Strangers in Some Strange Lands

It seemed simple, and maybe a little adventurous.  My daughter came to visit me in Texas and while there my sweetheart got her a car – a Ford Mustang, which is the only car she ever wanted.  Much like Veruca Salt, nothing else would do.  Now, she didn’t actually say, “But I want a Mustang NOW, daddy!” but it was close.  The purchase of this Mustang meant that the car, my daughter, and her dog had to get back to Seattle.  The solution:  Road Trip!

Our goal on this trip was to get to Seattle “on the cheap”.  To this end, we got on several travel websites and started planning our hotel stays using the criteria of “one star” and “pet friendly” (since both of our dogs, Honey Lee and Gigi, would be traveling with us) and then sorting by price with the cheapest hotels at the top.  Luxurious?  No.  Potentially hilarious?  Absolutely.

There was a bad omen at the start of the trip.  My daughter’s new car had a flat tire before we even left our driveway in Texas. 

My sweetheart came to the rescue and plugged in the air compressor, filling up the tire for us, and made a phone call to a local tire shop to “pave the way” for a successful repair.  (Pun intended.)  We were able to drive to the tire shop and get it repaired with little trouble and almost no expense.  Not to be deterred by this proverbial bump in the road, we hit the highway.


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Our first stop was Albuquerque, New Mexico, a city with the trickiest spelling of all American cities, and I’m a good speller!  It only took a couple of tries to enter it correctly into the GPS. We drove and drove through Texas…  and drove some more…  and began to wonder if Texas would ever come to an end or if perhaps the GPS had been routing us in a gigantic circle within the state lines.  We stopped for gas in Muleshoe, Texas and checked the map, reassuring ourselves that we would eventually be crossing into New Mexico.  Gigi was unimpressed with the odor of the town of Muleshoe.

We finally crossed into New Mexico (or as my daughter called it “The NEWEST Mexico!”) and were greeted with an impound lot for abandoned cars, pot holes, and run-down, vacant store fronts.  So far New Mexico was fairly unimpressive.

After time, the landscape started to change into the more stereotypical Southwest cliffs and canyons that one expects from the state.  Despite its exotic spelling, the city of Albuquerque is fairly bland and homogenized, like grocery store brand cottage cheese.  The brick facades on the ubiquitous strip malls are all the same color, and the stores and restaurants are all sanitized national brands.  Wendy’s, Staples, Sizzler, and Petco dot the landscape.  When we arrived at the hotel after our long drive, we checked in and walked past various doors and windows with long-term residents lounging on the sidewalk outside their rooms or staring out at the scenery.  The “scenery” included a parking lot and a tire shop.  On the opposite side of the hotel was a drug rehab center that apparently featured wandering the neighborhood as part of the therapeutic process.  When we arrived at our room, there was a randomly blinking fluorescent light reminiscent of the buzzing, broken lights one would see in a horror flick right outside the door.

The room was small but serviceable, and the only annoyance, a constantly running toilet, was quickly remedied by turning off the water when it wasn’t in use.  We checked for bed bugs (a ritual that we would repeat in each of the hotels we visited throughout the trip) and got some much needed rest.  When we awoke, I took the dogs out for their morning constitutional.  One of our neighbors, an older lady driving a bright red mobility scooter with two very large dogs, was also enjoying the small strip of grass running between the hotel and the rehab center while smoking a long, cheap-smelling cigarette.  While waiting for Gigi and Honey Lee to complete their perusal of the grass, another hotel patron drove by and yelled to me, “Do you know where the ice machine is?”  I shook my head, replying, “Sorry, I don’t.”  This answer was apparently not to her liking as she responded with sarcasm, “Gee, thanks a lot, lady,” and rolled up her window as she drove away.  Maybe she didn’t get much sleep as her room was on the rehab side of the hotel.  We were blessed that our room faced the tire shop.

We packed up and pulled out of the parking lot, encountering a pair of our neighbors whom we had seen the night before crossing the highway back toward their room at our hotel.  They were walking quickly and carrying various Styrofoam plates and cups loaded with “free breakfast” items from the hotel across the street, an amenity that our hotel did not offer.

