Chris Erskine: Welcome to keycard paradise

My latest venture is freeze-dried clothing, for the person who always overpacks or, in my case, forgets to bring any socks. Freeze-dried socks, soon to be available in a hotel vending machine near you.

Had been living out of a carry-on bag for five days when this freeze-dried concept just came to me suddenly, like an epic poem. I was sitting on a bar stool — go figure — next to a guy in a White Sox cap telling me about his plan to reinterpret the Old Testament in a way that had never really been attempted before. Boom, it hits me: freeze-dried clothing! My own bona fide miracle. As if God were listening.

By the way, do you ever perform do-overs in your head? I've pretty much made a life of mental do-overs, but in this case, I'm wondering why I gave this dude in the White Sox cap my business card, because I'm sure that in about seven years, I'm going to get a call from him insisting for me to read his 4,000-page manuscript about the Old Testament.

For all my gifts, I have significant gaps in my religious education. At least that's the lie I'm prepared to tell him.

Anyway, good trip so far, as you can obviously tell. Been on the road for five days, so long that I can't quite remember why I'm here. Indianapolis is a wonderful place, but three days are really all you need. The world seems divided into two types of places: those where you'd dream of living, and those where a long weekend is torture enough.

I guess it's easy to be snide when you come from L.A., where the airport is bigger than most of the destinations you visit. But I refuse to do snide. I prefer to be hopeful and accepting. Wish me luck.

At another bar — what are the odds? — I ran into a Formica salesman from Illinois who lost much of the residential sector in the past decade to granite and marble but was still holding on in hotels and other areas.

"This year is better than last," he says when I ask him to summarize the Formica business.

And I think that's all any of us can ever hope for: that this year will be better than the last.

Speaking of hotels, have you noticed how they don't seem to have pools so much anymore? Used to be, a hotel always had some sort of pool. It was just expected. Smelled like formaldehyde.

Also, if you plopped me into a hotel room, I'm pretty sure I couldn't tell a Hilton from a Marriott from a Hyatt. Shouldn't a hotel chain have some sort of team color? It's as if the Yankees wore different uniforms each night.

And there is something going on with keys that is worth noting. In my rental car, you could keep the key in your pocket and just punch a start button. Like so many new things, it seems gratuitously gimmicky — change without progress.

On my trip, I was all the time thinking that I'd forgotten the key, or I would leave it in the cupholder by accident when I got out. The advantage of a traditional key is the affirmation that you actually know where the stupid thing is.

Yet, keyless keys seem to be a trend. Hotels no longer use real keys, and I am constantly in fear of being left in the hallway holding an ice bucket in my underwear. How the ice bucket came to be wearing my underwear, I can't explain. That's just the way I party.

In any case, I read where Holiday Inn is goofing around with a system that would let you open your hotel room with your cellphone.

I'm sure nothing could ever go wrong there.

As it is, I've had several cases in which the little plastic key cards have lost their magic, and I've had to slog back to the front desk. Are front desk people usually Caltech grads? Good, because that's the level of education you'll soon need just to get guests into their hotel rooms.

Being a freeze-dried visionary, I like to read about what other fool things are ahead. In my airline magazine, I read where a Marriott branding specialist said, "Our guests told us they wanted to engage more with the staff."

In search of truth in every situation, I became immediately skeptical that guests would ever want "to engage more with the staff," unless Marriott staffers tend to be unusually alluring. In that case, what you're selling there, lady, is a bordello, not a hotel.

Bordellos by Marriott: Rest. Relax. Remember. @erskinetimes

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