to wit, a middle-aged peripatetic shrink undertakes the Great American Cross-Country Road Trip with help from little leaguers, German bikers, the King of Rock ‘n Roll, porn stars and an abandoned brothel, a flock of domesticated ducks, the Department of Homeland Security and the West Memphis police, a decommissioned atomic warhead, some dodgy motels… and a strange rider in the back of a 2013 Ford Fusion.
Heading out of Dallas, Mr Knobby and I were facing a long drive to our next stop on the cross-country itinerary. We knew that we must spend another night on the road, since we’d be arriving at our planned destination well after dark.
You’d think that, after my experience with the Adobe Inn/ Cotton Eyed Joe’s of Clint TX, I would avoid run-down dumps like the plague.
You’d be wrong.
The Bonester was covered in the back seat as I pulled into West Memphis AR after midnight. I was so exhausted that I didn’t feel I could operate the car safely any longer. Fleabag or not, we had to find a place to stop… and in this particular town, sleeping by the side of the road was definitely NOT an option.
In add’n to its urban decay, West Memphis doesn’t have very good road signs. The billboards along the interstate instructed us to exit, but once we did so, I couldn’t locate the strip of motels that were visible from the highway. Frustrated, I was driving up and down deserted avenues looking for the service road access, and not finding it. Recent construction, detours, and orange cones rendered my GPS confused and worthless. And there were no gas stations or fast food joints that appeared safe enough at which to stop to ask for directions.
As I drove down one empty street, I saw what looked like the service road access. There were no cars around. I made a quick u-turn.
The siren and red lights came out of nowhere.
I pulled over into the parking lot of a burned-out storefront. The officer approached.
I keep my license in my wallet next to my Dept of Public Safety badge, and it’s impossible that he didn’t see it. His demeanor became friendlier. He looked young and was probably new on the force. He asked me where I lived and to where I was headed so late at night. He seemed bored. Forgetting my apparent traffic offense, we began to chat as public safety colleagues.
“Yeah, I hate working the night shift. This is a rough town. You see some really bad stuff. Gunshots and knife fights all the time. Drugs. Robberies. Assaults. And you pull people over in cars and never know what you’ll find. Just the other day, I stopped a guy and he had a stiff in the back!”
“You don’t say?!”
[just minutes before, the officer’s hand had been resting on the back seat window of the driver’s side, not a yardstick from my own stiff’s blanketed bony head]
Sensing my fatigue, the officer told me how to get to the nearest row of highway motels. We parted with a smile – not even a traffic warning – and I followed his directions, soon coming upon an Econolodge ‘vacancy’ sign. There were signs of life in the office despite the late hour. The night clerk buzzed me in, and a very loud chime announced my entrance.
This place lacked bulletproof glass. The door leading to the front desk wasn’t braced with a heavy chair. And there were no bailbondsmen’s cards on the counter (though there was a sign inviting guests to partake of “free alcohol at the manager’s reception each Friday evening.”)
Not free beer or wine. Not champagne, mind you. For the discriminating Arkansan palate, it’s generic alcohol that’s offered.
Vast distances notwithstanding, this Econolodge did nevertheless share some ambience with the Adobe Inn more than 1000 miles to the west.
Abandoned dumpsters out back? Check.
Scattered rattletrap cars all parked ‘facing out’? Check.
Spartan décor that was mid-century Salvation Army at best? Check.
The olfactory pervasion of stale cigarettes? Check
The nagging sensation that Boney was not the first dead body to spend the night there? Check.
An added bonus was the liberal use of concertina wire topping the back parking lot’s fence, which abutted a deserted, trash strewn, and graffiti-bedecked public housing complex. Nice.
Too tired to care, I backed in – like the few other hardy souls braving the place that night – and carried Santa Muerte into our ground floor room. Being the travel pro that I had become, I braced the door with a chair. I then collapsed on the bed and fell fast asleep.
Were there flashing lights or sirens in the parking lot that night, I wasn’t cognizant of them.
I awoke the next morning, still alive and feeling better. Packing my friend in the car once more, we headed off, sorry to have missed the manager’s reception, but brimming with enthusiasm.
Today we would reach Mecca.
[to be continued…]
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