I finally dipped a toe into the Groupon water with a half-off deal at my daughter's favorite Italian food place at the mall. It worked - quite nicely actually - but I remained hesitant, and I remained so until the day when I hemmed and hawed about a half-off dinner Groupon* at a very posh restaurant I have been dying to try - and still am, because the restaurant is still expensive and it was a limited-quantity Groupon, so by the time I mustered up the nerve, I had missed out.
Lesson learned: Come on in, the water's fine.
I bought a flying lesson Groupon for my husband for Christmas, and a cupcake Groupon for my daughter's birthday party ... and some brunch Groupons for the whole family ... and then a spa Groupon for me, because I'm worth it.
Specifically, I bought a "Chocolate Decadence Spa Package" which invited me to luxuriate in a cocoa bath spa pedicure, 50 minute deep-tissue massage with chocolate body butter, and a chocolate signature facial. I was promised I could lounge around in a spa robe "like an unemployed sultan" as the staff lavished me with hot cocoa, assorted chocolates, and a piping hot panini in between my treatments. A $310 value for $129.
Sold. Reserved for the first available date. Eagerly awaited.
I realized I was in trouble almost immediately when I arrived - the spa was off a busy street in an older, office-park type building, and nothing had been done to the interior that might alter this perception - the place is carpeted with faded brown-patterned carpet that had been worn down by several generations of Miltons in search of their red staplers. I was told to sit in the lobby, where I breathed in the heady scent of nail polish remover while watching other women get their pedicures - or watching traffic go by from the window. Finding neither option appealing, I focused my attention on my iPad, where I checked the spa's reviews on Yelp.com. High points of the various reviews there include:
- Lackluster massage.
- My pedicure was ruined by hairs that stuck to it when I walked across the carpet, which has not been vacuumed for some time.
- The entire time, I could hear people from next door, the reception area, and the street outside.
- Receptionist locked herself out of the office while I was waiting, and had to climb back over her desk to let herself back in.
After a wait, I was ushered up the hall to the massage room, where I was treated to a massage that would probably have qualified as average, had I not been repeatedly startled by the slamming of doors in the hall, or fire engines going up the street - there was no soundproofing, nor was the noise drowned out by the pseudo-zen music playing on a small boombox in my room, or the music playing in several other nearby rooms.
Massage over, I was told to put on the spa robe, which I discovered was a short, thin, pink affair that barely closed - and I was ushered up the hall to a "tea room," where the advertised hot cocoa turned out to be Swiss Miss that I had to make myself in a paper cup, while the assorted chocolates were several varieties of Hershey's kisses in a glass bowl.
I was treated to a scalding foot soak while I waited for my next service. I distracted myself by trying to keep my short pink Sultan's robe closed while a parade of people popped their heads into the room to check on other customers, most of whom are checking their phones for - I'm guessing here - relaxing text messages.
I debated cutting my time short, but since a lot of the Yelpers actually had positive things to say about my next service, a facial, I decided to stay, and eventually was taken up the hall, past an open closet heaped full of dirty laundry, to another spa room.
I began to relax a bit when the overhead fluorescent lights were finally turned off, and tried to self-induce a state of tranquility, but the esthetician left the room and returned several times, and with each trip, she flicked those lights off and on, jarring me from my zen each time.
My facial began with the application of some cleanser, followed by a scalding towel to remove it, and application of some other presumably organic vegan aromatherapy herbal treatment (I must assume so since nothing was identified to me and I am the eternal optimist**), and yet another scalding towel.
If you're into playing drinking games, feel free to take a drink of anything - a hot chocolate might be nice - every time I use the word "scalded," because no, we're not done yet.
The esthetician said she was going to put a masque on my face - although mask might be a better word, as she wanted to put it over my eyes and mouth. This did not sound like a good plan, so I told her to avoid my eyes. She then painted my entire face, eyes included, with a thin film, turned the lights on again to leave the room, then returned and layered my face with a layer of chocolate-scented ... something ... and then left again.
I lay on the table inhaling the decadent smell of the kind of cheap, slightly gritty, artificially flavored no-brand chocolates that come wrapped in tin foil in prepackaged dime store easter baskets - you know the ones I mean. As it hardened into a solid mass on my face - sealing my lips shut in the process - I noticed that I could no longer hear the music in the nearby rooms, as it was drowned out by the esthetician's own music, a uniquely unidentifiable blend of hip-hop and sitar that further confounded me with an endlessly repeated shouted chorus of "salami."
You can't scream when your lips are sealed shut, so I began to fantasize about being kidnapped by some lover of cheap chocolate. Cookie monster, save me!
After another scalding hot towel removed the mask, I was free. I was sent back to the tea room, and treated to a freshly microwaved panini, which had lots of healthful dietary fiber from the napkin that was stuck to it.
For the last stop, my spa pedicure, I went back into the front room in my bare feet, and found myself squishing my way across cold, sodden worn brown patterned carpet as I approached a standard-issue pedicure chair. "The machine leaks," the girl said apologetically. I chose blue nail polish, to match my mood, and as soon as it seemed it might be sufficiently dry to survive the trip home - it wasn't - I fled.
Since I had previously researched groupon's refund policy, I shot them an email the next morning at about 8am. By noon, I had a nice letter of apology from them, along with a full refund credited to my account. I'm waiting now for a real spa deal to come along, so I can research it thoroughly and be pampered for real.
*Not sure it was Groupon. I think it might have been Dealpop, Living Social, Urban Dealights, or some other almost-quirkily-named competing service.
**No, not really.