Travelodge Blues

By BOB WIRE

My son plays lacrosse for his high school team. When you play lacrosse (or any club sport, really) in Montana, you routinely have to drive several hundred miles to find another team to play. It was on one of these recent juggernauts, a three-day tournament near Seattle, where I made the mistake of trying to save a few bucks on a hotel one night.

Can you blame me? We’re talking about my family of four on the road for a solid week of hotels and eating out, which would cost us roughly the equivalent of Canada’s GDP (not counting lacrosse balls). So anywhere I could tighten the belt a little bit would help. We spent the first couple of nights in a nice four-star place on the East Side, a mere 90 minutes (4 miles on the 405) from the fields. Coupled with an exciting opening game victory for the boys, it got the trip off to a great start. My plan was to downgrade to a two-star joint for our “transition” hotel.

I should explain that, as with most middle aged dads, my own hotel standards are wildly different from those of my wife and kids. I’m the guy those creepy black and white billboards are aimed at. The ones you see on the freeway advertising rooms “Starting at $27.99” at some obscure concrete bunker called the Royal Ace or the Continental Motor Inn or La Cucaracha Muerte. It’s usually located across the street from the liquor store or a place called Dildo-Mart. If the bedbugs don’t snore louder than I do, I’ll take it. I just need a place with a lockable door where I can pass out, and then take a nice leisurely growler in the morning.

WARNING! Only Motels Ahead

WARNING! Only MotelsAhead

The family, however, needs the Hotel Experience. They will have no truck with snoring insects or discount dildos. They need a room with no cigarette burns in the carpet. Flat screen TV. Lamp shades. New beds with many large pillows. A pool. Continental breakfast, at the bare minimum. Elevators. Glassware. Oh, and it must be a hotel, not a motel.

If you don’t know the difference, a hotel is a place where you exit your room into the security of a hallway. In a motel, you open the door to your room and see your car parked right there, and there’s a sunburned old white guy smoking a cigarette, huge belly hanging out of his open shirt while he eyeballs your daughter as she’s on her way to get a bucket of questionable ice.

And then there’s a third category, the place I booked us into, the Travelodge. One hour at the Travelodge and you’ll wish to god you’d booked a motel.

Some history: In the late 1940s America took to the roads on its spanking new interstate highway system, and the motel industry sprang up overnight to serve vacationing families. People wanted to park their station wagons right outside the door to their rooms, because there’s no time to spare when the World’s Largest Rubber Band Collection opens at 7:00 a.m. sharp. You gotta get those kids piled into the way back of the Vista Cruiser, and there’s barely time to swing by the liquor store before you’re on your way to the next American landmark, like Ray Milland’s boyhood home.

At some point, though, the marketing brain trust at Motel Think Tankdecided that there should be a franchise of roadside accommodations that offer almost no amenities outside of a saggy bed and a lime-caked toilet, for the thrifty middle aged man, or perhaps those on the lam. And the Travelodge was born.

Anywhere I’ve lived, I’ve been advised to steer clear of the Travelodge. “You’ll be sorry,” they said. “Not worth the money you’ll save,” they said. “Hope you like your whores smellin’ like Comet,” they said. Somehow all these warnings slipped my mind when I found a Travelodge online, located on Highway 99 north of Seattle. We just needed one night between our Seattle adventures and our drive to Bellingham where we’d tour the campus of Western Washington, where Speaker is interested in going. I booked it sight unseen.

So in the space of 30 miles or so, we plummeted from the four-star luxury of a swank (for us) hotel in Kirkland to the symphony of sirens and all-night crack-house circus that is the Travelodge. “It’s $50 less than the Hampton Inn, you spoiled brats!” I snapped as the unending cascade of complaints rained down on me from the moment we pulled into the parking lot, scattering a gaggle of rock dealers and hookers.

You know you’re in for a treat when the front desk clerk, scratching his fresh neck tattoo, asks how many keys you want and then cuts you a duplicate right there on his key machine. I reluctantly gave him my credit card in exchange for two actual keys.

We pulled our suitcases into the room and surveyed our dingy surroundings.

“Turn on the lights,” said Barb.

“They’re on,” said Rusty, hand on the wall switch. “Both of them.”

I felt like we were on the set of the Dick Van Dyke show. Wood paneling on the walls. Mismatched wood furniture. Velvet paintings of sad clowns with enormous eyes dominated the room. I asked Speaker to open the curtains, which gave us a great view of the drunk fat guy smoking a cigarette in the parking lot outside our room. He leered at us, the streetlight glinting off his tooth.

“Well,” I said, tossing my suitcase onto the bed, producing a cloud of dust, “it’s just for one night. And it’s nicer than Ray Milland’s boyhood home, which is in Wales.”

“Yeah,” said the panhandler who stepped out of the bathroom. “Just one night. Got any spare change?”

On a separate, completely unrelated note, I highly recommend the Hampton Inn on Highway 99 north of Seattle. Great breakfast.

   Check out all of Bob Wire’s posts in his blogarchive.

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Have an off-white Christmas with Bob Wire.Think of it as Gonzo meets Hee Haw: Missoula honky tonker Bob Wire holds forth on a unique life filled with music, parenthood, drinking, sports, working, marriage, drinking, and just navigating the twisted wreckage of American culture. Plus occasional grooming tips. Like the best humor, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes silly, sometimes surreal, sometimes savage, Bob Wire demands that you possess a good sense of humor and an openmind.

Bob Wire has written more than 500 humor columns for a regional website over the last five years, and his writing has appeared in the Missoulian, the Missoula Independent, Montana Magazine, and his own Bob Wire Has a Point Blog. He is a prolific songwriter, and has recorded three CDs of original material with his Montana band, the Magnificent Bastards. His previous band, the Fencemenders, was a popular fixture at area clubs. They were voted Best Local Band twice by the Missoula Independent readers poll. Bob was voted the Trail 103.3/Missoulian Entertainer of the Year in 2007.

You can hear his music on his website, or download it at iTunes, Amazon, and other online music providers. Follow @Bob_Wire on Twitter.

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