Friday, August 15, 2008

Homeless in Charleston, WV

Cheryl and I have been in Charleston, WV, since Friday. She is attending a three-day workshop and I am, well, mostly just writing.

Wednesday and Thursday Cheryl's workshops were here at the hotel. The Board of Ed put her up at Embassy Suites in Charleston and told her that she could bring me if she wanted to. This morning they sent Cheryl's group down the road in a shuttle to the Clay Center. I stayed here, checked out about noon, and now I'm homeless for a few hours - sitting in the Hotel's business center waiting for her return.

I walked across the street to the Charleston Town Center Mall (I think that's the name of it) and killed 45 minutes. I ate lunch (chicken teriyaki and fried rice at a Japanese place in the food court), then sat in the Borders bookstore and read The World is Flat for a while. The book is compelling, but I'd heard most of it before Ian Jukes showed up last week for our 21st Century Learning Expo, and Ian let me in on most of the rest of it.

Before coming back over here I decided to look for a cup of coffee. I found a Starbucks on the ground floor of the mall. I'm not a Starbucks person, partly because it's a 45 minute drive from my house to a Starbucks. I had to read the menu and ask questions since much of it is in another language (Italian, I think).

Espresso sounded good. I asked, "What's a doppio?" The attendant asked me to repeat the question. Like everyone does, I rephrased it instead. "How big is a doppio?"

"Oh. It's two shots..." She smiled. I asked if I could get two doppio espressos poured into a larger cup that I could carry away. "A quad espresso?" She looked like she wasn't sure I knew what I was getting into. I put some Splenda and some half & half in the cup, stirred it up and started back to the hotel. I tasted it as I walked. It was the texture and strength I remember from coffee in Singapore. They'd told me to come back after 2pm with my receipt and they'd give me a refill for a discount, so I checked to make sure I still had the receipt as I walked back into the hotel.

The hotel...

In many ways Embassy Suites is a nice place. It's single most attractive quality is the space they give you in your rooms. Normal hotels rooms are pretty cramped even at the better establishments. Embassy Suites gives you a bedroom, a living space that has a small table fit for eating at, and both a couch and a loveseat to sit on when you watch TV. There a small sink, a fridge, and a microwave. The bathroom isn't too cramped up. The furnishings are pleasant. There was a little mildew on our shower curtain, but otherwise it was spiffy.

The interior of the hotel is attractive. There's lots of greenery and art work. The atrium is interlaced with small channels of flowing water - streams that come out of a waterfall near the glass elevators. It's relaxing.

My one real complaint about Embassy Suites revolves around their computer policies. Embassy Suites wants $9.99 a day to use your wireless laptop in your room. Breakfast was free. Fresh fruit, link sausage, bacon, blueberry pancakes, pastries, breads, English muffins with real butter and jam, orange juice, coffee, cranberry juice, and a chef on duty to prepare made-to-order omelets (I got mushrooms, fresh spinach and cheese in mine). In the evenings their manager's reception offers guests free drinks for about two hours - and while they didn't have Drambuie at the bar, they did have Scotch, Jim Beam, Vodka, Gin, some wines, imported beers and a few other things. USA Today gets laid at your door and half a dozen Wall Street Journals get put on each floor, free for the taking. There's a business center open 24/7 where you can sit down at a workstation and check your email or blog (like I am now) for free. They'll send your faxes for free. You can even hook your laptop up to an Ethernet cable in the business center and sit and use it there. But if you want to blog in your room the fee is ten bucks.

I spent most of the time that Cheryl was in workshops sitting in the business center. There's a sign on the door that says no children without parents. The average user is 35 years old. But the content filter kept telling me that the Huffington Post was bad for me and that I should reconsider using that site. It wouldn't let me check Facebook at all...

Either Embassy Suites is stuck in the past (computer access isn't really that important to business people and professionals) or the policy is a nickel and dime effort to make a buck with add-on fees. Either way, they need to wise up.

That said, the stay wasn't unpleasant. It just would have been more pleasant if I could have spent those 18 or so hours in my room working without paying the extra $20.

Well, it's 15 minutes ‘til 2pm. My cup is empty and I'm trying to decide if my brain would melt if I went back over to the mall and got another quad espresso...

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