Amazon Review of Dr. Patrick Johnston’s novel The Reliant

The Reliant by Dr. Patrick Johnston
Publisher: Ambassador International
Publication Date: April 15, 2017

4.0 out of 5 stars, A novel that has some important things in common with my own novel … and some important differences

By J. Neil Schulman on September 22, 2017
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase

The Reliant book cover

The Reliant falls into two genres that I like:

1. Post-disaster survival fiction. One of my favorites is Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, about survival after a comet impacts earth — and this book has inspired everything from David Brin’s The Postman to the movies Deep Impact and Armageddon;

2. Christian themed fiction. My absolute favorite writer of Christian apologetics in both fiction and non-fiction is C.S. Lewis, whose Narnia books I fell in love with as a child, growing up as Jewish so I had no idea Christianity had anything to do with the stories. But as an adult I read all of Lewis’s published books and served several terms on the governing council of the Southern California C.S. Lewis Society. And that was when I was an atheist.

I’m also a writer who crosses over between novels, screenwriting, and nonfiction. Look up my Amazon author’s page for my books. I also have two movies I wrote and directed on Amazon Prime.

My first novel published in 1979, Alongside Night — which I made into a movie released in 2014 — has some significant overlaps with The Reliant.

They both take place in a near-future America where the collapse of the dollar due to hyperinflation triggers a political crisis bringing down the federal government. Both novels have as their central viewpoint character a 17-year-old — a boy named Elliot in my novel, a girl named Sophia in Dr. Johnston’s novel.

Both novels are about what you do when the crisis ends the comfortable life of the viewpoint character and your family is in danger.

Both novels portray the practical use of firearms in self-defense and could be considered “pro- Second Amendment” and “pro-Prepper.”

And both novels when turned into movies star and have as an executive producer Kevin Sorbo. My movie came out in 2014; Dr. Johnston’s is planned for release later this year. Right now only a teaser trailer is available.

The similarities between the two novels end there.

My novel takes place largely in New York City where barter and foreign currencies take the place of the dollar so the economy limps along until a new market system arises.

Lucifer’s Hammer co-author, Dr. Jerry Pournelle, gave me thirty pages of notes which I used to write my eighth and final draft, after which Dr. Pournelle endorsed my first novel, writing, “Anyone interested in freedom will find this more than readable.”

The Reliant is set in rural Ohio — most of the novel taking place at a survival encampment in the woods — because with the collapse of the dollar all U.S. civilization has instantly collapsed into total anomie.

My novel is based on projecting what might happen in the United States based on the theories of economists like Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard; historical currency collapses such as France in the 1790’s, Weimar Germany in the 1920’s, and even the inflation of the Continental issued during the American Revolution; and what then was the brand-new Agorist theory of revolution as defined by my “mentor, co-conspirator, and friend,” Samuel Edward Konkin III.

Dr. Johnston begins his novel very well with compelling action. He is a polished fiction writer in his first chapters. Then, the novel gets literally lost in the woods as the family is cut off from all communication with the outside world. Their encampment becomes dire and claustrophobic.

There is one false-to-fact plot device that enables the isolation of the family in the woods. There is not a single Ham radio in their bug-out bags. No real prepper — certainly not one trained by a father who’s as high-tech as an ER Physician — would not be an experienced Ham and train his family how to use solar-rechargable radios to network with other benevolent preppers to form larger survival teams.

The story, for each of the stranded family members, revolves entirely about how they view their situation based on biblical scripture. Much of the dialogue — all of the first-person narrative as told by Sophia — is entirely dogmatic arguments on what they should and shouldn’t do based on what I’d shorthand describe as Christian fundamentalist Sunday School lessons.

Dr. Johnston uses the collapse of the dollar to give us a post-apocalyptic mixture of John Milius’s movie Red Dawn about a Soviet/Nicaraguan invasion of the United States, Mad Max, The Road, and the Left Behind books and movies.

I spent time with Red Dawn writer/director John Milius. I gave him an autographed first edition of Alongside Night. John and I went to a firing range together where he let me shoot his own .44 Magnum, the one he gave the character of Dirty Harry. I also got to shoot John’s 1911 .45 Government Model made in 1912.

