All back roads look alike to me after a day in the saddle. The charm of the small farm, the lure of the bucolic stream, and the spell of the remote valley all begin to blur as the pain in my joints and the numbness of my butt make themselves known. (I have had the pain in my knees extend all the way to my teeth.) The whine of the BMW K75 starts to remind me of dialogues I’ve had with former wives, and calling it a day becomes pressing.
My perfect end-of-the-day destination is a 1950’s-style motel, where you can park the bike 7 feet from the door of your room; where the most important amenity is an air conditioner (the size of a harpsichord); where the television gets at least one good weather station; where a comforting country tavern is on the far side of the parking lot.
At the end of the day, I want a nice clean bed, in a decent room, where the temperature is zero degrees (Kelvin). I want a hot shower, a clean towel, and a sweat-free body for at least ten hours after the ride. I never worry about crawly things living in the motel closet. After I hang my riding gear in there ( and close the door), nothing could remain alive.
But man does not live by air-conditioned motel rooms alone. There is the question of sustenance. A country diner, where the cook is a somebody’s mother, is hard to beat. To enjoy the meal, however, means washing away the accumulated salt (from sweat), fumage (from trucks), insect residue (self explanatory), sintered horse shit (Amish country), and whatever else is in the atmosphere. So if the country diner is a few miles away, it means putting on the riding jacket from hell again, as well as the helmet that smells like mice have been nesting in it. Worse is trying to get my ass back on the saddle. It’s as if the seat and my butt have become magnetized and the polarity of each prevents them from touching. This is why my first preference is for a 1950’s style motel, with a bar at the far end of the parking lot. I love a good saloon with an interesting bar menu.
I had been more than six hours in the saddle on this particular run, a weekend in 2006, riding solo through a range of mountains that once played host to four-star hotels and a classy clientele. But those days turned to smoke in the mid-1960’s. The big hotels went into a death spiral and the small motels clung to a hellish survival depending on hunters, fisherman, foliage watchers, and bikers riding through the area. Each of these seasonal categories of guest accounted for minimal revenue. The few remaining open 1950’s-style hotels that meet my criteria are in bad shape.
The K75’s gas light came on for the second time that day and the pain in my knees was such that I just wanted off the bike. I felt like I had one more dismount in me. The gas light was designed with a Teutonic commitment to dealing with the bad news far in advance. I still had 90 miles left in reserve and I opted to take the first motel that came into view. I’d worry about gas the next day. The motel loomed on the left and I dropped a gear to take it in.
This place had originally been a mini-resort, offering motel rooms and cabins around a pool. A clothes line and trash cans indicated one cabin was occupied as a residence while the others were in tumbledown condition. The pool was filled with pea soup. It’s algae-stained sides leeched a greenish tint into water flavored by leaves, bugs, cigarette butts, and the detritus of summers past. But the 20-room motel unit seemed open. The structure had that down-at-the-heels look made popular by the “Bates Motel” in the Hitchcock movie classic “Psycho.” It sagged with the tired look of a property that was beyond the false hope of new paint. At parking lot level was a covered porch dry rotted in places. Yet there were chairs and tables on it that showed current use. There were a handful of cars in the parking lot though the buzzing neon sign said neither “open” nor “no vacancy. Painted on the sign was the faded enticement, “Color TV in Every Room.”
What appealed to me most about this place was the adjoining saloon.
The gin mill had a cabin look to it and an incongruous Japanese name. Two square windows, illuminated by neon beer signs, flanked a screen door that was at odds with its hinges. It was a cabin in the front with clapboarding on the sides, and a commercial vent that spewed a delightful aroma of French fries and broiled steak. A battered sign proclaimed live music and dancers. This was the Riviera as far as I was concerned, and I banked left into a parking lot that was about 20 percent asphalt and 70 percent cinders.
The office was a converted guest room in the strategic center of the place. Faded decals of accepted credit cards colored a yellowed glass pane in the door, under a hanging sign that said “No Smoking.” The first thing that hit me when I opened the door was the unmistakable aroma of cigarettes. The desk clerk was an affable example of local inbreeding who seemed surprised that I had stopped. I explained that I was passing through the area and that my needs were basic. He advised me that the place was almost fully booked and got very noisy on the weekends, as the party invariably spilled over from the bar into the motel.
“Fully booked,” I thought. “This place is a shit hole.” It was then I noticed that the room keys were hanging on a peg board, where each room had a number, and the name of a flower. Number twelve, “Rose,” was marked as “available.”
The clerk advised me there was another place 40 miles up the road, next to a MacDonald’s and a gas station, that might be more to my liking. But I had a growing urge for a rum and Coke, so I told him I’d take “Rose.” He handed me a towel, a tiny bar of soap, and my key.
