Eating Free Lunch

Seemingly a perk is the free room given to TJ on his current renovation of a Motel 6. We “lucked out” when the electrician he shared a room with left for a family emergency, leaving the space to just the two of us (after Jumaane left for the east coast). Having dealt with my share of almost evictions during graduate school, I haven’t taken a roof over my head for granted since. But a free lunch (or room in this instance), as we all know, is never free. And while living in a motel room does have some unique advantages, it also has some fundamental drawbacks.

Privacy — One morning, when I first arrived in Ventura, but after my brother was gone, I was lingering in bed with a book and cup of coffee. My intention to get up kept falling to the wayside with each page, when I heard the door opening. I thought it was TJ,and gave no thought to my state of undress, which was mostly covered by a blanket. In fact, it was not TJ, but another man on the crew who was looking for a tool that TJ had in our room. We made eye contact, not sure what to say,

but the man was backing from the room and bowing like he was excusing himself from royalty. I sat up and told him It’s fine. Get what you need.
It didn’t take me long to figure out that privacy in the motel room of a construction worker doesn’t really exist, but everyone tries as much as possible to pretend otherwise.

Cleanliness — Somehow from Phoenix to Elon & back west, I acquired a lot of shit. TJ on his work travels acquired a lot of tools. The room we share is big, but not big enough for everything we own, so a lot is still in my car, and in his truck. The extra bed is a catch-all for the odds and ends of our everyday lives. It collects coins, papers, plastic bags, pens, and clothes worn once and not ready for the hamper. Making the bed was an important discovery for creating the illusion of a neater room.
And that’s all we can do is try, the truth is still obvious to the women who service our room every day. Every day, without fail they knock, on a schedule that I’ve yet to learn, to clean the room. And I know I should be grateful for the clean towels, and for not having to bend over to clean the tub, but I am consumed with thinking about what they think of us. I tell myself they’ve seen worse. I tell myself that leaving last night’s dishes out isn’t the end of the world and that everyone has underwear that sometimes end up on the floor. When I come home from the gym, and the little cleaning cart is in front of out door, I stand in the breezeway pulling my hair out over what they must be thinking about the occupants of room 200.

Eating — The room has a Microfridge, a throwback to my college days — the professional ones, I was too poor to afford one while actually attending. It can hold a decent amount, though the top shelf closest to the freezer cupboard also freezes food and sometimes it leaks and I step in tepid water with my barefeet. Still it takes a lot of negotiating and compromise to decide what goes in it. Initially I wasted a lot of money on fresh fruits and vegetables, because we couldn’t eat them fast enough or they froze on the top shelf and got freezer burn. We have a small George Foreman grill, a rice cooker and a gridle, all of which are perfect for motel living. We’ve learned to be pretty inventive with our meals, steaming veggies on the top of the rice cooker, grilling delicious salmon on the George Foreman, but I plan on kissing the front of my future oven with an open mouth.

Drama — just a week ago I came home from the gym to find a flurry of activity outside the motel. There were several cars parked along the entrance, and people inside them on walkie talkies. I drove by unnecessarily slow and took in a badass plainclothes lady cop in a bullet-proof vest, her badge on a chain around her neck, and a gun in a holster. I also noticed a group of women fanned around another plainclothes cop, with their hands on their hips and heads shaking
No in his direction. TJ found me in the room, and we flipped out over the prostitution sting happening right under our noses. It’s not unusual to see shady characters here, but it’s another story when you’re suspected of being one. Last week, TJ and I were leaving for Palm Springs when a car pulled up in front of us on the left and cop got out. TJ was on the phone, so I noticed first the gun on his hip, and the no-fucks attitude of his expression. He leaned in to TJ’s open window and asked for ID. I have a serious aversion of law enforcement and when confronted with a representative of the law I become a docile version of myself that most people wouldn’t recognize. TJ on the other hand, does not. Faced with another one of the plainclothes officers that frequent our motel, TJ didn’t even stop the conversation he was having on the phone. He pulled his ID from his wallet, and very casually asked why the officer needed it. The cop, having taken notice of TJ’s lackadaisical attitude said, “We’re looking for a driver of a truck like yours and he kinda looks like you.” I was at that moment two seconds from howling, even knowing that TJ has done nothing wrong, but it only got worse. Another officer pulled up on the right, officially cutting us off from leaving the parking lot. When he got out of his all-black SUV, I felt my stomach drop. The first cop was intimidating, but seemed reasonable. The second officer, not so much. He had tattoos on his face. I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t think of anything scarier than an undercover cop with tattoos on his face. He didn’t say a word to us, only conferred with the first officer who was running TJ’s license. I knew TJ was finally concerned when he put his phone down. The first cop asked a few questions: Why was TJ there? What was his occupation?
They never addressed me or even looked my way, which I was perfectly okay with. The whole encounter probably lasted less than ten minutes, but I was so tense, it felt like 30. In the end, the first officer gave TJ’s ID back, slapped the side of the truck, told us to have a good one and they both did a slow mosey back to their respective vehicles. Just another day a Motel Six.

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