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.
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.
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.