Sunday, November 13, 2011

Motels From Hell

Last Friday, I drove over to the Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge in hopes of getting a few photos of Sandhill Cranes and, if I really got lucky, Whooping Cranes, a half dozen or so having been spotted a few days previously. It was not to be. Winds of thirty miles an hour, very little water on the refuge, and to top it off, the auto tour road was closed to accommodate a special hunt for the handicapped. The cranes were there but a good half mile away and impossible to get good photos of. The fact that I barely got a room at the only motel in the town of Cherokee reminded me of a piece I wrote for Photo Migrations, an on-line photography site. The article was titled Motels From Hell and is reproduced below.

Photography and motels are not compatible. Our most opportunistic time to be in the field is during those “golden light” periods when the sun is rising or setting and we get that magical glow on our subjects. Often we stay on location until dark and don’t even think about looking for a motel until our photographic lusts have been satisfied. Therein lies the problem. By the time we’re ready to relax and reflect upon our day, the rooms are all taken.

Oh sure, you could have reserved your crash pad earlier but were you absolutely sure where you were going to spend the night? Photographers need to be flexible and adapt to changing conditions, right? What if the refuge waters where all those birds were reported to be, were long gone due to lack of rain? Suppose the aspen, where you intended to make those beautiful landscapes, had all their leaves blown off by last night’s windstorm? No sense staying there. Go with the flow. Move on. Motel? Worry about it later.

However, we sometimes pay the price, a dear price, an “Oh Lord what now?” price, for our traveling independence. On one such occasion, I had arrived at a small coastal town in Texas where I had heard that a bird called an Oystercatacher could be found rather easily. Well, it wasn’t all that easy but I did find them on a narrow spit of land that you could drive onto if the tide wasn’t up. Merrily clicking away, I finally quit shooting about dark thirty and realized I had yet to find a room for the night.

NO VACANCY! It was the same all up and down Main Street when finally; I spotted a small motel at the edge of town without the dreaded NV sign but instead had another declaring “FISHING PEIR”. Not grasping the significance and grateful for any shelter, I did notice that several of the rooms had a small table and a bucket at the front door. Weird. Checked in, poured a small glass of refreshment, added a little ice, and kicked back to relax after a satisfying day of shooting. It was somewhere in the middle of Monday Night Football that I heard loud conversation outside my door and detected a bit of an aroma. Smelled something like…. DEAD FISH! Seems that I had chosen a fishing motel where the management gleefully supplies the fisherman with a fish cleaning table and a bucket for the remains. Fishermen, unlike photographers, can and do enjoy their sport all night; many of whom follow the time honored custom of sucking down mass quantities of beer while cleaning their catch. This is fine custom to be sure, and one to be respected  unless your room happens to be next to theirs.

It was at another Texas location, South Padre Island to be exact, where I once again failed to make a reservation. It seems that I had chosen a time to photograph the resident birds that coincided exactly with a ritual known as SPRING BREAK! Ten thousand drunken college students, sometimes frighteningly referred to as the future leaders of our country, had taken over the town and EVERY motel with it ¬¬¬ all but one. A small flickering light in the window proclaimed a life saving vacancy. There was one room left. With a huge sense of relief, I thankfully paid the man the princely sum of $25 and entered my temporary haven. The first hint of trouble came while attempting to close the window to the dense evening fog which had thoroughly dampened the room, including the bed, when the entire window frame FELL OUT OF THE WALL. Pounding it back into place with the base of the nightstand lamp, I realized there were even more problem areas. The bed had so many sagging curves it resembled the roller coaster at the Texas State Fair. Worst of all, the bedding looked as if it hadn’t been laundered since last year’s spring break. The sink dripped, of course, and the shower, of course. But most scary was the fact that the door didn’t lock, the only barrier between me and thousands of drunks roaming the streets. By now you have the picture; an exhausted photographer sitting up all night in a worn-out easy chair, dresser wedged under the doorknob, and hugging his camera bag like a security blanket.

At this point you may believe that all the motels from hell are in the state of Texas. Not true. I once traveled to a small town in western Oklahoma in search of prairie chickens. It was a Friday night but since there were at least two or three motels, I had no worries about getting a room. Mistake! Noticed there were lots of cars in the lot as I ambled in shortly after sundown.

“Oh Honey," the young lady at the desk said, “ I’m sorry but we’re all filled up. And so is everywhere else in town.”

“Filled up? On Friday night?” I asked incredulously.

“Yes. Didn’t you see the signs around town? This is the weekend for our annual COW CHIP THROWING FESTIVAL.”

“The what?”

“Cow chips Darlin’. Every year at this time, folks come in from miles around to see who can throw a cow chip the farthest. We have a band, eat watermelon, and just have a bang-up time. Sorry about the room. Why don’t you find a bed and breakfast and stick around for the fun?”

I thanked her, got in the old pickup, and wearily headed for the next town. Somehow the combination of cow chips and watermelon didn’t seem all that appealing.

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