I’ve always loved the tiny independent motels that dot this country. Not parts of neon-emblazed chains, they are constructed of perhaps a dozen or two simple rooms, usually a family operation, often an Indian or Pakastani couple. Essentially, shelter; if you’re lucky, there’s a simple microwave and/or micro-refrigerator, a sufficient and not very leaky toilet & shower, and maybe a heater that works. All for thirty-something bucks, tax included — a great deal in modern, corporate America.

I’m lucky tonight, for I am living, for the next twelve hours or so, in the American Inn & Suites in Villa Rica, Georgia. It was a bit of a random find: after a bad night’s sleep, and then six hours already on the road, I realized I didn’t have enough energy to push through three more hours on to Gordo, Alabama. I needed to find a place to crash before I crashed. Something about the name ‘Villa Rica’ looked good from the freeway. And so after a two-hour nap, I roamed the small town and found a basic Mexican dinner to bring back to the room, and a supermarket for a calming wine this evening and milk for the morning cereal and coffee. Now I am tucked into my little room, nestled behind the truck stop that serves this part of Interstate 20. A slight but not cloying fragrance is in the air, and colorful (if fake) flowers imbue a genuine homeyness.

In one peculiar way, these scrappy motels are an important religious marker for me. At at 14 or so, I was introduced to Buddhism in a motel in Denver much like this, where I found in the drawer of the bedside table not the usual Gideon Bible, but some similar tract from the eastern world. I can’t remember the actual book, but I very clearly remember mentally grappling with those strange koanic terms: the ‘way,’ mindfulness, impermanence, suffering, compassion. And still I grapple.

Here in the American Inn & Suites, only an empty drawer greets my curious eye.

John Labovitz is an enthusiast of tiny houses, unique vehicles, surreal circuses, ragtag marching bands, and the open road. He is a maker of photographs and of books, and a sometime computer programmer. He spends his time discovering and photographing people and places around the world, but prefers to call it ‘borrowing’ souls rather than stealing. He makes his home where his hat is, although you might often find him in either the lush Willamette Valley of western Oregon or the placid hills of West Virginia’s eastern panhandle. When he grows up, John wants to be a vagabond.

Reach John by email, Facebook, or Twitter. View his photography, his blog of general writings, or his (obsolete) writings on technology.