Indigo On The East Coast - Part 1
Three days before I fly to America for a friend's wedding, I'm starting to get a little nervous.
The trip has been booked for about six months, but I'm not relishing thought of the journey; I don't enjoy flying much. Too tall, too wide, too neurotic. But at least I'm flying from a local airport, Stansted, just a few minutes down the road from where I live. And I'm also flying late morning, so checking in two hours early won't mean getting up in the middle of the night.
I have e-mail.
Dear Mr. Roth, we are sorry to inform you that...
My flight has been cancelled six months after I booked it. Fantastic. But there is a replacement flight laid on. Unfortunately, this one is from Heathrow, and is earlier in the day. I guess they've done their best, but Heathrow is an hour further away, and is the world's busiest airport; I will have to check in three hours early.
I'm going to have to get up in the middle of the night after all.
Unless... I quickly check online... Yes, Heathrow has a Japanese-style capsule hotel, in the terminal building I'm flying from. Tiny rooms, exquisitely designed, comfortable. Better yet, an interesting experience to start the trip off. I am aware that I'm desperately trying to make lemonade from a thundering great lemon that's landed in my lap. But hey, says my upbeat internal voice, it will be something to talk about later; holidays are always more interesting when things don't go to plan! I am not convinced*.
[* You can read about that sort of nonsense in my trip to Marrakech.]
Just do it Indigo, the voice encourages. So I do. A few clicks and credit card numbers later, and I've booked a standard room in the capsule hotel. Job done, problem avoided. The stakes are raised for what is now a five day adventure.
Two days later, the adventure begins.
My good friend Bear is driving me down to Heathrow.
I was going to take the train, but it was stupidly expensive and required two changes in London. Besides, the seven foot black bear owes me a favour; I managed to get him and Clarice a romantic box at the Royal Opera House for La Bohème a while back. I'd not expected him to be a fan of Puccini, but I've discovered over the years that this Ursus Americanus is full of surprises.
And, to his credit, he offered to drive without being asked.
I like a mammal with a good memory.
I just wish he had a larger car. It's an orange open-top roadster, perfect for a big guy like him, but not so good for two big guys like us. As I sit wedged into the little vehicle, I begin to wonder if this capsule hotel room will be suitable for even one big guy like me?
I also wish Bear wasn't in such a damned hurry to get to Heathrow. He's a solid, level-headed, dependable type, wise in a way that shames me at times. But behind the wheel of a car, he's a little... driven?
Bear drops me off at the Terminal 4, helping - pulling - me from the cramped car and straightening my spine out with an upward tug on my head that makes my feet leave the floor with a pronouced ratchetting of vertebrae. He then leaps back into the car and waves cheerily as he speeds away.
I limp inside with my minimal luggage.
I find the capsule hotel with a little effort; up an escalator and round a few badly signposted corners. The entrance presents itself curiously, a narrow temple of glass and purple lights. The automated check-in via an ultraviolet hole-in-the-wall doesn't cooperate, but an Oriental porter lets me in, registers me, and locates my room key.
As I wander the corridors in search of my room, I'm surprised by the sterile, laboratory feel to the place. But it's cool and quiet, two things I value highly when I'm trying to sleep. Each room has a large window onto the corridor, which is peculiar to say the least, though it gives me a chance to inspect the swankier rooms.
I find my room, walk down the three steps from the corridor, and eventually convince the door to open. I never have much luck with hotel room doors; they resist this weary traveller most of the time.
As I open the door, I am struck by two things.
Firstly, how spacious the room feels. There's a low-slung bunk bed to one side, a glass walled bathroom with shower to the other, and a short central corridor-of-sorts where I am standing. There's mirrors to push the walls out a bit, and it's pleasantly lit in the same soothing purple tones of the corridor.
Secondly, I am aware just how incredibly small the room is. I know from their website that this room covers just seven square metres, and that's a small enough number to stand and count them. Also, the blocked-in space above the bunk bed makes me suspect that the adjacent room interlocks with this one, and that the inhabitant will have a high bunk above my low one. Weird.
I kick off my shoes, hang up my coat, pop my luggage out of the way beneath the coat rack, and slip into the bunk.
