Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Doctor for Cheap Lodging

The Banana Bungalows consists of cabins strung out along narrow alleys off the Hollywood Freeway. I parked near the largest.

A desk clerk directed me to a cabin a hundred yards up a hill. Its Spartan interior contained accommodations for eight in four bunk beds, all unmade. Papers, food cartons, luggage, and clothes littered the floor, and there was no furniture, not even a table where I could write. The air smelled of French fries and unwashed bodies:  a typical youth hostel.

Sitting on a vacant bed, I introduced myself. One glance under the man’s shirt confirmed the diagnosis. Chicken pox can be serious in an adult, but this was a mild case.

Walking down the hill, I puzzled over the appeal of youth hostels. They charge thirty-five dollars a night, a bargain, but cheap motels begin at fifty dollars and offer privacy as well as an unshared bathroom. Perhaps young travelers like to clump together.

Back at the front desk, I stood on tiptoes to examine the reverse side that revealed stickers advertising two long-defunct housecall agencies. I caught the eye of the desk clerk, a youth with a shaved head, tank top, and jeans. The quality of front desk personnel varies directly with the quality of the hotel. Since hostels are a nonprofit enterprise, their employees fall below the bottom of the scale.
“Could I speak to the front desk manager?”

“I guess that’s me.”

“I’m Doctor Oppenheim. I took care of the man in bungalow ten. Did you call me?”

The clerk shook his head no.

“Maybe one of your colleagues?”

“I’m the only one on duty.” It’s a mystery how often I find no one willing to admit referring a guest. I began my sales pitch.

“Who do you call when a guest wants a doctor?”

“Nobody gets sick. We send them to an ER.”

“You must call someone. Someone called me. And look at those stickers.” The clerk looked down, but his expression remained blank. I pressed on. “I’m a fulltime hotel doctor. All the hotels use me. Your guests can call any time….”

At chain hotels, staff maintain eye contact and a smile as I speak. I often sense their lack of interest, but at least they remember their manners. The Banana Bungalow’s clerk kept nodding to encourage me to get to the point. He flicked an impatient glance at a guest standing nearby.

“I’m always available.”

“We don’t really need a doctor.”

“I notice others have their phone numbers on your desk. Would you mind adding mine?”

“No problem.” The clerk snatched my card and then turned to the waiting guest. I decided not to hang around to make sure he posted it.

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