I rode down the avenues of Salt Lake City to my “F” Street destination. Large stately mansions lined the streets on the way. Just a mile from the Convention Center, this hostel would be a great location for my week in the city nestled to the west side of the Rockies. 

I rode down the Avenues of Salt Lake City to my “F” Street destination. Large stately mansions lined the streets on the way. Just a mile from the Convention Center, this hostel would be a great location for my week in the city nestled to the west side of the Rockies. 

As I parked my bike in front of the rather non-descript building, I wondered what kind of hostel this would be. I like staying in youth hostels. You meet interesting people there who freely talk about their home countries and travel experiences. I’ve met college students from Tibet in Shanghai, business owners in Vietnam, Dutch corporate workers on Sabbatical in Sydney, a travel magazine writer in Cambodia, an actor from Liverpool. Most are young people traveling around gathering experiences as they look to find their place in the world.

Hostel buildings are usually well located, near the heart of the city. One of my favorites is in Saigon’s District One, a place I know many an American soldier visited during their stint in that country. I stayed in plenty of hotels and motels when I traveled year round for the Coca-Cola Company back in my early career. Guests at hotel chains don’t have a chance to meet each other and generally don’t even speak to each other. You can feel quite lonely in a new place, but at youth hostels you always meet interesting people.

I only found one hostel in Salt Lake that seemed to have what I needed: close proximity to the Convention Center and a secure place for my bike. Sitting in front of the hostel in lawnchairs were two rather old gentlemen. They looked curiously at my bike as I went in to register. As I looked around I saw mostly old people. That didn’t bother me. It might be fun to be the younger one for a change.

However, there were characters in this hostel who diminished the joy of my stay. A gray haired man with a buzz cut whose name I would later learn was Cliff checked me in using what was obviously a well-memorized and efficient script that dispatched the duty quickly. Cliff had some personality, but he kept it to himself. One night I caught him playing the piano in the common area as I sat behind him enjoying the music. As soon as he was aware I was there he stopped but I urged him to continue. He indulged me briefly. Afterwards I mentioned the piece he was playing was beautiful and that I’d never heard it before. He answered, “Neither have I. I just improvise as I go.”

“Wow!” I exclaimed in amazement, “you have a real gift.”

Cliff may have been a musical genius, but he was not gifted as a front desk clerk. Hostels can be busy places, with lots of internationals coming and going requiring multi-tasking from the host. I approached one evening to get change for the vending machine. Cliff was in the middle of checking in a woman. As I approached he looked past her, making eye contact with me and said, “What do you want?” I stretched a dollar bill and said, “Change.” Cliff said, “Oh, so I’m supposed to interrupt this lady’s check-in to get you change?” I was silent. So was the woman. Cliff huffed and handed me four quarters as he scraped the dollar bill off the counter. It was hardly necessary for him to embarrass the lady and me over a two-second interruption that practically no one on earth would have minded except Cliff. I have always been a firm believer in focusing on what you do well in life. I think Cliff, and the clientele at the hostel, would be happier if he left to pursue a career in music.

Another character was a woman I presumed to be a staff member at the hostel. She was aged 40 to 80, it was hard to tell, and quite possibly the thinnest person I have ever seen, I’m guessing 80 to 85 pounds. She possessed only one tooth, the last survivor on the bottom and to the left of center, number 24 in dentistry parlance. She spoke without a lisp so I gathered she had been down to that last tooth for a long time. She would converse with herself aloud saying things like “It’s a beautiful day.” One evening she pranced into the common area in a getup that looked like something a princess might wear to a picnic in 1759. I commented, “You looked festive.” She answered, “Leroy would have loved this. I saw it at the thrift shop and just had to have it.” Others in the common area complimented her as well; they gave me a knowing look like, “that’s our girl.” I wondered if Single Tooth Sadie, as I’ll remember her, was actually a guest there who was allowed to volunteer, being generally regarded as harmless. She had a locker by the front desk and was always standing in front of it, sorting her things out loud.

I liked that the hostel had an inner courtyard where I could secure my bike. I brought all my bags into my room except the tool kit that came with the bike, which held a few Allen wrenches for fixing a flat tire. The next morning I noticed my bike had been tampered with. It never occurred to me that anyone would steal those tools; they were of no use to anyone except the bike owner.

I reported the theft to Cliff. “It had to be someone in here,” I deduced, “since you can’t get to the courtyard except through the hostel.”  He nodded, “I don’t know what to tell you.” I went to Sue, the daytime front desk clerk, with the same report and deduction. Sue took on a knowing look that told me she might have an idea who the culprit was, but didn’t offer any suggestions. I reported it to a third staffer who had chased me out of the kitchen for washing my clothes in the sink after Single Tooth Sadie told me to wash them there. “It had to be someone on the inside,” I recited as concisely as Cliff doing his check-in spiel. “I know,” she said, “but we had five check-outs this morning.” Why would a fellow hostel guest steal a small tool kit the size of a change purse with a few obscure metric Allen wrenches? Hostellers travel light. Her theory didn’t hold water. Coming in on my bike that afternoon I saw Sadie entering the building. I called out to her but she ignored me. “Hey, I need to talk to you for a second.”

