More stupid traveler confessions

Phone sex follies, the Mexican marital misstep and the woman who got stuck in a toilet.

Published September 15, 2000 7:00PM (EDT)

The Stupid Traveler Tricks just keep pouring in!

My admission last week of my own worst STT, "The Case of the Undocumented Daughter and the Dumbfounded Daddy," inspired many of you to send tales of your own worst tricks. I take great comfort in the knowledge that such smart people can do stupid things.

Let's begin with two letters near and dear to my heart because they show that I'm not the only person with paranormal passport problems:

"I enjoyed your story about your daughter's passport but kept thinking, huh, that's nothing. Imagine moving to another country with a toddler and a newborn, whose passports you carefully applied for the week each was born (two passports each, British and American -- they have dual nationality). By the time you have finished packing up the house and seen the moving van and your husband off to France, you are a crazed zombie from lack of sleep and stress and are looking forward to one full day of nothing to do but nurse the baby before you fly to France yourself. That night, just before you drop off to sleep exhausted on the mattress on your soon-to-be-former neighbor's floor, you bolt upright in a panic. The file cabinet! With the passports in it! It's on the ferry to Calais!

"Fortunately the children's British passports had not yet been picked up from the passport office, but I was forced to spend my day of rest getting my picture taken (the worst photo of me ever) and begging, finally breaking down and sobbing, baby in a sling on my chest, at the American Embassy in London so they would relent and give me a passport right then and NOT make me come all the way back the next day. (In fact, all my acceptable photo IDs were in that file cabinet too -- they wanted to check me out with the State Department first.)

"I ended up getting a replacement passport that was good for six months, but after that I would have to renew it in person at a consulate or embassy in France. Six months later, when I had to travel five hours by train to Bordeaux with a six-month-old baby, I wished I had gone back the next day.

"P.S. On a trip to India, my sister left her passport in a bank when she changed money. Two days later she and her boyfriend paid a taxi driver to drive them hundreds of miles back to that city, a terrifying six-hour drive during which the driver flung coins out the window at every Hindu shrine they passed to ensure they survived the trip. After they arrived at the bank, the driver was regaling the other taxi drivers with the tales of this mad excursion. My sister came out and held up her American passport to show him why they'd come all the way back. He looked like he'd just been told that he'd helped find the Holy Grail."

This next letter presents one way you do not want to start your married life.

"My new husband and I were very excited to go on our honeymoon to Club Med in Tahiti. Our flight didn't leave until midnight Saturday, so I didn't even bother packing until that day (after all, you don't need much more than a swimsuit and sunscreen for Tahiti). We went out to breakfast, and then I happily commenced packing. I unlocked my fireproof safe to get out our passports. (You don't need a visa to go to Tahiti, just passports.) There was only one passport in the safe -- his. In a flash I realized the awful truth: My passport was in my safe deposit box, locked in my bank, which was closed on Saturdays. Tears followed soon after -- I had ruined our honeymoon! I called the bank's 800 number and begged them to open the bank, but they said the locks were on a timer and there was nothing they could do. I tried everything, even calling the American embassy in Tijuana to see whether I could drive down there (from San Diego) and get a temporary replacement.

"To make a long story short, we had to postpone our trip by four days and it ended up costing us an extra $1,000 since we had to go business class instead of coach. We had a great time anyway, and my husband was very sweet about the whole thing, so all's well that ends well. But I'll never leave important details like that until the last minute again."

You know how some supposed technological advancements are really small steps backward for mankind? Here's a letter about one of those annoying little advancements. I suspect many of you will relate all too well to this one -- I know I've been there.

"On my first trip to New York City, I was staying at the new Hotel Giraffe on Park Avenue. This was a different experience from other hotels in which I have stayed in the U.S. The staff was very friendly and the view was all I could have hoped for on my budget. The hotel had no restaurant or cafe, but there were eight restaurants within a block. And since this was New York City, many of them were open later than I could have hoped for. There was even a deli that delivered to the hotel, with all the special New York-type food a boy from Seattle could want. I enjoy having a cold glass of diet soda on hand and, it being August, my girlfriend needed her bottled water. These were easy to get, but the only place to keep them cool in the room was the honor bar.

"Which brings me to my stupid hotel trick: This hotel opened in December of last year and was fully equipped with all the newest hotel computer-type stuff. This included, to my great surprise at checkout time, a computerized honor bar. It seems that any time you removed or even moved any of the beverages in the honor bar -- bingo! -- it sent a message to the hotel billing computer to charge you for the beverage that had been in that space. Well, we had stayed at the hotel for four days and several times had taken beverages out of the honor bar and placed them on the counter so that we could place our own store-bought beverages in the bar to keep them cool. When we were leaving, we once again placed the items that were originally in the honor bar back in place.

