That’s not a mint on your pillow

If you haven’t booked a hotel room online yet, you’re in for a treat. Sue and I needed to stay overnight on a long car trip to a relative’s place last week. “Find a hotel half way there,” she says, “Close to the interstate, I don’t want to spend all night looking for the place.”

So I did what every modern traveler does, I go to Google and search the first night’s destination and searched for hotels. A few clicks later, I’m looking at a map of the town with pushpins showing every hotel and motel. Lucky for me, most are near an interstate. Many are very close to the highway. Some are closer to token booths. Because everyone knows how the noise of high-speed traffic soothes frayed nerves. The few hotels that weren’t next to noisy super highways were next to airports.

But how to choose among them? I’ve never stayed in a hotel in this town before. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could ask travelers who had stayed in these places what they thought? Then I saw a button I don’t remember seeing before. Next to each hotel was a link that read, “12 reviews,” “34 reviews.” Yes, I would.

I selected the most likely spot according to the map. The first review read, “You’d be better off sleeping in your car! My no smoking room was smoky and there were no sheets on the bed. The spider infestation ...” That’s as far as I got. Next.

“Remember the Bates Motel from ‘Psycho’? That’s what we started calling this place. I have never been more frightened to stay any where in my life.” Sounds like you could sell a night there on eBay. Next.

“Our room smelled of urine and mold. And the windows were painted shut.” Next.

“We left five minutes after we got there. The sheets were dirty, bugs were crawling on the bed.” I get enough of that at home. Why would I pay $150 a night for it? Next.

“There was blood spatter on the ceiling.” Guess she didn’t read the “Psycho” review before she booked the place. But “CSI” fans might love it.

Maybe I shouldn’t read the reviews. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have noticed the blood spatter on the ceiling if nobody had pointed it out. And besides, people had good things to say about the breakfast buffet and the free Wi-Fi access. And it was close to the interstate.

“It’s not like I expect a roadside hotel to be the Ritz,” Sue said and quickly found a spot that got good reviews for being clean and cheap. “I just want to sleep there, not decorate the place. How do you know some of those reviews weren’t written by the hotel chain down the street? Just count your lucky stars no one’s reviewing husbands online.”

I got her point right away. She wanted me to Google the Ritz in Paris and read their reviews. Unfortunately, they were all in French with a lot of difficult words I couldn’t understand like “Premiere experience,” “exceptionnel,” “magnifique” and “simplement sublime!” Who knows what all that means? It’s probably French for “blood splatter” and “nest of spiders.” You’d expect so much more from a place named the Ritz. I’ll never stay there, that’s for sure. It’s not even close to an interstate.

Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at

Copyright 2008, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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