John Milius and I once walked together around one of the last Great Western Gun Shows, where John told me how if he knew how inadequate Soviet military equipment was when he wrote his Red Dawn script — he didn’t learn until surplus Soviet equipment was purchased as props for his movie — he never would have taken the possibility of a Soviet invasion of America seriously. John and I also chatted with Randy Weaver whose wife Vicki and 14-year-old son Samuel had been gunned down at Ruby Ridge in cold blood by the FBI — a precursor to the FBI’s attack on the Branch Davidian house in Waco. (Along with Mike McNulty and Randy Herrst I was one of the first three original researchers of the Oscar-nominated/Emmy-winning documentary Waco: The Rules of Engagement and you’ll find me in the “Special Thanks” of one of the editions.)

And John Milius told me a story later retold by Charlton Heston (who endorsed my 1994 book, Stopping Power: Why 70 Million Americans Own Guns) about how Steven Spielberg owned a private arsenal of guns on lists to be banned by organizations Spielberg sent money to, and when Milius asked Spielberg about it the Schindler’s List director told the Red Dawn director, “John, gun control is strictly for them.”


The Reliant has a happy ending. Not the restoration of traditional America based on the Declaration of Independence and attempts to limit government through separation of powers and the Bill of Rights. No, it’s the institution of new government based on Biblical law.

Sophia tells us: “These men are two appointed deputies in an autonomous, self-sufficient Christian community that has been formed in Warsaw, thirty miles north. Their mission is not only to protect the innocent from roving bands of lawless thugs, but also to expand their community of peace and justice into surrounding areas of unrest, and to prepare everyone to resist the government’s predictable tyrannical remedy for the prevalent anarchy. There’s no more separation of God and government, they assure us. Not in Warsaw.”

That last statement — “no more separation of God and government” — is a rejection of the very roots of what has made America exceptional, a wall maintained between religion and government advocated by Roger Williams and handed down to the Founding fathers who enshrined it in the First Amendment.

Dr. Johnston’s ideal America doesn’t want a return of the ideals of the Founding Fathers signing the Declaration of Independence’s statement “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Dr. Johnston instead wants an America run according to Biblical law — and how is that different than Muslims who want things run according to Sharia law?

This return to theocracy — rule by religious dogma — is what Dr. Johnston’s characters call “freedom.”


In an odd sense The Reliant is a prequel to Robert A. Heinlein’s first published novel, If This Goes On, about a second American Revolution against a Christian theocracy that’s taken over America after another Great Depression. An economic collapse leading to a return of theocracy is as much of a reason to overthrow a government as King George the Third’s tyranny.

Alongside Night is a libertarian novel.

The Reliant is not.

There are ways that The Reliant is intended as a more commercial novel than my own Alongside Night. Dr. Johnston knows who his readership is and what they want reified in their reading. They’re ultra-Christian and they want stories that reflect their ultra-Christian dogma. None of the heretical C.S. Lewis’s other worlds with talking animals and witches for these earthbound readers!

Robert A. Heinlein wrote a late-in-life novel titled Job: A Comedy of Justice with a viewpoint character who’s a fundamentalist Christian minister thrown into end-time chaos. Heinlein wrote as a libertarian.

My third novel, Escape from Heaven, plunges a radio talk show host into the events surrounding the Second Coming of Christ. I wrote it as a libertarian.

I’m pretty sure that Dr. Johnston is familiar with novels and movies like these. He’s too good a writer not to.

But, man oh man, I wish the good doctor could realize that the Word of God inspired far more “scripture” — a word that literally means “writing” — to be read in more than one “bible” — a word that literally means “book.”

I’ve written extensively about my own direct revelations from God, Dr. Johnston. I’ve written about it both in autobiographical nonfiction and in fiction. You’ll find them right here on Amazon with titles like Atheist to Believer and The Heartmost Desire.

My revelation was that God is a libertarian. I think you might agree with that if you considered it. Your characters do believe in the God-given free-will choice between doing good and doing evil.

Meanwhile, Godspeed on your movie adaptation of The Reliant. Isn’t working with a talent like Kevin Sorbo just the best?

