Like many middle class Americans, my wife, Penelope, and I are in a constant struggle to make ends meet. Between the increase of housing prices, student loan payments, insurance premiums, and food, the scant money left can little afford us any luxury of entertainment. At least the conservatories, zoo, and parks are all free in Chicago. Many hours of our lives are spent along the lakeshore staring out across the vast expanse of blue, wondering about the water cribs far off on the horizon. This year though, I squirreled away enough money for us to take a vacation. Using one of those discount travel sites always appearing in my email, advertising cheap rates for hotels and resorts during the off season, I booked a trip in the mountains of Colorado at the Overlook Hotel.
You know how people always say the journey is part of the adventure? They are so right. The road that carried us to the hotel is called the sidewinder. It climbs along the mountain with sharp switchbacks, and as it increases in elevation, the surrounding views are gorgeous. Even on the cusp of winter everything looked so picturesque. The skies were blue with laconic clouds drifting along, reflected in the waters of lakes far below. Pine trees on mountains off in the distance looked like dark green pipe cleaners, as if it were all one large diorama. The advertisement described the drive, “as if the guest is ascending to heaven,” and they were spot on. It was sublime.
We stopped a few times to take selfies of ourselves with the tall peaks in the background. In one shot we staged a pose as if Penelope was pushing me off the cliff. It was surreal for us to be sole drivers on the road, and for a moment we felt unsettled by the desolation. But then this sense of serenity creeped over us, disentangling the muscles in our shoulders. Realizing this is how relaxation feels, we cracked open a few road sodas and enjoyed the time alone as we meandered along the twists and turns. We took a picture of a historic plaque, but the relief had rubbed off. She thought maybe it was a monument commemorating the Donner party. We debated this topic in length, and concluded that occurred further west.
Pulling up to the hotel, we were ecstatic to find a hedge maze, neither of us had ever seen one in person. I guess this is what the site meant by, “hours of tranquil entertainment amongst a sea of evergreen.” Its walls of green shrubbery are over ten feet tall. During that vacation we spent hours navigating the snaking paths lined with pebbles. They had benches positioned in small alcoves for the weary explorer to rest their legs. We forgot to bring lunch the first day we took on the challenge and ended up so hungry. That didn’t stop us though, and bound and determined we found the center after a few hours. It became maddening after a while, but we persevered. We took advantage of the privacy the maze provided and became amorous in there, but Penelope stopped. She had this creeping suspicion of someone looming over us, watching from some undisclosed location. Either way though, the spark had been relit. Fresh mountain air.
The mountain ascends a few hundred feet above the Overlook with a snow capped peak. All around is a lunar landscape of rock and fine grey dirt. The hotel itself is from the time of the jet setters, early rusticators, when it was fashionable to travel and spend whole months away from the world. It’s a large lodge with greyed wooden exterior. It is staggering how out of place it seems placed precarious on this mountainside, far above the world, so desolate and remote. But that is the attraction of such a place as this. Isolation is exactly what Penelope and I needed to relax and unwind. Every morning I would find her outside, wrapped in a Hudson Bay blanket, drinking a cup of coffee, reading Thinner, and taking in the expansive views. I hadn’t seen her so relaxed like this in years, and this sense of peace filled me with happiness.
Upon our arrival at the hotel we were greeted by the congenial caretakers, Wendy and Jack Torrence and their son Danny. During the winter the hotel isn’t officially open, which explains the affordable price. They would still cater to our needs if we required anything extra. We didn’t care, though. We just needed a break from civilization, from the craziness that comes along with people, and the site advertised, “a peaceful retreat, high atop the world, which will get the blood running.” Interesting way of putting it.
I noticed right off the bat, Jack is a pretty happy guy. He has a great smile which turns up at the sides like a clown or a joker. He can be a little sarcastic and caustic at times, but seems down to earth. He’s a writer, and is taking the winter to finish his novel. He types on an old fashioned typewriter–who does that anymore–and at one point I snuck a peek at his manuscript while he was sleeping. He must have writer’s block, because all he had typed, over and over again was, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” The amount of pages he adorned with this phrase takes dedication. It’s probably a writing exercise to get him primed for the real work. I think the story has something to do with breaking through the restrictions of boredom and the stifling atmosphere work can have on writers. It sounds like an introspective piece.
Wendy is a little simple in her design. So polite and kind, she is always bright and bubbly. There isn’t a mean bone in her lanky and gangly body. She reminds me of a cartoon character, but I can’t quite place her. She dotes on Danny and is a true devoted mother. Great woman. At one point Penelope offered to go for a run with Wendy. When she got back, Penelope told me that she ran like one of those wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube men you see at used car lots. Penelope joked if she were ever chased by a knife wielding maniac she is screwed.
