Monday, August 6, 2012

Conference: The People & The Place

The People: The Good, the Bad, the Dumber than Dirt 

My sister and I frequently lament the downsliding of civility in our society and we usually end each confirming anecdote with a sigh and a firm “I hate people”. When I hear someone say they are a “people person” I am in peril of grinding my teeth to dust, because usually that means they are irritating and intrusive. Or impossibly perky.

One of my new passions is This American Life on NPR and the riveting narratives it reports. In one account, Shalom Auslander tells this story, portraying himself as a neurotic misanthrope. It is hilarious and well worth the 22 minutes. My favorite line in his piece, maybe of all time, is this: “Here’s the thing about people: I don’t really like them.”  My kind of guy.
Of course, I do not really hate people, I am actually fascinated by people. I only hate people who deserve it. Usually I find this is within five minutes of getting to know them.

But back to the conference… People at the conference fell into three categories: Bright and Kind, Condescending and Kind and Utterly Oblivious.

The Bright and Kind treated me just like a normal person. They were helpful and matter of fact. Their conversation was easy, interesting and unforced. It was a pleasure to meet them. I loved them.

The Condescending and Kind were helpful and pitying. They gave me sad looks and dramatically facilitated my path or moved things out of my way. They peered at my badge, which was printed with the name of my multiple sclerosis blog. “Ms. Renegade!” they would trill, "I love it!!", like I was some sort of girly feminist rebel and that was a brave and edgy thing to be. “It’s ‘M’ (pause) ‘S’.” I would correct and watch the confusion, then, sometimes, the realization, spread across their faces. It was cringe inducing.

Finally there were the Utterly Oblivious. They didn’t see me. Literally. They stepped in front of me, forcing me to stop the wheelchair short. They cut in front of me at elevators and at the buffet. At the Expo, Utterly Oblivious vendors would address Danielle and ignore me. On line for registration, they called ‘next’ and the woman behind me shot forward. The registration person didn’t bat an eye. I didn’t exist for either one of them. I couldn’t even muster up the energy to hate them, it wasn’t worth the trouble. I felt sorry for myself instead, as self-pity is a much more productive and entertaining way to spend my time.

Fortunately, most people fell into the Bright and Kind category. There were other people there in wheelchairs and I would be really interested to hear their experiences.  

The Hotel

The Hilton New York is a no-frills conference hotel. It is all about keeping thousands of people moving through their agenda-ed day. They are very good at it, but that means there are no perks, no pool, no spa. Just people moving.

On the plus side, I found the staff to be relentlessly helpful and attentive. Almost everyone has an accent, from a variety of countries, which makes me wonder whether the outstanding service is a cultural thing or a Hilton thing. And, interestingly, it is an older work force. I would say at least fifty percent is over fifty, if not more. I don’t know whether this is a reflection of an admirable hiring policy on their part or if it was not a choice but a limited employment pool. I do know there was no difference in quality of service between young staff and older. The bellman who helped me when I checked in was an Asian gentleman, tall, but slight and stooped, easily in his seventies. I was shocked that he was in such a physical job. He was so pleasant, but I never thought he would be able to wrangle my massive suitcase. He did though, seemingly with no problem. But, because of the way I was raised, I never was able to shake the feeling I should have been helping him. Later I ran into him in the lobby again and he was just as nice as could be, he recognized me and joked, with a little bow, “We meet again!”

The waiter who brought me room service the first night was a particular favorite. He wheeled my turkey sandwich in as if he were delivering caviar and champagne. He whipped the cover off the plate with a flourish, actually bowing a little while saying “…And a-here is what I have-a for you-a tonight-a, Mrs.-a Cooper!” It was unintentionally hilarious and sweet and made my night.

I am sorry to say, however, my room was disgracefully shabby considering the cost of the room was astronomical, even by New York standards. The layout was ok, but barely ok, with just enough room for the wheelchair. The shower was super, with a great bench, not even a lip to step over, and a hand held showerhead within each reach. But each shower flooded the entire bathroom with a half an inch of water. And I do mean the entire room, which might be why the woodwork around the door is curled up and rotting. The grab bar in the bathroom is also coming away from the wall.

In the room itself, there were cigarette burn holes in the carpet and the chair, even though this is supposed to be a non-smoking building. The carpet was also stained. The faux granite desk top had a one inch gap where it was supposed to be attached to the dresser top, as though it didn’t quite fit and the installer could not be bothered fixing it. The nightstand had an actual hole cut out of the front on the bottom, was scraped and scuffed and the telephone had exposed wires on the receiver. Not dangerous, just on the verge of detaching. The closet doors were rickety and didn’t meet to close properly. A Motel 6 room has more quality than this room did. Asking for a different room would have been futile, the place was packed to the rafters. I mentioned my dissatisfaction when I was checking out and they knocked off one room service charge, which is very cool. But I am still going to complain, with pictures, because of the exorbitant cost of the room. We’ll see what they do, if anything.

Finally, next post, my assessment of the conference itself, overall.



  1. When I get a little extra time, I'll listen to the recording -- I love NPR, my husband doesn't and he drives!
    Your hotel room sounds horrendous! I stayed at a Hilton in NYC a while ago, but it was beautiful. I'd definitely complain about what you had to endure.

    Although I wasn't at the conference, those are the kinds of people I run into every day!

    Looking forward to more of the story -- loving it.

    PS. You mean this lymphedema is also incurable? Oh crap!


  2. Sometimes being in a w/c of any sort is like wearing an "invisibility cloak," as Harry Potter did when going on one of his fact-finding missions. People are weird, no?

    Your room at a New York City Hilton sounds like it was literally falling apart. But the overall experience of going to the conference sounds like a grand adventure. I look forward to reading more about it.

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  3. I wonder if you had one of the older rooms at the Hilton? I had heard there were some older (shabby?) ones and then I had one of the newer ones.

  4. Muff - You will love Shalom. At least I think you will. It is very dark humor, but I thought it was hilarious.

    Unfortunately, yes, lymphedema is incurable, which the people at the lymphedema center told me every few seconds, until I wanted to pound my head against the wall. They were well intentioned, but I have to say, to be honest, I absolutely came to hate them.

    Some of the other people at the conference had lovely rooms, so it seems there is some real inconsistency there.

    Webster - Hi! It is so good to see you!! People are weird! And you know what, thank you for putting it in perspective - it WAS a grand adventure! I don't think I have too many Grand Adventures left in me, so I am going to be grateful for this one! xoxo

    Liz - hi, thanks so much for your comment. As I said to Muffie, it seems as though there was some real inconsistency at the hotel. Many people had no problem with their room and some had even worse problems than I did. Thanks for stopping by!

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