Tuesday, February 27, 2007

As Close At It Gets

Another Texas day under my belt, another day filled with extraordinary visits with senior citizens and meetings with retirement-home activity directors. I’m excited, but tired. My daily yoga class finished, a Wendy’s salad in hand, it’s time to settle in for the night. In through the front door and … I’m home.


Well … not exactly. But it’s funny how that particular word has been flowing so easily over my tongue during the past few weeks.

My “home,” shall we say, since February 1st, has been the ExtendedStay Deluxe Hotel on Green Park Drive in Las Colinas, (part of Irving), Texas. This place has been a god-send. And I don’t use that term lightly.

I’m traveling across America’s midsection for the next four months, interviewing senior citizens for my Eldercation® project, committed to changing the way Americans think about aging and older people. It was a no-brainer when it was time to choose a hotel for the trip. I knew the ExtendedStay chain well and was convinced it would be the perfect choice.

Listen, I know it’s not the Four Seasons or Ritz Carlton. But, you know what? It’s not supposed to be. And, certainly, the cost is nowhere remotely close to a bill from one of those fine hotels. The fact is, when you’re on the road, if you’re like me, what you want is simply a large clean bed, bathroom and shower and that pretty much does it. Anything else? It’s gravy. And at ExtendedStay Hotels – you get lots of gravy.

My Las Colinas room has a good-sized kitchen, complete with dishes, mugs, utensils, full refrigerator, stove, garbage disposal, and, get this … a dish-washer! I lived in NYC for 13 years and I’m telling you, I never had it so great. There is even a breakfast table on the side, with two ergonomically designed chairs, where I’m able to set up my laptop and video equipment. High speed wifi/internet service is provided for a one-time charge of only $4.95 and, to my surprise, the hotel even provides a “PrintMe” printing service, free of charge, where you upload documents to a website, they email a code to you within seconds, and then you walk to the lobby where you punch the code into a little machine and ‘voilĂ ,’ your documents shoot out of an HP laser printer. That’s come in handy whenever I needed Mapquest directions.

When it comes to laundry, two washers and dryers are within 20 feet of my door and it costs only a dollar for a wash and another dollar for the dryer. For exercise, there’s a fitness room downstairs, complete with a treadmill, stationary bike and elliptical machine. Every weekday morning, the staff serves up a continental breakfast spread with bagels, fresh fruit, jams, butter, cream cheese, coffee and orange juice. A nice woman, Hilda, tidies things up every fifteen minutes or so to keep things fresh.

Okay, so it’s easy to list these kinds of amenities, services and to snap off a few photos to show you a bit of the place. But you can easily research these things on the company’s website or in brochures. What those materials don’t tell you is something more about what I would call the company “culture.” I have never, and I mean never been to an ExtendedStay where I have not been treated anything less than special. And over the years I’ve probably stayed at more than fifty ExtendStay-related properties, at all kinds of locations.

Business courses often speak of the management pyramid and how a company’s character and business practices flow from the top management and permeate through the rest of the organization. Certainly, someone at the top of the ExtendedStay chain is doing something right … and it shows. At the more local level, Suzanne Villescas, (the Las Colinas manager) demonstrates that the pyramid theory is alive, well and working in Irving, Texas.

When I walk though the lobby door at day’s end, it’s a normal occurrence to bump into one of the hotel’s maintenance men, Sylvester or Domingo. We exchange smiles and “Como esta’s,” and, of course, this gives me a chance to dust off my 5½ years of high school and college Spanish to give them a solid, “Cinquenta, Cinquenta,” comeback. Both of these gentlemen were a big help the first few days as I was settling in. If something needed to be done - small things, like the disposal not working or a light bulb out - these guys took care of it immediately.

If it’s not Sylvester’s or Domingo’s smiles greeting me in the front lobby, it’s Radek, Maranda or Nesly, (Domingo’s daughter), three of the front desk clerks, telling me I received a package or left something in the printer. Radek initially checked me in at the beginning of the month and, when I explained I was a writer and was a concerned about room location, (after all, I was checking in for a month), he went through the trouble of letting me see a few rooms so I could make a choice. He suggested a corner room on the top floor. “A lot of sunlight,” he said, “with an extra set of windows off the kitchen area.” All I can say is, “Thank you for Room 303, Radek.” You were right on the money.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

And so, it’s upstairs to rest, take a hot bath and watch a bit of TV (or a movie on the DVD player provided in the room, I forgot to mention). Most days, it’s time to let the day’s thoughts percolate and to write about exceptional seniors and exciting new places. Tonight, however, it’s time to do something different. Tonight, it’s time to write about ExtendedStay. It’s as close to home when you’re away from home. And that’s not an easy thing to find out here on the road.

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