The walls were rough and thick. The little light came through from bottles stuck into the walls and a paint bucket turned skylight in the roof. There were nooks, glass, bones, stones, and a small sand pit with a sacred stone under the bed. The door was wood and had belonged elsewhere at one point. The space has a stove for cold nights but no fans, no AC, not even a single outlet to charge a phone. There are any number of places to stay when along the long and dusty trail. Motels are a mainstay. I can now start bringing out my Backinmyday credentials, I can say I remember a time when the motel was a small and slender row of rooms and cars parked in front with some office at one end. There was vacation motels, hooker motels, truckstop motels, and hooker truckstop vacation motels. In time there was an explosion of motels. These grew from Super to Days to Quinta to Holiday to Ramada and any number of others. Often in the damnedest of places. In front of the local mall. At some jackass cloverleaf where bullshit interstate A and asscrack interstate B met in the screaming wilds. Nothing about for 500 rooms of:
- that smell (you know what I mean, sort of damp… not bad like something was leaking or died just… damp. Like there is just one window and it functions for you to enter and at once close the plastic drapes… never to open them again.)
- that bed spread (designed in the late 1980s or early 1990s and never changed – again perhaps you have your favorite burned into your renna like a security monitor far too long trained on a particular location… is that still a thing? Ahem..)
- that bad art.
Bethatasitmay, there must be a reason for these places now ubiquitous on our landscape and sewed into the Geography of Nowhere as tight as any McWhataBurger or Hooters found up and down Route 1, 9W, 22, and other points of the American Globe.
There are hotels. These are usually found in places where the sign says “hotel” but it is really a motel. Deep down the place is a motel. And a crappy one at that. The true hotel exists primarily in cities and vary from new cement palaces that were part of Urban Renewal or some corrupt development plan to old grand establishments left over from the Golden Age and the corrupt Robber Barons. There are a few locations where this establishment may exist, usually in functioning vacation spots or spaces where the clientele can afford dinner without having to ask “how much is the cobb and clum salad?” Here, hotels are places people talk about staying, never actually leaving the confines of the manicured and well-gated community, and some hotels are indeed code word for resort rather than code word for stanky motel with pretenses. Of these from skanky to refined resortesque this blogger has stayed in many and quite a few were packed with antiques fine rugs and had those trappings of the resort – minus the beaches or some manner of fun character – the youth hostel vibe with a private toilet. Others had been grand in their day but then had become drop-ceiling-ed and ensconced in generations of paint so the fine details had been filled in and all manner of sophistication plugged over but yet had a hotel bar as lively and local as any could ask for.
In the travels of this blogger, both for business and pleasure, a number of establishments have been called home. From a few weeks at a hotel that was more like a B&B to a day or two at locations with bad typical breakfasts (what’s up with those waffles? that “juice” from the machine, is that juice, the some-strange-brand coffee… is that a brand? Did they just make up a brand, and can you do that?) but the place provides views of mountains, valleys, rivers, or dumpsters either from the parking lot, the room, the lobby, or all of the above. Any configuration exists out there in layout and amenity from multi level no elevator to single level no bar no pool. Some of these places are refuges while others are but stops on the road. About exactly 40.4% better than sleeping in one’s car.
This blogger’s favorite places are of course those of the rich and with the trappings or suggestion of wealth. Or just hot water on demand. Which I will miss when it is gone… but that is another story. Lodges and Penthouses, beach fronts and cabanas, little rooms with grand fireplaces, and those in stumbling distance of $15 cocktails. These are usually an option because of some off season, sale, special, or discount. There are a few lowbrow places to stay that are enjoyable too. From aging third-rate city hotels to unique family-run affairs there are plenty of places to stay that are reasonable and yet have more character than the Motel8Super6RadisonDaysPlaceInn but are not the Knights Inn which in several locations have a little too… much… character and there is a lived-in feeling as the residents live in the rooms and not for just a night or two but until they expire or are featured on a rehab TeeVee programe or both.
Then there is the mud hut in Portland.
This is a hard one to unpack since I could just launch into the Mud Hut, something about self-reliance, homesteading, defensible spaces and TEOTWAWKI. Into Portland and how…. strange it is. Into the sharing economy. Or some other such device or rant. But what strikes me is that this little room is a motel, a hotel, a resort, and for a short time, home. Anyway because mud hut.
