We all do things we know we shouldn’t. Things that are perpetual. Things that move forward with a tenacity of automation towards their final resolve almost on their own. For eight months I agonized over my reservation at Trump International Hotel and Tower Vancouver. In the final days leading up to my expected arrival, I woke up almost every night with the sheets soaked in sweat, but I still didn’t cancel. Now I’m here.
Walking up the alley towards the rear entrance of the world’s newest Trump hotel in Vancouver, hours after it opened, is something I know I shouldn’t be doing. That’s probably why I’m wearing a costume of sorts. I have to check in with my real name, but everything else is by design. This is a performance. The dark, pinstripe Brooks Brothers suit I got out of the Czech Republic on eBay for 20 Euro; the used Gucci loafers I lucked into at an estate sale for 30 bucks; the white shirt and socks embroidered with green crocodiles on them that I picked up at H&M two days ago — from a distance the crocodiles could easily be dollar bills — this is what a person who stays at a hotel owned by Donald Trump looks like. At least I think it is? I look like a right leaning, Trump supporting, balding, white, affluent business traveller. At least I think I do?
My heart is racing, and I can’t quite catch my breath, so I’m going to put checking into the most reviled address in Vancouver off just a bit longer. Instead, I’ll stop here a moment under the gigantic, gleaming chrome letters that spell T R U M P, so I can run through the purpose of my visit again while the Bell Captain helps a woman and her two young daughters out of their Cadillac Escalade, leaving their tall Standard Poodle free to stare down my ersatz presence.
From the day (almost eight years ago now) that there was even the slightest hint of a hole in the ground, to Donald Trump showing up one June afternoon in 2013 and slapping his name all over everything, to the thousands of protesters that used this hotel as a focal point of the women’s march after the presidential inauguration, 1129 West Georgia has been plagued with controversy and drama. Local media labelled the building a PR nightmare, so this could possibly be the worst hotel stay I’ve ever experienced, but I’m not here for hospitality, and the last thing I need is lodging. What I want is a story.
I’m a writer. Since May of 2016, I’ve been trying to spin the opening of this hotel into an angle editors I pitched all over North America would want to publish. I’m sure you’ve realized by now that this isn’t the New York Times, The Atlantic, or Vice; or Vox; or Narratively; or The Awl; the Globe and Mail; Vancouver Sun; Georgia Straight; or the fifty other publications I begged for a chance to write for them, because none were interested. I should have just cancelled my reservation and moved on, but for reasons I can’t fully explain, I didn’t. I guess I kept hoping that at the last minute an editor, any editor, would give me the green light, and this moment purpose. They didn’t. I’m not a writer, I’m a failure. That is the real end of this story.
“Hello, my name is Modesty.” A woman with dark, neatly tied back hair in a grey uniform comes out from behind the front desk to greet me as she extends her hand forward. “Welcome to Trump International Vancouver. How can I help you?” As we shake hands, I tell her my name and that I’m checking in. When she returns to her station behind the front desk the questions start.
“Mr. Look, can I see some photo ID?” she says with soft inquiry. I nervously hand over my drivers licence. One of the obvious weaknesses to my disguise is that I practically live across the street from the hotel, but Modesty doesn’t seem to notice this detail.
“When did you arrive in Vancouver Mr. Look?” she says with a smile.
“Ten years ago,” I say, then giggle a bit to ease the momentary look of confusion on her face before adding some clarity. “I live here, actually.” I’m answering with confidence, but I can feel the perspiration collecting onto the armpits of my disposable H&M shirt.
“That’s so nice,” Modesty says with an impenetrable smile. I can’t tell if she’s on to me or not. I bet the security of this hotel is on high alert. “Mr. Look, if I can, may I ask what you do?”
Oh Jesus. “I’m uh. Marketing!” I say with a revealing over-enthusiasm.
“That’s so nice, Mr. Look,” she says. “How did you learn about our hotel?” Modesty smiles, then waits for a response. Her head tilts forward.
“Well,” I start my answer without knowing what to say. Should I mention that I’ve held a reservation to this hotel for almost a year? That I live in a dump around the corner? That I’m here in an effort to document every detail of my stay even though nobody could give a shit? That I’m a pathetic Medium blogger? That I’m ashamed to even be standing here when all my friends were protesting in front of the building last week? That I’m pushing fifty and can barely afford this place? That I have to pay for the almost $500.00/night reservation myself because nobody would pay for my writing? That I’m essentially paying you to read this?
“I live in the area, and I’ve been watching the hotel being built. And well, I just thought it would be fun to stay here when it opened,” I say, finally getting a reason out of my head and into the thick air between Modesty and I. But although Modesty is still smiling, she seems more interested in something on her computer screen than my veiled answer.
