Literally “already seen,” I’m staring at what for some may be your standard faire hotel door while lost in my mind trying to remember what the French phrase déjà vu means. In the early 2010s, I had the opportunity to grow as an aviator by serving as a Captain on the Embraer EMB-120 Brasilia, affectionately called the Bro. Being based in various coastal California cities, Los Angeles became a second home for me. Taking thirty passengers at a time along the coast to places spanning from San Diego to Arcata, one thing that wasn’t lost on me was the many times early departures and late arrivals would necessitate a night or two away from home at some nearby hotel.
On our own dime, commuters typically rent out a part of a room or become fractional owners of bunk beds at places affectionately known as crash pads. Having some (read: little) seniority, the necessity of such luxurious (read: horrible) accommodations were not necessary, rather, sporadic stays at an airport hotel filled the void.
Airports like LAX are home base for hundreds, if not thousands of pilots and flight attendants in similar circumstances, which often required strategic booking protocols. Evaluating weather, airline cancellations, and the propensity for the two to wreck havoc on the availability of comfortable (read: cheap) hotel rooms became crucial. On one fateful night many years ago I was too late to the party (read: really cheap), and slowly déjà vu is coming to me.
Last minute hotel rooms near major metropolitan airports served by dozens of international carriers are the proverbial needles in the haystack. And before Uber or Lyft were on the scene, even more rare were those hotels that offered shuttles to and from the airport. Quite literally the last hotel room available that fit the bill was an upgraded stay at what was once called the Backpacker’s Paradise. In what appeared to be a modest (read: poor) attempt at bringing the joys (read: struggles) of European hostels to the birthplace of roadside motels and the continental breakfast (citation needed), the Backpacker’s Paradise somehow existed. Thankfully, an added cost brought the convenience of this quasi commune campground with discounts on extended stays and added some privacy (read: my own bathroom) to the equation.
Waiting at the hotel shuttle curb at LAX late one evening my eyes did what they do best and scanned the vicinity to sense the stress and urgency of my fellow travelers, while categorizing the clientele with their chosen home for the evening. Naturally, pilots and flight attendants rode a few common shuttles to the nearby properties that enticed our kind with friendly faces (read: discounts), so it was no surprise when many of them left for familiar grounds and saw one of their own (read: me) uniformed waiting for what appeared to be the last helicopter out of Vietnam (read: shuttle to Backpacker’s Paradise).
In what can only be nicely described as time travelers, my fellow Backpacker’s Paradise tenants were a jovial bunch who scoffed at the early morning hour and brought life into the clapped-out Ford Econoline van that should have been the second sign that this was going to be a treat (the time travelers should have been the first). Questioning why such a dapper gentleman like myself would be staying at the Backpacker’s Paradise, I replied “why not?” and was later invited to join some drum circles or group hangs or whatever. Sadly, time was not on my side and extracurricular activities were politely declined.
Much like one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes, I found myself in the whole “taking a reservation” versus “holding a reservation” scenario. My luxury accommodation (read: private bathroom) was not going to manifest itself this evening (read: morning) and what I can only assume to be the exact opposite of my usual disposition informed the young lady attempting to check me in that this was not acceptable. Quickly, she found a way to restore order to the universe, and produced a remedy for our conundrum. A nearby “sister property” would have a comparable room for me, and after a very brief walk to the west, three inch bulletproof glass and one of those ridiculously small stainless steel coves under said bulletproof glass informed me that my night of intrigue has just begun.
A few tense moments between the staff of the Backpacker’s Paradise and whatever this shithole was called ended with a handshake, an apology, and the usual hotel check-in process. Filling out old-timey forms and watching my credit card go through one of those “click-clack” imprint makers, I was asked only one question; “Do you want the remote to the TV?”
Now I don’t want to brag here, but for the last six years prior to this evening-turned-morning, I would call myself at the least a novice hotel room guest. Having collected dozens of pens from across North America, I’ve seen the highs and the lows of two to three star hotel room market, and even some interesting (read: sketchy) one stars in such lovely places as Imperial and Inyokern, California. Never in my entire personal and professional hotel guest life have I been questioned about whether or not I would like the remote, but as fate would have it, this place took that off the bucket list.
Before His Royal Highness (read: front desk associate) would bestow upon me the rights and privileges of the magic wand that turns button pushes into pulsating infrared light beams, a credit card deposit was required. Interestingly enough, through all these negotiations, I was at the least hoping to exchange the batteries in the remote for those in my headset, but this remote appeared to have lived through that struggle repeatedly, and was secured more than Fort Knox, and would require either the jaws of life or a wrecking ball to break through the well-engineered (read: hastily-concocted) battery cover. Knowing what I know now living in a post-pandemic world, I should have been worried about not what was on the inside, but the outside, but I digress.
