Spain Remembers

Spain Remembers

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Why I Hate Motels

Why I Hate Motels.
by Joan Baril

I have always hated motels. A friend who also hates motels gave me excellent advice. “Never ever look under the bed.”

I only disregarded this counsel once. I leaned over the edge, lifted the ruffle and saw, among a grotesque surfeit of dust bunnies, three used condoms. After that experience, I never looked again.

I am not referring to the cheap motor courts or $40 a night rooms one sometimes has to take out of desperation. A snow storm in Arizona found me in a place with cockroaches as large as mice climbing out of the toilet. Another place had the mirrors and curtains so arranged that anyone walking by on the sidewalk outside could see me in bed.

The window curtains in motels never meet at the edges. They always leave an inch or two of gap. It is one of the great mysteries of travel. Who does the measurements before buying the drapes? Is it the same person the continent over? Is there some sort of rule that the curtains must be too small? In any event, I always carry a large safety pin to clip the edges together to ensure privacy.

I also check the windows in these places to see if they lock. Often they do not. In a Californian establishment, the window slid open giving easy access to anyone walking along the balcony outside. I phoned for another room. In a New Mexico motel, I wedged the wooden stick from a pull blind to prevent the kitchen window from opening; and, in the middle of the night, heard someone rattling it and trying to get in. I could not see who it was even though I had left the bathroom light on in an attempt to scare off possible cockroaches.

On the north shore of Lake Superior, along our highway of dismal motels, I climbed into bed and surveyed the room. The three doors opposite held my attention. One led to the bathroom, the second to the clothes closet but the third? I checked and it opened into an interior hall that stretched the length of the building. The door was unlocked.

The cheap places always provide thread-bare sheets, a strange orange polyester duvet and masochistic sand-paper towels. So it is doubly unsatisfying to pay over a hundred dollars a night to get similar scratchy towels, cheese-cloth sheets and the same ubiquitous polyester comforter. These ugly, cold and scratchy bed spreads are grotesque items, never seen outside motel land. One would never find them in a store, no matter how one searched. But they are found in motels across the continent, hideous in an orange and brown design, a standard fixture of the North American hospitality industry.

Recently I drove from Thunder Bay to Florida and back taking the interstates all the way. I was amazed to find, in a Hammond Inn, a lovely fluffy white comforter. A sign marking the demise of the orange poly topper? I hope so.

But one feature remained the same. The bed sheets were pulled so tightly and tucked under the mattress so firmly that my toes were forced into a point, a sort of motel ballet. The only way to get comfortable is to loosen the sheets but this is not easy. You have to get out of the bed and lift the mattress, a behemoth of considerable weight, especially if you have a king-sized bed. You have to lift with one hand as the other hand is needed to yank out the sheets. This maneuver takes all my strength and leaves me flopping into bed gasping. Typical evening exercise at the motel.

I like to read in bed. I know many people do. But will there be a bed light bright enough? Alas, usually no. I always check the wattage of the bulb. Most are 40 watts although on a lucky night, you may find a sixty. However, the lamp shade, often made of a dark fabric, or sometimes of metal or plastic or other industrial material, further dims the meager output. You could pull the lamp closer if it were not glued to the night stand. If possible, I pull off the shade entirely. Seasoned travelers carry a flash light or an Itty Bitty Book Light if they want to read.

Motels rooms are usually too dark anyway. It is rare to find a room with an overhead light strong enough to illuminate the entire room. Most often there is no overhead fixture. Instead, lamps placed here and there light up bits of the area. You feel you have entered a noir movie, moving from dim puddle to dim puddle, peering into the shadows for your key card or glasses. Perhaps this murky atmosphere is created deliberately so as to thwart any temptation to look under the bed.

At a $150 plus motel on I-95, I prepare for the shower. When you turn on the bathroom light, a fan automatically comes on, bathing your naked body in icy air. The bathroom is attractive, tiled in large pink tiles which feel like a sheet of ice under your feet. These and the fan make your stay a short one. In this particular arrangement, the towels are not piled in the bathroom but in a small side room. You bring some towels in with you but where to put them? No hooks are available. The back of the toilet? A fancy rounded top makes them slide to the floor. I leave them there. The good news was the water from the shower stayed in the bathtub – more or less. I once experienced a shower which thoroughly sprayed the entire bathroom including my pajamas hanging on the back of the door.

How to keep a washroom floor from puddling? Motel bedspreads may be all alike but each bathroom arranges the shower curtains in its own way. None, however, prevent water from pooling on the floor outside the tub. It is one of the great mysteries of travel. Not so mysterious is the line of mould often found along the bottom edge of the curtain. Another mystery pertains to the soap. Whether it be “Utility Grade” or “Our Special French Milled Facial Bar with Lavender,” it all smells the same. Go figure.

But, alas, to get home from the east one has to take highway 17 and it is pot luck all the way. I had to leap over a snow bank to get to the door of my room. Inside, the musty smell was so overpowering, I thought it must be a smoking room. The electric heater emitted warmth if you held your fingers an inch from the element. Someone had scribbled over the numbers on the thermostat and written “comfort zone” around the edge. The comfort zone, as near as I could make out, stretched from 40 degrees Fahrenheit to 90. It was so cold I slept in my hoodie. No extra blankets were available.

The batteries in the channel changer were held in place with a piece of duct tape. Every time you wanted to change the channel you had to get out of bed. The chain of the outer door was broken off. The toilet took so long to flush that by the time it was finished I had to pee again. The bedside light did not work. The bathroom was colder than the main room.

But I snuggled into my orange and brown polyester bedspread and fell asleep, happy to know I was back in the north.

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