And that’s when I saw it.

“When you ASSUME, you make an ASS out of U and ME.”


It was September.


I just recently enrolled into fashion design school in, of all places, one of the fashion meccas of the world: Milan, Italy. Was I excited?  Wouldn’t YOU be???


I had already spent a few weeks in Milan during the past summer, when I had gone to check out the school and the city.  In my 24-year-old eyes, I was a savvy traveler, having ventured around Europe by myself off and on, during the past five years. I knew by experience that finding a cheap hostel, without previous bookings, was incredibly easy. You just showed up at the door. A room was always available.


I assumed that it was always that easy.


When I arrived in Milan in September of 1985, suitcase in hand, I went back to the same hostel I had stayed at a month previously. “Sorry, all booked.”, the owner told me. I thought nothing of it. After all, Milan was a big city and there were plenty of hostels around.


There was another one down the street. “Sorry, all booked”, was the answer when I inquired about a room. Off to a third hostel, this time a few blocks away. Same answer. Hmm, this was getting to be not as nice & easy as I assumed. Did I mention? About my suitcase? I was dragging around an elephant-sized piece of baggage with me. I was too much of a snob to carry a back-pack, oh no, not me, I was way too cool to be wearing a back-pack like all those other wide-eyed naive Americans with their Eurail passes in hand. Keep in mind, I was a fashion design student, I loved clothes, and wouldn’t be caught dead trucking around a European city in comfy jeans, a plain T-shirt, and scufed up hiking boots. You can bet that I had as many as my funky outfits that I could stuff into that wheel-less suitcase of mine.


So, with my faithful yet heavy-as-a-ton-of-hippos suitcase in hand, I struggled my way to the 4th hostel. Same answer. The fifth one. C’mon on, Indre, five is your lucky number, isn’t it? Uh-oh. Not this time. This was getting to be a bit frustrating, not to mention extremely annoying.


Why was everything booked? Turns out that precisely the week of my arrival, there were several very important conventions taking place in town. Pre-Google days, there was no way I would have even known about all those conventions before arriving. Unless, of course, I had gone to a travel agency. But no, young 20-somethings didn’t go to travel agencies back then. “Europe on $10-a-day” were our bibles back then, not to be substituted by advice from travel agencies. OK, I told myself, “If there aren’t any cheap hostels with rooms, why not try my luck at an expensive hotel?” I figured that I’d have to really splurge and venture to a one-star hotel. No luck. Two stars. Three stars. Four stars. No. No. And no.


Did this mean I going to sleep out on the street that night??? I was really ready to just sit down and cry. And that’s when I spotted it.


A tiny little hotel, across the street from the train tracks, on the outskirts of town. Kind of scruffy on the outside, dark and dingy on the inside. Did I care? I didn’t even notice. I repeated my same old question. Only that this time, the answer was YES! I couldn’t believe my luck!


I booked 2 nights right there on the spot. I must have been smiling from ear to ear as I gladly handed over my passport and several 1000-lira notes (today’s equivalent of maybe $5).  I felt like crying..again…but this time in relief! Shown to my room, I settled in for the night after the exhausting hotel hunt. I woke up refreshed the next morning, vaguely remembering hearing strange moaning and groaning (or was I just dreaming?) through the paper thin walls during the night. I was much more excited about my prospects of attending my first day at fashion design school, rather  than reminisce about the trails and tribulations of my previous 24 hours.


As I went to hand in my room key for safe-keeping to the guy behind the desk, he promptly looked me up and down with a twinkle in his eye. (For your information, guys always eyed you on the street in Italy, practically undressing you with their stares. Not a comfortable feeling but, heck, I was trying to get used to it. The term “politically correct” hadn’t yet been invented. The vague notion of feminism got confused with the word feminine which basically involved wearing eyeliner à la sex pot Sofia Loren, while cooking oodles of spaghetti for your numerous family members. I was making terms with accepting such behavior as a part of daily life in otherwise amazing Italy.)


“What are you doing in Milan? Why are you alone? “, this dark haired yet decidedly sleazy hotel employee was inquiring, looking rather concerned for my well being. Back in those days, Italian women did not go out alone, much less did they travel alone. I was actually used to being asked in Italy why I wasn’t traveling with my mom & dad (no kidding!). I proudly told him I was a student. “Ah, OK, I see”, he muttered, looking vaguely amused, and let me go on my way, as I was very excited to get to school on time.


After a wonderful day trying my skills as a future famous fashion designer, I got back to my dingy hotel in the early evening and retired for the night, pretty much the same as the previous night. I woke up, vaguely remembered hearing, yet again, all sorts of strange noises coming form the room next door . “Italians really can be loud people”,  I thought to myself.


I was going to check out of the hotel that morning, as I already had the fortune to find a small apartment,  sharing with three Italian students, Giovanna, Sabrina, and Lucia. Not until I was working my way slowly through the hotel exit (don’t forget, I was still dragging that damn suitcase of mine ), that I finally noticed what I had previously overlooked during the exhausting yet utterly exhilarating past two days.


There they were. As plain as that bright sunny autumn morning. Just across the street from the hotel. Several decidedly voluptuous women, tightly clad in mini dresses with  cigarettes dangling from their bright red lips, were shooting furtive glances through their make-up-caked eyes, out onto the street as the traffic whizzed by. I turned around for one last farewell look at the hotel. And that’s when I saw it: a red light bulb hanging above the hotel’s front door.


No wonder the guy at the desk was asking me all those questions!

The quote on the very top is great but this story is just to always, always, always, keep in mind the following:

DON’T make assumptions!

(Last, but definitely not least, here is a BIG thank you to my new internet friend, Judy Yaron with her blog post WORKING GIRLS  for the mega inspiration!)

Have YOU ever made a doh-doh bird assumption in your life? Share your funny (or not-so-funny) story below!




red light bulb