Visibly posted hourly rates, collections of nefarious “customers” loitering on the narrow walkway that surrounds the second floor rooms should have raised concern, but at this time of the evening/morning, my mind is on two things. One, sleep. And two, waking up on time. I distinctly remember the apparent sponginess of said walkway, and again, my mind had no time to process it, only save it in long term memory for later exploration. Loose doors and an actual physical key should have again raised concern, but the loud noises that appeared to be consensual in the neighboring rooms only instilled in my mind the gratefulness of successfully completing the remote control quest earlier.
Assessing this apparent playground, soaps, shampoos, conditioners, towels, and ice buckets appeared to be collected at a fire sale of sub-one star roadside motel chains that were updating their look. This “sister property” cashed in on the upgrades of its superiors, cementing in its inferior-ness with square ice buckets branded “Motel 6” and round lids that said “Howard Johnson” amongst the mismatched off-brand amenities. Again, reliving this moment in a post-pandemic world, I could only imagine how much Purell one would have deemed necessary to even be in this place. I know for a fact layers of plastic were placed between my luggage and anything not my luggage. Utterly destroying my streak of staying in hotels that have closets, ironing boards, and irons, a well-intentioned and long-sleeved Captain would have to break from his modus operandi of having crisp creases and start his trip on the wrong foot, if this place didn’t trip and/or kill him first.
Surgically placing items in safe areas, an already-reduced sleep opportunity and rapidly-setting fatigue (read: stress) reduced my cognitive capabilities and led me to reducing anything extraneous while focusing on two tasks, one, to fall asleep, and two, to wake up. Multiple alarms set, task two was up to hopefully a somewhat more rested version of myself to compete. Task one only required me to try to sleep, and thin walls, thinner doors, and the rustling of heaven knows what on either side of my room were going to make this tough. Thankfully, again I was reminded of recently being knighted by the supreme overlords of this place with the remote control. Surely anything on the boob tube would be better than what I’m hearing.
Nope nope nope.
Every channel on this television was nothing but porn. Just the most filthy vile trash that was likely an attempt to mask the reality between whatever was happening before my eyes briefly on the television and where I was physically. Not even one non-porn channel. Just porn.
Television off, earplugs in, I’m doing my damnedest to try to fall asleep. Worrying someone will barge in any moment through the loose door. My mind trying to calculate how much second-hand marijuana smoke would set off a random drug test. A few more nighttime prayers. Some classic Lamaze breathing. Music piped directly onto my eardrums.
Finally, it happens. Somehow in the midst of this physical manifestation of hell on earth I get some sleep. And like a bad dream, I wake up in a state of confusion and sadly memories beyond this point are hard to recall. Obviously I survived since I am alive now writing about this. The night leading up to this point becomes a memory that up until a few weeks ago stayed buried underneath some of dad’s famous cop stories, memories made with my family, and for some dumb reason the quadratic formula.
So, back to that point a few weeks ago when this memory resurfaced.
When Taylor Swift announced her Eras Tour dates, Stefani and I said “Why not?” and enlisted her brother to join our Herculean efforts to score a few seats at her show in Los Angeles, where she would be closing out the American part of her tour, and enabling us better non-revenue opportunities to travel there (with BUR, ONT, PSP, LGB, SNA, and SAN providing hopefully a few empty seats for a few Swifties). Laptops out, speakerphones blazing, we logged into the Ticketmaster website only to see large swaths of the SoFi stadium seats go from available to not in the time it took to move the mouse an inch on the screen. As fate would have it, Stefani scored six tickets, and despite my repeated attempts to sway the group to turn a small investment into a large dividend, plans were made to enjoy what many call one of the greatest shows.
A few days prior to heading to California, Steven, Melissa, Kenzi, Stefani and I found ourselves talking about our preparations for the concert. Perplexed by the requirement to “choose an era,” I thought concertgoers merely go to enjoy the performance. Surely, there’s some that go above and beyond like the drunk guys who paint the team name letter by letter on their chests, but little did I know in Swiftie Culture that physically being present at the concert was merely the first step in a multifaceted process of not only what you wear, but quite literally how you wear it. These careful, thoughtful preparations would lay down what became the foundation for interactions with other Swifties as we exchanged handmade friendship bracelets and compliments on our attire with other sequined and glittered attendees.
When asking about the physical preparations for our concert adventure, I asked Stefani about our accommodations. Having been booked months in advance, she didn’t recall the name or the location, only that it was close. The conversation about the proximity of hotels near important things immediately resurfaced my experience from the 2010s above. More than just a high tolerance for pain and a low tolerance for stupidity, my father showed me the best ways to captivate an audience, either with good cooking or a better story. Naturally, throwing brevity aside, I began retelling the tale of the Backpacker’s Paradise, and their “sister property”.
After spinning a few extra yarns, the impressions I felt having survived the night at the “sister property” began to remind me of the “never again” -ness of the situation. Never again would I hastily procrastinate necessary accommodations that would force me to lower my standards. Never again would I be so hell-bent on the requirement for a free shuttle. Never again would I go into something without a little research.
