Hotel Circle and the Town and Country

Stilt houses with a cloudy ski for the background

You know the place. You’ve been there many times. But never have you seen it with the clarity of Benjamin Lorr.

Fall 2010 Bikram Teacher Training is held on a peculiar belt of aging 1950s resort-hotels circling the I-5 superhighway in San Diego, known collectively as Hotel Circle. I say peculiar but mean wretched. The Hotel Circle concept seems to be the result of some quarantine movement in urban design. We will isolate you from all that is nice about our city, and you will pay extra for the experience because you will be at the mercy of your hotel for all your needs. It is a concept where everyone wins except the guest. Hotel Circle is not even particularly close to the airport. It was just deposited like some giant pile of contractor’s excrement along an otherwise unoccupied section of the interstate. The resorts themselves sit recessed from the access road like great concrete castles, all ringed by monstrous unfilled parking lots. There are no shops or restaurants along Hotel Circle Road. There is no nightlife. The ten-minute walk between each hotel says it all. It is a walk marked less by decay than desolation: a space for exactly nobody, built into each hotel’s design like a DMZ.

Within this wasteland, we stay at the Town and Country Resort and Convention Center.

Unlike some of the resorts on Hotel Circle, the Town and Country is very definitively a hotel in a senescent state: a few decades past its prime, a little less than one decade ahead of offering an hourly rate. You can still see vestiges of what must have been a proud past at one point, a family thought it spoke highly enough of them to remark that it was family-run. It is massive in ambition. A tangle of underweeded wending gardens, bungalows, drab conference rooms, shitty chandeliers, and overbleached swimming pools. At this point in its devolution, size is its only draw. If you are trying to host a large group on a bargain basis, overinvite for a wedding/bar mitzvah, the T&C is your place. The staff is unfailingly polite and earnest and looks just similar enough that it makes me wonder how large the original T&C family was and whether or not there was a founder’s instinct toward brood. There is an eccentric’s whimsy, something of a shuttered carnival: bellhops and room service boys pedal around on bicycle-powered carts, trolley cars zip around carrying luggage with drivers who never miss an opportunity to stick a head out to wave hello. But the eccentricity is mostly obscured by a feeling of drab decay, where every curtain is slightly sun-bleached, every carpet only 80 percent clean, and paint flecks collect in the crevices of every wall.

As time goes on, we will come to know the Town and Country very well. We will know where stray gardeners go to get high. We will know which portraits are repeated in every third room and which ice machines clog when pushed too hard. We will uncover the pattern of the rotating specials at each of the five themed restaurants and coordinate our visits to take advantage. We will learn the life cycle of the hotel’s magnetic keys and make friends with the bicycling boys who come to unlock our doors after they demagnetize. There will be mini-wars with the bitchy grounds-keepers who complain about yoga mats hanging from the balconies and awkward birthday parties for old Mexican maids who almost assuredly loathe us and our college-dorm attempts at cookery. Nine weeks is way too long to spend at any one hotel. And the T&C is not any one hotel; it is a hotel going through a prolonged, likely terminal, “rough patch.” But like an old madam, worn to the point of authenticity, completely self-assured for what she is, the Town and Country actually seems to gain some dignity over our stay. I leave with a grudging respect, somewhat influenced by the fact that upon checking out, I find its aged System for tracking room service charges has awarded me a couple hundred bucks in free meals.

From Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga (2012)