LONG CAR RIDES

Here’s another short story that I wrote a few years ago. I hope that you enjoy it–it all really happened!

LONG CAR RIDES
My husband hates to pay for a motel room, especially when we travel only a few hours from where we live, but sometimes it’s just nice to get away and begin the next morning in a different place. That’s why I suggested a short trip overnight to Bangor, Maine—about a four-hour journey from our New Hampshire home.

We had stayed there before, about two years earlier, and I was hoping that we could go to the same motel again. It was spacious and clean and close to all the things we liked to do. The cost was reasonable, too—only $75 a night. Still, when I dared to mention it, my husband grumbled. Even at that modest price, he preferred to go just for the day and drive back home again. That would mean an eight-hour round trip, with the return journey in the dark—not unusual for us, but not my idea of a mini-vacation.

Since my husband likes saving money and enjoys driving, a vacation for a day would suit him fine—he actually prefers it. When our children were young, I can remember he brought us to a popular German restaurant in Montreal so we could experience the Oompah bands and ambiance while feasting on sauerbraten, dumplings and cabbage—our favorite meal. It took us six hours to get there and six long hours to get back. It’s hard to believe someone would drive that far just for dinner, but that’s what we did.

Another time, we went to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. I didn’t think we’d accomplish that particular trip in one day, but my husband proved me wrong. We left early in the morning before the sun came up, and it was right around midnight when we pulled back into our driveway. The kids were asleep in the back seat with their heads resting on each other’s shoulder—so close and peaceful. It was a rare and sweet sight, a Kodak moment. My husband snapped a picture.

Although we have many good memories of our crazy one-day excursions, I wasn’t about to give up on this overnight Bangor idea. I was motivated to find cheap enough accommodations so my husband couldn’t refuse. Thanks to the Internet, it didn’t take long. I found an on-line special for about half the price of the other one and it was with a popular chain motel. How could we go wrong? When I told my husband, he hemmed and hawed, but then agreed that it was too good to pass up so we booked the room.

Because it was settled now—we were staying overnight and the room was already reserved—we took a leisurely drive up there and arrived in Bangor around dinnertime. We had no trouble finding the motel. It was conveniently located on a busy highway leading into the city and was right next to a major airport.

We parked the car and went to the office to get the key. The woman at the desk wasn’t friendly and seemed annoyed that she had to check us in. I could’ve understood if it was a busy place, but there was no one around and the parking lot was almost empty. Not a good sign, I thought, but I kept my mouth shut and stayed positive.

Our room was located in the front corner of the building, only about fifty feet from the highway, and the noise from the traffic seemed unbelievable. Still, that didn’t bother us—we weren’t going to spend much time there and my husband cranks the air conditioner up high when we sleep. That would drown out any noise, or so we thought.

Before we even entered the room, we noticed that the door had a big gash in it, like someone had tried to kick it in. When we put the key in the lock, the door wouldn’t open. It took three tries before we were successful. Thinking back on it now, maybe somebody was trying to tell us something like, “DON’T STAY HERE!”

And that’s what actually entered both of our minds when we first saw the room. It was shabby and looked nothing like the pictures on the Internet. The carpets were worn and permanently stained, and the walls were dirty. There was a television set, but it was small and had no remote, and the bathroom light switch didn’t work. Also, there was no exhaust fan—how were we going to survive the night?

We contemplated turning around and heading to the office to demand our money back. But that would mean traveling all the way home. My husband wasn’t about to search for another motel and it was already dark. Also, the room was already paid for. How bad could it actually be? My husband checked the air conditioner first—it worked. I bounced on the bed—firm enough. Okay, it was settled—we both opted for staying. After all, we were only here for one night and the objective was to relax. We still wanted to enjoy a nice Italian dinner and take in a movie before retiring. So what if we had to sleep in a dumpy motel? We’d survive.

The damaged door still bothered us. To be safe, we didn’t do any unpacking before going out for the evening. Everything remained in the car and we quickly left our somber surroundings. When we arrived at the restaurant, about five miles away from our budget motel, I looked over longingly at the motel that we had stayed in on our last visit here—the modestly priced one. It was located right next door. How I wished we could’ve changed our minds and stayed there.

