At the end of our travels, how often we long to be home.
“I miss my own bed,” we say, and think of the comfort of familiarity.
But, it isn’t really the bed we miss. In my experience, hotel beds are not all that bad, as a rule, and the linens are always clean. Or almost always; I can tell you a few stories.
No, it isn’t the mattress or the blanket we miss. What we miss is elsewhere in the house: It is the shower. When I’m coming home after being away, I cannot wait to hit the showers.
And that is because: Hotel showers are a horror.
Many have “water saver” nozzles that limit the amount of water they spray to below the threshold needed to rinse off soap. It’s like standing under a restaurant mister. You sense the humidity, but cannot actually get wet.
Conversely, I don’t remember how many Motel 6 showers that have made attempts on my life with nozzles that so lethally concentrate the jet as to become like wet lasers attempting to slice my body in half. It makes me want to give away state secrets; there I am, some James Bond captured by Dr. No. “No, Mr. Bond, I don’t expect you to talk; I expect you to die!”
For such showers, you need to measure their muzzle velocity. You can see the knife of water so depress the skin down into the flesh as to threaten to punch through. One shouldn’t require stitches after a morning shower.
It isn’t only the flow rate that can be a problem. We have all come across water so soft that the rinse is even slimier than the soap. You rinse and rinse and cannot escape the slipperiness.
The worst was in a small town in South Dakota where the water came out of the showerhead with the mephitic smell of dead mammals. I couldn’t shake that stench from my nostrils for days.
Admittedly, when I travel I tend to stay visit out-of-the-way places that don’t always have Holiday Inns, so I wind up staying at some dubious hostelries.
I remember a motel in Shamrock, Texas, which had worn-out shag rug not only on the floors but halfway up the walls, like wainscotting. That was tasteful. The carpet also ran up the side of the bed, like a high tide threatening to sweep us away.
Or the motel in Forrest City, Ark., that came with fleas, and when we looked in the bathroom and saw the “sanitized for your protection” paper loop on the toilet seat, underneath a wet, crushed cigarette butt was floating in the water.
I must admit, I have a soft spot in my heart for the old-fashioned motor court, with its separate cottages along a loop driveway. There is something nostalgic about those linoleum floors, so cold under your feet in the morning. Something about the squeaky iron bedsteads with their chipped paint, about the slightly musty smell — as familiar in its way as the aroma of clean wet moss. It smells natural, rather than the chemical cleaner scent of the chain motels.
I prefer those old motor courts to the corporate disengagement of your standard franchise hotel, the uniform blandness that implies not that you have traveled somewhere new and different, but rather have somehow popped out of the dimension of real experience and into a kind of Disney parallel universe, a free zone, with no connection to anything. As if you were spending the night in a neutral corner.
But whether I have gone to a motel with enough layers of wallpaper to make the walls look upholstered, or to a Hyatt where, when I wake up in the morning I can’t remember if I’m in Boston or Calcutta, I can know that the shower will disappoint me.
And I cannot wait to get home to the water I know.
This blog reflects a correction sent to me by Pat Price, for which I express thanks.
I’ve experienced some shocking motel/hotel showers in my time. I’ve found that a large number of 4 star hotels also have the “drip-drip-drip” shower heads. Terrible. Most of them are fixed as well, so you have to contort like a ballerina/idiot and hope gravity does the cleaning for you.
I have become a faithful reader in the last few months and am constantly
amazed by the breadth of your knowledge and experience. Your blogs are
one of the best parts of my day.
I just finished reading your thoughts on motel showers and forwarded them
to my husband who is a long-time critic of shower heads (and, in the past,
has even been known to carry a tool along on lengthy business trips in
order to defeat the water-saver feature). He enjoyed reading your blog
and knowing that someone else shares his thoughts on motel showers, but he
agrees with me that there is possibly an error in today’s blog. You refer
to “mineralized water that is even slimier than the soap.” We take
“mineralized water” to be the same as what we call “hard water.” If so,
then it is actually “soft water” that causes the slimey feeling that won’t
wash away. Below is an excerpt from Wikipedia (not always reliable, I
“The slippery feeling experienced when using soap with soft water occurs
because soaps tend to bind to fats in the surface layers of skin, making
soap molecules difficult to remove by simple dilution. In contrast, in
hard-water areas the rinse water contains calcium or magnesium ions which
form insoluble salts, effectively removing the residual soap from the
If we are wrong, please feel free to correct us. I have always preferred
knowing when I have spinach on my front teeth (if you know what I mean).
And I sincerely hope that you don’t mind my nit-picking.
We have taken many of the drives around the States that you have, and we
feel as though we’re reliving our trips when we read about yours. Your
descriptions of the West Coast, Portland, the Columbia River Gorge, West
Texas – to name a few – were all wonderful. Have you ever considered
doing some writing about “outsider art” in America – like the Garden of
Eden in Kansas or Paradise Garden in Georgia? And the marvelous
collection of “whirly-gigs” in an overgrown field not far from Raleigh.
These are just a few of the many examples of “art” that are slowly
deteriorating – usually because the artist is dead and lack of funding for
grassroots art. From your writing, I am sure that you have a soft spot
We look forward to reading many more of your blogs. It’s great to be
simultaneously entertained and informed.