After I moved to the US I went back and visited the The Land Down Under every two years. Mum still lived in the house I grew up in, and I would always sleep in my bedroom. Nothing in the house ever changed; it stayed the same as it was when I was a young boy. Time never stands still, and the years between the visits when I sleep in my bedroom became every three to four years. You never know it at the time, but there came a last time I stayed in the house I grew up in; mum moved to a private nursing home.
Instead of visiting the The Land Down Under the year mum moved we spent some time roaming Southern England and Wales, sightseeing London, and after Christmas window shopping at Harrrods and Oxford Street. Our return flight to the US left Heathrow the afternoon of December 31st and arrived in Detroit late New Years Eve, and our Omaha flight was scheduled for early next morning; it made sense to stay in a hotel close to the airport. I made the room reservation online before leaving for Britain; I remember falling into a mind numbing trance when the price of a night’s accommodation appeared on the screen. I kept repeating in a soft whimpering stammer; New Years Eve 1995, room at hotel inside Detroit Airport, hundred dollars a night. I vowed I would never pay a hundred dollars a night again for a hotel room.
The airport was deserted when we deplaned; our British Airways flight was the last flight into Detroit for 1995. After flying the Detroit-Heathrow route for more than 50 years British Airways discontinued it in March 2008.
I never thought the day would come. When I visited mum in the nursing home I didn’t stay in the house I grew up in. The Savoy Park Plaza Hotel was on the corner of Spencer Street and Little Collins Street opposite Spencer Street Station. The stairs to the Spencer Street pedestrian subway tunnel were on Little Collins Street, outside the entrance to the hotel. The Southern Cross Station was still an architect’s abstract doodling on a serviette after a few rounds of bar drinks; the sweeping undulant roof that was to define the new station was still a dream. Our room was refurbished with a theme of subdued, timeless elegance. In the mornings I would stand, looking out the room’s window, watching the goods wagons being shunted; the tangle of railway lines that made up the Spencer Street Yards separated the Station from the Goods Sheds. The interstate and country trains, and the Blue Harris and Red Tait’s, roamed the tangle of railways lines trying to find their assigned platforms; just like chooks running around when they don’t know what to do.
I remember the Savoy’s marbled lobby and the touch’s of Art Deco design, and the open light filled Wintergarden cafe, provided a relaxing retreat to enjoy an afternoon cup of tea. The Savoy was the first hotel I stayed at after I had vowed I would never pay a hundred dollars a night again for a hotel room; it was more than a hundred dollars a night.
Mum fell off the perch not all that long after we had visited. The house of my memories was sold at auction, and the bedroom that I always sleep in had become just another room in someone else’s house.
The Quest in Flinders Lane, now known as Flinders Landing, was the second Melbourne hotel substitute for the house I grew up in. The Quest was one of a new breed of accommodations; a warehouse refurbished into a complex of boutique, serviced apartments. The small kitchen didn’t compare to mum’s, but you could still whip up a good serving of cutlets or rissoles for tea. It was back when Flinders Lane was still Flinders Lane, and Hosier Lane was only a cobbled bluestone laneway. The Gas and Fuel monoliths at the corner of Flinders and Swanston Streets had been demolished, and the busy railway lines were being roofed over to create Federation Square. The Quest was over a hundred dollars a night; however it was discounted at the Travellers Aide booth at Tullamarine Airport.
Over the next several years there was an assortment of franchise and private hotels, family bed and breakfast homes, guest houses, and country inns and pubs, in Scotland and Canada, a collection of US towns and cities, New Zealand, and the Australian towns of Castlemaine, Brisbane, Cairns, Alice Springs, Hobart, Beechworth, and Melbourne, that became a home away from home. Never paying a hundred dollars a night again for a hotel room became easier said than done; I’d reckon that it shouldn’t be all that hard finding a night’s accommodation for less than a hundred dollars, even when you eliminate budget hotels with plastic chairs and ashtrays outside the room, and hotels close to the outlet malls with rooms with heart shaped baths, or champagne towers and Greek columns.
