9 insights from Jacob Tomsky’s memoir “Heads in Beds”


I am no stranger to hotel rooms. All through middle school, high school and college I participated in competitive speech and debate (and then for 3 more years I stuck around to coach it). This meant most weekends I was packing up panty hose, pajamas and pearls, hopping in a plane or a bus or a van and checking into a hotel for 2-5 day tournaments in  cities not my own. Which is why when I heard a segment on NPR about Jacob Tomsky’s book “Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles and So-Called Hospitality” it went straight on my reading list. Did front-desk clerks really sell keys to rooms in shady “under the table” deals like a certain unnamed DOF was so sure of? How dirty ARE those sheets and were we right to check for bed bugs upon arrival? Why in Jesus’ name did those key cards stop working at the most inopportune moment?!? While Tomsky’s book covers accommodations on the more luxury end, it is certainly eye opening and titillatingly honest for any reader who has been met with the question, “Checking in?’

I thought I would share some insights from his tale. Here are nine!

On free snacks- Check into your room and empty the mini-bar into your suitcase, smoke a cigarette in the room and then call down to the front desk complaining of a strong smell of smoke. You will be switched to a new room and there will be no way of tracing those purchases to you.

On the powers of furniture polish Housekeeping frequently uses furniture polish on the mirrors to get a streak-free look. Where else does this tactic come in handy? The water glasses. Ever notice there isn’t any dish soap on a housekeeper’s cart? Yet, she is responsible for cleaning those glasses at the end of your stay.

On the oldest profession “Like milk and cereal: whores and hotels.”

On polite ways to decline help from a bellman “I can go up alone, but thanks anyways.” “No thank you, but I appreciate it.” “I think I would rather just go up alone, if that’s okay.”

On bellmen’s love of bricks (aka $100 bills) The bottom right corner of the new $100 bill features a color-shifting 100 that is slightly raised. This can be used by bellmen to convince unsuspecting desk clerks that a one-hundred dollar bill has such POWER that they can pick one out of a line up even when blind-folded…or you could use it as a neat parlour trick.

On the AAA Diamond ranking There are certain amenities a hotel must boast in order to receive the elusive fifth diamond, including; pool, full spa, TVs larger than a specified minimum in each room and long dead bolts on doors.

On booking online Booking your stay through a third party website pretty much guarantees you the worst room possible. But…

On how to get the best room regardless “Just hand over a twenty at check-in and say, Give me something nice.””

On the bottom line As a guest, politeness is key and money talks. Be kind to staff, tip who you can and who knows? You may come back to your room to discover a complimentary bottle of vino or stumble your way into a suite upgrade. Have a great stay!


Do you stay in hotels a lot? I don’t really anymore but for a good chunk of time there it felt like I lived in them. Have you read this book? Would you? I highly recommend it!


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