Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Checking in....

One of my quirks (and yes, I know I have more than one) is that I really like staying in hotels and motels. I love to explore a new room. It's kind of a ritual with me. I'll open all the drawers and closets and inventory everything....Gideon Bible, phone book, stationery, drycleaner bags, notepads, pens, pencils, in-room magazines, soaps, shoeshine mitt, shower cap, little bottles of toiletries, etc. I find comfort in the universal nature of hotel amenities.

The Gideon Bible seems to be the common thread in all hotels I've visited. Occasionally, depending on where you travel, you'll find variations. For example, in Utah and many parts of southern Idaho, you'll find a Book of Mormon along with the Gideon Bible. In British Columbia I've found the Teachings of Buddah.

The irony of the universal Bible or religious tome in a hotel room is that most of these same places also offer a wide selection of adult films for purchase on cable to enjoy in the privacy of your room. Perhaps the Bible is there for you to reflect on after you've tired of Naughty Nurses 15 or Mutiny on the Booty starring Captain Thigh.

One thing I miss about modern hotels is the paper ring they used to put around the toilet seat. I used to love dashing into the bathroom to be the first person to rip off the ring, safe in my knowledge that it had recently been "Sanitized for my protection." And whatever happened to the magic fingers that would "rock your world" and vibrate your bed for a quarter?

Maybe staying in a hotel is such a treat to me because I never got to stay in one until I was about 14 years old. Up until then, every vacation my family ever took involved a tent, fishing poles and a flashlight to find the outhouse (or bush, depending upon where we were camping). By the time I was in junior high, my brothers pretty much opted out of family vacations and my mother demanded that we see something new.

In the summer of 1972, I joined my parents for our first and last family road trip. Our destination was Alamosa, Colorado. Our purpose was to look at some property my parents had purchased sight unseen from an ad my dad had found in one of his True West magazines. I think they put a $100 down and were paying $5 a month for five acres of prime real estate in the desert of southern Colorado. The company selling the property encouraged buyers to stop by anytime to tour the property. So that's what we were going to do.

It was just my parents and I. I think my brothers waited maybe 15 minutes after we had left before they began their weeklong party. It must have been a good one because when we returned from our road trip, the sliding glass door to our patio was shattered, my pet rabbit had escaped and there were Playboy magazines under the living room couch. In some twisted way, I think all of those things were related, but my brothers never enlightened me.

While my brothers were reveling in their freedom, I was counting Little America Resort road signs as we passed through Utah and made our way to Wyoming. The first day we made it as far as Rock Springs, Wyoming. And that is where I stayed in a motel for the first time in my life. We bypassed the Holiday Inn and opted for a more rustic choice. I think the name of the place was MOTEL -- CHEAP. The hotel clerk seemed a bit confused that we wanted a room for the entire night, so in retrospect the motel name should have been WESTWARD HO (think about this one for awhile). To my father's credit, he did spring for a room with a television. It helped drown out the sound of trucks going up and down the highway.

Years later I was watching a Sixty Minutes report about the drug trade in America. It highlighted Rock Springs, Wyoming as the portal for drug traffic to the West. Oh, it also has a coal fired electrical plant as a I recall. We were oblivious the city's claim to fame that one night we stayed there. Despite the traffic noise and sounds of amorous truckers partying with local working girls, the night was uneventful. But it was where I began my ritual of rummaging through hotel rooms drawers and closets to discover what kind of amenities were being offered.

The rest of the trip is kind of a blur. I know we passed through Wide Open Wyoming and drove through some amazing parts of Colorful Colorado before touring my parent's little patch of desert in Alamosa (this was the first time I saw cactus growing in the wild, too). We got a little more discriminating when it came to choosing hotels. We began choosing places that at least had names like the Wagon Wheel, the Red Rock or the Lazy ZZZZZ's. And they all had toilets that were sanitzed for our protection and a Gideon Bible in the nightstand. This was before cable delivered porn to your room. I don't imagine my parents would have appreciated it anyway (though at 14 I would thanked the Lord in his wisdom for showing me such a thing existed).

I've stayed in hundreds of hotel rooms since, from no stars to four stars. But I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for little roadside mom and pop places with catchy names like Let 'Er Buck, the Whoa Motel and the Moonstone. I just prefer to drive by them now and wax nostalgic on my way to a nice comfortable Fairmont, Westin or Hilton.
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