Thursday, March 15, 2012

How to Improvise Anything from a Hotel Room (Or: I'm in Pittsburgh)

The next few weeks will be challenging, not necessarily because of anything in particular but because I'm bouncing from project site to project site.

I've also been under the influence of the flu (or something similarly nasty). I think I've finally conquered it -- or at the very least forced it into the background. I just don't have time to be sick. (Though I have penciled in March 29th as a sick day -- it's my first day free of client obligations)

Last night I arrived in Pittsburgh and checked in to what has become my "go to" downtown Pittsburgh Hotel, the Hampton Inn in the Strip District. It's clean, relatively new, and perhaps my number one reason for choosing any hotel over another... I don't have to valet my car.

I'm not sure why I reisst valets so strongly -- and I've certainly loosened up since acquiring my new car -- but I really don't like it if it can be avoided.

It turns out that this was also a good choice because my project for this trip -- in the U.S. Steel Tower -- is a very easy 10 minute walk from the hotel. And the weather has been glorious. I love places where I can walk-- New York City, San Francisco, next week's project in Rochester, Minnesota.

After finishing up today and dropping my stuff back at the hotel, I walked along the Allegheny River portion of the "Three Rivers Heritage Trail System" past Pittsburgh's convention center -- coincidentally designed by Rafael Vinoly, the same architect responsible for the Cleveland Museum of Art's ongoing expansion project -- before zigzagging through downtown and past the buildings housing many of my past Pittsburgh projects (It was interesting, for example, to see how 3 PNC Plaza looks now that construction is finished and the hotel has opened)

Looking at the shared history of Cleveland and Pittsburgh, the latter's relative economic prospreity and downtown revitalization gives me hope of what downtown Cleveland can -- and should -- look like if we can get our act together.

On my way back to the hotel I was starting to get hungry but wasn't really being sold by any of the eateries I passed by, until I found one with sidewalk dining where all of the food  being consumed looked good. So I stopped in to Tonic Bar and Grill. Tables were scarce, and I wound up in this odd corner of the 2nd floor with only two tables: There was a couple at the other table and while we waited to order (and then waited for our food, and then ate our food) we chatted -- they were locals, but contrary to Clevelander's stereotype of Pittsburgh, they do not hate Cleveland.

It's amazing the wonderful if completely random conversations you can have with strangers -- who in all likelihood

Anyway the food was good, and after finishing I headed back to the hotel.
For better or worse, it seems one of the NCAA March Madness games was held in Pittsburgh today (odd coincidence: the dress shirt I grabbed out of the closet this morning is orange. One of the teams playing locally was apparently Syracuse, who's color -- again, it seems -- is orange) -- which certainly explains why my room was as bloody expensive as it was -- Pittsburgh usually isn't cheap, but this was pushing it. It also means that I wasn't able to grab a suite.

No suite means no refrigerator or microwave, and generally more sparse accommodation all around. Certainly not the end of the world for a two-day stay but there is the downside: I prefer my caffeine cold. No refrigerator certainly hampers that goal, and I don't want to stumble down to the gift shop half awake.

If there's one thing spending +/- 60 nights in hotels each year will teach you it's how to improvise: How to get the wrinkles out of shirts when the iron looks like it was used as a door stop in a demolition derby (and the bathroom exhaust is working a little too well), how to fit an entire dinner's worth of take out trash into a garbage can roughly the size of a two-liter coke bottle, and :how to defeat the bloody occupancy sensing thermostat so the room actually stays at a comfortable temperature"  among other "great acheivements in hotel room engineering".

Tonight's objective: Using only the items found in your room keep two 20-ounce bottles of Mountain Dew chilled. One until the evening, one until tomorrow morning.

Now ice buckets have been standard hotel room furnishings since the beginning of time -- or at least since the beginning of rattling, dripping icemakers near the elevators -- but I haven't figured out a task that they're actually useful for. Yeah, you can submerge about 1/2 of one bottle of soda and it will keep it moderately less warm for a few hours, but that's it.

There's also the wirerd plastic liner bag that there's no clear consensus on the proper use of -- I think of it as insulation to keep the melting ice off of whatever you're chilling, while others insist that it's some sort of sanitary liner for the bucket itself (mixing both beverage and ice in the bag so that whatever you pull out is covered in water).

But there's the sink. I pull the stopper, lie down a bed of ice (one bucket), put the two bottles of glorious caffiene inside the plastic bag, and fold the end over to minimize water intrusion. Lay two more buckets worth of ice on top -- and here's the real trick -- take a bath towel, folded in two, and spread it across the top of the sink, anchoring it with the ice bucket, to help keep the cold air in the sink and the warm air out.
Based on past experience, the ice will slowly melt over the course of the night and I'll have a pleasantly chilled beverage at my disposal in the morning.

Ah... the joys of business travel...



  1. Ingenious! For (slightly) wrinkled shirts, you can also sprinkle w/ some water & use the hair dryer.

    There's this incredible family-owned Jamaican restaurant in Rochester, right downtown off Main Street. Address is 38 Saint Paul St. I think they were cash-only when I was there, & they'll hand-write you a receipt for work expenses.

  2. Awesome idea -- I'll have to try the hair dryer trick sometime -- hotel room irons never seem to work!

    I'll have to look for the restaurant -- it sounds great, and it's always nice to find something that's both good and local!