Every once in a while, my son has a genuine moment of Zen wisdom. Often I’m slow to appreciate those nuggets. Sometimes it takes years. Once when driving Spud (not his real name) home from daycare, I stopped at a light and noted his swiveling head.
“Do you know where you are?” I thought I would see if he recognized anything along our daily route home.
“Daddy, I’m here,” he said.
I started to name landmarks and estimate distances from the house and school. Then I realized it for a profound moment of clarity on his part. Buckaroo Banzai couldn’t have said it better.
A few years later, we were driving to NY to see my family. We had picked up Spud after school, and we planned to stop for the night in southern Pennsylvania. The anticipation of a night spent in a motel room threatened to keep him from napping in the car. Eventually the Dramamine kicked in and then snoring from the back seat, his head cocked at an angle that couldn’t be comfortable.
By the time we arrived at the hotel, having endured hours of infamous PA road construction delays, we were beat. Spud’s enthusiasm energized us a bit. My wife, Shmoopy (not her real name), had reserved a suite with a hot tub. Thoughts of soaking my aching back, the jets gently massaging out the knots, made me almost as excited as Spud. We promised him he could try it before bed, and he could hardly stop talking about steam and bubbles.
There was nobody at the hotel desk, but I could hear talking from a room walled off from the counter. The motel was a recognizable chain, but I noticed a sign declaring that one to be independently managed. The sign was foreshadowing. Eventually somebody heard us talking and tore herself away from her giggling companion to welcome us. There followed a monotone briefing on pool hours, check-out time, and the free continental breakfast, and we were on our way to the hot tub and blissful slumber.
We wheeled, wrestled, and juggled our luggage along the sidewalk to our room. I noticed a crumbling concrete staircase, complete with bright yellow cautionary tape. The over-chlorinated pool made my eyes water and nostrils tingle. It was conveniently located close to our door and populated by a raucous bunch of people ignoring the posted closing time. I comforted myself with the knowledge that the sound of hot tub jets would soon drown out their antics.
The odors from the pool were quickly replaced by the smell of cigarette smoke when we entered the non-smoking room. I called the front desk to request a different room, but nobody answered. We decided that maybe we were wrong, since we didn’t see any ash trays in the room. Maybe it was drifting in through a window or vent from outside. Then we spotted the pile of ash in the corner of the room. At least Spud would be sleeping in the second bedroom.
We opened the door to his room and found no bed. There were, however, very good instructions for unfolding the couch. Oh, well. Spud could sleep just about anywhere once he was tired enough. We dropped our things. Shmoopy tried to cheer us by filling the hot tub at the edge of our bedroom. The jets didn’t work. At least there was hot water, so Spud got to take a bath in a giant tub. We made bubbles for him with the hotel shampoo, and soon he was off to bed.
The next morning, I went to take a shower and noticed a pile of curly hair near the drain. I wondered if the shower had been cleaned after the last guests had stayed in the room. Obviously the ashes hadn’t been vacuumed from the carpet. I thought the sheets had been clean. If they hadn’t, it was too late. I began to itch with just the thought of it, so I wiped up the hair with some toilet paper and took my shower with flip-flops on my feet.
The doors to the breakfast area were locked when we arrived. We waited 15 minutes past the posted time for breakfast, and then I went to the front desk. There was a different woman on duty, and she unlocked the door and began heating up water for tea. There were packages of cereal, some granola bars, and the coffee wasn’t yet made. We were advised that it would probably take twenty minutes or so until that would be remedied. We left, checked out, and went to McDonald’s.
With every small disappointment, I felt bad for Spud. I had stayed in some crappy motels in the past, but the online reviews of that one promised better accommodations. I had been completely unprepared for the mess we encountered, and surely Spud had anticipated a veritable Magic Kingdom of hot tubs, huge beds, and fresh waffles.
“That hotel was cool, Dad.” That’s what he said to me later that day. Shmoopy and I were stunned. Hadn’t he seen the ashes, busted hot tub, and hirsute shower drain? Sure. He’d experienced the exact same things we had, but he didn’t get upset. He just enjoyed being on vacation with his family.
Lesson learned, wise Spud.