By Rheta Grimsley Johnson
A sweet young woman named Michelle painted my toenails the orange of road construction cones, a polish called Flip Flop Fantasy. I was ready to roll.
The older I get, the lighter I travel.
A friend will be staying at my house for a few weeks, so there was no need even to lock doors. I tried not to look back at dogs Hank and Boo, sitting side by side forlornly like condemned men who can hear the building of the gallows. If I were Lot’s wife, I’d be a salt lick.
The dogs will forgive me. By the time I got to St. Louis, I almost forgave myself.
The first night of my trip west was spent in a Missouri motel by the freeway near the Kansas line. It had a pool, but the pool had no water, just a rust-colored ring as reminder of more prosperous times. The room had AC, but the hall was kept hot, another sign of entrepreneurial struggle.
There was a little television – this isn’t the Third World quite yet – but nothing on it worth watching. I remembered a 1950 quote I read somewhere from Daniel Marsh, then president of Boston University: “If the television craze continues, we are destined to have a nation of morons.” It has continued.
I drove downtown to find something to eat and got lucky. The Chinese work ethic saved me from starvation. I chose a meal with an asterisk to signify spiciness and lingered over it. There was time to kill.
I had stopped that day in Kingdom City, Mo., at a shop called Nostalgiaville, USA, one of those places that spent most of its money on billboard advertising. I needed birthday cards for friends left behind to celebrate without me.
So I passed motel time writing messages across the backsides of the Three Stooges and Andy Griffith, wishing there really was a place called Nostalgiaville, where lights had bulbs and pools had water. By dark there were three more cars in the motel parking lot. I slept.
When you were young, nothing stirred the juices like a road trip. Part of the appeal was the Holiday Inn, where you drove right up to the room, ditched your duds and hit the turquoise swimming pool.
Nobody worried about bed bugs, free WiFi or a “no smoking” sign. Motels were escape capsules, and darn good ones. They had crisp white sheets, a window unit and room service, not a number for pizza delivery slapped on the telephone. They had lounges.
You are lucky now to get a pillow.
People rhapsodize over hotels they know and love, and I have admired a few. The Peabody in Memphis is still a treat, and the Jefferson in Richmond. The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs is worth saving the matches.
But, until lately, I’ve always preferred Magic Finger motels, the one-story, park-at-the-door, bad-art-on-the-wall kind of experience. Call me a cheap date. There was dependable uniformity.
Now you never know what you’ll get, except perhaps a workout room and a free sticky bun, which cancel out one another.
That’s in the past, a dangerous place to live. I dismissed my thoughts as just another flip-flop fantasy.
Contact syndicated columnist RHETA GRIMSLEY JOHNSON at Iuka, MS 38852. To find out more about Rheta Grimsley Johnson and her books, visit www.rhetagrimsleyjohnsonbooks.com.