From back when I stayed in cheap inexpensive hotels, I had a thesaurus of filters, such as threadbare, dilapidated, heart shaped, rodents, cockroaches and mould, crumbling masonry, pigeon droppings, shared bathrooms, and water damage that I used when making a hotel reservation. I remember a stark room in New Delhi. It had a small rickety bed with a flimsy mattress on which I would drift into and out of sleep. I spent most of the time wracked with intestinal pain, and folded into a fetal position; crawling and shuffling across the concrete floor to a small room with a hole in the floor to expunge watery liquids. I would stumble into the street to buy bananas; only to crawl back into the small room with a hole in the floor. When I didn’t eat, I tried to venture into the pulsating, chaotic streets of New Delhi; most times bouts of searing pain caused me to double in two. And I shuffled along with the other Delhiites through the crowded, colourful laneways and roads.
The first room that I slept in, in the US was a small shabby room. I arrived in San Francisco late at night. The Greyhound shuttle only got you from the airport to the downtown bus terminal; I had no idea where I was in the city; alone in a strange city, late at night with no where to stay. I walked with the fellow Aussie I had chatted with on the flight from the The Land Down Under, and we headed to the hotel where he had booked a room. I thought I would stay at the same hotel. The smiling receptionist explained there were no vacancies, and suggested the best option was one of the hotels a few blocks down the street; but cautioned it was on the fringe of a blighted area. The room was sparse and had a small rickety bed in the corner; a basement type window was set high in one wall, and the outside footpath with only shuffling legs of pedestrians, was all you could see through the top half of the window. And for three nights the police car sirens caused me to drift into and out of limited, restless sleep. The neglected area was close to the Powell and Market Street Cable Car Turnaround.
For the trek last year to the The Land Down Under we thought about couchsurfing, monastery stays, and hostel dormitory rooms; but instead turned to Airbnb to search for accommodation that was less than a hundred dollars a night. Albert Park is an inner suburb or Melbourne, nestled between the beaches of Port Phillip Bay and Albert Park Lake. It’s known for its stunning Victorian and Edwardian period houses, and leafy tree lined streets; I rented a flat in Albert Park before gentrification and upper-class affluence became the norm. Airbnb provided a refurbished , single fronted, stylish weatherboard Victorian house. It consisted of a bedroom and a modern bathroom off the main hallway; the hallway opened into an open well equipped kitchen and pleasant living space. A small outdoor patio with a BBQ was off the living space.
It didn’t take long before I was back being an Albert Park local; catching the tram into town, walking the leafy streets, and shopping the local shops. One morning I came across a similar house to our Albert Park home with an auction sign on the front fence. The next Saturday I joined the other interested buyers on the footpath for the auction. The house was a fully renovated Victorian with an upstairs addition; a small front bedroom with an open fireplace was the only original feature left of the house. The interior had been gutted and the house now had a small enclosed central bathroom with a concealed laundry, and a small hallway opening into a combined living space made up of a small kitchen, and a dining and living space; folding doors opened onto a tiny courtyard. The upstairs addition contained the main bedroom with walk in robes; I tried to imagine a queen size bed in the space. A shower and toilet were squeezed into the left over space. The bidding started at a million dollars. The house was sold for just shy of a million and a half dollars.
After the auction I sauntered back to our over a hundred dollars a night house. I put the kettle on the stove in the well equipped kitchen, poured a cup of tea, and retreated to the small outdoor patio with a BBQ. I sipped slowly on my hot tea, dipped an Arnott’s Tic Toc, and allowed myself to ponder; our over a hundred dollars a night Albert Park house was a million dollar house. I was staying in a million dollar house. Before leaving Melbourne, and the million dollar Albert Park house, I checked the value of mum’s old house; it isn’t up for auction but it’s estimated value range is $870,000 – $1,099,999. The bedroom that I slept in through my childhood and teenage years is now just another room in someone’s million dollar house.
As I reflected back on not upholding my vow of never paying a hundred dollars a night again for a hotel room, I decided that my failure was really a success; every failure in life becomes a foundation to build on. And as I dipped another Arnott’s Tic Toc into my cup of tea I vowed; on future holidays I will only sleep in million dollar houses.