Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

The NYC Tour Diary Part One: Accomodation Issues

Your PopCulteer just got back from a trip to New York City.

Actually, I got back Sunday night, but I had a ton of stuff to catch up on before I could jump back into blogging, so I’m just now getting around to writing the tour diary. The purpose of this trip was so that Mel could see two of her theatre heroes, Glenda Jackson and Tracy Letts, in two different plays. While we were up there, I wanted to check out the new FAO Schwarz, and try something a little tourist-y. That’s us on Father Duffy’s Steps in Times Square at the right.

We managed to do all that. Normally our trips go flawlessly and everything works perfectly. That wasn’t so much the case this time, but we still managed to have an amazing time and got to do almost everything we wanted.

To go up we rode Amtrak’s The Cardinal, the train that runs from New York to Chicago (and back) but dips far enough South to include Charleston, as well as Cinncinnati, Washington DC, and several other major cities. We left very early in the morning on Wednesday, May 1, and found our way to our roomette. We wanted a quieter trip up, so we opted for the private room.

It was great, except that about an hour into the trip, we both dozed off, and when we woke up, we discovered that the air conditioner wasn’t working, and we were riding in the sauna car. We alerted the attendant, and they got the AC working, but it took another few hours to get comfortable.

Aside from that glitch, and the chronic lateness that occurs when freight trains in the coalfields flaunt the law and fail to yield to passenger service, it was a great trip. We got into Penn Station (above) in New York City just before 11 PM, and took a taxi to the hotel.

That’s where most of our problems started.

The Worst Hotel On The Planet

Okay, that header might be a little inaccurate. The Element on West 39th street in New York might not be the worst hotel in the world. Hell, it might be the best. It could be the worst. I’ll never really know because The Element Hotel on West 39th Street in Manhattan apparently likes to promise rooms to people, and then when they show up, tell them that they have no vacancies.

We had reservations. We had confirmation emails. We were told that we would have a great room with a fridge and a microwave for four nights. When we got there, we were among over a dozen guests who were told to sit in the lobby while they tried to get us a room somewhere “nearby.” One of the desk staff let it slip that we were only the latest batch of disappointed guests, and that they had been turning away guests who thought they had reservations all day. They blamed it on a computer glitch, but we later learned that it is standard practice at this hotel. Apparently somebody gets a bonus if occupancy stays high, so they overbook to make sure it stays that way.

We made friends with a couple from Australia, who flew halfway-round the world to discover that there was no room at the inn. They had to call back to Quantas, who had arranged their trip, and were having a hard time finding any place to stay.  As with the many other dejected guests, we were told that The Element would cover our costs for that night. Later we discovered that they would only cover those costs if we agreed to return to The Element to finish out our stay. When asked if they could assure us that they would have rooms for the remaining three nights, we were told “probably.”

Sitting in the lobby there for more than two hours I began to imagine that The Element was operating on the same management principle as The Cheese Shop in the Monty Python Sketch, and that perhaps the building only contained the lobby and didn’t really have any rooms at all.  I mean, how could you overbook a hotel over a dozen times in one night?

A little online research shows that The Element does this almost every night. We should have done that research first, but this trip came together quick and we didn’t dig deep enough. The overnight staff did the best that they could in a horrible situation–I gather they’ve had a lot of practice–but the best they could do was put us in a room at a Fairfield Inn, in Astoria, Queens.

Had we decided to come back to The Element to finish our stay, they would have covered the costs of that room, and the transportation to and from. However, they could not guarantee that, if we returned, that they would actually have a room then. It got to a point where there were so many strings attached, and so much shadiness surrounding the hotel, that we were not comfortable with the idea of staying there at all.

Disgusted, Mel got on her phone and booked us in the Hampton Inn on West 39th street for the three remaining days of our trip. It’s important to note that, with the lower cost of the Hampton, and even adding in the one night at the Fairfield Inn in Astoria, plus over a hundred bucks in cab fare, we still ended up saving money as opposed to if we had stayed at The Element for the four night stay that we had booked—the one that they lied to us about, remember. Not only is The Element a hotel run by people who habitually lie about how many vacancies they have, they are also too damned expensive. I should point out that the Hampton Inn was just up the street, less than half a block from The Element. They didn’t have anything for Wednesday night, but we booked them for the rest of our stay, and made do with what The Element had arranged for that night. We didn’t really have any choice by that time. It was closing in on 2 AM.

So, exhausted after a full-day train ride and more than a couple of hours in the Lobby at THE WORST HOTEL ON THE PLANET, we hopped in a cab and took off for the Fairfield Inn in Astoria, Queens.

Leaving The Worst Hotel On The Planet

Of course, the cab driver got lost on the way there. Not being as dishonest as The Element Hotel on West 39th Street in New York (which nobody in their right mind should ever book for a visit), the driver turned off his meter so the last few miles of him trying to figure out where the hell the hotel was were free.

We found our way to The Fairfield Inn, and were told that they had one room left. We just had to go downstairs and down to the end of the hall.


Yes, our brief stay in Hip, Historic Astoria in Glamorous Queens, New York, was spent underground. Specifically, we were given “The Dank Corner Suite,” right next to the weight room.

Just check out that spectacular view.

To be fair, the Fairfield Inn was nice, clean, and devoid of the bedbugs the size of pugs that we were later told inhabit The Element on West 39th Street. Mel and I both slept the sleep of the dead, aided by the fact that it was after 2:30 AM before we could get settled in and we’d gotten up at 4:30 the previous morning to get ready for the trip. We enjoyed the complimentary breakfast the next morning, and checked out before noon so we could go check into The Hampton Inn on West 39th, which, unlike The Element actually had real rooms, not imaginary ones.

So let the first entry in this diary be a warning for you. If you are visiting New York City, never, under any circumstances, should you even briefly consider staying at The Element on West 39th Street. Talking with other guests at the Fairfield and the Hampton, we learned that The Element has the worst reputation in New York City for overbooking. It’s like they think they’re an airline or something.

We were also told that the staff will use passkeys to enter your room while you’re not there and take a dump on the bed. Now, that may not be reliable information, but if you go to Trip Advisor you can find gory photos of people’s bedbug bites. Okay, I was joking about them taking dumps on the beds. Not about the bedbugs, though. I think we dodged a bullet moving to a better hotel.

Once we got to The Hampton Inn, though, it was all sweetness and light and beauty, and double Hilton Points and while we lost a chunk of time from all the hotel fuss, we managed to have a great trip, which you will read about over the coming days.

Once we checked into a real hotel, we walked a couple of blocks for some New York pizza (seen left) and got ready for an evening of Shakespeare. Since we were so close to The Element, and had to walk by it to get almost anywhere, we had the added enjoyment of flipping them off every chance we got.

In Part Two of the NYC Tour Diary, I’ll tell you about seeing Glenda Jackson as “King Lear.” After that you’ll get the FAO Schwarz photo essay, a review of “All My Sons,” and more. Plus you can probably expect NY-centric Monday Morning Art for the next couple of months.


  1. Thomas Wheeler

    Holy cow. Not that I have any plans whatsoever to go to New York, but if I ever do, please remind me of this! SHEESH! How does a place like this stay in business!? Glad you got a decent (and less expensive) place to stay, ultimately, and otherwise had a nice time, but — WOW!

  2. Rob

    I had to read this twice because I was so astounded at what the hotel did to you. Good grief.

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