After driving for about 5 hours, I decided I needed to stop for the night in Merced, CA. Merced has a population of about 81,000 people. It’s very dry, flat, and has a small-town feel. It’s most known for being close to the entrance into Yosemite National Park (it’s only a 2-hour drive from there).
I didn’t have anywhere to stay that night so I pulled into a parking lot and looked on Orbitz because I had a coupon code. I needed something cheap since I was now unemployed and it was just one night. I was relieved to find the Merced Inn and Suites for around $60. Orbitz had it rated as 2-1/2 stars and I thought that should be fine.
While fitting the standard of “fine,” the gloomy, old, strange smelling lobby definitely lacked appeal. The woman at the desk was chatting with a male friend who seemed to be hanging out.
The motel was 2 stories and my room as on the first floor. I parked just outside my room to unload my stuff, which turned out to be 3-4 trips because my stuff was all spread out in different bags, and I didn’t want to leave my electronics in the car. There were 2 middle-aged men drinking beer, just standing outside their room door…2 doors away from mine. They just stared at me as I unloaded my car and gave me the creeps.
Once I unloaded my car, I noticed the room was very large and was furnished with a couch, refrigerator, TV, and a large bed. The yellow lighting made it appear very dreary. The bathroom was old, the fixtures in major need of repair (or replaced, really). You know, the kind of bathroom you say to yourself, “Ew, don’t touch anything”.
Before I left Los Angeles, I ordered this device on Amazon which was supposed to tell you if there is a hidden recording device around. I had recently seen some news story about how easy it is to hide cameras and microphones but this device beeps or lights up to tell you if there is a device transmitting radio waves. You just have to wave it close to each area. I hadn’t opened it before this moment but thought, “THIS is the place to use it.” I turned it on and it started beeping. I noticed there was a scrolling wheel to adjust the sensitivity so I adjusted it and tested it against my phone. Sure enough, the lights and beeping started. Then, I started to go across the room, the coffee table, the dresser, and the TV stand. It started beeping near the coffee pot on the dresser. Confused, I looked all around it because there shouldn’t have been any radio waves. I moved to other areas and it went off again near the fire alarm. I continued this for about 15 minutes and finally gave up. I couldn’t determine if there was a hidden device or if this thing was even working. Later, I read reviews on Amazon (which had a great rating) and saw reviews that said all the other reviews and ratings were added at once, likely from the manufacturer. Ugh, probably doesn’t even work.
I took a shower in the old, musty bathroom and reluctantly got into bed and went to sleep (hoping there weren’t any bedbugs). In the morning, I choked down a waffle in the continental breakfast area, as it was the only food that appealed to me.
When I got back to my room to pack up, I felt sad. At first I couldn’t pinpoint it, but then it hit me. Over the last several years, I had been staying in 4-star hotels. They’re modern, clean, and they go out of their way to ensure you’re comfortable. Now, I was at a 2-star hotel that was old, dirty, and the staff didn’t seem to care at all. It’s weird. I did not grow up with much money. When we traveled, it was to visit family. When we stayed in hotels/motels across the Midwest, it was in 2-star motels. Ever since I was a kid, I loved staying in motels/hotels. I think it was because our whole family was in one room. That one room was the living space, bedroom, and bathroom. It felt like it forced us all to be closer. It always felt like an adventure.
As an adult, I’ve continued to love hotels. Seeing the different amenities, the things they do to set themselves apart, and the comforts they provide (like little bottles of shampoo, so cute!). When I traveled for work, I was able to stay in very nice hotels and I didn’t realize just how accustomed I had become to this standard of hotel. In that moment of loading up my car at this crappy 2-star hotel, I thought, “Is this what my life has become? Is this my new normal? Oh no.”