Since my girlfriend couldn’t get a reservation for us at the San Diego Hilton, she assumed the next closest hotel to the conference she was attending would be equally swell, something called the Hard Rock Hotel.
Alas, when we arrived there on the last Sunday in May, the hotel’s annual Memorial Day “Intervention” pool party was in full heat with 1,000 young folks dressed in almost nothing, dancing to throbbing “music” and drinking apparently everything. Indeed, we were met in the darkened lobby by a bevy of bikini-clad ladies and a loud rock soundtrack.
The “front desk” was a few computer stands manned by clerks in shorts with large rock video images projected behind them. When asked what music we wanted in our room, I requested classical. No go. Jazz? Still no go. We could have any genre we wanted so long as it was rock, hip hop or country.
On the 12th floor, we were greeted with the distant, strident sounds of more “music” and shouts from below. Indeed, from the window by the elevators could be seen 1,000 revelers cavorting around the fourth floor outdoor pool. Heading for our hall, we were hit with the pronounced scent of what Sir Paul McCartney politely calls “herbal jazz cigarettes,” another first in our hotel experience.
Fortunately, our room was at the end of the most isolated hall on the top floor. In fact, we got the handicapped quarters. I realized just how kind that young clerk was to put the oldest couple in the remotest corner of the whole hotel. God bless him.
Since we’re 49 plus interest, it was as if an older Ward and June Cleaver got mistakenly booked into Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion. The girlfriend, who’s Chinese, wanted to know exactly what kind of place this was. I tried to explain this strand of American pop culture before assuring her the holiday weekend party would end the next day, possibly even costing us our title as the Hard Rock’s oldest couple. So we resolved to stay in the hotel, albeit only when sleeping.
Yet, that Sunday, just riding the elevator was a challenge. Swarms of almost naked 20-somethings crowded into it from almost every floor. With each new surge, I clung to the wall ever tighter, trying to avoid contact. The effort must have been comical since one gal looked at me and cackled while guys shook my hand as if I was some kind of “cool” grandpa.
I did dare to venture out to the hotel pool Monday night once the big party ended. That, too, turned out to be a unique experience (surprise). First, just yards from the water was a display of Jimi Hendrix memorabilia, including his Fender guitar, large hat and peach-colored shirt.
To my shock, when I reached the pool at 9:30, the gate was already locked. But “chill out, man,” for another patron simply climbed over it and let his date and myself in anyway. How apropos since the hotel billed this as “the Woodstock Pool,” after the 1969 hippie music festival where most attendees just jumped the fence instead of paying admission.
It turned out the pool closed at 8 when its bar shut down — and that was by far the biggest hotel bar I’d ever seen.
Yet, well after 10, two couples remained in the large Jacuzzi sharing their own champagne bottle, leaving me the whole pool to swim laps.
The walls around the pool were painted with large lyrics by Jimi Hendrix (“Axis: Bold as Love”) and Led Zeppelin (“Going to California”). For a place with no children, I was surprised at the pool’s maximum depth of ... 4 whole feet. That’s likely liability insurance, considering all the heavy drinking.
It was the first pool I’d encountered with many large beds and pillows alongside it, too. (No further comment on that. This column is rated G). It was also the first poolside I’d seen littered with cigarette butts and one “roach.” (OK, PG-13)
Just hours earlier, scores of drunken partiers had been there “dancing” to the booming bass notes of the annual Memorial Day “Intervention” Party. Don’t you know our veterans would be proud. So how strange it felt to quietly float alone in the Hard Rock’s rooftop pool, gazing at the hotel’s psychedelic purple and yellow lights illuminating a tranquil night sky. I called it just another surreal day in southern Califor-Ni-A.
The hotel was blessedly serene the rest of the week, with the most unusual event being scantily-clad young ladies riding bikes in the lobby. And Xiaoyan and I had to give up our status as adopted grandparents since several couples were now older than us!
Also satisfying was all the memorabilia on the hotel’s walls from rock stars now in their 70s — composers who crafted real tunes, too. The place is a pop music museum of sorts, except you can stay over.
To be fair, everyone in the Hard Rock was uber-friendly, helpful and peaceful, and the hotel was clean, modern and splendidly located. I’d actually go back, too — just not on a weekend.
Douglas Young is a professor of history and political science at the University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus.