There are many hotels that operate as homeless shelters while at the same time open their doors to global nomads* slumming it and unsuspecting tourists looking for a deal but finding themselves to be in a bonus episode of Cops.
Some of these hotels are official places of repose for the indigent, and the innkeeper comes by guaranteed payment via various governmental agencies and the scant dollars from a social safety net now long abused and neglected. These are easy to spot. They typically have overflowing trash containers and children running about. Other hotels perform a social function informally and on what the youth of the 80s called the “Down Low.” These hotels didn’t start out with lofty goals. They slowly become places of inexpensive weekly or monthly rates that attract those on the border of society who hang on but just barely so.
A cheap hotel room can allow for a transient to have an address. In sunny and cold Denver, we happened to stay in a city hotel that provided rooms to budget tourists like ourselves, travelers of this Great Nation young and old, and a number of persons between positions. In the lounge, there was a German backpacker looking at his guidebook and an older man conducting an interview on the wall phone looking for work in what sounded like one of the ski resorts, not that I was eavesdropping.
I know there is a difference, but I don’t make a distinction between those institutions called hotels, motels, motor inns and so forth since today the lines blur and a parking lot does not set aside the mechanics of the operation. A guest house hotel I stayed in when driving across Labrador was run by an elderly woman. The hostel sign hung on one thread. It turns out she was restarting her business years after shuttering it due to the death of her husband. Now, with an untimely demise of her adult daughter, she was back to work except those years of neglect left the rooms of the hotel in a shabby condition and the yard littered with various items including a few wrecked cars and shattered boats. In the lobby was a stack of flooring awaiting installation, but by the layer of dust, it didn’t look like the contractor was showing up anytime soon.
The worst hotel I have been to in the United States was in New Orleans. It was no surprise that the hotel was inadequate since it was inexpensive, an older building, and located in the crime-infested – what middle-class people call “vibrant” – Treme area. The hotel was a rotting pile but many buildings in New Orleans even the expensive ones are continually staving off becoming moist termite piles. This is not an external sign of poor quality.
However, the Treme hotel was going to be shockingly bad. Not only did the crumbling edifice and interior fixtures show to be far ahead of repair, but the staff also reminded me of those tired and rude workers of [former] Soviet Union, the old tellers at the County Building with tallow skin, or the frightening ham-hocked armed women who worked at reform schools and lived on tinned beans, clotted cream, and field mice. Not surprisingly the neighborhood was vibrantly dangerous as it was unkempt and dissipated. As I was walking to the hotel, there was a car chase complete with racing police cars. Just as I crossed the street, a truck flew down the narrow road, cut the turn short, and crashed into a parked car and then a parked boat [yup a boat].
The driver must have been in greater trouble since he fled on foot to be pursued later by a number of police who left their squad cars just sitting there idling. It was like being in a live performance art piece and I suspected the tune “Bad Boys What Ya Gunna’ Do
to be playing. I suspect a plenty of illegal activities were also going on indoors. The noise of these goings on kept me awake all hours. At some point, I was woken up by yelling and the slamming of doors which was either a late check-in or check-out I do not know. In retrospect, I had to give a deposit to get sheets. Never a good sign to provide a deposit for sheets. That isn’t a sign of “making it.” I remember putting the sheets to tightly cover the bed and laying on top of them. The air conditioner barely hung in the wall held there with plaster where I could see the finger marks.
Actually, the worst hotel I stayed in was Portland. No shock here, since Portland is where young people go to retire, and one would expect a number of them to set up in hotels that have descended to the level of flophouses. It was such an evil place. The old lady who ran the hotel was less than polite. She was enormous in size not intellect and her Jazzy(tm) groaned under its unfortunate charge as she huffed cigarettes with one hand and seemed to reach for oxygen with the other [the writer may have made this last fact up for dramatus effectus]. For some reason, she gave me a tour of the facilities which were frightening, to say the least. The Innkeeper also seemed to turn a blind eye to the junkies, miscreants, and others who were up to no good. The room was dank and even with my clean sheets in hand, I saw a mat of the dirty sheets on the bed and realized I was in too deep. This was far too real. I took off with my belongings and made for a new place that at first told me they were full, but when I explained where I was, the clerk exclaimed, oh not there, and rearranged a few bookings to find me a room at least for one night (this is covered in detail in https://schwerpunkter.com/2013/04/29/portlandia-the-b-sides-rarities/).
In sunny Florida, I have stayed in a number of times in various hotels from high-end establishments on the beach with rooftop bars to those “vibrant” places where eccentric members of society inhabit, reside, or vacation.
One such place was an older hotel that was apparently bought by a middle-aged woman in order to make a change of lifestyle, whatever that may mean. The spot was very close to the beach by bus (maybe 15 minutes tops) and next to a very fancy marina. The arrangement was the typical 1960s motor lodge that had once been state-of-the-art and boasted of Colour TeeVees and such. Whatever had happened in the ensuing decades, renovation was not one of the priorities.
While I was there, repairs had commenced and several rooms were being redone. A gang of strange characters was working on the building and of course, I fell in with them to the extent that they lent me a kayak which I used in the inlet and we shared a few bottles one night. Next to me was an elderly couple from Scotland who hung their laundry on the railing to dry. Not just towels and swimsuits, but everything. I was there for a few days which also made me somewhat transient. Residing at a hotel more than a night or two one starts to develop routines, habits, and the hotel is referred to as “home” unintentionally. Even if it is for work, while gainfully employed one is still rootless and living from a fixed number of items that can quickly be transported – especially if one is avoiding airline bag check fees. In a room facing the parking lot was a shop of sorts informally ran with a number of signs exclaiming to knock on the door if you needed something. It reminded me of those farm-stands I used to know where produce is simply put out in a shed by the road with a lock-box for the money (and I remember those wihtout a lock box where we made our own change). Outside were all manner of rope creations. Hammocks, wall hangings, and other inventions I had no idea anyone needed all carefully braided by hand. Apparently, they were all for sale but I am not sure how anyone knew this was a shop or how many were sold in a week if ever. Since my schedule was demanding, I did not see the artisan but heard a few stories about him and knew they called him the professor. After a few days I met the Professor and as expected he was an educated eccentric who claimed he once was a lawyer before turning his back on “all that.”
It also seemed he was a resident that the new owner inherited and to some degree tolerated. We chatted a bit and he offered me some wine and we talked some more, people joining and leaving as the conversation and wine flowed. As old people do, talk turned to The Book, and my old theological study allowed me to keep up as my philosophical studies helped me somewhat maintain or at least follow the deeper threads of the back and forth. It was here that I had outted myself to my other drinking companions of the blue collar as more educated than I let on and certainly whatever esoteric studies I had engaged in had not afforded me riches as it does some.
We spoke until late into the night and he was sad to see me go. “It’s rare that I get to talk to someone who knows what I am talking about.” That is, of course, the danger with turning your back on “all that,” the life you lead it one of lonely contemplation for long stretches and you may discover that other’s plights, foibles, and struggles are as mundane and real as your own once was.
There are a hundred other hotels I have been to and perhaps a thousand more I will avoid. I think often of so many of those people I have met in passing like the Hammock Man, or the Unemployed Ski Bum, or wondered if that dude in the truck ever got away from the police. As I restart my blog, I will consider a few more hotels, some aspect of my travels that I can share. A few months ago I was again in Fort Myers Beach and passed that old hotel. I did not see the hammocks outside anymore. Perhaps he has in one way or another, moved on. While some hotels become halfway houses for lost souls and characters who cannot fit or refuse to join society, others fight to regain their status on the Advisor of Trip or the Exphotelstraveloedia.coms of the world.
*global nomad what some shitty term in the 1990s rich kids tried to make happen.