I muttered, “Come back later,” through my toothbrush, but the knuckle rap got louder.
“Yes?” I cracked open the door and peeked through.
“I have Pringles for you.”
“I didn’t ask for–”
“–but I have to take away the vodka.”
This was getting too weird to enjoy through a crack. I wrapped the belt around my Palace Hotel bathrobe, flung open the door, and asked the man to come in. He was wearing a crisp vest and holding a can of Pringles.
“Is this a new turndown service? Instead of chocolate, you put chips on my pillow? Sounds messy, and kind of sharp in between the sheets.”
“No,” he laughed, “it’s for the minibar! “ He explained that he was replacing little bottles of vodka with Pringles.
“At 9pm? Is this an emergency? Quick, get that man in room 312 a pretzel!”
I finally figured out the switch. Russian tourists have stopped coming to New York. The ruble cratered last year, and the economy is shrinking 3.5 percent this year. The Palace is seeing more Berthas from Birmingham than Boris’s. Vodka and chips can both be made from potatoes; so it doesn’t matter much to the potato farmers. For the retailers and hoteliers, though, chips and dip are outselling caviar, blini and Stoli.
Years ago I proposed marriage to my wife at the Russian Tea Room. I hope they haven’t swapped out the good stuff.