After dinner, we went across the street and took in a movie. That wonderful motel was still in sight.

Later, as we were resting in bed (with all our clothes on in case the linens weren’t clean) and watching that mini television set without a remote, we heard a plane take off at the airport. It sounded like and explosion as it flew overhead and, I’m not exaggerating, the entire bed vibrated like Magic Fingers.

After sucking in slow deep breaths to get our heartbeats back down to normal, we decided it was late and there was nothing on the tube. We shut the thing off, cranked up the a/c, popped a few sleeping pills, and tried to relax again. However, with the air conditioner running full blast, it got cold fast and we were freezing. My husband searched the room for extra blankets, but there were none. Oh well, no surprise.

The air conditioner finally froze up on us and crapped out. We were warm again, but the traffic noises continued to disturb us, and a few more planes passed overhead causing the bed to shake violently—those Magic Fingers again. To top it all off, in the middle of the night, some stranger, loud and drunk, mistook our room for their own and tried to get in.

The next morning, we were exhausted from lack of sleep so we both took showers. The water pressure was good, but the water temperature was quirky. I let out a scream as it scalded my back while freezing the rest of me. Also, the bathroom fogged up because of the nonexistent exhaust fan, the light switch still didn’t work, and guess how many bath towels we were given? You guessed it—ONE bath towel! Since my husband showers first, it was wet before I had a chance to use it.

When we were finally leaving the dreadful motel with all of its nightmares, we couldn’t open the door again, this time from the inside. Something was faulty with the dead bolt and we had to really yank at it to get out of there. Lets just say we couldn’t leave fast enough and vowed never to return.

We headed straight for a diner that served breakfast. We both needed coffee or we weren’t going to get through the day. Where do you think we found a place to eat? Right next to the motel we stayed at previously. Figures!

The food wasn’t so great, though, and it was pricey. Also, the radio that was blasting through the speakers announced the forecast was for clouds and rain. This trip was turning out to be a flop. No rest, no sunshine, and a bad breakfast. It couldn’t get any worse.

And it didn’t. From that point on, I’m happy to say that it got better. We began to laugh about everything that had happened in the past 24 hours and that helped our attitudes. We then decided to do our best to at least enjoy the rest of the day, no matter what.

After breakfast, we walked around the downtown area admiring the old buildings and doing some window-shopping. We also discovered a huge used bookstore on the outskirts of town that kept us occupied for hours. We had a wonderful time browsing through the books—it’s one of our favorite things to do—and we left there with a couple of great inexpensive finds.

It did drizzle, but became brighter as we headed for home. The scenery of the ocean
waves and small oceanside villages along scenic Route 1 took our breaths away, and as the day went on, we had forgotten all about that horrible motel room and our lack of sleep. The disappointment of breakfast had been replaced by a wonderful lunch in one of the villages, and the sun was shining. It was, despite its bad points, turning out to be a terrific vacation.

“So what did you learn this time?” I asked myself the next morning after waking from a restful night’s sleep in our own bed. I have a tendency to ask myself this question whenever I’ve just had a life experience. This was truly one of them.

Well, I know for certain that I’ll never search for an Internet motel special again unless I’ve personally visited the place beforehand—you can’t trust the photos. And if I can ever convince my husband to take another overnight trip to Bangor, Maine (which won’t be easy), I’m going to insist on that great modestly priced motel that we had gone to before—the one that’s near the restaurant and movie theater and isn’t next to any airport or major highway. It was well worth the extra bucks.

Also, I’ll never get discouraged no matter how glum things seem at any particular moment. The next moment could turn it all around again, like it did here.

And although it’s always good to get away, it’s also great to come back home again. This Bangor trip turned out to be another memorable one and I’m glad we went, but as Dorothy says in The Wizard of Oz “there’s no place like home.” She’s right, it’s just that sometimes we have to go on vacations and long car rides to remember that coming home is the best part of all.

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