Ice Cream Dreams

Before our vacation in South Carolina last week, I took measures to ensure I was fully prepared for the low country’s late-May heat and humidity. I packed a reliable SPF 30 sunscreen. I purchased a couple of bottles of spray-on insect repellant. I added several hats to the wardrobe. I even brought a USB-chargeable mini-fan, which hangs around the neck, operates at three speeds, and adjusts to just the right angle. But guess what? I didn’t need any of these items in South Carolina last week (for the weather gods were merciful). Instead, I should’ve left it all at home and just brought my bed.

South Carolina is nicknamed “The Palmetto State”

Is it me getting older or can we all agree on the exceptional value of a good night’s sleep?  For me, it’s a day of brain fog if I don’t get a quality 7.5 hours in la-la land the night before.  When I’m up past midnight (which is never my intention), I know I’m going to pay dearly at 7am the next morning.  Because, I wake up without fail (and without alarm clock) every morning at 7am.  Even if I don’t hit the hay until 3am.

 Stay in a hotel – any hotel – and after one night you’re reminded how the circumstances of quality sleep are frustratingly beyond your control.  My wife and I booked a charming historic inn our first night last week, and what-do-you-know, our bed was just as historic.  The seemingly elegant four-poster contained a lumpy mattress with a few squeaky springs, and a decided slope from my side of the bed to my wife’s.  Throw in the two-hour time change and we tossed and turned like a washing machine’s most violent agitation cycle.

The second day we drove over to Charleston (half asleep), where you’d think a Courtyard-by-Marriott room would deliver the Z’s just a little bit better.  No such luck.  Our fifth-floor corner space included two windows with not-so-blackout curtains.  Our first night’s sleep was interrupted by the hotel fire alarm, triggered because one of the elevators malfunctioned.  The rest of our night’s sleeps were interrupted by the several amped-up bachelorettes and wedding parties resident in the hotel.  Finally, we were adjacent to the fire exit stairs, with a bangy access door used constantly… because of the malfunctioning elevator.

Once upon a time, I was happy just to afford a bed to sleep in.  But over the years I’ve developed a respect for the crucial elements of quality sleep.  A comfortable mattress is worth the max you can afford to pay.  A mattress where you can raise/lower the head and foot is even better.  Make the room pitch black (which in our case includes a small piece of cardboard to block the fireplace pilot flame).  Adjust the temp to the high sixties °F.  Invest in a white noise machine.  And table the electronic devices and alcohol several hours before bedtime.

If there was a plus side to my Charleston sleep, it was this.  We discovered a very good ice cream place within walking distance of the hotel.  Don’t know about you but ice cream does wonders for my sleep.  Specifically, my dreams.  Maybe it’s the sugar or maybe it’s just the late-night munchies, but I’m guaranteed all kinds of REM-sleep adventures when I’ve had ice cream.  Some are haunted-house scary, others earn a movie-theater R-rating, and still others are a jumbled hodgepodge of individual memories making no sense when thrown together.  Whatever the subject, my ice cream dreams are a ton of fun.  They also disappear from memory as fast as the ice cream did the night before.  I’m not one of those who greet you at breakfast with, “You’re not gonna believe what I dreamed about last night!”  Because I’ve already forgotten.

Dreams are the topic of an entire post and alas, I’ve already used up my typical word count this time around.  But let me leave you with some dreamy trivia.  The average person enjoys three to five dreams a night.  Like me, most people quickly forget their dreams the moment they wake up.  Dreams last longer as the night progresses.  The older you get, the less you dream.  Finally, for all we know about the brain, we know next to nothing about dreaming.

