Sunday, November 15, 2009

Is our Car Still There?

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Years ago, when Joann and I traveled, we tried to stay in big name hotels with elevators, luggage carts, and high room prices. We thought the beds would be better, but we were often disappointed.

We would arrive at the hotel around supper time, leave most of our gear in the car overnight, and spend the evening reading or watching TV. Then we would get up early (well, what we used to call early) and be the first people in the breakfast room. Then we’d hop in the car and head out. By this time, the sun was usually up in the sky and the lighting was already a challenge.

As the years passed, Joann purchased several more cameras and lenses, and we knew we had to start hauling all the equipment into the hotel at night. So we would load the equipment onto the luggage cart and then unload it in the room. In the morning, we would do the reverse before they started serving breakfast and then we’d leave after breakfast.

During the past three years, we have evolved to a whole new routine. Now that we leave our motel in the dark well before dawn and we don’t give up photographing until after dark sometimes, we’ve relaxed our standards. We need a bed to fall into, and if the room happens to come with a microwave, all the better since we haven’t eaten most nights before we get to the motel. While Joann unloads and backs up the digital photos from the day and cleans her camera equipment, I make us a quick supper.

And we’ve discovered how easy it is to stay at the mom and pop motels. I’m talking about those one- or two-story motels where you park your car at the door. We try to call ahead and get a room on the first floor where it’s two steps from the back of the car to the room with your luggage. And for us, luggage means lots of camera equipment, laptops, clothes bags, research literature, etc.

With this new thinking, we’ve stayed at some interesting motels. In Kentucky, we found an awesome motel for just $39.95, and that included a free hot breakfast for both of us at Aunt B’s Family Restaurant.

In Arkansas, we were in an area with no cell phone service and no towns of size around. We did manage to use a phone at a ranger station and call two nearby small mom and pop motels. One of them still had one room available for the night so we took it sight unseen. It was turkey-hunting season, and apparently the area was popular with turkey hunters. As you can see by this photo, their mammas raised them right!

Several years ago in Michigan, after capturing the last rays of light over Lake Michigan, we drove another hour and then pulled into town to find a motel. As we drove down the main highway through town, I remember thinking to myself that this was not a good section of town. It was very late and we were very tired, so we stopped at the first motel we saw with outside doors. It was a lesser known chain of motels that we had stayed at before with satisfactory results. And, hey, the sign said they had WiFi, so Joann went in to register for a room. As I sat in the car watching what was going on in the parking lot, I remember thinking to myself that we should have driven farther to find a motel in a different part of town.

The first sign of trouble was that they gave us a room in the corner and there was no way to back the car up to it. After switching rooms and unloading all our gear, we realized that the WiFi we had paid extra for didn’t exist, the outlets were so bad that a plug wouldn’t even stay in them, and the door had a very skimpy lock on it. Yikes! But we decided to brave it and catch a couple hours of sleep, if possible.
In the morning, we had one of our conversations as Joann peeked out through the curtains of the window (I assume to see what the weather looked like, even though it’s a bit hard to tell in the pre-dawn darkness.)

Ruth: “Is our car still there?”
Joann (laughing): “Yes.”
Ruth (also laughing): “Does it have windows?”

So, for us, motel life has gotten easier, but more interesting. By the way, we did recently stay at one of the motels whose sign appears somewhere in this story and it was a good experience. Can you guess which one? And tell us, have you had interesting motel experiences?

Happy Shunpiking!

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