Motels have lost their glow
July 25, 2013
Years ago I taught with a fidgety man who rolled his protuberant eyes when I mentioned a nice motel I'd stayed in at Lake Tahoe during a conference. He said he'd sleep in his VW Bug before a motel. Didn't I know that "motels" is an acronym for "many opportunities to ensure little sleep?"
No, I didn't. And did he know — as he smugly nibbled on an egg-salad sandwich he gripped with both hands — that he looked like a grasshopper? An unkind thought, I realize, but I enjoyed staying in rooms where someone else made my bed.
Lately, however, motels have lost their glow. My disenchantment began when their decorators became obsessed with pillows. I quail when I see a bed lined with four pillows of a decorative nature and six more labeled hard, medium, or soft. In my experience, they all feel the same, and they're all too small. Worse, there's no place to move them, and Joel frowns when I throw them on the floor.
I'm equally dismayed by motel coffee makers. They used to brew four cups, then two; and now they yield one stingy, six-ounce cup at a time — completely unsatisfactory for dedicated coffee drinkers. Mini-bars also seem useless. I sometimes examine their contents, but never consume anything. Their exorbitant prices make me squeal "eek" the way my dad did before he drove away from over-priced gas pumps.
The refrigerators found in motel rooms do have a purpose: storing food to forget; and most heating and cooling systems have one setting: goose bumps. The light switches are never where they should be, so I'm at risk every time I enter a blacked-out room, groping for a switch, while the door slams shut, blocking the hall light. Last winter, stumbling into a room, I tripped over an ottoman and sprawled on the floor, still gripping the handle of my wheeled bag, which toppled over on me.
Not a pretty sight.
Joel and I pulled into an isolated western town late one night, not knowing that festive folks had gathered from miles around to celebrate Pioneer Days. The first four motels we saw had no vacancies. At the fifth, we saw no sign indicating room availability; so Joel went to check while I stayed in the car, having a meltdown. When told there was one remaining room, Joel, wondering why, asked to see it. As he started to say the room looked fine, a giant cockroach lumbered across the bed's mountain of pillows. We drove on.
The desk clerk didn't argue as we left. He probably saw the insect as well and assumed we had a modicum of intelligence, unlike a night clerk in Indiana, who looked at our tired group — sunburned and dizzy after a long day on every waterslide and roller coaster at Holiday World — and assumed we'd need help to navigate his motel.
"You have rooms 302 and 303. Here's how to find them. All the rooms on the first floor are numbered in the hundreds: you know, like 101, 122, 148. The rooms on the second floor are numbered in the two hundreds: so rooms 203 or 217 would be found there. Get it? Your rooms, 302 and 303, are on the third floor. So in the elevator, push the number three. Then, on your floor, the room numbers are in order: 301, 302, 303, 304. Keep that in mind, and you'll be fine. I'll be right here if you run into trouble."
Wow! Who knew?
For a time, I preferred historic hotels to motels. But my interest in them dimmed when I discovered that though the ambiance may be interesting, the plumbing rarely works. Why stay in an elegant, restored hotel if you have to take the lid off the toilet's tank and jiggle its innards to make it flush?
So forget history: now I prefer motels so new that desk clerks have to explain the room-numbering system to dazed tourists with sunburned noses.