My oldest just graduated from a giant state university located in the South so you know what that means, right? It’s time to make hotel reservations for his sister’s graduation for next year. Exactly. How’d you guess?
She goes to the same school, which was convenient for her brother’s graduation this year because the kids and I could just crash at her apartment as most of her roommates had gone home for the summer. It was close to campus and cheap and worth the three nights I spent sleeping on a pullout couch and keeping shoes on my feet at all times. But when it’s her turn to don a cap and gown next year we are going to have to ante up and find another place to stay.
I had heard from other parents that booking hotel rooms within a 30-mile radius of the campus was a highly-competitive affair. I knew I’d have to get my game on if I was going to score a place to stay that wouldn’t require 45 minutes of driving and keeping my shoes on my feet at all times (I have a thing about walking barefoot in places that skeeve me out).
But I wasn’t quite sure what I needed to do. I never really developed a solid strategy. I didn’t realize, until it was too late, just how cutthroat I needed to be.
Here’s the thing: I can never really seem to rise to these types of occasions. It’s probably why my blog has yet to become the national sensation that I’d always intended it to be and why I’m still single. I just can’t seal the deal.
So I asked around. Sent some emails. Made some calls. Eventually, I made a list of the top 5 places I’d be willing to stay and noted when each would start taking reservations for May 2016.
And then I waited.
Somewhere along the way, I decided I only wanted to stay at a Hilton property so I could use/earn points, which narrowed my list down to 2 hotels. “No problem,” I thought.
I’d been calling the Hampton Inn every few days and the nice Southern person I would get at the other end of the line would tell me they hadn’t yet started taking reservations for next year’s graduation. “Well, do you know when that’s going to be?” I’d ask, and invariably I’d be told, “No, Ma’am,” and to keep checking back.
It seemed like a pretty laid-back affair and lacked any sense of urgency, which I took to mean it was no big deal. Like they’d be giving rooms away like Chinese babies (please see the movie “Juno” for further explanation).
So when I called the hotel again at the beginning of last week, I was pretty freaked out to discover that rooms had gone on sale the day before and were gone, gone, gone.
I tried to convey my sense of dismay, my complete outrage to the amiable person on the other end of the line but couldn’t really come up with any solid reason why that wasn’t fair, other than to lamely whine, “That’s not fair.”
“Okay, no problem,” I thought to myself. I’ll just be more on top of my game to nab rooms at the swankier Hilton Garden Inn. I knew they were opening reservations on Tuesday beginning at 10 a.m. and made appropriate reminders using all caps on my iPhone.
The appointed hour came that day and I quickly dialed the hotel’s main number and was greeted with a busy signal. And then I tried again. And again. Still busy.
After a few more tries, I dragged the future-graduate out of bed and enlisted her in dialing duties as well. We sat side-by-side at our kitchen table and time-after-time dialed the number, hit the speaker button, and were greeted by the busy signal.
About 10 minutes in, the phone on the other end started to ring. We screamed and I tried to calmly switch off the speaker and put the phone up to my ear and listen. It rang, and rang and rang. After about a minute-and-a-half, the phone went dead and a few seconds later, I heard the unmistakable beeping, indicating a dropped call.
My daughter and I stared at each other in disbelief and then went back to dialing.
Eventually, we began to get a little giddy.
“DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?” I shouted at the phone after the 20th busy signal using a terrible British accent . “IT IS I, AMY ELIZABETH BYRNES!”
“I WILL DE-TROY YOU!” yelled my daughter, imitating her 3yo cousin’s now-famous line we oft quote in our house sounding like robots.
Every once in a while, the phone would start to ring and we’d excitedly listen as it droned on and on, only to eventually cut off after a minute and 40 seconds.
We started noticing patterns like that.
“PLEASE,” I moaned, slightly hysterical as the phone rang in my ear, “don’t give me the 1:40.”
And then I heard the click on the other end.
We began to take note of how long we’d been furtively dialing our phones. How many attempts we’d made by certain points.
“I’m closing in on 100!” I reported. “I’m feeling good we’re getting in at 100!”
To which the busy signal said, “Fuck you.”
We confidently predicted success at 111 and then 222 but by 333 we were starting to lose a little faith in having a successful outcome.
“I wish I knew more about statistics or math,” I grumbled to my daughter at one point. “Isn’t this, like, a word problem or something? Isn’t this like trying to figure out how many licks it takes to get to the center of a fucking Tootsie Pop?”
We sat at the table in our pajamas and called and called the hotel for well over an hour and we probably were greeted with the endless ringing over a dozen times. We went from making outrageous threats to the hotel staff – like driving down and going all White Walkers on them and shit – until we decided they could somehow hear us and were afraid to answer our calls. We then switched to pleading with the faceless hotel staff, promising to keep our rooms very clean and telling them I have very nice hair (we had pretty much lost our minds by then).
And then, at 11:27 a.m. – 87 minutes after we’d begun, someone picked up on the other end at my 408th attempt.
“HiHiHi!!” I shouted like a lunatic and started fumbling with my words. “I’d like to make a reservation for graduation next year!”
To which the woman at the other end amiably responded in a friendly Southern drawl, “I’m sorry but we just sold our last room for that weekend.”
Reader, I held it together. I used neither expletives nor raised voice to convey my dismay. I told her we’d been trying for an hour and 27 minutes and pictured her sitting at the front desk of some crappy hotel hundreds of miles away rolling her eyes at me. I asked if they had a waiting list or something, ANYTHING, to make me feel better. Hoping she could throw me some kind of bone for my efforts. But she merely suggested I try calling back between now and next May to see if there were any cancellations.
“It’s not fair,” I said meekly as I hung up the phone and faced my daughter in defeat.
In the end, I reserved two rooms at a Quality Inn about 20 minutes from main campus, just off the Interstate, that could also accommodate any pets I might be thinking about bringing with me that weekend. Their TripAdvisor reviews are less than stellar but it beats staying even further away or sleeping in my car.
I guess I’ll check in sporadically over the next 10 months to see if anything opens up and I am on one waiting list at a place I initially turned my nose up at but now am treating it like it’s the Ritz Carlton or something. Getting in will be like winning the lottery.
Once again, I don’t really have a moral for this story. I don’t really know what I would have done better in retrospect. I guess I was reminded that sometimes, life isn’t fucking fair and that sometimes, they forget to put that gooey center inside the Tootsie Pop.