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


Joy Bricker, 79. (John Kelly/THE WASHINGTON POST)
John Kelly
Columnist October 26, 2011

Joy Bricker certainly tested the limits of the “extended stay” hotel. Ten years ago — on Aug. 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.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

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.

Soon it’s gonna rain ...

The setting: the corner of 20th and M streets NW. The characters: a hot dog vendor and his customers.

The sky darkened, and it started to sprinkle. The vendor emerged from his metal carapace, surveyed the sky, then pulled out a crumpled blue plastic tarp. This he heaved onto the roof of his mobile eatery before pausing briefly to sell a granola bar.

That customer satisfied, the hot dog man went back to the task at hand. He tugged at the corners of the tarp, unfolding it till it covered the racks of Doritos and Lay’s, the trays of Juicy Fruit and Snickers. He spread out the tarp, pushing two umbrellas emblazoned with “Sabrett” through holes in the blue plastic.

He stopped to sell a soda.

He ran his hands along the lip of the tarp, which was now a brim, then lashed it down with bungee cords.

The rain started in earnest, and he reentered his warm, dry lair, reminding me of a trapdoor spider, waiting.

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