July 2011

The roadie in me

By David Feela

I’ve slept in the desert at a motel I won’t name.
It felt good to get out of the car.
The road was hard but the bed was harder.
I wish I’d learned to play a guitar.

As you know, the band America wrote better lyrics, which paid for a few expensive rooms when they were on the road. I always end up at those poorly lit fiascos, pulling in around sunset when the light is perfect for concealing all the obvious flaws. A row of quivering florescent bulbs create a halo effect during check-in and only after I unlock the door do all the grimy little truths crawl out to introduce themselves.

Question: If an honest proprietor ran a sleazy motel and named it “Pa’s Flea Bag,” would anyone ever pull in to ask for a room?

Answer: Probably me.

I’ve driven past the posh palaces. Elaborate lobbies greet you instead of a slot in the wall where a Smeagol-like character behind a tinted piece of bulletproof glass passes you his precious key. Some of the fancier places call themselves “inns” instead of motels, or they rent “suites” which turn out to be just basic rooms chopped into alcoves where the management has crammed a sink, a refrigerator, and a microwave.

The summer tourism market may be advertising bargains, but it will still be the same places describing themselves with inflated language, charging inflated prices. It’s important that I remind myself of these exaggerations, because I’m a sucker for a well-turned lie.

My expectations were a bit too high when I stayed in Flagstaff, Ariz., at a place that sported a five-star rating. Every room had a bronzed plaque beside the doorknob, a hallway of suites with engraved reputations and huge flat-screen televisions. The beds were cushy, an open bar served complimentary drinks between 5 and 7 p.m. Free appetizers decked the lobby tables. Someone brought me a glass of orange juice when I handed over my credit card. I thought the bellhop was going to carry me to my room.

The amenities were extravagant, everything with a touch of class, except nobody mentioned the train’s night schedule. Why should they? Anyone trying to sleep would eventually figure it out.

I feel compelled to mention this experience, because it soured me on the notion that a person ever gets what he pays for.

Why waste money if I have to suffer? Too often my bed is rigid and the shower dribbles. The toilet tank runs all night unless I jiggle the handle, and it’s impossible to jiggle the handle hard enough to make the toilet next door stop running. The carpet is so dingy I put my shoes on before getting up to pee in the middle of the night. It’s the kind of place where you don’t make reservations but still, you have them.

If by some chance, however, there’s a towel on the rack that doesn’t feel like it has been used at a car wash, or there’s an extra roll of toilet paper to make up for the empty Kleenex dispenser, it’s easy to feel blessed.

You see, I tell myself I’m only staying for the night. How bad can it be? A person doesn’t want to end up at a place on some Shangri-La highway where the accommodations are flawless and you can actually afford it. You’d be tempted to stay there for the rest of your life.

David Feela writes from Montezuma County, Colo.