Paranoia in Astoria

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I’m walking down a dimly lit hallway. The carpet looks like bad art viewed through a kaleidoscope in a 1970s color scheme of various dark oranges accented by black. There is also a vague hint of flowers–orchids perhaps–that interrupt the orange swirls passing beneath my feet. The choice of carpeting, although repulsive, was likely born out of a desire to eschew any appearance of trying to match current interior decoration trends; like a New Yorker wearing jeans and a black t-shirt, but a far more violent and auspicious sample. The entire building is shrouded in similar fabric which, in not matching, actually creates a cohesive palette. Uniformity in contrived chaos. This makes sense, as the hallway down which I am walking is in a hotel, and at any moment any piece of furniture or upholstery could be damaged beyond repair, requiring sudden replacement. Rather than hunting down a perfect match, a suitable replacement is likely at hand in any nearby furniture store, and will be for the life of the hotel.

There is a deep and invasive BUZZ which permeates the air of the hallway. Although the parking lot is nearly full, I get the sense that the dozens of identical doors which are stretched before me are cold to the touch, bearing no life behind them; the three floors below me the same, empty yet filled with a palpable BUZZ, which now seems to be increasing in volume faster even than I am walking, ruling out the Doppler effect. It possesses enough insidious threat that I begin to imagine myself the unwitting protagonist in the beginning of a horror movie–the one who doesn’t understand the magnitude of evil which will fill the following 85 minutes of film – the first to die. The BUZZ being merely representative of the unseen threat, an aural clue added for the benefit of the audience to communicate that something, something, is coming. It accelerates to the point that I feel as if sleepy faces should start poking their heads out of the doors, wondering what is going on while rubbing their eyes.

POP! Click. Vroooom–the elevator engages and terminates the BUZZ, the relief of which is suddenly overshadowed by the imminent threat of the other, the thing represented by the BUZZ. I feel a slight hesitation in my step when suddenly I realize that I am making my way towards the vending machines in a Holiday Inn Expresshotel in Astoria, Oregon, and there is not going to be a murder here tonight. I arrive at the machines, filled to half-capacity, emitting their own, lower frequency HUM which is soothing after my near-death episode inspired by the accelerating BUZZ and its sudden stop. I am jolted from thought again as the elevator door opens one floor below. Perhaps I tricked it, I think, referring to the unseen threat which turned my midnight craving for potato chips into a Stephen King novel.

I return to my room, snack in hand, victorious yet humbled, as the simple errand served to emasculate me to the point of jumping at the sound of an elevator door. I think about my hotel, a Holiday Inn Express. Upon arrival I noted that it sits snugly beneath the Astoria-Megler bridge, one of the most iconic landmarks of the small city. How long has this been here? Were the residents upset about its construction? Do they have reason to be?

I fancy myself a student of the French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, who touted authenticity as a highly desirable goal or state of being. I see Astoria as an authentic city. It is comfortable with itself, bears a unique identity in the world, and is just plain charming. Not in the way a barbecue restaurant tries to be by hanging cowboy hats on the walls, but in a “the stores never seem to be open” kind of way. Their mysterious closing time isn’t an inconvenience either, since all they sell is home-made crafty knick-knacks, and I don’t need a candle holder made from part of bicycle frame. So wouldn’t this Holiday Inn Express, a national chain hotel, be a blemish on the city? Sure, every town has a McDonald’s restaurant, but they usually aren’t parked directly underneath the city’s most recognizable landmark.

I ponder this for a moment. Perhaps the suits (business casuals?) who run Holiday Inn should have considered more subtle branding than a fluorescent green sign bearing a revamped version of the familiar brand name. Or maybe they should have even adopted a pseudonym to be used locally, to pacify the rage which was surely bubbling in the hearts of long-time city folk. But wait, would not that be even less authentic than the hotel chain simply erecting yet another iteration of their well-known brand? It may be boring but it would be what it is. Standing across from the plush but crusty Victorian houses leftover from the boom years is this monolithic box of undecipherable architectural vomit, proudly sprawling its parking lot outward, advertising its nearness to the quaint shops and stores which choke in its shadow. Or do they?

The hotel seems busy enough. Cars filled the parking lot. Are the recently restored boutique hotels bearing historical plaques and protection sitting empty? Or were they insufficient before big Holiday moved in to pick up the slack? Perhaps the knick-knack stores are experiencing increased foot traffic and higher sales of their useless shit? This would please me as I like looking but feel guilty as I never buy anything. Yes, I am part of the problem, as I mentioned before I am a paying patron of this behemoth chain hotel, as poor planning led me to stumble in without a reservation after discovering that I had not ticked my personal to-do reading “Get hotel–Astoria” before arriving in the city in darkness. I didn’t have time to peruse the web for the poorly designed websites of local historic hotels, as my companion was dozing off in one of the lobby chairs.

A search would have been fruitful as Astoria has many such establishments, and nearly all of them sound delightful. A cafe in the lobby, original moldings – these all can be found here if one puts in a small amount of effort. I pondered this while sitting in my room on the upper floo,floor; looking out over the knick-knack shops I was either killing or supporting. I was experiencing some regret until I read that the hotel I had my eye on had “European-style” rooms that share two toilets and showers at the end of the hall. I have been to Europe and don’t remember experiencing this kind of inconvenience, so I imagine by “European” they meant “Dickensian” as I don’t think even Oliver Twist had to put up with sharing a shower with a stranger on vacation while paying $120 a night.

My charming fantasy was killed, and I was left sitting in my chain-hotel eating my greasy potato chips and listening to the new BUZZ which began emitting from my heater unit. This paired well with the pops from the back of the mini-fridge, which sounded like a tiny bongo drummer trapped inside. I am just as bad as any other patron of this hotel, I thought; flocking toward the brand-name like the many moths at the lamp outside my window.

My pseudo-ideals in tatters, I resigned myself to bed, where I listened to the loud sound of large trucks passing on the bridge overhead, which to me seemed to represent an unseen threat, an aural clue added for the benefit of the audience to communicate that something, something, is coming.

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