On a recent road trip, my husband and I stayed in chain motels that blurred together like the daily brushing of teeth: nothing special to distinguish one experience from the next. Interstate lodging is generic. I prefer the eccentricities of rural, locally owned motels like those I frequented when traveling as a consultant to smaller school districts in Colorado. One, I’ll never forget.
I entered the office of the only motel in town through the mingled odors of an overweight dog snoozing among chew toys and the floral fragrance surrounding the grandmotherly desk clerk: “Be right with you, Hon, soon as I get old Sparky here going.”
I didn’t know whether Sparky was the stapler disemboweled on the counter or the work-begrimed man with weather-reddened cheeks who had entered before me. As I waited, I studied the hand-written signs posted around the room: advice about paying in advance and the uselessness of credit cards; friendly warnings that your mom would be called if you tracked mud and that unruly dogs would be cheerfully shot.
I wiped my feet, paid cash, and received a pat on my hand along with my carbon-copy receipt, “You look all tuckered out, Sweetie. What you need is a good night’s sleep. Just park in front of your room; we’re glad you’re here.”
Trucks hauling battered toolboxes and an occasional dog avoiding unruliness marked several rooms as taken; the rigs of deer hunters fronted others. I squeezed my car in between a dented truck loaded with pipe and another sporting camouflage paint. Light leaked into the night air from open windows. Work-hardened men and vacationing hunters leaned against their vehicles, talking to distant loved ones on their cell phones, nodding as I passed.
Inside my room, I found a plastic sack spread on the floor for my muddy boots and a homemade book of jokes for my amusement. I found no clock, no remote, no blow dryer; but also no stray hairs, no dubious odors, no over-priced mini-bar. The sheets, bathroom fixtures, and floors were clean, the paint fresh, the pillows soft. I liked it.
I enjoyed similar experiences in other local motels: a manager who requested I not let his cat in no matter how much it scratched at my door; the bed that wouldn’t quit shaking until I crawled under and unplugged the Magic Fingers massage unit run amuck; the owner I called for reservations who said he and the missus would be gone, but they’d leave a room unlocked, and I could slide my payment under the office door when I left.
I prefer out-of-the-way, mom-and-pop motels; I like being assured I’ll feel better after a good night’s sleep.