No Holds Barred: Making your home your castle

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The Queen and her castle and Philip and dogs!

In this brave new world of “mid-Covid” confusion, you can forget the mask controversy.  It’s time to think about how and what your real “coming out” will look like.  And I’m not talking about grocery store visits and outdoor dining.

Psychotherapists are now more booked than plastic surgeries.  People are suffering from re-entry anxiety.  Everyone is talking about “going back.”  But what is “back?” We all know there isn’t really a “new normal.” Instead, we are “strangers in a strange land.”  Improvising as we go along … everyone according to his/her “comfort level.” And what is a “comfort level?”  Forget the CDC and Fauci on this issue.

Therapists are dealing mostly with people (and especially children) having “return” identity crises. And how about the concern over non-vaccinated people lying about getting vaccinated?  Since businesses are allowing everyone inside stores and restaurants unmasked — this becomes a new “honor system.” As if our culture pre-Covid didn’t suffer enough from trust issues.

It’s bad enough that we don’t know who WE are. But we are not too thrilled with anyone ELSE either. It doesn’t make for a total “Happy Days are Here Again” confident and unified return. We are still on guard and on edge in a new way.

So, what’s the best way to deal? Escape travel. It’s the quickest way to break the Covid isolation spell.  What outing are you using to circuit break the weirdness? Is it a mega RV road-trip to camp in the Rockies? A flight to Greece for a deluxe B&B? Will it be a week or a weekend or a month? How are you rebooting your mind and body in this opening moment?

Remember, you are not really returning to what was before. You can’t really order “the usual.”  This is a whole new landscape no matter where you go and “you can’t go home again.” This is not about picking up where you left off.  So, what are you picking, and where are you going?

Here was my Covid debut “game changer.” I was already a reluctant traveler pre-Covid so trips to a raging viral Cancun beach or a long distance Budapest market site did not call to me.  This getaway had to be safe, easy, and fast.  That meant no planes or airports as I am not ready for an N95 mask for 6 hours (even if you can cheat with a “mask nose drop” to eat or drink).

I also wasn’t willing to try this party trick. (Photos: Instagram/emmalou)

I chose an overnight hotel trip to see a best pal (who happens to be a wellness therapist) in a town two hours away.  A quick drive without a gas or rest stop needed (who wants to break Covid isolation with a Circle K excursion).  I left Scottsdale at 11AM and pulled up to my vaccinated friend’s house in Tucson in a neat two hours. No TSA, no customs, no gates. NO PEOPLE.

However, I decided to push myself into the “new world order” by staying at the deluxe 5-star Ventana Canyon Resort.  Luckily, I didn’t have to really “stay” there, just put my head on a sanitized pillow.  The rest of my 24 hours was filled with some great Tucson cafés with vaccinated people all sitting outside (what will happen when Arizona hits 110 in a month and all the outdoor umbrellas and misters do little more than annoy you). This visit was really about having conversations with people who matter to me and seeing their real faces (no one wears makeup anymore, hence we all look like s#*t), and that alone was enough of a breakout experience for me.

This was not about an obligated visit or a time filler. Everybody does this differently. I had heard from one friend who flew to LA for the first time in a year and sobbed on the plane out of emotional joy.  Good for her. “Returns” as ecstatic experiences.

But I am all for “baby steps” in getting back into this odd flow.  I don’t want a giant “come to Jesus” moment.  I just want a “regular” moment to catch my breath and observe what does unfold in my daily life — out of my house.

I had read that some “destination spas” were doing “Covid retreats” for $10,000 a week (weren’t we already in retreat for a year?) promising sanitary stone rock massages under the stars, silent safe-distancing hikes, with Covid tests and antibody blood work upon entering and leaving.  So, this is a “lab wellness” week but the spa is calling it a “retreat to you.”  Aren’t we sick of ourselves already?  And when you leave this refuge, you return home a “whole new you.” How long can you stay uncontaminated in that newfound space with social media and the 24/7 news cycle?

Other “no brainer” choices have been a day trip to Vegas, or a partial weekend in a Flagstaff fishing cabin.  Pick your transformative one-night stand.

For me, an overnight in the next city was enough.  Except it almost wasn’t.  Full disclosure: I am a giant “Hotel Slut.” I used to love grand hotels (not anything in Vegas) because they taught me about luxury.  I ended up buying my current mattress, pillows, and towels from The Peninsula, I stole ashtrays from the Plaza Athénée, I got a robe from The Four Seasons, and a desk mat from the Bel Air, and I learned about sofas from The Beverly Hills Bungalow 5 interior.  Hotels were ground zero for an experience in luxury living.  But THAT was THEN.