So there we were, enjoying some laughs at the expense of a less-astute former version of myself. Perhaps the cautionary tale was a necessary impetus to look at where we were going to stay the night of the Taylor Swift concert in “The best choice you can make for your business’s success!” or so the city’s website proclaims. And so we did, searching through emails for “hotel” and “inglewood” until we found our reservation to what is called the Crestridge Inn, a quaint-looking roadside motel that has literally the same picture of the same room all across the internet. Blue walls and a semi-modern simplistic furniture set up make these budget accommodations appear to be adequate, however the scarcity of any different images for the hotel online keep my skepticism on the fence. Nonetheless, the rooms are booked, we’re less than a week prior to the concert, so they’ll do.
How close was the Crestridge Inn to the stadium? Well, turns out it was real close. Looking it up on Google Maps, we found it to be around a half-mile of well-lit (read: illuminated) sidewalks leading the way. Scrolling around for any nearby restaurants, shopping centers, or the like, I’m scrolling around on the map and see something familiar nearby. The Backpacker’s Paradise hostel/hotel/motel/whatever is right next to the Crestridge Inn.
Then it dawns on me.
It can’t be true but it is. Likely have forgotten the tales of a young turboprop Captain’s plight with hourly-rate motels in the un-gentrified suburbs of Los Angeles, Stefani booked the one “sister property” that was the origins of this tale. Instantly, laughs, cries, tears of joy followed by a rapidly-setting reality that this experience may get it’s never-needed second showing, and that this time there would be witnesses to corroborate my heroic feats escaping this hell hole alive. In my mind is the image of Ace Ventura repeating “the “sister property” is the Crestridge…the Crestridge is the “sister property”” while dry-heaving, which was better than reliving the past experience with the establishment.
Realizing that this would be my daughter and I’s first daddy-daughter adventure, spending a day bumming around Los Angeles while anxiously awaiting her first concert, my mind began to race attempting to remedy the obvious change necessary to our plans. Surely, there had to be one room somewhere else. There’s tons of hotels nearby this place. This isn’t the first time a large gathering of people came to this area for the night. Surely, there is an alternative.
Nope nope nope.
As it turns out, over 70,000 self-proclaimed and closeted Swifties descended into the city 2Pac reminded us “is always up to no good.” Again, sequined and glittered, the multitudes of friendship bracelets, heart-shaped sunglasses, and what would later be determined to be the loudest voices in the world, took over the small community and occupied every room at every nearby hotel, motel, hostel, and whatever label you’d deem appropriate for a shithole like this “sister property.” Limiting ourselves to walking distance, realizing that Taylor Swift would defy all stretches of the capabilities of a human by performing over three hours of singing, dancing, and entertaining, maybe those scarce images of the Crestridge’s interior would be true. And if not, perhaps they weren’t too far off, or, at the very least, somewhat improved from the memories in my mind.
Attempting to validate that “this’ll do,” I begin to source reviews of the property from the internet. “The room was smokey” paired nicely with “no smoke detector in the room.” Other reviews saying “I don’t know what this is” pointing to awkward colored stains on bedding filled my mind with flashbacks like those movies make you think war veterans have during stressful moments. Invigorated with a sense of adventure, and with five accomplices to help lessen the shock (or provide any necessary backup), and with literally no other options available to us, we set course for the Crestridge Inn, hoping that the oft-repeated images of the same room across the internet held true.
Leaving Santa Monica after a gorgeous afternoon of exploring the pretty parts of Los Angeles, our uber dropped us off at the front desk of this once “sister property.” Part of me wanted to just take the loss and Uber to somewhere a little closer to a Barnes and Noble, or an Apple store. The other part, however, wanted to share my previous experience with my friends and family, perhaps an effort to share in the misery and add more to the story. Another part wanted to see how much the “sister property” has been transformed, walking that awkwardly spongy balcony once more. However, much like that fateful night many years ago, an impending time crisis and lack of flexibility brought forth a similar focus; get to the hotel and get to the concert.
So there I was. A little earlier in the day. Staring intently into the eyes of the new management through the same bulletproof glass. Passing credentials through the same stainless steel trough. Agreeing to various deposits and holds in case I decide to destroy the room. This time, no separate interview process was required for the television remote, which, ironically, wasn’t necessary as there was no television in our room. After a thorough description of how credit card holds work, a modern unbranded hotel key card is slid through the trough under the glass enclosed in a sleeve which read 210.
Turning around and glancing upwards towards Room 210 I’m yet again having that déjà vu feeling, as if we’ve found some sort of glitch in the matrix. Not only did the stars align that out of sheer luck, my wife would have booked us a stay at this very property, but I would be staying in the very same room. I’m trying to wrap my head around the serendipitous nature of this event happening twice in my life. I’m wondering if there’s some life lesson hidden somewhere within the barred windows, the bulletproof glass, and the spongy balcony. Until I find that lesson, I’ll hurry getting my friendship bracelets on, memorizing more lyrics from the folklore album, and enjoy what will likely be the best concert experience of my daughter and I’s life.