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The Carter Hotel, New York - possibly the worst hotel in the world
By Martin Kelner on Sep 6, 2006 - 11:03:00 PM

There are a number of vintage shitty hotel gags, beloved of comedians of the Workers’ Playtime era, like:

“We had to make our own beds. I wouldn’t mind, but they gave us the wood and the nails.”;

“The bed bugs were so big, we were biting THEM.”;

“The bed was full of enormous roaches” “Well, move it away from the wall” “We did, but they kept dragging it back again.” “Well, throw some oil over them.” “We did, and they came out on motor bikes.”

And so on, and so forth.

Any or all of those jokes might be applicable to New York’s Carter Hotel, a 700-room combination hell-hole/cockroach and streptococcus nature reserve at the heart of New York’s exciting Manhattan.

Let me explain how I happened not to stay at the Carter Hotel.

I was in Trenton, New Jersey, attending the wedding of one Jake Yapp, comic genius and talented musician/composer (he is responsible for quite a few of the jingles on Martin Kelner’s Late Thing including: “In some ways he’s like a giant tortilla, He’s gonna keep you up all night.” “He’s the man who put the fist in sophistication,” “It’s a longer show for much less dough..” “After all these years, he’s back inside your ears,” and so on).

Trenton is a small town, and like many American small towns, terminally dull, so as I was due to fly back from Kennedy airport on the Monday, I thought it might be an idea to spend a day in Manhattan, possibly meeting up with New York cabbie Peter Franklin.

Jake’s parents, Nick and Ruby, thought it sounded a good plan, and deputed me to pop into the public library and book us each a room in New York via the internet. I sussed out the Holiday Inn, 57th Street, and other reputable chains, to find they were charging around $300 a room, which seemed a little excessive after all the costs of attending a wedding, and given that we only had a few hours to spend in the city.

Apparently, it was Fashion Week in New York, and demand for rooms was outstripping supply, so prices, as often happens in New York, were hiked up. I think it’s called capitalism.

Anyway, I was charged with finding something more economical, which is how the Carter Hotel came into the equation, $268 for two rooms. We will only be there for a short time, I rationalised. How bad can it be? I was soon to find out.

I ought to add that I have stayed in so-called “budget” hotels in New York before, most recently the Edison Hotel, also quite near Times Square, and the story is usually quite a familiar one; a fairly impressive art deco lobby, a faded reminder of the glory of Manhattan in the forties and fifties, and then upstairs a habitable if not particularly attractive bedroom; worn carpets, stained curtains, but, you know, plenty of hot water and fully functioning air conditioning.

Back in 1971, as a backpacker on my first trip to America armed with an early equivalent of the Rough Guide, I stayed at the 42nd Street Motor Hotel, which I believe was the cheapest hotel in New York at the time, so I am no stranger to travelling on a budget, but nothing prepared me for the Carter Hotel.

At the check-in desk – which is behind bullet-proof glass for obvious reasons – the two functionaries, one of whom was a reasonably pleasant gent, possibly Honduran, who spoke a little English, the other, the senior partner, a small sour Oriental woman (not sweet ‘n’ sour, just sour), were either unwilling or unable to find any record of my internet booking, and demanded another payment.

“No voucher, he pay,” was the woman’s oft-repeated machine-gun mantra. Reluctantly, I surrendered my Visa card, from which another $130 was extracted for one room. I had already decided not to stay in the place, but the matter was complicated by the fact that I had a rental car, in which I was carrying Nick and Ruby’s luggage – they were travelling independently by train - so I needed a room in which to put their luggage to await their arrival.

After surrendering a further dollar for the card key, I went up to the room to find a pile of greying bedding on a cupboard and two bare mattresses propped up on ‘phone books. They looked like they might have been rescued from what our American friends call a dumpster. From the stains on these mattresses you could construct a fairly interesting if improbable narrative, which would involve illegal abortions, dawn gun battles, and decades of incontinence.

We – I was travelling with Jake’s friends Pete and Ellie - quickly covered them with the sheets and the grey duvets, inspected the bathroom with the cracked sink and the rust marks around the plug holes, and left. One interesting interior decoration point was that the room had a two-foot wide strip of carpet stapled to the wall. Why? I have heard of rugs being used as wall decorations, but never a strip of carpet. I have news for the Carter Hotel, if it was intended to brighten up the place, it wasn’t working.

Pete and Ellie said they had seen worse, but that was in Rangoon and cost a dollar a day, a neat illustration of the fact that America, however much we love it, is more or less a third world country. The coexistence of extreme, almost unimaginable, wealth and grinding poverty is the surest indicator.

While in New Jersey, I drove from Red Bank to Asbury Park through places on the Jersey Shore like Long Branch, Rumson, where I believe Bruce Springsteen has a place, and Monmouth Beach, past mile after mile of the most remarkable neo-colonial palaces, with long gravel driveways, manicured lawns, the odour of money filling the air.

There is a road in Hampstead dubbed “Millionaires’ Row,” but you are talking there about a dozen or so houses…..

Footnote: At this point I finished writing the blog and possibly continued it elsewhere, but I think I was on the point of some shitty rich people gags like: “This guy is so rich, he has his lawns cut by Vidal Sassoon.”

Come the revolution!

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