interlude in a small motel, Holbrook, AZ

April 30, 2009
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After we left the Sugarite campground in northern NM, we drove quite a while.  I was hoping that we’d be able to camp in the Petrified Forest National Park, but they’re only open during the day–no camping.  So we drove on to the next outpost of civilization: Holbrook, AZ.  Once we got into town we saw there were a couple of RV-type campgrounds (KOA, and something local) and we headed toward them.  We’ve never actually taken Shorty to a KOA, but we’ve heard that sometimes teardrops aren’t welcome–they’re looking for the ginormous RV’s that need water, sewer, electricity hookups, not something like shorty which can’t actually use any of those.  As we drove through town, I realized that the motel prices were all pretty low, and suggested that if we’re going to have to pay $30+ for an oversized RV spot we might as well just grab one of the local hotels and have a bigger bed and private shower.

So we ducked into the next motel we passed.  Courtney has a thing for the “Lolita” style motels, and this fit the bill.  Very 40’s and not a lot done to it since.  Several decoy cars in the lot.

We pulled in at around 8PM, I went up to the office to get a room.  There was a sign saying to ring the bell, so I did, then I checked the door, discovered it was unlocked, and went inside.  No one was there for a minute, so I turned around to see if there was anything saying whether I should actually have entered the office (or something) and when I turned around again, there was a woman standing at the desk.  Yikes!  I did the whole hand to chest, “wow you scared me” routine in my goofy-friendly way, but she wasn’t having it.

“No I didn’t.  I came because you rang the bell.”

Uh.  OK.  Not worth going in to.  Let’s try the other foot.  “So anyway, I’m here for a room for the night.”

If you haven’t stayed in small local hotel/motels in the US, you may have missed the fact that almost all of them are run by (eastern) Indian families, now.  We’re not the only ones to notice.

So the 40-50 year old Indian woman at the desk pulls out the sign-up slip and a pen and hands it to me.  As I start filling it out I notice she doesn’t smile, ever, and that she looks like she had a nose-ring tear out at some point.  I put down 2 for the “people” blank, 1 for the “rooms” blank and draw a line through “Children” and “Pets”.

“You only have 2 people?  Are you sure?”

“Yes, just me and my wife in the car.”

“Just two?”


“No pets?”

“No, no pets.”

“Are you sure no pets?  What about that?” she said, pointing to Shorty.

“That’s our trailer, we usually sleep in it, but as you can guess, it doesn’t have a shower.”

“No pets?”

“No, no pets. Not even at home.”

“You must put the number down, you can’t just cross them out.”

Apparently there are very strict auditing rules at this motel.  I must have still been in the ‘trying to please’ headspace as it didn’t dawn on me that I could very well just ask, “Don’t you want my money?  Is there a problem with this exchange of capital for services?” but instead I just played along.  I put two 0’s there.  I considered writing “zero” in the blank but I didn’t want Courtney to witness my murder like that.

Then, to further complicate matters, I circled “n” in the “Smoking?  y/n” section.  The last smoking we had done was that one shared clove back in Iowa City.  And that was just a nostalgia-trip.  We don’t smoke.

“No smoking?  Really?  Are you sure you don’t smoke?”


“Not even outside the room?”

“No ma’am, neither of us smoke.”


But apparently I passed the test.  All the rest of the exchange went through without comment, and she had the key ready for me.  $36.85.  Before she gave me the key, she gave me a speech about how this was just a simple motel, the rooms aren’t anything fancy, the bed is a twin, but the rooms are clean.  She gave me the clean line at least 3 times.  And then explicit instructions about where I should park the car+trailer.  No jackbooted thugs arrived in the middle of the night dragging us out, so I apparently got close enough.

The rooms weren’t anything fancy.  Cigarette burn through the bed comforter, no screens on any windows, piece of (almost petrified) ancient lathe to keep the bathroom window from opening from the outside, remoteless TV, and the towels were 2×3 feet pieces something resembling terry-cloth.  The artless landscape on the wall had been framed with house baseboard stock stapled badly to the front of the canvas–the sides of the canvas were still quite evident.  And it was musty, but clean.

The room also came with a coupon for breakfast the next morning at the attached diner: 2 pancakes and a cup of coffee.

We went to the diner the next morning for our breakfast.  An older Indian woman with gray hair came to wait on us.  When she saw the coupon, she took it and walked away with the menu.  Apparently our money was no good here, either.  She disappeared.  Several minutes later we were able to get the attention of an Indian man that I assumed was the husband of the front-desk grouch.  We finally got our menus and were able to order a touch more food to compliment our complimentary pancakes.

Also in the diner that morning were the 2 guys in moving company T-shirts that must belong to the moving van in the parking lot and another couple that appeared to be father and son.  The boy was somewhere in that 15 year-old stage of traumatically dorky.  Tall, thin, still growing into his body.  And from the looks of his father sitting there in his shiny black and red Bulls coat, he wasn’t going to improve a whole lot once he comes out the other side of puberty.

We ate.  We paid.  Courtney went to get situated in the car while I took the room key to the office.  I’d tried before breakfast but no one was there.  They had a box to leave the key in, permanently screwed open to the door, but I wanted to hand it to a person.  As I approached the office, I saw father Bulls at the open back of a pickup-with-topper handing something limp and white to our gray haired waitress.  I entered the office and saw the boy standing at the front desk with the room key.  I kept to myself, intently studying the wall and ignoring what was going on outside (mother yells back to someone next to the building I couldn’t see) because I’d just figured out what was happening.  Father Bulls just got busted for trying to steal threadbare towels.

Madame Front Desk came into the office.  She had a $10 bill in her hand and exchanged it with the boy for the room key.  As she did so, she used the same tone she used with me the night before, “This is very inconvenient!”

Damn.  No wonder she was so cranky if this was the sort of thing she had to put up with.  She probably would have been better off just telling the guy to get lost, he just bought two $5 towels, but I suppose they needed to check out his truck to make sure he hadn’t run off with a bunch of other stuff they hadn’t noticed or considered.   I was patiently minding my own business and trying to figure out how to say something that would acknowledge that what just happened was completely out of line and that I was sorry she had to put up with this.  But when she looked at me, she said something like “Yes?  Your key?” and I lost all empathy.  I realized that as long as I was on this side of the counter there was no way we were going to be friends, or even friendly.  I gave her the key, end of transaction.

Back to the road.

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