“Mr. Look. I’m just going to call our Communications Manager,” she says cheerily enough, but this is obviously not normal. I look down at the floor, these fucking ridiculous socks — why crocodiles!? Then I realize why Modesty has gone to get an authority figure. Four days ago, experts identified Trump properties as high profile targets for criminal gangs, activists, militants, and terrorists, now that Donald is in the White House. It’s obvious Modesty has seen through my costume, knows I live around the corner, and in a building that obviously houses the type of guest that just wants to start trouble. Modesty knows I’m not the affluent business traveller I pertain to be and has now called security, because Modesty thinks I’m a terrorist.
“Mr. Look. Hi, I’m Sahara,” says a woman in a smart, grey pantsuit, coming out from a door behind Modesty, “It’s such a pleasure to finally meet you.” Her words return me to reality. Of course! Sahara is the woman that’s been emailing me about my reservation for the past eight months. Since I booked a room last year, she and I have exchanged light pleasantries back and forth while construction delays, the election, presidential debates, protests, and well, Donald Trump in general, went unmentioned each time a new date was set for my arrival.
Obviously there’s no spotlight or backroom waterboarding session with the security staff of Trump Vancouver about to happen here, just good customer service by everyone I come in contact with. I’m a fraud, and these people are genuine in their desire to just do their job, and do it well. They’ve been waiting for this day just as much as I have, obviously for different reasons, but really we’re all having to do a bit of pretending when it comes to the brand behind this moment. It’s a shame for everyone connected to this hotel — the city of Vancouver, its residents, and staff — that it has to bear the name of a monster.
I realize that I am getting the kind of treatment reserved for what will be this hotel’s most important guests: but why?
While Sahara and I talk for a while about the swimming pool night club and Ivanka Trump Spa that are not yet open, my eyes dart around the lobby. Dressed in grey — just like the staff — accented with gold mosaic dividers that break up the small-ish lobby into different seating areas, and anchored by a white spiral staircase that is not yet functional, the room is definitely faux luxury at its finest.
The decor is really no different than a new Fairmont or any other higher-end hotel, but there is, however, a slight hint of ball-grabbing masculinity about the place. Giant chrome rivets stud the frame of the main entrance, and smooth, hard metal that talks big, brash, and straight, pops out of all this grey now and then. But for the most part, the room is vacant of meaning, telling me precisely what this place is not, rather than what it is.
“Enjoy your stay Mr. Look, I’m so glad to finally meet and welcome you, and thanks again for being so patient and understanding,” Sahara says with a slight Australian accent. “Caolan will take you to your room now.”
My time with Sahara was friendly and warm, and as Caolan approaches me with his hand extended to meet mine, I realize that I am getting the kind of treatment reserved for what will be this hotel’s most important guests: but why? Maybe it’s because Sahara and everyone here thinks I’m a writer with an actual assignment to review this place; maybe it’s because I look exactly like the kind of guest Trump Vancouver wants to attract; maybe it’s because Sahara needs to test run a VIP protocol with her staff. Then I have another thought: maybe it’s because Sahara and the rest of their team are just being neighborly because I live so close to the hotel? Sahara, she’s my neighbor. Modesty, she’s my neighbor. Caolan, he’s my neighbor.
“Mr. Look, right this way,” he says, taking my suitcase while walking me towards two elevators. Except for a toothbrush, my bag is just an empty prop, and I briefly worry that Caolan will realize there’s nothing in it. We pass a young woman madly texting someone in puffy, black, moon boots while holding a Prada purse. She’s my neighbor. The two men coming out the elevators with neatly manicured beards, dressed almost identically in baseball hats, sportswear, bomber jackets, and holding duffel bags, they’re my neighbors.
Caolan pushes the button to the 11th floor and says, “When did you arrive in Vancouver?” The suit, it’s working. The empty Samsonite goes unnoticed too. Now that I’m a key card holding guest of Trump International, and passed the check in test without getting tasered, I can loosen up.
“Oh, I’m from here,” I say warmly. “I live around the corner. We’re neighbors.” We both laugh, and as the elevator starts its journey, I quietly realize how much time I spend in the hotels that surround the building I live in. They are the homes of my transient neighbors, and I often find myself in their company, taking a morning coffee, afternoon snack, before dinner cocktail or late night libation in their temporary living rooms, dining rooms, and kitchens, disguised as one of them. In this vacuum of community, I am a spectator to a kaleidoscope of moments that seem to flash elements of our collective existence before my eyes in a very vivid way. And that’s what I told every editor that rejected me.
