'50 Shades' dwells in Northwest gray

'50 Shades' dwells in Northwest gray

PORTLAND, Ore. - Chris Erickson initially thought the joke was on him.

A friend sent the manager of the Heathman Hotel a copy of "50 Shades of Grey" before the frenzy hit. The downtown Portland hotel is mentioned almost 20 times in the book.

"I put it in the drawer. I didn't think," Erickson said, "and here we are."

He credits over a hundred hotel bookings to the book and fans wanting to live out the fantasy fiction.

The best-selling "50 Shades of Grey" triology gets its name from the main character's name.

But gray also describes the cloudy and damp Pacific Northwest, where the novels take place.

While the twisted romance wrapped in bondage and domination all come's from the mind of author E.L. James, she sets her story in real places in Portland to make the fantasy fiction feel closer to reality.

Those details invoke a new mystery, however: Erickson can't figure out how the author nailed so many details, from the sun-backed headboard to the Heathman's dining room chandelier and marble bar. Erickson couldn't find any records of James spending the night at the Heathman.

"There is a lot of whimsy in our hotel," Erickson said, "a lot of nuances that you discover only by staying here."

Without any proof, it's ironically kept "Fifty Shades" out of the hotel library.

"We have a steadfast rule that only an author's book will be submitted if they stay the night in our hotel," Erickson said.

And while the Heathman embraced its 50 shades of fames, just north of the Columbia River in Vancouver, Wash., marketing and communications director Brenda Ailling at Washington State University-Vancouver was a little hesitant.

"I went home and flopped down in my big chair and said to my husband, 'For the rest of my career when you Google WSU-Vancouver, '50 Shades of Grey' is going to come up," Ailling said.

In the first book, Anastasia Steele meets billionarie Christian Grey, a supposed WSU-Vancouver grad while writing an article for the student paper, the VanCougar.

"I do get calls asking what's true, what's not," Ailling said.

Does the school have any rich billionaire alumni?

"Not that I know of," she said, "but if we do, I sure would like to meet them."

Ailling has decided to embrace the ulikely fame.

"If it helps put us on the map, then so be it."