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Praise for an Enemy

Voluntary Islam and Other Essays
By Davi Barker
Free Press Publications
ISBN: 978-1938357022 (Paperback)
February 2, 2013
ASIN: B00BHLAQG4 (Kindle)
February 17, 2013

Voluntary Islam and Other Essays

I don’t think I’ve ever started writing an article with as much cognitive dissonance as I begin this one.

I’ll be praising, and giving my highest recommendation to, a book by a man who wrote about me three months ago (and whom I don’t recall ever meeting), “I’m no fan of Schulman. I’ve never read any of his work. I just don’t like him as a person.”

The author of the book I’ll be praising went on from his statement of how much he disliked me to write a hit piece on my movie, Alongside Night, an attack so sweepingly negative that Brad Linaweaver wrote about his review, “The only thing he forgot to criticize was the food catering.”

The web domain Davi Barker’s screed was published on is now missing in action.

So what am I supposed to do now that I discover that this same writer who despises me has penned a book so profoundly in sync with my own deepest libertarian values that by all reason we should be blood brothers in defense of them – and that the movie he attacked dramatizes those same values?

Davi Barker, the writer in question, tags himself a Muslim Agorist.

I’m by no means as well versed in the theology or even the history of Islam as I am with the other two seminal Abrahamic religions – Judaism and Christianity – and I’m by no means a scholar of any religion.

But what I thought I knew about Islam is that it reminded me more of the ancient Hebrews in practice than anything else – punishments like stoning to death or beheading for what we in the west today would consider less of an offense than jaywalking, subjugation of women, and willingness to use brutal violence against infidels and anyone else who denigrated Islam or its founder, Mohammad.

I’ve often said that one shouldn’t judge authors by their fans. In noting the atrocities committed by Jews in the name of Israel, Christians in the name of Christ, and Muslims in the name of Allah, I readily admit that most dogmatics pick and choose what parts of their theology fits their actual agenda, and one could just as readily find scriptural verses or commentary that argued the opposite.

What I am a primary source on is the subject of the second half of Davi Barker’s self-description – Agorism — since I’m considered one of its founders, along with my late mentor, Samuel Edward Konkin III.

In his 1980 New Libertarian Manifesto, Konkin defines Agorism as “libertarian in theory and free-market in practice.”

I did some exegesis on that in my 2011 article, “The Agorist Revolutionary Alternative”:

Konkin, being a scientist, approached the question logically. To his way of thinking the means and ends had to be one and the same. If the end was a society whose institutions were noncoercive and respecting of voluntary contracts and trade then the means of achieving such a society, likewise, also needed to be noncoercive and respecting of voluntary contracts and trade. These were the seeds which led Samuel Edward Konkin III (SEK3, for short) to begin exploring the strategy of counter-economics, and the philosophy of Agorism, as the libertarian means to achieve libertarian ends.

In his book Voluntary Islam and Other Essays (Free Press Publications, February 2013) Davi Barker finds the same principles in a reading of The Quran:

This sentence is only four words: La ikrah fi deen. “No compulsion in religion.” Every scholar I’ve ever heard discuss the word deen says that “religion” is a poor translation, and that it means a complete and comprehensive way of life.

Barker also finds this same principle in Gandhi:

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” Muslims might express the same idea as “Your means must contain your ends.”


The principle of non-aggression is a deep and fundamental Truth in human interaction. Actions that are coerced have no moral value. A confession under torture is no real confession. Giving money to the poor at gunpoint is not real charity. The aim of Islam, and religion more broadly, is to place moral value in every action, so how can coercion be virtuous? The simplicity and profundity of the non-aggression principle is, I believe, the keystone to solving the strife in predominantly Muslim countries, and indeed the world.

Davi Barker sees the central positions of libertarian philosophy in Islam:

The primacy of achieving peace over demanding rights;

Contract law: “Do all that you agree to do.” Whether by oath or by written agreement, it is incumbent on every righteous person of any creed to live by their word;

The superiority of restorative justice over punitive justice;

And most importantly:

The Non-Aggression Principle holds that the initiation of physical force, threat, or fraud is always illegitimate, and that the use of force is only appropriate when used in defense. This is the defining lesson of this story, and the criterion for determining between the times when physical violence is legitimate and those when patient passive endurance is appropriate. Even when the terms of a treaty authorize him, and the customs of the society permit him, Muhammad does not use physical force against anyone unless they have first aggressed , or supplied an aggressor with material aid.

