This heart-felt tale is about the time when my family was almost shot up Southland-style on the highway of life because of my son disrespecting an Alabama pimp. You know, your typical family summer vacation.

Lampoons Vacation station wagon

Every summer the kids and I would go on a road trip across the south to visit friends in Florida and Alabama. The kids are seasoned road trippers. They have their books and snacks and travel games. There was plenty of space in my Mom Ride for everyone to stretch out and not argue. But 13 hours in a car is a long time for anyone, so on this particular trip, I used my points to book us a room in Birmingham at a cheap-o family-friendly hotel I’ve stayed at before: The Hampton Inn. It’s your basic road-trip joint with a Continental Breakfast, something that for whatever reason kids think is amazing. 

(Literally my children. This is literally how my children view a continental breakfast.)

The problem is that I evidently didn’t book at the Hampton Inn north of the city, but at a Days Inn on the same highway but an exit off. Eh, they both have the word “Inn.” Should be fine.  Right?

Wrong. 

Oh, what a difference that one word (and that 1.2 miles) made.

Now, I’m no snob. I’m a camper. Like, I’m an apocalypse-trained camper, so I can deal with a lack of amenities, no problem-o. And when it comes to cheap hotels (or even motels), I’m the type who thinks, “Eh, the lights will be off when I sleep. Who cares if the room isn’t fancy pants?” Don’t get me wrong: I like fancy-pants rooms. I just don’t need them.

HOWEVER. We pull into the “hotel” and I go to the “lobby” to check in. They have no computer system to verify that I made a reservation. Okay. But… they also don’t have four standing walls in the lobby. Just hang on, we’ll get to it.

Huh. This is America’s Jungle. You need four walls to keep out the elements, is what I’m saying. Mosquitos get big enough to carry off small cattle in this part of the country, and that’s not even talking about lubber grasshoppers and ahhh! YOU NEED FOUR WALLS IN ALABAMA.

I have a print out from the website in my hand; I keep checking the address on the print out to the location on my phone’s GPS. Yep, this is the place, apparently. This is pre-Yelp, keep in mind.

scary motel run down

not… quite this bad. Like, a smidge off. Just a smidge.

They’re running on punch cards and Post It Notes. No, really. I say that because Days Inn is a national chain. If this were some little B-n-B… But hey, it looks like there are some renovations happening inside because there is a beveled-glass countertop on its side in the middle of the room, some of the windows have butcher paper over them and there are exposed wires hanging from the ceiling and there are only one, two, three walls… [head tilt] Huh.

A sketchy father/daughter team (oh god, I have to believe they were father and daughter and not husband and wife because of the age difference) check us in with carbon copies and a filing board plastic-sleeve system like this is the frickin’ 70s. Also, I’m pretty sure that board had a point spread on it for dog fighting? Maybe cock fighting? So, hey. Okay. They’re entrepreneurial! Hotel owners and bookies. Times are tough, gotta get that cash.

The daughter mumbles some directions  to our room (“around the corner past the thing, up the stuff”). We drive around to the back, passing a good five or six semi-trucks sans trailers. Hey, these guys probably need to stop for the night and get some sleep, right? Even though it’s, huh, 3:30 in the afternoon.

“Look at those lady lizard stickers on the door, Mom!”

Oh dear sweet little eight pound baby Jesus. “Aren’t they funny? Hey, let’s look for the stairs, gang!”

I keep telling myself that surely most of those trucker stereotypes aren’t really true, right? WRONG AGAIN. I AM HERE TO TELL YOU THAT THEY ARE ALL STILL TRUE FOR MANY TRUCKERS AND FOR ALL THE TRUCKERS AT THIS DAYS INN.

I park, the kids grab their backpacks, the girls grab each other’s hands, and we troop up to our room. A brief reminder: this is just me, my son (14, hardly a “man of the house” with his 87 pound, bony self) my daughter (13, taller than me, lanky and developed and unaware of her… maturity) and my other child (8 years old, small, tiny, hyperactive and wonder-eyed.) We all have our backpacks and start walking down the sidewalk, passing other rooms. Other rooms that are occupied and have the windows opened.

I’m SCRAMBLING to point to things across the parking lot for them to look at because in the space of 20 steps I see:

    • a man sitting in the actual window while “massaging himself” and again, his window is WIDE OPEN (it’s not even FOUR in the afternoon, sir!)
    • a man jumping up and looking furtively out the window as anyone passes, looking like he’s desperately waiting for his dealer–again, window WIDE OPEN
    • a decked out early ’80s SUV pulling into the parking lot next to our car (more on this in a bit)
    • and then our room which A) does not close properly as the lock looks as if it’s been kicked in, B) has strange… stains on the floor and visible black mold on the ceiling, C) has lights that don’t operate, D) a random microwave plugged in and sitting on the floor across from the bathroom, E) a giant hornet’s nest in the front window–inside the room, and F) has one bed and space where it looks like another bed was smashed and dragged out in pieces. Yes, we asked for two beds and a rollaway. Looks like we got one and a drag-off.

You know, good ol’ Days Inn, fun times for families!

