CNN: First, I wanted to find out if Lyndon Sanders was still alive. Second, I wanted to find out if he was feeling triumphant.
The answers: Yes, and yes.
"Every time I hear about a hotel that doesn't allow any smoking at all, my heart beats a little bit better," he said.
Sanders, 82, has moved to Fredericksburg, Texas, but 30 years ago, when he had his world-changing idea, he lived in Dallas. That was where he decided he would build and operate a new kind of hotel.
He planned to put it up right on the Carpenter Freeway, midway between the big DFW airport and the main Dallas business district. The name of the place said it all: The Non-Smokers Inn.
"Putting smokers and nonsmokers together is like putting tomcats and bulldogs together," Sanders told me at the time. He said that at another hotel he owned, he had noticed something every time he'd had to steam-clean a room where smokers had stayed:
"The smoke stinks up everything. We have to take the draperies down, shampoo the carpet, strip the beds completely down -- even the plastic shower curtains. You should see the yellow nicotine stains on the cleaning rags. I'll tell you, it would gag a buzzard."
More and more hotels are going 100% smoke-free, either by choice or in response to local smoking ordinances. Reporter Gary Stoller, writing in USA Today, said that an analysis of data collected by the American Automobile Association found that more than 12,900 lodgings in the U.S. now allow no smoking at all in any of their rooms -- nearly 4,600 more than the figure was in 2008.
Stoller quoted Joe McInerney, president of the American Hotel and Lodging Association: "We will continue to see either properties go entirely smoke-free or increase non-smoking rooms not only in the United States but around the world."
Which brings us back to Lyndon Sanders, who felt quite alone when he came up with his idea. In 1981, after all, cigarette smoking was still allowed just about everywhere, including on passenger airplanes. In a business sense, he was ahead of his time -- too far ahead. The Non-Smokers Inn did well at first, but by 1991 Sanders had to turn the hotel over to new management, which changed the name to the Classic Motor Inn, and allowed 22 of the 135 rooms to welcome smokers.
You might think that Lyndon Sanders would be a little resentful about being too smart too soon. People told him he was nuts when he announced that he was building a hotel in which guests would not be permitted to smoke. One woman wrote him a letter at the time saying she hoped he went bankrupt and that she was sure he was a Communist. He is out of the hotel business now; meanwhile, the hospitality industry is flocking to his idea. But, he said, at 82 he feels a quiet satisfaction.
"I knew I was right back then," he said. "I know I'm still right now."
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