I just spent a few days in beautiful Lanett, Alabama — really the tri-city area of Lanett and Valley, Alabama and West Point, Georgia, which are all connected and basically the same place — for the Millard Fuller Legacy Build, honoring the founder of Habitat for Humanity and The Fuller Center for Housing.
Now, before I go any further, I know some folks reading this from Valley, Lanett or West Point just fell out of their chairs and screamed, “They are not the same! They are completely different!”
Hey, I get that. I grew up in Oglethorpe, Georgia, which many folks think is pretty much the same place as Montezuma, Georgia. As if! My wife often will say something ridiculous like, “Hey, stop at that barbecue joint in Montezuma and pick up …”
“That’s in OGLETHORPE!”
“GASP!!!!!” I yell while falling over in my chair and clutching my pearls. “God put the Flint River there to keep the Montezuma folks OUT of Oglethorpe. Then they defied His wishes by building a bridge!”
So, I get it, folks in the Chattahoochee Valley area, but I digress.
The folks in this beautiful area were nice, as always. We had great food. Folks came from all across the country using their precious days off from work to build homes for others. It was simply an incredible week. But …
The hotel I stayed at was undergoing a renovation. Or perhaps they were slowly demolishing it around me. It was a little hard to tell. It was a bit of a surprise and difficult to craft midday reports with BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! going on in the middle of the day.
At least the hotel was kind enough to put signs in the elevators that read: “Please bare with us.” You know you’re at an Alabama hotel when the dress code is nekkid. As a “rules are rules” strict conformist, I went to breakfast in the buff. I assume the eggs must’ve gone bad because a lot of vomiting was going on. (I had the muffins just to be safe.)
But it was later that bugged me, and it really wasn’t the hotel’s fault. From 6 p.m. to the wee hours of the morning, folks staying at the hotel were letting their doors slam instead of gently pulling them to. Nearly every hotel today has rooms that open to interior hallway, which means one door slam sounds like a gunshot in those echo-y corridors.
At 6 p.m., BLAM. 6:15 p.m., BLAM. 6:16 p.m., BLAM. 11 p.m., BLAM. 2:02 a.m., BLAM BLAM. It’s quieter in North Korea when Kim Jong Un is on one of his y’all-please-notice-me missile launching kicks.
But this is the kind of thing I’ve come to expect when I stay at hotels. The guests are often inconsiderate. And if I don’t specifically request a top-floor room, I’m inevitably placed in a room directly under a group of cloggers or gymnasts on speed. Then my night becomes THUD, THUD, BLAM, THUD, BLAM!
When I was a kid, though — like weeks ago — I loved staying in hotels, motels and roadside inns. It was exciting because you were far from home and much closer to death.
That was back when most doors opened directly to the street and a bevy of scary people like vagrants, serial killers and Matt Gaetz who lingered near roadside hotels. It was also back when you didn’t book rooms in advance with an app or the internet. Instead, my dad would send me in to ask if they had a vacancy.
“You’re like 8 years old, kid.”
“Look! I’ve been driving all night! I’m short for my age! The wife and kids are driving me crazy! I need sleep and a dadgum room!”
“I think 118 is available.”
“Thank you. Was that so hard?!”
Then my folks would do a quick inspection to make sure the room was clean enough. This was the 1970s and early 1980s. The cleanest hotel room back then was disgustingly filthy by today’s standards even without a blacklight. If it had more than two decaying bodies, they’d ask for a slightly cleaner room or one with at least a fresh dead body.
Today you get fined if they catch you smoking in your hotel room, but back then every single room reeked of cigarettes and had at least four burn holes in the already-disgusting comforter. By the time we left, the smoke smell had infested our clothes and car, and I smelled like an 8-year-old chain smoker.
My dad would open the door to air it out for a moment, tell the lurking serial killer that we’d rather do business in the morning, and then turn the air conditioning unit to 33 degrees. The unit roared as if it were car No. 43 in the Daytona 500 but would indeed cool the room to near-iceberg temperature before crashing around turn 3 about 3 a.m., when my dad would attempt repairs by furiously kicking it until it sounded more like car No. 2 at the East Alabama Motor Speedway.
But I was a kid, and only one thing mattered at the hotel — the pool. It could be more disgusting than the room, even green, and I wouldn’t care. Well, except that one time …
“Something bit me in the pool!”
“That’s because you were swimming in the retention pond. Hey, aren’t you the short, tense adult who came in here earlier looking for a vacancy?”
“Yes! Now where’s the cigarette machine?! I need a pack of Camels for the road.”