I kind of panic when we get inside. The kids, normally rambunctious, stand completely still while looking at the room.  My older daughter gingerly touches things and looking disgusted. Yeah, there’s definitely a thin veneer of cholera on everything. My youngest is brave enough to check out the bathroom and reports that water doesn’t come out of the sink and that the carpet is soggy–the carpet in the bathroom. Because that’s where you should have carpeting.

vacation Julia Louis Dreyfuss

So… do we tough it out? Did I really see what I thought I saw happening in those rooms? I mean, hey, the TV works… kinda, and we’re only going to sleep here tonight, but IT’S PROBABLY WORSE AT NIGHT OH MY GOD. 

I’m not one who ever wants a gun. I don’t want that responsibility. At this moment in my life, I was thinking maybe that would have been a good thing to own at the time. Or some landmines for outside the door. The one that doesn’t shut and lock.

My friend Heather–who we’re there to have dinner with–calls, and we make plans for meeting. I mention that we’re not staying in the normal place, but in a roach motel, har har de har har. She mentions the name to her husband who evidently shouted, “OH, HELL NO. That’s the swingers meet-up place!” That’s in addition to being the masturbation castle and meth depository, apparently. She then offers for us to stay at her house overnight even though she’s leaving early in the morning and we are us, meaning, we are a hot mess of teenager and noise.

She’s good people, is what I’m getting at.

no tell motel

Baaaaaaaasically. But two stories and with more despair.

Well, you don’t have to ask me twice. We gather up our things and make to bug out. I’m not even going to bother checking out; that front lobby was sketchy, and so was the reverse-Norman Bates running the place. We grab our bags and head to our car. Parked next to us is that blinged-out pimp ride. White early ’80s SUV, lowered on 16 switches, gold trim everywhere you could conceivably slap some trim, velvet tassels lining the window, hot pink velvet on the dash as well as a Pimp Chalice. I’m saying there was an actual chalice with “PIMP” spelled out in rhinestones mounted on the dash. A lot of love (and money) went into this vehicle, is what I want you to take away from this.

And my son swings his backpack around as boys do and HITS THE CAR.

You know how when you go underwater and your ears flood with the sound of your heartbeat and everything else is muffled and it almost makes your skull ache? Imagine that sensation, then picture your evolutionarily-obsolete prehensile tail curling up between your legs when the driver of said car TURNS AND LOOKS DIRECTLY INTO YOUR EYES AND SHAKES HIS HEAD.

A head shake like, “Well, looks like I’m killing a family today. Thought I could just chill and make money, but nope. Straight up murder ’bout to happen. Sigh.

THIS IS BECAUSE MY SON DOESN’T SAY ANYTHING LIKE “OOPS” OR “WHOA, DIDN’T SEE THAT SOMEONE WAS IN THERE, SORRY.”

Now, just because someone has a legit pimp chalice on their dashboard does not make one a pimp, I know this. But what does make one a pimp is if they perform the services of a pimp.  Services such as procuring sex for a paying customer. Which was happening in this vehicle at the time. As my life flashed in front of my eyes when Mr. “Stone-Faced Anger” Pimp and I locked gazes, I could clearly see behind him a lady in a bra-top “working” on the trucker from before, the one I thought was looking for his dealer.

Well, in this economy, I certainly don’t begrudge someone taking on any job they can get (Girl, get it how you live. Real girls get down on the flo’. I have my issues with misogyny inherent in sex work, but I’m not going to hate on any woman making ends meet.).

But back to my soon-to-be-murdered son.

I grab him by whatever I could reach (his arm? leg? face? WHO KNOWS) and shove him at our car, yelling loud enough to cover the loud, enthusiastic sounds coming from the SUV, “Say you’re sorry! You don’t hit people’s things without saying you’re sorry, say you are sorry, SAY YOU ARE SORRY, CHILD SAY IT! Ahhhhh!

And he – my blissfully ignorant man-child – simply shrugs and says loudly, “Eh, no one saw me.”

Michael Scott rage whisper

Everything in life narrowed to a pinpoint with the focus being my fool of a Took son standing before me. And in this moment, it takes every ounce of mothering in my soul to prevent me from strangling him like he’s a rooster in my lap while we’re sitting on the back of a bus because the NORTH KOREANS WILL HEAR AND GET US ALL KILLED, SHUT THAT THING UP! <– random M*A*S*H jokes are my favorite. Until you remember it wasn’t a rooster. [sobbing]

SORRY.

Time sort of stopped. I know we didn’t die because I’m here now. Somehow I managed to get all children–alive–out of there by shoving them in the car before the guy could get out of his SUV, then peeling out of the parking lot like pink slips were on the line. It’s impressive when you can get a Ford Expedition to peel out, let me tell you.

Thank god for “don’t chase ’em, replace ’em.”

I did not kill my child that day, a fact that still fails to bring nervous gratefulness to his face, but he’s still young and growing. One day he’ll realize how close he walked the line, how close I was to shoving a coin between his teeth and sending him down the river Styx. My children did learn some valuable lessons that day:

  • double check reservations
  • it’s okay to leave a location when you might die
  • good friends who welcome you into their home are worth more than gold
  • and it doesn’t matter if someone is a “small businessman” or what, YOU DON’T HIT A PERSON’S CAR.
  • EVER.
wine mom big carl

THE BIG CARL WAS DEPLOYED.

Edited to add: Sean, Heather’s magnificent husband, just sent me this image. This is the actual Days Inn, albeit post a tornado hit. It’s… not that different looking.

Days Inn Birmingham Alabama

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