April 20, 2001
The bulletproof glass probably should have tipped us off.
My buddy Kevin Conlon and I stared at the inch-thick plexiglass that shielded the motel night clerk and the lobby from the customers trying to register.
“Well, what do you think?” Conlon asked. “Should we try for another place?”
“Nah,” I replied. “I’m really tired, and there’re no guarantees there’ll be any other places open this late at night. Besides, how bad could it be?”
Fairly bad, as it turned out. Godawful, in fact.
Our annual spring golf trip didn’t start out that way. As usual, I was joining Conlon, his three brothers, and several other friends on vacation down South. To make our first tee time early Saturday afternoon, Conlon and I left on Friday afternoon for the overnight trip.
I picked Conlon up at work and we headed west to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. We took U.S. 301 south to I-95 above Richmond, Virginia.
Once we reached I-95, I was in my element.
My NASCAR racing element, that is.
The stretch of I-95 in Virginia and North Carolina is notorious for high speed, and I’m perfectly fine with that.
Conlon is not. His hair is mostly blond, but I’ve added several gray hairs to the mix with my driving over the years. On one trip, after my fifth lane change in sixty seconds at 80 miles per hour, he barked, “I want to live. Slow the *%+# down!”
He has no sense of fun.
On this trip, we made it deep into North Carolina by 11:30 p.m., and began looking for a motel. Many Interstate exits in the Carolinas are designed for the weary traveler, with several choices of brand-name inns and motels located just past the off-ramps.
We missed these exits.
Instead, I pulled off at a spot with only one motel in the immediate vicinity, something called the Dutch Inn.
We joined a group of foreign tourists looking at the lobby entrance. It was locked.
They rang the bell and the night clerk warily approached the slotted opening. After the tourists finished their business, we signed in. The $37 charge turned out to be woefully over-priced.
As dozens of 18-wheelers roared by on the Interstate, only steps from the motel, we trudged into our room. The original room decorations clearly dated back to around 1972, but prior users made several tasteful modifications since then.
Every piece of furniture, including two chairs, a dresser, the headboards, and the table lamps, featured at least a dozen cigarette burn marks to add to the charm.
The 19-inch television, bolted to the dresser, had a “Dutch Inn” shield glued to the front, just below the screen. Apparently they wanted you to know exactly where you stole the TV from, if you somehow managed to pry it off its stand.
The sink in the tiny bathroom showed that the water was a little hard in the area, because the rust marks couldn’t be removed from the many cracks.
We could tell the beds were safe from bugs, however. The mattresses had so much slope to them that no bug could hold on long enough to breed. Besides, the blankets were too thin to keep the bugs warm in any event.
The next morning, Conlon won the toss and used the bathroom first. As he finished his shower and stepped out of the tub, I heard him say, “What the –? Oh, geez.” I saw a thin trickle of water enter the room from underneath the bathroom door.
I managed to hold onto one towel for my own use, as we threw the others on the floor to sop up the mess. We still have no idea where the water leaked from, but there was a surprising amount of it nonetheless.
We managed to leave the motel shortly thereafter with no further incidents. Conlon made sure that our playing companions knew all about my choices in motel accommodations. We both agreed it was about the worst place we’ve ever stayed, but at least it gave us a good story.