Do Not Disturb



February 17, 2005 -- At a meeting last week with one of my clients, who is spending mega millions renovating what will be one of the world's great resorts, the subject of alarm clocks caused great debate.

I don't know about you, but I have yet to find a hotel room that has an alarm clock that I can set simply and then sleep soundly in the knowledge that it will go off on time. The buttons, the buzzer, the radio, the reminder call are all beyond me. And if I should miraculously set it correctly, damned if I can figure out how to turn it off without sharply yanking the wire and disconnecting the infernal machine from the wall.

The solution I suggested to my client was to have each guestroom supplied with an old-fashioned Big Ben alarm clock, which is still made by Timex. You know the kind: You turn the alarm needle to the time you want to rise, you pull up the little knob on top, and, when the alarms goes off at 6 a.m., you smash down the knob. The alarm stops instantly and forever and you roll over and go back to sleep.

Unfortunately, my client turned down my Big Ben idea. Now we will have generations of resort guests totally unable to set their alarms because we picked a newfangled Sony clock-radio system. They will probably rely instead on a wake-up call, which they may or may not receive.

The triumph of the impractical high-tech clock-radio over the good old Big Ben got me to thinking about all the other things in hotel rooms that confound us. And, these days, there seems to be more unnecessarily complicated gadgets than ever before bollixing up our lives on the road.

Take the simple television. It used to have one remote control. Click through the channels and away you go watching Sixty Minutes on a Sunday evening. But no more. Now there's a new thing called NextTV. It's all the rage and it's being installed in most new hotels. It's extremely good--but only if you know how to work it. NexTV combines TV, pay-per-view movies, E-mail, the Internet, AM-FM and satellite radio, the local weather report and even a PlayStation for games.

The problem? You need at least three clickers and the mind of a NASA scientist to turn the system on. I'm now officially begging all of you out there who plan guestrooms: Can we have a simple television--a flat-screen model would be great–-with just one clicker? I really think most of us can do without the other space-age wizardry.

Then there's the shower. I'm British, so I am genetically programmed to prefer two taps, one hot and one cold. I like to adjust the water to the temperature I want. I don't want a computer in the shower. I don't want a fancy system that programs the water temperature with a dial embedded in the handle. Do I want the water at 95, 100, 105 or 110 degrees? I've absolutely no idea. All I know is that I want to turn on a hot tap and a cold tap and adjust the temperature, hotter or colder, whenever I want.

Guestroom telephones? Give me a break. They now come with your own private line and your own private fax number. They dial your calls by voice command. They have an array of buttons to call anyone in the hotel except the person you want to reach. They also seem to offer a host of other features that I've yet to work out.

Can't we just have guestroom telephones where you lift the receiver to receive or make a call? And, while we're at it, do we really need an extension phone in the Water Closet? If you answer that one, it always has a wonderful echo, thus allowing the caller to know exactly where you are.

Maybe I'm too old and too cranky and been at this hotel game too long. But I'm proud of my low-tech, keep-it-simple mentality.

Give me a Big Ben alarm clock, a one-clicker TV, hot and cold taps and a normal telephone. And, while I'm at it, how about a master light switch by the bed that will extinguish all the room lights when I'm finally ready for a good night's sleep?

This column originally appeared at

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