Mostly locked up at home during the pandemic, my mind occasionally has wandered back to those long-ago days when travel was a large part of my life. Oh, the freedom!
A drive to the grocery store now feels like an epic journey, fraught with adventure. I wasn’t always like this: a stuck-in-the-mud, never-goes-anywhere homebody. I used to do things, go places, be an intrepid traveler. Back when I was in my 20s, money was tight, so road trips never involved luxury lodgings, but I didn’t care. What mattered was the journey, not comfort.
Sunday’s snowstorm in Traverse City reminded me of the snow cave I scooped out decades ago near Silverton, Colorado. After cross-country skiing a couple of miles from the highway, I chose a likely looking snowdrift and got to work creating my own lodgings.
My bed that night was a 1/2-inch foam pad and a battered sleeping bag, plus my parka and insulated snow pants, wrapped snugly inside a cocoon of snow. I had trouble sleeping, partly because of altitude sickness and partly because I kept waking up with a cold nose.
The natural air-conditioning kept the room plenty cool. It was a still night, so the loudest noise was my own breathing. The room-service breakfast was sorely lacking — it consisted of a crumbled granola bar that had been in my pocket all night. But the view, when I crawled out of my lodgings the next morning, was a stupendous panorama of craggy mountain peaks and endless blue sky.
That snow cave contrasted with the seedy roadside motel I once found myself near Roadforks, New Mexico.
I honestly don’t remember where I was coming from or where I was going that summer, but I desperately needed sleep. The temperature was hovering close to 100 degrees. A placard under the generic “Motel” sign said “air conditioning,” so I checked in. I didn’t sleep well, partly because the ancient and wheezing air conditioner made more noise than cooling breeze, and partly because the mattress was lumpier than the highways around Detroit. Breakfast consisted of a melted granola bar I found in my glovebox.
The view outside the room featured an endless line of power poles glinting in the dawn’s light. I just now took a glance at Roadforks on Google Maps’ satellite view and discovered the motel no longer exists. The only businesses there are two fireworks retailers. It’s not a big town.
One motel in Nebraska offered very nice accommodations for a reasonable price. I was struck by a prominent sign in the lobby that forbid guests from cleaning waterfowl on the premises. A large sign over the lavatory in the room repeated the warning, and a third placard on the shower/tub wall stated that guests who cleaned waterfowl in the room would be prosecuted. Apparently, the management had some trouble with this issue.
Later research revealed the area was a popular duck hunting destination. But the mattress was comfortable, and I splurged on scrambled eggs (chicken, not duck) at a nearby restaurant for breakfast.
Spending the pandemic at home has made me think of a few times I shared motel rooms with large groups of people, something inconceivable right now.
A bunch of college friends attended a wedding near Chicago. All short on cash, we admittedly bent the rule limiting the number of occupants allowed in the roadside motel room. There were, I think, nine of us. Women got the beds, guys got the floor. We were careful to respect the property, and left the room just as neat as we found it. I think we all skipped breakfast because we planned to feast later in the day at the reception. The view from that motel was of a busy highway chock full of speeding semi-trucks.
Another time, the university journalism department helped sponsor photojournalism students attend the state newspaper association annual convention. Money, again, was in short supply. The university chose the motel and sprang for two rooms. Two female students, along with our female professor, got one room. Eight guys shared the other room. I again ended up on the floor. But at least the motel had a restaurant that offered breakfast. The view was of a snow-covered pasture and a Kmart nestled along the highway that led into Steven’s Point, Wisconsin.
Those early lodging experiences provided a relatively low bar for what I personally demand from a motel: A securely locking door. Lack of foul odors. General cleanliness. A comfortable mattress. Reasonable temperature control.
Now that I’m older, I’m no longer fond of sleeping on the floor, particularly in a heavily trafficked motel room. I don’t mind breakfasting on a battered granola bar, but I prefer a complimentary breakfast buffet.
The pandemic has made shared hotel breakfasts a temporary no-go.
Ron Robinson, Summerside Properties director of operations, said last week that local guests have been understanding, and accept the fact that hotels and motels can’t serve breakfast while COVID-19 lingers. Someday, complimentary breakfast buffets will return to the hospitality scene, but until then a granola bar will have to do.
Personally I wouldn’t mind if — when breakfast services do eventually return — motels skip those self-serve waffle-making machines. They’re too much work that early the morning, in my opinion, and waffles just have too many calories. And it always seems like the last person who used the machine was a 7-year-old with bad aim. I’d rather just chew on a smashed granola bar.