Cruising for a Bates Motel

was nearly midnight and the Dowbrigade was roaring up the Tamiana Highway,
about five miles south of Punta Gorda, looking for a Florida version
of the Bates Motel.

After booking our flights and rental car on-line, we had searched for
a hotel room in the Ft. Myers area, Between Orbitz, and
Roomsaver, the best
we could do was a Best Western at $139. Quite frankly, after having frequented
establishments in over 20 countries on five continents, we have never
paid $139 for a single hotel room. Not that we haven’t STAYED in a few,
but we never paid for them.

Still, it was only for two nights, and it was our only vacation for
over a year, and most of the rest of the trip we would be staying with
friends, so we decided to go ahead and book. We entered the dates and
hit return, only to get the bane of online shopping; "Not available for
the dates requested". Screw them, we thought, we’ll get down there and
take our chances.

We knew that Ft. Myers, like all American cities, must have a fringe
of scuzzy motels lying below the surface of searchable data, dumps and
dives which live on the edges of illicit markets in sex and controlled
substances, cater to anonymous travelers unwilling or incapable of making
reservations in advance and give out credit card information over the
internet. These stand-alone American institutions, never part of a chain,
changing owners and names more frequently than they change the sheets,
have been a refuge for fringe players, roustabouts and borderline derelicts
since the rise of our mobile society almost a century ago.

Unlike the next higher category, the cheapo chains like Motel 6 and
Econolodge which dot the Interstate highway system, these sleaze-boxes
are found on secondary highways and depressed urban neighborhoods, squeezed
between Check Cashing storefronts,  24-hour bail bondsmen and tattoo
emporiums. Which was why we were flying up the Tamiani Trail, which was
the main North-South highway down the spine of Florida before the inauguration
of Interstate 75 during the Eisenhower administration.

Our vehicle for the trip was a brand new Jeep Cherokee 4×4, a big blue
brute of a car which had us thinking about forgetting the highway altogether
and cutting our straight across the Everglades toward our next designation
in Rat Mouth, on the other side of the state. Actually, we had reserved
a mid-sized sedan; we had been awarded The Blue Beast by Dollar Rent-a-Car
either due to a clerical error or the
we arrived
it was the last vehicle in the lot.

was cherry, with less than 1900 miles on the odometer, the manual still
wrapped in cellophane in the GP and the new-car smell still wafting
through the vehicle’s circulatory system. The interior was pristine,
at least until we dropped a Chinese barbequed spare rib from the Pu Pu
Platter we picked up on our way out of town, on the front seat upholstery.

It was getting late, and it was getting harder and harder to focus on
the white stripe snaking down the highway. We decided that we would press
on to Punta Gorda, and if we still hadn’t found anything we would turn
around and go back to the Wal-Mart parking lot we had seen half an hour
earlier, and camp out in the back seat of the Jeep until dawn.

Then we saw it, lying low and white in the moonlight, surrounded by
apparently abandoned cars, discarded tires, a disintegrating jungle
gym and overgrown weed fields. Next door was Big Al’s Gun and Pawn Shop,
shut down for the night. Jerked out of our reverie, we swerved to the
left of the empty highway and fishtailed
the gravel-packed
driveway of the motel.

The sign on the side said "Cadillac Hotel" but one over the office door
said "American Motel". A recent change of name is a good sign, when looking
for a comfortable dive with a lot of leeway and very little memory.

The office small, well-lit and empty. Sheets and towels, pamphlets and
magazines, door latches and locks, bags and boxes were scattered on the
floor and piled on the unmatched collection of cheap folding chairs.
There was a service window to the right of the door, which was locked.
We rang, and were buzzed in.

We were attended by a young woman in a blue sari, with her hair swept
under a matching silk scarf who informed us that there was a single room
left, at $80 bucks a night. We asked to see it and said that if it was
decent we’d take it.

Turns out the hotel was currently owned by
a family of Hindus. During the fifteen minutes it took us to register
we met three sisters of the girl who was waiting on us, her parents (who
seemed to speak no English not know how to smile) an ancient grandmother
who walked with difficulty and a cane, and two young nephews who darted
out periodically to check the Coke machine for uncollected change.  They
all seemed to live in a small room behind the office.

The room itself was surprisingly adequate. A big Queen-sized covered
by a polyester spread. A no-brand TV against the wall with the remote
on the bedside table. A small refrigerator and microwave in the corner.
A cracked and creaking A/C unit under the uncovered window. No obvious
vermin or bodily fluids in sight. We took it on the spot

The place was perfect. The last room was around back. facing an overgrown
yard backing up on a trailer park and some cheap clapboard houses that
looked as if they had been abandoned in mid-construction. There were
two molded white plastic chairs set up outside or room. It was the kind
of place one could feel comfortable sitting in your underwear, smoking
a joint and drinking a beer. Just what we’d been looking for.

We stripped off our travel-saturated clothes and let the hot shower
water sluice over our tired body. Our faith in the rancid underbelly
of modern American life was reaffirmed. As we leaned back in the
plastic chair and let our mind wander, we were reminded of innumerable
other memorable dives from our past.  The University Motel in East
LA, where we holed up for an entire 5-day academic conference, skipping
every session except those where we were expected to present.  The
Yenny, an ersatz whore house on the waterfront in Guayaqul, where for
years we were a regular guest and where we even took our pregnant first
wife when she developed some gynecological health problems and we had
no access to conventional medical resources.  But those were different
times, and stories for a different posting.

Our challenge for tomorrow: getting tickets to a sold-out preseason
rematch of last October’s World Series – Red Sox vs. Cardinals.  Stay
tuned for the report.


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5 Responses to Cruising for a Bates Motel

  1. floyd tiny says:

    it’s items like this that keep me reading what dowbrigade has to say.
    have a great time!
    keep us posted…

  2. Mom says:

    Mom’s back! Trip to Phoenix fun and sad at the same time. Glad to know you have a roof over your head. Hoped your luck holds. Sure wish I couldc be there. Been watching the Telly and Mr Macguire needs a rap upside the head from HIS Mom.

  3. I stayed at this motel in 1999 (not bad) but don’t think they’re sill there, we had a yoga retreat nearby, nice area.

  4. Ft Myers says:

    I am sure these days there are much better deals for hotels single rooms in Ft Myers

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