Janet Sheridan: Sketchy motel stories revisited

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Janet Sheridan

After my July column that highlighted flaws with motels, I heard from two readers who confessed to odd habits they’ve adopted in order to feel safe when staying in motels. In addition, two others told me about unpleasant experiences they endured when road weary and longing for a good night’s sleep.

A young lady who frequently travels alone asked for anonymity before admitting that when she first enters a motel room, she leaves it unlocked while she scans the bathroom, inspects the balcony, peers into all corners of all closets and checks behind the drapes. If everything looks OK, she sets the lock on the doorknob and slides the chain and deadbolt into place.

If she leaves the room to shop, swim or eat dinner, she follows the same routine upon re-entering — even if she leaves and re-enters multiple times.

The reason? She doesn’t want to be locked in, fumbling with a deadbolt, yanking on a chain, giving up any chance of quick escape if an intruder, hidden in her room, suddenly should leap out at her.

And I worry about cockroaches.

Another woman said she refuses to stay at any motel where the rooms have sliding glass doors. She feels vulnerable behind sliding glass. When her husband suggested that they carry a broomstick in their car to put in the track of any sliding door so it couldn’t be opened from the outside, she sensed an ulterior motive: “He didn’t volunteer to carry a broomstick around so I’d feel safe but because he thinks motels with sliding glass doors are older and less expensive.”

A friend remembered helping her husband shove a dresser in front of the door of the only lodging available in a small town off Interstate 80 because of the two splintered holes where someone had tried to kick their way into the room. If the owners hadn’t bothered to repair or replace the door, they reasoned, it must be because deranged kickers were common at this establishment.

A senior citizen, traveling with her daughter, related how they lay awake as members of a motorcycle gang stumbled from a nearby bar and carried on drunken conversations while urinating beneath their bathroom window. When she finally called the night clerk to complain, he said it always was bad for an hour or two but should stop soon; in the meantime, maybe they could turn up their TV.

I assured all my friends that they had every reason to be frightened and told them my scary motel story. A few years ago, Joel and I traveled to a wedding near Placerville, Calif. We had reservations at a place recommended by the bride because of its proximity to the wedding site. It was after midnight, and I was indulging in crankiness by the time we turned off the freeway and found our lodging: a 1960s two-story building located on a long strip of dark, deserted highway surrounded by shadowy buildings looming in a moonless night.

As Joel said, “You tend to feel uneasy when you can’t register inside the motel but have to exchange your credit card for a room key by way of a slide-out box operated by a scared-looking night clerk standing behind barred windows.”

At the wedding the next day, we easily spotted fellow guests who’d enjoyed the same accommodations we had by their red eyes, nervous tics and tendency to fall asleep over their California cuisine dinners.

Perhaps you’ve noticed a common theme of the anecdotes I’ve included: All were told by women. Women old enough to have been vulnerable teenagers when they entered darkened theaters to watch "Psycho." Women who never again showered in a motel room unless someone was standing guard, the room had been searched thoroughly and a broomstick sat in the track of the sliding glass door.

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