Motel, U.S.A.


We didn’t so much pull into the Braintree, Massachusetts Motel 6 as career into it. I say “we,” but I was not careering so much as swaying to the right, then to the left, as my fiancé, the designated driver, made an abrupt u-turn off Braintree’s main road into the motel parking lot, his foot maneuvering similar to that of the infrequent drivers I know, like my father or my sister — jerky — but only because he had been driving for the past 13 hours. The driving had gotten jerky around hour 12.

At six that morning, we had started our drive in Grand Pré, Nova Scotia, a coastal area that isn’t so much a town as a vast dike covered in crops and dotted with dairy farms. We had painlessly worked our way from there to the U.S.-Canada border at Houlton, Maine, but once there, waited 45 minutes to cross due to traffic from motorcycling and cycling and camping weekenders returning to the States. Until then, the drive had been like driving through Oklahoma: two- or three-lane highways populated by a few cars, the odd semi or pickup truck. Not flat, but slowly inclining or declining for mile-long stretches. Quiet. The population in Canada is about equal to the population of the state of California, but its area is more than 23 times greater. Every time I come to Canada I wonder why I live in the United States, why anyone would want to, when Canada is around: green, spacious, polite.

I wondered again the following morning as I stood outside on the dewy, suspiciously bright green lawn of the Braintree Motel 6 just after six, waiting for my dog to do her business as I stared at an emerald green condom shriveled and sort of pressed between the grass and the paved walkway leading from the motel’s back rooms to the reception area. Boston-bound commuters were already streaming by behind us. I imagined, for some reason, how this condom got to be where it was: its wearer must have tossed it while walking back to his car and driving away from his 48 minutes or so of fun. Seeing the condom was no surprise. Of course there is a condom here, at my feet. Of course it is emerald green.

The night before, delirious from all the non-meals we’d eaten on our road trip — Vitamin Water and Starbucks and salt and vinegar potato chips and cashews and chocolatey energy bars — and from staring at the road for 13 hours, I had checked us in to the motel, paying $95.95 for the only type of room available: a smoking double-occupancy room with two full-size beds, even though neither of us smokes and one bed would have been fine. The woman at reception, pale with enormous blue eyes and gray-brown hair, was as friendly as any Canadian. First she helped a big, tall local-sounding man wearing jeans and a faded blue-green t-shirt, who requested a “ground floor room at the front,” meaning facing the parking lot, which was located about five feet from the front rooms. I had been watching Snapped or something similar on the reception area television and partly because of this, when this man stated his preferences, my ears perked up. Why the lower level? Why the front of the motel? Clearly he wanted to make a quick getaway if he needed to, I thought suspiciously, my mind darting to Christine Hendricks’ character getting blown to smithereens in the motel bathroom in Drive. Probably he just wanted to be as close as possible to his car. But he carried nothing with him, and he was almost cloyingly friendly to the receptionist: two traits of a cold-blooded killer, in E!’s and my estimation.

Minutes later I was returning from the car to the reception area with our forms of identification, which I’d forgotten the first time, and by this point the man was walking briskly from his car to his ground floor room at the front, carrying nothing but a small, phallicly-shaped blue water bottle. At the other end of the motel, a very tanned, slight man, a kind of sleazier Sting, was standing shirtless in the doorway of his ground floor room, talking on the phone. He seemed confident, proud, as if he lived in the Motel 6. He was a veteran, at least: that much was clear. He smoked a cigarette. His eyes followed me. I tried to make out even a couple of words of his conversation, to know more about the type of business and/or pleasure he was here for. But all I could hear were useless fillers like “but” and “so.”

