SAN DIEGO SLEEPOVER
Bud’s parents are coming to town and she wants to take them down to San Diego. She asked me if I knew of any good places to stay down there because I used to go down all the time before the Gas Lamp district turned into a major tourist attraction. I knew a bunch of guys that flew F-14s out of Mira Mar and they knew how to have fun. We used to rent big sailboats and go out all day and have barbecues off the stern of the boat as the sun went down.
We used to go have Mexican food at a restaurant called El Gato Loco – huge groups of us doing shots and napkin dances on the table tops. Don’t ask. This was back before the big new ballpark was built. It was back when there were crackheads all over the place and you had to be careful walking around the streets late at night because you could get mugged.
One weekend, after my friend Jeri’s birthday she and I ended up in San Diego with two boys from New Zealand whom I’d met in Aspen. They were out from Colorado for a visit and we decided it would be fun to take them to Mexico for the day. And it was lots of tequila shots of fun. By the time we crossed the border back into the U.S. it was getting dark and we were quite buzzed so we decided to stay over in San Diego.
Sadly for our drunk asses the America’s Cup race happened to be that weekend so there was no room at the inn. Not Holiday, Ramada nor Hampton, which is how we found ourselves at a no tell motel. Despite the fact that there was no lobby, only a balding troll-like man who looked green in the weird florescent lighting and was hard to understand because he had only a few teeth and was behind bullet proof glass, they still wanted $75 for the room. After all it was their last vacancy. Since it seemed like the only room in town and we were quite drunk, hungry and tired we agreed.
When we got to the room we sobered up and lost our appetites almost immediately. It looked like someplace where drug dealers would torture someone for money owed. Seriously a set dresser could not have created such squalor. There were cigarette burns in the carpet and on the wall. The television was bolted to the dresser and it sported rabbit ears. There was no remote. The sheets were gray and thin and I suspect they had not been washed. The bedspreads were crusty and I could only imagine that if we’d had Luminol and a black light it would’ve revealed splatters of blood and semen everywhere. It was hotel hell circa 1970, and I doubt I could ever get drunk enough to be able to sleep in a place like that. Like a white trash Elizabeth Taylor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, I stood there in my cut offs and flip flops, took a pull of my beer, a hit off my cigarette and drawled, “What. A. Dump!” I love it when I get a chance to use my favorite movie quotes, even when I’m the only one who knows what I’m talking about.
Andy sat prissily on the edge of the bed and said, “I can’t stay here. I’m sure they don’t have room service and I just can’t stay anyplace that doesn’t have room service.” And he’s not gay, but I swear he said it just like that. Jeri came running out of the bathroom with one of the rags that hung on the towel rack laughing hysterically, “Oh my God, you have to see this bathroom! We’re like totally in the ghetto!” I thought Andy was going to start to cry. Jason threw himself down on the bed, he was ready for a nap.
I can hang with rustic and I don’t need four star, but I cannot and will not deal with filth and we had landed in a filthy pit. This place was definitely not in the Triple AAA guidebook, or if it was it didn’t even rate one star. I grabbed a phone book determined to relocate to someplace decent or drive home – or sleep in the car. I’m like that. Phone call after phone call yielded no luck so I started going for places I’d never heard of that were located down in the gas lamp district. Even though there were derelicts on the streets there were lots of cool old hotels that were being rehabbed into swinging boutique hot spots. There were also lots of old hotels much like the one we were currently sitting in only with more floors, so it was pretty much a crap shoot.
When I called the St. James hotel they not only had a vacancy, but they had a room called a double double like my favorite hamburger which is a good sign. It was basically two separate rooms that shared a bath. They also had valet parking, another good sign and most importantly, they had room service - because I’m a giver – I wanted to make sure that Andy’s minimum needs were met. The best part was they only wanted $68 for the night! The bad part was now we had to get our money back from the twilight zone dude behind the bullet proof glass.
We’d used my credit card so it was pretty much on me to do the talking. I’m not a great liar, but I didn’t think that explaining that the room in his hotel was too scary for us to stay in was going to motivate him to tear up my charge slip and give me my money back. He’d been real cranky about the fact that we used a credit card and kept saying how there were no refunds. So it’s a good thing that I when need be I am a consummate actress with an active imagination and when I need to pull a performance out of my ass to get where I want to go I am more than capable of throwing down some drama.
The troll was not in the office but I could see the flickering light of a television set emanating from the room beyond. I rang the bell. He didn’t come. I rang again more urgently this time and I began to breathe quickly with anxiety, willing tears to my eyes which wasn’t all that hard to do when I thought about having to stay in that room. He finally strolled out, glaring at me balefully for rousing him from whatever important activity he’d been engaging in. And right then about six kids of indeterminate ages somewhere between 17 and 22 walked up behind me. They all looked like drug addicts looking for a place to do their drugs. Luckily for them I was about to provide it. Now I had an audience and I actually got a little weepy as I told Mungo that I had just called home and my baby was really sick and I needed to get to the hospital. My mom was going to meet me there. A tear rolled down my cheek and I sobbed a little as I took a shaky breath.
On of the girls in the group behind me put her arm around me, and asked if I was alright. “Oh, yeah,” I replied, “We only just checked in and I just need him to cancel the charge.” Not only did I have an audience I had allies! He started to give me a hard time about the no refund policy and one of the guys said, “Well we need a room so we’ll just give you the money you paid,” at which point the troll relented because I think he really preferred cash customers.
With shaking hands I wiped my eyes and thanked him profusely as he cancelled the charge to my card and my new friend hugged me and told me she sure hoped my baby was going to be okay. “Thanks, me too,” I said, just wanting to get as far away as possible before it turned out that she knew someone who knows me and I would be busted for not having any baby. Because that’s the kind of shit that always happens to me when I lie. Some random person will come out of the woodwork and throw me under the bus, revealing whatever lie I’ve just told. It’s so much easier to tell the truth. Unless you’re dealing with a troll behind bullet proof glass who doesn’t give refunds.
We drove downtown and happily discovered that the St. James hotel had bellmen as well as valets, even though we didn’t have any luggage we were happy to see them. We checked in and took the cage elevator up to the 9th floor – it was like going back in time. The hotel was built in 1913 and used to be the tallest building in San Diego. Having recovered our happy faces and found ourselves in a far nicer place for less money we hoofed it over to Ole Madrid in it’s old location for yummy tapas and cocktails, got our buzz on again and ended up in some club dancing all night long.
At some point after dinner Andy decided to take a hit of ecstasy. By himself. And not tell anyone. So I ended up on the roof of the hotel babysitting him in the pre-dawn hours. There is a huge sign, brightly lit letters spelling out St. James, that we climbed up and sat on, looking out over the bay. I don’t know if it was the great relief of clean sheets and clean rooms, but the St. James became one of my favorite hotels and back then when I was down in San Diego almost every weekend it became my home away from home.
It’s been years since I’ve been down that way, all the flyboys have mustered out of the service, THANK GOD, and now they’re flying for airlines that teeter on the brink of bankruptcy. When I do go down it’s usually to see family or stay with friends so I hadn’t thought of the St. James for a long time. Until Roseanne asked me about a place to stay and I did a little research was so pleased to see that although it’s now owned by Ramada it’s still standing and it’s still the same. If you’re ever going to stay in San Diego and you want an inexpensive place to stay check it out. They say it's been refurbished since the last time I was there. It's a little bit more expensive, but still a good deal at under $200 a night for the old double double.