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.