Motel 6

Acrylic on canvas panel. 8" × 8" March 5, 2017

Acrylic on canvas panel.

8" × 8"

March 5, 2017

When I moved from Charlotte, NC to Portland, OR I stayed in a Motel 6 every night of the 6 day drive. Each night I would pull my giant boat of a ’93 Camry into the parking lot, trying to keep the trailer out of the way. I would check in. I unloaded the car each night, for fear of being robbed. The back seat was packed to the ceiling. After I unloaded all of that stuff would then line the walls of the room. The woman I was with at the time led the way in her own car. She would unpack her things as well, and then unload her damned cat. This animal would try to escape. It would try to hide under the bed. It was a menace.

I delighted in the confusion that awful animal must have felt. It was in a moving vehicle all day long. Then at the end of that long day it would be hauled out into a strange place which looked exactly like the night before. What were these humans doing?

At this time Motel 6 was trying to masquerade as a value-priced version of nicer hotels. So they had chintzy comforters on the bed, fake wood furniture. Lots of mauve and bad art prints on the wall.

When my wife and I first came to Tacoma to find a place to live, we decided to stay the night in a cheap hotel before driving back the next day. We chose the Motel 6 in Fife, Washington.

Now some marketing genius has embraced the cheapness of Motel 6 and has redone the interior with cheap Ikea style furniture. It works. I imagined party kids in our tiny room getting ready for a big night out at the Tacoma Dome.

You pay for your room with the sort of credit-card swiping machine you find at a grocery store. If they could somehow have a drive-thru option they would. The Motel 6 charges $5 extra for “premium” WiFi. Got to get the premium. Swipe your card now please.

Across the parking lot of the Motel 6 is Johnny’s at Fife - a diner with a view of the I-5 and the Emerald Queen Casino just beyond. Johnny’s is the sort of place that offers you a double on your drink and are genuinely surprised when you tip. We got drunk in the lounge and ate fried cheese sticks. We had breakfast there the next day.

After breakfast we checked out of the motel. There was a battered, bloodied, possibly still-drunk construction worker. The night before we saw several men checking in wearing tool belts, safety vests, and dust. Maybe a roving crew working on the perpetually under-construction interstate. This poor fellow got into it the night before. The folks at the front desk were trying to keep him calm while the cops or an ambulance or both got there. He had a hard time staying in his chair and the earth heaved beneath him.

The architecture of the Motel 6 is a kind of panopticon. The hotel rooms, in low flat buildings, encircle a small building housing the front desk, offices, laundry and supply closets. Between the main office and the hotel rooms there might be a pool. This arrangement allows the front desk to see who’s coming and going, who’s parked where, and who’s horsing around in the pool.

Every motel room may only be entered from the inside of the panopticon. From the front door, or the one window. There is no back way out. You’ll be seen coming or going. From the outside or the back, the Motel 6 looks like a low blank wall with a sign above it..

We visited this Motel 6 in late April. It was already hot. The sky was clear and the sun beat down. I am fascinated by the rigid, efficient geometry of the place. Door after door, window after window, two floors making x-dollars per night, costing y dollars per day. Just beyond the hotel you can hear the cars on the freeway. The pool hasn’t been opened yet. I took several photos.

Michael Barrett

Tacoma, WA 98402