The bed is fantastic. I'm a tall fella, and this is a full two metres long. The mattress is substantial and pleasantly firm, and it's wide too. The website says it's comfy for two, but they may have had slim, amorous, newlywed types in mind; I recall that these rooms can be booked by the hour. There's a large flat-screen TV embedded in the wall by my feet, a host of online services, including an impressive selection of room service meals, drinks and snacks.
As I survey the room from the bunk, I am very impressed. There's a wonderful feeling of efficient, considered design about the place, and it's not triggering my claustrophobia; yes, I like to live dangerously. I remember that the room was designed by the bloke who created first class spaces for British Airways, but what it actually reminds me of is a well-arranged caravan. One with air conditioning, high def TV and ultraviolet lighting, but a caravan.
Suddenly, there is a knock on the door. I manoeuvre myself out of the bunk, and open the door, half expecting a member of staff checking in on their latest arrival.
It's Bear. He looks sheepish, which is difficult for him.
The car's got a flat, he tells me by way of explanation. He waves the steering wheel, which he has brought with him for some reason. I've made some calls, but it won't get sorted 'til the morning. He looks over my shoulder. Hey, this looks nice! he enthuses. Then, more hesitantly, he grins, Is there room for another?
I sigh. You'd better come in.
I don't really want to get into the sleeping arrangements, but let's just say that me and Bear are not a pair of slim, amorous, newlywed types. It is an uncomfortable experience, both physically and emotionally. I have terrible dreams in which I am alternately falling from a narrow ledge over a precipice, and being smothered by an immense, black cushion.
I wake at seven, to the sound of hissing water.
Bear is in the shower, singing some old Burt Bacharach tune. I lay listening as consciousness seeps in. How did he get out of bed without waking me? There is coarse, black hair in my mouth. Do You Know The Way To San Jose? croons Bear.
Suddenly, there is a knock at the door.
I shuffle out of the bunk clumsily, and open the door an inch. There's two badgers in the corridor. I recognise one of them from my back garden, an old grey-templed boar called Yavin. He salutes me respectfully from under his flat cap, and silently raises a toolbox into the line of sight.
Hey Yavin, I mumble in welcome, rubbing sleep from my eyes. BEAR! I shout hoarsely, The badgers are here to fix your wheel!
Outstanding! he shouts back, midway through a line about all the stars that never were, are parking cars and pumping gas. I'll be out in a moment! Make yourself at home fellas!
I sigh. You'd better come in.
I open the door fully, and the younger badger pushes past his elder and rolls a new car wheel into the room. He leaves it carefully by my luggage, growls something in greeting to Bear, and then leaps straight into the bed. I stand, jaw slack, dumbfounded; it's too early to get surly with wildlife. A few seconds later, the black-and-white youth pokes his head out excitedly, waves the remote control for the TV, and beckons Yavin into the bunk.
Yavin looks up at me and takes his cap off. It's getting crowded in here. I wave him towards the bunk wearily. He steps smartly into the room, deposits the toolbox with the luggage and the wheel, and quickly vanishes from sight. I'm still sleepy, and as Bear switches the shower off and uses both towels to dry off, I lower myself carefully onto the top of the toolbox; there's nowhere else to sit, unless I pull the table down.
Suddenly, there's a knock at the door.
I find my way there past the emerging Bear, and open it a crack.
Housekeeping, says the tiny Japanese lady with the large trolley in the corridor. She bows only slightly; we're a long way from Tokyo, and I'm gaijin after all.
Do we have to do this now? I ask her, failing to look or sound authoratative in my pyjamas. I'll be gone in an hour, and it's a bit crowded in here.
She puts her hands on her hips and repeats defiantly, Housekeeping!
I open the door wider and poke my head out. I scan up and down the corridor to make sure the Marx Brothers aren't in the vicinity; I expect the double thump of hard boiled eggs at any moment.
I sigh. You'd better come in.
Ten minutes later, as I sit on the table under the coats and hats, while the cursing maid does her best to remove coarse black hair from the shower drain, I am surprised and relieved that the badgers haven't ordered any room service.
Suddenly, there's a knock at the door.
Continued in Part 2 - Beaten To Death By Karma
This blog entry is protected by copyright © Indigo Roth, 2010
Photos from www.yotel.com, because mine were rubbish