Donald Trump is my neighbor. I thought a pseudo hotel review of Trump Vancouver from the perspective of someone practically living beside it would easily get placed with a publication. When I made this reservation, the thought of a Donald Trump presidency seemed like a joke, but as perverse fantasy transformed into reality, I felt compelled to write about this hotel the same way a journalist embeds themselves into events at the core of Trump’s campaign. At the very least, I thought I could provide some insight for Vancouverites into what this place was like without them having to patronize it. I also thought people around the world should know that the hospitality extension of the Donald Trump brand is still opening hotels with his name on them.
“Welcome to 1102, Mr. Look,” Caolan says, pushing open the heavy door to my one bedroom executive suite. It’s not the basic room that I had originally booked. After the many delays in my attempts to check in, Sahara upgraded me to this 1000 square foot, one bedroom suite with two bathrooms, dining room, wet bar, and large balcony with an outdoor seating area.
“You’re the first one to ever stay here,” Caolan says, taking me through the control centre functions, “but everything’s been tested. I’m sure you’ll be very comfortable here Mr. Look.” I’m tempted to bring up the story I read yesterday about the owners of the building filing a lawsuit against the the contractors that built it, but I’m suddenly lost in the galaxy of lights created by the offices, apartments, and other hotel rooms out the wall of curved glass in front of Caolan and I.
“Every view is different,” Caolan immediately corrects the focus of our conversation to my interests. “This is the second tallest building in Vancouver now, just under 700 feet. It twists about 45 degrees from top to bottom, staggering each room around the building. Each one is in a different position.”
I still remember the day Donald Trump showed up here on a rainy afternoon in June to brand a failed Ritz Carlton hotel and residential development that had been sitting as a dormant parkade in the ground for four years. In his repetitive speech pattern that is now so familiar to me, Trump described Vancouver architect Arthur Erickson’s posthumous design to a gallery of press assembled under a tent meant to keep the weather off everyone there that day.
“It’s interesting, the description, they talk about twisted,” Trump said from a podium while emulating the building’s turn with a rotating gesture of his hand, “and that’s what it’s going to be.” I don’t even think he knew Arthur Erickson’s name, or who he was. Like most of the Trump Organization’s projects, Donald was being used as a marginal partner to some well-meaning licensor to both save and enhance the saleability of real estate. In the case of Trump Vancouver, that licensor was Joo Kim Tiah, a young Malaysian millionaire who formed a Vancouver-based company called Holborn Group for the sole purpose of funnelling huge budgets of his father’s money into projects designed to tap into Vancouver’s proximity to the deep pockets of Asian buyers.
Eight months after Donald’s press conference that was marketed as a “a new twist on luxury,” I saw Ivanka Trump swathed in a beautiful camel coloured coat with a small black leather hand bag hanging off her wrist in the artisanal pickle aisle of the grocery that sits between my place and her dad’s hotel. She was my neighbor. But since Donald Trump became President of the United States her role as a developer of luxury hotel spas has ceased. Although there’s a splashy grand opening planned for Trump Vancouver, and Holborn has been hinting that someone from the immediate family will be in attendance, it’s unlikely anyone close to the President will be back here in an official capacity. Really, all Mr. Tiah has to show for the hell Donald Trump has put him through over the past year is a sixty nine story hotel coated in a brand that’s been left for dead by the man that created it. Now, over the next four years, it’s America’s turn to find out what it’s like to enter into a partnership with Donald Trump
“I’m sure you’ll be very happy here in 1102, Mr. Look,” Caolin says as he makes his way to the door.
“I’ll take very good care of it.”
“Oh, we’re not worried about that,” he says, with the door propped open, “you seem like a pretty trustworthy guy.”
“It’s the suit,” I say quickly, just as the door slams shut, leaving me in the deafening quiet of my room. Outside the city tries to contain the madness of a Friday evening rush hour, but I can’t hear a thing. I’m in an oasis of calm; a temple of refuge; a sanctuary; a place to bathe for prolonged periods with a drink or two. It doesn’t exactly make for crackling journalism so instead, I skip the bath, fix my costume, and keep this charade going in spite of the resounding feeling of no that’s likely as loud as the traffic outside, but I can’t hear either of them.
“There’s a story here. I’ll show everyone,” I say to my Trump-loving character who challenges my gaze in the mirror until I break it for the Trump Champagne Lounge downstairs.
The elevator doors open and I’m greeted by the sound of a Friday night in full swing. I’m surprised. For months I had imagined myself in an empty hotel, where the common spaces are void of life and common sense won out against a desire for food, drink, accommodations and new experiences. I thought I would be writing about a long conversation with my bartending neighbor, while unused opulence surrounds us, about the dismal outlook for this failed hotel now that it’s finally open.
