Author’s note: This is the twelfth installment of a multi-part series. For an optimal reader experience, read the introduction, Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII, Part IX, Part X and Part XI first. Subsequent installments will post daily.
It was my turn to visit the front desk, so at 9:30, I took the elevator down and informed yet another Hawaiian shirt-wearing attendant with facial piercings our room was approximately the temperature of the sun.
Our good buddy Donald, the repair man I gave a can of beer to 36 hours earlier, knocked on the door at 10:15 and again set to work on the busted A/C.
There’s a weird thing that happens to me when I encounter a repairman. I feel this small pang of emasculation, like I should be fixing the broken thing myself. I get it’s irrational — especially since in this situation I’m talking about the A/C unit in my fucking hotel room — but there’s this primal need within me to convey to every repairman I meet that I’m not some helpless twerp, and if time and money were no object, I could’ve figured the damn thing out myself.
How does this manifest? With me standing over Donald’s shoulder in my underwear, offering him advice about where he should start his troubleshooting.
“I already checked the breaker, and it looks like the condenser is getting power,” I said. “I think the issue is with the blower.”
Donald grunted and shined his flashlight into the HVAC access panel, the door of which I had already removed for him.
See, the problem with my macho desire to establish ethos with Donald is that I’m also self-aware enough to realize how annoying it must be for him. I’ve been on the receiving end of know-it-alls. So now there’s this push-pull inside of me: I need Donald to know I can fix stuff, but each HVAC tidbit that dribbles out of my mouth produces a small throb of guilt.
I reconciled all of these feelings by putting another can of beer next to Donald’s toolbag, resisting the urge to ask for status updates, and getting in bed.
About 20 minutes later, Donald left and came back with a handful of spare parts.
“I figure it’s gotta be one of these four components,” he said. “So I’m just gonna replace them all.”
“Four parts?” I said. “I don’t know a lot about A/C units, but aren’t there only like four parts in the whole damn thing?”
Melinda shot me a look, but Donald chuckled. “Pretty much.”
He worked silently for an hour, half of his body at the foot of our bed, the other half in the hallway. By 11:30, he was still at it, the back of his blue work shirt bloomed with sweat, the untouched beer now surely lukewarm.
Fifteen minutes later, he sat up, wiped the sweat from his forehead with his shirt, and declared the unit dead.
“I’m awfully sorry about this,” he said. “I really thought I could get her goin’ again.”
“Not your fault,” I said. “We understand.”
“I gotta be honest with you,” Donald said. “This unit is older than my kids, and they’re 30.”
As he packed up his shit, I turned to my exhausted, sweaty wife and gave her a mock-adoring smile.
“This is why my parents never leave their house,” I cooed.
And the fighter jets screamed overhead.
The last day of any vacation is the tipping point: you either lament the little time you have left before you must return to the real world, or you curse that you still have another 24 hours to get through before you can again see the comforts of home.
For me, it was unequivocally the latter.
I started to feel like the old locals I saw hanging around town: haggard, bent over by the oppression of the heat, cigarette dangling between two fingers like it might drop to the pavement at any moment.
Waking this morning was like Groundhog’s day. We got up, we slogged through the continental breakfast crowds, we watched the sun grow stronger in the sky, pushing away the gray, thick clouds that telegraphed the impending onslaught of heat and humidity. The old man told a breakfast guest it was going to be over 100 today, suggestively fingering the top of his tip jar.
Last night’s events came back to me in pieces, the way a hectic party seems like a dream. But yes, we did wait half-an-hour for chicken McNuggets, and yes, I was served an $8 can of White Claw in a wine glass, and yes, a repairman named Donald lost a battle with a three-decades-old A/C unit at midnight on the floor of my bedroom.
The tipping point, right on cue.
After breakfast, Melinda took her turn at the front desk — our collective sixth visit in five days — to check on the status of the A/C. She was informed the unit will be replaced…just not today.
So the good news was they were moving us to a new room; the bad news was we were moving to a new room.
Initially, I took this news in stride. It was already 85 degrees in the room, and with a projected heat index of 106 still to come in the afternoon, the thought of an evening sleeping in a room with a functioning A/C appealed to me. Plus, the new room was only four doors down, so the transition would be a piece of cake.
The novelty of the thought faded almost instantly. Do you know how ensconced a family of four becomes in a hotel with a kitchenette over the course of five days? The answer is very. Very ensconced. Every single surface, shelf, cabinet, and cubby held a piece of our property. Every outlet contained a charger.
Over the next 30 minutes, I crammed everything into our surplus of tote bags in a hasty random fashion and ferried them to our new room. It wasn’t worth unpacking most of them, as we’d be departing in less than 24 hours.
Afterwards, I sat on the couch of Hotel Room Number Two, anger-eating a turkey and cheese sandwich and cursing the move, the broken A/C, the incompetence of the hotel staff, the McDonalds staff, basically all staffs everywhere.
Never again, I said to myself. Never again. And a chill ran down my back, because I realized that exact phrase was uttered by my father on every family trip I’d ever taken.
Because if you don’t yell “never again” on day five of your vacation, did it ever even happen?