Night in the Blue Motel
Monday, December 24, 2012
I must of passed this motel hundreds of times since my first coming up this highway in the Chevy pickup truck we had converted to use as a camper for the long trip from New York City to Portland, me, my girlfriend, my daughter, Michael, the man who’d made the FBI’s most wanted list for a week earlier that year, and his girlfriend – packing our entire lives in the back of the wooden box we have built so that we looked very much like Okies from The Grapes of Wrath.
Each time I returned to visit Scranton in the subsequent years, I always took this highway, first because it reminded me of who would become my ex-wife, in whose footsteps I walked dozens of years – never ceasing to love anyone I once loved. I’d even traveled this road that time when she wanted to see me and I drove west with my two best friends, who hoped they could help convince her to take me back and allow me to feel like a father again, a romantic’s notion that never transpired, then later, I took this route because the road was one of the blue highways, an up and down ribbon through time and space that brought me back to an era before the super highways and modern concepts of speed. I always drove slow here and looked to the trees and ponds, yet oddly, have over looked this particular rundown motel, something straight out of post World War II with few modern conveniences except a pub that had beer signs posted over its front windows and two handwritten signs on the door: bikers welcome and closed until further notice.
I had called well enough in advance to make reservations and when I pulled the car up in front of the place, I celebrated my foresight, seeing pickups and other trucks sprawled on both sides of the highway in front of it – perhaps hunters coming in for their Christmas kill.
“No it’s an auction,” the woman proprietor told me when I finally tracked her down, trying all the doors to the office and then the closed pub, only to find them locked and their interiors dark.
I saw the door bell on the office door only after I saw the woman coming to open the door, and when I told her my name, she nodded, took my credit card and ran this through a swipe that did not take.
“It doesn’t work,” she said.
I was certain I had enough credit left to pay the $50 fee. But I gave her another card. This didn’t work either. Then I gave her a debit, and when that failed, I gave her the cash.
“We had a power outage last week,” the woman said. “Maybe the machine is broken. I’ll have to get someone out here to check it.”
But from the look of it all, the machine was not the only thing broken. The three building complex tended to sag in places it out not, and the driveway between these buildings can strong evidence to the heavy weather the snow-laden sides of the highway had only hinted at on our way there, ice covering the asphalt (and fortunately filling the holes that might have swallowed my small car).
She handed me a key to room #6.
“Check out is at 11,” she said. “Just leave the key in the room when you leave.”
Since I was on my way into Scranton to see my daughter, I only dropped off a bag with a change of clothing. But this gave enough of a glimpse of the interior – or rather, a sniff. Decades of cigarette smoke lingered inside, part of the charm of a room that barely had space for bed, table and chair. A TV set blocked most the way on one side of the bed. A small refrigerator sat in the bottom of a closet which had no bar or hooks to hang clothing. The bathroom had a window that looked out onto the pub’s back porch, which looked like something out of The Hobbit, only far more deteriorated, with old bar signs used to patch the broken spaces on the roof.
The toilet had another handwritten sign like those on the door of the pub saying “hold the handle down to flush,” only there was no handle, just a kind of button.
While the room had towels, it had two pathetic pillows and a very thin blanket. The heater, although claimed to have grades of heat, in truth presented only two options, scalding and frost bite. I chose frostbite and put on most of my clothing. The bed sagged in the middle and groaned like a wicker chair if you moved – or breathed too deeply. Needless to say, the night was one of waking and trying to sleep again.
And strangely, I loved it, reminding me of those days living in cold water flat in Passaic when I first re-hooked up with my ex-wife and daughter again, when I still believed that I would become a great novelist and was suffering for my art, when I placed myself not in some fancy hotel or celebrated venue, but in the down-and-out world of poor painters and suffering writers.
The night in the motel reminded me of what the artist life is supposed to be about, and how in the end, the work is what matters, not the accolades, and each time I work up and I thought again – to chattering teeth – of how special a place in the world artists hold because we do indeed owe a debt of gratitude to moments like this when we are reminded that the real satisfaction comes from what we do – even it if took the better part of the next day to work out the kinks in my back the lack of eat and bad bed causes.