“Mr. Look, I’m Euphemia. Welcome to the Champagne Lounge,” says a woman who greets me while I take one of the few open seats at the bar,
“Sahara would like buy your first round of drinks. Please make yourself at home, order whatever you’d like.” I want to ask Euphemia who the hell all these people are, but I already know the answer: they’re my new neighbors.
A playboy pushing what looks to be about seventy five is sitting beside me in a cerulean blue suit. He’s making eyes with a lone woman of about fifty halfway down the 120ft champagne bar. His hair is pure white and styled in a Wild Orchid-era Mickey Rourke do. He’s coated in jewelry, full of botox, and his legs are spread so far across his bar stool that the outline of his cock can clearly be seen resting on the front portion of his seat like it’s being presented to everyone in the room on a pillow. He’s my neighbor.
A man with a trench coat propped up on his shoulders like it’s a cape — it’s not there for any other reason but to be looked at — walks through the room like it’s a runway. He takes the very last seat at the end of the bar and immediately begins a selfie shoot. He’s my neighbor.
Kim Kardashian, or someone desperately trying to look like her walks into the Champagne Lounge from the front facing entrance just off West Georgia Street. She’s my neighbor. So are the four Persian men sitting on a collection of grey-blue ottomans, staring at each other, saying nothing. Everyone here, laughing, drinking, and eating, who seem to have little issue patronizing a Trump hotel bar during its opening weekend. They’re my neighbors.
Distorted by the slight buzz of gin, and the costume I’m wearing, my purpose here is as ambiguous as everyone in this room.
One of the busy bartenders stops to face me. “Mr. Look, I’m Dequante,” he says, “it’s my understanding that your first drink is on the house. What will it be?” While Dequante makes my Chanel №5 inspired cocktail, my eyes circle around the room again. Hotels provide a temporary license to be someone else, and the capital required to be here, or in my case, lack of it, has made liars of us all.
After another cocktail, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror behind Dequante. Distorted by the slight buzz of gin, and the costume I’m wearing, my purpose here is as ambiguous as everyone in this room. All those editors were right, there’s nothing newsworthy here. There’s nothing “happening.” This is just a hotel. These are just people. This is just a Friday night. This isn’t news, it’s just life.
Back in 1102, I step out into the crisp, cool night air my curving balcony offers while a turndown service is taking place in the bedroom. There’s something about being able to survey the neighborhood you live in from high above that helps you to see your time in it as small and temporary. What used to be a shopping destination has now transformed into boutique luxury retail. There used to be a cabaret where the 7–11 was, now it’s a Prada. The McDonald’s, noodle bar, and all night karaoke lounge is a Versace, and Brunello Cucinelli. And this hotel with me standing on its 11th floor balcony? I have little doubt it’s a blip, a pittance in the history of this city. Trump Toronto is already for sale, and I’m sure this place won’t be far behind, but for now we’ll just have to sit with it.
Morning comes. I’m face down in my bed, fully clothed in the black pinstripe costume I showed up in. The first thing I do is the first thing most people do in a hotel: turn the TV on. CNN is buzzing with news that Donald Trump has barred refugees from entering America. I feel ill, I want out of this place. I get up from bed, make up my face, and zip up my empty suitcase. The door to 1102 slams shut behind me.
Modesty is waiting for me in the lobby downstairs. “Mr. Look, please do come and see us again since you’re so close by,” she says. I tell her to thank Sahara for me, that we’ll likely see each other again, because after all, we’re neighbors. Like my entire stay here though, it’s a lie. I know I’ll never set foot in this place again, at least not while his name is on it.
My stance means nothing, however. The lobby is busy, and I have accepted defeat. A young, generic, American-looking couple stands patiently beside me, waiting to check in. I guess it doesn’t matter what the headlines say, when our eyelids have the weight of a day on them, there will always be someone able to separate politics from a place to rest their weary heads. There is a story here beyond an expensive hotel with great service, it’s just not one people want to read. After all, these aren’t your neighbors, they’re mine.
Leaving the alley the hotel’s lobby is connected to, I come to the dense traffic of West Georgia Street, happy to just be me again. In a few seconds, I’ll round the corner, and my disheveled looking grand dame of an apartment building, with its faded paint and sagging cornice, will come into view. As I stroll across the glass facade of the hotel’s front facing entrance, a barefoot man with swollen feet, and shit all over the hood of his sweatshirt, is yelling at the world around him.
“Ruff! Ruff! Ruff!” he screams to the people in front of the hotel, and in their cars on Georgia Street while he sways back and forth with wild, drug induced abandon, “Ruff! Ruff! Ruff!”
He’s my neighbor.