Janet Sheridan: The charm of small-town motels

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Editor's note: The Saturday Morning Press announces the addition of Janet Sheridan, a Craig resident and former Moffat County School District administrator, as a new columnist. Sheridan, who is retired, spent 40 years in public education, including five years as the School District's director of curriculum and staff development. She is a guest columnist for the Denver Post for 2009-10.

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 Colorado's locally owned motels like those I frequented when traveling as a consultant to small school districts. I recall some of these establishments in detail and with fondness.

After a long and tiring day, I entered the office of the only motel in town through the mingled odors of an overweight dog snoozing in the sun among chew toys and the floral fragrance that surrounded 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 my turn, I studied the handwritten 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 at sundown.

I wiped my feet, paid cash and received a pat on the back of my hand, along with my carbon-copy receipt and tagged key.

"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 carrying battered toolboxes and a dog or two 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 a four-wheel drive sporting camouflage paint. Light, laughter and TV noise 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 a hello as I passed.

Inside my room, I found a plastic sack spread on the floor for my muddy boots and a homemade book of humorous sayings 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.

Such one-of-a-kind lodging experiences make my day: a manager who told me that I should not let his cat in no matter how much it scratched at the door; the bed that wouldn't quit shaking until I crawled under it and unplugged the Magic Fingers Massager run amuck; the owner I called for reservations who said he and the missus would be gone but that they'd leave a room unlocked, and I could just slide my payment under their door when I left.

If I had any problems during my stay, I should see Minerva, next door, who was hard-of-hearing but helpful.

I'm partial to Colorado's out-of-the-way, mom-and-pop motels; I like being assured I'll feel better after a good night's sleep.

An earlier version of this column appeared in the May-June 2009 AAA Colorado "Encompass Extra" newsletter.

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