Davi Barker’s explanation for how Islam has strayed so far from what he sees as its core principles is

Unlike the Gospels, where a council of bishops decided which accounts of Jesus’ life they thought were authentic and destroyed those they felt were not, accounts of Muhammad’s life are all recorded in hundreds of volumes, but each narration contains a chain of custody describing in detail who gave the account. These chains are used to determine the strength of the narration. So, narrations with long chains are weaker than those with short chains. Narrations reported by many independent witnesses are stronger than those with only one witness. And sometimes the lack of credibility of a particular narrator can cast doubt on an entire chain.

Barker sees the State the way all libertarian anarchists and Agorists do: as violent in its very nature:

Senator Obama said something to the Military Times that sent me on a political odyssey the end of which I have not yet reached. “What essentially sets a nation-state apart,” he told them, “is a monopoly on violence.”

This was no political gaffe. The phrase originates from Max Weber’s definition of government: “a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.” Weber’s definition is widely accepted by most political scientists , and he is regarded as the principal thinker in Western statecraft. I know they tell us that honor belongs to Thomas Jefferson, but don’t kid yourself. Weber was one of the architects of the Constitution of the Weimar Republic,

Davi Barker advocates for a version of Islam that is a religion of consistent peace and freedom – and I find little in his historical examples or theological exegesis that I feel qualified to argue with. I just agree with the principles he’s advocating, whether or not other Muslims agree with him. To paraphase Ayn Rand, Barker emphasizes not what Islam is, but what it might be and ought to be.

I have to groove on his book for that.

It’s the idealized Islam that I agree God (and possibly Rand) would support, just as I have concluded that God created us by fissioning us off his own original omnipresent body as free spirits – individual souls who by having the power to reject God serve the function of providing God an escape from eternal solipsism and by offering love to God of their own free will ended his celestial loneliness.

As I wrote in my 2002 novel, Escape from Heaven:

God contemplated the new thought for what even he considered a long time. After contemplating a lot of different possibilities, and even creating and destroying a number of different universes as experiments to verify his thinking, God decided that the only thing that could possibly create the sort of dynamic he was looking for, the only thing that could build up a tension great enough for the sort of thrill he was seeking, would be to split off part of himself into a separate consciousness, independent of himself, a separate consciousness that could say to him, “No.”

With the possibility of the first “no” would also be created the possibility of the first “yes.”

Thus did the Lord trade his omnipotence, his omniscience, and his omnipresence for the possibility of finding love.

In this view I’m no doubt a heretic to mainstream Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Barker comes to a similar conclusion about God making us by a process of splitting off a part of himself:

The concept of fitra is that God has engraved upon the human soul an inborn tendency toward truth and virtue. It suggests that all human beings are born in a natural state of spiritual purity. This position contradicts both the Doctrine of Original Sin proposed by Christian theology , and the tabula rasa proposed by philosophers. Fleshing out the definition requires a look at the Arabic root, and its use in the Quran. In the Arabic language most nouns are derived from a three letter root verb. So a book, kitab, is literally a thing which is written kata-ba. Knowing the root verb often elucidates a deeper understanding of the noun. For fitra, the root verb fa-ta-ra commonly means to split, or cleave asunder.

In his jihad to make Islam a libertarian religion devoted to principles of peace and freedom Davi Barker is likely as much of a heretic as I am.

