You’ll have heard of the Smithsonian of course. And the Lincoln Memorial. And the US Capitol. These are the icons and institutions for which Washington DC is rightly famous. You will not have heard of the Hyatt Place hotel, built where an unlovely part of New York Avenue meets rundown North Capitol Street. This is a hotel struggling to do business in one of the worst parts of America’s national capital. I want to give the Hyatt Place staff and management a shout-out, because they are doing a great job against unfavorable odds.
When I heard we would be staying at the hotel for our volunteer staging, I will admit my heart sank. The stretch of street, which for years has been known only for its gas stations, liquor stores and homeless population, has no good restaurants and is not the sort of place that invites visitors to take an evening stroll, an outdoor phonecall, or anything other than a speeding Uber.
I was pleasantly surprised by the hotel. The rooms are large and well appointed. The beds are super comfy and the hot water is instant and plentiful. The bar serves great food 24/7 (try the hummus trio). But the hotel is really distinguished by the excellence and attitude of its team. Reception staff greet guests with a warm hello every time they see them pass. The check out guy manhandled my luggage today without complaint— the bell hop was busy at the time. A number of us were confused about breakfast times this morning and turned up 40 minutes late. We inquired about leftovers and were passed great plates of waffles, bacon, egg, biscuits and fried potatoes through the kitchen serving hatch, all without complaint. The coffee guy stopped his clear up, righted the urn, and left the maple syrup sitting until we’d finished eating.
Signs in the elevators implore guests to root for the hotel as it perseveres through the slow and painful regeneration of the area between Union station and Union Market (both of which are worth a visit) in Washington D.C. The image on the poster implies that guests may be disturbed by ongoing neighborhood construction, rather than rolling drunks and pushy panhandlers. But the overall message is clear: give us a chance, we are trying really hard to make this work. I hope they do. I am on their side.
While I am doling out kind words, praise to Air France with whom we flew first to Paris and now to Yerevan. Airplane food included a very respectable celeriac remoulade, Camembert and prune tart. Pasta was served with tomato sauce, feta and fresh basil. There was free champagne. Shat Hamove as we say in Armenian– very tasty.
In a post-prandial line for the toilet in the plane, I struck up a conversation.
“Are you Armenian?” I asked the man in front of me. My tongue’s first formal outing in this strange new language.
He said that he was, and offered me his place in the queue.
“I am grateful” I said, and was flattered when he said “oh, you speak good Armenian.”
“Yes”. I wasn’t preening:saying “oh you are too kind. I speak only a few words” seemed much too complicated to try out just then.
I explained we are volunteers from the US Peace Corps. I told him I was American and Irish. He liked that.” Irlandatsi.”.
I pointed at the bathroom and named it, rather like a toddler being potty trained. He nodded encouragingly. “Shat lav. Shat lav”. It sounds scatalogical to ears attuned to English, but it just means ‘very good’.
A few minutes later, I told him I was happy, satisfied and grateful. He showed polite interest but wisely asked no follow up questions
We said goodbye and he took his turn in the stall.
A successful exchange on bathroom matters. It is the beginnings of a good start.