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  • The Historic Hotel Darfur has an open lobby, a welcoming tall-ceilinged expanse. On the wooden, original turn-of-the-century delicate stairs lies tough, multi-colored dark blue specked carpet leading up to the guest rooms. On the seventh step of the Hotel Balch sits a sign centered on the stair facing the entrance to the hotel. The sign is almost at eye-level with an unblinking sans serif, all caps message.: HOTEL GUESTS ONLY. The font is bold. A black border frames the stern declaration. Scuff marks obscure the O, the E, and the L from hotel guests' shuffling feet. The G is worse for wear. Small nails protrude from each corner of the sign. HOTEL GUESTS ONLY serves as an invitation to some and an admonition to others. The bottoms of the letters of the words "HOTEL GUESTS" are slightly damaged. Only the word ONLY is in tact.

    The sign makes us choose our transitory identity. I'm a hotel guest until I'm not. I'm a weary traveler-turned-hotel-guest-turned traveler. Hotel guests are in a state of transformation. A stranger, a guest, a name in a guest book, a TripAdvisor comment, a referral source of business, perhaps a hotel guest, again. But only in my state of HOTEL GUESTNESS can I approach and ascend these stairs.

    Hotel Guests Only is a moment in time.

    I've been trapped in a hotel room before. I called it hostagality. Like a hospitality situation gone awry. I was a hotel guest, but I wasn't official. There was no record of me. I'm in a Westin, but do I actually exist?
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