I can’t fit a bed in my suitcase so I already know the next time I travel means quality sleep stays behind.  But maybe I’ll pack a little ice cream on dry ice.  If I can’t get my usual dose of Z’s, the least I can do is enjoy a forgettable sweet dream or two.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Touched by Midas

We’re in the midst of America’s red-carpet season of horse racing; the trifecta otherwise known as the “Triple Crown”. Over the course of five weeks we’ll witness the fastest three-year old’s thoroughbred racing has to offer. The jewels of the Crown – the Kentucky Derby in Lexington, the Preakness in Maryland, and the Belmont Stakes in New York – showcase a combination of sport, fashion, and tradition like no other.  Don’t miss the Belmont on June 10th; at a mile-and-a-half the longest of the jewels.

The service industry also has crown jewels.  Apple, Starbucks, and Amazon deliver a customer experience just about as satisfying as the products they sell.  FedEx is so reliable a delayed or lost package is not even a remote possibility.  But let’s kick it up a notch and talk about the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company.  The Ritz-Carlton is such a renowned, decorated jewel of service excellence it deserves its own category.  Only the Walt Disney Company could claim such preeminence.

My wife and I were fortunate to experience “the new gold standard” of Ritz-Carlton’s hospitality this past weekend.  Celebrating our thirtieth wedding anniversary, we ventured into the Colorado Rockies for a couple of days of rest and relaxation at the Ritz in Beaver Creek, near Vail.  Colorado is in “mud season” now – mid-May through Memorial Day – so mountain-town resorts deep-discount, befitting the budgets of mere mortals like us.

Pulling up to the Ritz, the valet offered us bottled water and whisked away our luggage and car.  At the front desk we were assured a “lovely, quiet room far out on the north wing”.  In the room itself the porter promptly stowed our bags and explained all the little details.  With our modest room-service dinner our attendant produced a complimentary bottle of champagne and stack of those little pillow chocolates.  Happy Anniversary!

But here’s where our story gets a little dicey.  Sometime after midnight my wife and I woke to the sounds of a very nearby party.  Turns out the room next door housed the groomsmen and a whole lot of guests from a wedding at the hotel.  Blasting our sleepy ears: music, dancing, dozens of loud, happy voices, and… the unmistakable smell of marijuana.  Thank you neighbors; my dreams were colorful enough already.

The next morning over room service breakfast, we voiced a carefully-worded complaint to the attendant who brought our tray.  How many guests do you allow in a single hotel room?  Is this a non-smoking hotel?  Can you smell the still-pungent aroma of pot drifting under the doorway of the adjacent room?

Time for a taste of the Ritz-Carlton gold standard.  Our attendant immediately comped our breakfast, assured us we would be moved to another room, and said to expect a call from the hotel manager.  The manager told us another room was already being prepared and we would be moved at our earliest convenience.  When the bellhop escorted us to the south wing, he was quick to note, “this is one of my favorite rooms in the hotel”.

In fact, the room was breathtaking.  The Ritz labels this one an “executive suite”, complete with large sitting room, fireplace, refrigerator, two televisions, two bathrooms, separate shower and bath, and a spacious outdoor balcony facing spectacular Vail Mountain.  Safe to say, the remainder of our anniversary weekend was spent in unexpected luxury.

The gold standard of Ritz-Carlton service excellence is no secret.  Early in their colorful history, the hotelier recognized no amount of luxury or elegance derives the same return as an attitude of “the customer is always right”.  Every interaction begins with the thought, “The answer is ‘yes’!  What is the question?”  The hundreds of valets, bellhops, and concierges are trained as thoroughly as the management team, as they are the true face of the hotel.  Thus are these employees always addressed as “Ladies” and “Gentlemen”.  To add an exclamation point, the Ritz created a Leadership Center and Learning Institute, where thousands of managers from other companies train on the Ritz’s incomparable principles.

You can learn more about Ritz-Carlton’s brand of excellence by reading Joseph Michelli’s The New Gold Standard.  You can also sign up for a session at their Leadership Center.  My advice: stay at a Ritz hotel sometime (hopefully you have a “mud season”).  Nothing explains the gold standard better than the Midas touch itself.