And even as Davi Barker affirms the Muslim dogma that Mohammad was God’s final prophet, he perhaps commits heresy of being a post-final-prophet by telling us of his own dream:

I stood between two giant floating heads, one in the black Ayatollah turban and the other in the red Al Azhar cap with white turban. I began asking them questions with the intention of seeking qualified scholarship, but every time, one would tell me the literal meaning of a word in Arabic and the way the ruling was implemented in the early community, and the other would tell me the original intention of the ruling and its application in the modern world. The heads always gave opposite answers, and I was left in the middle with no guidance. Frustrated, I moved past the heads, toward the ocean. I discovered a wooden stand holding the Quran, and resolved that if I wanted satisfactory answers I’d have to read it for myself— but inside the book I found the pages were not filled with words, just light pouring out. Doubly frustrated, I asked God to teach me how to read. Then a man appeared, walking up a stairwell that ascended from the ocean. He was all in white, with the same light pouring from his face, so bright that I could not see it. I asked him how to read the light and he answered, “Eat only the purest food. Drink only the purest water. And think only the purest thoughts.” It wasn’t exactly English, but more like a raw telepathic communication.

Having had prophetic experiences, myself – both while awake and while dreaming – I know a prophetic dream when I read about it. And dream prophecies, for both of us, result in a change in how we proceed in living. In Davi Barker’s case, he put into practice the principles of self-reliance:

I started a vegetable garden. I don’t have a yard, only a small apartment balcony. But it was very easy to begin growing. I started with only three rectangular pots where I planted rows of tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions. As they grew I transplanted the small sprouts into larger pots and reseeded the rectangular pots with herbs. Now I have thriving cilantro and chamomile, and soon sage and mint. It is a uniquely rewarding experience to taste the fruit of your own labor. To put your hands in the soil and dig out a bite of nature. As Thomas Jefferson famously said, “Those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever God had a chosen people.”

This book is essential reading for the libertarian or pacifist anarchist, especially the Agorist; and it’s even more essential reading for the statist, particularly the Muslim devoted to light and reason over the dark side of force.

I give my enemy’s book five stars out of five.

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Restaurant Review: Bacchanal Buffet at Caesar’s Palace

Bacchanal Buffet
Bacchanal Buffet at Caesar’s Palace
3570 South Las Vegas Boulevard
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Buffet (Casual Dining)
Hours Of Operation
7am – 10pm daily
Dress Code Casual

The opening of the $17 million Bacchanal Buffet at Caesar’s Palace this week has been greatly hyped as a breakthrough in buffet dining, because the food is supposedly prepared fresh rather than just dumped in steam trays.

I decided to give it a try, arriving at 6:00 PM Friday; it was a two-hour wait in line — and a $40 check per person (using my players club card for a $3.00 discount) to get in.

That two-hour wait and entry price about double the average Las Vegas buffet colors everything about this review.

It’s a good buffet with a lot of variety. Everything I had was well-prepared, and I sampled a bite of different offerings: prime rib, rib-eye steak, lamb chop, snow crab legs, a mixed seafood salad, sushi, a hamburger bite, fish & chips, fried chicken & sweet potato fries, asparagus, broccoli, and for dessert the custard bread pudding, creme brulet, and a chocolate parfait.

It was all just fine.

But it wasn’t worth a two-hour wait and a $40 per person check.

Bacchanal Buffet at Caesar’s Palace

For one thing, when you walk in, the display case shows Maine lobster and Maryland soft-shell crab. Neither was offered and the crab was the same snow crab legs you can get at any Friday seafood buffet in Las Vegas. The Royal Seafood Buffet at the Rio used to have rock lobster available; if Caesar’s wanted to impress me that their buffet was special at least this would have been in the seafood section, if not the Maine lobster they display.

There was nothing really exotic among the meats. The last time I was at the Bellagio buffet they were carving venison and buffalo steak. The meat offerings at this buffet were nothing you couldn’t get at any other buffet in Vegas.

The sushi was freshly prepared but there was little variety. There’s a far superior sushi and Asian seafood buffet at Makino’s on Decatur for about $25.

There were no juices offered with the beverages, and the coffee was about Denny’s quality. The soft drink selection was no better than the cheapest buffet in Las Vegas: Pepsi or Diet Pepsi, and Iced Tea.

I will give the buffet this: I’ve never eaten better asparagus.

Everything else was fine but not markedly better than other Vegas buffets.

All in all, this buffet would be fine at half the price and without the wait. My rating: 6.5 out of 10.

Now in production: Alongside Night. Look for it in 2013!

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If you like camping out, you’ll love Los Angeles Airport’s Custom Hotel!

