The Pope of Motels by Kara McMullen




I’m like the Pope of motels.  I love a lot of things about motels, of which you are reading a compendium.  I’ll list some things that I love about motels, and you’ll be interested and curious about why I love them so much.  Or maybe you’ll become bored with me quickly, and not stick around till the part about parking lots.  That’s fine, too.  I’ve learned that in order to be the Pope of something, you have to see yourself through some rough times, times where other people abandon you and all you stand for.  Maybe they’re upset about something you or one of your adherents did, or maybe they’re just tired of your robes (I’m still talking about the Pope right now—I’m not onto me yet.  I do like robes, but not like the Pope likes robes.). You have to not be swayed by all the voices in the world, which can be a hard thing sometimes.  The world has a lot of opinions, and the sum total of them is a lot bigger than you.  Or me.  We can move on to me now, because I don’t know the Pope personally, after all.  Maybe he doesn’t read his reviews on the internet.

I don’t read my reviews on the internet, either.  I learned early on that if you’re going to care, like, truly care about something, you really just can’t let other people in.  You have to create a sanctuary inside yourself, where you keep a tiny person who is what you would be like if the world were a different place.  It’s your job to keep that person safe, and the internet can ruin that.  Maybe you know about the new thing, where the providers of a service rate the consumers of that service? If you want to become a person who is the Pope in your field, you can’t read those reviews.  

Motels are important because they are the dream of a new people, a people who first uprooted and then cast themselves across the lands, in search.  That search might be for love, or money, or power, but whatever it is for, motels will be there.  They are sacred resting places, somewhere you enter exhausted and leave reborn.  

I love so many things about motels that it’s hard to narrow it down to the confines of this space, with its rational black and white print and cursor blinking like some kind of automated goat eye. I love the neon signs, harbingers of an earlier, simpler time, where maybe a motel with a neon sign that spelled out “Lucky U” meant what it means today, or maybe it just meant that you counted yourself fortunate to stop for the night there, to put up your feet and rest your proverbial dogs.  

I love the squat one-level and bi-level buildings, often set back a bit from the street in order to accommodate that most important of accessories, the parking lot. The parking lot has a lot to do with the cute and outdated name some motels used to be called: the motor court, where people motored in and then stayed for the night. When I’m feeling carefree I refer to motels as motor courts.  That name describes what I see in motels, those regal places that bring to mind the kings of old.  

I love the orderly and synchronized way in which motels are cleaned.  A well-trained cleaning staff can turn a motel morning into a thing of exquisite beauty. They (I learned I can’t use the word “maid” in a different review) bring to mind those handmaidens in ancient Greek times, the ones who got to scrape all the crap off of the holy bits of the shrines (or temples; maybe the word is temples).  I think there was someone who filled that need, actually, but I’m not positive.  I’ve spent more time in motels than in researching Greece.  I bet they used something more exalted than basic bleach back then, and so too do the motel cleaners.  They have that large unlabeled plastic bottle filled to the brim with lovely aquamarine liquid, smelling so fresh and invigorating.

I love the bell at the reception desk.  If the place is empty and you ring the bell, you can rest comfortably knowing someone is hurrying their way from somewhere else to take care of you, particularly.  Often there is reading material about local attractions to keep you busy while you wait.

I love the interior design, the homey atmosphere combined with solid craftsmanship. Most motels have landscape paintings in their lobby and rooms, reminding you of your grandparents or their grandparents, inviting you to languidly float away on an inner tube of nostalgia.  Many of these works of art depict the surrounding environment. If you’re staying somewhere near the ocean you’ll be treated to a nautical theme; you can practically smell the tang of seagull vomit in the air.  If you’re landlocked, the bedspreads may be emblazoned with horses and cowboys, reminding you to sample the local flavor.

I love the coffee, provided for free with your room.  The coffeemaker works just about as well as the hair dryers do.

I love the pools, with their unimaginative shapes (rectangles, squares, ovals, nothing ornate or garish here) and their concrete majesty, waiting for the next browned and wrinkled goddess to practice her rites involving suntan oil and tequila in a plastic cup.  

I love the bars, or restaurants, or grills, or pubs (if you’re especially lucky, you get two of these things, linked with an ampersand: bar & grill; bar & restaurant; restaurant & pub), that can accompany the motel, through the door on the right (or the left, it really depends which motel you’re at) of the registration desk.  These establishments are filled with people speaking quickly or not speaking at all, travelers just passing through for the night before they’re on to the see the rest of the world.  If you sit in one of these places, and imagine where everyone around you has been, where they’re going, and what their lives are like, it’s almost as if you’ve traveled the world alongside them.  You order a greasy burger and limp fries and you love it, you love all of it as though it’s the ambrosia of the gods.  Because you are the Pope of motels.

Kara McMullen is currently living in Portland, Oregon with two dogs, a cat, and a husband. You can find more about her here.