The mud hut is a backyard eccentric structure in an equally unique surroundings. There was perhaps a time when roadside America existed in full force. Just before the Geography of Nowhere there was a unique and balls/ovary to the wall expression of the range of human cray cray in every town, village, and port. From the cliche alligator farm to the World’s Largest Tree House and everything in betwixt, there once existed places to stay as unique as the American experience. Then we got diversity, globalization, and a monetary system divorced from the gold standard. And slowly the World’s Largest Ball of Twine unwound and was replaced by… uh… Walmart establishments. And Walmart itself.
The mud hut is a unique place and I am told that the neighborhood of St. John’s in Portland represents that of the Old Guard. The Hippy Dippy few who once did not need to Keep Portland Weird (KPW) since they Made it Weird. That there was a lending library on every corner seemed to say that communitarian and antiantideestablishmentarianisn ran rampant. One first sees the garden, then the grounds, then the hut. Rather than being a shocking hovel, it is a welcome nook. The place you always wanted to run away to as a kid. The hut is off the grid, It overlooks the St. John’s Bridge and there is a strange mixture of bird sound and the midnight clanking of railyards and the bulls chasing hobo kids. The hut is surrounded by other structures, all of which are made from up/re/un/cycled materials from the stage where family and friends put on shows and concerts to the meditation shack with candles and positive mantras written on handmade paper.
As one who is [more or less] the age of Love Children survivors and having yet been raised by Beatniks/Wolves, I can identify with the counter culture as well as understand the landscape of what appears to be chaos and hapenstance is in actuality a formal garden and would be recognized by that Walden Pond Dude as well as Central Park Creator Man. I am drawn to love and hate and feel some sense of nostalgia for these pavilions and for staying in a mud hut since memory is rather a complex topic for this writer. I both would love to give up [whatever] and just be on a plot of land, some blond naked children bouncing about in free inventive play (I have a theory that all Hippy children are blond and cannot be clothed no matter what race, culture, ethnic strain, or creed or material either hu/manmade or synthetic), and run far from any eccentric space into my gilded prison of a Grand Budapest Hotel to smoke and read only log books and VCR manuals. It was a familiar space of my youth as well as in some ways harkened back, at least in my mind, to those old roadside attractions and establishments of long ago some of which I have been fortunate enough to see with mine own eyepeepers.
What is important, at least to me is that I/we did not stay in said hut of mud as part of some commune experience nor for some exploration of anything other than it was listed on the website and there was a deal and for a price one could just turn up and be housed. We stayed there because we needed a roof over our heads. And we were welcomed in for just that. No pamphlets. Conversion. Or conflict.
Much like any motel. Or hotel. Check in. Check out. But this was a mud hut.
And today, one can get a mud hut or a Motel 6 or anything in-between with a click of a few buttons. And to this, that is perhaps an advancement from those dark old days as Road Side America when Father had to search for hours in the Godamnitstopfogginguptheglasscantyouseeimdriving rain up dirty roads and to bad parts of town. The unique areas are dying and the new American landscape of flat and international multicultural growing. But, there remains hope. Or outposts. While the unique is far between and certainly a Mud Hut is a little extreme and not in the taste of most, especially those generations trained to require the mundane and off ramp, why not stay there?
Whether to KPW or not, this was a refreshing break from the road. Are there lessons here? Are there deep and pithy commentary on the state of the nation, the situation of Hippydom, or Portland’s ability to KPW? Perhaps. Perhaps other more distant and more better bloggers can tease out those deeper trends and aspirations but for this time there is some gentle dream of which produced an idea that not all that formed but from which there is a mission and a memory and a dwelling and a wondering and laying in the mud hut several things spun about my head. The old days. A place I call the Iron Fort out deep in the woods and packed with magic. My own Hippy Childhood so long ago. Hotel carpets. Those long strange and swimming patters that are unending motifs. Motels and their strange goings on. Just laying there looking at the timbers of the roof. The same as the Iron Fort, but so different than every other hotel.
The morning came. I/we packed my/our bags. Does money have to be left for room service? Not this time. Is everything out of the room? Yes. Door open or closed? Closed.
And just like that. The room was checked out. The key returned, if there was one, and as any room I have rented along this long road, vacated perhaps never to be seen again.
I bade farewell to the room as I have to so many others. Goodbye room. And thanks. Hotel, motel, or mud hut, it all ends the same.
Editor’s Note: This blogger is not paid by the City of Portland, random Crust Punks, nor Motelstravelairbnkayak.com to promote any and all manner of web-based booking companies. However, donations to the author can be made.