James leads me into one of the two “cooling rooms” which is an ironic name for a room in a building with no air conditioning IN JULY. He says that my last stop on the journey is the Swedish massage, but I should lay here (on more tables!) until the masseuse is ready for me. I spread out my coveted sheet over one of the tables, ensure that my towel is wrapped snug and tight around my waist, and proceed to wait.
Long enough for me to wonder if someone had forgotten about me. Granted, I did feel physically better than when I walked in, but my pride had taken a beating at this point. There were drawings around the Cooling Room of the early days of the bathhouse. I asked myself whether any of those gentlemen in the picture would believe that we’re still doing the same thing decades later. You’d think with modern conveniences, our choice of relaxation options would advance beyond turn-of-the-century activities. Not so much, really.
Just as I’m beginning to feel nostalgic, “Handy Hank” calls me from the Cooling Room back to the massage table. Once again, how bad could it be? I’ve only had a massage once in my life (largely because I had a coupon), and it was from a woman and I was wearing ample underwear and the lighting was low enough to create the perception of comfort. Not so here.
“Handy Hank” looked like he could have been a football coach in his younger years. Let’s be honest: no staff member I had seen was under 50. The room was a lovely shade of stark white with lighting bright enough to make Las Vegas seem excessive. There were no secrets in this place.
I hop on the table (gracefully keeping my towel in check) and tell “Handy Hank” that no particular area has been giving me any trouble. This was an attempt to speed up the process. “Handy Hank” was a lot like James in assuming that we were much closer friends than I thought.
I spent the next twenty minutes getting a rub down by Bobby Knight’s look-alike. When it’s over, I thank him, peel myself off of the table and headed back to my original locker room. Only my personal belongings separated me from the rest of the world, and I would soon be reunited with those. I threw on my clothes, checked out at the desk and walked out of Buckstaff feeling like I did after going snipe hunting for the first time in youth group: not a completely terrible experience, but one I may not have done had I known all the facts going in.
As I walked down the main drag in Hot Springs, I began processing through the previous two hours. “Did I actually do that? Did that really just happen? How many people are going to give me a hard time about this?” Knowing that I’d be meeting up with Andrew and Virginia soon, there was no way I could act like nothing ever happened. Had I been to Hot Springs by myself, you may have never even known about it. So I decided to write it all down, if for nothing more than to provide a more complete picture than what I had.
So, would I recommend the bathhouse experience? Actually, I would, as long as you know what you’re getting into. The experience itself—the whirlpool, the hot towels, the shower—were actually pretty relaxing, and the step back in time was worth it. Just be prepared to have your modesty and your will tested. Now, would I do it a second time? The jury is still out.
My sincerest of thanks to you if you’ve read all the way through this! I hope you enjoyed it. What’s the craziest travel story you have?