Friday, June 29, 2007

rate our service

Over Memorial Day weekend, I somehow found myself staying in a hotel, one of those unremarkable “business traveler on a budget” places.

Okay. I didn’t exactly find myself staying in a hotel. That sounds like I awoke from a Rohypnol-induced trance and discovered I was in a hotel room, furniture upended, clothes strewn, empty whiskey bottles overflowing the wastebasket, generic Monet prints defaced with bodily fluids, and the shower spraying full force, flow restricting shower head irresponsibly tampered with.

If you use the phrase, “I somehow found myself staying in a hotel,” it implies that you wouldn’t be surprised no matter whom you discovered retching in the wastebasket the next morning.

It also implies that you might not even know which hotel chain you were in, whether it was 9am or 9pm, and perhaps which exurban office park you’d see if you were brave enough to part the blackout curtains and peek out into the day or night, whichever the case may be.

Nothing would surprise you.

Found myself staying in a hotel, indeed!

No. It wasn’t like that at all. I’d made careful plans to stay in this hotel, a Courtyard by Marriott at the junction of Rock Prairie and Highway 6 in College Station, Texas. The room happened to be part of a block of rooms reserved for out-of-towners attending a wedding. I’d made my hotel reservations almost two months in advance, right after I’d noticed that the wedding was scheduled for Memorial Day weekend.

I knew better than to be flaky about room reservations for Memorial Day weekend, especially since The New York Times recently published an inexplicable travel column that implied you might actually go to College Station on vacation.

A vacation in College Station? Some journalist needs to have his meds adjusted, maybe kicked down a notch, Emeril-style. That’s all I can say.

But, I thought to myself as I dialed the hotel’s reservations line, you never know who’ll believe the Times. And Aggies will be Aggies. No telling who’ll interpret Memorial Day weekend as an invitation to examine the new Bonfire Memorial (which looks rather like Stonehenge) or pay homage to Reveilles 1 through N-1.

Their lives were not lost in vain. That’d be well within the Memorial Day theme, wouldn’t it?

The Courtyard Marriott did indeed seem to be filled to the gills with hearty, robust families climbing out of their maroon mini-vans. Memorializing something or other. Fossil fuels, perhaps.

“Can we go in the pool, Dad? You said we could! You promised!” shrieks a child right out of The Far Side.

It’s raining, but nothing’s going to diminish my fellow travelers’ enthusiasm for the new hotel’s many business-traveler-on-a-budget amenities.

Me? I’d be the last one to knock the business-traveler-on-a-budget amenities: I like the free broadband connection and the fact that the carpeting doesn’t seem so skanky that you have to leave your shoes on all of the time. In Room 206, my room, there’s a weird shiny place in the carpeting next to the closet, but since it’s exactly the shape of the face of an iron, I’m happy to assume a previous occupant just had a little pants-pressing mishap.
Nothing toxic, nothing unhygienic, just some nice, clean, melted synthetic fibers.

The towels are thin and small, but there are lots of them.

Who showers anyway? Showering is for sissies. I’ve seen Psycho. I know what happens in showers. Safest not to take them.

It doesn’t mean that I don’t need the towels though: I use them to mop up around the Signature Gourmet Jr. coffee maker when I slop water all over the counter. I don’t think you can get electrocuted from making coffee in an artificial lake, but you can never tell. Best to mop up before setting the small appliance about its duties.

In short, Room 206 in the College Station Courtyard by Marriott is a perfectly normal hotel room. Nothing of note. And, because of the rain and the fact that there’s no good walking destination – the Courtyard by Marriott isolates you on the wrong side of Highway 6 – I’m happy to hunker down in my room, eating BBQ pork and brisket left over from my Two Meat Plate at C&J’s BBQ and toweling the excess slaw off my chin with a thin and suspiciously stained washcloth.

I could walk to one of the new big-box churches—Lowe’s plus a steeple—on this side of the highway or to the Silk Stocking, the strip club that used to be in a metal building on the edge of town. The Silk Stocking is now stucco’d and more or less inside city limits; I’m certain they’ve gone upscale and let the creaky old dancers retire, replacing them with nice fresh Poultry Science majors looking to pay off student loans (Live! Real Co-eds! Girls Gone Wild! Buck Naked! Dance, Dance, Dance! Bawwwwk!).

But what I’d really rather do is stay in my hotel room and wait until it’s time to go to the wedding.

The wedding. That’s why I was in College Station in the first place. Not to enjoy the Courtyard by Marriott. Not to march along the side of the highway, dodging fire ant mounds and Chevy trucks, in search of elusive reading material. I was here to go to a wedding.

Did I say that the wedding was lovely, the bride radiant, the wedding party well-behaved, the guests circumspect?

And that’s the crux of the matter. You stay at places like the Courtyard Marriott in College Station because it’s nice to stay where everyone else is staying. Because it’s cool to have those chance hallway encounters with the other people in the bride’s or groom’s life. If you’re family, you get to see the friends and co-workers that’ve always been shooed out of the way when you’re in town. And if you’re a friend, you get to see the seamy underbelly of heredity, how things could have turned out (or ultimately will).

So you can imagine the thoughts that flitted across my mostly empty mind on Tuesday morning—the day following Memorial Day Weekend—when I saw nestled amid the usual spam in my Inbox an email invitation to RATE OUR SERVICE.