"At checkout we were presented with an honor bar bill of three pages that came to $478! None of which we had consumed. The hotel was nice enough to accept our explanation (we can only imagine that this has happened to many of their other guests) and zeroed out the total for the honor bar. They could not, however, remove the listings for these items from the bill printout.

"Did I mention that I was staying in the room as a tag-along on my girlfriend's business expense account? Even though she ended up not paying for it, she was still left to explain on her expense report why she had $478 of beer, wine and liquor on her honor bar bill for a business trip of four days."

Now here's a series of STTs that seem variations on the same timeless theme: Love makes fools of us all.

"I was in the last stages of a bad marriage and had decided to take a solo trip to Mexico to think things through. I was heading to a spot frequented by a number of our friends. A week before I left I found out that a single woman from our circle of friends was also planning a trip to the area. I had always been attracted to this woman and took this news to be a sign from the gods. In fact, events took what many people later thought to be a predictable course; any second thoughts I had were soon swept away by the sheer fun of my first (and last) extramarital affair.

"One evening Margaret (not her name) laughingly offered me her ex-husband's watch. She had brought it down for use when diving and since diving events were no longer on the schedule, she had no other use for it. Besides, she said, she had a hard time setting it.

"Not having a watch, I accepted the gift. I checked the date on the watch against my USA Today and put it in my pocket. It was easy to lose track of time, so I was happy to have an easy way to keep track of the date. I put the watch on my nightstand and checked it every morning so as not to miss my departure day.

"When that day came, Margaret drove me to the airport. She was going to stay on for a few more days, using the room I had originally rented just for myself. When I got to the ticket counter my head was swimming, not only from the overwhelming experience but also trying to think about all the implications for my return home.

"For a while I failed to notice the ticket agent's increasing consternation. He scanned the passenger log repeatedly, then retrieved other papers. Finally he said with great annoyance, 'You missed your flight -- it was yesterday!' I was shocked. I was a day late! Twenty-four hours of extra dalliance while my employer, clients and especially my wife wondered what the hell had happened to me.

"I'll spare you the gory details, the most grisly of which was the phone call from my soon-to-be ex-wife to my hotel room, answered by -- you guessed it. Suffice it to say that a huge palaver ensued -- all caused by one tiny detail. As I stood in the standby line waiting to get on the flight, I realized what had happened. Indeed, Margaret had had trouble setting that watch. If I had looked closely at the face I would have noticed an AM where the PM should have been. The watch was set 12 hours slow, enough for the time to appear accurate, and for the date to be correct in the evening, but not in the mornings when I checked it."

Ever indulged in a little phone-play on the road? Well, here's a cautionary tale:

"I'm an attorney with a high-status position in state government. Young. Thirty-one. Female. Married. With a long-distance lover (who is not my husband). I went to a conference a couple of years ago and had arranged for a phone tryst with my lover. (We don't get to see each other but once or twice a year, so we maintain daily phone and e-mail contact. But since we are both married, the opportunities to really talk openly are few and far between. The night before this conference was one of those rare occasions.)

"I'd geared all the way up for this phone date. I'd driven two hours to the hotel where the conference was being held. I inquired about the location of a good takeout sushi place and a liquor store. I ran my errands to gather my feast, then relaxed in a lovely bubble bath to soak away the stresses of that day's court. I'd eaten my sushi and lit tiny votive candles around the room. I put my long hair up in a loose chignon and lowered myself into the water. There, I sipped my first, then second glass of wine from the spotted bathroom glass while bathing, then donned my sexiest nightgown in preparation for my lover's voice.

"I slipped between the crisp white hotel sheets and excitedly dialed his number. (As an aside, you should know that I was paying for the room and the charges out-of-pocket). Being the inexperienced traveler that I am, I reasoned that the anonymity of charging the phone call to the room was preferable to having to explain a strange calling card charge to either my husband or employer. It was quite late at night in order to allow for the three-hour difference between my East Coast locale and my lover's California time.

"The conversation was slow and languorous. It was going to my head almost as much as those third and fourth glasses of wine. One thing led to another, and, well, let's just say that there came a point in the conversation when I'd been sated in every way. Boy, did that big hotel bed feel great after that dinner, and bath, and wine, and ...

"I woke to the alarm the next morning at 6:30 a.m., light streaming in through the curtains, phone still in hand. I put the receiver to my ear and listened, but there was no sound -- no dial tone or voice -- at the other end. I was a little embarrassed to realize that I'd fallen asleep while on the phone with my lover. I laughed thinking how much he was going to razz me next time I talked to him. I knew I'd have to pay for that transgression. And boy, did I ever.

"I placed the receiver back in its cradle and went to the conference, slightly amused about the previous night's events. That is, until I went to check out of the hotel.