Customer Review
Custom Hotel LAX
8639 Lincoln Blvd,
Los Angeles, CA 90045

I’m not a world traveler the way my father, violinist, Julius Schulman was. He toured to Europe, Asia, the Middle East, the Caribbean, South and Central America, and all around Canada, Mexico, and the United States. He played musical gigs on cruise ships starting age 16 and loved telling the story about how by not telling a cruise-ship orchestra booker that he doubled on violin he managed only to play saxophone in the dinner dance band and was free to shmooze pretty female passengers during the later full-orchestra ballroom dance… then on the last night out he picked up the concertmaster’s violin and ripped into the cadenza of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. “They were ready to kill me,” he laughed when he told this story.

Julius Schulman
Julius Schulman

My dad always wanted to go on a photographic safari in Africa but being married with children that never happened. His favorite author was Robert Ruark and his favorite book by that author was Uhuru. Uhuru was the book Nichelle Nichols was reading when she met with Gene Roddenberry and that’s how the character Nichelle played on Star Trek was born — Nichelle told Roddenberry to put a letter “A” at the end of the name which in Swahili means “freedom” — and with that “A” tuned up Star Trek coming up on a half century.

As a kid my dad drove our family on vacations all through New England and Canada. I’ll never forget the dead-of-winter sleigh ride through Saint Jovite, Quebec, which was so frigid my sister and I covered ourselves up with the stinkiest horse blanket ever or the winter drive through the Berkshires in our Volkswagen Bug where my sister and I warmed our feet by sticking them up to the car’s ceiling — try that with kids strapped into car seats in this nerfworld! I remember the Old Man of the Mountain in Franconia Notch State Park in New Hampshire’s White Mountains before its face fell off in 2003, and the beauty of the Flume. Close to my boyhood home in Natick, Massachusetts we went on day trips to Old Sturbridge Village and cranberry bogs. Later my dad drove our Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser, towing a 22-foot Beeline Travel Trailer, which my dad, mom, sister, and I took on family trips to the Hershey Chocolate Factory in Hershey, Pennsylvania, the Henry Ford Museum in Deerborn, Michigan, Old Fort Henry in Ontario, Virginia’s Colonial Williamsburg and the Plain & Fancy Farm in Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania.

Do I know how to start a hotel review with a digression, or what?

The point is, I’ve traveled, but not as far as my dad. Aside from driving across the United States half a dozen times, I’ve only been once across the Atlantic to the UK, and a two-week driving trip through Belgium, France, Monaco, Italy, Switzerland, and West Germany (before Germany reunited).

But I’ve stayed in lots of motel and hotel rooms at all levels, from the army-cot-sized beds in Earl’s Court, London, old tourist cabins, Motel 6, and Super 8 at the bottom end, to a Westin Hotel luxury suite larger than the apartment I was living in at the time at the Heinlein Centennial in Kansas City, Missouri in July 2007.

I even camped out solo in a tent in the dead of winter: Operation Zero, when I was a Boy Scout. I’ll leave out of this narrative details of the soggy thermal underwear incident which ended that experience and my further participation in the Boy Scouts. But, damn it, it was cold alone in that tent and my fly got stuck!

All of that said, for a poor commercial lodging experience, it’s hard for me to beat last night at the Custom Hotel near Los Angeles International Airport.

I now live in Nevada but lived many years in Southern California, so I know the area pretty well. I remember when the Custom Hotel was a hotel for visiting Japanese businessmen, adjacent to offices of Otis College Art and Design where my ex-wife worked, a bowling alley with a great coffee shop, and an independently owned toy store run by a wonderful 90-year-old woman where I bought educational toys for my daughter when she was little; the toy store and its owner are long gone but the bowling alley is still there.

This trip back to California was for two events: writer/magazine publisher/filmmaker Brad Linaweaver’s talk tonight at the Karl Hess Club presenting Mondo Cult 3 (I have two articles in it), and my daughter’s 21st birthday tomorrow. I’d booked a stay through Friday March 23rd so I’d have extra time to see friends and attend a Thursday meeting at the new club house of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, which I haven’t visited yet.

