One bad night at a cheap motel in San Jose has become more than an isolated, terrifying event. It has given me a new lens through which to view the aging process. I’ve made the trip from Boston to the bay area countless times over the course of my 25+ years in high tech, sometimes as a business woman traveling alone, sometimes with colleagues. The Bay area is my home away from home.
The Wyndham San Jose Airport website beckons, “stay with us in San Jose”. Two and half star ratings and sordid reviews warn of poor service and shabby accommodations, but everything else within a 50 mile radius is booked. Important meetings await, so my boss and I book two rooms.
I peruse the website for even the slightest glimmer of hope that The Wyndham won’t turn out as badly as I expect. The home page displays beautiful palm trees, a crystal blue pool and jetted tub. It boasts a convenient location. “Our location near US 101, US 87, and I-880 is just a block away from VTA and BART service.“ This is true. If you are brave enough to walk a block on Fourth Street, public transit is available. The staff tell me that it’s perfectly safe to run outside as long as I stay on the road directly in front of the motel. The two streets along on either side of the Wyndham have a fair share of homeless and mentally ill who “don’t usually bother anyone”. Better safe than sorry — no running for me.
I am given a room beyond a courtyard, facing the parking lot on ground level. My boss (a man in his mid-fifties) gets a similar room on the opposite side of the courtyard, also facing a parking lot on ground level. He tells me there’s a white van, door propped open and filled with personal belongings and a BBQ grill next to it, just outside his room. We don’t give it much thought.
The website seduces with the promise of “carefree convenience”. “After a day of exploring the area or conducting business, enjoy a swim in the sunny outdoor pool, a relaxing soak in the jetted hot tub or a vigorous workout in our state-of-the-art fitness center.” In the evening, I walk past the pool area to a short alley-way leading to the outer rooms. The jetted tub is a popular hang-out for a rough looking man drinking beer, smoking cigarettes and trying to learn banjo. He is joined by a loud couple, also drinking and smoking. I speed-walk past them avoiding eye contact as they laugh and curse. Acutely aware of my petite stature and the fact that I’m woman traveling alone, I hurry to my room and lock the door behind me.
In the morning I catch a ride to the office with my boss, where we spend the next twelve hours in meetings. The day ends with a team dinner and the walk alone to my room in the dark. Again, I hurry past the partiers by the pool. As I turn the corner at the end of the short alley, I get the feeling that I’m being followed. I’m not trained in self-defense or anything that might help me in a tricky situation, but in moments of fear or extreme exhaustion, music pops into my head. Not just random songs, but the perfect sound track for the situation. This time it’s Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” (At first I was afraid, I was petrified…).
As I speed up, so does the person behind me. I look over my shoulder. A man over six feet tall with an unkempt beard smoking a cigarette calls to me,
“Hey, I don’t mean to be following you.”
“You startled me,” I reply.
He’s moving quickly toward me,
“Sorry about that,” he says as I quickly open the door and dart inside locking it.
Again, the Wyndham homepage stretches the truth. “Boasting 195 spacious guest rooms and a host of thoughtful amenities, guests at this non-smoking San Jose hotel will enjoy easy access to nearby attractions.” A floor lamp is a thoughtful amenity. Before getting into bed, I painstakingly draw the blinds and pull the drapes as far to each corner of the window as they would reach. I place the floor lamp against the curtain, in the corner of the window facing the head of the bed, to ensure there’s no gap where someone could watch me sleeping. Satisfied that no one will see me, I get into bed and drift off to sleep.
Three hours later I’m awakened by the whirrrrr-thud of a skateboard on the carpet outside my room and loud adult male voices. This goes on for over an hour. I fumble around in the dark, too afraid to turn on a light, and call the front desk.
“Skateboarding? Really? Ok, ma’am. We’ll send security right down.”
It goes quiet for about ten minutes. Then the noise starts again and I’m able to make out a conversation.
“Hey, I don’t mean to be following you,” one guy says.
“You startled me,” another voice says.
“Sorry about that,” the first guy replies.
Now I am terrified. It sounds like they are right outside my door. I want to know who it is, so I crawl in the dark to the window. My heart races as I press my face against the wall, peering between the blind and the window. There’s a man in a white V-neck t-shirt with a gold crucifix around his neck, facing me just a foot away from the window. He sees me! I drop to my knees and crawl back to bed pulling the covers over my head.
Maybe if I open the door quietly, I can surprise them. I’ll grab the skateboard and smack them in the head. I see shadows moving under the door. My bravado fades, “Make them go away. Make them go away. Make them go away,” I whisper. Security never comes. Eventually it goes quiet and I drift off.
The next morning, I complain to the front desk. “We sent security, but they didn’t see anything,” they say. I spend the next three hours searching desperately for another hotel. There’s nothing available from San Jose to San Francisco. Determined not to spend another minute at the Wyndham, I change my flight and leave a day early. The Wyndham gives me a full refund for both nights.
The decision to leave wasn’t made lightly. I’ve held onto the belief that somehow older women are no longer vulnerable. At 50, I’m strong and confident. Older women are invincible, right? At twenty-five I might have opened that door and screamed, “Shut the F- up,” but with age comes wisdom. Life is far more precious to me now and I’ve learned that patience is more powerful than a fight.