far. Despite batting ideas around like two cats with a wiffle ball, we never came up with anything we both liked and eventually we ceased discussing it.

The Saturday of our anniversary I awoke at dawn feeling damp and queasy. The house was silent; Jamie was still asleep, although Spencer opened an eye to watch me. I pushed my bangs from my damp forehead. Despite all of the windows being open, the air was still, making the room stuffy, and I could feel a thin sheen of sweat glistening on my body. The room was really hot. If it weren’t a weekend, it would have been a terrific beach day.

I slid out of bed and padded downstairs in my skimpy, cotton nightgown, Spencer at my heels. After pulling open the heavy oak door, I read the thermometer affixed to the wall and was surprised that the temperature outside was already 87. That didn’t bode well. If our house was a pizza oven now, the Valley must be a sauna. That meant that all roads in and around Santa Monica and the beach itself would be packed with day-trippers seeking relief from the sweltering heat. I doubted any would be forthcoming, anyway, on a day like today: since we lived only three blocks from the beach, we could usually feel the breezes flurrying up the spine of the walkstreet and this morning there were none.

I sat on the top step and pulled my hair up and tied it in a messy knot wondering how to spend today. I doubted we would be doing anything special since we hadn’t managed to agree on what to do. The walkstreet was silent. The fronds on Jean-Pierre’s palm trees hung motionless in the still air. No one was moving except Spencer and Simone, the neighbor’s cat. I peeled my bare legs from the gritty step and wandered back into the house to flip the coffee pot switch. No matter how hot the day, I needed my steaming morning caffeine.

Balancing the mug on my Kindle, I returned to the porch to read the LA Times. By the time Jamie awoke, I was pretty much through all of the stories that interested me.

“Jeez,” he said, leaning against the doorjamb in baggy khaki shorts. “It’s gruesome out here.”

“Want to go to the beach?” I asked, already knowing the answer. Jamie hated crowded beaches.

“Hell, no. It’ll be packed with all the Valley people. Why they don’t just swim in their pools I’ll never know.”

“So what should we do? I hate to waste a perfectly good Saturday. And it is our anniversary so we should do something special, something memorable.”

Jamie pulled his left hand through his tousled hair. “Well, I have to pick up shirts at the laundry and your dress at the dry cleaner.”

“And after the thrill of running errands has passed?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe we’ll go out for dinner. Let’s see later.” He retreated upstairs toward the bathroom to shower.

“I want to do something fun!” I shouted after him. I sighed. Anniversaries were always bigger deals to me than to him.

I was still reading on the porch when he returned talking on his cell phone. He kissed my ear and trotted down the stairs, disappearing over the rise of the sidewalk.

Figuring it would be nice if I didn’t sit around in my pajamas all day, I hoisted myself up from the porch swing and started up the stairs to shower, but the heat immediately drained me of all energy so instead I flopped on the bed, picked up my Kindle, and read some more. When Jamie returned a little over an hour later, I was still lying on the damp and rumpled sheets engrossed in my novel.

“Hey, I know what we should do today,” he said, pulling the plastic wrapping from my black cocktail dress and hanging it in the closet. “And it’s something special. Let’s go to the Beverly Hills Hotel. We can get a room, hang out at the pool, have dinner in the Polo Lounge, and not have to deal with the traffic or the heat.” I stared at him until he added “And celebrate our anniversary.”

I considered; while it sounded like fun, it would certainly be an expensive twenty-four hours just to avoid sweating on the beach with families from Studio City. But it wasn’t just for that; it was for our wedding anniversary. It would be romantic, like a miniature second honeymoon. Actually, the Beverly Hills Hotel had always reminded me of the Royal Hawaiian on Waikiki Beach where we had honeymooned all those years ago. “Okay.” I stood. “And while I’m in the shower, you can go next door and ask Debbie to babysit Spencer.”

Within an hour we were standing in the lobby of the iconic hotel, cool, filtered air flowing enthusiastically around us. Jamie handed his American Express card to the desk clerk and I rubbed my hands together and gazed at the famous Don Loper-designed banana leaf wallpaper covering the wall leading to the stairs. “Whoa, it’s actually chilly in here,” I said.

The clerk heard me. “You folks from out of town? From someplace hot?”

I giggled. “Yeah, Santa Monica.”

His eyes widened. “No way. You came ten miles to Beverly Hills when you live by the beach?”

“It’s unbearably hot there today and we live in a turn-of-the-century beach bungalow with no air conditioning, so, yeah, we came ten miles.” I grinned.

He smiled back displaying his perfectly even, perfectly white teeth. “I guess you won’t be wanting the Visitors’ Guide to Beverly Hills then.”

“No, thanks.”

Our room was lovely and cool, but we were eager to relax by the pool, to read and have a snack, so Jamie unpacked quickly, tossing our few clothes into a couple of dresser drawers. We changed into our swimwear and headed downstairs.

The pool area was bright and sunny, perfect for soaking up local color. We chose lounges near the restaurant because I like to people-watch and there is always a lot to see in Beverly Hills. One common sight that never failed to amuse me was a woman wearing a swimsuit and 6-inch Jimmy Choo stilettos carrying her $15,000 alligator Birken to sit by a pool. I wasn’t disappointed; there were four of them.

