Mr. Chatterbox

By staff February 1, 2002

Isn't that Ritz something? Everybody in town is talking about it, throwing in their two cents, and I must say the reaction is overwhelmingly favorable, with the possible exception of Joan Altabe (although now I understand that even she has changed her mind) and that poor girl whose wedding reservation they misplaced-.

Certainly the whole town turned up for the opening. It was held at 9:30 in the morning, and by 9:25 a backup of Mercedes and BMWs clogged the driveway. The parking staff had worked itself into a frenzy. People were dressed as if for a wedding, and the brand-newness of everything, the sheen of the freshly applied paint, the just-planted palms with their wooden training sticks still on-well, it looked just like a movie set. It reminded me of the opening of a Robert Altman movie. You can already tell that it's going to be wonderful no matter what happens.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony introduced all the stars. And the leading role fell to charismatic general manager Carter Donovan. She handled everything with great aplomb and panache, even when her boss, Ritz chairman Bob Tiefel (stepfather of our very own Linda DesMarais), pointed out as he was at the podium about to make his speech that she hadn't set up enough chairs. Then, in a brilliant visual display of exactly what was happening, they had the very first guests drive up-a lovely couple on some sort of anniversary-get out of their Lincoln, supervise the collection of their luggage, and then proceed through the front door.

Well, the crowd went wild. They surged forward, over a thousand of them-through the door, into the lobby, through the lounge, then the veranda, then down a sweeping stairway into the garden overlooking the marina. Along the way the procession was applauded enthusiastically by lines of employees on each side. In the garden, champagne and hors d'oeuvres awaited. I didn't understand the enormity of what was going on until I got a load of the hors d'oeuvres. They were different-like the ones with water chestnuts and caviar. We suddenly have a whole new kind of hors d'oeuvres in town!

As I nibbled, I overlooked the crowd. Everybody was there- Michael Saunders; Christine Jennings (with her hair in a twist; her bank was one of the lenders, and she was ready to party); Eileen Curd (who bought one of the condos); Bettina von Walhof, wearing her new American flag pin they had in the paper; Bob Buford, the mysterious owner from Kansas City, who wore a jacket with a Western cut; Michael Klauber and Phil Mancini, checking out the competition; and Steve Katzman, who wore leather pants and green glasses. There was only one celebrity missing.

"Where's your dog?" called out Kerry Kirschner, obviously feeling no pain at 10 in the morning.

Peanut. Of course! He would love this place. He's quite the traveler, you know. He's been to Memphis, Nashville, Key West, New York. He no longer flies, not since that unfortunate case of "doggie air rage" involving him and a Southwest boarding agent, but he'll drive anywhere. Now, if you travel with a dog, you know what an ordeal it can be finding a place that takes pets. Rather than trek from hotel to hotel, you learn to just look for a Motel 6. That's part of their sales pitch-they take pets. And now just think-from Motel 6 to the Ritz-Carlton in one fell swoop.

The boss didn't seem to "get" the idea. "Why should Peanut stay at the Ritz?"

"Because," I sputtered.

"Because why?"

"Because," I said, my voice rising, "If Peanut doesn't stay at the Ritz it means the terrorists have won!"

The Ritz told me that, yes, they do accept pets under certain conditions; and that, yes, Peanut met those conditions, although a substantial deposit would be required to cover any possible damage. I quickly agreed, as in all his Motel 6 days Peanut has not done one untoward thing, even when he was locked in the room for 24 hours straight while I was at a casino in Vegas and just couldn't seem to break away.

We had to wait a couple of days until they had a vacancy, but on the appointed afternoon, Peanut and I drove up. He had all his things packed in his black knapsack-food and water bowls, vitamins, doggie raincoat and a GI Joe, which he uses as a chew toy. The staff was very gracious as we checked in; and up in the room there was a little welcome bag for both me (notepad, chocolates and a trivet with a picture of the hotel) and Peanut (dog biscuits and Arfmani Dog Cologne).

It certainly was bliss relaxing in the room. The view to the north over the marina was quite spectacular, and the bed extremely comfortable, dressed, as it was, with the finest of duvets and linens. My favorite part was the bathroom, all marble and packed with amenities, which I swept off the shelves and into my toilet kit.

As a special treat for my parents I invited them to dinner in the El Vernona dining room. It's very traditional and elegant, unlike any other place in Sarasota, and a nice change for when you're sick of casual elegance and want some formal elegance. I had the steak (superb) and my father ordered the rack of lamb. It turned out to be such a large rack that he couldn't finish it, so I took it upstairs in a doggie bag.

It was so cozy turning in that night. The lights of the Hyatt shone in the distance and the softness of the bedding began to lull me to sleep. The only sound was the soft purr of the air conditioning, interspersed every now and then with a delicate little noise I couldn't identify at first but then in a flash of horror realized was the gagging sound Peanut makes right before he throws up.

The lamb!

I jumped out of that bed so quickly the poor dog was terrified and began to run around the room, gagging as I chased him, running through my legs as I tried to herd him out onto the balcony. Peanut's one bad habit, attested to by all whose homes he has visited, is his uncanny ability to vomit on the most expensive thing in the room. And here we were in the Ritz and I'd put a $250 pet deposit down! Then, through the grace of a benevolent God, who has interceded all too infrequently in my career, he suddenly stopped and began to vomit, not on the carpet but on a copy of the Herald-Tribune that I had happened to leave lying on the floor. I always knew that paper was good for something. It's a miracle, a Ritz-Carlton miracle. I have a feeling that Sarasota and the Ritz are going to get along great.

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