BINGHAMTON, N.Y. -- At 7 a.m., my wife raised the window blinds in the Hilton Hampton Inn here. Outside in the cold dim gray drizzle of upstate New York was a parking lot and beyond that muddy hills with bare trees and a highway where traffic poked along sullenly, bound for stores opening early for what has become known, inelegantly, as Black Friday. Everything out there seemed to be dripping. I wondered, is this what Purgatory looks like?
"Please close the blinds," I asked her.
Outside was grim, but the room in the Hampton Inn looked OK. On the bureau was a big new flat-screen television, and someone had spent some money refurbishing the room with nice hardwood fittings. Though the bottom sheet keep slipping off the bed to expose bare mattress during the night, the coffee-maker worked in the morning, thank God.
But I don't ever turn on the television in a hotel room. Ever. What I do is check my e-mail and go online to get some work done first thing every morning. Always. It is an absolute requirement to me that a hotel have a working high-speed Internet connection -- and nearly all of them do these days, even if you have to pay for it, which I will if absoluely necessary. It is my firm assumption that any hotel I choose to check into has it.
But my wife couldn't get her iPhone to work. And when I tried to go online with my laptop, I got ... well, you know. "No wireless connection available." Twenty minutes went by, fiddling with that, even though you knew it was futile.
The front desk swore the Wi Fi was up, but quickly provided a phone number to call at some unnamed Internet service provider, at some call center, somewhere in the world. The single phone in the room was situated on a nightstand 15 feet from the desk, by the way.
My wife, far more patient and infinitely more gracious than I, generously spent 15 minutes on the phone in the usual Kabuki tech-support theater, in which the person on the other end pretends to believe and insists that the Wi Fi service is available, despite compelling evidence to the contrary. Obviously, it was the laptop that was at fault -- even though this same laptop has performed instantly in recent years to fetch a Wi Fi connection at home near New York, out in the Sonoran desert, all over the U.S., in Europe and in India, in South America -- and even on airplanes at 35,000 feet.
Finally, after much to-and-fro, a tentative solution. A "wireless bridge" must be required. Where to find such a thing? Well, the front desk -- which had insisted the wireless connection was up and running, and never mentioned any need for this wireless bridge -- had just such a device on hand! Down I went to sign for this miracle of half-assed patchwork technology.
Voila, a shaky Internet connection was finally established. And it took only an hour and a quarter of a busy Friday!
Dear Hampton Inns management: As you well know, a reliable Internet connection is crucial to many guests, especially your business-traveler clientele. As I well know, it is a brand standard for Hampton, which both my wife and I regard generally as the best mid-priced hotel brand in the country.
Having to spend an hour and a quarter to get online because a hotel owner hasn't put out the money to ensure that the Wi-Fi works throughout the building is not acceptable.
So Hampton Inns, please note. If you cannot guarantee me a reliable, easily accessible Wi-Fi connection, everywhere in your system, please tell your franchisee to advise me before check-in, and I will go somewhere else.