After we’d been roasting for a few hours, watching the sun descend over the stately palms and the pink stucco walls, Jamie suggested we return to our room to shower and dress for dinner.   Hand-in-hand we wandered up the sloped and curving path, dipping our heads under low-hanging giant bird-of-paradise leaves, until we reached the elevator.

Back in our cool room, I watched the television news while Jamie showered, then he took my place on the sofa to wait while I did. I had just squeezed my eyes shut, squirted shampoo into my hair, and begun to lather when I sensed that something had changed. I couldn’t hear the television anymore. The gusty sound of air conditioning billowing softly into the room from the large vents seemed to have stopped, as well. Rinsing my hair and face, I opened my eyes. The bathroom was shrouded in darkness.

“Jame!” I called. “It’s dark in here. What’s going on?” No answer. “Jame?” Just as I finished wrapping my hair in a towel in preparation for climbing out of the tub, I heard the door latch. “Jamie! What’s going on?”

The bathroom door opened and he entered. No light followed him. “I don’t know. The emergency lights are on in the hall. The power seems to be off on this entire floor.”

I shrugged into a robe and we felt our way through the furniture to the balcony and slid open the thick glass door. Everything outside was black. “Listen,” Jamie said. “You can hear the traffic sounds.” He was right. The night was so eerily quiet that we could hear the whoosh of the cars on Mulholland and Sunset.

“Geez, it’s like the aliens landed,” I observed tying the sash of the terrycloth robe. “What do you think is going on?”

Jamie shrugged.

“Do the phones work when the power’s off?” I asked.

“Oh, sure. They have enormous generators here.”

“So call the front desk and ask,” I suggested.

Jamie stared at me. “You mean now, along with the other four hundred people who are in this hotel tonight?”

I stared back. “Yes, unless you want to be the only one out of four hundred and two people who don’t know what’s going on.”

He lifted a brow. “I won’t be the only one; you don’t know, either.” Regardless, he felt his way to the phone and dialed the front desk; amazingly enough, someone answered. Evidently, there had been a serious traffic accident in Beverly Hills and a car had hit a power pole. The power would be out for hours, probably throughout the night.   Of course, the hotel had generators but not enough power to run all of its functions. Unfortunately, one of the biggest drains on electricity was the air conditioning; that had to be sacrificed, however the management foresaw no problems as a cool night was forecast and they had plenty of fans. Would we like one? If we did, one would be sent to our room, along with extra flashlights. No, regrettably the Polo Lounge would not be honoring our dinner reservation this evening as the emergency had forced its early closure.

I sat on the carpet and listened as Jamie relayed this to me. “Doesn’t this room cost a boatload of money?” I asked.

He nodded. “A boat and a half,” he agreed.

“Well, that must be the definition of irony, then. Spending a zillion dollars to find ourselves in the same situation we were in earlier today in Santa Monica for free.”

“Not really the same,” he said. “We still had power in Santa Monica.”

I burst into laughter and rolled over onto the carpet.

“Okay,” I gasped, “so we are extravagant idiots. Whatever. It’s done now. We’re here. The current question is what next? We need to find somewhere for dinner. I’m starving.”

“Well, since there’s no Polo Lounge, where do you want to eat?

“Wherever you want is fine.”

Jamie shrugged then thought for a moment. “Pink’s?” he suggested.

I considered briefly. This night wasn’t going to go the way I had expected, anyway. My fantasy of a romantic stay in a fabled Southern California hotel with rich furnishings and endless amenities seemed a lot less likely now with the reality of whirring fans, no dinner, and a pocket flashlight to find our way along the corridors. Why not complete the evening by sitting in plastic lawn chairs and eating chili dogs in the dark on La Brea Avenue?

“Sure, why not?” As I pushed myself up from the thick carpet a lock of damp hair slapped the side of my face. “Let me just . . . oh, you know what? Without electricity I can’t dry my hair.”

“So?”

“So by tomorrow morning I am going to look like Little Orphan Annie with a magnesium deficiency.”

Jamie shrugged. “We’ll check out early. No one will see you.”

I scowled. “Thanks. You might have said I’ll be beautiful anyway.”

“I might have,” he agreed, holding out his hands to help me rise.

I grabbed both of his hands. “That’s why I married you, you know, twenty-three years ago today. Your undying romanticism. Besides, I knew you’d be the kind of man who’d buy me a chili dog for dinner, then take me camping at a fancy Beverly Hills hotel with no electricity.”

“Glad to hear it. Then you’re not disappointed with the result. Happy Anniversary.” He kissed my damp forehead. “Come on, get dressed. I don’t want to have to spend the rest of the night standing in line behind the tour bus from Rancho Cucamonga just to get a hot dog.”

“Oh, sure, like tourists from Rancho Cucamonga drive all the way to La Brea at this time of night,” I scoffed as I pulled a white t shirt over my wet hair.

“No, they are there. I went for lunch one day and the line was down the block.”

“I think that was because it was lunchtime. It’s . . .,” I glanced at my watch on the bedside table “after nine. Ohhhh, hey, how late is Pink’s open, anyway?”

“Three a.m, on a Saturday.”

I grabbed his arm and propelled him toward the door. “Oh, honey, come on. Let’s get going. I want you to have plenty of time to make friends with all those tourists in line.”

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