A Teary Farewell to Mrs. C.
John and I were lounging in the patio area of our tiny hotel in Waikiki. A soothing fluorescent blue-green was the dominant color palette; I was wearing my sunglasses. Compared to the hotel room, the patio was strangely quiet. Quiet, I was learning, was a relative term. The hotel room, if one closed ones eyes, had the ambiance of an airport; laying on the runway beneath a jet at lift-off. Whereas the patio merely had the ambiance of a busy street. Ah, bliss.
Some acoustic anomaly must’ve been in effect, perhaps the concrete corridors amplified the noise as it travelled the short distance down to our room. But on the patio, next to the street, the sounds seemed deflected by the hotel front or muffled by the trees. Earplugs brought the level into the realm of acceptable, unlike in the hotel room. The rumbling vibrations from the constant parade of delivery trucks was almost soothing; like a massage.
John and I surfed the web for an “acceptable” hotel room. Aiming for “nice” was out of the question; it was the height of the season and the hotels were packed with Midwesterners escaping Winter. We were stuck at this hotel for one more night, but beyond that there was no way I was going to stay at this dingy, noisy place. The park bench across the street was starting to look pretty nice, but I’d have to fight for it.
Of course, the tiny hotel did not have its own wi-fi. We were using the leakage from a hotel two blocks away. We found a few generic looking hotel rooms at surprisingly reasonable prices, but the hotels were pretty far inland. John, who had experience here, said that as you went inland, the more likely the hotel would be on a busy streets with rows of matching high-rises amplifying the noise in concrete canyons. Still, I insisted we look. At least we could find a hotel where I wasn’t afraid to drink the water.
Then John said, “Say, why don’t we go see if something’s opened up at Surf Breaker.” That was the first hotel at which John had tried to make a reservation months ago, but they’d been booked solid. Since it was a short walk away, we headed there. I was not hopeful.
We spoke with Tim at the front desk. “No, unless you don’t mind a room right next to the street…” I said no way to that.
Then Tim got this faraway look on his face and said, “Unless…hmmm…we DID just get a cancellation, about five minutes ago. Let me check the system,” said Tim. “Yes, it seems I could POSSIBLY give you a reservation that starts tomorrow. It’s a nice room on the first floor. This is assuming the cancellation doesn’t change their mind once they see read my e-mail about the mandatory charge we’ve made.”
Tim, a middle aged balding man with dark hair and glasses, was a pleasant chap, but a bit of a nerd. I couldn’t help imagining his story…the sole IT employee at a big company in New Jersey, working around the clock, reaches his wit’s end and takes a sick day, flies to Honolulu, tries to get a room at Surf Breaker but their computer system has broken down. Tim says, “Let me take a look.” An hour later, he’s fixed their system, has a room and a new job, calls the company in New Jersey and calls in sick forever. Hey, there’s at least a chance this is actually true.
Tim gave us a reservation number with the understanding that it was provisional. Provisional or not, I still insisted on seeing the room. Tim showed it to us, and I was satisfied it wasn’t next to a parking lot or a karaoke bar. In fact, it was…nice! We wanted it, so John and I decided to cross our fingers and come back in the morning.
Back at the hotel, we got ready for dinner and went out. Walking down the street, we came to a sidewalk sign advertising “Sushi Bistro.” Why not? If you can’t get great sushi on an island surrounded by fish…Greeted by the waiter, we had the choice of the single outside table next to a parked car, or the single inside table next to a blaring TV. We chose outside, and the empty restaurant was suddenly half full. We ordered, and the waiter disappeared into the restaurant, abandoned his waiterly duties by donning an apron and commenced making our order. Ages later, we were served, and the waiter/sushi chef disappeared again when he got into the parked car, backed it onto the street and drove away. Somehow, the sushi missed being inducted into the Hall of Fame, but was acceptable. Not that anyone asked.
About 45 minutes later, long after we’d finished our sushi, long after we’d considered just leaving (dine and dash would be child’s play at this “bistro”), our waiter/sushi chef/chauffer came back, and asked us if everything was alright? Remembering, vaguely, that he’d fed us dinner at some point in the distant past, we summoned an appropriate response, then uttered a resounding “No!” to the offer of dessert. He tallied our bills, donned his “manager” hat, took our money, and asked us to “please come again!” as hostess, I assume.
My guess is that our order had depleted his sushi stock, and he’d left in his car to go fishing.
In our surprisingly comfortable bed in the mildewy hotel room, we were awakened again by the delivery trucks before dawn. After breakfast, we went back to “Surf Breaker” hotel with our (cross-our-fingers) reservation number. “Yes, it’s early but your room is ready. Would you like the key now?” Were finer words ever spoken?
Our nice hotel room had a comfortable patio, with a strip of garden beyond, and a open air room beyond that, where Japanese on holiday could enjoy all the tranquility of a full-blown tea ceremony which, happily, is performed completely without speaking. As neighboring activities go, this sure beat hydraulic brakes. Later, I discreetly watched one of the ceremonies, a pretty woman in a jade green kimono quietly served tea to a young Japanese man seated on a cushion, legs folded under, in a red silk robe. His back was to me, and when the server temporarily left the room, it made me giggle to see him furtively rub his feet and legs that had fallen asleep.
We unpacked, then went back to the tiny hotel to check out. We tried to go into the lobby, but it was locked. Peering in, we saw decades-old magazines, ‘70s era water-stained wallpaper, but no sign of Mrs. C., the elderly Chinese woman who ran the hotel. We spotted the maid (actually, I was surprised Mrs. C. even had a maid, since as manager/proprietor/desk clerk, she was another super-multi-tasker like our waiter of the night before; I’d had visions of her rough, thin arms moving methodically as she changed our rough, thin towels). The maid informed us that Mrs. C. came to the lobby at 10am. So we went for coffee, and came back around 10:15. She still wasn’t there.
The paranoid in me wanted to set up camp by the door and grimly wait for her arrival. I had this vision of her getting to the lobby, listening to the voicemail from John saying we were wanted to check out, her whispering “not on MY watch!”, and bolting for a few days to the North Shore so we would accumulate charges. But less imaginative heads prevailed.
John convinced me to step away from the door and go to the nearby mall to buy our bus passes. There were the tourist lines which went from one local site of interest to another, or the bus system used by the locals. We considered the Hop-On Hop-Off system, which comes in 3 colors; pink, red and green. But when we saw the maps of service, we weren’t impressed. The Pink Line goes from mall to mall, so that the eager shopper who’d flown thousands of miles to be in perfect weather could wander in sealed, air-conditioned comfort, exercise his credit card, and never miss a caramel mocha frappuccino. In fact, the Pink Line eliminated all the discomfort and psychological trauma of being some place you’ve never been.
In fact, none of the tourist lines seemed to satisfy our wants, so we got four day bus passes for the system used by the locals, and a handful of maps. Then we quickly walked back to try and catch the elusive Mrs. C.
And there she was in the lobby. We entered; she seemed resigned, stoic even. “Yes, I got your message. Sorry you can’t stay longer.” We took care of the business of paying for our 2 night stay. Inside, I was rejoicing; it was going to be the easy way. Happily, Mrs. C. was an honest business woman, I have no doubt now. But even so, having no employees but herself and a maid, if she’d gotten the flu or something, who knows when we would’ve been able to tie up loose ends? As John signed the charge authorization, Mrs. C. looked at me, subtly sardonic, in a way that said, “This is all because of you, isn’t it, princess?” Mrs. C. was clearly the master of looks that conveyed volumes, and I was just the sensitive telepath to catch her meaning. But I’m a master of this as well, and looked back with, “You never can tell, honey.”