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Customer Review
Custom Hotel LAX
8639 Lincoln Blvd,
Los Angeles, CA 90045

I’m not a world traveler the way my father, violinist, Julius Schulman was. He toured to Europe, Asia, the Middle East, the Caribbean, South and Central America, and all around Canada, Mexico, and the United States. He played musical gigs on cruise ships starting age 16 and loved telling the story about how by not telling a cruise-ship orchestra booker that he doubled on violin he managed only to play saxophone in the dinner dance band and was free to shmooze pretty female passengers during the later full-orchestra ballroom dance… then on the last night out he picked up the concertmaster’s violin and ripped into the cadenza of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. “They were ready to kill me,” he laughed when he told this story.

Julius Schulman
Julius Schulman

My dad always wanted to go on a photographic safari in Africa but being married with children that never happened. His favorite author was Robert Ruark and his favorite book by that author was Uhuru. Uhuru was the book Nichelle Nichols was reading when she met with Gene Roddenberry and that’s how the character Nichelle played on Star Trek was born — Nichelle told Roddenberry to put a letter “A” at the end of the name which in Swahili means “freedom” — and with that “A” tuned up Star Trek coming up on a half century.

As a kid my dad drove our family on vacations all through New England and Canada. I’ll never forget the dead-of-winter sleigh ride through Saint Jovite, Quebec, which was so frigid my sister and I covered ourselves up with the stinkiest horse blanket ever or the winter drive through the Berkshires in our Volkswagen Bug where my sister and I warmed our feet by sticking them up to the car’s ceiling — try that with kids strapped into car seats in this nerfworld! I remember the Old Man of the Mountain in Franconia Notch State Park in New Hampshire’s White Mountains before its face fell off in 2003, and the beauty of the Flume. Close to my boyhood home in Natick, Massachusetts we went on day trips to Old Sturbridge Village and cranberry bogs. Later my dad drove our Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser, towing a 22-foot Beeline Travel Trailer, which my dad, mom, sister, and I took on family trips to the Hershey Chocolate Factory in Hershey, Pennsylvania, the Henry Ford Museum in Deerborn, Michigan, Old Fort Henry in Ontario, Virginia’s Colonial Williamsburg and the Plain & Fancy Farm in Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania.

Do I know how to start a hotel review with a digression, or what?

The point is, I’ve traveled, but not as far as my dad. Aside from driving across the United States half a dozen times, I’ve only been once across the Atlantic to the UK, and a two-week driving trip through Belgium, France, Monaco, Italy, Switzerland, and West Germany (before Germany reunited).

But I’ve stayed in lots of motel and hotel rooms at all levels, from the army-cot-sized beds in Earl’s Court, London, old tourist cabins, Motel 6, and Super 8 at the bottom end, to a Westin Hotel luxury suite larger than the apartment I was living in at the time at the Heinlein Centennial in Kansas City, Missouri in July 2007.

I even camped out solo in a tent in the dead of winter: Operation Zero, when I was a Boy Scout. I’ll leave out of this narrative details of the soggy thermal underwear incident which ended that experience and my further participation in the Boy Scouts. But, damn it, it was cold alone in that tent and my fly got stuck!

All of that said, for a poor commercial lodging experience, it’s hard for me to beat last night at the Custom Hotel near Los Angeles International Airport.

I now live in Nevada but lived many years in Southern California, so I know the area pretty well. I remember when the Custom Hotel was a hotel for visiting Japanese businessmen, adjacent to offices of Otis College Art and Design where my ex-wife worked, a bowling alley with a great coffee shop, and an independently owned toy store run by a wonderful 90-year-old woman where I bought educational toys for my daughter when she was little; the toy store and its owner are long gone but the bowling alley is still there.

This trip back to California was for two events: writer/magazine publisher/filmmaker Brad Linaweaver’s talk tonight at the Karl Hess Club presenting Mondo Cult 3 (I have two articles in it), and my daughter’s 21st birthday tomorrow. I’d booked a stay through Friday March 23rd so I’d have extra time to see friends and attend a Thursday meeting at the new club house of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, which I haven’t visited yet.

