I pulled into the motel parking lot, shut off my engine, and looked around without stepping out of the truck. From a distance I thought the motel might qualify for a three-star rating. Then after a closer look, no, no more than two stars, and that without knowing what the inside of a room might look like.
Many travelers would have accelerated down the road. I got out of the truck and walked toward the office. The Vacancy sign sputtered like the burner on an old gas stove and I was warmed by the thought that the place at least had its electricity on. The lobby stood unlocked but empty. I approached the check-in desk, tapped the bell. A slightly disheveled woman emerged from behind a beaded curtain.
“Do you have a room for the night?” I asked.
A rhetorical question. Of course she had a room. The motel contained nearly 50 rooms with only five vehicles in the parking lot. For handing her my credit card, I would be given a key to open a door leading to a few basic amenities.
My trip from Cortez formed an awkward circle, over Wolf Creek Pass, then overnight stops in Alamosa and Trinidad, across the New Mexico border with a stay in Taos, then back home. Scenery so exquisite it wouldn’t all fit into my camera, but the memory of my motel accommodations left me wondering if I should tell someone about this road experiment. Every time I brought up the subject of my recent lodgings at sleazy motels, my wife feigned a mental rash and ran out of the room.
The better lodgings these days line themselves up like dominos on the outskirts, along highways that lean toward but hesitate to actually locate themselves at the spot where business once thrived. I’d decided before I left home that I wanted to stay in the old town centers whenever I could, where the nightlife was once lively but perhaps not so much anymore. In megalopolis America, historic city centers often receive revitalization cash, but in small-town Colorado, main streets have been left to harbor a slightly seedy appearance.
I didn’t know, for instance, that bedbugs inhabit some of these dives, not until I returned home and discovered a bedbug registry internet site while attempting to research a few historic details concerning one of my motel stops. The site invites users to search for motels by name or location.
Of my three overnight beds, two offered me the comforting assurance that no bedbug encounters had been recorded, which meant I’d lodged at one motel that did. The next half hour I spent looking at pictures of bedbugs, forgetting about my original search for historic landmark photographs. If you haven’t seen a bedbug on a magnified computer screen shot, you owe yourself an encounter. Luckily, no bedbugs surfaced at my home, in my luggage or on my person, so I don’t have anything to report, but I feel obligated to mention a few other irregularities from my road trip.
One eye-opener involved a swimming pool — its gate securely locked, I should add — filled to the brim with stagnant water so green and thick with algae it surprised me that frogs weren’t croaking from king and queen-sized lily pads. This pool hadn’t been used in years, a piece of history soured by some great loss, economic or otherwise.
Another curiosity — and it ticked me off a bit — involved clocks, or rather, the complete lack of them. Not one of my three motels offered even a cheap plastic portal into time. Without a doubt the motels themselves were time capsules, and while showering I couldn’t stop singing Chicago’s lyrics, “Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care?” Obviously not. Perhaps the type of guests who stay at places like these steal anything not nailed down, but then I asked myself, So why are you staying here? I glanced around the room, taking inventory, but nothing appeared all that tempting.
My next road trip might involve just a tent or a patch of night sky above a swaying hammock. Spiders and ants. A gob of tree sap or bird shit in my hair. I’m still welcome at the motels where I stayed, because I didn’t complain or post any two-star reviews. After all, even the universe is deteriorating, one star at a time.
David Feela, an award-winning poet, essayist, and author, writes from Cortez, Colo. See his works at http://feelasophy.weebly.com/.