My sister and I decided to go on a trip to the beach this weekend. It's something we've wanted to do for a long time, we're only 2 hours from the beach, it was a holiday weekend, and...I mean seriously, who passes up the beach? There was drama in the planning and drama in the making it happen, but we did. We made it happen. I found a hotel that would take dogs and decided it would just be easiest to take my dog (Marshall, or Mo-Man, as he is sometimes called). I made a reservation a day or so before and we were set. It was all going to be awesome.So down we drove. Took us a little over 2 hours to get there with Bay Bridge traffic, and we decided to first check into the hotel and plan things out.
Let me back up: we were going to the beach, yes, but when people talk about "going to the beach," this is not usually the beach they are talking about. This is the beach we went to when we were kids. The one at Betterton. You know...Betterton. It's right past Still Pond. And Lynch. Never heard of Still Pond or Lynch? That's okay. I saw a T-shirt once that said "Where the hell is Betterton?" On the back it said, "It's 16 miles from Still Pond." The first time we went to Betterton, we had a map drawn by my grandfather. On it, he labeled "Lynch," which my mother read as "lunch," so we drove and drove and drove past corn and corn and corn and some railroad tracks and more corn, all looking for a place to eat lunch. There was none. Because there's nothing in Lynch. There is no lunch to be had in Lynch. Similarly, there's also nowhere to stop and pee between Betterton and Rock Hall (a supposed 17 miles on the sign that always takes upwards of 40 minutes to drive, for god only knows what reason). A lady at the general store with the meat hanging out and turning green with the flies on it told us that she has her grandchildren just run in the cornfield. There are cornfields. That's the one thing that you can find between Betterton and Rock Hall. And between Still Pond and Lynch. And between pretty much everything else.There's not a hotel in Betterton, so we were staying in Chestertown, which is about 20 miles away. It's not far. You go down the one road until you get to the low gray building with the sign with the cow on it, you turn left and drive through Lynch and over the railroad tracks till you see the billboard that says "Give blood, eat cookies, save lives...in Chestertown." Turn left again and drive till the stop sign at the place where the country store used to be, turn left there and drive until you get to the stop sign near the "Soap and Suds." Turn right and then just go straight till you hit the water. There are signs sometimes. Other than that, this was all me recollecting from when I was 17 years old. Luckily, I have pretty good visual-spatial skills.
But I digress. We pulled into the hotel, and immediately my body went into hyper-alert mode. Something just felt...off. My sister walked Mo-Man and I went inside to check in. It was dark, it smelled damp and vaguely like dirty feet, and there was a noisy window unit air conditioner that seemed to be drawing its last breath attempting to cool the place. I walked to the desk and no one was there. There was a phone on the counter that said "For ck-in/ck-out, pick up phone." There was also a bell that said, "for assistance ring bell." There was also a sign that said "Have seat, we be with you shortly." I stood, looking from instruction to instruction to instruction, pondering which one to follow, when I suddenly heard a grumpy, deep, male, Indian voice saying, "hello hello hello hello..." This was funny only because I couldn't see anybody. I kept looking, but it was dark, there was a glare from the front window, and I couldn't figure out where to look. It was also funny because he said it with the same intonation as Ranjit from "How I Met Your Mother." (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EIjw0vLoMF4)
"Hello?" I said."Yes! Hello!" the voice came back, angrily. Not so much like Ranjit.
"Hello," I said, "uh...I'm here to...uh..."And then he appeared. A tall, unshaven, overweight Indian man with a thick accent in a stained white undershirt with holes in it who was, I swear to God, itching himself in...places I teach my kids not to itch themselves in public.
This was definitely not Ranjit.
I paused. After long time. It really wasn't so long. It was only 3:30, after all. Long time from what? Long time from home? Long time from when I was supposed to check in? Long time from the last time he thinks I was here (although I've never been here)? "I'm sorry?" I said, not knowing what else to say."No! No sorry! Sorry what? You COME after long TIME, eh?"
"Oh..." I said, smiling to let him know I'm friendly. "Yes.""Is long time," he said again.
"Oh yes," I said again. He smiled. He was missing teeth. It made him look worse when he smiled. You know when a movie gets scary, like when 2 girls are checking into a sleazy hotel and the hotel clerk smiles and says something like "it's so good to have you staying with us" or something, then you know shit is going down? That's what that felt like.
"I'm checking in," I say, and I give him my name."Okay, you smoking?"
"Okay, you one bed? Two bed? Big bed? One big bed? One big bed okay?"
"Yes, one big bed is..."
"YOU SMOKE?" he asks, seemingly frustrated.
"No," I say. "No smoking.""Okay!" He punched keys on the keyboard, seeming to get more pissed off by the second. "WHAT YOU WANT? One bed? Two bed? What you want? ONE BED?????" He looks out the window and sees my sister and Mo-Man.
