Wednesday, October 29, 2014

This week: Tucson, Arizona

The $14 Cocktail

My husband likes air conditioning a little too much. The room was downright chilly. I opened the balcony door to our Ritz Carlton hotel room and the early morning heat of Tucson felt wonderful on my goose pimpled skin. I made myself a cup of hotel Starbucks coffee, put it in the Ritz logoed cup and sat on the balcony drinking and breathing in some warmth.

I had arrived in Tucson the previous afternoon. My husband arrived the day before that. He was attending a business conference. I was on vacation. My husband would be done with his meetings by noon and we had planned to do some hiking, but until then the morning was my own and I planned to fill it with some reading-by-the-pool time. Even though the sky was cloudy from Hurricane Odile, the air was warm and getting warmer as I headed toward the resort pool.

The Ritz Carlton at Dove Mountain is a true resort. Nestled on the edge of a desert canyon surrounded by Saugaro cacti, the lobby of the Ritz is filled with fine Southwestern art, along with bell hops and lobby ambassadors who greet you when you walk past. Framed like a picture window, the back of the lobby opens up to the hills behind it from a patio with soft seating and large fire pit. In the distance is an infinity pool with umbrellas, the bright blue of the pool a distinct contrast to the browns and tans of the desert. I had to cross a cement path to get to the pool, giving the pool an oasis feeling, separate from the rest of the resort.

As I rounded the corner to the pool’s gate, two pretty young girls, one blonde and one brunette, both said good morning to me in a cheery tone. They were writing in colored markers on the pool information board. In the top left corner of the board it said “Drink of the Day.” Below it in curly letters that the girls had just written it said Turquesa Dream followed by a list of ingredients. The first two were Bacardi and Malibu.
“Is it too early for the drink of the day?” I asked.

“Hmmm, I don’t know. The kitchen doesn’t open for another hour, but if the bartender is here I think we can get you a drink.

“Ya know, 9:30 probably is a little early,” I said. “I can get one later. That’s fine.”

The brunette followed me through the gate and grabbed two towels from the towel stand. Another young girl was also standing there. I was expecting her to hand me the towels, but instead she asked me where I wanted to sit and began to head down the steps to the pool. I followed and pointed to a chair in the middle of the pool past a woman who was already settled on a lounge chair with a book in her hands. Rain from Hurricane Odile was in the forecast so I picked a chair under an umbrella. The brunette placed one towel on the seat of the lounge chair and the other towel she draped over the back.

“Just let us know if you need anything else,” she said as she walked away.

I had barely sat down when a different blonde girl walked over and said she heard I was interested in the Drink of the Day.

“Uh, sure,” I said. “Why not.”

She left and I put my feet up on the lounge chair and gazed over the infinity pool to the resort building. Then I reached for my smartphone in my bag when a handsome young man came over. He wore khaki shorts and a white polo shirt. He introduced himself as Joel and asked if my umbrella was OK. I said it was fine. He said if there was anything I needed, to just let him know. I thanked him and he walked away.

I went back to my smartphone to pull up the book I had downloaded on it. Then another handsome young man came over in white shorts and a black polo and introduced himself as Anthony and offered his hand to shake, which I did. He asked if my umbrella was OK or if I wanted him to move it. I said it was fine. He then said if I needed anything at all, to let him know. I thanked Anthony and he walked away. As he walked away I could see the pretty blonde girl returning with a glass on her small round serving tray. As she walked by the other woman reading her book, that woman perked up and asked the blonde what she was holding. I could see the blonde talking to the woman, but with her back to me I couldn’t hear the words. However, I did hear the lounging woman say that she wanted one too. The blonde then walked over to me with my Turquesa Dream.

Through the clear plastic Ritz Carlton logo cup, I saw the cocktail was a surprising grass green color and topped with a bit of froth. My first sip was rummy deliciousness with a fruity, creamy finish. As I sipped I noticed ripples from a light rain making rings in the pool. Since I was under an umbrella, I didn’t feel any drops and was content to sip my cocktail. However, another handsome dark-haired man wearing khaki shorts and white polo shirt approached.