We continued northwest, passing through a small sliver of Colorado along the way.  Colorado had by far the best welcome sign of any of the states, and we stopped to take a picture of Gigi enjoying the view from the sign. 


Provo, Utah

Our second stop was Provo, Utah.  As always, we enjoyed a brief celebration when we reached the state line, and made frequent stops for gas and to check the tire pressure. My anxiety over the state of the tires after the start to our trip knew no bounds.

We were anticipating that Provo would be a small, quiet town with conservative values and low crime.  We were dead wrong.  We did see one young Mormon riding his bicycle in his black slacks, pressed white shirt, and helmet, but he was an anomaly.  (I thought they always traveled in pairs to avoid temptation.)

Despite our hotel’s proximity to Brigham Young University, it is a bastion of seedy debauchery.  In the time it took for us to retrieve our luggage from the car, we encountered three different prostitutes taking a break outside the back entrance.  A large rock was being used to prop open the door, presumably because not all of these ladies had keys to their rooms.

Any doubts we had about their professions were erased when I made idle conversation about the weather with one of them as she stood outside the propped-open door smoking a cigarette.  There was a storm moving in, and I asked her if this weather was anticipated.  She replied, through her meth-eroded teeth, “Oh, I’m not sure.  It was really nice earlier today.  I was out working and walking around in high heels all day.”  I was quite tempted to ask, with an innocent expression, “Oh, what do you do?” but I restrained myself.  There was also a “gentleman” two doors down from ours standing guard while a young “lady” in a spandex mini-dress stood in the hallway yelling at an acquaintance about a money dispute.

A quick trip down to the 7-11 yielded observations of more crime and questionable behavior in progress.  We witnessed a drug dealer unabashedly hawking his wares under the awning for the store while leaning on the “Red Box” movie rental machine.  In an example of the free market economy in action, a car in the parking lot had a long procession of folks getting in and out of the passenger seat for very brief “conversations” with the driver.

A young boy of about ten was in the 7-11 with a man whom I presume to be his uncle based on their resemblance to one another.  The boy commented to the older man as they perused the oversized canned beer selection, “You’d better at least five of those for my dad or he’ll be sooooo… mad.”

All of this occurred within sight of the lovely bricked gate displaying the BYU motto “Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve.”  Though I suppose it could be said that many of those we have encountered here are in service industries of a sort, I’m confident that this is not the type of service that Brigham Young had in mind.  Needless to say, we had all of the bolts and locks secured on the door and window of our room.  And this will be our first and last stay at this hotel, or in this city for that matter.  This was too sketchy even for those traveling on a budget.


La Grande, Oregon

After passing through the corner of Idaho – and staying on the lookout for White Supremacists and potatoes – we entered Oregon.

The third stop on our journey was the bustling metropolis of La Grande.  “Why Le Grande?” you might ask?  It’s just a good mid-way point between Provo and Seattle that didn’t require too many hours of driving after we would already be punchy from the two previous days of travel.  Our reservation was at a small and somewhat ancient motor inn on Interstate 84.  The price was right, the location was right, and that was about it.  When we arrived at the hotel, I went into the office.  Not only could one check into a room there, but there were various dust encrusted Western themed items and John Wayne memorabilia for sale as well.  We checked in and were given the room assignment #122, “Right after number 112.”  This seemed odd, but we pulled forward past the office and found a parking spot in front of #122; and the numbering system did indeed go like so:  #109, #110, #111, #112, #122, and #123.  We joked that we were happy not to be in #123, the room with the old box spring leaning against the window, next to the truck bed camper with various lawn ornaments and rusted tools scattered about it.   And did I mention that this “motor inn” boasts actual keys, not key cards?  Talk about “old school”!  Unloading the dogs and luggage out of the car, I balanced various things to free one hand to unlock the door.  When I did, I encountered a man enjoying a Bud Long Neck while lounging on the bed in his skivvies.  Yikes!  As I turned around to warn my daughter away from entering the room, the hotel’s proprietors were approaching urgently, with another key in hand.  They had made a mistake.  They had rented room #122 to someone else, a fact I had already discovered when I unlocked this gentleman’s door.  We would be in room #111, just two doors down from our new beer drinking friend in his underwear.

