You've passed this motel a million times going through town in a car or on your bicycle, but you've never been in the parking lot. You've never actually looked at the place. It was always just there. Up close, the paint is peeling. The "NO" in the neon "NO VACANCY" sign isn't only unlit, the glass tubes are broken and jagged. A walk-up window is built into the wall of the office. According to a sign, after 9 p.m. you can only talk to the man through the window. Next to the window, stairs lead to the second-floor rooms. You think you want a room upstairs. You wonder if you're allowed to ask for the floor you want.

You never came around at this time of night. People walk the street at this hour, but there's something wrong with them. They stumble around like zombies in a bad video rental. A door opens not far away and you hear loud music for a second, then it goes away. Oh, they're drunk. There's a bar around here. You scan the length of the dim street. Several neon beer lights glow within the four blocks you can see clearly.

You have a strong desire to get off the street, out of sight, and lock a door behind you. Once you're inside, you'll be okay, though.

You walk up to the hotel night window. You're nervous, but you're going to pretend like you do this all the time.

The night window glass isn't glass at all. It's one of those thick plastic bulletproof bank teller windows. You're supposed to talk to the man through a few holes that have been drilled in the glass, but they're so small. You're sure he can't hear you through them. There's also a little dish in the sill under the window where you guess you're supposed to slip the money and where he'll put the key. You have the urge to lean down and talk into that dish so he'll be able to hear you; but you don't do that because then you'll look stupid and he'll totally know you don't do this all the time.

So you stand up straight at the window and wait for him to notice you. He's about 60, and he's reading the paper. His skin looks like paper someone bunched into a ball and tried to smooth out again. Brown spots mark his face, but they don't look bad, they're just big freckles. His glasses are an inch thick. What could you possibly look like through the two inches of glass and plastic that he's got to look through? I probably look like a person in a fun house mirror, you think. I'm probably 7 feet tall. Good.

How long are you going to have to stand here before he notices you? Ah, he's turning the page. He's even turning his head a little in your direction to lick his fingers. Nope. Didn't see you. You close your eyes and tap nervously on the glass. Nothing. Oh, God, don't tell me he's deaf, too. Who hires these people? Tap tap. He looks up, startled. He stands up.

You stand tall and say, "I'd like a room, please."

He squints. "Huh?"

"I'd like a room, please."

He leans forward and puts his ear close to the windowsill. "I can't hear you. Talk into the dish."

You lean into the dish. "I'd like a room please."

He leans back and looks you over. "Are you eighteen? Can't rent you a room unless you're eighteen." He peers at you with big bug eyes. "Let's see your driver's license."

You reach into your back pocket. "Aw, geez," you moan, "You know, I keep forgetting my wallet was stolen this morning." You pull out all the money you've got in your pocket. "At least I've got all this cash to hold me over until I get new credit cards." Is he going to buy it?
Look, man, just take the cash and leave me alone.

"Don't give me that crap," the old man bitches. "I'm not giving you a room without I.D. and without the make and license plate number of your car. The last of you little bastards walked out of here with one TV and two chairs. What do I have to do? Bolt the friggin' things down? Get lost!&"

"Here's your I.D.," you say. He squints and peers through the glass. You give him the finger. He blinks. You run away.

No wonder they lock him behind a bulletproof window. He'd be a dead man, the way he treats people.

Around the corner, a drunken lady stumbles out of a bar. Her long blonde hair is pulled tightly into a ponytail that explodes from the back of her head in a frizzy mess. She's about 40, from the lines on her face, and you think she might have been pretty once. Tonight, dark grooves exaggerate her eyes, and she can't stand too well.

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