Two men, freshly showered and still full from the brunch buffet, relaxed in 66-degree air conditioning Sunday, as an action movie played on the flat-screen television and a maid arrived to deliver fresh towels to their hotel room overlooking the glimmering high rises of North Bethesda.
For Robert Slay, 60, and Rudy Shafer, 58, the luxury hotel room was one block but a world away from their usual daytime hangout: a covered bus stop on Rockville Pike at Nicholson Lane, where the black metal bench baked in the recent triple-digit afternoon heat. The hotel’s beds, each topped with four fluffy pillows and whisper-soft white comforters, provided a respite from the sleeping bags in the woods where the men said they usually camp out and awake to the summer sun in their eyes.
Slay and Shafer have spent the past three nights in the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel & Conference Center, with all expenses paid by two sisters who worried how the two homeless men they had befriended would survive the blistering heat.
Slay said he almost didn’t believe it when Shafer told him Friday about the sisters’ offer.
“Rudy said Miffi and Jani were getting us a room at the Marriott,” Slay said, his face gaunt and weathered. “I said ‘Oh really?’ I was just getting ready to sack out under a shade tree to keep cool. It was a hot afternoon.”
Jani and Miffi Bedrick, both of North Bethesda, said they are paying $150 to $200 per night to put Slay and Shafer up at the hotel until the oppressive heat breaks. Miffi Bedrick said they wanted the men, who they knew disliked staying in shelters, to be able to take a shower and rest up, “to make them feel human again.”
“If I were out there on a bench, I’d love for someone to put me in a hotel for four days,” Miffi Bedrick said. “It would show me someone cared.”
The sisters, both professional actresses, said they chose the Bethesda North Marriott to keep the men in a familiar area. Jani Bedrick said she met Slay about four years ago when he was living in the alley behind her apartment building. She said she began bringing him food and eventually introduced him to her sister, who shared Slay’s love of singing.
“I’d see him all the time,” Jani Bedrick said. “He always had a smile on his face. He’d say, ‘Don’t think of me as homeless. This is my home.’ ”
Eventually, the women began bringing Slay sandwiches several times a week. “He always wanted to share,” Miffi Bedrick said. “He’d say, ‘My friend’s hungrier. Give it to him.’ ”
Soon, the sisters said, they also began bringing sandwiches to Shafer and the several other homeless men who congregated at the bus stop bench. They said their mother, who was a government social worker when they were growing up in Massachusetts, talked often about giving to the needy and regularly gave her own money to her welfare clients.
Jani said she had previously thought of how nice it would be to help Slay spend some time in a hotel. On Friday morning, as the temperature began to soar to record highs, she and her sister decided the time had come.
“People told us a hotel would never take them, that they wouldn’t want homeless people around,” Jani Bedrick said.
Miffi said she was surprised at the Marriott management’s warm welcome. The sisters have since brought the men new underwear and socks. On Sunday, Shafer wore a new pair of shorts, his first this summer.
“Being out in that 100-degree weather is rough,” said Shafer, who said he takes medicine for high blood pressure. “I get tired in the heat, and it takes a lot out of me. I’m getting too old for that stuff.”
Shafer said he has relished getting to watch television, while Slay said he loves the hotel’s cool air. “I even got under the covers last night,” Slay said.
The sisters have brought the men pizza and Chinese takeout for dinner.
“If you need something, I have $13,” Slay offered, as the foursome discussed Sunday night’s dinner options.
“That’s okay,” Miffi said.
It is, after all, a temporary respite. Both men said they are ready to return to life on the streets. Shafer said he doesn’t worry about dying outside in the summer like he does in the winter. Slay said he’ll strap his red thermos to the bottom of his wheelchair, pack up his bags and head back to the bus stop and the woods.
Just before the foursome’s visit wrapped up on Sunday afternoon, Jani Bedrick’s cellphone beeped with a weather alert.
“They’re saying a severe thunderstorm is forecasted for tonight,” she said, reading from her text messages.
“It is?” Slay asked, looking up suddenly from a book of Friedrich Nietzsche’s writings open in his lap.
“But you’ll be here,” Miffi Bedrick reminded him. “You’ll be safe in here.”