"That you friend?" His lip seemed to curl."No, that's my sister."
"Ah. Girlfriend?" He looked at me out of the corner of his eye. ."No, sister. She's my sister," I clarify. Again.
"Oh, sister...you have boyfriend?" He smiles. I ponder this for a moment. The answer is no, but I don't want him to know that. I also don't want him to think boyfriend will be joining us, in which case, we would probably have to revisit the one bed/two bed, big bed/little bed situation. "Have boyfriend? Yes, no?""No," I answer quickly, "no boyfriend."
"Oh...not good not good, no boyfriend, very sad, not good," he says. I continue to stand there, awkwardly. "OKAY! TWO BED! I GIVE TWO BED!" He punches the button like he's trying to see if he can crush it, and he breathes heavily, seeming to suck all the oxygen and cool air out of the room."That's just fine," I assure him, reminding myself to breathe.
"Okay, you want nice room? I give you nice room. Number 32. Very nice room. Is good room. No...33...no...32...Three-two. Three two. For you. Three two." He asks for my ID and my credit card, I sign the receipt, ask what time I need to check out by in the morning, ask if there is anything else I need to do, he says no and I walk out. As I'm trying to fill my sister in on the sketchiness of the place as we stand outside, I hear a yelling inside and turn. Mr. Two-Bed is waving his arms and making noise. Figuring he needed me for something else, I start to go back in, but he starts making a movement that looks like he is waving me away. I give him a little wave and walk back outside. He makes noise again. I turn and give him another wave. He continues making noise, so I walk in."Do you need me?" I ask.
"Why you not come! I call you! You need sign other receipt!" He practically spits the words out. I feel my sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight response) taking over my body, and I am consciously taking deep breaths so my hands don't shake when I take the pen. He dismisses me again with a flick of his hand. It requires conscious effort not to sprint out of the place.
We find the room, unlock the door and go in. Problem number 1: the curtain is half falling off of the window. Problem number 2: it looks like it hasn't been renovated since the 80s. Or possibly before. Problem number 3: there's a gang symbol and graffiti in the bathroom by the light switch. Problem number 4: the door doesn't lock well. As in, half of the little latchy thingy up top is missing, there is light visible under the door, there is visible space between the door and the door frame, and the whole damn thing wiggles.And that is when I lost it.
See, my risk tolerance is improving, but it's generally pretty low. Or...really low. I know that about myself. I frequently try to improve it by doing things that make me uncomfortable, just to prove to myself that I can. I know I SHOULD listen to my gut sometimes, but lots of times, my gut is saying "aaaaaack!" and "eeeeek" and "RUN!" when it really doesn't need to. You get to a point sometimes where you just don't know anymore. Is this a fake "aaack" or an unrealistic "eeeeek?" I try to ask myself. But your sympathetic nervous system doesn't discriminate. It says "RUN" when you think you hear a weird sound behind you that might have just been a squirrel, or a fan, or your imagination, and it also says "RUN" when there's a creepy hotel with a smelly guy with no teeth, gang signs, and a crappy door. It's crazy out of context, but those "RUN!" feelings feel the same in both situations. It's hard to know which is the "suffer this out and become a stronger person" feeling and which is the "suffer this out and possibly die in the process" feeling. It all feels like "suffer and die." I'm not kidding.(*SPOILER ALERT* ...I'm still alive).
So my sister and I sat down and assessed the situation. We couldn't reach a consensus. I was ready to go back to Mr. ONE-BED-TWO-BED and try to get our money back. If that couldn't happen, I was ready to go back over the Bay Bridge and go home. But I also wanted to be brave. I lost sight of what was legitimate fear versus unnecessary fear. I decided I was overreacting, and that if I could just get myself to breathe right, it was all going to be fine. We decided to go for a walk on the beach. I kept telling myself that after being away from the hotel for a while, and after getting used to the idea, I would calm down. I would decide it was okay. I would stop flipping out about the gang sign, and the door with crappy locks, and the man with no teeth in the dark lobby that smelled like dirty feet who now knows that I don't have a boyfriend and thinks my sister and I are lovers staying in two beds with a 26 lb little white dog.
My sister and I would walk and talk, and then one of us would say, "it's all fine because..." and come up with a reason. But it wasn't fine. It wasn't. Eventually, I suggested we just hang it up and either (a) try to find another hotel or (b) just go home. I admitted that I was so anxious about it I was nauseated and on the verge of tears.
"How about if we just stay," my sister said. "I mean, what's really going to happen? We're in Chestertown, afterall."
And then I was embarrassed because I was afraid, so I said okay.
(To be continued...)