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Jewish World Review April 3, 2001 / 10 Nissan, 5761

Dave Shiflett

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Consumer Reports

The Inn Crowd -- THERE are two kinds of business travelers: Those who stay in cheap hotels, and those who avoid them. The natural tendency, especially when traveling on another's dime, is to choose nicer digs. Much would be gained, however, if more Americans -- especially those from the Snoot Class -- would occasionally hunker down at La Fleabag.

Consider a pleasantly frayed establishment known as the Ball of Flame, which was visited by this correspondent last week during a fact-finding mission to Nashville . This five-story pile, while far from a flophouse, is also light years from a Four Seasons. Rooms go for $49.95 per day (nights included). The only way you'll see a belle hop in this place is if you kick her in the pants.

As one might expect, when members of the Snoot Class hear $49.95 per night, car doors lock and accelerators are stomped. We look around for Marty Peretz, Arianna Huffington, Howell Raines, Rob Reiner, Cher, Patrick Kennedy, Anna Quindlen, et al., but we look in utter vain. Yes, Snoots talk a good game about loving diversity and adventure. They say they love the common man. But theirs is a long distance love. They stay only in places that pay proper homage to their status. They travel to many different cities, but remain in the same envelope.

Indeed, incest is not a pleasure restricted to the lower classes.

Yet it doesn’t have to be this way. The Snoots could actually benefit from slumming it from time to time. Stepping out of their sheltered environment can broaden horizons. Like a trip into the bush, a stay at a solid one-star inn would provide an Outward Bound experience for those trapped in the parochial hell of the High Life. It would give them lots of stories to tell back at the club.

First and foremost, the adventurers would at long last meet the people they read about in the papers and see on television, including that somewhat broad category of racial minorities from outside the Ivy League, muscatel drunks, bellowing hillbillies, management trainees, people who ride buses, men with one dead eye, children without health insurance, parents without teeth, tradesmen with missing digits, people who have never visited Starbucks, read the New York Times, or would know Sally Quinn if she walked up and sank her incisors in their neck.

The benefits from such an exchange would not be restricted to the Snoots. The commoners also need to occasionally experience people from outside their circles. Indeed, occasionally, a guest at La Fleabag actually encounters a High Lifer who has landed in the wrong place, most likely due to an either inexperienced or devious travel agent.

Such was the case last week when a couple Northeastern in origin found themselves partaking of the Ball Of Flame's self-service breakfast. Not only were they surrounded by commoners slurping coffee and corn flakes, which caused obvious discomfort. Suddenly, without warning, an employee of slightly Persian ancestry tossed a plastic juice jug in the trash.

Mrs. Snoot was overcome with horror, as if she had just watched a Kenyan feeding her children to the crocodiles. "He just threw a plastic jug in the trash," she reported to Mr. Snoot in a startled hush. "That's because they don't recycle down here," he replied. His tone indicated that he would be wiping his feet for many hours after checking out.

Low renters have heard, in their lodge halls and union shops, that a certain type of Northeasterner is a conceited ass -- a fellow who believes he and his works make him a very important person, even as time and fate sweeps him toward the yawning abyss. Seeing these people in the flesh, however, is something else altogether. Among other things, such interaction serves a vital public service: It dissolves the corrosive powers of envy. A common man might have a crooked nose, a monstrous wife, children in jail, a tenth grade education, and a frightening canker here and there. But at least he’s not a rich wanker.

As for this particular fellow, lord knows the number of diary pages he dedicated to the leak in the lobby ceiling, the drunks in the elevators, the lumps in the mattresses, and the way the bar band rocked the floors until two in the morning as the hoi polloi went hard at the business of drinking, singing, eating, scratching, and carousing. He might get a book out of the experience. Others of us will have to settle for a column.

JWR contributor Dave Shiflett writes from Midlothian, Va. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2000, Dave Shiflett