The most exciting thing to ever happen at this hotel bar, probably

I’m on a business trip. I check in after dark, and I’m hungry, so I grab a sandwich in the hotel bar, and there’s a guy at the bar wearing sunglasses and watching the playoffs. You can’t not notice this guy, and, finally, the young woman behind the counter goes:

“Has anyone ever told you look like Jack Nicholson?”

It definitely isn’t Jack Nicholson, and he doesn’t really look like Jack Nicholson, but he looks like a guy who’s maybe trying to look like Jack Nicholson. Another hotel employee comes over.

“You’re standing next to someone famous! Don’t you think he looks like Jack Nicholson?”

“Jack” says something I can’t hear. I think he’s doing a Jack Nicholson impression. Whatever he says, the woman behind the bar laughs. Then, another guy walks up and climbs onto the stool next to “Jack.” This guy’s striking, too, but in a different way. He’s maybe 5 feet tall and rumpled-looking, with wild black hair.

The woman behind the counter says to him, “You’re sitting next to someone famous! Don’t you think he looks like Jack Nicholson? Hey, you look someone, too. You know, that guy who was in that movie?”

She means Danny DeVito. He kind of looked like Danny DeVito — not in the face, so much, but sort of overall. Specifically, the character he played years ago on “Taxi.”

So, on a random night at a random hotel, “Jack Nicholson” is hanging out with “Danny DeVito,” watching the playoffs, and I’m eating a sandwich, and I wonder, do these guys know each other? Is there some kind of celebrity-lookalike convention at the hotel that I don’t know about? Is this the cast of a dinner-theater production of “Hoffa”?

The young woman behind the counter keeps stopping passersby and telling them how much the first guy looks like Jack Nicholson and how much the other guy looks like that guy who was in that movie, oh, you know, that movie?

I can’t tell if “Jack” and “Danny” are enjoying the attention, but they apparently don’t mind, because they don’t leave.

I finish my sandwich and head up to the room. This is weird.

The Accidental Tourist: A literary guide to business travel, basically

It’s been a couple of decades since my college girlfriend loaned me her copy of The Accidental Tourist, but it’s a book that’s stayed with me — not because of its theme of embracing life and moving outside your comfort zone but because of what it taught me about how to pack a suitcase.

Anne Tyler’s book is about a guy named Macon (William Hurt in the movie), who writes passport-sized travel books for “accidental tourists” — business travelers, mostly, who have to leave home and want to make the trip as painless as possible.

Of course, the point of the book isn’t to give travel advice. Being an accidental tourist is really just a metaphor for Macon, who divorces his wife (Kathleen Turner in the movie) after their son is killed, only to get involved with a free spirit (Geena Davis), who brings him back into the world.

I think that’s what it’s about, anyway. I don’t really remember much about the plot. What I remember, every time I take a business trip, is the travel advice:

  • “Bring only what fits in a carry-on bag. Checking your luggage is asking for trouble.” This is absolutely true. Since I read the novel twentysome years ago, I think I’ve checked luggage only a couple of times, and both times, it got lost.
  • “One suit is plenty…. It should be a medium gray. Gray not only hides the dirt; it’s handy for sudden funerals and other formal events. At the same time, it isn’t too somber for  everyday.” One suit (I go with dark gray), a couple of shirts and a couple of ties, and you’ll be fine. I’m told it’s different for women, that they’re expected to wear something different every day, but I’m a guy, so no one expects anything of me, fashion-wise. One suit is plenty, and only the shoes you’re wearing.  
  • “Always bring a book, as protection against strangers.” I used to bring a book. Now I carry a tablet. Either way, it’s good advice and worth following, even though it works only about 50% of the time. I don’t think I’m a rude traveler. I’ll smile, say excuse me and engage in small talk while we’re getting settled in, usually something like, “Boy, they don’t give us a lot of room, do they?” but then I’m done. I’d rather read. It’s amazing, though, the number of people who don’t notice or deliberately ignore basic social cues such as their seatmate’s refusal to make eye contact or his responding to their questions and comments with a simple, “Uh-huh.”

You might disagree and think I’m a jerk because I don’t want to talk for a couple of hours to the random person wedged into the seat next to mine, and that’s fine, you might be right, but trust me on taking only one carry-on bag.

Physics for hotel managers: How sound travels upward from a patio bar

I stayed in this hotel a couple nights ago. It was nice.

It was warm, so the patio bar on the ground floor was open, and there was live music, a guy playing guitar and singing Jimmy Buffett songs (see illustration).

My room was on the 11th floor on the opposite end of the building.

It was a business hotel on a weeknight. I think it’s safe to assume that everyone was there on business of one kind or another. I think it’s safe to assume, too, that everyone had to get up early the next morning.

OK, here’s today’s science lesson for hotel managers:

The people on the 11th floor who have to get up early can totally hear the live music on the patio bar.

Pretty weird, huh?

You’d think only the people at the patio bar could hear it, but quantum physics shows that people on the 11th floor can hear “Margaritaville,” too.

In fact, the music coming from the patio can be loud enough to make it hard for someone on the 11th floor to hear the TV. It can also be loud enough to prevent people on the 11th floor from sleeping.

I finally called the front desk and asked, “How long until the music stops?” As expected, the desk clerk said she’d speak to the patio bar’s manager, who turned down the music so that it was almost quiet enough to sleep on the 11th floor, but he cranked it up again before the guy’s big finish, suggesting that middle-aged guys who play Buffett at hotel bars think they’re a lot more awesome than they really are, but more research is needed to confirm this hypothesis.