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Spare Parts: Roughing it indoors

By Ernie Copper

We’ve all had our share of bad nights on the road. Collapsing tents, no tent, iron-butt hotels and just plain bad hotels. When the Nation’s Innkeeper is asleep and the Host of the Highways has his back turned, we are sometimes left to seek shelter in dim, unfamiliar places at our own peril. I stayed in such a place recently, because I basically had no other choice.

The places I speak of are not the quaint roadside cabins of the ’50s, featuring timeless knotty pine paneling and no television. That doesn’t necessarily make for a bad place to stay. The places I am referring to are far more rustic and not nearly as charming.

It’s not too much of a generalization to say that a magnetic key card insures a certain level of modernity in your night’s lodging. The place probably has a nice air conditioner, a modern television with remote and maybe even internet access. A metal key with a fob the size of a U.S. territory is normally representative of the converse. Such was the case at my recent Lost Paradise sojourn. Upon my check-in (they didn’t lose my reservation!) the desk clerk fumbled through a shoe box full of keys, and when the jingling was over he produced my metal room key with a bright yellow fob, as his wife fed their baby in the next room that was separated from the desk by a shower curtain.

The sign-in experience did not belie the nocturnal experience that awaited me. There was no parking in the rear and only a 17-percent grade falling one way, while the hotel fell the other. The steps leading to the back, where my accommodations awaited me, were uneven, featured no handrail and consisted of a fine blend of concrete and wood construction not often seen in inhabited buildings outside third-world countries these days. The whitewashed porch roofs were held up by a post, which turned out to be a convenient place to chain up the rat traps! I was also greeted by a stray toilet outside a vacant room—vacant for an obviously good reason.

It was hot and humid, of course, so the air-conditioner units were dripping condensation by the bucketful. I’m not sure if it was an owner modification or just old age, but many of the through-the-wall air conditioners were missing the exterior trim; a nice touch.

My key did open my door, and fortunately nothing scurried across the floor when I pushed the door open. The air conditioner had interior trim and was operable, so it wasn’t a total loss. The furnishings were plentiful, featuring two televisions stacked one atop the other, a mini-fridge, microwave and an electric cooktop on the floor. There were also kitchen cabinets, so I guess you could say I had a kitchenette. The chairs were all broken, but thank God the toilet had been sanitized for my protection. It only had one flush left in it, but it was sanitized.

The floor sloped away from the middle of the room toward each corner, making a sort of summit in the center. Who knows why? We cautiously pulled back the bedspread and it was surprisingly clean.

Overhead, the raccoons had their own highway and were tramping around all night. The only thing between them and us were some vintage 12″ x 12″ ceiling tiles, circa 1972. The tile put up a good fight, but in the end a ’coon dropped a leg or two through during the night, resulting in nesting debris falling to the other bed in the room.

Needless to say, this resulted in a late-night restroom break, at which point I discovered the toilet didn’t flush anymore. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, as it had been running the duration of our stay while every faucet in the place leaked. A quick trip to the front office (which was closed and wouldn’t open until 8:00 a.m.) scored an empty five-gallon bucket sitting outside that was being used for drywall repairs. I took it, filled it up in the shower and dumped it into the toilet bowl and voila, we had a flushing toilet.

This is the kind of place people rent by the week—right before they have no home—and it’s reprehensible that we allow establishments like these to exist in a country as wealthy as ours. Nobody should live like that in our country, and I’ll be in touch with the dump in question to vent my displeasure soon. And next time, I’ll sleep on a concrete picnic table before I fork over any money to them. I’ve gotten some of my best sleep on concrete picnic tables and truck beds, but that’s another story…

 

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