Tuesday, September 25, 2018

"Is This Place Haunted?" pt 3

Autumn weather is slowly coming to the Eastern Sierra; the leaves on the aspen trees are starting to show their gold, the north wind carries a welcomed cooling, and the off-season lull in tourism hangs on the horizon. It's my favorite time of year in the Owens Valley (summertime is too hot and windy, winters are too cold and windy, but autumn is just right... and windy), not just weather-wise but also for reasons a lot of people like autumn; the spooky stuff. 

The closer it gets to Halloween, the more people ask if the hotel I work in is haunted. I tell them some stories that I've heard throughout the years, and the guests enjoy the notion of staying in a haunted hotel in the middle of nowhere while I have fun telling people a bunch of ghost stories. It's been years since anything spooky has happened to me at work, but I saw something earlier tonight that I'm not entirely sure how to explain. 

I think something was in the basement.

There is a door beneath the stairs on the north wing of the hotel that leads into the basement. It's used mostly for storage nowadays, like any other basement, but has a purportedly illicit past; When the hotel was built in the 1920s, prohibition was in full swing, and big name actors from the day often stayed in our little desert oasis. As the story goes, folks like John Wayne and the like would smoke cigars and play poker in a makeshift lounge in the hotel basement where, in a hideaway wall, liquor was stored and served to big name actors. 

I can't say how accurate any of that is, but it makes for a story that guests think is neat, and it explains the hideaway wall down there. Nowadays it's simply a windowless room with faded green paint on wooden panels and word maroon-colored tile floors. Green carpet lines the stairs, and a bare light bulb hangs from the ceiling at the base of them. It may have been dressed up for the public eye before, but not so much anymore. 

Earlier this evening I was walking down the north hall when I noticed light coming from underneath the basement door. We've been decorating for the upcoming film festival, so I figured someone must have forgotten to shut the light off so I didn't think much of it. Later on I was back in the north hallway, running an extra sheet to a guest, when I thought I saw something move behind the basement door. I figured I was just imagining things and that it was looking at the light while walking that made it just seem like something was moving around, but when I walked by after that I only saw light without any movement, and later still I found no light coming from underneath the door at all. 

I rationalized that it was probably just a dead light bulb instead of a dead person. The basement gives me the creeps, sure, but I figure that's just because it's the nature of a creepy old basement to give people the creeps. Curiosity eventually got the better of me so I grabbed the master keys and walked to the basement door. A rush of musty air hit me when I opened it up, and nothing seemed out of place... except the light at the bottom of the stairs was still on. 

The door had been locked, and staff are the only ones with a key. Either there was someone that had locked themselves in that creepy basement and turned the lights out, or something inexplicable was creeping around down there, but regardless I didn't stick around to find out which one it was. I gently closed the door, made sure it was locked, and headed to the front desk because it was too spooky for me and I still needed to do stuff before the end of my shift. 

It's not the most interesting ghost story, as far as ghost stories at this hotel go; it's no phantom waking up guests in the dead of night, or forces turning on lights, or a ghost taking a piss, but it sufficiently spooked me a piqued my curiosity; what's in the basement? A gambler's ghost? An evil spirit? Or just an electrical box, some Christmas decorations, and my runaway imagination?

Whatever it is, it fits well with the autumnal chill.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

AJ's List Of Spookytime Podcasts

Don't freak out, but autumn is only a couple weeks away.

With autumn comes a lot of my favorite things; brisk mornings with coffee, golden leaves falling from the trees, flannel shirts on my back and flannel sheets on my bed, and spooky stuff. Autumn is a goldmine for ghosts and ghoulies in media, and it's no secret that I'm a fan of it year-round. Ever since I was a kid I was interested in extraterrestrials, ghosts, Sasquatch, and everything in-between, and hearing "true" accounts of the paranormal has always tickled my fancy.

Having a fictional scary story is a lot of fun. I like cheesy old horror flicks and modern scary movies a lot, but having the disclaimer of "Based On A True Story" gives me the heebie jeebies more. It adds an air of believably; what if my apartment was haunted (like my last one)? What if I went missing in the woods? If I came across Sasquatch would she think I was cool?! There are quite a few podcasts that cover unusual and eerie things based in reality, and the following is a list of a few of my favorites:


The music is somber and the narration soft, but the content is anything but relaxing. Host Richard McClean Smith tells true tales of unexplained events throughout history, ranging from hauntings to alien abduction to the occult to things that defy any explanation. He presents the evidence without trying to come up with explanations to the events he describes, which leaves the listener to wonder what--or if-- there could be an explanation to the unexplained.
Pairs well with: quiet, rainy afternoons spent tidying up the house with a cup of coffee.

