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Tuesday, November 29, 2011  

Road Tripped Up

Trash and I used to take vacations all the time where we'd get in the car (or fly somewhere and rent one) and just drive. We'd travel almost at random, covering as much ground as we could during the day, and as night fell we'd pull into the first hotel we saw and get a room for the night. This has led to some memorable stays, like the place in Sioux Falls where the bed was shaped like an inverted U, or the cinder-block motel in Williams, AZ where we wore our socks in the shower, or the motel in Albuquerque with a room door that didn't latch. We don't do that as much since M. Edium, partly because he doesn't like to travel that way, but also because we don't like to travel that way with him. Also, we're not in our broke-ass twenties any more.

That's one recurring theme of our vacations. Another one is that we tend to show up at places either right before or right after natural disasters. Last summer we were in South Dakota after the flooding of the Missouri River, one year we arrived in coastal South Carolina just days ahead of Hurricane Fran, and this time we showed up in New England a week after a disastrous snowstorm.

It's not often that our two recurring themes converge. Which, as it turns out, is good.

This was just a three-day trip, mainly to check a couple of little New England states off our list at last. I thought that was too short a time to cover much distance, but given that within an hour of landing we were in our fourth state of the day, I had to admit I was wrong.

But the freedom of being only a few hours away (or less) from anywhere else in New England at any given time has a downside. When we left Harvard on Saturday afternoon, we had no idea where we were going to spend the night. We just knew we wanted to hit Rhode Island (and in the case of Providence and its drivers that evening, we ended up wanting to hit it hard), but had no idea where we were going to spend the night. We just had lunch plans the next afternoon in western Massachusetts, so we figured we'd just make sure to land somewhere that was within a couple hours from there (which, as previously mentioned, applies to most of New England other than parts of Maine).

We had dinner in a small town in western Rhode Island (not actually an island, as it turns out), then proceeded west. At some point after dark we started feeling tired, but didn't see anything in Norwich, CT that cried out to us. Before much longer we were in downtown Hartford, and were starting to think about where we might spend the night. Still, we're not really "staying downtown" kind of people, so we headed on north to find a place in a smaller town.

In Glastonbury, we started looking up hotel phone numbers on the GPS and calling them on our cell phones (such a better system than our old one, where Trash would make me get out of the car, walk into hotels, and come back out with an embarrassed, hangdog expression on my face), but none of the first few places we called had any vacancies at all.

By the time we reached Springfield, Massachusetts, pulling off at every other exit and trying all the hotels closest to where we were at that moment, we were even more tired, and starting to get desperate. Trash was speculating that at the increasingly late hour, inhospitable desk clerks just didn't want to deal with new guests. Eventually she asked one of them, "Is there some kind of event going on?"

Yes, there was. An event called the aftermath of one of the largest October snowstorms in New England history that had left millions of people with no heat, power, or anywhere to stay other than a hotel somewhere. Thus the run on hotel rooms. And thus the reason idiots like us were screwed.

Off the freeway in Springfield, in a spot overlooked by several giant chain hotels (all of which were full; we called), I got a hold of someone in Windsor who had a room and even quoted me a price.

"Fifty-five dollars a night?" I repeated for Trash's benefit. "Let's go," she said, not waiting for me to finish the call.

On the way over there, however, she belatedly put together two facts: the room price, and the fact that it's not 1995 any more.

"Wait, do you think it's creepy?" she asked me.

"Yes, I do," I said. "When I said fifty-five dollars a night? I wasn't repeating it as a selling point. I was repeating it as a warning."

Sure enough, when we pulled into the narrow parking lot of the rundown place and rang the doorbell so the desk clerk would come let us in, he smiled at us with his half-a-front-teeth and offered to let us see the room before checking in. We appreciated the offer, because there have been plenty of places where a look at the room in advance would have definitely affected our decision to stay there. As we walked single file down a hallway that you didn't even need a UV light for, I could see Trash in front of me already shaking her head.

Inside the room, Trash was too polite to tell the truth, which was that we'd rather sleep in the car than spend a night here. After all, how comfortable would we be in this room, where the only way we'd be able to sleep would be suspended from the ceiling? Fortunately, a polite way to convey that we wouldn't be staying here came to me just in time:

"Do you have wireless Internet?"

And that's how we got out of there. In case you ever find yourself in this situation, you can have that for free.

As we got back on the road and resumed the search, we started asking the desk clerks at chain hotels where their nearest hotels with vacancies could be found. After talking to one that had rooms in Brattleboro, Vermont (and surprisingly, New England suddenly gets a lot bigger when you want to be in a bed in the next half hour), I reached a guy in Wilbraham who had one room left, but it was a smoking room -- which I didn't know still existed -- and he sounded a lot like the guy at the other hotel, so I said I'd call back.

"CALL BACK NOW!" Trash roared when she got back from inside the gas station where we were making a pit stop.

Which I did, and only by virtue of being able to drive there in fifteen minutes were we able to beat one other desperate traveler to what was almost certainly the last available hotel room in western New England. The mattress was like a duffel bag full of socks and the blankets were of the fuzzy-rubber variety you find in your better motels and it smelled like an ashtray and was scandalously overpriced, but it was better than sleeping in the car. Oh, and as for our goal of being a morning's easy drive from our lunch date, we were so close that we had to drive to Worcester and back the next morning just to kill some time.

And we learned our lesson. Next time we'll plan our vacations around natural disasters with a little more foresight.

posted by M. Giant 8:43 PM 1 comments


Morbid curiousity demands my inquiry: where ivan I find this unique Sioux Falls bed?

By Anonymous SDpfeiffy, at December 3, 2011 at 6:06 AM  

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