Whenever I consider staying at a Motel 6, I can’t help but think of Tom Bodett, the humorist and radio pitchman with the mellifluous drawl who once assured his listeners that the motel was so homey and accommodating, they’d “leave the light on for you.”
But whenever I stay at a Motel 6, I can’t help but remember Sam Kinison, the late comedian and former revival-style preacher who got famous for screaming lines like, “There’s no happy ending to cocaine. You either die, you go to jail, or else you run out.”
Listening to Bodett is like eating a warm bowl of buttery mashed potatoes and gravy at grandma’s house.
Listening to Kinison is like going to an exorcism and getting putrid split-pea soup barfed into your face, and yet you keep coming back for more because it’s inexpensive and there’s a lot of it.
And so it goes with Motel 6.
I’m always drawn to Motel 6 because, well, it’s cheap and convenient, much like home. For about $35 to $50 a night, you can find a Motel 6 just inches from any major highway pretty much anywhere in America. And they do leave the light on for you, although I no longer believe it’s because they’re friendly. I think it’s because cockroaches hate light and will stay hidden under the baseboards and sink cabinets as long as it’s on.
Why I can’t remember that when I’m on the road, I have no idea.
Take my last visit to Motel 6 a few months ago.
My family was driving from Dallas, Texas to our home in Denver, Colorado when we got tired and decided to pull into a Motel 6 in Wichita, Kansas to rest for the night. It was about 2 a.m. when I walked up the reception counter.
Okay, it wasn’t a reception counter. It was a narrow Formica shelf jutting out from the wall just below a 1-inch-thick polycarbonate window about the size of my head. Somebody with the carpentry skills of a second-grader had cut a hole into the wall, bolted a piece of bullet-proof plastic over it and, for good measure, covered it with iron bars, Gulag Archipelago style. Standing behind that greasy window was a very disheveled, very disgruntled young man wearing a black hoodie who looked less like a hotel clerk than a deeply disturbed former monk turned meth dealer.
When I saw that yellowed plastic window and his gold chains, I should’ve spun right around without saying a word and driven down the street to the Days Inn. Or even the RV Park. We could have slept among the Winnebagos practically free. We would have been sleeping in our minivan, sure, but we would have been safe, surrounded by dozens of loyal members of the Good Sam Club, who watch out for the wellbeing of their fellow travelers fiercely, or as fiercely as you can watch for one another when you’re 80 years old, have cataracts and ride a motorized scooter to the grocery store. But I didn’t run away because the price was alluringly cheap, a mere $37, tax included.
Now if you’re like me, you’re very familiar with the old expression, “You always get what you pay for.”
But if you’re like me, you also ignore the old expressions because you don’t really know what they mean and because you stubbornly believe that it’s good to be thrifty, even if that means getting beaten to death by angry drunks.
Which is exactly what I thought was going to happen.
After parking the minivan and unloading our luggage, I hurried my son, daughter and wife past a prostitute who was standing in the parking lot. Or maybe she was Lindsay Lohan, I’m not sure. All I really know is that it was freezing cold outside and she was standing there smoking a cigarette and wearing one of the three official hooker’s uniforms–stiletto heels, fishnet stockings and two bright red tube tops, one for the top half, which I think of as the marketing department, the other for the bottom two-thirds, which in my mind is the shipping department. Either way, though, I was fairly certain this particular young lady wasn’t running a family business.
As we rushed past her into the courtyard, we met a group of young men who appeared to be a little angry and a lot intoxicated. They looked me up and down like I was their personal ATM, but I immediately scared them away by nervously pointing at my well-muscled 15-year-old son, who’s not only a stud hockey player, but also happened to be carrying his sticks. They quickly left, probably because they correctly sensed that my sweet boy loves nothing more in life than removing people’s teeth from their mouths with a Nike Bauer Vapor X, 120 flex, Sakic curve.
The light was indeed on in our room, and it was also surprisingly spacious and well-equipped. If by “spacious” you mean all four of us were able to fit inside of it without standing single file, and by “well-equipped” you mean it had a rust-stained sink, a dripping shower and two beds spaced roughly 6 inches apart. Ignoring the primitive, defensive part of my brain that was instinctively yelling “bed bugs,” “is that blood on the shower curtain” and “what are those stains on the carpet, walls and furniture,” we unpacked for night, climbed under the covers and fell asleep.
Or would have, if it hadn’t been for the drunk guy who started pounding on the door and shouting at us about 10 minutes later. I honestly wish I could tell you what he wanted or why he sounded so angry and bitter, but he was so lubricated I could hardly make out a word of what he was saying. It sounded like, “Waaah grundle snort fucking waaah waaah yaaah stinking waaah fuck you waaah.” Or words to that effect. I glanced at my son to make sure he was still awake in case trouble developed, and cowered under the covers waiting for it to go away, which it did.
And then, finally, mercifully, we slept.
Until about 7 a.m.
That’s when the maid ignored the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the doorknob. That’s when the maid ignored the strict unspoken rule that says maids are supposed to knock before entering a room just in case you and your wife, or you and your secretary, or you and the hard-working entrepreneur you met in the parking lot earlier that night are busy putting fresh stains on the carpet. That’s when the maid used her magic pass key to unlock the door and became the only woman in the world other than my wife and my doctor to see me in my tighty-whiteys in about 32 years.
“What time are you checking out?” she shouted.
“We asked for a late checkout, which is about 11 a.m.,” my wife replied, looking and sounding a lot like a hockey player.
“We’re cleaning the rooms now,” the maid argued.
“We’re checking out at 11,” my wife replied, in a tone that frightened me and compelled the maid to close the door.
And then we laid there trying to sleep for another couple of hours while the Motel 6 maintenance man–who would have guessed they had one?–chipped ice off the sidewalk outside our room. I’d like to think he was doing it for us, or at least for my kids. But it was probably because Motel 6 hates getting sued by the hookers who slip and fall escorting their clients to and from their rooms.
We complained about our night, of course–first to the desk clerk, who shrugged and grunted apathetically instead of sympathetically, and later to some anonymous person or persons with an e-mail address in the customer service department at Motel 6’s corporate offices, who didn’t even bother to send us a cordial, automatically generated e-mail expressing regret for our discomfort.
So will I ever stay at Motel 6 again?
I hope not.
But if I do, I hope Tom Bodett’s there to tuck me in and read me a bedtime story. With that voice of his, he could recite the warning label on a can of Raid bug spray and put me to sleep.