Hooker Hotel

My wife and I took our kids from Orlando to Dayton, Ohio every other year in the summer for a brief visit with my family. When the kids were little and we were broke we stayed with my parents, but it became obvious after a few years that Mom and Dad found our disruption of their daily routines too much for them to handle. Our finances improved and we decided to stay at a hotel during our fourth trip to the Gem City.

Judy and I looked at accommodations in the Dayton area and found a chain hotel in Riverside, a Dayton neighborhood just north of Kettering where my parents lived. Other options were hourly rate dives near Wright Patterson Air Force base and more expensive hotels by the Dayton Mall. We drove into town and found our destination near the corner of Linden Avenue and Woodman Dr., just a block south of U.S. Route 35. The pristine campus of Archbishop Carroll High School was right next door. No trash littered the hotel parking lot, and the hedges and flowering bushes on the grounds had been recently trimmed. The sign by the road was in good repair, and the clerk at the reception desk booked us with the business like, efficient manner of a man who enjoyed his job. The maids smiled and chatted with us briefly when we passed them in the halls. The room was light, airy and clean.

We enjoyed our stay, and my parents seemed much more relaxed when we came over to visit. For our part it was nice to get away at the end of the day to a home away from home, follow our customary bedtime rituals and relax.

The next year we made reservations at the same hotel, and our accommodations were just as pleasant. The only odd moment happened during a trip down to the reception desk. I stood in line behind a man who seemed a little fidgety. He presented a credit card, and when Ashok, the clerk, swiped it the card was refused. The clerk studied a read out on the scanner and didn’t hand the card back to the nervous man or ask him for another. The two stared at each other for a long moment. The man suddenly dodged sideways and bolted out the door, and Ashok picked up a phone and calmly called the Dayton police. Ashok was pleasantly helpful when I stepped up to the counter and asked for some extra wash cloths for our room, but his eyes looked troubled.

Judy and I made a reservation at the same hotel for our next visit to Dayton. We didn’t worry about one incident of a man trying to use a stolen credit card, and my mother’s report that the hotel had a seedy reputation didn’t match our experiences there. We checked into a room on the third floor, and I sat in a chair by the window and relaxed, happy to be off the road. Judy went down to the reception desk to get extra pillows, and when she came back she carefully slid home the bolt of the extra lock on the inside of our door. She had a dead serious look on her face when she said, “We’ve got to get out of here!”

I asked her what was wrong, and she told me that she had had a strange encounter down at the desk. She met a wild haired woman checking in with a man who looked like he was about to pass out. The lady wore high heel boots, garish make up and a revealing dress smudged with dirt. Judy commiserated with the woman thinking that the man was her sick husband. The woman gave a few awkward and evasive responses when asked about his health, and Judy realized that she was a prostitute and the man was her drunken john. On the way back to our room she saw another shady looking couple, a scantily clad women accompanied by a grungy man. The miserable pair at the front desk wasn’t an anomaly–our family had reserved a room for three days at a hooker hotel.

It was 9:00 at night and I wasn’t eager to pick up and move after a long day on the road. A new sign in the lobby stated that there were no refunds after a stay lasted thirty minutes. We’d have to pay twice for the first day of our visit if we packed and went elsewhere. Judy reluctantly agreed to hunker down for one night. Our daughter Annie was not allowed to leave the room unaccompanied by her parents. I propped a chair against the door when we went to bed, and Judy fell asleep with her street clothes on.

I expected that our sleep would be disrupted at some point by the activities going on around us. I imagined that shouted arguments, screams, and sirens would disturb our rest. But the night passed by quietly. The ladies for hire may have been discreet professionals who did not wish to draw unwelcome attention to their business. Or perhaps Ashok had placed us in a corner of the hotel secluded from guests engaged in illegal pursuits.

We checked out early the next morning. The beleaguered clerk at the reception desk did not ask us why we wanted to cut our stay short. The sun was shining and birds were chirping as we loaded the car. The cheerfulness of our surroundings brought to mind the morning after scenes in Frankenstein movies: the mad doctor sips coffee and nibbles a piece of toast at a linen covered table accented by a vase of flowers. He talks to his fiancée with a cultured, British accent but fails to mention that he spent the preceding night cutting up bodies and stitching together mangled bits of flesh.

I consulted with my mother and she told me about an expensive hotel ten miles further south in a wealthy suburb. Our fellow lodgers there were neatly dressed, business professionals, families and a traveling youth soccer team.

Our family friendly hotel was a lot noisier. Kids ran the halls yelling and banging doors, and I slept fitfully. The walls were thin and we could hear the sounds of televisions and rushing water from neighboring rooms. We didn’t mind. Annie could walk unguarded outside our room, and when Judy met folks at the reception desk the men were sober and the ladies wore pant suits and talked about the weather.

Several years later we heard that the hotel in Riverside was the site of a major drug bust. A guest, a bearded man wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap, had been caught selling cocaine, marijuana and heroin from stores hidden in the trunk of his car. A video from a Dayton news broadcast showed the parking lot and west facade of the hotel, and I spotted a room on the third floor that had once been ours.

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