The Sure Thing

In praise of consistent mediocrity...

Here’s the thing about McDonald’s; in a lifetime of dining in their restaurants I’ve never had really good or really shitty McDonald’s. Like all the best chains, McDonald’s achieved a certain level of mediocrity and stays perfectly balanced at that point.

If some franchisee lost his or her mind and did something to the McDonald’s formula that actually made the food taste better, I’m assuming they’d be shot at dawn and all the employees who saw the new, improved formula would be shipped by boxcar to a McDonald’s franchise in the Arctic Circle, never to be heard from again.

You don’t fuck with the formula.

We go to McDonald’s because although we know it won’t be the best burger we’ve ever eaten, we also know it won’t be the worst; we know what we’re getting.

It’s a sure thing.

Despite growing up 90 minutes away from the Lake Tahoe casinos I have never placed a bet in my life. When my best friend Phil heard that – we were standing in a casino at the time – he gave me $20 of his own money and told me to try gambling, maybe I’d like it.

When he saw me an hour later and asked how I was doing, I said: “I’m up $20.” I had twenty unearned dollars for sure; why risk it?

Once I find a dish I like, I’ll order it every time I go to that restaurant. There might be another untried dish that would steal my heart and lower intestinal tract away, but I don’t know that, so I order the sure thing.

And I’m the same way about hotels.

My trip to St. Louis

I spent a good chunk of Thursday driving from Kansas City to St. Louis in a rainstorm so thick I’m pretty sure I saw animals walking down I-70 two-by-two; which means at times they were making better progress than I was.

A number of traffic slowdowns had me arriving in St. Louis a couple hours later than I’d planned, but I always like staying in hotels and I was staying in a hotel I had previously visited and liked near Busch Stadium.

Unfortunately, since my last visit to this particular hotel it had been bought by a national chain and apparently the standards needed to be lowered to fit that chain’s expected level of mediocrity.

Timeout for rationalization

I pretty much loathe people who leave nasty online comments about hotels, restaurants and movies that don’t meet their impossibly high standards. They sniff at the pasta or towels like they’re British aristocracy out slumming and then writing reviews for the latest issue of the New Yorker.

For instance:

I recently checked out the movie “Predator” from the Kansas City Public Library, mistakenly thinking it was a remake of the original – which was fucking awesome – and read some of the comments previous unhappy Predator borrowers had posted on the library website.

This was a movie nobody forced them to check out, watch or pay for and yet some of them still complained about the special effects and bad acting.

It’s a fucking Arnold Schwarzenegger movie for chrissake.

Did they think Sir Laurence Olivier was going to make a cameo appearance performing the “To Be Or Not To Be” soliloquy from Hamlet right after Arnie blew up the Predator with a nuke? Why borrow a cheesy movie and then complain about the overabundance of dairy product?

OK, I think it’s safe to say I’ve gotten off track.

My original intention was to make it clear that I’m not like those other assholes even though I’m about to do exactly what those other assholes do; I’m sure there’s a difference, I just can’t think of what that might be right now.

So bear with me while I continue to write and try to figure out why I’m not an asshole. (Haven’t managed that in my first 65 years of life, but I’m sure it will come to me shortly.)

Back to the Hotel Calipornia

I arrived at the hotel in question, checked in and drug my luggage to the sixth floor. On the way to my room I spotted scraps of plastic bags and a single Cheezit decorating a stained and rumpled hallway rug.

When I arrived at my room’s door it was clear someone had used a pry bar to force the door open in the recent past. Other doors looked like they’d been pried open as well. I’ll have to remember that trick the next time I forget my room key which could be a couple hours after writing this because I intend to hit a cocktail lounge or three sometime this evening.

Next I discovered I possessed two beds and one of the bed’s covers had two large, suspicious-looking stains on it. I know the shit I like to do in hotel rooms and I’m far from the most perverted person I know – you’ll have trust me on that, I know some really perverted people – so I’m avoiding that bed like it was imported from Chernobyl and glows in the dark, which is completely possible, I’ll find out tonight.

I’m sure the bed I’m going to sleep in isn’t any better, but I only suspect it of being the scene of some traveling salesman three-way porn fest, I have no firm evidence, and that will make me feel better when I lay my head down on my disease-ridden pillow.

Then I decided to make an Irish coffee – nectar of the Gods – and though I had remembered to bring whiskey, the room didn’t have one of those Munchkin-size coffee makers. It’s always something, isn’t it?

The alcoholic runner-up – designated to serve if the winner is unable to complete its duties – was a whiskey and soda, but the ice bucket had some kind of sticky brown residue running down the side and had to be pried off the counter top it was adhered to.

After cleaning the bucket and dropping by the free clinic for shots, I got ice and intended to buy a 7UP, but the soda machine only took credit cards and had a sticker with some weird legal language about what might or might not be the “agreed on price” and the future legal action required to settle what was sure to be a lengthy dispute.

I decided I’d rather not have to hire Clarence Darrow to get a soft drink and went back to my room to drink whiskey and whatever it is that’s coming out of the hotel tap. Is water supposed to have lumps?

I then tried to use the hotel wifi and kept getting warnings that my connection was not private and the Pirates of Penzance were hard at work stealing my passwords and credit card information at that very moment and unless I signed up for some other sketchy-looking browser the hotel was going to let them do it.

So…am I being whiny or is this a shitty hotel?

I’ve stayed in great hotels – usually at somebody else’s expense – and that’s not what I’m looking for here. I just wanted the same mediocre, but clean hotel I’d visited in the past.

I just wanted a sure thing.