The night before, when I checked into the Super 8 Motel in Albuquerque, the TV was tuned to Jeopardy. Our family home in Taos, New Mexico, where I’d been staying, doesn’t have a TV. It had been 30 days since I’d watched a television. This box bracketed to the wall seemed almost mystical, almost magical.
It reminded me of my early days in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when I had no television, by choice. That was when my days after work were spent at the Food Co-op, rubbing shoulders and sometimes more intimate body parts with folks who actively worried about poverty in America and waged war against capitalism. The late 70s. Revolution plus pot plus house parties. A backyard Bastille Day party complete with an actual Black Panther from Oakland. A quiet kid in tilted black beret, mostly observing, watching. I couldn’t think of anything to say to him. So I didn’t. Those days had faded into the past.
When I’d driven into the motel parking lot the night before, the posted signs practically shouted out the warnings. “Not responsible for items left in your vehicle.” “Surveillance camera in use.” As the sky was beginning to darken, it was a bit ominous to a 70+ year old silver-haired woman, alone, pulling a too-heavy suitcase toward the lobby.
“Yeah. Sorry. Elevator’s broken.” The desk clerk had been apologetic. Her Super 8 shirt was, at least, clean. “Oh—and the indoor pool needs to be fixed, so it’s not open.” Sheepish smile.
Doors to the parking lot swished open as I headed to the outside stairway and my second floor room. Bump. Bump. Bump. Bump. Bump. I hauled my suitcase up the dirty concrete steps. A few seconds of rest on the landing. Bump. Bump. Bump. Bump. Bump. Past a large plastic trashcan, broken vacuum cleaner in its maw.
Click. The room was clean. The heavy door swung shut. A backward dive into a firm enough mattress.
After a brief settling in, I left my room for Applebee’s, the best option in this neighborhood, for a final supper in the Land of Enchantment before heading back east to Boston. A couple was stretched out on the stairs. His cap pulled low; crayons and a meditation coloring book in her lap.
“How you guys doing this evening?” I offered in greeting. They responded with an economy of syllables. Two little girls, maybe three and five years old, ran races on the concrete expanse of the second floor. Singing out amidst laughter and giggles, they were finding joy in the land of camera surveillance and no responsibility for items left in vehicles.
Morning eventually pushes into another day. Even after retrieving my glasses, I can’t figure out how to get the shower to work. My “bath” is on hands and knees under the faucet, a dangerous maneuver in a slippery tub for a woman of a certain age. I dress and am ready to go. The very heavy door shuts. A creased and greasy pizza box has joined the broken vacuum in the large plastic trashcan. Bump. Bump. Bump. Bump. Bump. The landing and another rest. Bump. Bump. Bump. Bump. Bump. Straight shot across the asphalt parking lot to the silver rental car, thankfully with its tires and windows intact.
The doors to the lobby slide open. The television in the lobby of the Super 8 is playing a 1980s movie at 7:00 A.M. as I check out. The morning desk clerk sports a colorful butterfly tattoo across her entire neck. I notify her of the broken shower. “Oh—I know the room you had. The only one with the shower lever underneath the faucet. Even the maids can’t make it work sometimes.” She seems sincerely sorry for my not being able to shower. Her smile is genuine, showing that she is missing several teeth. It would take lots of money to fill those empty spaces that were once occupied.
I’m waiting for my bagel to toast. “How you guys doing this morning?” I want to greet the three females who have joined me in the breakfast nook. A stooped woman looks older than me, but probably she’s actually younger. Her glasses frames are slightly askew. Three cellophane-covered muffins go into the pockets of her sweatshirt. She works to steady her hands as she fills her Styrofoam cup and pours in two containers of Half & Half. A plastic straw swishes. The two girls with her are wearing hoodies pulled far over their hair, concealing their faces. “Hey girls.” No answer, that I can hear. Each fills her plastic cup to the brim with orange juice from the machine. More cellophane muffins are shoved into pockets. I hear the automatic door slide open and then close.
By the time I’ve wrapped my bagel in a paper napkin and fitted the top on my coffee, I hear the door from the parking lot slide open again. They’re back for another round. I slip out the door as they fill their pockets and their stomachs.
Poor and abandoned in America. The myth that we need to eat three meals a day flies in the face of those who must eat at least two breakfasts in a motel hospitality lobby to get by.
Bump. Bump. Bump. Bump. Bump. Their lives are hitting steps both coming and going.
I start my car. And I get to drive away, as I think back on Cambridge days when Revolution seemed a possibility. Bump. Bump. Bump. Bump. Bump.