The Places We’ve Stayed

The prompt for The Chatham Writers Group this week was to write a story involving a hotel. I began to write a fiction story about two detectives searching for a missing child, but was having some trouble pulling the story together in 1000 words. I switched to memoir mode and wrote a vignette about the first hotel (motel) that I remembered spending the night in. The second vignette is Barb’s tale of a night spent in a low budget Barcelona hotel with her brother, Gerald, when they back packed through Europe one summer.

Oh the places we’ve stayed – hotel vignettes
Hotel #1
The first hotel I ever spent the night in was in the course of a trip our family made to upstate New York in the early 1960’s. The plan was to visit my Mom’s father and step-mother in Syracuse, NY for a couple of days, then travel to Lake George for the balance of the trip before heading back home to New Jersey. The jaunt to Syracuse would include stops at points of interest and require an overnight stay. I have no recollection of the points of interest we visited – obviously they weren’t interesting – but I do remember the hotel we stopped at. Well, it was a motel. I accompanied my Dad to the motel office to see if there were rooms available. The motel clerk/owner was anything but warm and welcoming. She spoke in a brusque, unsmiling manner. My Dad asked for a room with two beds, there would be four children and two adults staying. The clerk/owner peered over her glasses and stated and additional deposit was required then, because “you know, kids break things”, but it was refundable if “nothing was busted”. She said if we wanted to go swimming, there was a “beach” at the end of the parking lot, however there was no life guard, so be careful. It was a hot July day, My Dad was beat from the long day of driving, so he handed over the deposit and we went to our room. After dragging our luggage into the room, a quick trip was made to the end of the parking lot to check out this “beach”.

“What the hell?”, said my Dad. There was a sandy strip of land, which led into a narrow, lazy flowing stream. The stream was very clear, I remember. Clear enough to see that the sand converted to muck beneath the water’s surface. Submerged in the stream was a shopping cart and a flat tire on its rim. There may have been a couple of bottles too.

“We aren’t going in there,” said my Mom.

Dejected, we dragged ourselves back to our room. Our room! Two double beds! My Dad, Mom and sister would sleep on one bed, I would share the second with my two brothers. If a dime was deposited in the meter next to the bed, it would vibrate! My Dad was quick to cut off our fun, he didn’t want to pay for a vibrating bed if it broke. The air conditioner struggled to keep the room cool, I am guessing that its clattering fan was an early attempt at a white noise generator. Because we were in the middle of nowhere, the TV offered one grainy channel. Adjusting the rabbit ears proved fruitless. After a nearly sleepless night in the fleabag, we passed inspection the next morning and Dad got his deposit back. The car all loaded, he put the key in the ignition, turned to look at my Mom and declared that from here on out, we weren’t going to stay in anything but a Howard Johnson’s. He was good to his word.

Hotel #2 – My Wife’s Tale
The year before I met my wife, she and her brother had spent most of that summer backpacking through Europe. There was no careful planning involved, the one certainty was that they had almost no money for the trip. For the journey from and back to the U.S., they took up temporary lodging in Lakerville. Technically not a hotel, this was the name given to the large group of people who queued up on standby, with sleeping bags to camp on a street in Queens, NY, with the hope of snagging a seat on a Laker Air flight to London. Sir Freddie Laker’s budget airline. The Lakerville for the return flight was on a London street.

Barb, my wife, and her brother Gerald, were in England for an afternoon, then spent their first night sleeping on the ferry crossing the channel to travel the European continent. For transportation they had obtained Eurail passes before leaving the U.S. For accommodations, they would stay in hostels or cheap hotels. Some of their longer rail trips were taken overnight so they could sleep on the train. The accommodations were a mixed bag, some passable, others truly shitty – or as my wife says a hostile hostel. There was something about every place they stayed that provided a combination of entertainment, excitement, or horror and revulsion. A budget hotel they stayed at in Barcelona had the added attraction of a skills contest.

Upon entering their room, the first thing my wife and her brother noted was how stifling it was. Gerald went to open the window and get some air circulating. Throwing it open, he was confronted with a brick wall staring back at him from about a foot away. He could barely fit his out out of the window to see note the 1 foot gap was an airshaft that opened to the sky above. To be more precise, it was a shaft, air did not seem to be part of the equation. The second thing that Barb and her brother noted was an odd pattern of black marks, randomly placed on the walls of the room. What could those be they wondered. As they began to remove items from their backpacks, Barb spotted a fairly sizable beetle working its way up the wall near the window. She took her sandal off and smacked it. Where the bug once was, a black mark remained. Mystery solved! Despite the possibility of unwanted guests sharing the room, Barb slept soundly. Gerald, not so much.

The days of staying in dives, dumps and fleabags are all in the past now. What was an adventure, and the makings of a great story, when you are in your 20’s don’t have the same attraction when you are in your 60’s. And even the better hotels we have stayed at in recent years prove to be a crapshoot. We have become committed to Airbnb’s.

Ernie Stricsek
Chatham Writers Group

4 thoughts on “The Places We’ve Stayed

    1. Thank you John. I always enjoy your stories, but this week I especially enjoyed because I am familiar with the area, and landmarks. I sampled a substantial quantity of Utica Club beer at my buddies fraternity at Union College.


  1. Hi Ernie,
    I like the way you set the stage for your stories with a visual.
    You and Barbara stayed in interesting places that make for good stories, if not for good sleeping.


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