I booked the hotel using Priceline’s bid-your-price feature, specifying a 3-star hotel or better. When I travel with my mom, who’s 87, we absolutely need a comfortable and well-appointed room with dual beds. In all previous trips like this one our Priceline bid had been accepted by the Radisson Hotel at 6161 Centinela, across the street from Dinah’s Family Restaurant where the Karl Hess Club meets; but since my last trip the hotel was bought out by DoubleTree/Hilton, and they did not accept my Priceline bid; the Custom Hotel did.

Driving to L.A. on a Sunday night I knew traffic returning from Las Vegas on Interstate 15 would be heavy, so I planned a late-night drive, leaving Pahrump at 9:30 PM. I planned the timing well; the freeways were lightly trafficked and arrived at the Custom Hotel at 1:30 AM Monday. It was 42 degrees Fahrenheit outside as we arrived.

Custom Hotel Lobby Commissary
Custom Hotel Lobby Commissary

Valet service met me within seconds and promised me a bellman for bringing in our luggage; the bellman and desk clerks were nice and check in was easy. I was told the hotel had a breakfast buffet in the lobby from 7:30 AM to 10:00 AM, served dinner; but there was no lunch and no room service. I was told if I wanted coffee it was available a block away at a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf; but it was closed as I drove in.

Then we got to the room. First thing, with all the lights on, it was too dark to read anything without holding it directly under a lamp. The room was cold — 61 degrees Fahrenheit — so I asked the bellman to turn the heat and fan on full, set to 76 degrees. There was no desk, no table and chairs; there were a couple of Ottomans a few inches higher than the beds. There was no dresser to unpack clothes into. There was no refrigerator (as there had been at the Radisson) and no coffee maker — even though there was cabinetry in the room for both. I’d brought a French Press coffee maker and my own ground coffee but I’d counted on a hotel room coffee maker to boil the water; it never occurred to me a 3-star hotel room wouldn’t have one. I asked the bellman if he could get me one; he couldn’t and he reminded me — embarrassedly — that there was a Coffee Bean and Tealeaf only a block away.

Then there were the beds. I said this used to be a hotel for Japanese businessmen; the beds were futon platforms six inches off the floor with the futon replaced by a box-spring mattress.

I’m a big guy and not young anymore — six-foot-two and morbidly obese, 59 on my birthday upcoming next month. I knew if I sat down on that bed just a few inches off the floor, and with nothing to hang on to, I’d have the devil of a time getting up again.

My mom, with her wool coat still on, sat shivering on the bed and complaining how cold she was. I already knew we couldn’t stay in this room so I went down to the front desk to see if I could immediately check out; the clerk told me that because this was booked through Priceline I needed to talk to them, and he gave me the phone number. I called Priceline on my cell phone and while I was on hold returned to the room. I was on hold for at least a half hour; the room did not warm up a single degree.

Finally a Priceline representative got on the phone and I explained that this did not qualify as a 3-star hotel. Priceline spoke to the Custom Hotel’s front desk and got them to agree to cancel and refund the remainder of my trip; I’d only be charged for the first night. I agreed.

An hour after we checked in and with the heat set on full the room was still 61 degrees. I called the desk and was told “This is an old hotel; it takes a while to warm up.” Yeah. They sent up extra blankets and a small space heater which we set up directly in front of my mom, and that was enough for her to lie down on the bed and fall asleep. (By morning checkout, with the space heater and room heat at full blast, the room was all the way up to 65 degrees F.)

Me, I was sitting on the Ottoman, my notebook computer on the bed, and using both Priceline and Expedia tried to book another room. Adding $40 to my Priceline bid and selecting the next level up, my bid was not accepted. I wasn’t about to bid blindly through Expedia, worried they’d put me back in this same hotel.

Finally, I went onto the DoubleTree website and booked two nights at its hotel at 6161 Centinela; then phoned them. The desk clerk remembered me from my mom’s and my multiple stays when it was a Radisson and immediately agreed to check me in six hours early — 9:00 AM.

My mom was asleep; I could not use the other bed. I put on my coat, had the parking valet fetch my SUV, and was directed to an outside parking space I could use. With the engine idling burning $4.50 a gallon gas, heat on high, a pillow I kept in the car, the XM radio tuned to Symphony, and the seat back flattened, I tried for a few hours of fitful sleep.

