A (Really) Hot Bath in Hot Springs

So, I’m in Austin now. And with the move and all the travel this year I’m a bit low on funds, which has made my one new place one weekend of every month plan take a bit of a backseat to the adventure of moving to this awesome city. I still plan on getting back to travel, and will be updating this blog with stories that I’ve had in the backlog from past adventures in the meantime. I’m going to start with one of my favorites from my last trip to Hot Springs. This has been sitting in my draft box for far too long, hence the old date references. Hope you enjoy:

So…we’re fast approaching the end of April, which means I’m well overdue for writing about my March trip. Whoops. I also have yet to write about all of San Francisco’s shenanigans from my trip back in February. Well, as my dad says, I’ll have to get ’round to it. Can’t stress too much ’bout those ’round-to-its, or they’ll eat you alive.

Here’s a story about my travels last month that I’m able to get ’round to today, more to come by-and-by:

The trip was to Hot Springs, Arkansas, mostly because after spending maybe just a bit too much on the last few trips, my bank account required a destination that would only cost me a tank of gas and night’s hotel stay. I pulled up Google maps one afternoon and scanned cities that looked close to Dallas that might be fun to try, and Hot Springs popped up. Further internet research told me that the city was known as a place for relaxation, and that its main drag was called “bathhouse row” and featured Roman-style baths and spas. That definitely sounded like something I needed in my life! I booked a room on Priceline that same day.

Nearly everyone I talked to about the trip told me I had to stop by this famous, historic hotel while I was there: The Arlington. I looked it up, discovered that it was also a spa, and decided I’d do one better. Not only would I stop by this iconic hotel in the heart of bathhouse row, I would bathe in this hotel! Roman-style! Whatever that meant! And I made that the goal of my trip.

This is how I found myself standing in a dressing room in Hot Springs, AK, helplessly holding a linen sheet and puzzling about what I was going to do with it. A woman who explained to me that she would be my “bath attendant” had given it to me, asked that I undress and wrap the sheet around myself toga-style, and left.

This linen sheet presented issues that I had never encountered with the robes one gets in a traditional spa setting. I spent probably ten minutes struggling with the sheet in the dressing room, trying to recall how in the hell I’d ever dressed myself for toga parties back in college. Failing to summon that memory, I finally gave up and wrapped it around my body and tucked it in under my arms bath-towel style.

This is probably in my head, but upon leaving the dressing room and facing my bathing attendant, I saw what I thought looked like a flicker of disappointment on her face about my attire.

But this bath wasn’t about her, was it? So, I ignored the look, and followed her to my private bath quarters, essentially a small room that was separated from the main room by a shower curtain. The tub was filling with water, and she invited me to step on in.

I hesitated. And not just because I was about to strip for a stranger.

The tub had probably been state-of-the-art at some point in history, when Hot Springs was in its heyday. But present day 2014, the copper faucet was badly corroded copper. And there was a cylindrical device actually in the water that was the same disturbing green-crusty copper material. So, gross-looking, while probably entirely sanitary. Emphasis on probably.

But then I realized I’d driven several hours for this experience, and I was not about to get squeamish over a little corrosion. I took my failed-toga sheet off, and got in.

The water was uncomfortably hot. My bath attendant asked me how I liked the temperature, and I told her that it was a bit warm for my taste, but that I’d probably get used to it. And she believed me.

But, hell, I believed myself. I mean, isn’t half the fun of a hot bath or a hot tub the shock of the heat and the eventual settling into it? More to come on this mistake on both our parts later.

I asked her about the cylindrical thingy, and she told me, “That’s the whirlpool,” and turned it on. Sure enough, that little piece of 1960s technology could blow some bubbles. I had trouble fighting its current, it blew so hard. I also acted as if this was something I’d get used to, because I believed it was, too.

She asked me to sit up, so I did, fully conscious of being again completely exposed to this stranger, but, I was here for an experience, and dammit I was going to get it. She then put a wooden board behind me. A. Wooden. Board. This was supposed to support my back. It did, in a way. A very uncomfortable way.

Then, she took a Dixie cup and, to my horror, filled it with water from the corroded faucet and offered it to me.

Experience, I told myself. You’re here for the experience.

I took it from her, drank a sip, and tried to smile. It was, after all, fresh water, straight from a goddamn spring. Wasn’t that neat? It was neat. Really neat. Neat, neat, neat. I swallowed.

And then she left me and told me she’d be back to look in on me.

So I sat there, trying not to be blown to the left of the tub from the strength of the current, and told myself, wasn’t this nice. A real bath in a tub that was slightly larger than the one I had back at my apartment.

And then I focused my energies on trying to ignore the nearly suffocating heat. But rather than cooling off the water with air, the whirlpool seemed to make things even hotter. I became increasingly light-headed, until soon I felt like I was in real danger of passing out.

I considered how embarrassing would it be, really, to just leave right now. Like I’d done that one time I’d tried a boot camp class. I mean, that had been bad, walking out in the middle of a group class, but I’d survived and had ultimately never seen those people again. I could leave this little shower-curtained room behind and never look back.

But I wanted to see this through. This was supposed to be relaxing, dammit. Maybe there would be a moment of epiphany stored away in all of this that I could only get to by going through these first minutes of discomfort.

I stuck my legs out. And then my arms. So, I was about 40% out of the tub at this point, just my torso remaining, nearly flush against the left wall of the tub thanks to the force of the whirlpool’s current, wooden board floating atop the water and knocking me in the back every now and then.


I stayed this way for probably twenty minutes. My bathing attendant eventually did come in to check on me, and I quickly shoved my limbs back in the water and feigned a relaxation mode, lest I disappoint her. Not sure why that was my reaction, but, it was. As I’ve mentioned in other blog posts, I have a real people-pleasing problem.

“How’s the water?” she asked.

“Oh, it’s great. But, can I get a glass of ice water?”

“You’ll have one with you’re out, honey,” she told me, and then she walked away.

And I thought, My God, where am I? And, If this had ever happened in Dallas—then I had to stop myself short. Because the last thing in the world I’d ever wanted to be was a high-maintenance Dallas stereotype. And here I was. Bitching about a bath. I bit my tongue.

True to her word, when she did come to get me out, I got a glass of water. And then another. And then another. And then she wrapped me in hot towels and told me to lie down.

Those towels. They were the last thing I needed. I thought I would really be sick this time. The heat was so intense. I probably would have been, but the coup de grace of the treatment included an ice-cold washcloth over the face. And that was actually AMAZING.

But it was no sort of epiphany—and was certainly not worth the nearly hour-long discomfort I’d suffered to get it.

I lay there, completely covered in towels, for about thirty minutes, until she asked me if I would like fresh hot towels.

I politely declined, and got the hell out and headed to my hotel—because the only thing I wanted in the world after that bath was a shower.

More about the hotel (bless its heart) and its Cajun restaurant I was refused service from in my next post.




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