Above is a part of the 'town' of Hot Springs. In all honesty, I'm not sure if I've seen a smaller town! If you removed the hotel and it's associated facilities, the town consisted of a fire station, a (great) diner, a convenience store... and that's about it. I loved the town. The hotel was my first experience of the ugly class system that I'd heard so much about in America, but had never witnessed first hand. Unfortunately we managed to stay in the hotel on the night of a Democratic Caucus event. If you believe the media, the democrats are left-wing hippies. What I witnessed was something different, and completely apart from political leanings. Walking into the hotel, I was having trouble finding reception (it is absolutely enormous) After walking for about 1/2 a mile, I decided to go inside the building to find a phone. I saw two men wearing lanyards, which to me, indicated that they were security clearance cards for staff. I politely asked them if they worked in the hotel and was greeted with the filthiest sneer I have ever encountered and a hissing "no!" as they stormed away. ohhh-kay. I found a phone and managed to get directions to the front desk (turns out the 'carpark' sign I followed was not for the real carpark, just the spare one - stupid me)
We checked in under the scrutinizing gaze of desk staff and guests alike (we found out afterwards that one was not to be inside the lobby unless they were in 'resort-wear' which unfortunately, we don't own and was not warned about beforehand. We were dressed well in collared shirts and suit jackets, apparently that was offensive) The man that checked us in was very friendly and eager to show us pictures of his musician cousin, but was told abruptly to wrap it up (we were the only people checking in) by his supervisor. As we left, another colleague asked him how much he just made. How crass.
By this time I was feeling a bit uncomfortable, but as we made our way back to our room, we smiled at people we passed and in general, people averted their eyes. C even threw out a few howdies and how are you's which were met with silence.
We got to our room and I studied the activities schedule. We wanted to go bowling, and since no bookings were allowed, we decided to mosey on over and try it out. We entered the half-full bowling alley and were immediately asked if we were with 'the caucus' I stupidly said that we weren't, and we were turned away. Apparently all activities were reserved exclusively for them. I was beginning to lose my shit right about then, and C decided we should head into town to try and get dinner, and forget the posh restaurant in the hotel. I am so glad we did. The diner had some really lovely ladies working there, and the decor was Elvis themed! There was glittery red diner booths and amateur paintings of Elvis doing his best come-hither pose scattered amongst memorabilia. And a great jukebox that we played whatever music we wanted (I chose Patsy Cline singing about losing her mind) It didn't matter that the only vegetables were deep-fried mushrooms. We chatted to the waitress about the folk up on the hill and she told us about her son who was off fighting in a war in Afghanistan, while the people engaged in the decision making that sent him there were up riding hay carts and learning the art of falconry. You could see the struggles of her life in the lines around her eyes and despite this, she was a kind and genuine woman, unlike the people we had just encountered up the hill.
Full of resolve, we returned to our room and I donned my Marching Band hat that I'd purchased in Richmond. We sat quietly in the grounds with our feet in the hot spring and watched the fireflies. We watched the children playing with the fireflies and wondered if they would become like their parents. I suppose my judgement sounds quite harsh from the few anecdotes I've written here, but honestly, I have never in my life witnessed nor experienced the level of superficial judgement that I did at this place. I was made to feel inferior and worthless in almost every interaction. Later that night, around midnight, there was a almighty thunderstorm. I LOVE thunderstorms. It was earth-shaking in it's intensity and I was enjoying the show, until with one ear-splitting crack, the entire town's power supply was cut.
Here we were, inside this Shining-esque vast hotel, which operated with electronic keys, a phone with a dead battery, and no torch. The only light source was a tiny red dot on the ceiling (the battery-operated smoke detector) and the irregular sharp flashes of lightning. I have to admit, I got scared. Scared of the lightning starting a forest fire. Scared of being trapped in our room. If you've ever been in complete darkness (no moon, stars or anything, I mean, underground darkness, the type where you cannot see your hand in front of your face) you'll know how oppressive it is. Everything closes in around you and you feel trapped. I am laying in the bed, contemplating my fear and claustrophobia for hours. I want to leave the room to make sure we are safe, but I'm scared I won't be able to find my way through the miles of hallways, and perhaps not be able to get into our room again (with the electric key) C, who is soundly asleep all this time, rolls over and says, "are you thinking about all those politicians out there in the hallway cannibalizing each other in a zombie apocalypse?" It's like he read my mind.
The next day, it was as though nothing happened. No explanation about the power loss. I decided that one way or another, I was going to take some advantage of the facilities. So I swam a few laps in the hot spring pool. It was not well looked after, but gosh-darnit, I had a good swim! I hadn't slept a wink, and was looking forward to our next night's sleep, which was around 5 hours drive away. Time to get moving! Little did we know, we were about to spend the night in a hotel that could have been right out of the imagination of Jim Henson!