#36 The SpaPosted: December 13, 2012
About ten years ago I was working long hours as a publisher of a regional magazine for a large broadcast company. I was learning how to be a publisher from the staff and from generous publishers around the country. I hadn’t taken any time off for a couple of years, even for my nephew’s wedding. Wasn’t that a sad choice?
I had been living on M&M’s. I wanted to get healthy and if at all possible in a week. A spa was the answer. I hunted in the relatively new online world of spas, and found one and only one that was affordable in Sedona. I loved Sedona, I’m reverential about Sedona. This particular place was about a quarter the price of any other place. I took it.
I landed in Flagstaff and drove a little red tin can of a rental car though falling snow. It was late in the day and I was glad to find the destination. It didn’t look like the brochure. I parked out on the road and went in just to make sure I was at the right place.
From the front door I entered a cavern of a dining room and there was no one there. I mean not a soul in that huge room. But this was the right place, and a teen aged girl retrieved my bags so I followed her down a long hall to my room. There was something odd about the whole place but at that price I reserved judgment. Each of the rooms had a little window onto the hall, odd I thought. When I entered the room, I was also struck with an antiseptic-like smell. It was an awkwardly shaped room. Everything was pink and turquoise but not an Arizona kind of turquoise. It was a pink and turquoise that’s painted over to make a place seem like something it’s not. I was tired and hungry and I needed sleep. That’s when I found out the bed was really two beds pushed together with a flimsy mattress on top.
I never try to get to breakfast at any inn. But I wanted to talk with the manager about the bed, and just about everything else in that dreary room. I woke early enough and hungry enough to go sample the healthy food described in the advertising. So I went to the big room I had seen the night before, essentially the hub of the place. Again, no one there.
The tables and chairs seemed especially low to the ground. The fireplace in the room did nothing to warm the pink and turquoise atmosphere. There was an open kitchen at the other end of the room, but I was looking for someone who ran the place. I was not happy and I was not shy about letting someone know I was not happy.
A very young man appeared introducing himself as the manager. He had a bottle of wine in his hand at 9:30am. He invited me to sit at one of the empty tables and offered me a glass of wine. No thanks.
He told me that he had just been named manager the night before. He was the chef. The manager was fired. The wine was really for him. He poured himself a glass and it wasn’t his first.
Now he tells me the whole story. The owner of the “spa” had several places like this in Louisiana and Mississippi. Just weeks earlier it was a kind of nursing home. But it wasn’t a place for recovery or care after surgery. It was specifically a place to die. Just weeks earlier they converted it to a spa.
Part of me felt sorry for the young guy who was trying to drink his way through this story, but most of me wanted to leave. Before I showed up that morning he had already found a room for me in a bed and breakfast. The only room available in town. This place was so bad they knew no one would stay. But the bed and breakfast was just a room. I wanted the carefully prepared diet of health and purging of the chocolate in my blood and the warm water from the pool and the yoga class and the facials. I was desperate for them.
He didn’t know what to do and neither did I. There were no other guests because no one else had believed the bargain. So there was no yoga instructor. I couldn’t use the pool because it wasn’t open. There were no exercise classes, no facials. But there was a newly promoted chef. I don’t remember what his job had been the day before.
The now inebriated manager got the owner on the phone, who said a lot of things to me to try to get me to stay. I wanted and needed a spa experience. I wanted warmth and comfort, even bargain warmth and comfort. The owner said he’d cut the price in half and they’d bring someone in for facials and massage, I just needed to pay those fees. They’d get a better mattress and I think even a new TV. So that was our deal. I was to get my week with healthy meals, massage and facials as I wanted, and they’d even have me driven to some sights as advertised in the brochure. I walked back to the room, to find flowers which were pathetic. But apparently it was some way of trying to make things better.
I returned later for lunch and met the newly appointed chef. He was an eager young guy who asked me what I’d like to eat that week, anything at all he’d prepare. I said that it sort of defeated the purpose of the spa experience. The point was for them to feed me healthy food, because left to my own devices, I had already lived on M&M’s. I wasn’t fat but I wasn’t healthy either. He was ready to show off his talent at making pastries and everything with cream. I couldn’t get him to understand why I was there. So we split the difference. He couldn’t feed me rabbit food but he would try not to clog my arteries either.
Arrangements were made for a wonderful woman to come over each afternoon or evening from the most exclusive resort in the region for salt treatments, wraps, hot rocks, facials, you name it. For someone who had never used a moisturizer, this was an education. The chef kept his bargain and not only cooked individually planned meals for me he shopped each day just for me. He also doubled as my tour guide. He took me to little known caves with ancient drawings. I learned all about his life there and his station wagon that was kind of falling apart. I ate delicious balanced meals, alone.
In the mornings I’d grab apples and fresh cookies and head out for an adventure in the little red tin can. I went to a center where you pick a psychic. It was astonishing, but that afternoon I got horribly lost on a long hike alone far too close to sunset. The psychic should have seen that coming.
Finally by the weekend, there was one couple staying there. We took turns with the spa lady. By the time I left there were a few people at breakfast. Otherwise I was completely on my own.
I made the trip home and told the story of my spa/nursing home experience. I don’t think anyone believed me or cared. I thought it was funny. I still do. I did challenge the company that sold me the trip. They said they had no idea, but then someone there admitted to knowing the condition of the place. I did get some money back.
I’ve still never had a luxurious spa experience. I’m not sure I’d know what to do if I did.