Where to go to get away for a while? Venture off to the cottage "Up North"? Look for a place with continental breakfast and a pool? Do the cruise thing or pile into RVs in search of something monumental? Isn't there always some far-off music fest worth considering? But maybe you don't have the money or time for any of those. Maybe you just want to get lost for a few hours and still have enough cash in your pocket to pick up a pizza on the way home. Maybe discretion's a concern?
A couple minutes, let alone hours, at a no-tell motel can be exotic — a near-to-home adventure vacation.
Feeling it'd be a bit too weird to show up with only a wallet and a camera, I threw my typewriter and a couple bottles of cheap wine in a suitcase and started toward Eight Mile Road in search of an hourly rental. The price was negotiable.
When the front doors of the place closed behind me, I walked into a wall of aged, sticky air. Behind inches of bulletproof glass was a disorienting collage of handwritten signs: "no partial payments," "no talk, no sit, no stand, no children," "after business exit please." Behind that, a handful of bored-looking late-twentysomethings shuffled about. I told the one who halfway noticed me I only needed a room for a couple hours, and we negotiated a price of $20. "Uh-huh, OK," he said, asking for my ID but never making eye contact. He gave me a room key and a remote control, then disappeared. There was no guide. The hallway was smoky. It felt like a slice of the old Eastern bloc was cut out, picked up and dropped into the bayou.
On the fourth floor, someone had subwoofers pushing out strip club anthems; someone else was watching Law & Order. Room 419 not only smelled worse than expected, it seemed to be coating my nasal passages. Every surface was stained, and the walls had anonymous drips (Champagne or beer?). What was the very red, very large stain in the far corner? Blood? So said my raging imagination.
I scanned through the few channels on the muted TV. The one with a perfect signal showed complimentary porn. More disturbing than the whiteheads on the inside of the woman's thighs was how much the room in the video looked like the one I was in. I swear I heard hyenas down the hallway.
If getting away from the world I knew was why I came here, I had succeeded.
Muffles in the hallway brought me to the peephole every couple minutes. It got addictive. It was better than TV and, between breaks from staring out it, what I witnessed made for good poetry. Channeling Hank, Jack or whomever, writing verse about this sordid motel seemed like the only productive thing I could do in a place like this. When I went to the tiny porthole I saw miniskirts and missing teeth. When I got bored, I tore back the sheets and ruffled through the drawers — where I found sticky plastic grocery bags and several pairs of shoelaces tied around the ends of drumsticks. Back at peephole, I witnessed a reunion. It had been four years since the two older, fat, topless white guys in gym shorts had seen the other two, slightly younger looking, skinny, barefoot black dudes. They were all walking arm over arm and one was crying. Later, a waif in high heels wearing a translucent tube top huffed down the hallway carrying a wig. He'd had enough of this place.
So had I.