The sign sends a clear message from a distance. It doesn’t impact me, not even a little. I don’t know why I pay attention to the signs. Nosey? Maybe. But I like to refer to my habit as being inquisitive.
I want to see if the business owner is having a good summer. For that, the word NO has to be illuminated. For a tired tourist, business person, or lone traveler, observing the glaring NO through a rain-dappled windshield must be a kick in the ribs when their back is sore, their eyes are tired, and they want a hot shower and an unfamiliar bed.
I check the vacancy sign at all restful roadside respites; I’ve been doing it all my life. Growing up in the 60s and 70s puts me in the station wagon generation. We were the riders, the complainers, the sleepers, and the dreamers. I have heard, “Dad, I need to pee,” thousands of times.
We didn’t stay at motels. For some reason, I felt that motels were for the wealthy. We were always heading to someone’s house—more than likely, a relative who was expecting us.
I don’t feel cheated or saddened. I don’t feel anything. My thoughts turn to the others traveling along the same roads in front of me and behind me. Some check the signs with a hopeful squint; others don’t care. I check the signs.
Clarity about my habit came to me on a weekend trip to Eastport. I was the rider, just like I was when I was a kid. I don’t need to talk to anyone when I am riding. I am delighted just looking out the side window. I like music, and if it keeps the conversation down to a minimum, I like the music a little louder than many would consider palatable. It’s a defense mechanism against too much discussion. I’d be happiest not talking to anyone while riding if forced to tell the truth.
Most of the motels on my route are long closed. Cracked asphalt with sprigs of brown grass reaching out like tendrils sent a clear message that there was no need to stop. These are dilapidated six to ten-room motels that closed forty years ago. Those were the days of the manual vacancy sign. Someone physically would leave the office and uncover, or cover, the word “NO” depending on occupancy.
The walk toward the sign must have been pleasurable when you owned the place, especially if it happened early in the evening. I visualize them heading back to the apartment behind the office and getting their meatloaf supper early, before the evening news. It was probably sometime in June, July, or August. They were kings.
When we were a bit older, my parents would rent a suite at the Wedgewood Arms now and then. We probably would have driven from our home in Machias to Bangor, maybe to shop for school supplies. My three sisters and I would stake our claims in the small, disinfected rooms. I was the lone male, so I camped on the couch in the living room. Being in the only room with a television and all the doors to the inner sanctum being closed for slumber reasons, I watched the late movies.
I prayed for (Yup, literally) a Jerry Lewis movie to be the feature; those upwardly mobile requests were frequently granted. Through the drafty plate glass windows looking out over that balcony perpendicular to Bangor’s Main Street, I could see the glow of NO on the belly of the sign. For a while, I was royalty, and no one else would be walking across my balcony that night.
I long for a world where the messaging is simple, clear, and concise. Even while I do not need to stop, I’ll always watch for the signs. It’s my connection to the simplicity of my past. Turn up the radio, keep your voices down, and pay attention to the signs.
May your summer road trips reveal vacancy signs at precisely the right time.
From the Jagged Edge, I remain,
Thanks for all the support at BuyMeACoffee. The group of regulars I named “The Royal Order of Dooryard Visitors” has grown a little over the last couple of months. I appreciate the regular support for my writing efforts. The one-time “coffees” are a real boost to my morale as well. Thank you to everyone who decided that reading some words from a mope is worth a sip of dark goodness. Yes, Ellie gets her biscuits, and she also sends her thanks.