Sunday, May 9, 2010

Never Judge a Book By Its Movie

Quite a while ago I posted on the immesurable connection I felt between myself and Ryan Bingham, the fictional character at the center of both the novel and flim Up In The Air.

I enjoyed the film enough that it joined my DVD collection -- that is, the four other discs sitting next to my DVD player in the equipment rack downstairs; I also figured that the novel--ordered from my friendly neighborhood bookstore, Mac's Backs on Coventry--would be worth the read. When I say "novel" I do mean the dead tree, ink on paper version, which--despite my predisposure to technology--I find so much more tangibly satisfying than an eBook.

Years ago I heard the line "You should never judge a book by its movie", and that's certainly the case here: Beyond the first few chapters the two follow radically different storylines, with the chief antagonist in the film entirely missing in the novel.

The novel doesn't benefit from quite the variety of oneliners that make their way into the film but I think paints a much more accurate picture of the road warrior, take for example this quote from Page 91 of the trade paperback:

I pour a glass of water to drink in bed but but it tastes of chlorine, so I collect some change and step out into the hall to find a soda. Paper menus with early-morning breakfast order, and I read a few of them. Coffee, juice and muffins -- they're all the same. If the doors were to become transparent suddenly, the people behind them would all be the same, too: asleep with the
news on, their bags beside their beds, their next day's outfits hanging on the desk chairs."

I have done this. Usually, though I skip the questionably-clean glass of questionable-quality water and head straight for the soda machine (the reason, at any given moment there will undoubtedly be somewhere between $5.00 and 5 pounds of change in my laptop bag): Sprite if I'm in a Coke house; Mountain Dew if I'm in a Pepsi house. I leave a set of clothes at the ready for the next day -- or the midnight fire alarm [Usually immediately followed by the question of how anyone could possibly burn microwave popcorn in a hotel room microwave]. The hotel room television serves as white noise from the moment I take up residence to the moment I leave. Though I'm not one for breakfast, there is a voyeuristic thrill that comes from surveiling the breakfast orders, yet they are undoubtedly nearly identical from door to door.

The quote continues:
"The Coke machine isn't where it ought to be, in a nook by the
stairwell. I'm disappointed in Homestead--they've let things slide. The soul of their business is predictability, and if I were consulting for them I'd yank the name off of any unit caught screwing with the blueprint.
I walk down a floor and resume my search. [...]"

While I simultaneously admire and despise the homogeneity of the hotels that I have slaved myself to -- Hiltons, Embassies, DoubleTrees, Garden Inns, Homewood Suites, and Hamptons, oh my -- particularly with regard to the Homewood Suites and Hampton Inns there is a simple pleasure that comes from not having to search for a soda machine. When in one of those properties, however, and the soda machine is not in the carefully crafted nook (by the elevators for Hamptons, by the stairwell for Homewoods) it is an immensely frustrating experience and if sufficiently undercafinated or late at night can be enough to cause you to question the existence of your chosen deity. (If not on this floor, do they exist in this building? Should I go up or down? Is it hiding somewhere else? What if there's only one and it's out of order?!? Panic begins to set in.)

One the flip side, Hiltons and Doubletrees have far less of a standard floor plate so you wander from one end to the other looking for that fluorescent-lit beacon in the night and the telltale hum of the refrigerator motor. Sometimes you find one, sometimes you cover several floors before determining that the hotel is too upscale to pander to such groundling tastes*, instead expecting you to raid the minibar (if available), order room service, or traipse to the hotel gift shop--both of which have frequently closed mere moments before the hydration craving sets in. You admit defeat.

The end of the book left me a little unfulfilled, but perhaps due to my close personal connection to it it is one of my more enjoyable reads of late. Walter Kern does an amazing job of capturing the essence of modern travel.

"To know me is to fly with me"

* - For examples, Waldorf-Astoria, NYC: I found the 24 hour CVS two tenths of a mile down Lexington Avenue, and stocked up before retiring each night; DoubleTree Hotel Philadelphia: I lucked out and discovered the absence of vending machines while the gift shop was open and put something on ice; Hilton Times Square - Another nearby drug store saved the day; Hilton San Francisco Financial District: Had vending machines, but the Chinatown convenience store 1/4 of a mile past the hotel's front door had a much better selection. Colder too.

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