Culture overload crawls into motel
BOONVILLE, Mo. – Town to town, across four continents, I’ve been having dinner conversations with teachers, road workers and hospital administrators.
I’ve stayed with olive farmers, country singers and restaurateurs; pig farmers, pub owners and auctioneers. I’ve been the guest of chefs, contractors and mega-mall developers. There was the female bombmaker in Australia, the poet in Ireland, the cartoonist in Scotland.
The education has been priceless. But about eight months ago I hit an emotional wall.
See, different cultures don’t just happen from border to border but rather in each household. It was all very exciting at first, to see how people can choose entirely different journeys in life; how they eat different foods, raise their kids, decorate their houses; how they have various senses of style, music and hobbies. Oh boy, the hobbies people have. But there’s another side.
Over the years I’ve set off motion alarms and burglar alarms, even walked into the garage once to retrieve something from Bob only to discover that it wasn’t the garage at all. In fact it was the exact wrong moment to greet my host in the bathroom.
There were numerous occasions when couples would fight in front of me, some so violently I wondered if I should leave – and take the wife with me. In Scotland the men love their whiskey a little too much and, well, let me just say that the dresser in front of the door served as a fortress.
Some people are offended if I ask to help with the dishes, some are offended if I don’t. Some families grunt with disapproval if I don’t pray before I eat, others wouldn’t dream of it. Some people hand me the remote control and say watch whatever you want, the TV is yours. Then they leave the room in a heavy sigh when I flip to Dr. Phil.
Should I take my shoes off when I enter their home, or are they offended if I walk around in my stinky socks? Do they want me to take the sheets off in the morning or make the bed?
‘You eat stupid’
See, for each family they’re only entertaining for one night, for me it’s entertaining every night for five years; adapting everyday to whatever lifestyle I happen to be walking into.
To borrow a Gump-ism, life is like a box of chocolates. Peering into a fresh box of chocolates you swear up and down you could never get enough. Then you eat and eat and eat and eat until very suddenly you realize it’s too late and you’re queasy.
My last chocolate came when a woman in upstate New York asked what I would like for breakfast. I said a couple of hard-boiled eggs with a banana would be great. She said no sausages? I said no, thank you.
“No, thank you.”
“No, thank you. Just a couple of hard-boiled eggs and a banana would be great.”
“No, thank you.”
She looked at me holding her empty fry pan and said with a hint of disgust, “You eat stupid.”
Her poor husband later apologized for his wife’s behavior but one too many chocolates had been eaten, and I was starting to feel queasy. Heck, after four years it was bound to catch up with me. And now, for the sake of my sanity, I was being forced to find an alternative.
Camping, of course, was a valid option. After all, many moons ago that’s how I had envisioned the whole walking thing anyway. But at the time I was entering Ontario during rainy season and a night in the rain was a steep price to pay to dodge couple’s fighting and fried SPAM balls.
Asking hotels to sponsor nights is always a good option, but I was entering towns well after 5 p.m. when general managers – the decision makers – were gone. It didn’t help at all either that I was arriving at these hotels after walking 16 to 20 miles looking like a certified bag lady.
I tried calling hotels in advance but they paid no mind. There was that tone in their voice that said surely if you’re this fancy walker doing this fancy world walk for breast cancer where’s your big fancy team of your staff?
There had to be a way.
I remember standing in the middle of a backcountry road in Ontario trying to think who can I get to call hotels in advance on my behalf?
Then I hit on it. Perfect.
My friend Mike down in Florida works with hotels all the time. He knows how they tick and is comfortable talking to the powers that be. I walked around the Ontario backcountry road until enough service popped up on my cell phone.
As I recall, the conversation went something like this, “Hi, Mike! Listen, I’m up here in Ontario and need some help.”
“Could you call the Comfort Inn in Brantford, Ontario, tell them what I’m doing and see if they would consider donating a night?”
There was a silence of confusion on the other end so I went on: “See, if you call on my behalf I’m doing this walk for breast cancer. If I call myself I’m some homeless loser.”
More silent confusion.
“I don’t quite get it myself,” I urge, “but this entire walk has been a heckuva study in human behavior.”
Mike called back in five minutes and said the Comfort Inn would be delighted to host me for the night. They’re putting together a welcome party, the press is on the way, dinner is on them and they’ll walk you out of town the next day.”
I said, “Wow, dude, you gotta do this again.”
Triple X interstate
Through Minnesota, Iowa and into Missouri two friends – thank you, Stephanie and Shirley – have rallied to help me by calling hotels and motels to explain what I’m doing. They faxed and e-mailed relevant information and asked if the hotels and motels would consider helping.
What ensued has been a touching display of it-takes-a-village with Comfort Inns, Best Westerns, Super 8s, Marriotts and Radissons, eagerly ready to help. Even the Hilton put me up for 12 whole nights in Rochester, Minn., during my winter hiatus. My sanity has been restored.
Once in a while people will invite me into their homes and, of course, it’s so much fun to sit around the dinner table and hear first-hand about their hobby collecting old political buttons or bond with those who have just fought a bout with breast cancer – it makes me want to do this all the time.
But just like peering into that yummy box of chocolates I have to maintain control by taking a small piece at a time and saying no more, thank you, I’m watching my figure.
The reason I bring this up now is due to irony. I walked into the town of Boonville, Mo., a couple days ago. This weekend nearby Columbia is hosting the state high school basketball tournament and Missourians are so fanatic about their high school sports that every hotel and motel is booked to the brim with athletes, families and small town fans.
There was simply nowhere to stay in a good 40-mile radius of town. Nowhere, that is, except the Pakistani-owned dive located next door to the Triple X Passions Red Hot Love Hut.
Seems the state of Missouri is in the throws of fighting the stream of XXX video and paraphernalia stores that are lined up mile after mile along Interstate 70 from St. Louis to Kansas City.
There was a story in the Kansas City Star about a father who’d had enough. While driving down I-70 his 7-year old son asked, “Daddy, what’s X-X-X Lusty Hot Love Videos?” And the next mile, “Daddy, what’s Triple X Girls Girls Girls?” Then another one. And another one.
But until Missouri legislates against the I-70 Triple X Interstate, the only hotel room available in all of central Missouri was the one that shared a parking lot with the Triple X Passions Red Hot Love Hut.
The irony is that out of all the years on the road and the hundreds of hotels that have kindly donated nights across America, the only one that wouldn’t help is the one that rates in the top three worst place I’ve ever stayed.
That includes the place in India where the plaster ceiling was literally crumbling down on top of me but I couldn’t move because that would mean leaving the safety of my mosquito net in the region known for being the highest malaria zone in the world.
There was the motel in Arizona where the door wouldn’t close and wild pit bulls were roaming the parking lot. The really bad news is that due to some speaking commitments that I had in the area, I had to stay for three whole nights!! Heck, this motel has never rented a room for an entire night let alone three!
I suffered through two nights next to the Triple X Passions Red Hot Love Hut and then a woman named Gu-Ree from the local Lions Club came and whisked me back to her place. As she and her brother-in-law came to my rescue I gave them a quick tour. I showed them the cigarette burns in the sheets and pillows, the broken glass under the bed and the heat stuck on 110-degrees. And – there’s no chocolate on the pillow, I said joking.
Gu-Ree says you want to stop for some chocolate on the way home?
“Yeah,” I say, “just a nice small piece will do.”