Apr 1, 2024

I Have Seen the Future—and it Has Room Service

Time-traveling between hotels

By Ed Goldman

On a quick trip to Los Angeles last week, I stayed one night each in the elegant past and the automated future.

The trip to yesteryear occurred at the private Jonathan Club in the city’s financial district. Established 129 years ago, the club’s comfy, wood-paneled, inescapably male ambiance provided the bridge to yesteryear. Its amenities included impeccable and friendly (but not overly casual) service, as well as a marvelous cocktails-and-fine-dining experience. There were dozens of club chairs scattered around the place in which to sit with a newspaper and a brandy. A Victorian gentleman’s paradise? Close. But no cigar. (At least indoors.)

Edgy Cartoon
Welcome to the Hotel Acrophobia

The next night was a futuristic foray to the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown Hotel, a 73-story monolith in which everything from taking the elevator to switching on and off the bedroom lights was a demonstration of intuitive cyber programming. The place had spectacular views of L.A.—better even than the twinkling panorama a photographer friend, flying into the city late one night, called an “infinite jewel.”

Partly owned by Korean Air, the InterContinental’s vibe was similar to what Sofia Coppola evoked in her wonderful film about contemporary urban isolation, “Lost in Translation,” largely set in the towering Park Hyatt Hotel in Tokyo. The InterContinental features an incessantly modernistic and luxurious, if somewhat anonymous, approach to service. Its curved, seemingly endless corridors circle back to a bank of elevators. 

To take one of those you input your destination floor on a keypad which then directs you to a specific elevator, usually ready and waiting. In the elevator, a small screen displays your chosen floor; if you want to make any stops along the way, God be with you. You’re on a ride as encoded as a Disney attraction. I half expected to encounter an animatronic elevator operator. “Hello, Human Personages,” it would say in a metallic voice, “I will be your vertical transporter. You may tip me. I accept crypto or WD-40.” 

This is the only hotel I’ve ever stayed in whose registration desk was on the 70th floor. My room was on the 43rd floor and breakfast was served on the 69th floor. It wouldn’t be a bad idea for the hotel to post a notice on its website or a sign at the entrance saying, “Not Responsible For Lost or Stolen Items, Spontaneous Nosebleeds or Vertigo Triggering.”

I lay awake for a while in my room the one and only night I stayed at the place, watching (but not hearing) several planes, helicopters and maybe even a drone or two skitter about the night sky over LA. From the horizontal vantage point of my bed, even with pillows propping up my head, I kept thinking all of the craft were flying in the same air lane and would collide any minute. This was an optical illusion, I kept telling myself—though I really did feel as though several of the machines were flying at my level or even slightly below it. I finally nodded off, dreaming of wide-screen airline disaster movies and hoping the late actor George Kennedy—who seemed to show up in all of them as the greatest aviation mechanic who ever lived, chewing on an unlit cigar—would be on call if needed.

Breakfasting the next morning in that 69th floor restaurant continued my sense of the hotel’s rampantly intuitive technology. But this time it came in the form of a waiter who apparently sensed each time I wanted more orange juice and got it. He also asked me a few times if I’d like some more when I didn’t. This was how I knew he wasn’t a robot, even without asking him to identify all the photos on the menu in which a bicycle appeared.

All in all, the weekend provided time traveling—from a clubby, cozy past to a chilly, immaculate future. I enjoyed both destinations immensely. But the trip served mainly to help me realize why the word present is a synonym for gift.

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Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).