Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Hotel from Hell: America's Best Value Inn, Sarasota, Florida

It was 11:00 PM on a Saturday night in June. I was driving from Orlando, Florida to Sarasota with a dear friend of mine. We needed a place to stay. So, as I navigated the oddly heavy traffic on I-4, she jumped on her cell and called

After a few minutes of nearly dropped calls, the staff member found her a deal she couldn't refuse. For just about $150 and six minutes from Siesta Beach, we could have a good room for two nights - at America's Best Value Inn, Sarasota, Florida.

After hanging up, my friend nervously turned to me and asked if I had ever heard of this hotel chain. I had. A few years ago, they built one in Pipestone, Minnesota. It looked very much like an AmericInn, but with cheaper siding and windows. I assumed this one would be about the same. America's Best Value Inn had touted itself, recently, as the "fastest growing, discount hotel chain" in the United States. You can't grow fast without doing something right. Right?

There's always a bad apple in a good box of fruit.

America's Best Value Inn of Sarasota is located right on the edge of downtown. Downtown Sarasota is beautiful. It's an eclectic mix of eateries, shops, and small towers, where people allegedly work, when they're not staring out at the beauty of the surf and the approaching angry skies. A hotel in that area would naturally be a fine establishment.

We pulled into the parking lot and stepped out of our vehicle. Our nostrils were met with a stench that reminded us of a mix between a backed up sewer and sulfur from a reverse osmosis water purification system. Broken blinds were hanging in the windows of several of the units. But, through the fence, we could see a pool that looked okay. A unique-looking walking bridge spanned the two buildings.

Shrugging off the stench, assuming it could be coming from somewhere else, we walked around to the front of the hotel, and buzzed the attendant. She grudgingly looked up at us, waited a few long seconds, and then pressed a button to let us in.

Inside the cramped lobby was a messy assortment of tables, resembling an attempt at a breakfast area. On the counter of the lobby desk was what looked like a five-gallon, pump-action bottle of hand sanitizer. That should have been our first warning. Behind us, a television was on, blaring some 'B' movie, semi-drowning out ours and the manager's voices. The lobby smelled like floor cleaner on top of mold and smoke and old socks, smelly feet, a hint of rotten orange juice, and possibly a hidden carcass of a mouse or a yellow-bellied small-mouthed bass.

The manager didn't attempt to turn the movie down. She was too busy filing her nails and picking up a blue Magic Marker to color in a missing area of nail paint. The color didn't match, but it wouldn't have mattered anyway. Her clothes were haphazardly matching as she slouched in the chair, obviously irritated that we had even dared to show up at her hotel. Without looking at us, she mumbled something, inaudible to either my friend or I.

"Excuse me?," my friend asked politely.

"Driver's license and credit card, please," the lady croaked out, angrily.

My friend looked at me, a look of concern crossing her face. I raised my eyebrows and assumed an acquiescent nature that I wear, anytime I need to entice a horrid person to like me. I mumbled some sort of joke, chuckled nervously, and received a look of disdain, shot at me from behind the desk. The lady grabbed the credit card and pulled out a knuckle buster from below the desk.

Yeah. A knuckle buster. Who uses those anymore!?

Afterwards, she proceeded to type random characters into her computer for nearly five minutes, chewing loudly on her gum, over the noise of the television, ignoring us, treating it as if we didn't exist. I had a notion to ask her if we were good and if we could have the keys, but, terrified of what she might say, I abstained and instead, shifted on my feet, sighing loudly, letting my passive aggressive, Norwegian heritage do the work. She heard me, lowered her head, and typed harder, paying special attention to ignoring us.

Finally, she ripped open a drawer, produced two odd looking keys, and handed them to me. We walked out and went to gather our things from the vehicle. Returning to our entrance door, we noticed the handle of the door was broken, swinging freely. It opened without a key. Discovering no elevator, we began to climb the stairs to the second floor. The stench had grown. We couldn't breathe without closing our noses. It smelled like rotting feet now. Like an old baseball stadium after all the fans have left from a double-header. 

We were halfway up the first flight of stairs when, from around a corner, stepped a man in nothing but underwear. He looked like death. His pectorals were drooping, nearly hitting his belly button. His face, contorted into a drug-induced insomnia. His eyes were so wide open, one would be convinced the balls would pop from their sockets and bounce lightly on the dirty concrete, rolling under poorly installed trim, hitting the wall behind, then heading directly into a storm drain.

I held my breath and stood behind my friend, in case the dripping-skinned gentleman needed to choose the easiest target to murder. I would go quietly, I knew, never having been in a fight in my life. I held my breath. He passed the bottom of the stairs and disappeared.

We made it to the top of the second flight and found the hallway door propped open. No key was needed to enter this wing of the "hotel". The carpet in the hall was stained with disgusting black stains. The walls had odd stains and scratches on them. The smell worsened. Every door we passed gave us a semblance of the occupants within. The walls were paper thin, allowing the screams of children, the loud noises of televisions, the fighting of spouses (or whatever they were), the bangings of bodies against cheap construction, and maybe scratching noises of what we had now reasoned would not surprise us, had they been the scratching of rats. Families of rats. Cockroaches. Bugs. All sorts of bugs. Poisonous lizards. Snakes. Runaway alligators. Dumped pets. Fleas. Bed bugs. Nothing would surprise us now.

We opened the door to Room #215.

That was our next mistake.

See, my friend is the closest thing to a germaphobe. She carries a can of Lysol spray into every hotel room she enters and immediately sprays down all furniture, the bed cover, all handles to doors, toilets, sinks, the hangars in the closet, and, if she gets really carried away, sprays me too.  This room wouldn't have been acceptable to her unless dozens of Lysol spray cans - the jumbo family size - were used. Even I, not a germaphobe, would have been very happy with a military-grade flame thrower, at this juncture.

The second you entered the room, your throat closed. I am not allergic to anything, but this room was allergic to me. It stank. There was old caulk everywhere, covering up holes in the walls. The bathroom curtain was untouchable. Stains on the walls in the bathroom. Stains on the carpet. The furniture was scratched and scuffed. The bed, hard as a rock. In short, I cannot describe the awfulness of the room without nightmares coursing through my head.

We turned around and left, feeling dirty for having just stepped into the room.

At 2:00AM, we found Hampton Inn & Suites, Sarasota, by the airport. They rented us a third floor room. The lady at the desk was pleasant and fun. The room smelled fresh and clean. Everything was white. Everything worked. All the carpets were new and fresh looking. No scratches or stains adorned the walls. The bed was comfortable. And, best of all, the Lysol spray can sat on one of the tables, unused, smiling at itself.

As I drifted off to sleep, I turned to my friend and asked, "Are you feeling better now?"

"They wash the bed covers here," she murmured happily, with a dazed smile on her lips, as she drifted off to sleep. 


  1. And here I thought the hotel from hell was the Quality Inn in Americus, Georgia with it's attached bar, various 400 pound hookers and rednecks getting drunk... but at least the room wasn't like what you're describing. Ugh.

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  3. I had an almost identical experience at an America's Best Value Inn in Lebanon, TN. I'm pretty sure they were cooking meth there. The Country Inn and Suites down the road felt like the Ritz after that hell-hole!