Too Cool for School?

HTG hates Washington, DC.

It has nothing to do with the Redskins, or whatever political party is in office (well, sometimes it’s the political party in office). It’s more the stupid layout of the city–the circles, the non-parallel roads, the inexplicable one-way streets. Pierre Charles L’Enfant, a French-born American architect laid the city out in 1791. Presumably while he was drunk.

It’s enough to make me say “Freedom Fries” next time I’m in the McDonald’s drive through.

So, when I had a recent event there I freaked out a couple of days before and decided to spend the night to avoid the morning traffic.

I made an online reservation for the Helix Hotel ). The website said it was off of Logan Circle, so it was convenient (the capital is actually walkable from this location, but I had piles and piles of crap to take with me for the meetings with the 18-year-old legislative assistants who actually run our country and write our legislation).

I was driving towards Barrack’s house when I realized that I hadn’t eaten dinner (bear with me–I promise this story is going somewhere. And not just in a slow-moving circle, like the DC beltway itself).

When I called the hotel to see if they had room service, Austin Powers picked up.Yes, that Austin Powers. He sounded drunk, too. “Hi, baybee, and welcome to the groovy Hotel Helix,” he said.

Uh oh.

I frantically pounded the “O” button, and finally reached a person…who thankfully did not talk like Greg Brady in the episode where he wants to prove that he’s a swinging grown up dude with blue glasses and a fringed suede vest, mamma. The live human informed me that there was room service available until 11.

I was worried, of course. I’m not that cool. I don’t like any of Mike Meyers’ movies. I was the fat kid in the swinging 60’s (really the early 70’s), the one with ugly printed blouses and home sewn corduroy pants.

I was not Hotel Helix material. Not 40 years ago. And probably not now, either.

The lobby was dark, and mostly empty, and I could barely see when I walked in the lobby. Luckily, there were two strips of purple neon behind the front desk, or I would  have stumbled around in my granny shoes trying to feel my way for 30 minutes or more. As my myopic eyes adjusted, I saw that the staff at the front desk was cool looking, with quirky glasses, and the kind of attention to detail that suggests they were junior stylists. Or gay. Either one is quite intimidating when I’m not looking my best.

To be fair, the staff was very very nice. They seemed sympathetic at the amount of brochures and annual reports I was balancing on my suitcase. They were pleasant as they reminded me that they would need my car keys to valet my car (who would leave their car keys in the ignition in DC?)

Most importantly, they didn’t make fun of me, at least not until I was safely on the elevator. I strained my ears listening for their clucking, but heard nothing as the mirrored elevator doors closed behind me. I tried not to look at my bedraggled reflection in the doors.
It didn’t really matter. Had I primped for an hour, and pulled out my most stylish heels, the cool factor of this hotel would still have been way beyond me.

I ended up in one of 178 newly decorated guest rooms (in addition to them, there are 12 specialty rooms–including some with bunk beds and another 18 suites that cost as much as my mortgage). My room had a desk and television and sofa in one part of the el-shaped room, with the king-sized bed in the other part, gauzily hidden behind drawn curtains. It made the room feel even larger than it was.

Behind the bed there was a full-scale mural of a man surfing, and the bed was covered with a very cozy looking sheepskin throw.

I kicked off my shoes and started to explore. The bathroom was quite small, but in the hallway leading to it (I guess technically the suite was U-shaped), there was a very cool bright orange frigidaire that served as the mini bar. Above that, a reproduction of Andy Warhol’s 1964 print, Jackie. I was starting to get it: the hotel was like our former first lady…elegant and refined, but portrayed with a bit of wit. Okay, Austin, I’m a little slow. In addition to being uncool.

I loved the artwork over my desk…a numbered photograph of Ken in his pajama bottoms chasing Barbie in his pajama top. My own Ken doll was not with me that evening, but I thought the photo was funny and I felt myself relaxing a little bit as I laughed.

As I hung up my banker pinstripes in the closet, I saw the best part of the room: two freshly laundered bathrobes–each available for purchase at the front desk–one in a wild zebra print and one in a sexy leopard. I loved them both…especially the way they stood in stark contrast to my Congress-ready suits.

A couple of minutes later, eating the nice crispy calamari from room service, I started to think that maybe I could fit in here. I could cut my hair with manicure scissors, and move in to a funky place like this. I could walk downstairs to the cool  lounge, and talk to the hipsters drinking neon-colored drinks out of martini glasses.

Or I could slip into the leopard print robe, snuggle up under the white sheepskin throw, and try to work on my English accent. It’s a start anyway, baybee.