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HOTEL HELL, Leib Dodell posted 7/19/01
Leib Dodell is a former team member that now lives in San Francisco. He is an attorney and freelance writer and often writes articles for INSIDE TRIATHLON. This article is reprinted from the June, 2001 issue.

How many times has this happened to you: You’re travelling on business and desperate for a workout. You check into your $249-a-night hotel room, and you’re thrilled to learn from the desk clerk that the hotel does in fact have a fitness center. So you dump your bags in your room and change into your workout clothes . . . only to discover that the “fitness center” used to be Room 837 until they dragged in two rusty stationary bikes and a Universal set from 1985. Basically, the hotel has spent more money on the drapes in your room than on the entire fitness center.

I always wonder how they picked Room 837. I figure some very unfortunate event must have taken place in that room that left it particularly malodorous, and they couldn’t figure out what to do with it until some hotel manager said, “Hey, let’s have a fitness center!” Unfortunately, the room isn’t quite big enough, and it is physically impossible to do most of the exercises on the Universal gym without sledgehammering down one of the walls, which would probably result in an entry on your hotel bill even larger than making a long-distance phone call. And if you’re planning on riding the stationary bike, I hope you brought your own toe clips. Personally, I don’t travel anywhere without them, because clearly someone has traveled the world stealing toe clips out of hotel gyms, and now has the world’s largest toe-clip collection stored in his basement.

Then there is the whole matter of the hotel “pool.” Hotel operators have discovered that if people actually swim in their pools, this increases the risk that someone might drown, and so their pools have been skillfully engineered to make it virtually impossible to actually swim in them. You can forget about lane lines, and I wonder how much time was spent in the lab to develop a color of paint that makes the pool walls absolutely invisible when viewed from under water. Not only aren’t hotel pools rectangular, they aren’t even kidney shaped, which is usually the bodily organ of choice when it comes to pool shapes. I guess the pool engineers decided that swimmers have figured out the kidney, so most hotel pools are now shaped like far more exotic and complex organs such as the esophagus. (And don’t waste your time emailing me that the esophagus isn’t technically an organ. Tell it to the swimming pool manufacturers. )

True story: I stayed at a hotel in Florida a couple of weeks ago, and was stunned to look out my hotel room window and see an absolutely gorgeous, rectangular, 25-yard pool, complete with lane lines. The only thing standing in the way of an awesome workout was a line of buoys running straight across the middle of the pool. But I figured I could easily unhook the buoys and get in a good 10 or 15-minute swim before hotel security swooped down on me like paratroopers. Of course, when I got down to the pool I discovered that the buoys were permanently welded to the pool walls. I would have needed a blowtorch to get them off. It was as if, at the very last minute, the pool engineers looked at each other and said, “Wait a minute, do you think someone might actually try to swim in this pool??” Have you ever tried doing a 3,000-yard workout trying to remember to dolphin-kick under a line of buoys after every five strokes? I am considering class-action litigation over this one, so if you want to join in, let me know.

Even if you can get past all these structural difficulties, you then have to deal with the fact that, by statute, hotel pools are required to be occupied round-the-clock by families from Iowa or, in some jurisdictions, from Hell. These families have an average of 47 children and appear to have never seen a swimming pool before in their lives, and as a result are so excited that they feel obliged to conduct all of their daily activities in the water, including getting dressed in the morning, barbecuing dinner, and other activities that I would prefer not to even think about. Why these people aren’t at Disney World, instead of the Hyatt Regency in downtown Chicago, is a complete mystery to me.

If you take all of these factors – the esophagus-shaped pool, no lane lines, the family from Hell, etc. – and insert a triathlete in Speedo and goggles attempting to do a workout, you end up with a scene right out of one of those Which-Object-Does-Not-Belong-In-This-Picture games from an old Highlights magazine. The only real question at this point is which object you’re going to swim into first: a small Midwestern child, a floating barbecue grill, or, if you’re lucky enough to make it all the way across, the pool wall.