“Are you OK or do you need me to move this umbrella?” he said as he started to reach for the umbrella’s stand.

“Ah, no, it’s fine.”

“OK, but if you need to move it, just let me know.”

“OK,” I said as he walked away. How many different people work here anyway?

Again, I picked up my smartphone to read my book. I had downloaded Mark Twain’s book The Innocents Abroad or The New Pilgrims’ Progress, his tome about an excursion to Old World Europe and the Holy Land. He was somewhere in the Middle East traveling the desert on horseback. He was not impressed by it, the heat, the food, the endless rocks and the barren villages filled with the poorest of the poor. He found it overwhelming and insufferable. I too was in the desert, sitting next to a pool with a cool beverage and an umbrella to shade me from the sun that was still behind some Odile clouds and keep me getting wet from occasional rain drops.

I finally had some uninterrupted time reading and drinking. After many minutes I left Mr. Twain somewhere near the Sea of Galilee and decided to pay for my cocktail. What the wait staff didn’t know I was took a Diet Coke from the 12-pack we purchased at a grocery store yesterday and brought it with me to the pool so I wouldn’t have to pay pool prices for soda. Clever, right? I grabbed my wallet from my bag and did some estimating in my head. A regular cocktail at a regular pool would be $7-8, right? But a cocktail by the pool of a Ritz Carlton would be more, I guessed $10-12. However, this particular cocktail was the “Drink of the Day” so it must have been on special. Hmmm. This cocktail could be anywhere between $8-12. I grabbed a ten dollar bill and a five dollar bill from my wallet and put them under my now empty glass.

As if on cue, the blonde server returned and asked if need another cocktail or anything else. I said no, please tab me out and she had to leave to go get my ticket. That was unexpected. I had another five minutes to myself. She returned and handed me a receipt and said I could pay whenever I was ready. Fortunately for me she turned and walked away because my jaw hit the concrete when I saw the bill. The “Drink of the Day” was $14; with tax it was $15.63. A $14 cocktail? And this was the “Drink of the Day?” I quickly and hopefully discretely put my $15 dollars back in my wallet since it wasn’t enough to pay the bill and grabbed a $20. I had three guys and two girls visit me this morning and I wondered if the tips were spread among the pool staff. I decided to just give the server the $20 and let her keep the change and hope it was distributed among the rest of the pool staff. I went back to reading my book and the pretty blonde came and picked up my $20.

“I’ll get you some change,” she said.

“Oh, no that’s not necessary,” I said. She thanked me very much and left. I had many more minutes of uninterrupted reading time. That was followed by some hot tub time and another few minutes of lounging on the in-pool lounge chairs before the intermittent rain finally chased me away.

Later that evening my husband and I attended a dinner hosted by the organization running the conference. This was after my husband and I spent the afternoon on a NINE-MILE HIKE through Dove Mountain Canyon, which is a story I will save for another blog. The dinner was held at a restaurant at the Ritz’s golf course and had spectacular views of the valley. The clouds of Hurricane Odile had a wonderful effect on the evening’s sunset. The organization held an open bar reception before the dinner where we mixed and mingled with other couples attending the conference. We also chatted with a fellow from Canada who worked with my husband.

“Hey, how was your afternoon,” my husband asked him.

“It was great,” he said. “It was nice to relax by the pool.”

“Yeah,” I said. “That’s what I did this morning.”

“Yeah, it was great, but man, things sure are expensive here,” he added. “I paid $18 for a burger.”

“Did you have the’ Drink of the Day’,” I asked.

“I dunno, but I had some cocktail that they told me was on special. “

“Was it green?” I asked.

“Yeah, it was,” he said. “It was good, but it was….”

“Fourteen dollars!”  I said with him in unison.

“Wait, you bought a $14 cocktail?!” my husband asked while giving me the stink eye. I shrugged.

“What is it with these resorts and their exorbitant prices,” asked our friend. “That’s crazy!”

That’s why they call it ‘the Ritz.’