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About Campus: Rent-by-the-hour romance

BY JESSICA VOSGERCHIAN

Published February 10, 2009

I’ve always been a little suspicious of the Oasis Hot Tub Gardens on State Street. And to be sure, I’m not alone.

“I used to work at a pool, and you can only get things so clean,” my roommate said when I told her of my plan to visit the Oasis.

For many, including myself, the idea of a rent-by-the-hour hot tub room is questionable. It has a certain Las Vegas quality: what happens in the hot tub stays in the hot tub — perhaps at the expense of the next person to use the hot tub.

But admittedly, my qualms about the Oasis aren’t founded on anything concrete. What do I know about the world of rental jets and rainforest rooms? I’ve never been squeamish of hotel mattresses or bowling shoes — is a well-used Jacuzzi any different? To find out, I put my prejudices to the test and went with my boyfriend for a romantic night at the Oasis.

I checked online first to figure out the best time to go. For two people, the cheapest rate — $29 per hour — is offered before 4 p.m. An evening hour goes for $36 Sunday through Thursday and $44 on weekend nights.

On the website, I scoped out all 16 of the theme rooms available: “Japan” with its oriental pagoda, “Vancouver” complete with totem pole and rustic fireplace and “Bali” featuring a painted seascape mural.

One tab over from “garden photos” is another labeled “water purity,” which attests in detail to the cleanliness of the Oasis hot tubs. But it wasn’t exactly assuring to be so assured. Would a restaurant advertise that its kitchen is sanitary? Or a hotel that the sheets are washed?

Of course, those paragraphs describing the “state-of-the-art disinfectant and filtration systems” are exactly for the benefit of skeptics like myself. And actually, the water at Oasis does go through much more than the Band-Aid-ridden public pools of youth must have. The water in each hot tub is completely filtered out every eight minutes and each tub is drained and hand scrubbed almost daily, Oasis manager Faith Frazine said.

“We know if people are concerned about the cleanliness of their waters, then they probably won’t be repeat customers,” Frazine said.

Before I talked with Frazine and had my cleanliness concerns entirely put to rest, I gathered my own impression of the Oasis. I’m happy to report that the gardens did not seem the least bit unhygienic, though it was still quite an experience.

Oasis stays open until at least 1 a.m. every night, so my boyfriend and I chose to try our luck with a walk-in appointment last Sunday at 11 p.m. After parking our car, we passed another, grad-student type couple who must have just emerged from their own love tub. The woman — her short hair still dripping wet — seemed to shoot me a knowing smile.

Entering the building, we were immediately greeted by the strong smell of chlorine and aromatic spa packets, as well as two smiling women in bright floral shirts.

The employee who checked us in acquainted us with the rules — no food, no bubble bath or oils and, first and foremost, no alcohol.

That last one, which was posted on several walls, caught my attention. Was it to keep customers from profaning the gardens with drunken debauchery? Were the owners of Oasis enterprising prohibitionists? No. As it turns out, it’s because alcohol raises body temperature, and for a company that deals in 100-degree water, the liability of a customer putting a few back and passing out face down in the Casablanca tub is too high.

“One beer is like 15 beers,” Frazine said. “It’s not safe.”

After declining to purchase a bottle of St. Julien’s non-alcoholic wine, my boyfriend and I were led to the Borneo Rainforest room — an open-ceiling space with the gardens’ largest hot tub, capable of holding up to 10 people.

The woman guiding us mentioned that the room was often used for children’s birthday parties, but the thought struck me that it might be the setting of very different, very adult kind of parties.

But I pushed this thought from my mind. The soft music flowing from the changing room radio (set to the “piano and guitar” station) didn’t suggest “porno” so much as “Mom and Dad’s special date”.

Through a door we found our private paradise, which consisted of a large hot tub, a plastic palm tree and a stone waterfall that had been temporarily put out of commission during the last few weeks of extreme cold.

The space didn’t really exude Borneo — in the rainforest, I know, waterfalls don’t freeze over — but with the rising steam lit by the glow of alternating neon lights, it was sort of like a dream sequence in some Univision soap opera.

It was sexy in its way, not that I’d recommend having sex. Being mutually averse to pay-by-the-hour sex locations, my boyfriend and I didn’t try. But if we had wanted to get the most bang for our buck, it might have been difficult. The eye-watering chemical vapors and high water temperature discourage rapid movement.

Most visitors to the Borneo room likely do what we did: stare at the moon and enjoy the contrast between the chilly air and steaming water. Frazine said that Oasis is busiest in the winter for just that reason. She also said customers come in droves to use the outdoor tubs when it’s raining, and that they’re even safe during a thunderstorm — a prospect that might entice me to come back.

So in the end, I believe I’ve overcome any reservations I had about the Oasis Hot Tub Gardens. The 25-year-old company is what is has always been: a sort of classy, sort of cheesy escape just a few miles from campus.


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