Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Not the Adventure We Signed Up For

Here's the view we were supposed to have, and did, for about half an hour (and no, I didn't take this, it's a stock image off the internet):
And here's the view we wound up with instead (also a stock image, but you get the idea):

How did this happen, you're wondering? How did our romantic New York getaway end up with us staying at the Saddle River Residence Inn, a 35 minute drive away from the view we originally paid for? The one word answer: AirBnB.

We booked the "Shangri-La on the Hudson" in January. It seemed perfect for the spring break adventure we planned for ourselves, Amy's daughter Sarah, and my son Sean. We'd spend all day Monday getting here, flying into LaGuardia, then driving a rental car to our apartment in West New York, New Jersey. Every night, we'd have that view at the top of the page. During the day, we'd travel into Manhattan for sight-seeing; at night, we'd dine at one of the many ethnic eateries within walking distance of the apartment, then go home to enjoy the view some more. Marty, our host, communicated with us several times, and seemed friendly, excited to meet us, eager to share his expertise of the area. We couldn't wait.

Two days before the trip, he called to tell us he'd upgraded us to a new apartment he'd just purchased on the same block. This one was also three bedroom, with a master suite upstairs and two bedrooms plus another bathroom downstairs. We'd be the first to stay in this apartment, which had all-new appliances, plus an even better view. He told me he'd looked at my profile and was excited to learn I was a music teacher. Perhaps I could give him some guitar tips.

Yesterday, we left home early for a birthday breakfast at Broder, a Scandinavian grill in the Clinton neighborhood, then headed out to the airport on the MAX. Everything was working smoothly: our first flight was a few minutes late taking off, but made up the time thanks to a good tailwind; we caught the connecting flight, in Chicago, boarding the moment we reached the gate; our checked bags appeared on the carousel within seconds of our arrival in the luggage area; the shuttle to the rental lot came a minute after we stepped onto the curb; and the car we rented easily met all our needs. Amy drove us through the Bronx and onto the top deck of the George Washington Bridge, then down the river bank the five miles to West New York, and after going around the block once, I had a call from Marty telling us there was a parking space right across the street from the apartment. We parked, shook his hands, and were led up the stairs to our home for the week. He showed us around, and we gaped at the view out the front window, were suitably impressed with the roominess of the kids' bedrooms--and then it all went to hell.

"The upstairs room will be ready tomorrow," he said.

"We paid for three bedrooms," said Amy.

"No, you paid for a two bedroom apartment, and you're getting it at a great price. You'd be paying $500 across the river."

"I just want to be clear about this," Amy continued. "The place we rented was listed as having three rooms..."

Marty didn't let her finish. "I want you all out of here tomorrow morning. Go find your own place. I'm canceling your stay here." He stormed down the stairs and out the door.

Just like that, we had nowhere to stay.

Amy got on her computer and her phone, while I called AirBnB. I was on hold a total of twenty minutes--the first call was dropped just as I finally made contact with an operator, so I had to start it all over again--and meanwhile I had a text from Marty confirming what he'd said, that we were to be out by 10 the next morning, because "Your friend (Amy) does not match our energy." Once I finally got through, AirBnB was great about the whole situation, assuring me we'd have a full refund, and they'd work with us to find another place--though as I told them, we were feeling pretty gunshy about another of their rentals. Meanwhile, Amy had found and reserved a suite at the Residence Inn in Saddle River, much farther from Manhattan but much closer to the nursing home where Amy's mother lives. We carried all our luggage back downstairs, loaded up the car, and finally settled into our room at 2 a.m.

It was, to the say the least, an inauspicious start to the vacation, and I was still feeling shell-shocked the next morning. "What just happened?" we kept asking each other. I hadn't seen anything in Amy's words that should have occasioned such a tantrum. All of Marty's reviews on AirBnB said he was a model host, friendly, helpful, generous to a fault, and prior to the sudden U-turn, there had been nothing in our communications to suggest otherwise. This wasn't just unprofessional behavior; it was erratic, unstable, unlike almost anything I'd ever experienced. The few people I've had dealings with who did something like this were acting out of a mental illness. Anytime I've been on the receiving end of it, it's left me feeling bruised and frightened. In this case, I had to add three more feelings to that list: anxiety at having to find another place to stay to salvage our vacation; fatigue at having to work it out after spending an entire day traveling; and deep disappointment at losing such a wonderful location just as we'd checked into it. One thing we were clear about as soon as Marty left: the hell with 10 a.m. We didn't want to spend another minute in his place.

This morning, we had a typical "continental" breakfast in the hotel dining room, then drove to the nursing home to visit Helene, took her out to lunch at the Kosher Nosh, and visited the cemetery where Amy's father and brothers are buried. Somewhere in there, I had a call from AirBnB confirming they would refund our money, pay the difference between our canceled stay and the hotel we wound up in, give us a $250 voucher for a future AirBnB, and blacklist Marty for his conduct. That left me feeling much better about the company, and I expect we will give them another try, perhaps the next time we go to Bend.

In the meantime: we're here. We're going to take the kids to the Statue of Liberty, to Central Park, and to one or two museums. We're going to eat New York bagels and pizza. We're going to spend some time with Amy's high school and college friends. And we're going to be in a show: ComedySportz New York. It will be a week to remember, with one more story to tell for years to come about the "Shangri-La" that Shangri-wasn't.

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