I glanced at the trip odometer. My wife, Lisa, and I had motored 600 miles since starting our driving day 14 hours earlier. We had our fill of drizzle, fog and mountain driving, so I pulled into the Mile Zero Motor Inn. The muddy parking lot, assortment of tractor-trailer rigs, pickups and oil-well service trucks hinted that we had not stumbled across an exclusive hobnob retreat.
Lisa stayed in the car and began packing up the computer, cameras and maps, while I ventured inside to secure a room for the night. A well-stocked liquor store was conveniently located in the shabby lobby where a chatty lady with big hair welcomed me to the Mile Zero, processed an $82 charge on my credit card and handed me the keys to Room 212. They were attached to a Saab car key fob for reasons I never did fathom.
While Lisa parked the car, I made for the room. On the way down the dingy corridor I noticed padlocks on some of the doors. Strange. A thermostat that had been ripped from the wall was dangling by two wires. The stale odor of booze and tobacco filled the air.
Room 212 was a cavernous affair with two beds and a ’70s-era carpet that looked like it hadn’t been vacuumed since then. Small-framed pictures near the ceiling were too high up to identify the subject matter.
The bathroom was tiny, it’s ceiling pleasantly adorned with dripping streaks of mold and unidentifiable grunge. A greasy handprint at the top of the limp gray shower curtain was out of a crime-scene-investigation TV show.
“Lisa’s not going to like this one,” I thought, pulling back the blankets for a quick assessment of the bed sheets.
Yes, when you’re winging accommodations in unfamiliar territory, selecting an overnight roost can be a game of Russian roulette. Hammocklike mattresses with tacky miracle-fiber bedspreads I can do without, thank you very much.
Where do they find those wafer pillows that have to be folded in half for any degree of elevation? Bend it the wrong way and a groggy head slip releases a shadowy projectile across the room, clearing night tables, knocking pictures off the wall, or worse.
Through the night, while wrestling Mile Zero’s particularly stubborn “wafer,” I considered other motels I’ll forever steer clear of. One of the worst was the Amritsar International in Amritsar, India, during an around-the-world driving trek in 1980.
Only about five years old back then, and dirty and unkempt, the Amritsar International was the only available accommodation in the home of India’s Golden Temple. After assessing the situation, my two partners I decided it would be a good idea to triple up. Nobody was keen on having their own room, along with whatever might creep, crawl or slither on through it.
We were shown to our room, an enormous pit with two musty beds slammed up against a wall splattered with something I’d rather not know about. A tattered yellowish curtain dangled over a greasy window that overlooked a trashed parking lot. Bath water drained through a pipe on the side of the tub, ran across the bathroom floor and flowed through a hole on the wall behind the sink.
The bellman wheeled in a portable cot for the third guest. It looked a lot like an operating room table — high and narrow but with rusty little wheels. We got a bit hysterical when Sandy dubbed it the GT bed in honor of its cornering ability. When the laughing died down we did a three-way odd-man-out rupee toss resulting in Ken’s assignment to the GT. It was a lousy deal for Ken who awoke covered in bed bug bites — 42 itchy memories of the Amritsar International.
Just a few years ago, Lisa and I had a memorable night in the sketchy Turnpike Motel in Princeton, W.Va. We had no choice according to the hotel owner, a speedy, welcoming gentleman who claimed he had the last room in town. A coal-mining convention had snapped up the rest of them.
The room was one of those where you tiptoe around in fear of disturbing something that’s asleep. You gingerly pull back the bedspread between index finger and thumb. Historic water stains cover the ceiling. Wads of toilet paper plugging holes in the curtain in the bathroom window were a first for me.
Fast forward to the Mile Zero, where, after a fitful sleep, we surfaced well before sunrise. Although the night had been a series of short fitful naps, we were both keen to get back on the road. Forfeiting a shower, I packed up while Lisa tiptoed into the bathroom trying not to touch anything.
I heard water running, some shuffling and then grumbling.
“What’s wrong, Lisa?” I had a suspicion.
“There’s no hot water.”
Garry Sowerby, author of “Sowerby’s Road, Adventures of a Driven Mind,” is a four-time Guinness World Record holder for long-distance driving. His exploits, good, bad and just plain harrowing, are the subject of World Odyssey, produced in conjunction with Wheelbase Communications. Wheelbase is a worldwide provider of automotive news and features stories.