Going on-line in a hotel room can be a battle. Sometimes it's better that way

The first thing I do when I check into a hotel room is look for plugs. I inspect the outlets next to the writing table to see if there's a free one in which to plug my laptop's electrical cord. I upend the phone to see if it has a data jack built directly into its base. If not, I drop to all fours and crawl around looking for an extra data jack in the wall or floor to plug my modem into.

But here's what I usually find: an electrical outlet full of plugs, extension cords, and a rat's nest of crossed wires on one side of the room, near the table, and a phone on the other side of the room, next to the queen-size bed. The bed is so incredibly unmovable that even if there were an extra wall jack behind it, neither I nor the team of ranting football players running up and down the hotel corridors could get at it.

So the queen-size bed becomes my desk whenever I need to download my E-mail. But first I have to unplug the cord that goes into the phone and plug it into the data jack on my laptop. Of course I can't keep my computer plugged in while doing that because the electrical outlet is over by the writing table. That means I drain the battery on my computer while I'm typing away on my queen-size desk. The phone invariably has one of those red lights that blinks when there's a message waiting at the front desk. But when I unplug the cord from the phone, I lose not just phone service but also the blinking-red-light capability. To regain juice and voice communication with the outside world, I must remember when I'm done to disconnect the modem, reconnect the phone, carry the laptop across the room, turn it off, guess which plug is safe to remove from the crowded wall outlet, plug in the laptop, and wait for it to recharge.

OK. So maybe I'm asking for too much. Maybe it's too much to expect hotels to anticipate the needs of a weary business traveler who just wants to be able to use his phone and computer simultaneously -- without worrying about putting his hard drive, or hip, at serious risk when he rolls over in bed at night. I know, I know. I should appreciate a comfortable mattress, a well-stocked minibar, and a television that gets reception. But I -- and I know I'm not alone -- have a visceral need to stay connected. Not because I really need to but because, in theory at least, I can.

So there I was not long ago, sitting on the lanai outside my 17th-floor room looking out on a beautiful canyon in southern California. Really, they called it a lanai on the sticker that asked me to lock the lanai door for extra security. Security from what? Spiderman? I didn't recall his predilection for lanais high up in hotels. But I do what stickers tell me, and I locked my lanai whenever I wasn't in the room. When I was in the room, I spent as much time on the lanai as possible -- drinking my morning coffee, reading the Wall Street Journal, but mostly sitting back, putting my feet up on the glass-topped table, and gazing off into the canyon.

But then I decided to push my luck. I took my laptop out to the lanai. I put it on the glass-topped table. Surely the hotel's owners and managers knew that the sun-drenched lanai would be the workplace of choice for most people. All right. Maybe it's reasonable that there's no phone outlet out there. But no electrical outlet on the lanai? What were they thinking? With all the planning that goes into high-rise hotels, no one anticipated a lanai-based electrical need? I was incensed but not beaten. I figured I could call down for an extension cord and run a wire from the writing table out the door onto the lanai and into the back of my laptop.

Finding the phone dead (I'd forgotten to plug it in again) made me pause long enough to realize how ridiculous I was acting. I had nearly missed the message the lanai was sending me. The lanai is not meant for work. It is not meant to be wired. It's a sacred place, a place for reflecting not downloading. And that's exactly how I found myself: high in a hotel in Los Angeles, taking in the breeze off the canyon and reflecting on why there's no on-line directory of hotels that are wired to meet the needs of a traveler and his laptop.

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Jeffrey L. Seglin (jeff.seglin@inc.com) is an editor-at-large at Inc. magazine.