Once settled in our room, easily the worst motel room of all the dozen or so motel rooms I have occupied in my life, I went back out to walk the dog. It was about eight in the evening. The back of the motel featured a long, fairly wide stretch of grass facing a weird fenced-in hill, which seemed to be some sort of government facility, like a water plant. Down at one end of the back, a ridiculous number of children emerged from one room with three small dogs on leashes. Lingering behind them was a small woman in a royal blue dress who looked, at first, like the kids’ oldest sibling, but later revealed herself to be some or all of the kids’ mother. I guessed from their accents that they were from the Caribbean, but I couldn’t get more specific than that. The children, ranging in age from, say, five to 12, threw themselves at my dog, who, while usually very shy with children, accepted them all without reservation. “Hiiiiii doggieeeeee,” they crowed, in that exaggerated and high-pitched way that children do. “You so cuuu-uuute.” One of them kept referring to her as “little guy.” We exchanged information about our dogs’ ages and genders and personality traits. The woman eventually shepherded them back to their room. We said our goodbyes. One of kids said, “See you later!”

Oddly, this turned out to be true. After watching a heavily edited TBS presentation of The Hangover from our separate beds, we turned out the light at 10:30. I was so tired that I barely thought about what kind of action my bedspread had seen, or whether my sheets had been sufficiently boiled that morning. They smelled clean enough: like hot salt water. But we were awakened by laughing and screaming children shortly after midnight. The kids from earlier were playing outside on the lawn and running up and down the walkway in front of the back rooms. Their mother was busy doing — what? I didn’t want to hazard a guess. My fiancé got up and stood one inch from the door.

“HEY. KIDS. SHUT UP,” he said.

You shut up,” they responded.

My fiancé pounded the door once. Laughter from without.

“I said shut up!” he said.

What you gonna do?” one of them said.

He pounded the door again. A kid pounded the door back.

“I’m calling the police!” he said. Earlier we had learned that the security employed by the motel was literally the Braintree Police Department. So they didn’t need to be called so much as beckoned from the other side of the parking lot.

But we didn’t exactly want to open the door, so we called reception to report a noise complaint, and a few minutes later a police officer showed up and banged on our door.

“Who is it?” we asked.

“Braintree Police, open up.”

They sounded angry. When we opened the door, the officer said, “Yeah, I’ve received a noise complaint about room 144.”

“That’s this room.”


“But we’re the ones who made the noise complaint.”

“Oh. Someone called us and said there was a party in here?”

“No, we just called you because some kids are screaming outside and it’s midnight and we’re trying to sleep.”

“Oh, OK, I gotcha. Sorry about that!”

“Alright, bye.” My fiancé closed the door. It didn’t close properly, instead sort of bouncing back open. He shoved his weight against it, heard a click, then secured the other locks.

He said he couldn’t sleep after that because he was thinking about what he would do to defend us if someone broke in, to this particular Motel 6 room or anywhere else we happened to be. After much consideration, he decided that he could use his camera tripod as a weapon. After that, presumably around 2 a.m., he fell asleep.

The next morning we walked laps up and down the back lawn with the dog, attempting to exercise her before getting on a plane back to California. Water was dripping in places from the balcony on the second floor of the motel onto the walkway below. I shuddered as a drop hit the top of my head. Apart from the green condom, there were random, tiny pieces of trash strewn across the lawn: beer bottle fragments, a receipt, a long XXL sticker from a piece of Old Navy clothing.

It felt strange to leave an accommodation without checking out of it. But then this is the point of motels. Nobody, except maybe the Sting guy from the night before, actually enjoys staying at a motel, while millions of people enjoy staying in hotels, and some even enjoy staying in mediocre ones. Get the business of paying and showing one’s face over with at the outset so that you can, come morning or even late evening the day you check in, make a quick and clean getaway, like the cheerful man with the phallic water bottle who insisted on laying his head a mere ten feet away from his vehicle, just a wall and about 30 seconds away from freedom, from not being a motel guest, from not doing whatever he was doing that night. Maybe he just wanted to watch TV on a 43” Samsung flat-screen from the comfort of a bed away from his nagging wife. But probably not.

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image – Matthew Newton