So we made The Turn. We put San Francisco and the West Coast in our rear view mirror as we hopped on Interstate 80 — a highway we were about to have a long relationship with — and headed to Sacramento. At the time, we recognized it for what it was: we were going back home. But the scope of that notion didn’t hit us until later. For right now, we had a fancy hotel room in Downtown Sactown all lined up.
Other than camping and crashing at my brother’s apartment, we’d stayed exclusively in cheap motels for our entire trip. This was not awful most of the time, and it saved a considerable amount of money that we put towards petty little things like “gas” and “food.” But we wanted to live it up just once while we were on this adventure. Sacramento was chosen for this largely because our money would go farther in California’s capitol. Or so we imagined.
$188 dollars bought us an 8th Floor room with a Capitol View at the Hyatt Regency. They even allowed us to check in well ahead of schedule, which was a refreshing change of pace from our experience in Monterey. But that was rapidly nullified when they said it’d be another $17 just to park in their lot. Not to mention that while a “basic” wi-fi service was free, high-speed internet would be $10 more. Our expensive hotel room was becoming more expensive by the moment. Things that we had taken for granted at the motels were now “extra features.”
I was made aware of this curious phenomenon on a business trip to Atlanta a couple of years back. Wi-fi was just straight-up $10, and I had spent nearly my last $50 on checking my bags at the airport, so the laptop I had carried on was made into a very shiny and expensive paperweight. The bottle of water left on the desk — what I assumed was complimentary at first glance — would have been $4 if I had not read the fine print.
I had forgotten all about this, but it came flooding back as soon as we stepped into our “fancy” room and discovered that we did not have a fridge to put our own food in, instead we had the infamous “mini-fridge” filled with things that we could not even move, let alone consume, without being charged. (The note inside the mini-fridge actually told us this.) We wouldn’t get a complimentary breakfast, but we could order bacon & eggs for $14 if we wanted. We couldn’t even buy some Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwiches and heat them up…because there wasn’t even a microwave.
But most damning? It had been almost two weeks since I had had an actual bath. I’m not a shower person. They’re okay in a pinch, but I prefer to soak, and I was looking forward to soaking in a big, nice, hotel bathtub. And…there was no bathtub. I rented a room to pamper myself, and instead stumbled upon a spartan dystopia where a can of Pepsi costs $5.
The view was nice. The room was overall meh. Maybe a half-step up from our usual accommodations. Certainly not more than $100 better. My decision to “live it up” in Sacramento was most certainly The Flop.
Sacramento was actually where I spent many summers as a kid, staying with my brother who worked there at the time. I always had fond memories of it and had wanted to go back for years. I root for the Kings…though a lot less now that they have plummeted back to insignificance. I talked it up like it would be a highlight of the trip, because I genuinely thought it would be.
But time has not been kind to Sactown. Whatever shine has been polished into the Tower Bridge has been removed from the city as a whole. Downtown has very little to offer. We strolled down K Street (some vulturous marketing firm had rebranded it “The Kay” and hung fancy banners all over the street lamps) at around 8pm and saw exactly 5 things open. An admittedly very cool restored movie theater was having a Japanese Film Festival. Across from that were four bars. We walked for quite awhile, and while we saw people out and about, we could never figure out where they were going. It was like they were the “filler” people in a video game, aimlessly wandering about to make it look like the real world. It was the polar opposite of Oklahoma City, where there was plenty to do and no one there to do it.
What wasn’t closed for the night (a Friday night!) was just out of business period. The next day, we walked through the mall at the end of “The Kay” and it was in even sadder shape, like a lot of indoor malls in America. A few shops were still open there, most notably a Kings memorabilia store trying to keep hope alive, but it was largely vacant. Even Sacramento’s biggest tourist trap, Old Town, had empty store fronts.
It was a rude and sad awakening. And as we crossed The River the next day and headed back to I-80, I looked back with melancholy. I had a lot of great memories in that city, and I had hoped to make some more. Instead, a feeling was beginning to gnaw at me. Regret about the hotel, perhaps. Disappointment over Sacramento, probably. But was it something more? I didn’t know. All I knew for sure right then was that we were headed for Lake Tahoe.