Booked a hotel through Expedia a few weeks ago. A random, last-minute hotel, close to the place I’d be working that week. The LiA. Fancy name. Photos on Expedia looked OK to me. I’d be fine at the LiA.
When my Uber pulled into the LiA, I realized that I should have investigated this hotel more closely. It was not a hotel at all. Instead, it was a motel. Still rundown. Still shabby, like all motels. But the LiA (why is the “a” capitalized?) was obviously aware of the shabbiness. The LiA made retro shabbiness part of the experience.
A grim Hispanic man wearing a bowtie manned the front desk. He stood in front of what appeared to be a vintage theatre curtain—heavy, red velvet material. The curtain covered the wall behind him.
During check-in, he asked for my home address. I live in Canada, I said. Do I really need to give you my address? Why is that relevant? He seemed miffed. He let out a sigh. Then he said it was OK if I didn’t write down my address.
The room wasn’t great. It was a little threadbare and worn out, like all motel rooms. A king-sized bed dominated the room. It took up 95-percent of the floor space.
The bathroom was OK. It had a window which looked out on a series of dumpsters next to a garage. Not great. Made my peace with roughing it for the week. Told myself that I’d stayed in worse places than this.
I wasn’t sure that I had actually stayed in worse places than this.
Took cars to the office everyday. Ubers. The drivers were the usual roster of foreigners you’d get in any city—guy from India, guy from the Ukraine—and the occasional unemployed skateboarder or black woman always wearing oversized sunglasses. Some of the cars smelled vaguely of marijuana. Story from the drivers was always the same: Uber is good, man, but not as good as it used to be. There are too many drivers now!
Got up at 5:30 a.m., when it was still dark out. Walked to a nearby Starbucks along the back streets in the California pre-dawn dark, feeling vulnerable and exhilarated. Got my go-to travel breakfast from the sleepy-eyed Starbucks attendant: egg sandwich, orange juice, big cup of coffee.
Walking the streets in the dark in a small, sleepy town in California, just before dawn, was my favorite part of that trip. The air was cold and clean. You can smell the California desert at that hour. The ocean, too. The entire day was still in front of me. It was nothing but possibility.
There’s something primal about going out and procuring food for myself like this. Carrying the coffee and sandwich along the dark, empty streets, back to my shabby motel room, I felt as optimistic as I ever feel.