THE BELMAR BEACH HOTEL
"We don't accept credit cards. You need to mail us a check or money order."
I was speaking with Gene Delpreore, owner of the Belmar Beach Hotel in Belmar, New Jersey. Gene wanted my $80 in his hand before confirming my reservation. It was September 2nd and I needed a room for Friday, September 12th. Everywhere else I'd tried was booked so I mailed a check later that day. Three days prior to my trip the bank confirmed that my check had cleared, so I had no further contact with anyone at the hotel until my arrival.
The plan for my weekend at the Jersey shore was to attend a Friday evening wedding and reception, stay over night at a hotel, and attend a college alumni get-together on Saturday afternoon. Working for a living often interferes with my social life, so I left work as early as I could on Friday afternoon in order to make the one-hour drive to Belmar. I allowed myself just enough time to check in at the hotel, change clothes and make the wedding by 5 PM. I arrived at the hotel at 4:45.
The Belmar Beach Hotel isn't on a beach or even close to a beach. You can't even see a beach from the hotel. It sits on a relatively quiet residential street in Belmar. My first clue that I had entered the twilight zone was that there was no parking area. I thought all hotels had parking lots. This one had none. Parking, if available, was on the street where the local residents seem to compete for valuable spots. I was driving a four-door, 3/4-ton diesel truck with an extended cab. That meant finding two adjoining empty parking spaces.
A visual scan of the hotel almost made me keep on driving down the street. It looked very run down, and there was a lot of loose trash cluttering the narrow strip of grass between the sidewalk and the hotel. I thought about the $80 I'd already given them and decided I should at least check it out. The entrance was at one end where I had to thread my way past a group of unsavory looking guys who appeared to be on more than one bounty hunter's top ten list. One of these guys turned out to be the manager.
I believe that the manager may have been Jamaican – which was fine with me except that his command of the English language required frequent responses from me along the lines of; "Excuse me", "I'm sorry" and "I don't understand." I thought about the bumper sticker I'd seen recently that said, "Welcome to America! Speak English!" He claimed that the owner had told him nothing about any reservation, and that I would have to wait until the owner returned, which would be in about two hours. I was now definitely in the twilight zone.
"I have to be at a wedding in 15 minutes!" I explained that I had sent a check to Gene Delpreore ten days earlier and that it had been deposited and cleared my bank. The manager asked to see the check, which of course I didn't have because I had not received it back from the bank. I did have my checkbook in my truck and retrieved it. The manager scrutinized my checkbook entries (and probably my balance) and then decided to allow me to check in. "Check-in" is an exaggeration. They already had my money so the manager could have cared less where I was from or who I was. If I had been on the run from the authorities, I would have felt right at home.
The manager had a serious spinal deformity that required him to walk crab-like, extremely bent over with his head below his knees. My emotions wafted between great annoyance and great sympathy as I followed the crab into the hotel and up the stairs to his room. I was going further into the twilight zone. By this time I had categorized The Belmar Beach Hotel as a flophouse for vagrants, drug dealers, and general malcontents, perhaps with a few unfortunate suckers like myself who couldn't get a reservation anywhere else. I didn't see anyone I wished to talk to or even look at for more than a second.
My room was an 8x8 cell on the first floor by the entrance. It had bare pine floors except for some grit that felt like you might be walking on a beach. Perhaps that's where the "beach" part of the hotel's name came from. The walls were bare, there were two twin beds with sheets but no blankets, and there was a tiny closet without hangers. On one wall was a chest of drawers with two towels folded up on top of it, but the room had no sink or bathroom. There was a community bathroom on the second floor and another on the third floor.
Quickly locking the two locks on my cell I changed clothes and then went in search of the community bathroom. There was no toilet paper. I went to look for the crab. When I finally found him he explained, "We don't put toilet paper in the bathrooms. People steal it." At least that's what I think he said. Then he told me that there was toilet paper in my room. There wasn't – unless he was referring to the towels, but I decided not to press the issue further since I was late for the wedding. I locked my door and headed out to my truck carrying anything of value with me rather than leave it in the room.
I was 10 minutes late for the wedding, but the remainder of the evening was quite enjoyable and I'd almost forgotten about the Belmar Beach Hotel until some people at my table started talking about how nice the motor lodge was. The motor lodge was next door to where we were having the reception. I gathered up my courage and asked them how much the rooms were there. $59. Yikes. Now I was really pissed.
In desperate hope that the motor lodge had received a cancellation, I walked across the parking lot and went inside to the registration desk. "Yes, we had a no show. It's our last room."
"I'll take it!" My logic was that the $80 I'd spent on the Belmar Beach Hotel was a sunk cost, and that staying there would just add insult to injury. It was like tying $80 to a rock and throwing it into a cesspool. I wasn't going to get my money back, so why jump in.
The room at the motor lodge cost me $79. The $59 that my friends had paid was a special rate for the wedding guests. "But I'm a wedding guest." I explained. No luck. I would have had to book in advance to get that rate. I was tempted to negotiate, but thought about the cesspool. Who was I kidding? I'd have paid twice that to avoid sleeping at the Belmar Beach Hotel. I checked in. The room was beautiful and had a bath with plenty of toilet paper.
On my way back to the reception I stopped at the motor lodge desk and asked them about the Belmar Beach Hotel. The lady said, "Oh my! Are they open again? The health department closed them down not too long ago. Before that they were closed down for violations of electrical codes. They stopped taking credit cards because people refused to stay there when they saw the place, canceling payment through their credit card company."
The women gave me a sympathetic look that had "poor sucker" written all over it. And perhaps I was. I spent $160 to spend a night an hour from my home. It rained that night and on and off the next day, putting the kibosh on the alumni Summer Splash event. But, in retrospect, I've traveled a great deal in my life, to over 35 countries and all 50 states. Most of the places I've stayed were very nice – and very forgettable. But I'll always remember the Belmar Beach Hotel.