I booked the hotel using Priceline’s bid-your-price feature, specifying a 3-star hotel or better. When I travel with my mom, who’s 87, we absolutely need a comfortable and well-appointed room with dual beds. In all previous trips like this one our Priceline bid had been accepted by the Radisson Hotel at 6161 Centinela, across the street from Dinah’s Family Restaurant where the Karl Hess Club meets; but since my last trip the hotel was bought out by DoubleTree/Hilton, and they did not accept my Priceline bid; the Custom Hotel did.

Driving to L.A. on a Sunday night I knew traffic returning from Las Vegas on Interstate 15 would be heavy, so I planned a late-night drive, leaving Pahrump at 9:30 PM. I planned the timing well; the freeways were lightly trafficked and arrived at the Custom Hotel at 1:30 AM Monday. It was 42 degrees Fahrenheit outside as we arrived.

Custom Hotel Lobby Commissary
Custom Hotel Lobby Commissary

Valet service met me within seconds and promised me a bellman for bringing in our luggage; the bellman and desk clerks were nice and check in was easy. I was told the hotel had a breakfast buffet in the lobby from 7:30 AM to 10:00 AM, served dinner; but there was no lunch and no room service. I was told if I wanted coffee it was available a block away at a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf; but it was closed as I drove in.

Then we got to the room. First thing, with all the lights on, it was too dark to read anything without holding it directly under a lamp. The room was cold — 61 degrees Fahrenheit — so I asked the bellman to turn the heat and fan on full, set to 76 degrees. There was no desk, no table and chairs; there were a couple of Ottomans a few inches higher than the beds. There was no dresser to unpack clothes into. There was no refrigerator (as there had been at the Radisson) and no coffee maker — even though there was cabinetry in the room for both. I’d brought a French Press coffee maker and my own ground coffee but I’d counted on a hotel room coffee maker to boil the water; it never occurred to me a 3-star hotel room wouldn’t have one. I asked the bellman if he could get me one; he couldn’t and he reminded me — embarrassedly — that there was a Coffee Bean and Tealeaf only a block away.

Then there were the beds. I said this used to be a hotel for Japanese businessmen; the beds were futon platforms six inches off the floor with the futon replaced by a box-spring mattress.

I’m a big guy and not young anymore — six-foot-two and morbidly obese, 59 on my birthday upcoming next month. I knew if I sat down on that bed just a few inches off the floor, and with nothing to hang on to, I’d have the devil of a time getting up again.

My mom, with her wool coat still on, sat shivering on the bed and complaining how cold she was. I already knew we couldn’t stay in this room so I went down to the front desk to see if I could immediately check out; the clerk told me that because this was booked through Priceline I needed to talk to them, and he gave me the phone number. I called Priceline on my cell phone and while I was on hold returned to the room. I was on hold for at least a half hour; the room did not warm up a single degree.

Finally a Priceline representative got on the phone and I explained that this did not qualify as a 3-star hotel. Priceline spoke to the Custom Hotel’s front desk and got them to agree to cancel and refund the remainder of my trip; I’d only be charged for the first night. I agreed.

An hour after we checked in and with the heat set on full the room was still 61 degrees. I called the desk and was told “This is an old hotel; it takes a while to warm up.” Yeah. They sent up extra blankets and a small space heater which we set up directly in front of my mom, and that was enough for her to lie down on the bed and fall asleep. (By morning checkout, with the space heater and room heat at full blast, the room was all the way up to 65 degrees F.)

Me, I was sitting on the Ottoman, my notebook computer on the bed, and using both Priceline and Expedia tried to book another room. Adding $40 to my Priceline bid and selecting the next level up, my bid was not accepted. I wasn’t about to bid blindly through Expedia, worried they’d put me back in this same hotel.

Finally, I went onto the DoubleTree website and booked two nights at its hotel at 6161 Centinela; then phoned them. The desk clerk remembered me from my mom’s and my multiple stays when it was a Radisson and immediately agreed to check me in six hours early — 9:00 AM.

