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The pleasure of passing through (slowly)
Sometimes a piece you plan to write appears in public before you’ve had a chance to write it. See: John Cotter’s recent piece in the New York Times Magazine, regarding his hearing loss and the pleasures of meeting friends in a quiet hotel bar.
Luckily, my hearing isn’t starting to go, but I still thought, Well, nuts.
Hotel bars are some of my favorite places, definitely my favorite type of bar after dives. But where does the beauty derive? It’s the reality and the imagined, anonymity meets intimacy, a sense of dislocation in a very specific place. Business meetings feel more storied. Dates are more tense. The imagination conjures up shady dealings, romantic affairs in a corner. Maybe I’ve watched too much film noir.
Hotel bars are more open to encounters, in my experience. I’ve told this story elsewhere, but once, on a reporting trip, I passed through a small town in rural Idaho, population sub-three hundred, and stayed the night in a trucker motel. The bar overlooked the parking lot—not exactly the Oak Room at the Plaza. The guys sitting next to me, I found out, were all working cowboys; we became friends while watching a Duke-North Carolina men’s basketball game on TV, after they learned I was a Tar Heel fan, too. We exchanged rounds of beers served in large plastic cups. I was drunk in less than an hour, while they seemed untouched. If anything, one or two would go occasionally to the bathroom, then return invigorated. I told a joke I made up on the spot: What do working cowboys have in common with people in Paris, France? They both love tight jeans and cocaine.
This was one of the funniest things they’d ever heard. One guy said to the group, “You hear that? We’re high-falutin.’”
A hotel bar invites lingering. It’s for all times, all seasons, midday light or late-night ruddiness. No one knows your name. The bartender shakes a drink, and the sound is rarely too loud. Outside, the world sinks further into dementia, bills are past due, but in the bar there’s a collision of tensions, and anxiety still fades. Faces are veiled, faces are open. No one knows if you’re a guest, a spy, a sex worker. Well, they may guess you are or are not a sex worker. But they still don’t know.
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In tomorrow’s Sunday supplement for supporters:
Personal favorites for hotel bars around the United States
If you’re watching or following the U.S. Open, some oblique ways to enjoy professional tennis more
My favorite long reads of recent that aren’t boring
What the what
Meditations in an Emergency is a weekly dispatch from writer Rosecrans Baldwin about something beautiful. Paying subscribers receive a Sunday supplement with 3+ things to love, along with a monthly longer piece dispatched from the road, for some inbox wanderlust. ⛰️
Rosecrans is the bestselling author of Everything Now. His most recent novel, The Last Kid Left, was one of NPR’s Best Books of the Year. Books mentioned in Meditations in an Emergency are stored in a Bookshop list.