Friday, June 22, 2012

A Hotel Room of Her Own -- Every Day for 10 Years

Joy Brinker


I think most of us can identify with unexpectedly finding ourselves in a situation when we thought it would be temporary, but then, time passes and it evolves into something else we never thought it would, and then it becomes permanent.

When I first read the headline on this story, I thought: "How could someone live in a hotel for 10 years?"  But then I read the story and I got it.

We say that everyone grieves differently and that we should respect the different ways people deal with their grief, but when we actually see someone who really does forge their own path, a path that is so different from what we know, do we feel comfortable with it?  Usually not.

I give Joy Brinker a lot of credit for moving from New Hampshire to the Washington, DC area to find a new job after her husband died.  Leaving a familiar place after a loss is very hard and maybe she moved because she didn't want to be reminded every day of how her life had changed.  So Joy moved and found herself a new job.

I think Joy was looking for security and stability after her husband died.  In the beginning, she might have told herself that she was going to take this new situation a day at a time.  But then the days turned into months and the months into years.  She found herself on her own and I think she decided she was perfectly happy with the new life she made for herself.  Joy's hotel solution is unusual, but the important thing is that she was able to take care of herself and she was happy.

Here is Joy Brinker's story as published in the Washington Post:

A hotel room of her own — every day for 10 years

By , Published: October 26, 2011

The Washington Post

Joy Brinker certainly tested the limits of the "extended stay" hotel.  Ten years ago -- on August 4, 2001 -- she checked into the TownePlace Suites by Marriott in Falls Church.  Only now is she finally checking out.

On Wednesday, Joy sat in Room 202 in an armchair — about the only piece of furniture that’s actually hers — and tried to explain why anyone would choose to live in a hotel.

It was a gradual decision, Joy said. She was 69 at the time, recently widowed. She’d been living in New Hampshire, but after her husband died she came to Washington to find a federal job. During her job search, she lived at the hotel. Then, after landing a position with HUD, she just decided to stay.

“I wrote that one check, and I knew I was good for that month,” said Joy, a small woman with short, gray hair and piercing eyes.

No electricity bill. No cable bill. No hassle. Plus, complimentary continental breakfast. (She negotiated a rate lower than the $139-a-night price for a two-bedroom suite.)

I’m pretty sure that if I lived in a hotel, I would take advantage of its hotelness. I would regularly leave my suite a mess — bed unmade, clothing strewn, toiletries scattered — confident that all I had to do was hang the “Maid: Please Clean Room” sign on the door.

Joy doesn’t think that way. She made her own bed. And she told the staff that they need clean her room only three times a week.

She’s outlasted six different managers and, in the process, formed strong opinions about the lodging biz.

“I would give a million dollars to manage a property like this for one year,” she said. “No matter where we look, there’s always ways to save a few more pennies.”

For example, she told them that they didn’t need to replace the little bottle of soap in her kitchenette every day with a new bottle. Same with paper towels. “If I have three-quarters of a roll of paper towels, don’t leave me a new roll,” she said.

It should go without saying that Joy is a Platinum Premier member of the Marriott rewards program. She’s lost count of how many points she has, only that she’s given a lot of them to her grandkids.

Ten years in a hotel. Joy has seen countless neighbors come and go, mainly consultants and contract workers. She was here for the last census, when all the current residents were summoned to the lobby to be counted.

As camera crews from local TV interviewed Joy — “Woman lives in hotel for 10 years: Film at 11!” — Don Hott of Certified Packaging & Transport Inc. walked around the suite. Don’s a mover, and he was putting little blue, numbered stickers on things.

There won’t be much to move: some plants, that armchair, Joy’s computer and files, some family photos and clothes. Joy says you don’t need a lot to make a home. You don’t need a pile of possessions or even, it seems, a home.

Joy has had some health problems lately — she’s 79 — and her daughter Christy Winton was in town to drive her to New York state, where Christy lives.

Christy’s place is different from a TownePlace Suites by Marriott. She rents a two-bedroom house on a farm and keeps two horses, a dog, a parakeet, chickens and cats. Christy confided that there’s been a leaky ceiling in the corner of one room for six years.

“There’s no continental breakfast at the Winton Inn,” she joked.

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