New York's hotels are hives of urban velocity, where strangers live out epic adventures in a few days, then return home to spend the rest of their lives retelling them. Then there are the guests who never leave.
Twenty-eight years ago, Habiba Ali moved from the Y.W.C.A. into Room 320 in the Hotel Wales on Madison Avenue near 93rd Street, with few illusions of grandeur.
"It was a dilapidated old building," she said the other day. The rent was $225 a week - more than she could afford, but the neighborhood was tranquil, and she would be close to the American woman who had been like a mother to her since she arrived from Pakistan. The ceilings in some rooms were falling down at the time, she said. Her neighbors were mostly older people living on fixed incomes.
Ms. Ali, who reluctantly gave her age as 60, sat on a creamy leather-upholstered chair in the hotel's elegant second-floor Pied Piper room as jazz played softly in the background. Gone are the old mattresses, broken furniture, sinks and bathtubs that filled the room when she first moved in; gone are the old neighbors, too. Gone, even, are several generations of renovations.
But Ms. Ali and her roommate, Pamela Downing, who came to "crash" with Ms. Ali for a few weeks in 1985, have remained. In a hotel that has spiffed up, changed clientele, changed ownership several times, changed décor about as often - where various owners have offered them tens of thousands of dollars to leave and once, they said, tried padlocking their door - they have been a rare constant, coexisting in peace or disharmony in the unrenovated 450 square feet for which they now pay a rent-stabilized sum of $1,135 a month, utilities and weekly linen service included.
Let the room next door, which goes for about $500 a night, change occupants every day or two; Ms. Ali and Ms. Downing are not going anywhere.