No Vacancy is a monthly column on often-overlooked aspects of the American life. While roadside hotels and remote estate sales may not be the flashy parts of modern life, they are inextricable from American culture. Here, Kyle dissects it all.
I stood in the motel lobby and watched the elderly man fumble with the credit card machine. An error message kept appearing as his unsteady hand entered $80,000 instead of $80 for the third time. Internally I was screaming, but I kindly asked if he would like some assistance. I had worked with these machines before, I told him. Through the window of the booth, his face relaxed with relief. He was just a neighbor after all, holding down the fort until the owner got back. I crammed myself into the small booth, ran my card, got my key, and went to my room.
It was nice enough, outfitted with two beds, a small table, TV, and microwave. The bathroom featured a nicely tiled shower and a window, too narrow to make a rear escape though. Even with the pronounced “No Smoking” plaque above the beds, the room smelled like a stale Winston. I stepped outside to suck up some fresh air. A strong instinct led me to my neighbor's door, and I pounded hard a few times. I counted to five, listening to the scramble, then screamed, “Never mind!” and walked towards the lobby. It is good to give tweakers some occasional outside stimuli.
I bought an RC Cola from the vending machine and sat in the once white plastic chair beside my door. Here's to looking at you, man grinning at me from across the street. The sun was still high and we were the only ones around. I enjoy staying at motels. I have a bit of a soft-spot for places that house the precariat and sinners. If you are staying at a motel you are likely there for one of three reasons: sex, drugs, or what I like to call “in-between life opportunities.” These of course can intersect. They often do. What is a night of blow and Brut without the accompanying soft weenie dance beseeching God to bring it back? I would not know about these wicked affairs, but I assume it happens.
Motels have always been a convenient outlet. As a minor, it was the place to party with questionable, older acquaintances. As a young buck, it was a place you and your lover could escape to when you had a couple bucks. You may think the idea of a night at the motor lodge unromantic. She did too.
Hotels are expensive and ugly in their attempt to look sleek. Motels are cheap and sleek in their ugliness. The twitching neon sign, the “No Firearms” sticker in the lobby, the yellowed nicotine stained walls all give the place a marked character that you just cannot get at a Hilton. At some point in the last decade we have decided dull sterility means nice. Motels in the platinum pedigree can even be rented out by the hour. It only takes 45 minutes to ruin your marriage. It would be extortion to have you pay for the whole night.
Pro tip: If you are planning on ruining your marriage with that dispensary clerk, inquire at the desk whether the hourly rate is more economical than the nightly fee. If it is only slightly more expensive, pay for the night, and seduce the lady. After you have parted ways, send the spouse a quick “it's over” text and order dumplings.
Back in my chair, it was nearing 9 pm, and I was bored. The gas station beer I had did not transport me to the mental state required for this setting. It was a rookie mistake. Always bring enough provisions to last the night. I could drive and pick up some more but constantly coming and going tends to get you noticed by the watchful eye of proprietors. If you come and go more than twice they are liable to do what I did to the tweakers, and that is just rude.
I was taking in the last of a cotton candy sky when I spotted a man. Not the grinning man. Last I saw of him he was marching down the road toward oblivion. This new man was also enjoying his plastic chair. Several 24 ounce cans were neatly stacked beside him. An idea formed. I walked over thinking I could charm him out of a drink and a couple stories. When there is nothing to do, you can always try to connect with your fellow man.
After I passed his security protocol (“Who the fuck are you?”), I was cleared to take a chair and sit next to him. There was a clean cup in the bathroom that I could use if I was willing to get up and go fetch it. “Don’t worry man I am not going to follow you in. I’m a loser, not a creep.” I believed him wholeheartedly. Those reassuring words satisfied me so I bounded to the bathroom and got the cup. He filled it, and I sat back in my chair.
“Come here often?” I asked, trying to break the ice. In a matter of fact tone, he told me that this had been his third week living at the motel. His old lady gave him the boot, and he was biding time until his eviction charge passed the statute of limitations so he could rent again. This was strictly a temporary situation; a person in-between life’s opportunities. I asked what it was like living out of a motel room. He divulged, in all malt beverage honesty, that it was a terribly lonely life. I had been the first person to approach him as a human since he got here. This depressing admission resonated deep within me, and I felt obligated to stay there and drink a little more of this man's alcohol.
We talked deep into the night. I got up to date on the latest motel gossip: four doors down a team of thieves rents a U-Haul and drives it around like a car to avoid suspicion from the cops, allegedly; the owner is slowly succumbing to dementia; hot water is only available in the morning; his next door neighbor is a lady who likes Eric Clapton and crack cocaine.
Her ears must have been ringing because not three minutes later she came barreling into the parking lot. Her aged Buick Regal backed into the parking spot with such gusto her back tires ended up on the concrete stop block . She exploded out of the car and cursed her poor parking job. On her arrival, the man rose and took off his fitted flat brim hat like a rogue cowboy before the rancher’s wife. He told me it was time for me to run along.
I looked at him looking at her, then turned to look at her looking sort of in his general direction. It all became clear. I can always tell when Cupid's presence is in the air! Since I was suddenly an inconvenience to mid-40’s lust, I puttered back to my quarters. I turned on the TV praying I could catch some of the 12-hour block of Pawn Stars, feeling like the man God forgot.