-Astonishing Legends

Have you ever wondered what happened to Amelia Earhart? Or what the Mothman is? Do you like discussion about things that are astonishing, legendary, or astonishingly legendary? Hosts Scott Philbrook and Forrest Burgess, along with the Astonishing Research Corps (A.R.C), dive deep into mysteries and stories on a wide range of topics. Some topics are paranormal, like the Bell Witch and Resurrection Mary, some are potentially extraterrestrial, like the Kelly-Hopkins encounter and the Kecksburg incident, and others are subjects of unsolved mysteries, like Henry Plummer and the Somerton Man. While the topics are sometimes broad, they discuss them in length and leave listeners with a lot of interesting information on the what they present.
Pairs well with: internet wormholes at 3am with a pale ale.

-Haunted Places

It's an audio tour into the most haunted places on earth. Host Greg Polcyn tells stories of the ghosts and spirits that dwell in infamous paranormal locations, like Bodie State Historic Park in California and Bhangarh Fort in Rajasthan, India, among many others. There's a flair for the dramatic to the show, and there are stories that take plenty of creative license, but if you like stories "based off a true story" and old-timey radio drama, you might like this.
Pairs well with: adventurous vacation planning


Also a show on Amazon Prime and a book series, host Aaron Mahnke explores the dark corners of history. With haunting piano music playing in the background, he tells the stories of places and things that have long been in the territory of nightmares, like poltergeists, being buried alive, lake monsters, and more, all with historical context. Each episode is a lesson not only in things that frighten us, but also a look into the human condition and the background of the places we live and visit. It's not so much an in-your-face scare as much as it's a lingering, creeping, unsettling sensation.
Pairs well with: a night in a leather armchair next to the fireplace in an old study with a glass of Syrah.

-Jim Harold's Campfire

I admit, I've only recently given this show a listen, but it hooked me. Jim Harold, a long time player in podcasting, gets calls from listeners who tell their experiences with the paranormal. There's something refreshing about a ghost story presented as an experience instead of a means to give someone the heeby-jeebies, and this podcast is just that; callers laying out what they experienced. They're the kind of stories I get at work from guests sometimes, and I think it's a lot of fun.
Pairs well with: a commute in need of some spooky talk radio.

There are a lot of great podcasts that fit the mold of "paranormal nonfiction" but this is a good starting point to get you primed and ready for haunted houses and cemeteries in the weeks to come.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Old Hotels, pt. 1: Cooling

Working in an old hotel is definitely an experience. Having been in operation for nearly a century, the property I work at is a Spanish-revival throwback to the old west movie days of the 1920s and '30s. It's a neat place; every room is unique, quaint, and furnished and decorated in period style, so it's an easy sell for anyone who wants to take a trip back in time while also not being too far away from satellite TV and WiFi.

However, one thing about travelling back in time to 1920s California; summers are, and always have been, hot. It's California. This property is specifically in the California desert, straddling the border of Death Valley, so it gets pretty hot during the summer months. To remedy this, the hotel installed a state-of-the-art cooling system in 1930 to beat the heat. Our property was featured in the manufacturer's ads because of how impressive the machine was back when it was built.

Then again, it was state-of-the-art in 1930. Since then we've put people on the moon, created a vaccine for polio, built computers that can hold the whole of human knowledge and can make phone calls that fit in your pocket (assuming you're not wearing women's jeans, what's up with that?), and, most importantly to my point, developed modern HVAC systems.

The hotel is centrally heated by steam radiator and centrally cooled by evaporative cooling. That means, while there's heating and cooling, there's no climate control. Half the folks that inquire about rooms scoff at the idea of not having a thermostat of their own; after all, we're in the 21st century, a guest should have their room as balmy or frigid as they please. The other half don't care, so long as there's air, except most of those people end up caring when the realization kicks in that they can't control the heat or cooling.

Most nights, especially around June and September, guests will come down to say their room is too hot or too cold, usually within five minutes of each other and usually within a couple doors of one another. European tourists apparently like to sleep in warm spaces while folks from the US like to sleep cool, and it boggles the mind to think that two rooms that are nigh identical can be both too warm and too cold. It's Schrodinger's room climate. The three bears from Goldilocks come to mind too, because there's more often than not at least one asshole who overhears someone telling the front desk staff the room is too warm/cold and he pipes up with a "Nah, it's juuuuust right! They're super comfy! Gosh I love it here!' before sauntering off to bother someone else.

My job is fine, don't get me wrong, but I do honestly lose sleep over how much I wish I worked in a place where people all could control their room temperature. I daydream about working in a hotel that didn't have a century-old throwback with century-old setbacks. I try to imagine what it must be like to not have to explain that, no, you can't make the air colder, and no, you can't turn it down, and no, you can't make it quieter, and no, we don't have any rooms available in the motel this evening with personal a/c. Maybe it's ghosts making the rooms too cold. Maybe being out in the sun on Mt. Whitney or in Death Valley has tourists roasted so it only seems like the room is too hot.

One thing's for sure; I'm super ready for that two week window where the weather isn't too hot or too cold that neither the heat and cooling have to be on.