Finding Community At the Motor Hotel

Mirror with coat hangars on pine wall with straw hat and jeans jacketI love the community that can be found far from home at the old style motel. I’m speaking of a true motor hotel where you drive up to the door of your room which may be a cabin attached or detached. It likely has a porch with chairs or benches outside your door with a row of hollyhocks, geraniums and snapdragons blooming. There is no upstairs. There are no long hallways or enclosed spaces. The owner’s small children bicycle around the parking lot smiling and speaking to the guests. The guests speak to the guests. Motel room doors are left open and the windows and curtains are opened. Car doors open and close as luggage is brought into the room. People wander out to sit on the porch. A stranger offers another traveler a beer and shares directions to the small market that has some interesting micro brews. Bikers on their way to Sturgis dash over to the on site laundromat with a handful of clothes; one gets off and lubes his chain. Scientists unload equipment take a bench on the porch and flip open laptops to record and summarize the day and catch up on e-mail before dinner. The scientists are from all over: Purdue, LSU, U of Arizona…brought together on a NASA-funded research project. The motorcyclists are from all over converging on this spot–serendipity of the junction of one of many routes and day’s end. Others from as far apart as Delaware and Washington passing through for their own reasons.

We recognize each other at the nearby diner and smile, even say “hello”.

In the morning, the scientists are having a meeting in the parking lot under the morning sun. One slips the grey tabby cat a piece of bagel with cream cheese. The lone bikers pack up and motor off one by one, the groups converge with their own meeting while their bikes warm up–route planning, who leads today…

The children are again circling the parking lot on their little bicycles. One speaks to the cat.

“Is that your kitty?”

“Oh, nooooo…that is my GRANDmother’s kitty.”

“What is the kitty’s name.”

“DK Kitty, but we call him DK.”

The cat settles down in the middle of the parking lot and cleans his paws in the sun.

The term ‘motel’ was coined in 1925 when Arthur Heineman could not fit the words “Milestone Motor Hotel” on his rooftop so his sign read “Milestone Mo-Tel”. Motels can trace their lineage from auto camps and auto courts. Separate cabins became adjacent rooms under one roof and they continued morphing into what we more commonly think of today in terms of big chain motels where everyone remains a stranger. It is a great treat to get the chance to stay a night in one of these old-style motor hotels. You’ll typically get wi-fi along with a hand hooked doily on the table by the bed. Your room may hold the warmth of lamplight against 12″ hardwood walls, and as you drop off to sleep, you may feel comfort and kinship about your neighbors for the night.

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