His steely eyes stared at me from across the sweeping lobby. Long hair tumbling down his back, he wore black boots and armor and spoke in a strange, guttural tongue.
I've met a lot of men in my travels, but never a Klingon. In fact, dozens of these Star Trek aliens were staying at the Hyatt Regency SFO recently as part of a science fiction and fantasy convention.
Truth be told, I've never really liked airport hotels. So many are cold, soulless places, built out of convenience, not concern, for the weary traveler. But I was drawn to the Hyatt by a deal too good to refuse -- stay one night and get up to 10 days of free parking. I couldn't afford not to check in and check it out.
I self-parked my car and pulled my rollerboard through the revolving doors of the glimmering glass structure near San Francisco Bay. I'd seen this landmark from the highway, but never ventured inside.
The lobby was awash in sunshine, streaming through the glass windows and ceiling like beams of light from above. Live jazz filled the air from the garden atrium and soft conversation mixed with soothing sounds from a nearby waterfall. It struck me almost immediately. I had entered the Forbidden City, full of the most interesting people on earth.
"That lady lives in the hotel," said a man standing next to me. "Five years she's been here, and she loves it. She'll never leave." She was a well-dressed woman, accompanied by a big, woolly dog that seemed perfectly happy to stroll along by her side. And who wouldn't be happy? Everything is here in this enchanted village, where you can dine near a waterfall, swim in an azure pool and meet fascinating new friends in the hot tub.
Venture outside, and the world opens up even more. You can bike the Bay trail and watch seabirds bob serenely in the foreground as jumbo jets streak across the landing strips nearby. You can even take the free shuttle to Burlingame to see the world's only Pez Museum. Who knew there were 900 of these whimsical candy dispensers, dating back to 1950?
Or, if the stars are aligned, you can "crash" a science fiction convention. There were 600 sci-fi and fantasy fans the night I was there. I met a mummy in the hall who told me they meet eight times a year at different locations. The Klingons were hosting a black hole event in a room on the second floor, and they took me to their leader. Toasting my hosts with a glass of "blood" wine, I knew I was on to something. A good adventure begins the minute you leave your house.
If you go: Several inns near the airport offer park and stay deals. The Hyatt Regency SFO package starts at $119. www.sanfranciscoairport.hyatt.com. For photos and a video of the Pez Museum, see www.ginnyprior.com.