A dearth of hospitality: Dante missed a spot

For spring break I got as far away from Phoenix as I could. While the suffocation and constant feelings of being trapped might drive some to commit unspeakable acts, I chose instead to drive to Los Angeles.

When I reached the quagmire that is the Los Angeles highway system, I realized that perhaps I just needed some time to myself. Some time to think and re-evaluate my life’s decisions and aspirations, but most importantly some peace and quiet.

After all, rest and relaxation has always been my forte.

Having fought my way through the smog and TMZ tourists, I found myself on the doorsteps of the Sheraton Agoura Hills Hotel.

According to the website, this particular location, located “in the rolling hills of the Santa Monica Mountains near Malibu,” had recently gone through a $6 million renovation.

The website spoke of being far “from the hustle and bustle.” It seemed to be the “peaceful escape” I had been wanting.

Of course, this would turn out to be a lie. In fact, this became the first indication that perhaps I should have performed better in school. Maybe I would have seen this coming.

In my academic pursuits, I dropped out of whichever class covered Dante Alighieri’s “Inferno.” Not because of the instructor, classmates or scheduling conflicts, but from the simple acknowledgment that I hate poetry — specifically old poetry.

What I do remember (and what a simple Google search clarified) is that the descent into hell that Dante describes is broken into nine “circles.” With the ninth and lowest circle being the worst, I discovered that those who commit crimes against “hospitality” spend all eternity there.

The only thing missing in the $6 million renovation of the Sheraton was a sign that clearly stated (much like the one Dante describes on the gates of Hell), “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

While it might seem trite, possibly even trivial to bemoan a television or iPod-compatible alarm clock that didn’t work, WiFi that cost $10 a day or the $15 breakfast “buffet” of powdered eggs, nearly-rotten fruit and rancid coffee, it does however seem relevant to warn any other weary traveler — as Virgil did for Dante — of the perils that lay before us and the roles each of us play in their creation.

My time in Agoura Hills proved the notion of hospitality is as dead as the souls cast to the hideous underworld.

Who is to blame? Could it be the ignorant tourist or businessperson? Or maybe it’s the free-market system that allows businesses like the Sheraton to nickel and dime their patrons to death.

In all honesty, it’s a combination of them all.

Companies send their minions all over the country for conferences, training seminars and even vacations with all charges covered by the coveted expense account.

Of course, one can always stay at a Motel 6. They do leave the light on for you.

While this is technically an alternative, it is not a solution.

Having stayed in a variety of hotels in my life, I can attest to the fact that when I paid $15 to stay the night in a cheap roadside hotel, I got exactly what one would expect.

Strangely enough however, when I have stayed at establishments that promote themselves as posh or somehow better than the average hotel, such hotels rarely have the accommodations to justify my out-of-pocket expenses.

In the ever expanding corporate world, fewer and fewer of us remain individuals. This creates a cesspool where hospitality to a guest matters not. Unless you are a part of the group in town for business, you will be forgotten — if not ignored.

When it came time to check out, I went to the front desk to ask to speak with a manager regarding my stay. I realized my plight was of no concern. By then, my credit card had already been charged. To the Sheraton, it didn’t matter – I didn’t matter.

Maybe it is too late, or maybe there is still a chance that humans can salvage the only aspect of our existence that is within our control: being hospitable.


Reach the columnist at jbfortne@asu.edu or follow him at @JOMOFO40


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