“Sorry, I can’t, I’m cooking.”

Sadie, initially friendly showing off her new outfit and directing me where to hand-wash my clothes, avoided me from then on. I was convinced Cliff and none of the other staff had taken my tools, so Sadie was my number one suspect. I told Cliff and Sue I was offering a $15 reward for the return of the tools, even if returned by the thief. I knew the tools wouldn’t bring a dime at a pawnshop, so a reward would be more profitable for the thief, but my offer was in vain. I rode my bike the rest of the week fearing a flat that, fortunately, never happened. The more I thought about it the more I could see in my mind’s eye Sadie standing over my bike while the rest of the hostel slept. “Oh, what is this? I like the bag, I can put change in it, and these little “L” shaped metal things, I bet I could make something cute with them. It’s a beautiful day.”

The night after the theft I slept in the courtyard next to my chained bike. I was comfortable enough on my air mattress and in my sleeping bag. People walked by at all hours. I had a room paid for but I wasn’t going to take any chances. I finally fell asleep, only to be awakened by a man hacking and spewing on the fire escape directly above me. He would inhale deeply on his cigarette, cough incredibly loud, and obliviously let the ashes fall on me. Fearing my sleeping bag might catch fire I let him know I was there. He moved a few feet to the side and finished his smoke.

The next night I moved back into my room. I took the batteries off my bike, removed the seat and chained my bike to a pole. The following morning, and for the rest of the week, Sunride remained intact. That night as I was watching football in the common area the man who was smoking on the fire escape came crashing in drunk. He fell twice trying to get to the stairway going up to his dorm room. A woman trailing after him tried to help but wasn’t strong enough to get him up the stairs, so I took over. He smelled like a port-a-potty. A wet spot covered the front of his half-zipped trousers from beltline to knees. He kept telling me he didn’t need help. I told him yes he did. Once we reached the top of the stairs the indignant man threw my hands out from under his arms. He zigzagged away, bouncing off the walls on his way to his room at the end of the hall. I was annoyed by his ingratitude, but also felt a twinge of compassion for whatever happened in his life that led him here.

Back down in the TV room I heard new check-ins complaining about having to pay $3 extra to rent a blanket. This place was not typical of hostels I’ve stayed in, and I’m still a little miffed about losing my tools, but if the thief was Single Tooth Sadie, I pray that the Lord forgives her, and that she is in her princess dress, twirling in front of her locker, having a beautiful day.

As I parked my bike in front of the rather non-descript building, I wondered what kind of hostel this would be. I like staying in youth hostels. You meet interesting people there who freely talk about their home countries and travel experiences. I’ve met college students from Tibet in Shanghai, business owners in Vietnam, Dutch corporate workers on Sabbatical in Sydney, a travel magazine writer in Cambodia, an actor from Liverpool. Most are young people traveling around gathering experiences as they look to find their place in the world.

Hostel buildings are usually well located, near the heart of the city. One of my favorites is in Saigon’s District One, a place I know many an American soldier visited during their stint in that country. I stayed in plenty of hotels and motels when I traveled year round for the Coca-Cola Company back in my early career. Guests at hotel chains don’t have a chance to meet each other and generally don’t even speak to each other. You can feel quite lonely in a new place, but at youth hostels you always meet interesting people.

I only found one hostel in Salt Lake that seemed to have what I needed: close proximity to the Convention Center and a secure place for my bike. Sitting in front of the hostel in lawnchairs were two rather old gentlemen. They looked curiously at my bike as I went in to register. As I looked around I saw mostly old people. That didn’t bother me. It might be fun to be the younger one for a change.

However, there were characters in this hostel who diminished the joy of my stay. A gray haired man with a buzz cut whose name I would later learn was Cliff checked me in using what was obviously a well-memorized and efficient script that dispatched the duty quickly. Cliff had some personality, but he kept it to himself. One night I caught him playing the piano in the common area as I sat behind him enjoying the music. As soon as he was aware I was there he stopped but I urged him to continue. He indulged me briefly. Afterwards I mentioned the piece he was playing was beautiful and that I’d never heard it before. He answered, “Neither have I. I just improvise as I go.”

“Wow!” I exclaimed in amazement, “you have a real gift.”

Cliff may have been a musical genius, but he was not gifted as a front desk clerk. Hostels can be busy places, with lots of internationals coming and going requiring multi-tasking from the host. I approached one evening to get change for the vending machine. Cliff was in the middle of checking in a woman. As I approached he looked past her making eye contact with me and said, “What do you want?” I stretched a dollar bill and said, “Change.” Cliff said, “Oh, so I’m supposed to interrupt this lady’s check-in to get you change?” I was silent. So was the woman. Cliff huffed and handed me four quarters as he scraped the dollar bill off the counter. It was hardly necessary for him to embarrass the lady and me over a two-second interruption that practically no one on earth would have minded except Cliff. I have always been a firm believer in focusing on what you do well in life. I think Cliff, and the clientele at the hostel, would be happier if he left to pursue a career in music.

