A Winter’s Tale, essay

I’ve taken several road trips through the West since airplane travel is not my favorite form of terror. The upside of a flying phobia is that on road trips you get to experience every mile you travel. That’s the downside too. Road-tripping can make you very travel weary. So, absent campers, motel accommodations are important. I watched an old I Love Lucy episode on cable not long ago, where Lucy and her friends took a road trip across 1950’s America. One night they found themselves looking for a motel, hoping for a juicy steak and a nice, soft bed. They ended up instead, in a little cabin somewhere near Donner Pass (not a good sign) eating cheese sandwiches and sleeping on lumpy mattresses.

Like Lucy, we were dreaming of good food and shelter when we drove down the exit ramp to Milford, Utah. Milford is not a destination town. That needs to be said right away. However, it is on the freeway heading toward St. George, and if that doesn’t rock you, Las Vegas some miles further. This was a winter trip, so the landscape as we drove into Milford was bleak with blizzard and snow. I thought of that lovely poem by Robert Frost, Desert Places, googled it, and began to recite it aloud to my husband: “Snow falling fast, oh fast . . .” After six hours on the road I thought Robert Frost was a better choice than twenty-nine bottles of beer on the wall.

I’d located our accommodations on a TripAdviser app. They gave the Best Western Paradise motel of Milford, Utah several stars. I knew about Best Western motels. We’re talking about quality here. In another life I changed sheets and emptied waste baskets at a Best Western motel in Chambers, Arizona. Mrs. Young, the proprietor of the Chieftain motel filled me in on the Best Western brand: “That’s why they call it ‘best.’ If your Best Western, you’re the best—so get down on your knees and scrub around those toilets!”

As we drove into Milford, I thought about other winter wanderers, stumbling into an inn looking for rest.  A certain Joseph and Mary came to mind. I wasn’t riding a donkey, but I looked like I’d been “on something,” when I walked into the motel lobby. The back of my hair stood straight up from leaning against the headrest all day. I glanced around and when I saw the lobby furniture was a little old and worn, I began to doubt TripAdvisor’s stars—and those two vaunted words: Best Western. Would we have to find another motel? Out the lobby windows the snow was swirling. We could get lost in a Great Basin blizzard (cue music for Dr. Zhivago) looking for another motel.

The motel clerk though, an older woman with pink lipstick, seemed genuinely friendly and made sure we knew the voucher tickets that came with our room, were good for a full, made-to-order, complimentary breakfast. And the price? This king bedroom was so cheap you could have sold it at Walmart. The price was so far under a hundred dollar bill, I steeled myself for bed bugs, cigarette smells, and a toilet with floaters. But this winter’s tale has a happy ending. When we opened our room door we were greeted by fresh smells and downy white bed sheets. And the best part was still to come: pancakes and eggs for breakfast—no cheese sandwiches here.

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