Rate our service? Good grief. I’d rather rate almost anything else: the DJ at the wedding (I’d tell ‘em, “hokey games are for bar mitzvahs”) or the wedding cake (two thumbs up on chocolate wedding cakes with chocolate-dipped strawberries) or even the other guests (I’d rate the statement, “that ex-girlfriend wasn’t always a girl” with an “agree somewhat”).

It’s all about indelicate hands and over-broad shoulders when you rate apparent gender.

But rate our service? I haven’t traveled in awhile, 4 months it’s been, probably a longer hiatus than I’ve had in years. I was in a good mood, neither burned out nor over-anxious. But I couldn’t have cared less about the Courtyard by Marriott. I didn’t even give them my Marriott Rewards number when I checked in.

They don’t ask you about particular towels in these surveys (I’d like to note on my survey that the handtowel by the sink must’ve been used to mop up after a gruesome serial killing) or whether the check-in clerk gave your gift basket to David Redmiles (he did). They ask about vague ‘people’ things. Were the maids efficient? Did the clerk at the front desk smile?

Am I going to tell the truth on a survey so some poor snotty kid at the front desk gets bounced from the minimum wage job he’s using to buy occasional dime bags of weed and 12 packs of Miller Lite? And the maids—if things aren’t right with the room, the maids are the ones who are going to get the blame. They have a grim job as it is, since people who stay at business-traveler-on-a-budget hotel are notoriously poor tippers. Rate the breakfast? Aw, c’mon. Rate cinnamon raisin bagels? You’ve got to be kidding.

I’d rather rate my fellow travelers. They never ask about that.

“Were the other guests satisfactory?”

You know how I’d answer that. No. No, they weren’t. No. No, I think the hotel needs to solicit guests who are more exciting and, at the same time, much quieter. Isn’t Lyle Lovett from around College Station? Can’t he stay here?

The guests don’t measure up. Agree strongly.

Or I would’ve agreed strongly with the statement, “No-one in College Station sells magazines I read. They never have and never will.”

It seems that there’s nothing I do these days that’s too trivial to warrant a survey.

It’s a trend. Every time I interact with a real human, the interaction is followed up with a survey. I call our IT support line; they make me reboot 3 times in rapid succession, click my heels together 3 times, and then they send me links to three separate surveys, even though I could’ve sworn I was reporting a single problem.

And each of the three surveys exhorted me to Rate my service!

I never know what to do with these questionnaires. If I don’t fill them out, they’re each re-sent. Once per day. Over and over. Until I relent and fill them out. And every service person I interact with sends me another one. Every reservations agent, every help desk person, every support staffer—even our legal counsel—sends me another survey.

They add up. They really do.

And I can’t do anything but lie and say the service was great. Because who wants to be a mean asshole? It’s like undertipping. I can’t undertip even if the service is awful. This isn’t American Idol. Some poor sap’s livelihood depends on the cooperation of every damned customer he instructs to reboot.

Sometimes I’m superstitious and I think that if I give them a bad rating, they’ll do the moral equivalent of spitting in my coffee. Have me reboot a dozen extra times. Give me a room next door to the ice machine. People always point out to me that the survey follows the service, so how could they possible do that. But in this case, I believe in time travel. They will go back in time and spit in my USB port. Really they will.

It’s not just because I don’t feel like I can tell the truth on these surveys that I don’t like to fill them out; it’s also because it just feels wrong to me. Our social fabric doesn’t work that way. It’s like having a neurotic girlfriend or boyfriend who’s always asking, “Do you love me? Could you put that on a scale of 1 to 7?"

See. It’d get annoying very quickly. You’d break up at the first opportunity.

“Call me back when you’re done with therapy,” you’d tell ‘em. And you’d change your phone number and get new locks for your place.

And you know where this is going: soon the survey-makers will want to get into the act too. How was my survey? Rate my scale on a scale of 1 to 7.

Scales are for fish.

In the end, I don’t want to pass judgment on everyone who services my car or hands me a magnetic card key. I don’t even want to rate the movies I see or products I use. I see from my Netflix account that I’ve rated 122 movies. 122 movies! I doubt I’ve even seen 122 movies. I must've rated them without watching them just to save time.

3 stars--that sounds safe. Unless we're talking about that cinematic menace Steven Spielberg: No stars for you, Mr. Spielberg!

And what about those 5 star movies? The top category forces you to throw together movies you thought were in good taste, like Lost in Translation, Adaptation, or Bartleby, with movies you thought tasted good, like Repo Man, Twister (which you'll note defies plot synopsis), or Naked Lunch.

The truth of the matter is, rating stuff is just unpleasant, a task you’d outsource to Bangalore if you could.

In fact, if I asked you to rate my blog, you wouldn’t do it. On a scale of 1 to 5, you’d just say, "Sorry, Charlie."

And if you asked me to rate your reading of my blog, I wouldn’t do it either. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’d say, “What lovely blue eyes you have!”

Maybe we should make a deal: I’ll give you a 5 if you give me a 5.

Done and done.

Tastes good.


Anonymous Erich Schneider said...

Whose wedding could draw you back to BCS? I have an idea or two, of course.

Ratings ... they become so fraught with significance. Like, on eBay, leaving negative feedback seems to be more-or-less equivalent to a nuclear strike. And un-"friend"-ing someone on Livejournal can lead to massive drama, even though you made someone your special friend just because they did it to you and now you don't want to endure reading their Tom Tancredo-esque political opinions.

9:59 PM  

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