Welcome to Episode IX of my fascinating adventure of appearing on the game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire thirteen long years ago. It’s been a long, drawn out process so far, and I’m probably not going to get a whole lot farther than I usually do in this week’s installment, but I’m doing my best to highlight the almost countless interesting aspects of this saga that made it a truly unique experience, and am hopefully doing that in my usual entertaining manner. Judging by your comments so far, I don’t think you’d mind if this dragged out all summer long!
Last week chronicled the action packed “limo” ride from Newark Airport to the hotel in New York the ABC Network was putting me and my Dad up in. That hotel was the
classy, elegant, accomodating Empire Hotel… a hotel which I am unable to warn you about ever wasting your money staying in because it went out of business a few short years later in 2004. Yes, within three years of my trip, the hotel, the airline, and even the primetime version of the game show involved had all gone belly up. If WordPress ever announces it is shutting down in the near future, I apologize profusely in advance.
So anyway, me and my Dad arrived safely at the front doors of The Empire… which at first glance didn’t look particularly forboding. The outside of the building wasn’t exactly the Waldorf Astoria, but a far cry from the Bates Motel. We entered the lobby, and all seemed about as aesthetically pleasing as you’d expect for a hotel in the middle of cramped and crowded downtown Manhattan. Since The Empire was the hotel ABC used exclusively to take care of its contestants for Millionaire at the time, all of the rest of my fellow competitors would also be staying here, and the front desk had a nice orientation package for me upon checking in. Oh, and a request for a $50 deposit should I manage to find something in the hotel to damage that wasn’t already broken.
Many of my friends on the WWTBAM message board had already gone through the contestant routine before me, and there was one opinion about the experience that was almost universal… The Empire is a fucking dump, especially for a hotel that normally charges upwards of $400 a night for one of their rooms. I went in expecting the worst, and was rarely disappointed. Room 607 had plenty of features about it that made a traveler long for the much cheaper comforts of the Holiday Inn.
How many times can you paint over a door hinge and cover up the signs of age, rust and deterioration before AAA revokes your five star rating? Apparently, as often as you wish.
What kind of luxurious sleeping accommodations can one expect to receive for four G’s a night? Apparently, this…
The room itself is insanely tiny, though nowhere near as petite as the bathroom was. It was about the same size as the closet. Picture the smallest possible space you can squeeze a shower, a toilet and a sink into… this bathroom was even smaller than that.
One can’t expect much of a view when you are surrounded by high rise buildings, and sure enough, the pretty scenery had nothing to do with the bloated price of the room… though there was a lovely overhead view of the hotel’s steakhouse which had a glass ceiling. Watching the elite gobble down filet mignon is always a good boredom buster.
As I walked away from the window, I tripped over a place where the wall juts out. And in doing so, I discovered just how well this room was put together. Mike Holmes would never approve…
The baseboard wasn’t even attached to the wall anymore… just leaning there giving the appearance that the room is solid and sturdy! I entertained thoughts of bringing it home with me as a comical souvenir of just how unbelievably horrible the hotel room was, but figured that even in those pre-9/11 days, bringing a board on a plane might raise a red flag or two, and I wasn’t in the mood for a cavity search.
Oh well, may as well make the best of things. So I sat down to the desk to whip out the Almanac and study some more. Prepare yourself, because for just the second time ever, I’m going to post an actual picture of the squirrel behind this nutty blog…
Wait a minute… this chair seems a little funny. Let me check this out…. oh dear!
Wow, even the chair is a piece of junk. Seriously, how bad do things have to get in a room before someone decides maybe a few things need to be fixed? What else can possibly happen to make our Empire experience even more insanely surreal?
Without so much as a knock, in barges one of the Empire’s fine housecleaning ladies who looked just like Florence from The Jeffersons. Apparently, it is hotel policy for the maids to not have to knock and announce their presence when they walk into a room that may or may not be occupied by a guest. To Florence’s credit, however, she was very apologetic about the unannounced intrusion.
Making the most of the surprise moment, we asked her a couple questions. First of all, where was the second bed we had been told was in the room?
Yep, the couch folded out into a bed, and Florence took it upon herself to show us how to make a small room even smaller. But hooray, now we had two uncomfortable beds instead of just one! That’s one small victory… but ma’am, can you tell us how to turn the heat up in this room? It’s 30 degrees outside, and the heat isn’t even running!
I’m sure Florence was laughing on the inside…
The rooms did not have a temperature control. The heat would kick on when it got cold enough we were told, which I’m guessing is somewhere around absolute zero. Only then would Scrooge McEmpire throw a few coals on the fire for us.
Seriously, what the fuck was up with this hotel? And was this ABC’s cruel joke it played on those who thought they were “lucky” enough to get chosen to play for big money on their game show? A hotel that commands what back home would be nearly a month’s rent just to be put up for one night should be a lot better than this. I wasn’t expecting plush carpeting, Van Goghs on the wall, gold leaf toilet paper, or even a bidet… but there are rat traps with vibrating beds that charge by the hour that are cozier, more luxurious, and less likely to collapse on us than this dump was. When it comes to The Empire, I can only think of the sage words of that foremost 1990’s philosopher, Mr. Butthead…
Boy, after that long flight and all this drama at heartbreak hotel, I’m starving. Next week, we’ll go out and try to find something to eat in this city. And don’t you think I can’t turn that into an adventure…. just watch me! Tune in next Friday, my critters!
And since I scanned a bunch of my old photos for this post, I’ll leave you with a shot of my two nephews that wound up on the same roll of film as my trip pictures. To show you how fast time flies, the one on the right just graduated from high school last week….