On Sale Now!
We couldn’t resist. Our latest science fiction tale is live and available on Amazon.com, and we thought this weekend that we’d harken back a bit and offer readers the first 1000 words free. You can read Peak Season and other original scifi tales by your’s truly in their entirety.
David A. Dickinson
I never thought that I’d find my most interesting and life-changing assignment as a new hotel manager in the backwater town Carbondale, Illinois.
But before we get down to the strangest assignment I ever had, let me introduce myself. I’m Tim Sutton, newly minted graduate of Hospitality School and hotel manager at large. In the hospitality industry, we move where the work is, especially when a start-up chain offers us nearly quadruple the starting salary that’s standard in the business.
Think being a hotel manager is easy? Let me tell you, it’s lots of late hours and weekends, and it’s also lots more than making sure the coffee is fresh and hot, or the sheets are turned down just so. The hospitality and travel industries are intertwined, and they rise — and more often than not fall — at the whim of the ever-shrinking economy. In addition to making sure that everything is up to code for any short notice health inspection and the charming young lady in 706B isn’t going to sue you because her daughter slipped and took a nasty fall at the pool, There’s the competition. Competing hoteliers will often pull dirty tricks, like deliberately planting bed bugs during a clandestine stay to, at best, try to get a free room and, at worst, attempt to get you shut down and run out of town. Oh yes. I’ve seen it all.
Carbondale, though, looked like every other ‘McAmerican town’ as I pulled off the highway exit ramp: lots of chain fast food restaurants, gas stations, and cluttered department stores clustered close up to the highway, far from the town’s old and decaying city centre. I was upbeat and optimistic about this job; Katy agreed to follow me, which worked for us as newlyweds, as her calling as a substitute teacher by day and struggling science fiction writer by night could be done virtually anywhere.
“I’ll follow you to the first Red Roof Inn they build on Pluto, as long as they’ve got wifi,” she said as we began our driving odyssey westward. I always admired her for her unwavering optimism in my chosen profession in an ever-shrinking and cut-throat field. Plus, this new job would come with a company car and allow us to purchase an actual house, something that was unheard of in this day and age of 2017.
I pulled up to my new work assignment and immediately liked what I saw. The Watering Hole chain of hotels was the very latest in combination-style stays, offering a motel convenience with a small apartment style setup for longer stretches. The Hospitality Journal called Watering Hole a “Fine blend of handiness and charm.” The building itself, while set in a bit a distance from the highway – and our presumed main customer base – had risen from the ashes of a Days Inn that used to inhabit its old bones to the modern heights of highway hotel chic that now stood before me.
Still, I wondered exactly what their plan was to draw in customers, and what their targeted customer base was. But if I’d learned anything after years of interning in one slipshod Howard Johnson’s after another, the mantra for 2017 was still “build it and they will come.” This was even more pertinent in this day and age. Folks will drive an extra mile for dependable wifi and an adjoining dog-friendly park, and will avoid you like the plague if there’s any whiff of it becoming the very latest local crack den hangout.
“Hi, I’m Timothy Sutton; just got into town,” I said to the desk clerk. She was an older lady who I could see from her Watering Hole tag, was named Gina. I didn’t have to introduce myself as the manager (and her new boss) as I was sure that she was already thinking that she was old enough to be my mom. And besides, I was simply still in — as the business management courses would call it — the initial observation mode of the job.
“Mr. Henderson will be right with you in our Safari Room,” she said, motioning around the corner.
“Thanks,” I replied, wondering if she was only on her best behavior now, as the regional district manager was here visiting at a motel in a backwater ‘burg.
“Mr. Sutton,” Fred Henderson said as he shook my hand and strode into the conference room. A taller, gaunt man, he definitely had an easy going but no nonsense air about him.
“Glad to be here,” I replied, hoping not to appear nervous, and knowing that I was probably failing in the endeavor. Our earlier Skype interview had gone off without a hitch, and I didn’t want to blow it now.
“Welcome to the Watering Hole family,” he said. “I’m hoping you’re settling in well?”
“Great,” I replied, “We’ve already got a new house lined up in the ‘burbs.”
“Well, I hope you’re ready for anything, and very open minded when it comes to clientele.”
“I’m ready for any problem that you can throw my way,” I replied. “Plus, Katy and I backpacked around the world working at hostels from Bangkok to Jerusalem; I’m definitely down with plurality.”
I almost thought I’d detected a bit of a smirk, a sort of ‘how quaint’ vibe at that remark. I knew that some folks in the hospitality industry ‘got’ the whole backpacker tribe in the greater scheme of the travel and hospitality business, while others not so much. Such is the way of the industry: one man’s noble traveler is often another’s vagrant.
“Well, the clientele here at the Watering Hole are a bit… special,” he continued. I almost thought the dramatic pause was like something out of one of Katy’s stories.
“Let’s just say that they’re very keen on not attracting attention to themselves.”
“Here, in Carbondale, Illinois?” I asked. You couldn’t help but notice at the local Cracker Barrel on a Saturday night that this wasn’t an exceptionally cosmopolitan town.
“We’ve got a special event coming up here in August,” he continued. “A total solar eclipse passes right over this town, and eclipse-chasers from all over will descend on Carbondale and surrounding towns along the eclipse track and fill up every Hampton, Holiday Inn and Motel 8 in the Illinois, Kentucky and Missouri tri-state area.”
I’d heard something about that from Katy during our long drive to Illinois. She’d mentioned that the 2017 eclipse was the first to cross the U.S. since last century, and we shouldn’t miss it. I’d also heard that some religious cults and basement blogger types were already proclaiming this eclipse was the latest brand name for the apocalypse… I silently prayed that they weren’t our target clientele…