"We all know that a six-minute long-distance phone call can cost upwards of $10 when charged to the room. But did you know that a six-hour phone call can cost over $500? The clerk handed me the bill and I nearly fell down. What could I say? 'Gee, Miss, I hate to bother you, but this charge is bogus. You see, I was having phone sex with my boyfriend and I fell asleep during the conversation. I wasn't really talking all that time. The phone was just off the hook.' Her pasted-on smile stared back at me as I looked up at her over my bill. My mind started racing through plausible explanations.

"I gulped and took the plunge anyway, fearful of the repercussions if I had to eat that call on my credit card. How in the world could I explain such a huge bill to my poor, unsuspecting husband?

"Ultimately, I confessed only to drinking a bottle of wine and falling asleep while on the phone. I clarified that the other party had disconnected once they heard me snoring (true) and that I'd awakened with the phone in hand (also true). With a sweet smile that did a lot to belie my profession, I calmly argued that the call should have terminated once the other party hung up. Therefore I should not have been charged past that point. (Yeah, yeah, it's the big, bad hotel's fault.)

"Could I estimate just how long I was engaged in legitimate conversation?" inquired the perky front desk assistant manager. Hmmm, let's see. I made a mental tally: "Hi, honey, how was your day? I'm a little tipsy, what are you wearing? I miss you like hell, hey ... where are your hands right now? Oh, baby ... mmmmmmm, god I love you ... zzzzzzzzzzzzz." I'd guess -- half an hour?

"She recalculated the charges accordingly and I sheepishly paid my bill, in cash.

"Next time I'm getting a pre-paid calling card."

If you work in the travel industry, you've no doubt come across some stupendous STTs in your time. To end this week's compendium of travelers' travails, here are two tales from the other side of the travel desk:

"I was working the front desk at a Best Western in Albuquerque, N.M. I answered the phone, and a woman asked to be connected to room 7. Problem: We didn't have a room 7. So she asked for a specific name, but when I checked the list of guests, that name wasn't on it.

"'Well, that can't be. My husband left a message with this number saying he was in room 7. Could it be room 107 or 207? Could you ring one of those for me?' But he definitely wasn't in room 107 or 207, and I wasn't going to put her call through to someone who I knew wasn't in our hotel. She repeated, 'This is impossible, my husband left a message saying he was in room 7 at the Best Western in Alamogordo.'

"'Um, ma'am, this is Albuquerque.'

"She was insistent: 'No, this is Alamogordo.'

"'Lady, if I was in Alamogordo, I'd know it. And I'd be trying to get out. I can get you the number for the Best Western in Alamogordo, and maybe he's there.' I gave her the number, but she called back a few minutes later saying that was no good, was I sure he wasn't at our hotel and could I put her through to room 107? I declined, because the guest in room 107 had been there a couple of days and I knew it wasn't her husband.

"She called back a few minutes later and didn't identify herself, just asked to be put through to 107. Fine, I put the call through, let the person in the room confirm that it wasn't her husband. I never found out what the story was, but either her husband was really confused or was trying to ditch his wife."

Here's another tale:

"I work as a train conductor for a commuter railroad in the Northeast. This STT was committed by one of our passengers a few years ago and I still can't get over it.

"A middle-aged woman boarded my train early on a Saturday morning and was obviously drunk. After she was on for a while she decided she wanted to smoke and proceeded to light up a cigarette right in the car in total disregard of all the 'No Smoking' signs. We told her to put the cigarette out, but a little later she did it again. We knew she had been drinking, so we tried to show her some mercy and gave her still another chance to behave.

"For a while everything was fine, but then a passenger ran up to me and told me there was a woman stuck in one of the bathrooms. As soon as I entered the car, I could hear her yelling from inside the bathroom. It turned out that she went into the bathroom to sneak a smoke. After she locked herself in, she pulled out her lighter and put the cigarette in her mouth, but before she could get it lit, she dropped the lighter down the toilet. Undaunted, she reached down to fetch it and got her hand stuck in the bowl.

"The doors on the bathrooms opened inward and the compartment was very small. We were able to get her to unlock the door but we couldn't get in because her butt was blocking the door from opening enough. We had to stop the train, put the rest of the passengers on another train and wait for help to arrive. Finally the police, along with some company mechanics, showed up. They had to disassemble the walls of the bathroom to get her out. There she was, about 20 minutes later after the walls came down, all bent over the toilet with her arm stuck. I wonder if the redness in her face was from being bent over or from the embarrassment?"

That's it for this week. But I know some of you out there still have some great tales you haven't shared. Now it's your turn. Tell me your favorite stupid traveler trick -- and look for more tales here in weeks to come.

By Don George

Don George is the editor of Salon Travel.

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