My mom was asleep; I could not use the other bed. I put on my coat, had the parking valet fetch my SUV, and was directed to an outside parking space I could use. With the engine idling burning $4.50 a gallon gas, heat on high, a pillow I kept in the car, the XM radio tuned to Symphony, and the seat back flattened, I tried for a few hours of fitful sleep.

I woke up at 7:00 AM and returned to the room where I got my mom up, already dressed, and managed to guide her sleepily down to the lobby. You have the photo in this article. The seats were not comfortable. The buffet breakfast was scrambled eggs, sausage, nondescript potatoes, muffins, and oatmeal; there were a couple of lonely waffle segments left in a bin.

I poured coffee with milk (I saw no half-and-half) for my mom and me and served out eggs and potatoes for my mom: i gave myself oatmeal, eggs, and a couple of breakfast sausages. The breakfast was minimally adequate but the coffee was cold. I asked for hotter coffee and when it was brought out I poured new cups. This time there was a container labelled cream so I poured it in my coffee.

It was syrup for the waffles.

My mom and I made it through breakfast and we returned to the room where I called for a bellman to grab our still-packed bags; he arrived promptly. When we returned to the lobby I checked out and the morning clerk, a woman, confirmed the refund for the four days I wouldn’t be using. Then she asked me if I enjoyed my stay.

I took a breath and said, “Look, you have major challenges here. This was a disaster. To begin with I couldn’t use the bed and had to sleep in my car.”

“Sir, please lower your voice,” the desk clerk said.

This was a tactical control move; I was not speaking loudly.

“I was trying to help you,” I said. “The only thing your hotel had going for it was that everyone was nice. Until you, right now.”

“Got it,” she desk clerk said.

Look. If you’re 19 years old you’ll probably love this hotel. The beds are on the floor like the one you have in your communal apartment or parents’ basement. You don’t need a desk; you won’t be doing any homework. You won’t need coffee; you’ll be drinking the booze or beer you snuck in, or the blunt you’ll smoke in the non-smoking room. The room being ice cold is a great excuse to convince your sexy roommate to join you under the covers. The room does have WiFi and inadequate reading light means nothing: anything you read from — smart phone or iPad — has its own light source. And you won’t need a refrigerator for the pizza or tacos you brought in.

Me, I’m a grown up and I’m writing this from the DoubleTree Hotel at 6161 Centinela across the street from Dinah’s Family Restaurant, a real 3-star hotel, sitting in an office chair with my laptop on a real desk, the room warm, the beds high and comfortable, and a cup of Wolfgang Puck coffee I brewed on the room’s coffee maker on the desk after checking in and getting five hours of wonderful sleep. I broke my diet and ate one of the wonderful chocolate-ship cookies they DoubleTree desk gave us when we checked in.

And does this make a great travel horror story or what?

Note March 22, 2012: Today I sent the following email to Priceline:

If you check my previous bookings through Priceline’s Name Your Own Price feature, you’ll see that until my last trip this past week my bids had been accepted by a true three-star hotel, the Radisson at 6161 Centinela Avenue, Culver City, CA — now a DoubleTree by Hilton. This last trip I bid for a three-star hotel and my bid was accepted by the Custom Hotel.

This hotel is so far from being a three-star hotel that I wrote up my experience and published it as an article here:

This is to let you know that until the Custom Hotel is downgraded so that a bid for a three-star hotel in Culver City / LAX Airport will not blindly return me to this hellhole, I will no longer be using Priceline to book my trips to Los Angeles.

J. Neil Schulman

And here is Priceline’s emailed response:

March 22, 2012

Dear J Neil,

Thank you for taking the time to send us an e-mail. We understand that you are dissatisfied with our service since the Custom Hotel was not up to your mark.

We apologize if you are dissatisfied with our service. Customers are our number one priority, and we work hard to make your experience with us a positive one. Your feedback is appreciated.

We again apologize for the inconvenience.


Mohammad R.
Customer Service Specialist

Form letter response, addressing none of the substantive issues. Corporate idiocy. Looks like I won’t be using Priceline again.


This article is Copyright © 2012 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust. All rights reserved.

Winner of the Special Jury Prize for Libertarian Ideals from the 2011 Anthem Film Festival! My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available free on the web linked from the official movie website. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!

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