I love this one!
We left Louisiana and were headed west on highway 10. It’s like an elevated road through a swamp which was actually pretty cool. It had been overcast for most of the trip so far. I was hoping for some sunny days.
By nightfall we crossed the border into the state of Texas. We’re tired from driving all day so we decide to stay in the town of Sealy for the evening.
Here’s a little history.
San Felipe, Texas, sold part of its original 22,000-acre (8,900 ha) township to the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railroad to create Sealy in 1879. Sealy gets its name after business tycoon and majority stock holder of the GCSF RR, George Sealy of Galveston. In 1881, Daniel Haynes, a cotton gin builder, filled a request for a cotton-filled mattress which started a company. He named this the Sealy Mattress Company after the town. Business grew exponentially, which led to more innovation and several patents, such as a machine that compressed cotton.
We were always looking to save money and this would be the first motel we would stay in on the road. I don’t remember the name of it but it was off the main highway. I suppose it was one of those places that was once vibrant and busy but when the new highway came in not many people came by to stay there anymore. Sort of like the Bates Motel.
We pull the van up in front of the lobby and go in. It’s a dingy, dimly lit office. Sitting at the counter is this guy who appears to be in his late twenties or early thirties. Drab clothing and long greasy hair. Sort of like some character out of oh… I don’t know, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre?
He’s sitting there coloring. Yea. With crayons. In a coloring book. I swear to God.
So we fill out the registration card and give the guy the money for the room. I don’t remember how much it was. Maybe $22 for the night.
Frank’s been going on all day about how he wants to watch the Superman movie on TV tonight. “Fuckin’ Supermon! It’ll be brilliant!” he said in his Irish accent. I guess he hadn’t seen it when it was in the theater and was all excited that we could watch it on TV tonight for the first time. It was supposed to come on at 9pm and it was only 8pm so there was time to get beer, settle in and watch it so Frank wouldn’t lose his shit. (This is the Superman starring Christopher Reeve for all you youngsters reading this.)
So the weirdo gives us some bath towels the keys and assigns us a room down the end. (No one will hear our screams) We go back to the van and get in. I toss the towels on the seat behind me and we slowly drive down to our room and park in front of it. Over the door is a dome lamp emitting very little light because it’s so clogged with dead insects. I put the key in the door expecting to be snatched inside by Leatherface, But happily that doesn’t happen.
However, I do realize we’re the only people staying here. There are no other cars and all of the rooms are dark.
We go inside and I find the light switch on the wall. It’s a dingy little room with two beds, a night table between them and TV on a stand on the opposite wall. The room smells like mildew. I walk to the bathroom to see what’s doing in there. The bathroom is always a good barometer of the level cleanliness in a motel. Frank’s busy playing with the TV.
The bathroom looks ok. Not great, but ok.
That is until I pull back the shower curtain. (Oh a bloody dead body? Kidding!)
On the wall I see the biggest fucking roach I’ve ever seen in my life.
I’m originally from Philly. Born and raised. I grew up in Lawndale in Northeast Philly. Everybody had roaches in their basement. My mother would say it was because we live between two rivers. I don’t see how that had any relevance to why we had German cockroaches in our basement, I just knew those things creeped out me and my sisters growing up. I may at some point write an exclusive piece about my hatred and respect for cockroaches as a species.
But this thing appeared to be over two inches in length. I was immediately terrified and looked for something to smash it out of existence forever in Kubrickian glee.
And that’s when it opened it’s wings and flew right at my face. I squealed like a schoolgirl and ran out of the bathroom.
“Wot the fuck’s up with you?”
“I just saw the biggest goddamn roach ever… and they can FLY down here!!!”
“Fuck off mate. We’ve got bigger problems.”
“No! There’s no reception on the TV. How the fuck am I going to watch Superman now?”
I’m still trying to process the flying monster in the bathroom. Because where there’s one, there’s more you can’t see. Apparently what I witnessed that night was my first Palmetto Beetle. They look like roaches but have hardened wings so they can fly. Leave it to the state of Texas and the South in general to come up with some scary shit and then make it even scarier.
“We can’t stay here. Gotta see Superman.”
“Will you shut the fuck up about fucking Superman?!”
We decide that’s we’re going to drive back up to the office and tell the coloring book guy that we saw a bunch of roaches and the TV doesn’t work and that we just want our money back and we’ll go.
We do just that and after some back and forth with this half wit he begrudgingly opens the register and gives us back our money. We thank him profusely and hop back in the van. We’re on the winding road through the woods back to highway 10 only a few minutes.
Suddenly, this car comes roaring out of the darkness behind us flashing its headlights. I’m thinking, what kind of Urban Legend has been wrought upon us?
Frank rolls down the window and sticks his head out and starts barking at the driver of the late-model convertible behind us. I’m thinking he’s going to get a shotgun blast to the head and that’s going to be the end of it.
“For fuck’s sake, Chaz, It’s the guy from the motel!”
At this point my heart is pounding and I’m terrified.
“I don’t think this old horse can outrun him. Should I pull over?”
“Ya… Fuckin’ pull over I’ll see what your man wants!”
I bring the minibus to a halt. I pull the emergency brake but leave the engine running. Frank grabs this foot long metal ice pick out of his rucksack.
“What the fuck, dude? Where did you get that?”
“No worries let’s see what this fucker wants.”
Coloring book boy doesn’t know that Frank was formerly in the junior wing of the IRA back in Belfast. The Irish Republican Army is any of several armed movements in Ireland in the 20th and 21st centuries dedicated to Irish republicanism, the belief that all of Ireland should be an independent republic. It was also characterized by the belief that political violence was necessary to achieve that goal.
Yea. You don’t want to fuck with Frank.
He approaches the guy.
“What the fuck do you want?”
Of course the coward that I am, remained safely in the van filling my diaper waiting to hear the sound of someone trying to start a chainsaw.
The guy is saying something to Frank but I can’t hear the exchange because of the blood rushing through my ears in fear.
Then I hear it.
“I want my tails!”
“What the fuck is he going on about, Chaz?”
And then I get it. The Southern accent. He’s not asking about the hindmost part of an animal, especially when prolonged beyond the rest of the body, such as the flexible extension of the backbone in a vertebrate, the feathers at the hind end of a bird, or a terminal appendage in an insect.
I reach behind my seat. (My Gun? Kidding!)
I walk back in the glare of his headlights carrying the bath towels he had given us back at the office. I totally forgot about them!
“Yes. Your towels. I’m sorry, sir. We totally forgot about these.” He grabs them from me with a suspicious look on his face. I apologize again and we walk back to the van.
Frank and I both sit in silence for a moment taking in what just happened. We see the guy turn his car around and head back down the dark road. We watch as his tail lights vanish in a cloud of dust and darkness.
I pop the brake and we both explode in fits of laughter. It was that kind nervous, fearful, relieved laughter. We had just experienced our first harrowing night on the road together.
We got back out on the highway and within a mile or so pull into the lot of a brightly lit motel with several cars in the lot and people out and around laughing and drinking on their balconies. We checked in and went to our room.
Frank goes into the bathroom. The place was lovely and clean. We’re both elated to be where were at that moment.
“Fuck sake, Chaz. Look at the bathroom! It’ll dazzle ya!”
Place was really clean. I hop on my bed and pull a couple of cold ones from the cooler and hand one to Frank.
“What time is it?”
Frank leaps up and turns on the TV.
We clink our bottles together as the opening scene of Superman appears on the big color TV.
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