I’ve dabbled in a number of different forms of journalism over the years. I’ve covered advances in veterinary medicine, described how to shop for a manure spreader, written how-to’s and op-eds, provided blow-by-blow event coverage, and even poked a few hornet’s nests. But unless you count Big Name Trainers (BNT in horsey chatboard vernacular), I can’t say celebrity profiles have ever been much on my radar.
I do, however, now know where to go should I ever hanker to veer in that direction.
A few months ago, I won a little contest. It was the sort of web-based form you fill out when you’re procrastinating about finishing an article that bores you to desperation. You know — name, address, age, e-mail address so that We May Spam You Unmercifully in the Future. That I have won a small handful of these contests over the last few years is probably an indication that I am devoting way too much time and energy to this particular variety of procrastination.
My prizes, in this case, seemed to have been tossed together in an effort to clear out some 18th floor closet at the Toronto Star (not that I’m complaining, they just didn’t appear to have much coherence). I received two $50 Visa gift cards, which I used to buy feed for the beasties. There were also two tickets to a play called The Blue Dragon (love me a night at the theatre, so that was much appreciated). And there was a huge and unwieldy “wine package” which, when I finally got it all unwrapped, contained decanters, glasses, several corkscrews each more elaborate than the last, a massive coffee-table book about grapey beverages … but no actual wine, which struck me as a bit peculiar…
The piece de resistance, however, was a one-night stay at one of Toronto’s ’boutique’ hotels, the Windsor Arms, in an uber-swanky corner suite equipped with (no foolin’) a grand piano. I may have mentioned before that I am not generally in the habit of booking boutique hotels, being generally destitute and all. I like a bit of luxury as much as the next person … okay, given that absence makes the heart grow fonder, I probably like a bit of luxury more than some people do. But throughout most of my adult life, my budget has been rather more Motel 6 than Relais & Chateaux.
So this sounded potentially amusing.
I’m only an hour north of Toronto, so it’s not that the destination was exotic for me, but since perks, relaxation, and pampering have all been in shockingly short supply thus far this year, I decided I’d book the hotel stay for the weekend immediately following my birthday, and pretty much wallow in it as fully, completely, and decadently as I could.
This was after I determined I couldn’t exchange the prize for its cash value — which, let’s be honest, could have paid my rent for the month, covered at least two of my overdue vet bills, or flown me to Europe.
The thing about Motel 6 and its ilk is that it’s pretty anonymous. Some bored employee takes your credit card imprint, hands you a key, and then pretty much ceases to care whether you exist unless you call the front desk 15 minutes later to complain that the wi-fi secret code isn’t working. You can come and go at any hour of the day or night without anyone even looking up from his/her video game. But the Windsor Arms is a different sort of critter, as the squeeze and I realized when we pulled up for the valet parking (the only option offered, at $35 a night, not included with the package). Hello, welcome, how wonderful that you’ve come, may I help you with your bags, is this your first time staying with us? (Um, yes, and almost certainly the last, given my station in life.)
The squeeze and I immediately realized that we had neglected to factor in the sheer number of people here who would have their hands out expecting gratuities. Eeek. And me with $6 in my wallet.
We got a very gracious tour of the place anyway, courtesy of Sal. Herewith some not-very-fabulous pix which are the product of my little point-and-shoot rather than the decent camera (I was trying fruitlessly to travel light).
Strangely enough, they did not grab me by the scruff of the neck and turf me out onto the street, which is what I always expect to happen when I step into this sort of foreign environment. The squeeze and I kind of poked around all the vastness and tastefulness for an hour, feeling staggeringly silly about it all. We were careful not to lay hands on the not-at-all-complimentary contents of the mini-bar, or the snack basket in the ‘family room’. The latter included, rather mysteriously, along with the Pringles and M&Ms, an “intimacy kit” for $12… this was a discreetly plastic-sealed black box with neat lettering and absolutely no indication of what it contained, which of course led to about 20 minutes of fatuous speculation, cuz that’s what we do. (Breath mint? Edible undies? KY? Pamphlet from Birthright?)
We admired the opulent bathroom (oh, for an expansive jacuzzi tub in my day-to-day life) and the fact that every room in the place was equipped with a TV. We noted with some befuddlement the phones hanging by each toilet (really, that call just couldn’t wait?), and I was mildly affronted by the quality of the paper products (standard-issue scratchy hotel loo roll — I have to say I expected better) but impressed with the big fluffy towels and the terry robes and slippers.
Took a dip in the (deserted) salt-water pool, but decided to forego the exercise room in the end because, as the squeeze observed, “When you come to a place like this, you don’t come to sweat.” Watched some TV, had a soak in the big tub, goofed around with programmable bossa-nova beats on the fake piano, and had a very pleasant sleep followed by a complimentary buffet breakfast downstairs (the breakfast was actually fairly meh, as well — what, no waffles? — but free is free and they did toast my bagel to perfection).
And that was pretty much that. The equivalent of $1750, blown in one rather over-the-top evening. It provided a lot of amusement value, and a bit of decompression, but didn’t really make either of us angst for what we’d been missing … at least, not on the hotel side.
As we checked out, the reporter in me kicked in, as it inevitably does. I felt compelled to ask the front desk staff who their regular clientele were — since, clearly, it was not me. “Some international business travellers, but mostly A-list celebrities,” admitted the woman printing up our bill for the valet parking. I had rather figured as much, knowing that the hotel is very close to the centre of activities during the Toronto International Film Festival, colloquially known as TIFF ’round these parts. But the stream of actors, directors, producers, and other entertainment types isn’t limited to September, apparently. “I’ve been here two months,” one of them confessed, “and I’m amazed at the celebrities I’ve seen here already” — though of course she was far too well-trained to name names, and I really wasn’t paparazzi-ish enough to prod her. (Good to know that Toronto’s film industry isn’t dead, though.)
Given that the suite had two rooms equipped with sliding, frosted-glass doors, I had an immediate vision of Hugh Grant. Remember that scene in Notting Hill where he walks into the middle of a media scrum in Julia Roberts’s hotel suite, and has to fake being a reporter in order to talk to her?
Remember how he claims to be a correspondent for Horse and Hound?
Well, I’m the genuine article.
And the front desk staff strongly implied that, should I ever desire to ambush and interview a celebrity, that hanging around the lobby of the Windsor Arms just might be a way to do that.
If they try to kick me out, I’ll just tell them Sal said it was okay.