I woke up at 7:00 AM and returned to the room where I got my mom up, already dressed, and managed to guide her sleepily down to the lobby. You have the photo in this article. The seats were not comfortable. The buffet breakfast was scrambled eggs, sausage, nondescript potatoes, muffins, and oatmeal; there were a couple of lonely waffle segments left in a bin.

I poured coffee with milk (I saw no half-and-half) for my mom and me and served out eggs and potatoes for my mom: i gave myself oatmeal, eggs, and a couple of breakfast sausages. The breakfast was minimally adequate but the coffee was cold. I asked for hotter coffee and when it was brought out I poured new cups. This time there was a container labelled cream so I poured it in my coffee.

It was syrup for the waffles.

My mom and I made it through breakfast and we returned to the room where I called for a bellman to grab our still-packed bags; he arrived promptly. When we returned to the lobby I checked out and the morning clerk, a woman, confirmed the refund for the four days I wouldn’t be using. Then she asked me if I enjoyed my stay.

I took a breath and said, “Look, you have major challenges here. This was a disaster. To begin with I couldn’t use the bed and had to sleep in my car.”

“Sir, please lower your voice,” the desk clerk said.

This was a tactical control move; I was not speaking loudly.

“I was trying to help you,” I said. “The only thing your hotel had going for it was that everyone was nice. Until you, right now.”

“Got it,” she desk clerk said.

Look. If you’re 19 years old you’ll probably love this hotel. The beds are on the floor like the one you have in your communal apartment or parents’ basement. You don’t need a desk; you won’t be doing any homework. You won’t need coffee; you’ll be drinking the booze or beer you snuck in, or the blunt you’ll smoke in the non-smoking room. The room being ice cold is a great excuse to convince your sexy roommate to join you under the covers. The room does have WiFi and inadequate reading light means nothing: anything you read from — smart phone or iPad — has its own light source. And you won’t need a refrigerator for the pizza or tacos you brought in.

Me, I’m a grown up and I’m writing this from the DoubleTree Hotel at 6161 Centinela across the street from Dinah’s Family Restaurant, a real 3-star hotel, sitting in an office chair with my laptop on a real desk, the room warm, the beds high and comfortable, and a cup of Wolfgang Puck coffee I brewed on the room’s coffee maker on the desk after checking in and getting five hours of wonderful sleep. I broke my diet and ate one of the wonderful chocolate-ship cookies they DoubleTree desk gave us when we checked in.

And does this make a great travel horror story or what?

Note March 22, 2012: Today I sent the following email to Priceline:

If you check my previous bookings through Priceline’s Name Your Own Price feature, you’ll see that until my last trip this past week my bids had been accepted by a true three-star hotel, the Radisson at 6161 Centinela Avenue, Culver City, CA — now a DoubleTree by Hilton. This last trip I bid for a three-star hotel and my bid was accepted by the Custom Hotel.

This hotel is so far from being a three-star hotel that I wrote up my experience and published it as an article here: http://jneilschulman.rationalreview.com/2012/03/if-you-like-camping-out-youll-love-los-angeles-airports-custom-hotel/.

This is to let you know that until the Custom Hotel is downgraded so that a bid for a three-star hotel in Culver City / LAX Airport will not blindly return me to this hellhole, I will no longer be using Priceline to book my trips to Los Angeles.

J. Neil Schulman

And here is Priceline’s emailed response:

March 22, 2012

Dear J Neil,

Thank you for taking the time to send us an e-mail. We understand that you are dissatisfied with our service since the Custom Hotel was not up to your mark.

We apologize if you are dissatisfied with our service. Customers are our number one priority, and we work hard to make your experience with us a positive one. Your feedback is appreciated.

We again apologize for the inconvenience.

Sincerely,

Mohammad R.
Customer Service Specialist

Form letter response, addressing none of the substantive issues. Corporate idiocy. Looks like I won’t be using Priceline again.

#

This article is Copyright © 2012 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust. All rights reserved.


Winner of the Special Jury Prize for Libertarian Ideals from the 2011 Anthem Film Festival! My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available free on the web linked from the official movie website. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!

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