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  • July 19th, 2019


By Joel M. Vance


The late great Joe South sang one of his own compositions “Don’t it make you want to go home.” The song possibly became an anthem, although I never heard it, for a multitude of motel managers whom I have managed to offend over many years of abusing their hospitality.


It comes with having been an upland bird hunter for many, many years which often has me involved in  seeking the hospitality of misnamed establishments, like Motel Eight— which implies that a room can be had for eight dollars. Perhaps in 1940, but these days of rampant inflation it’s more like “Motel— What! You gotta be kidding!”


The last time I stayed in a motel that lived up to its advertised price was many years ago deep in the Ozarks where, exhausted from a long day, I plunked down $2.50 for what amounted to a lumpy bed barely smaller than the threadbare room in which it was located. The room however did come equipped with a radio, just out of the era when you had to use a cat’s whisker to tune it, which, when I checked it out, hoping for a program featuring vintage John Coltrane jazz to lull me to sleep, instead  bombarded me with the only available station, featuring a hardshell Baptist revival preacher assuring me that I was destined for Hell if I didn’t change my ways.


I had no intention of changing my ways, although the preacher’s dire warning does seem a distinct possibility. At any rate (advertised or not) motels and I have had a long and uneasy relationship, mostly because I, and my hunting companions, do not represent the ordinary clientele of most transitory housing establishments.


There are at least two motels where I would not be surprised if the proprietors don’t have SWAT teams on standby in case they receive a reservation request from me or, God forbid, I should show up in person with a vehicle containing dog crates. I will not name the location of these motels to eliminate the possibility that they backtrack and find my home location and send hit teams.


One was near where I shot the first pheasant of my hunting life. I left it on the tailgate of my vehicle briefly and when I returned the motel owner’s large Labrador retriever was licking its lips, a telltale feather stuck to its gums. It had not, however, molested the several quail that I also had shot. Honest, Your Honor, I did not do this in retribution, but I did field dress the quail in the motel washbasin. Subsequently, through word-of-mouth telegraph, I was informed that there had been a drainage system stoppage due to a surfeit of bird feathers lodged in the motel room’s plumbing innards, which caused an overflow which caused flood damage.


While I may have been directly responsible for the mini flood, I was only peripherally involved in the other motel mini catastrophe. It happened because a member of our hunting party suffered a massive gastric upset which lasted much of the night and was manifested mostly by toxic eruptions rivaling that which last occurred in AD 79 when Mount Vesuvius exploded and wiped out the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. My hunting buddy subsequently recovered, but I’m not sure the motel ever did.


The place was optimistically named the Belle Air and I celebrated it in print as the “Foul Air” and apparently I had a wider readership than I thought because, once again, the word got around and the motel ownership failed to appreciate my feeble attempt at levity. Some folks got no sense of humor.


Unpleasant bodily effusions come in more than one form and another type occurred in a motel room after a South Dakota bird hunt. My son-in-law, Ron De Valk, has been the unwitting and sometimes unwilling participant in several of my motel debacles but he should admit that it was his idea that triggered this one. We both were worn out after a long day in the field, as were our two bird dogs.


As is usual, we figured the dogs were as deserving of rest in accommodations less Spartan than a Porta Kennel so we smuggled them into the room after we, not the dogs, had eagerly wolfed down a meal of prime rib. He may deny it, but Ron was the one who suggested to the waitress that we would appreciate a container of leftover meat juice. Obligingly, she fetched us what appeared to be a quart of prime rib elixir. Common sense for anyone else would dictate that you don’t flood a dog’s digestive system with that much rich additive, but we were tired and unthinkingly divided equally the juice between the two dogs and their evening meal. Of course they wolfed it down.


We woke simultaneously in the pit of night and it was not necessary to turn on the light to understand what had developed in the canine excretory system while we were dreaming away. There is an applicable Rodney Dangerfield joke here: “My dog must be Egyptian— he leaves a pyramid in every room.” There was the necessity to clean up after our Middle Eastern imitating dogs and the only implement in the room that appeared usable was the plastic scoop used to shovel ice cubes into a bucket.


It worked for the purpose, but as I’ve written before, “You might want to think about that the next time you stay in a motel and long for a cold drink.”


Ron also was involved in the great South Dakota motel room flood. If you recall the television show Northern Exposure, there was a Native American character, Marilyn Whirlwind, who was totally unflappable and summed up situations with wise counsel when disaster loomed. She was unfazed by any imminent catastrophe and I suspect when the series ended, she got a job in the motel where we stayed and flooded the bathroom.


We still don’t know how it happened—perhaps the Ogallala aquifer mysteriously backed up across eight states and wound up in our motel bathroom. Whatever the reason, Ron emerged as I was arranging my hunting equipment for the day’s activities and announced in panic “The toilet is overflowing and the bathroom is flooded!” Even as he spoke water was seeping around his boots into the main room.


Ron frantically dialed the front desk to report the commode tsunami and presently a Native American woman appeared and Ron squeaked, “we’re flooding!”


