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Sunday, 12 January 2014

Ode To The Motelier

I’m not looking forward to this week at all. Apart from the usual disasters that befall us all on a regular basis, I’m facing the task of choosing a hotel room to be our home for a week interstate.
There was a time when this would have been a breeze. When I was young and carefree and would have slept anywhere, or when I was well-heeled enough to stay up market I wouldn’t have given it a moment’s thought.
Sadly, being of that indeterminate age between world-weary and dead, I have entered the third stage of the human/motel relationship – the stage where seemingly inconsequential things matter. A lot.

The first stage, which normally lasts for the first 10 dates or so, is the Inadvertently Finding Yourself Dating A Supermodel stage.
Everything about the hotel/motel is exciting. There is a little voice in your head telling you that only rich people stay in hotels, so you spend the night worrying that the management will discover you are an impostor and unceremoniously frogmarch you to the car park.
You know you shouldn't really be there and, subsequently, you are shit scared of doing anything wrong. You try not to ruffle the bed too much – in fact, you make the bed in the morning; you dare not fart and if desperation finally compels you to use the toilet, you try to have a dry shit in case they notice you used some toilet paper; when you have a shower you try not to get the cubicle too wet; you don’t use the shampoo or soap and can only gaze at the mini-bar in terrified awe. You are terrified of even touching the telephone, lest you be charged for picking up the receiver.
You are also, having watched countless movies where people get robbed while in their hotel/motel rooms, a trifle nervous. You tuck your wallet under the pillow and sleep in shorts and t-shirt – because fighting off burglars is one thing, but fighting off burglars with your willy exposed is taking things to a whole new level of embarrassment.

The second stage is the Married to the Check-out Chick for Ten Years stage.
You’ve graduated to fully fledged traveller. You’ve seen enough hotels to last you a lifetime. As soon as you get in the door you do the rounds and put every complimentary shampoo, conditioner, soap, pen, notepad in your bag. You order room service, partly to see if you have stumbled on the only hotel in the known universe where room service food doesn’t taste like crap, but mostly because it is a work trip and your boss is paying.
You spend an hour in the shower, using the spare towel as a floor mat; get the spare pillows out of the cupboard – hey, you’re paying for it, may as well use it; drink every bottle of beer in the mini-bar; amuse yourself with a one-man farting competition and fall asleep with all the lights and the television on.

The third stage is the one we are now in: the All I want Is Real Milk And A Pillow That Doesn’t Feel Like A Leper’s Back stage.
You have no expectations at all. You accept that the carpets and décor will have been chosen by a visually impaired alcoholic schizophrenic; you use the shampoo instead of stealing it; you take your own wine or beer because hotel mini-bars are a bigger rip-off than a Craig Thomson expenses claim.
You also know that even though the only source of water for the kettle is the bathroom vanity tap, the tap will be designed in such a way as to make it impossible for you to manoeuvre the kettle under it; and no matter how miniscule the coffee cups, the management will provide exactly two too few coffee sachets and four too few sugar sachets, and you will spend 10 minutes gently trying to peel the lid off the UHT milk thimble, only for the damned thing to tear just when you least expect it, leaving you with not quite strong enough or sweet enough black coffee and a milk stain on the doona. As for the doona itself, in winter it will have the consistency and thermal qualities of a parachute. If you visit in summer, it will weigh 40 kilos and carry a ‘two-man lift’ safety notice.
You are resigned to having to endure a degree of supercilious smarm you wouldn’t normally expect from hotel employees whose greatest achievement in life is gaining Certificate lll qualifications in Room-Key Identification, Bag Trolley Stacking and Advance Booking Fuck-Ups and Bill Confusion: Methodology and Practice.

All of that only applies to big city hotels, of course. If you hanker for that frisson of anticipation that comes from not knowing whether the hotel of your choice is a dive or not, you need to head for the country, where motels fall into three broad categories of homely, adequate and keep driving until you drop.
(Overwhelmingly in favour of the country motel is the almost complete absence of proprietor smarm. They are rude, incompetent, slovenly arseholes, trapped in a life they hate and couldn’t give a shit one way or the other or good-hearted souls who view meeting the next customer as possibly the best thing that has ever happened to them. But they are never smarmy.)
The ‘keep driving’ motels are the ones you find yourself checking into at 9pm after 16 hours behind the wheel. You keep passing perfectly respectable looking places until you suddenly realise that you either stop voluntarily or have the car introduce you to a tree.

I have stayed in places so gruesome, if my dog had been with me he would have inspected the room, given me that 'you can fuck off'' look and wandered off to find a nice, comfortable gutted kangaroo carcass for the night.
The worst was, surprise, surprise, in Port Augusta: the town that gives shit-holes a bad name. I knew it was going to be bad when I saw the piece of plywood nailed over the hole that had been kicked in the door.
The door not only wouldn’t lock, it wouldn’t even stay closed. Too tired to argue with the talking corpse at reception, I tried to block the door with the bed only to discover that it had only three legs – the fourth had been replaced by a few bricks.
I  wedged the door as best I could with the chair, decided that, having left my asbestos suit at home I’d have to give the shower a miss and tried to distract myself by watching whatever crap passes for television entertainment in South Australia.
The television – probably a bargain when it was bought at the John Logie Baird deceased estate auction – hummed to itself for a bit before emitting loud ‘crack’ and a thin spiral of blue smoke. The last straw was the kettle. When I picked it up a Huntsman, which I initially mistook for a furry squash ball on articulated stilts, hauled itself out of the spout and demanded to know what the fuck was going on.
I spent the night in the car, watching would-be thieves climbing in and out of my room window. I forget the name of the place, but all you need to know is that it was in Port Augusta. If you voluntarily stay in a place as God-forsaken as that dump, you deserve everything you get.

As luck would have it, the following night I found the best country motel I have ever stayed in. It was late. I was tired, hungry and would have sold my sister to an Arab sex-slave trader for a beer.
My first question on checking in was whether there was a pub/restaurant within walking distance. No, said the nice lady. She added that I could try the RSL, but the kitchen would probably be closed.
Something about the way I slowly banged my head repeatedly on the counter must have moved her because she gave me the key to my (spotless and stylishly furnished) room, and said she’d be along in a few minutes.
I answered her knock at the door to be greeted by a roast lamb dinner – she had just finished cooking and had plenty left over – and a six-pack of her husband’s beer.
Between those two extremes there are countless variations on the motel theme, which is what makes random country motel choices interesting, if nothing else.
I’d still settle for bland conformity in Melbourne, though, as long as the pillow is firm and there is a carton of real milk in the fridge.

Like I said at the start … I’m in the stage where inconsequential things really do matter.

1 comment:

  1. Don't you get tired of writing this drivel? Get a real job.