Friday, September 9, 2005

Staying At the Best Westernsky

We arrived in our destination of a northern suburb of Chicago and pulled into the motel where we had reservations. On the outside, the Best Western looked like all the others but on the inside, something was a little bit strange. The clerk manning the reservation desk was dressed to the nines and spoke to us in an extremely thick Russian accident that was very hard to understand. But we got our keys and went back to the car to drive around the building to our door. It was then that I noticed things were a little off.

It was a little after seven in the evening and yet there wasn't another car in sight in front of the building. We drove around the building to our room and there weren't any cars there either. Even though it was a Wednesday night, we were right by the airport and I would have expected slightly more people staying there. I have never been the sole guest at a motel before. We dropped our bags off in our rooms and went out for a bite to eat. When we got back, it was pouring rain so we decided to hit the bar in the motel rather than going out to find other places. We left our room and headed to the right down the hallway and after a long time of walking, we came to a bowling alley. It is the first bowling alley and probably the last one I will ever see built into the middle of a motel. The four lanes were well lighted and there were a supply of bowling balls and shoes to choose from so one of the co-workers with me grabbed a ball and knocked nine pins down. He was prevented however, from rolling a spare because the gate came down and then stopped. We looked around for a few minutes trying to find a switch to turn the setting equipment on but were unsuccessful. We gave up and walked back to our rooms and then on down the hall in the other direction.

After walking through a maze of corridors, we ended up by the main desk where the well-dressed Russian told us that the bowling alley wasn't working because they had no attendants to watch it. So we wandered across the atrium and into the bar. The bar was empty except for another man sitting in a booth in the very back smoking a cigarette and talking in Russian on a cellphone. We wandered up to the deserted bar and waited for someone to come and serve us. We eventually walked around the bar and started opening the coolers looking for a beer assuming that the man speaking in Russian on the cellphone was the bartender. There were perhaps a half dozen large coolers and as we opened up various sliding doors, we found perhaps ten bottles of beer, half of them with Russian names, scattered among them. Just as we were debating whether to get some Russian beer or select from the handful of others, Natalia (pronounced Nah-tall'-i-a) entered the scene.

In a thick Russian accent and very poor English, she made it known that just grabbing a beer was unacceptable and that she was supposed to get the beer for us. After several failed attempts to order beers that they didn't have, we were served a Miller Lite coated with about a half inch of dust, a German import beer of some sort and I ended up with a Mexican beer. As she set them down on the little napkins she places before us, she told us to just call her when we needed something. I asked for her number to call her and she told me to just yell her name and she would come. At this point, we didn't know her name so we asked her what her name was and she told us Natalia. She turned to us and asked if we would yell Natalia when we needed a beer and not grab one for ourselves. I couldn't resist and responded with a "Da!" Failing to tickle her humor bone, she merely scowled and disappeared into the darkened hallways outside the bar.

We stayed in the bar until almost ten and never saw another human. Even the man speaking Russian on the cellphone slipped out leaving the entire place to ourselves. As I sipped my beer, I started to notice all the liquor bottles stacked in the massive display of perhaps 100 bottles in the center of the bar. Every single one of them was some sort of Vodka and no two were the same. I could identify at least six or so brands common to the United States but most looked imported and had Russian looking names. Although we didn't share the bar with any other humans, we did share it with a mouse that joined us at the bar. He evidently wasn't a Russian mouse because the Vodka didn't interest him and so instead of joining us for a beer, he merely scurried around a bit and disappeared into a crack at the base of the bar.

After seeing the mouse to bed, we yelled out for Natalia who reappeared out of the darkness and paid our tab before disappearing ourselves. The next morning, we looked for the free continental breakfast the Russian desk clerk had mentioned and eventually found it in the bar. The bar itself had been converted into a buffet and it was loaded with sweet rolls, fruits, cereals, bagels, juice, milk, a huge bubbling vat of oatmeal and a bushel basket full of hard boiled eggs. It was seven o'clock as I helped myself to some hard-boiled eggs, a sweet roll and a banana. I looked around for a place to sit but didn't have to search very long because we were still the only three people around. Not being in a hurry, we ate a leisurely breakfast, read the newspaper, watched the morning news and only saw the Russian speaking cellphone guy once as he came in to replenish the orange juice container which was barely a fourth empty.

We grabbed our bags, settled the bill, dropped off our room keys and walked out into the parking lot where are car was sitting in a concrete sea of emptiness. We drove around to the front of the building equally deserted and I suddenly started wishing that this wasn't the sung about Hotel California where you can check in anytime you like but can never leave. But leave we did and as we pulled onto the frontage road, no gate barred our progress and we didn't see any guard house manned by a Russian soldier holding an AK-47 and wearing military fatigues. As we drove away, I couldn't help but look back just to make sure the sign hadn't actually read "Best Westernsky."