There was so much movement in the lock on the room’s door that the key was a mere formality. I pulled the bags off the bike and stepped in a hotel room that was a time capsule for worn out and dated artifacts of cheap living. The curtains were filmy, and may have been a rust tint or colored by cigarette smoke. The bedspread was threadbare and the headboard was tufted vinyl. There was one lamp in the room and television was unplugged. The air conditioner hung in the window and looked like a diesel model from the Soviet Union. I switched it to “max” and the compressor lumbered into life. It was louder than my bike.
The bathroom door was closed. I opened it and discovered two things in the tub: an inch of water and a huge fucking snake. I took a step backward, pulling the door shut like it was a hatch on a submarine. I’d left the room door ajar and it swung open to reveal the second surprise of the day: a woman in her mid-twenties, wearing a form-defining “Danskin” and leg warmers. Her deep red hair was in a pony tail.
“Excuse me,” she said. “I thought this room was empty and I left my snake in the bathroom.”
She was the “headline” entertainer for the bar that night and the snake, whose name was “Leonard,” was an essential part of the act. She was warming up for the night’s performance while Leonard was cooling down. Her name was Angela. Not every bathroom had a working shower and another dancer was using hers. Leonard’s part in the show required him to move a bit more slowly than he would in normally swallowing a pig, or something, and this entailed cooling him off in the tub.
“Don’t give it a second thought,” I said, noting that this dancer oozed sensuality. “Does Leonard have a key to this room?”
“No silly,” laughed Angela. “Where would he carry it? He has no pockets.”
She retrieved the snake and walked out wearing it like a fashion statement. My knowledge of snake dancers was limited at that point, though I was reasonably certain there were no rats in the bathroom. My shower was little more than a lukewarm trickle but I didn’t give a damn. This ride was already going to be one of my better ones. Wearing a stench-free change of clothes, I headed over to the bar at dusk.
The joint was jumping. The beer was cold. The steak wasn’t bad. The music was loud. And the dancers were steamy. Some actually knew a few dance moves but there was no need to be picky. I had dinner sitting at the bar. The barmaid was thin, blond, and pretty in a sassy way. And there was something else about her that I found absolutely riveting — she had an accent like mine.
“What part of Hudson County are you from?” I asked.
“Who said I was from Hudson County?” she replied.
“It lies,” she said.
“It’s the same as mine,” I said.
“Where are you from?” she asked.
“Paris... 13th Arrondissement... France.”
“See,” she said. “We’re almost neighbors.”
The main event came on around 9pm, when Angela took the stage. She sashayed out in a flesh-toned Danskin that was far more erotic than if she’d been naked. Her pony tail had turned into a crimson cascade of swinging flame. Leonard seemed to take it all in stride, his head moving from side-to-side, with that tongue flicking in a sinister way. I would have traded places with the snake in a second. At one point, he looped around her waist, with his head emerging between her legs.
“I can do that,” I said to the guy drinking next to me.”
“Yeah, but the snake wouldn’t look nearly so good on you.”
The two of us laughed like hell.
The leg warmers were part of her costume. It never ceases to amaze me how a woman can wear more to help a man imagine what she looks like wearing less. The leg warmers drew your eyes to her calves, which were sculpted.
This was my kind of joint. There were other bikers, hot rodders, barflies, local color, and a few skin-headed guys that could only be off-duty cops circulating through the bar. There were also a number of very good looking women in this place too. They kept leaving with guys periodically. That’s when it dawned on me this beat-up motel was getting it’s last hurrah as a cathouse. Many of the women in this place were hookers.
“Do you have gumbo on the menu?” I asked the barmaid, whose name was Melanie.
“Because New Orleans has nothing on this place.”
“Not everything is on the menu,” she said.
It was close to midnight when I staggered back to my room. Music, voices, laughter, and a curious pounding reverberated through the old motel’s walls. I slept the sleep of the rum-soaked damned, until about 4am, when an insistent knocking at the door dragged me into consciousness. A charming brunette from room #11, named Ivy, wanted to know if I had any extra condoms. (She thought I was Rose.) I had one in my wallet. It was my lucky Trojan from high school, with it’s foil packet intact. At 5am, Angela knocked, and asked if she could leave Leonard in my tub for a while.
What could I say? She was standing there in her underwear and leg warmers, holding this frigging serpent. I told her “okay,” as long as the bathroom door was closed.
I was again disturbed at 6am by a drunk looking for “Rose.” She was the love of his life and he wanted to marry her. He was taken aback by my presence, and did not buy my story that Rose wasn’t there. Finally, I told him she was hiding in the bathroom. I shoved him into the tiny room and held the door shut on my side, listening to his screams. It got quiet after a bit and I assumed he either passed out or got swallowed.