Danny, he’s something else. It’s like he was ripped from the 70s and 80s. He wears these awesome retro clothes straight out of the Sears Wish Book and has a bowl cut. This kid is so ironic and hipster and doesn’t even know it. His parents found him a vintage big-wheels and he rides that thing up and down the halls of the hotel. So lucky. I would take an axe in the stomach just to experience that as a child. Oh, yeah. This kid is so imaginative too. When he is alone, I noticed he talks to an imaginary friend named Tony. Tony has a gruff voice and his index finger acts as the conduit of this character. With an imagination like Danny’s, he’s sure to be a writer like his father someday.
I have to admit though, his imaginary friend became a little unsettling. At one point Penelope noticed that he just wandered around, staring at his finger, talking to himself in that gravelly voice of Tony. She thinks he needs some professional help, before his teen years become unbearable at the hands of bullies. It was a little disconcerting that Jack and Wendy showed indifference toward the fact that Danny may have a split personality, but we kept our opinions to ourselves. Parenting methods can be a touchy subject to broach.
There were other people staying at the hotel as well. I don’t know if they took advantage of same deal that we did, but a family with twins was there. We only ever saw the two girls. They are inseparable. And they would always ask us to come play with them, but my wife and I were really trying to take advantage of this time to relax and find ourselves, so we declined.
Everything about the hotel was great. We were in our own wing, so we kept to ourselves and it was a rare occasion to see the other two families. But those damn twins. They could be unsettling at times, appearing out of nowhere, standing there silent as we rounded a corner. They had very monotone voices, and their speech was always synched, always asking us to play with them. We got tired of this game and stopped answering, politely smiling and walking past. Between these two and Danny, it really solidifies my opinion that children are odd.
At one point Penelope and I joined a goose and duck soiree. I don’t know what that means, because there was no cooked fowl to be found. They served Avocat and bourbon, which is disgusting by the way. Mr. Torrence was there and kept to himself, drinking Jack Daniels straight. A little too hardcore for my tastes. Again, writers, such moody people.
This event was held in the ballroom and hundreds of people were there. There was music and revelry; drinks flowed all night. The travel site did not prepare us for such a formal occasion, and we were wholly underdressed. I was upset this was omitted from the info I received from the site, but we rolled with it. Everyone else was in tuxes and gowns, but no one seemed to notice or show disdain toward our fashion faux pas. We mixed and mingled, and everyone was affable toward us. The peculiar thing is, we don’t know how they got there. We assumed they all drove up that night and left the next morning before we awoke. It seems a little excessive. But what do we know about how the rich and famous live.
We had a relaxing and wonderful time, but the hotel had a strange…vibe to it. That’s the only way I can describe it. I wasn’t excited about the history of the place. It was built on an ancient Native American Burial ground. The Torrence’s told us that during construction of the hotel, the workers had to repel a few attacks. This seemed distasteful since the whole place is decorated in Native American theme with memorabilia adorning all surfaces of the place. Its downright disrespectful and gaudy. It’s like they are celebrating the desecration of this tribe’s sacred land. A little too imperialistic for my tastes.
Another thing that seemed off was the lobby had Playgirl magazine as reading material. Strikes me as a bit inappropriate for a hotel, and out of place.Weird really. Penelope thought it was funny and pocketed the magazine for later. I’m not one to judge; I like porn, but it just seems strange to have lying around.
Mr. Torrence became irritable as time went on. Wandering around, muttering to himself, his hair and clothing askew and disheveled, he would go through this writing process, ignoring us all, not even acknowledging pleasantries and greetings. I understand when writers get in the zone they hate to be interrupted, but I heard him flip out on Wendy when she came in to offer him a sandwich. He was a real dick. I would hate to be married to him. Penelope and I both felt bad leaving Wendy and Danny alone with him, but then we remembered the other family was there with the twins. I’m sure they could remedy any situation that occurred.
We had to cut our vacation short, much to our dismay. The sidewinder is impassible during the winter (a little detail the website forgot to mention), so we had to leave before several feet of snow blanketed the landscape. We were a tad peeved by this—OK, truth be told we were really upset—but we contacted the company and they gave us a full refund. In fact, after months of not hearing anything, the Overlook hotel contacted us and asked questions about our experience. They were so generous and kind. Their customer service was stellar and they seemed eager to please, almost over accommodating. I guess that is how you stay Number One for as long as they have. My reviews will reflect this stellar, attentive care to our needs even after the vacation was over, but that doesn’t make up for the distasteful interior decorating that is in poor taste. Penelope felt I overreacted about the decorations, and that maybe this was their way to make up for previous transgressions committed in a different time which they cannot control. We agree to disagree on this one.
Penelope and I have discussed it, and we don’t think we will visit the Overlook again. There is a whole world out there, and we want to experience it all. The discount travel website is great though, and we will utilize its services again soon. Just today I opened up my email finding a discounted vacation to Castle Rock on the windswept coast of Maine. Seems hard to pass up. For me, traveling is one my needful things in life.