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A memorable trip to the Big Apple

If you’ve got a moment, I’d like to take you on another memorable road trip. This time it’s to New York City.

My wife Paula joined me on this journey to the Big Apple in the mid-1980s.  She was excited about my return visit with the folks over at NBC News at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.  But she was really excited that we were staying at the historic and glamorous Waldorf Astoria Hotel.  

As usual, the cab ride from the airport into Manhattan was chaotic but tolerable.  We had our share of near misses with other taxis and pedestrians who didn’t move quickly enough to suit our cabbie.

Paula was not disappointed when we got our first look at the Waldorf’s magnificent lobby. The ceiling towered over us and other guests who were moving almost reverently across the floor.  Paula had done her homework on the hotel that dated back to the late 1800s.  She recalled seeing the hotel in movies and magazines. It measured up to all the hype. Frank Sinatra had once lived there!

Once we checked in, a helpful and incredibly polite bellman oversaw getting our bags up to the room.  He dutifully walked us around the room — explaining the amenities and describing the view from the large windows. I tipped him and he smiled appreciatively as he backed out the door — closing it slowly and oh so quietly.

We spent a minute or two admiring the view — trying to pinpoint landmarks.  Then we unpacked and hung up our clothes in the sizable closet.  I remember being impressed with the rich colors in the wide-striped wallpaper, the crown molding with its deep enamel finish and the solid feel of the furniture.  

Shortly after I finished a quick phone call to check in with the TV station back home, the phone rang.  It was the hotel desk calling. The man’s voice on the other end of the line sounded like the butler in a classic black-and-white movie... without the British accent.  He said he was “terribly sorry” but there had been a mistake in assigning us our room. He went on to tell me that he would dispatch a team of his employees to re-pack us and move us to another room — “which I’m sure will be to your liking,” he said just before he issued another apology and ended the call.

After I explained the situation to Paula, she hurried to re-pack our suitcases before the “team” arrived to do it for us.  She wasn’t really keen on the idea of strangers doing it.

Not long after snapping the latches on our suitcases there was a soft knock on our door.  The leader of the group apologized for the inconvenience and asked us to follow him to the elevator. Paula gave the room a quick once-over to make sure we hadn’t left anything behind and we headed out to our new room.  

It took a few minutes to complete the walk to what appeared to be a newer section of the hotel. As we approached the door to our new room, I noticed a hotel employee walking our way carrying a huge fruit basket. I turned and asked if the fruit were for us— since we were being relocated.  It was — along with a bottle of champagne. Nice touch.

It didn’t take long for the bellmen to get our bags and coats off their cart and into the room.

About this time it occurred to me that during this entire re-location process, no one had ever told us why we had to move.

A quick glance around confirmed that it was not the classic style we had been so impressed with in our original room. Nice, but not in the same league with the first one.  We were disappointed — but not enough to spoil our time in New York City.

We took a late afternoon walk along Park Avenue. It was quite impressive. Then we got dressed and headed out for a Broadway show and a late dinner.

Back at the hotel after the show, we were just too tired for a full dinner, so we walked down to a short order restaurant for a quick bite. We sat at the counter and checked out the menu.  Only a handful of folks were in the restaurant, so our waitress had time to chat.  She wanted to know where we were from and what brought us to town. We told her. When she asked how we liked the hotel, I told her the story of our mysterious room re-location.  She asked what floor we were on originally.  When I told her, she smiled a said, “That means Imelda’s back in town.” I had only heard of one person named Imelda, so I asked if she meant Imelda Marcos — the wife of the president of the Philippines. “That’s the one,” the waitress said with a grin. “She likes to take that entire corner of the floor when she’s here shopping.”

Mystery solved. It turns out Paula and I were victims of hotel policy that put a dictator’s wife’s needs higher on their list of priorities than a couple from Alabama who — unlike Mrs. Marcos — had no intention of buying dozens of pairs of expensive designer shoes.  

But we did get a fruit basket and a bottle of bubbly — for free .


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