It is impossible to overdo luxury. — French Proverb
The orange light reflecting off the water’s surface slowly transformed to red. “You should have put some music on,” I said, gesturing at the iPod dock on the nightstand.
“I still can,” said David. He rose to a sitting position.
“No, don’t.” I placed my hand on his thigh. “You’ll get the floor all wet. And anyway, the silence is kind of nice, now that I think about it.” As David sank back up to his neck, his face took on a blue and then purple cast as the limo-esque mood lighting above us continued its slow chromatic cycle. “Pass me a strawberry?” David lifted an arm from the water, plucked my desired piece of fruit from the tray sitting on the ledge beside him, and dipped it in the pot of melted chocolate that was set atop a small flame to keep the good stuff warm and gooey. He handed me the strawberry, twirling it to keep the chocolate from dripping into the tub, and then selected a slice of banana and a miniature Rice Krispie treat for himself.
“How does this one compare?” David asked.
“You mean with our other favorites in the States?”
“I mean with all of our favorites everywhere,” he said. “Even Tokyo.”
While I considered my answer, I looked over David’s shoulder and stared at the fire, if you can call it that. In the “cyclone” fireplace, a yellow-white flame spiraled directly up the center of a three-foot-tall glass cylinder. I surveyed the room, taking in the espresso maker, blender, cocktail shaker, fine wine glasses sitting on the granite above the minibar, and the down comforter on the king-sized Tempur-Pedic bed; I fingered the edge of the shoji screen we’d slid aside so we could see the entire room from where we sat, naked and submerged in hot, fragrant water. The room service had been fast and friendly, and the turn-down had included complimentary bottles of Fiji water and both milk and dark chocolates. I returned my gaze to David, who was watching me close enough to recognize the moment my thoughts aligned with his. “Oh, my,” I said, voicing what he’d already gathered I would say. “This is our favorite hotel room…in the world.” David nodded solemnly. As if to commemorate the occasion, he spun another strawberry in the chocolate for me and then hit the button that activated the jets in the giant, two-person tub.
My man and I have always been discerning, even picky, about where we lay our heads at night. But it recently occurred to me that what was once a preference for artsy has become a fetish for avant-garde. Whereas unique, luxurious boarding experiences used to be added perks, such pampering now features prominently in our travels. Our lodgings are as much of a destination as the cities we visit. After days of research before each trip, David often settles on a hotel that, having been worked on by talented designers and architects, makes its guests feel like they’re temporarily living inside a work of art.
It was while planning our Christmas getaway to Ensenada that we realized our little predilection threatened to become a dysfunctional demon. Because he’s familiar with the place and speaks Spanish, it made sense that our friend Josue would arrange for our accommodations in the Mexican town. But when he told me he’d found a “cheap little motel,” I said I’d need to discuss the matter with David before we could commit to the plan.
When it comes to roughing it, I’m not the only diva in the penthouse. Once, during a momentary lapse of sanity, I suggested to David that we go camping. A few days later, he said he’d found the perfect location: a resort in Santa Barbara where the “tents” are set atop wooden floors and boast plush beds on raised frames and, of course, interior halogen lighting. It looked nice enough, but we nixed the idea when we figured out the restrooms were communal.
When I relayed Josue’s words to David, he squinted in trepidation. We agreed the idea of a “cheap motel” in Mexico was scarier than the blue-green fuzz growing on the mystery fruit in the bottom drawer of our refrigerator. The inn didn’t need to be fancy, but it had to be clean. I’d seen those ultraviolet scans on those forensic drama shows. Any hotel with those ubiquitous, filth-hiding floral print comforters was out of the question. It would be easier for me to fall asleep to the looping soundtrack of a wailing baby than to catch any z’s while under the slightest impression that microscopic insects and nasty, invisible substances are touching my skin.
Neither David nor I wanted to share our concerns with our friend, for fear of sounding like a couple of supercilious morons. “It’s not that I think a cheap motel is beneath me or anything,” I said to David while rationalizing my tentative decision to back out of the trip. “It’s just that, as fun as it all sounds, if I can’t sleep, it’s not going to be worth it. I don’t want to remember this trip as the one that traumatized me forever.” I cringed as I recalled one of my father’s hotel horror stories. He was staying at a place in St. Robert, Missouri, when, in the middle of the night, he discovered the room was crawling with multilegged pests. Dad went to the front desk and asked for bug spray. “I sprayed a moat around my bed and left all the lights on,” he later told me. “I nearly asphyxiated from the freakin’ fumes.” I couldn’t believe he actually stayed through the night. I would have slept in the rental car.
While I was busy rationalizing, David was researching. He typed the name of the Mexican motel into tripadvisor.com to see what other people had to say about it. Of nearly 20 reviews, the inn got at least four out of five stars for cleanliness. Relieved, I called Josue and said, “This place looks great, count us in!” To be on the safe side, David brought his pillow and some extra high-thread-count cases. The “cheap motel” turned out to be a charming hotel I’d happily visit again.
Though we can survive most anywhere (as long as it is clean and insect-free), David and I continue to seek out temporary abodes that offer us a unique experience. For some, a hotel is just a place to crash between one place and the next while on the road, and spending any more than necessary is foolhardy. For David and me, a hotel is more than a bed and a shower; staying at a great hotel is like stepping into the pages of Interior Design magazine or taking an E-ticket ride at Disneyland.
After spending a day at “photo l.a.” in Santa Monica last week, there was no need for us to stay the night in Manhattan Beach. If we had continued driving down the 405, we would have been home before dinner. But if we’d done that, we would have missed luxuriating in a Sanijet spa together, bathed in the crimson hues of “chromatherapy” lighting, hypnotized by the swirling flame, and mentally raising the bar for our next hotel one notch higher.