We entered room #111 and tried to get settled in.  Some of the amenities in this hotel included a wall heater from the 1950’s with a thermostat secured to the cinderblock wall with duct tape, a strange blinking light above the TV that may or may not have been a camera, and an odd sink (that didn’t work) and countertop stretching across one entire wall, the base of which was large enough to hide either a dead body or a sneaky attacker.  The courtyard boasted a rusted out barbecue grill and several mismatched office and folding chairs, presumably for outdoor entertaining.  There were also some outlets in the wall that had been carefully marked out with an “X” to indicate that there were not to be used.  I didn’t test this theory with anything I needed to plug in.

I posted a few pictures of our accommodations on Facebook and a good friend replied with an offer to wire us money for a hotel upgrade.  We declined but only because this hotel was so incredibly crappy that we were completely entertained by the surroundings.  We were awakened several times during the night by passing trains (the railroad tracks were about twenty yards from our window) but otherwise enjoyed a good night’s sleep, regardless of the ambiance.  And despite the patina of this old hotel, it was much cleaner and populated by more upstanding citizens than the one we had been to in Provo.

That morning, it was a great relief (both to my daughter and me, and undoubtedly to our Chihuahua-mix, Honey Lee) when for the first time on the entire trip Honey Lee finally pooped.  Even under the best of conditions, she holds on to her poop like it’s gold.  On our trip, her opportunities to defecate were more limited and we were worried about her little bowels.  We all did a brief celebratory dance to commemorate the occasion, but Honey Lee didn’t seem to understand what the big deal was.

As we left La Grande, we were pretty tired, and had a moment of hilarity after breakfast where we exchanged death threats and hysterical laughter.

A little further down the road we stopped off for a late lunch at “Twede’s” (formerly the Mar-T) in North Bend.  My daughter didn’t really understand the significance of the restaurant and it’s place in television lore on the show “Twin Peaks”.  I had to ask the waitress to explain it to her since she thought I was making a twin-peaked mountain out of a molehill.  Even though she didn’t understand how exciting it was to eat cherry pie in the same seat as Special Agent Dale Cooper, she did get a chuckle out of a sign in the restroom, with tips for cleanliness for both genders.


Seattle, Washington

Finally arriving in Seattle, we drove to what I thought would be the crown jewel in our tour of low budget hotels.  It was an old and sprawling two-story hotel on Seattle’s Aurora Avenue, kitty-corner from a marijuana dispensary and across the street from a bail bondsman.  We had to await the slow stroll of two “ladies” entertaining the entreaties of men in passing cars to pull into the driveway.  When I entered the office to check in, I saw the following hand-written sign:  “No Drugs! No ‘Business’ Ladies! No Pets in Rooms!  At Any Time!”  Uh oh.  No pets?  I could live with the rules regarding drugs and prostitution, but this last restriction was a problem.  After a brief conversation with the gentleman at the front desk, I returned to my daughter waiting in the car and regretfully (well, maybe with a little glee) we got on the phone and booked a better hotel in the University District that was “pet friendly”.  My dog and I registered at the hotel and were presented with a  plastic “poop bag” dispenser emblazoned with the logo of the hotel and a bag of treats, in addition to a real key card and instructions for accessing the free Wi-Fi, free breakfast buffet with health-conscious and vegan options, and afternoon cupcake service.

Gigi and I went for a long walk on the University of Washington campus and I got to revisit some of my old haunts. I used to walk my dog “Ernesto the Pesto” (Read: “Jack Russell Terror”) on these same paths and it was nice to see all of these sights again.

Tomorrow morning, Gigi and I will take the long flight back to Texas, leaving my daughter and Honey Lee behind, but richer for the memories we made on the road, traveling “on the cheap”.


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