Another character was a woman I presumed to be a staff member at the hostel. She was aged 40 to 80, it was hard to tell, and quite possibly the thinnest person I have ever seen, I’m guessing 80 to 85 pounds. She possessed only one tooth, the last survivor on the bottom and to the left of center. She spoke without a lisp so I gathered she had been down to that last tooth for a long time. She would converse with herself aloud saying things like “It’s a beautiful day.” One evening she pranced into the common area in a getup that looked like something a princess might wear to a picnic in 1759. I commented, “You looked festive.” She answered, “Leroy would have loved this. I saw it at the thrift shop and just had to have it.” Others in the common area complimented her as well; they gave me a knowing look like, “that’s our girl.” I wondered if Single Tooth Sadie, as I’ll remember her, was actually a guest there who was allowed to volunteer, being generally regarded as harmless. She had a locker by the front desk and was always standing in front of it, sorting her things out loud.

I liked that the hostel had an inner courtyard where I could secure my bike. I brought all my bags into my room except the tool kit that came with the bike, which held a few Allen wrenches for fixing a flat tire. The next morning I noticed my bike had been tampered with. It never occurred to me that anyone would steal those tools; they were of no use to anyone except the bike owner in the case of a flat tire.

I reported the theft to Cliff. “It had to be someone in here,” I deduced, “since you can’t get to the courtyard except through the hostel.”  He nodded, “I don’t know what to tell you.” I went to Sue, the daytime front desk clerk, with the same report and deduction. Sue took on a knowing look that told me she might have an idea of who the culprit was, but didn’t offer any suggestions. I reported it to a third staffer who had chased me out of the kitchen for washing my clothes in the sink after Single Tooth Sadie told me to wash them there. “It had to be someone on the inside,” I recited as concisely as Cliff doing his check-in spiel. “I know,” she said, “but we had five check-outs this morning.” Why would a fellow hostel guest steal a small tool kit the size of a change purse with a few obscure metric Allen wrenches? Hostellers travel light. Her theory didn’t hold water. Coming in on my bike that afternoon I saw Sadie entering the building. I called out to her but she ignored me. “Hey, I need to talk to you for a second.”

“Sorry, I can’t, I’m cooking.”

Sadie, initially friendly showing off her new outfit and directing me where to hand-wash my clothes, avoided me from then on. I was convinced Cliff and none of the other staff had taken my tools, so Sadie was my number one suspect. I told Cliff and Sue I was offering a $15 reward for the return of the tools, even if returned by the thief. I knew the tools wouldn’t bring a dime at a pawnshop, so a reward would be more profitable for the theif, but my offer was in vain. I rode my bike the rest of the week fearing a flat that, fortunately, never happened. The more I thought about it the more I could see in my mind’s eye Sadie standing over my bike while the rest of the hostel slept. “Oh, what is this? I like the bag, I can put change in it, and these little “L” shaped metal things, I bet I could make something cute with them. It’s a beautiful day.”

The night after the theft I slept in the courtyard next to my chained bike. I was comfortable enough on my air mattress and in my sleeping bag. People walked by at all hours. I had a room paid for but I wasn’t going to take any chances. I finally fell asleep, only to be awakened by a man hacking and spewing on the fire escape directly above me. He would inhale deeply on his cigarette, cough incredibly loud, and obliviously let the ashes fall on me. Fearing my sleeping bag might catch fire I let him know I was there. He moved a few feet to the side and finished his smoke.

The next night I moved back into my room. I took the batteries off my bike, removed the seat and chained my bike to a pole. The following morning, and for the rest of the week, Sunride remained intact.

The next night as I was watching football in the common area the man who was smoking on the fire escape came crashing in drunk. He fell twice trying to get to the stairway going up to his dorm room. A woman trailing after him tried to help but wasn’t strong enough to get him up the stairs so I took over. He smelled like a port-a-potty. A wet spot covered the front of his half-zipped trousers from beltline to knees. He kept telling me he didn’t need help. I told him yes he did. Once we reached the top of the stairs the indignant man threw my hands out from under his arms. He zigzagged away, bouncing off the walls on his way to his room at the end of the hall. I was annoyed at him, but also felt a twinge of compassion for whatever happened in his life that led him here.

Back down in the TV room I heard new check-ins complaining about having to pay $3 extra to rent a blanket. This place was not typical of hostels I’ve stayed in, and I’m still a little miffed about losing my tools, but if the thief was Single Tooth Sadie, I pray that the Lord forgives her, and that she is in her princess dress, twirling in front of her locker, having a beautiful day. 

Hostile Hostel

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