“Okay,” our version of Marilyn Whirlwind said impassively. And she might’ve added as Marilyn Whirlwind once did on Northern Exposure, “White people; they get crazy.” We gathered up our hunting gear and fled, and when we returned that evening the room was dry. Bathrooms tended to be traumatic experiences for Ron who, on his first visit to his new in-laws was startled when the family cat knocked a partition out of the wall in the bathroom and emerged suddenly (she often retreated into the walls to hide, being frightened of strangers in the house). It didn’t help when Ron, alarmed that perhaps the suddenly materializing cat was some sort of Phantom of the Opera, discovered that the door, which was tricky, was locked and he had to pound on it and beg for rescue.


Thinking back on it, many of these motel oriented disasters center around middle of the night bathroom breaks. Another one involved possibly the most bizarre New Year’s Eve celebration ever. My hunting buddy and I, not Ron this time, celebrated New Year’s Eve day with a long quail hunt. The motel where we were staying featured a plastic Santa Claus in the center of its courtyard, left over from the previous week’s Christmas. There was no plan to go out on the town for a few drinks in anticipation of another year’s arrival. All we wanted to do was hit the sack. My buddy liked to sleep cool, as I do, so he turned the thermostat all the way off. The dogs and we settled in for a restful night, or so we thought.


About 2 AM, the New Year having arrived not with a bang but a whimper, I awoke with my dog exhaling pungent breath directly in my face. I realized I was bathed in sweat and both the dog and I were verging on heatstroke. My buddy had not turned down the thermostat but had turned it the wrong way and the room was hotter than a Finnish sauna. It was Equatorial Rain Forest in the room and obviously something needed to be done.  The dog wanted to drain and we both wanted cooling. A quick trip outdoors I thought would be just the thing to let the dog pee and me chill out. My buddy slept on, somehow unaware of the searing heat.


I opened the door, stepped outside in my briefs, and the dog raced past me to Santa Claus where he proceeded to firehose it almost endlessly. I was dimly aware as I stood in the subfreezing temperature, beginning to congeal, of an ominous clicking sound just behind me which I realized, a moment later was the sound of the door closing and locking.


The dog finished desecrating Santa. We stood together shivering and I banged on the door trying to wake my comatose roommate and hoping not to rouse the motel owner or other sleeping customers who, I suspected, might not understand why an adult male would usher in the new year much as he had been ushered into life— near-naked, wearing naught but a diaper. Most babies do not come equipped with a bird dog. Finally my buddy stumbled to the door opened it, gazed blearily at me for a long moment and said, “Why are you out there in the cold?”


Had it been Marilyn Whirlwind who came to my rescue, she would’ve merely said, “White people; they get crazy.”


The Dakotas, over the years, have tended to bring out the worst in me.  It was a typical subzero day in South Dakota. All over the state brass monkeys were clutching their groins. Ron and I were freezing, looking forward to the warmth of the motel where we were staying. Between us we had five Brittanies. It did not occur to us that, all water sources were frozen solid and the dogs, therefore had gone a long time between hydration breaks.


The ground floor motel featured a long corridor and our room was about six or seven doors from the back entrance (which we were using so we could sneak the dogs in so they could enjoy the same conveniences as their owners). And they could, at long last, enjoy a leisurely drink provided by us from the washbasin into their individual dog bowls.


The dogs, however, had a different idea. When I key carded the back entrance and opened the door a tsunami of canine thirst burst past me, caromed down the hall— and bulled their way into an open door (unfortunately, not ours).


I hustled down the hall after them to the open door where I beheld a gentleman on the phone, dressed in a business suit and tie. The dogs, en masse had veered into the bathroom and were noisily drinking from the toilet, a sound I had last heard at the base of Niagara Falls. The man on the phone appeared to be on the verge of negotiating what for all I knew was a multi million-dollar business deal and, judging from the toxic look he shot at me, was not happy at this unforeseen interruption.


I gestured apologetically and whispered, “Come! Come!” The man glared even louder, if it’s possible to glare loudly. The dogs paid absolutely no attention, continuing to slake their overwhelming thirst. There was nothing for it but to separate dog from toilet and there also was no way I was going to corral five dogs at one time and remove them from the stranger’s room.


So I grabbed one collar and dragged that dog out the door, lugged it several doors farther down, managed to get the key card inserted in the slot with one hand, all the time wrestling the bucking and heaving thirst crazed animal with the other hand, threw the door open, tossed the dog in, and sprinted back up the hall to the stranger’s room for another dog. Five times this Buster Keaton comedy routine repeated itself before I ran out of dogs and, for the last time, out of the stranger’s room.  As I left the man’s bathroom with the last dog in hand, I glanced down. The toilet bowl was totally empty.


Never once did the man pause in his intense phone conversation to, perhaps, quick draw a 45 caliber pistol and begin shooting, although I wouldn’t have blamed him. Ron, who had been busy at the vehicle gathering up our hunting gear, came in to behold five dogs and me, all panting as if we had just finished a marathon. “What’s going on?” he asked.


“Just another day in the life,” I said.










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