Thursday, August 8, 2013

Grand Vision

As J.P. Morgan would say, "If you have to ask how much it costs, you can't afford it."
I thought of that often this week as I spent a fantasy day at Michigan's magnificent Grand Hotel.

The cost of a room -- we're talking the basic, B&B rate, with a view of the fire escape out back -- is about ten times what I normally pay for motel accommodations at Red Roof or Motel 6.   But don't we all envy the lives of the rich and famous? And once in a while it's fun to pretend we aren't just ordinary middle class folks who do have to ask "How much?" So, my friend Mary Kay and I splurged on one night at the Grand Hotel.

It was extraordinary -- and surprisingly ordinary. The expansive view from the front porch is fabulous, with Lake Huron all around, the Mighty Mack bridge in the distance, a sumptuous garden below complete with a sparkling fountain and flowers everywhere. Even the carpeting in the parlor echos the geraniums on the porch.

Our third floor room was a glorious explosion of the red and green flower designs used throughout the building with two canopy double beds built so far off the ground that I almost needed a step stool to climb aboard. And this is where the fantasy falls apart. The bed is too high to sit on to tie your sneakers so you have to use the bright green tub chair which had been used so often for that task that it wobbled on a broken spring. Although we could hear a large air conditioning unit rumbling below for the public areas, our room was stuffy so we kept our windows open.

We decided to add a full dinner in the main dining room -- at $70 a piece -- and a $40 half-bottle of wine that afforded each of us a glass. A jazz combo playing during dinner helped to muffle the chatter. The food was good -- I had prime rib, Mary Kay ordered the whitefish -- but both of us have had better meals for much less. Our desserts were extraordinary -- my red velvet cheesecake tasted as good as it looked, though Mary's bread pudding fell shy of a rum-sauced pudding she ate in New Orleans.

We loved our dress-up evening -- coat and tie are required for gentlemen age 12 and older. After dinner we walked the porch to settle all that food then walked from lounge to lounge listening to a dance orchestra in one and a piano man in another.

I was surprised how many guests brought children, many of them stroller-size or darling little tie-wearing toddlers. The children were amazingly well behaved and their parents seemed to really enjoy their company. They played giant chess on the porch and croquet on the lawn. Parents danced with their kids. And the next day in the swimming pool, the kids had a great time climbing on a giant red and white snake that stretched across the pool.

Although we had a great time, it's not something we will ever do again. A friend of mine says something is worth whatever people are willing to pay, and the Grand Hotel simply isn't that grand. So for those of you unable to cough up $600 for one day of fantasy, don't worry. You aren't missing that much. The $10 fee to enter the grounds now seems like a tremendous bargain to me because strolling the porch and garden is by far the hotel's best attribute. If you want a little more, the hotel offers a lunch buffet for the public ($40) that includes admission to the grounds.

Then you can get the best of the Grand Hotel and spend the night in cheap motel accommodations on the mainland where the air conditioner works and you can sit on the edge of the bed comfortably. Isn't it great to know that rich folks may pay more but they don't always have it better?

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