September 09, 2006
For those old enough to remember traveling with parents or grandparents in the sixties and seventies, you may recall exceptional airline and hotel service, a such a long ago experience, that today’s sad encounters with service industries might not distress you the way it did back then.
Why? America’s standards have declined so much in the past few decades and we have steadily accepted cheap and trashy over substantial and classy, that what was and what is has become gray and fuzzy.
Substantial and classy could even be found in what was then a mid-level hotel chain like a Howard Johnson or Holiday Inn, hotels that today more resemble the Motel 6 of old, at least the ones I remember on my first drive from New York to Florida in the seventies.
In addition to a flight, you received a meal with silver cutlery neatly wrapped in a thicker than normal paper napkin, salt and pepper on the side, and food, while not necessarily top grade, had the appearance of being fresh and alive, hot and cooked, not fast food snacky, processed and dead. (those who struggle to find and pay for fresh and alive food today will know what I’m talking about)
Traveling as a child was also a treat since I was often escorted to the cockpit to see the controls and perhaps sit on the pilot’s lap. What followed was a care package, which included crayons, a coloring book, and American Airlines logoed pens and playing cards.
In addition to a room, the Howard Johnsons of the world provided a service. They would offer mini toothpaste tubes, shoehorns and cleaning buffs should you need them. The front desk would also confirm your flight if you were not driving, offer complimentary continental breakfast, and the toilets in your room compare to what you would find at a 4 or 5 star hotel today – both in their packaging and presentation.
I ended up at a Guatemala City Howard Johnson recently and while my friend Ray winced at the thought of an all things cheap and tacky evening, I thought about how some now low-level hotel chains are often of a much higher quality abroad than they are at home.
This was no exception. The lobby was tastefully decorated and the reception manager eager to satisfy your every need, proactively offering tips, advice and phone calls to confirm our flight and complimentary airport shuttle.
We were then given bottles of complimentary spring water before heading to our room, where we were again, surprised.
The Victorian-style lamps jumped with detail and style, as did the coral-colored ragged wallpaper and the decadent gold dish with its elegant feet that housed a shoe buffer, soaps, shampoos and lotions.
There were details in the details, including the shower tiles and the hunter green toilet bowl, which was topped off with a basket of flowers which matched not clashed. “This” is how I remember U.S. travel of old. Today, in a country with more abundance, wealth and available products than anywhere in the world, we have settled for tacky, cheap, low quality experiences as our default experience. Customer respect and proactive service – with a smile – is no longer demanded as a ‘must’ in our daily lives.
It is a funny thing about life: If you refuse to accept anything but the best you very often get it. - Somerset Maugham * * *
Even on a short flight between Zurich and Florence, I was presented with bruschetta and ‘real garlic’ on a ‘real plate.’
It is sad to think that someone from a developing country visiting the U.S. for the first time, will be dished quantity rather than quality, tacky rather than tasteful, fast rather than prepared and deliberate, processed in a box over healthy and elegantly presented.
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