I’ve stayed in every imaginable hotel brand from sea to shining sea.
My speaking and touring schedule has landed me in four-star hotels that make you feel like the only guest on the property, and I’ve stayed in motels where I might have been the only one on the property not under police surveillance.
I’ve stayed in B&B’s, cabins, hostels and rental cottages. While traveling to North Carolina a few years ago, a client booked me in a motel where I had to wake up the owner to check me in because I’d arrived after hours.
Once, while staying in a major hotel brand in Smalltown, Idaho, I discovered something hanging on the bathroom doorknob that should have required a trip to the emergency eyewash station.
Like many business travelers, I always request early check-in. Most hotels are happy to oblige and the courtesy allows me to fine-tune an evening speech, iron a shirt or take a breather from a long day of planes, trains and automobiles.
During the recent holidays, I traveled with my family to visit my mother in Charlottesville, Va. It’s become a tradition to have an adventure by staying in a hotel, swimming in the pool and jumping on the beds. If the kids are good, I let them jump, too.
On this particular trip I’d booked rooms at the Marriott Courtyard North and, as usual, requested an early check-in. I’d also requested adjoining rooms, which Marriott does not guarantee, but does everything to accommodate.
We arrived Friday afternoon and the associate at the front desk proudly shared that the hotel has been undergoing a major remodel and the lobby and restaurant had just been completed. It was beautiful, we noted, and the young woman added that not only were the guest rooms next, but that the process would begin the very next Monday.
We took our keys and off we went. My two youngest — both boys — were so excited to swim, they might have skipped putting their suits on.
When we arrived at our rooms, we were startled to find a housekeeper and a manager on their knees just inside the door of one of the two rooms scrubbing a small spot.
I asked, “Is everything OK?”
The manager apologized for the room not being quite ready, but explained they’d noticed a stain in the carpet and wanted to get it out for us.
I made a joke about hiding a body, which my children promptly rated as “lame,” but the manager laughed anyway. Then she promised they’d be finished shortly and invited us to occupy the second adjoining room while we waited.
As we settled in next door, I asked my children if they recognized and appreciated the message. How much easier would it have been, I wondered aloud, for the employees to ignore the spot and call it good.
I imagined the conservation. “Oh yeah, you’re right. There’s a stain right there. Oh, well, whatever. They’re replacing the carpet soon anyway. Plus, the guests won’t even notice and they’re probably the last ones who’ll stay before the remodel.”
Isn’t that how many might have reacted? Judging from the carpet in many of the hotels I’ve stayed in, yes.
Instead, two dedicated Marriott employees were on hands and knees working to clean a stain no one else might have ever noticed. And whether genuinely happy or not, they were doing it with a smile.
Later that evening, the entire gang enjoyed an epic splash battle, hotel explorations and elevator rides. The kids returned to the front desk for more towels, batteries for a remote and to report a broken vending machine. Each request was met by the front desk staff with biblical-level patience and longsuffering.
We’re home now and the holiday bells are just a quiet memory. The carpet probably is, too. But for me, the message rings on.
I wonder about the ugly spots in my life that no one sees but me. It’s certainly not hard to ignore them and hope they go away, replaced by something more beautiful.
But isn’t there also beauty in the cleaning itself?
A flaw is a flaw.
A stain is a stain.
Life’s dirty spots deserve to be cleaned whether we’re the only one who sees them or not.
It’s not just the message we learned at that Marriott in Charlottesville. It’s also a pretty good way to live.
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