“You know you’re saying that wrong,” he said in his Australian accent, with a touch of world-weary-traveler boredom implied.
He’d already told me my chemical company (that would be THE Eastman, which I enjoy at night just as much as a penthouse view) was the ugliest thing he’d ever seen. So I was in no mood to pursue his challenge of how I say my favorite hotel chain’s name. I assumed I knew what pronunciation he was going to declare correct. A few months ago, a flurry of posts on social media proved I was correct in my assumption. They (“they” being folks all over the internet) say “Marriott,” which I’ve always pronounced “Marry-ott,” actually rhymes with chariot. Mary-ut? Mary-et?
This odd debate clouded my thoughts as I headed north out of Florida two weeks ago, because I was dog-sick and knew I wasn’t going to complete my drive home straight through as I’d planned. I called my sister, Pamela, and asked her to go to Marriott’s website and check for properties near Orangeburg, S.C. (that would put me under 300 miles from home, I knew) and Spartanburg, S.C. (even more optimistic on my part). “Uh, you’re just at Jacksonville, right?” I was. “You’re a long way from Orangeburg.” I said I wanted to at least get across Georgia, so she looked for Marriotts at the Pooler exit. We didn’t book, but I felt confident I had a safety plan.
I didn’t make it across Georgia. I only made it to Brunswick — about 230 miles from my starting point at Walt Disney World — and with multiple-but-necessary bathroom stops it had taken me nearly four and a half hours. I started watching the signs that tell you what food, gas, and lodging are available at each exit. And at Exit 38 I was relieved to see two Marriott properties, including my favorite: Fairfield Inn & Suites. I exited Interstate 95 and in short order was in the Fairfield’s parking lot at 107 Gateway Center Circle. I opened up my iPad and logged onto Marriott’s website and booked a room. A few moments later, I was inside and greeted by smiling faces, offers of any assistance that could make my stay more comfortable, and a fresh brownie. I felt at home and, though sick, at ease. The decor included things familiar to me as a Fairfield fan: a large portrait of founder J.W. Marriott and photos of the family’s getaway in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia: Fairfield Farm. Then and there I decided Marriott for me was pronounced “oasis.”
Before heading up to my room I grabbed several ginger ales and bottled waters. When I got to the room, I worked fast to set up my CPAP, closed the room-darkening curtains, pulled a trash can close to the bed and took my anti-vertigo, anti-nausea medications. I didn’t even turn the TV on. For anyone who has ever traveled with me, that’s a clear sign something ain’t right. Aside from trips to the bathroom, I slept for 17 hours, according to my CPAP when I turned it off the next morning. I was tempted to stay another night. But I made noon checkout and headed on toward home, knowing there were more Marriotts along the way. I didn’t need them. Fueled by multiple ginger ales and one pack of Lance Toastchee crackers, I made it home with only one stop for gas and one welcome center stop. I didn’t feel up to eating my brownie, baked using Alice Marriott’s recipe, until the next day.
My Marriott loyalism dates back to the 1980s, when I frequented Washington, D.C. It was there the chain got its start, when John Willard Marriott opened a root beer stand. He and wife, Alice, grew that business into a regional diner chain: The Hot Shoppes (I have the cookbook). They opened their first hotel in Arlington, Va., in 1957. My D.C. cousins went to high school with some Marriott offspring. The first Fairfield Inn opened in Atlanta in 1987, according to the company’s website, and earlier this year the 1,000th Fairfield property opened.
I did some online sleuthing and found articles dating to the early 1990s that state Marriott — the family name and the hotel chain — rhymes with “chariot.” If I ever meet a member of the family, I will try to get my tongue and mouth to cooperate with that pronunciation.
But while I was sick in that wonderful room down in Brunswick, Georgia, I had an Appalachian moment of clarity. You see, “they” aren’t pronouncing chariot correctly. I think they’re thinking “Chariots of Fire” — fancy stuff. They need to put some soul in it. What do I mean? I mean “Swing Low,” which Mom and I heard Carson Peters & Iron Mountain perform at The Carter Fold about 10 days earlier. It’s on their latest CD, “Grass Stains.” On the way home I’d asked Mom her favorite parts of the show. The band’s rendition of “Swing Low” was a highlight she said, partially because she used to sing it to my niece Allison Langley when she was a toddler. And it also has been a favorite since childhood for my cousin Barbara Carr, Mom said.
In “Swing Low,” chariot rhymes with Marry-ott, at least anytime I’ve heard it sung right:
“Swing low, sweet chariot. Coming for to carry me home. Swing low, sweet chariot. Coming for to carry me home.”
J.H. Osborne covers Sullivan County government for the Times News. Email him at [email protected]