Friday, July 27, 2007

Motel 666



B&B, Wildwood, New Jersey


It is all the same. One world, where everything is the same. I am certain that sometime before I die, I will be able to step off an airliner in Hong Kong or Rio De Janeiro and walk into a McDonald's or a Wal-Mart or a Walgreen's and buy a Big Mac and some Tylenol. 7-11 and Circle K will be the one stop shop for everything, everywhere. The homogeneous society, where they tell us we have choices, but in reality we don't. Choosing between Motel 6 and Best Western really isn't a choice. Circle K and 7-11 both sell the same thing, the only difference being Coke or Pepsi. (Does anyone else actually recall a time when 7-11 was actually open from 7am to 11pm? That is where their name comes from.)

My wife and I have been bucking this trend. We go out looking for those remnants of Americana that haven't been swallowed up by corporate America. Sadly, they are getting harder and harder to find where we live. We have to travel quite a ways from our home to get back to our roots.

When we are on vacation we have some rules. We can't stay at chain motels and we can't eat fast food. If we did, it would be no different than staying home and walking down the street. So we hunt for the out-of-the-way places in hopes of finding the people and culture that are never reported on the nightly news. One of the ways we do this is to stay at Bed & Breakfast Inn's. There is a whole sub-culture of these across America.

We have stayed at several in the past few years. They are all interesting in their own way. Some are grand and grandiose and some are small and un-assuming. They usually have rather eclectic owners. Most of the people that run these places are feed up with the rat-race. They were once professionals (lawyers, engineers, business owners, CEOs) that finally came to the realization that their lives were going no where. They wanted to re-focus on something else in their latter years. They sold everything they had, liquidated half their stock portfolios and bought an old mansion in a remote unspoiled corner of the world. They fixed it up and started to take in overnight boarders. They all seemed to be a pretty happy lot. None of them appeared to be very stressed out in life. But they told stories of being depressed before making the jump.

On our vacation to the Jersey shore in July, 2007, we stayed at one such place. It was in the town of Wildwood in South New Jersey. A small town by the beach, whose only source of income seemed to be the beach and an elaborate Boardwalk that ran up and down it. We stayed at a Bed and Breakfast run by a petite 40 year old woman named Pam. She stood all of 5 foot high, was very bubbly and talked with a slight New York / Jersey accent.

We slept in the upstairs bedroom of her large 1940s home that was about 3 blocks from the shore. There were three other bedrooms that were occupied during the weekend with other boarders. It was a full house. Pam had a menagerie of pets living in the home. A cat and two uncaged parakeets that lived in one room, a large African gray parrot named Bob that hung out on the front porch and a small short hair Chihuahua named Margaret that basically ran the house and had to approve of everyone that stayed there.

On our last night at Pam's Bed & Breakfast, I was laying on the bed, sipping some wine from a paper cup and watching the evening news. We wanted to see how hot it was back in Phoenix. It was 70 in Jersey, 110 in Arizona. As I shifted on the bed I spilled some of the wine on the bed spread. Red wine on white cotton doesn't go to well together.

I went downstairs and found Pam to tell her about the accident and she came up, got the bedspread and hauled it to the kitchen to try and get the stain out before is set in. To say we were embarrassed about the whole thing was an understatement. It was a nice bedspread.

About 20 minutes later Pam came knocking on our door to tell us that the stain was history and thanked us for telling her about it. In the past, guests had done the same thing and 'hidden' the accident until they were gone, making it impossible to fix the problem. Margaret the dog had followed her upstairs (she followed Pam pretty much everywhere) and jumped up on the bed where I was sitting. I started to wrestle with Margaret and she became the typical playful dog, chasing my hand as I moved it under the sheets. My wife, Pam, Margaret and I sat on the bed for about 20 minutes swapping stories about other Bed & Breakfasts, New Jersey, Arizona and our pets.

This is the sort of Americana that my wife and I are always amazed to find. I can't imagine a Motel 6 where you could ruin a bedspread, and have the owner sitting on your bed a half hour later chatting away while you played with their dog. I can't be sure, but doubt this happens at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas very often.