I wrapped up in the threadbare blanket and dozed off again to the rhythmic jackhammer beat of the air conditioner. Angela woke me 4 hours later to reclaim her snake. I told her it had a new friend. The problem was that the friend had passed out on the floor in there, preventing us from opening the door. We could only get the door to budge a few inches, and I suggested she just call the snake through the opening.
“It’s a snake, not a Labrador retriever,” she said.
We ended up leaving the door open as far as we could get it. I switched off the air conditioning and left the room’s door open as well. My thought was that a higher temperature might set the snake to exploring. Angela invited me to breakfast with the ladies. They had a kind of buffet brunch on the porch.
There were six of them, plus Angela. There is a certain reality in this profession that comes to the surface at dawn, or what passes for the dawn of midmorning. Each was pretty in their own way, and each had an edge to them. Three were wearing robes. Two were in jeans and tee shirts. One was in boxer shorts and a work-out bra. They all looked tired. Brunch was bagels, cream cheese, donuts, eggs, bacon, biscuits, coffee and orange juice. I picked up the coffee and went to pour myself some, then realized three of the ladies had empty cups. I filled theirs first.
I wanted nothing more than to join them, to hear their stories of the night before, and to discover what it was they’d talk about among themselves. But I was an outsider and a man. My interest in their stories would be from the wrong perspective. I opted to go, carrying my coffee back to the room. The snake had left the bathroom and was poking among my side bags. “Angela,” I yelled. “Leonard is looking for you.”
The snake moved around my gear with slow purpose. The damn thing was about ten feet long and had that malevolent look so common among predatory reptiles and divorce lawyers. But Angela wasn’t afraid of it, and she was little slip of a thing. Snakes move in coils. One minute the majority of them is in one place, and then suddenly, most of them is in another. Leonard was taking an interest in my boots and was almost on them, when I yelled:
“Angela... Get in here and get this damn snake.”
Her voice came from the doorway, as smooth as silk;
“That’s not Leonard.”
I moved backward in a reflex action that carried the table and the lamp next to the bed, landing on the floor, at the feet of the dancer.
“Just kidding,” she said, looking down at me with a smile.
I wondered if the snake was a metaphor for sin, or bad intentions, or even just temptation. Angela was sultry, and I wondered if she was just a dancer or something else. It is impossible for a man to look at a woman like Angela and not see something of a snake in himself. Yet she’d held the snake in her hands, molding it around her, bending it to her purpose.
She picked up Leonard; handling him with respect and affection; with confidence from experience. I wondered how broad that experience was. She left and I went about packing my gear. Banging the door into the corpse on the bathroom floor got a grunt. Some days a grunt is as good as a pulse and I had no regrets about leaving him.
“I’m taking Rose with me,” I said to the semi-conscious form.
“Rose,” he muttered.
The fuel warning light came on as soon as I turned the key, but the bike started up as if the gas situation was a rumor. The weather looked good, and I was sorry it wasn’t raining. That would have given me the excuse to spend another night. I wanted to begin this blog, “There are three things every biker should know before spending the night in a cathouse...” But I really don’t know what they are.
Who Reads Twisted Roads?
Above: Bob Leong (Bob Scoot) of Wet Coast Skooting on his classic V-Strom. This was taken at Riding Lolo Pass, Idaho last year when Bob met up with Domingo Chang in Montana.
Above: Bob spent so much money equipping this bike that he could only afford one boot. Actually, he was cutting up rough in a Canadian neighborhood known for its tough characters, when a miniature poodle, named Francoise L’Eclaire, ran out and ripped his right boot to shreds. Bob sent us two pictures so we would know the first one wasn’t a fluke. This was taken in Baker City, Oregon.
Above: Derek Sadko reads Twisted Roads, not only for its technical content but for its redeeming social value as well. Sadko relies on the BMW GS for its ability to navigate boulevards, bogs, and lava flows with elan and panache. Here is waiting for the ferry at Hudson, Quebec.
Above: A native of Canada, Derek is an advocate of the two language system. The two languages he advocates are Gaelic and Sanskrit, however. Here he is on the ferry at Quebec, Hudson.
Above: Morgan Frechie loves Italian style and wanted her first motorcycle to be a bit different from the other metric bikes. She got a paper route, babysat kids that other baby-sitters detested, and did pre-campaign analysis for a major political party. Now she’s the only kid in seventh grade to ride an MV Agusta Tamborini. She reads Twisted Roads for her daily horoscope and for make-up tips.
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