Hello, room service

Long, long ago when dinosaurs stomped the earth and I was just a pup, Canada had a national treasure named Greg Clark. He was a wee spark plug of a man, a snowy thatch capping his five-foot-nothing stature, all illuminated by a leprechaun grin. Greg Clark was a newspaper man at the Toronto Star (“You’ll never get anywhere with all those damned little short sentences,” he advised a colleague named Hemingway). And he served as a war correspondent in the Second World War.

He was also a teller of wonderful stories. Tales of Canuck soldiers in the muck of France and shopping for socks at Eaton’s and fishing for trout in Muskoka. The stories appeared each Saturday in a newspaper supplement called Weekend, and I gobbled them up. The stories were wry and gentle, good-natured and insightful. Sounds corny, but Greg Clark made me glad I was Canadian.

What really intrigued me about the man, however, was what he did following the death of his beloved wife. Clark, then in his dotage (or as he would call it, his anecdotage), sold his Toronto home and moved into the King Edward Hotel. He took a single room, ate in the hotel dining room, entertained friends in the loun.

To a white-bread kid marooned in the wastelands of suburbia, such a life seemed impossibly glamourous. Imagine! An indoor pool and sauna! Twenty-four hour room service! Clean sheets every night! A uniformed doorman to keep the riff-raff at bay and a front desk clerk to field your phone calls and deflect Jehovah’s Witnesses. 

And never a dish to wash or a sidewalk to shovel.

It’s hard to say which aspect of Greg Clark’s life I admired most: the stories he wrote or his domestic arrangements.

Reality in the form of skeptical friends soon arrived to rain on my fantasy parade. “Live in a hotel? Are you serious? That would cost a fortune.” Yeah, I thought, that’s true.

But is it?

As I approach my own anecdotage and begin shuffling my worst-scenario old-age options, they appear to come down to two. Nursing home? Or my own hotel room?

I’ve visited a few nursing homes, including some good ones and, frankly, they’re
not that good. They are institutions and they feel — well, institutional. They also consist of just three classes of people: staff, residents and visiting relatives. I prefer more of a mix. The kind of mix you would find in, say, a hotel lobby.

And did I mention expensive? I did the math for a top-notch extended-care facility nearby and discovered it would cost me more than $40,000 a year to live there. That’s more than a hundred and ten bucks a day.

Plus it’s academic because they have a five-year waiting list.

Then I did the math on my favourite downtown Victoria hotel. It’s $69 a day, and I can take a room this afternoon if I want. The manager was cagey about how much he’d deduct if I moved in long term, but I could tell he’d cut me some kind of deal.

And there I would be, ensconced on some of the primest real estate in the country with free coffee in the room and a complimentary Globe and Mail left at my door every morning. Leaky roof? Not my problem. TV on the fritz? Have the front desk send up a new one. No parking? Who cares? Or rather, who cars? There’s a line of taxis waiting across the street around the clock and a free airport shuttle bus that leaves from the front door every hour. It can take me to several other hotels in the downtown area — or even to the airport where I can hop a flight to Cancun, Oahu or Kingston, Jamaica. All of which have similar, cheap hotels.

You think it sounds a tad morbid and dreary settling into a hotel room and waiting to croak? Hey, who said anything about waiting? Or croaking? I’ve got a plan. Check this little news nugget I found in Harper’s magazine: 

Average total cost for a U.S. 80-year-old to live out the last of his or her days on a luxury cruise ship: $230,497.
Average cost to live them out in an assisted-living facility: $228,075.

That’s right, folks — it’s almost as cheap to live out your last years on a cruise ship.

And by the time I’m 80, I’ll have easily an extra $230 grand, thanks to the 40 bucks a day I’ll save by living in a hotel instead of a nursing home.

“Taxi!” “Taxi!”