In a way, this might not be the best time to sing the praises of Motel 6 — it being in the news now for leaving the light on for one Jared Lee Loughner.
Authorities say the Tucson man rented a room from America’s most affordable motel chain to plot the final steps of the horrific shooting spree that left six dead and 14 wounded, including U.S. Rep Gabrielle Giffords.
In another way, though, there’s probably no better time to stand up for a dependable, if imperfect, friend than when that friend is being tarnished with the broad brush of guilt by association.
A recent Washington Post story started out this way: “Room 411, a king-bed single in a dark and grimy Motel 6 near the railroad tracks on the western edge of Tucson, served as the staging ground for Jared Loughner’s series of pre-dawn errands before last Saturday’s shooting spree outside a suburban supermarket here.”
Pretty good writing, and — assuming it was really “dark and grimy” — nothing wrong with it, unless you’re Motel 6, in which case you find yourself, through no fault of your own, in the thick of a dark and grimy story you’d rather have no part of.
So I’m here — even though it has always been Tom Bodett’s job — to speak up for Motel 6, a topic on which I consider myself an authority. What makes me such an expert?
In the last eight months, my dog and I have stayed in Motel 6’s in Biloxi, Mississippi; New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Flagstaff, Holbrook, Yuma and Tucson, Arizona; Tucumcari and Albuquerque, New Mexico; Oklahoma City and Midwest City, Oklahoma; Lewisville, Dallas, Hunstville and Houston, Texas; Greensboro, Statesville and Raleigh, North Carolina; Norfolk and Richmond, Virginia.; New Cumberland, Pennsylvania; Niantic, Connecticut; Portland and Bangor, Maine; Syracuse, New York; Brattleboro, Vermont; Fargo, North Dakota; Billings and Butte, Montana; Spokane and Kirkland, Washington; Coos Bay, Oregon; Ukiah, Monterey, San Bernadino and Bakersfield, California; and Russellville, Arkansas.
Seventy nights in all.
Crime struck only twice, and only in the most minor of ways, both times in Texas when ohmidog! door magnets were removed from my Jeep — one in Lewisville, one in Huntsville. Then again, with a 130-pound dog at your side, folks tend to not mess with you.
During our 22,000 miles of travels, I poked a lot of fun at the chain, with its bare bones ambience, and near total lack of amentities. They’re not always in the greatest of neighborhoods. Their pools aren’t always pristine, or even open, or even there anymore. There are no “continental” breakfasts, or in-room coffee makers at the Motel 6. You can walk to the lobby and serve yourself some, but it’s in tiny Sytrofoam cups that are empty by the time you get back to your room.
The quality varies widely from motel to motel, and the only consistency, chain-wide, is in the spartan furnishings and the tacky polyester bedspread. You get a small bar of Motel 6 soap, a couple of plastic disposable cups and, if you’re lucky, an ice bucket. I’ve gotten rooms without chairs, without hot water and, several times, with remote controls from which the batteries had been removed.
If there is a step that can be taken to conserve costs, Motel 6 has taken it.
And yet, as basic and humdrum as staying at the Motel 6 became for me (and maybe Ace, too), while there were nights I thought checking into another of its lookalike rooms would send me over the brink, I love Motel 6 — for two reasons.
It is consistently dog friendly, with no fees for pets and no restrictions on size or breeds. Most of the motel staff we encountered — with the exception of one employee who shrieked and ran away when encountering Ace — seem to like dogs. There were so many times that desk clerks passed him treats over the counter that Ace now jumps up and puts his front paws on any counter he encounters.
And it is consistently cheap — almost always under $50, often under $40, sometimes under $30.
On our trip, Motel 6 served as a huge comfort to me. Not the rooms, necessarily, but knowing it was there, in most towns, to take me in when others would turn me away because of my dog, or charge pet fees that nearly doubled the cost of a room, or just plain charge too much for our budget.
More important, it’s there for the growing masses who — foreclosed upon, laid off, or otherwise caught up in some bad luck — can get out of the cold for less than the cost of a tank of gasoline.
In a way, by not catering to the more upscale crowd, Motel 6 provides a public service — especially during the down economy. We met more than a few people who, with nowhere else to go, were calling their motel room home for now.
That Motel 6’s are more likely to be the scene of crime or other malfeasance is to be expected — in the same way poor neighborhoods have more problems than rich ones. People with criminal records and drug histories, people who are economically desperate or just plain desperate, end up there more often than, say, the Hilton.
Motel 6 deserves no blame or ridicule in connection with the shooting spree in Tucson. (Let’s save that for Sportsman’s Warehouse, where Loughner bought his Glock, and the Arizona lawmakers who have worked to make gunslinging so easy achievable in that state.)
I did a Google news search on Motel 6 earlier this week, and found most of the stories that popped up were, as I expected, about crimes: a man found bound and gagged inside a Motel 6 in Utah, an attempted robbery at a Motel 6 in Kansas, a man and woman arrested for using their Motel 6 room to print counterfeit money with an inkjet printer, a couple arrested with 2,000 illegally obtained pain and anti-anxiety pills at a Motel 6 in Alabama, a woman arrested on a prostitution charge after allegedly propositioning a plainclothes officer to join her in her Motel 6 room in Iowa.
One of the few non-crime stories that mentioned Motel 6 was about a colony of wild vervet monkeys, some of whom have chosen to live behind a Motel 6 in Dania Beach, Florida.
Nobody’s sure how the monkeys ended up in South Florida. Some say they are descendants of those used in a Tarzan episode once filmed there; some believe they are descendants of monkeys bred for research that helped lead to a cure for polio.
In any case, at least two of the monkeys live behind the Dania Beach Motel 6, where motel visitors look forward to watching them come out each afternoon. I’m guessing the monkeys find the Motel 6 guests equally entertaining.
What’s great about Motel 6 is its total lack of snobbiness. Desk clerks don’t look down their noses at you, or crinkle it up when you have a dog along. If you have credit card or cash, you’re in, which is as it should be.
It’s not a motel’s job — at least one at the bargain basement level — to monitor or screen its customers.
For business that are selling guns, as opposed to a night on a mattress, there is more of an obligation to screen customers, or at least there should be, in my view.
Motels 6’s don’t kill people. Guns do. Any monkey knows that.
(Vervet photo by Joe Rimkus Jr. / Miami Herald)