Never to be seen again — I will dearly miss my New York sunrise from the Hotel Plaza Athénée.

Not that Tucson’s Ventana is anywhere in that category; after all, it is a golfing resort.  But it is still considered 5-star. And golf benefitted tremendously from Covid as golfing resorts and country clubs are now back on top.  In 2019, golf was taking a downward turn and no one cared about tee times anywhere except the pros. Golfing destination resorts are now “full swing.”

Currently the problem with luxury locations is they can’t BE all that.  People don’t want mints on their pillows; they want a can of Lysol on their bureau.  High-end hotels now look like a Holiday Inn, but they are still charging $350 – $800 a night.  Cleanliness is the new selling point, not mini bars with Moët & Chandon and Mrs. Fields chocolate chip cookies.  Not even a complementary mask.

Ventana Canyon Resort lobby. Supposedly 75% filled. No guests. No help!

As soon as I arrived in my room … I didn’t feel a joyful release.  I felt like I was in a Russian barracks. They even removed some of the “art” from the walls.  Too tough to keep clean.  The door didn’t have a sanitized seal on it, but the reminders were there.  Plastic encased cups and TV remote.  The sad single small bar of soap, hand sanitizer and shampoo were it.  Two bottles of water and no mini bar.

I was told the hotel was at 75% capacity from a few weddings and graduations.  I saw no one in my mile-long hallway. Not even a maid cart.  I had a drink in the giant open-air bar.  The crowd consisted of a lot of bedraggled older people struggling with their new backpacks (pulling their shoulder joints out getting the straps off) with toddlers (obviously grandchildren) tableside. I overheard one couple say they were “camping out” in their room for the weekend.  They brought in their pizza and their sleeping bags.  Something told me that a lot of guests decided to blow their bloated savings account on this deluxe location, and they were doing a DIY experience.

L. to r.: The now classic “Covid “ sign of hotel sanitizing — plastic bagged TV REMOTE; Bathroom “amenities” included hand sanitizer and a single bar of soap.

When I checked in, there was a line as there was only one front desk clerk.  The bellman (who doubled as a parking attendant) was the doorman for 400 rooms.  Obviously, some hotels are not ready for the onslaught.  And while they have become generic in these challenging times, I say “No service, no amenities — no glory!”

I had to call the desk at 10PM and no one answered.  I called the operator. No answer.  I did the same the next morning for my check-out and nobody was home anywhere. I went downstairs and lassoed the only bellman on duty to help me.  He admitted that the hotel hasn’t been fully staffed in some time as a lot of employees hadn’t returned.  This could be “the look of now” in the hospitality world.

When I finally checked out, my complaints (especially about just feeling insecure in a hotel) fell on deaf ears as the clerk was on the phone and juggling the next guest.  I declined the “guest survey.” I just wanted to flee.

Hotel hallway. No maids and garbage by the  door.
Empty hotel room terraces made for a spooky aura!
The room terrace next to mine and the entire desolate view down the way.

From the moment I arrived in my room until the time I left, I kept smelling the worst scent in the hallways, lobby, and rooms.  It gave me a near migraine and brain fog upon check-out.  I was informed it was the hotel’s “scentscaping,” a form of room spray and sanitizer via the ventilating system. As for the overall ambience, this only added insult to injury. Not to mention the ugly bottles of hand sanitizers instead of flower arrangements on every lobby surface.

This “never again” experience was sadly not the heartwarming “soft opening” I had hoped for. Clearly the lesson from this is to stay in a boutique or B&B property in the future.  So, the hotels are reflecting their OWN messy messaging in this era of return. Good luck!

A discarded mask on hotel lobby steps. A sign of the t̶i̶m̶e̶s̶ teams!

I came away thinking of Frank Sinatra singing the real message in his rendition of “It’s Nice to Go Traveling” tune (ending with “but it’s oh so nice to come home). But I also realized that Covid gave us all the gift of turning our homes into our own five-star hotels. Look at everyone investing in their backyards, their office areas, and new kitchens. I now have the best hotel bedding, giant TV screen (with more channels), a better, cleaner swimming pool. I even have a “water feature” in my driveway.  And Siri as my front desk concierge always answers my call — for everything.  I am not saying never leave home, but now that high-end service may take a dive, let’s take a hint from our biggest long-standing international superstar of the moment (and all time), Queen Elizabeth:

Make your home your castle,
And look no further.

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