As I walked the hotel's smoky, green carpeted hallway, smelling soiled diapers and rotten cantaloupe, I heard a woman chime out, "Do we get CCN?" A steadier male voice yelled back, "No."
"What? They don't believe in Christian programming here?"
The male voice headed toward me. I kept the elevator open, listening to the dull electric hum of the fluorescent lights overhead and wondering what he might look like.
At $65 a night for a kitchenette, bed and unreliable wireless, this is no Ritz Carlton. Who stays here anyhow? Who chooses Extended Stay America?
A brief moment later, there he was—tall, thick and friendly, the rolls of skin on his bald head showing shaving bumps. He wore a gray T-shirt and black cotton shorts, his dark brown arms hugging a laundry basket. I lifted my detergent in a friendly salute.
"Laundry day.""Yep. You been here long?"
I smiled. "A couple weeks."
"We've been here for two months. I'm hoping we could leave in one more month. But I'm blessed. I was working for Kaiser and then I got laid off, and thank God I had a second job, but we're staying here until I can try to get us another house. It seems like I might be able to get one in a month. I thank God every day. I'm blessed, I truly am."On the wall beside me there was an advertisement that depicted a man who looked not unlike him, a friendly attractive black man, only he was dressed in olive slacks and a khaki button-down with a laptop propped on his knee. On the coffee table before him was a half-drunk glass of orange juice and a plate of fruit. He looked happy. Happy to be working and staying at the live-in motel. The man in the elevator glanced at the advertisement and said "I'm blessed." Once more. On the ground floor, we were greeted by his daughter, her hair in innocent small braids. She grabbed his hand and ran him into the laundry room. There, wedged between a soda machine and a vending machine, was his son, a skinny boy in a black T-shirt and jeans with a finger perched against his lips to seal a secret. On the floor sat a toddler in a bulging baby blue onesie playing with colored, plastic rings.
"Have a blessed day."
So that's one type who stays here: the family who has to. Then there are what I call the "Hustle and Flows," like the troupe of D-list pimps and hos who stay downstairs. From what I can tell, it's two guys and three girls. One of the guys is maybe around 17, white with a flat-top and oily skin; the other guy is older, maybe 24, a light-skinned black guy with outdated fluffy hair. Their room is below mine, and as a result, my bathroom vent consistently emits a hybrid of cheap cigar tobacco and backwoods marijuana smoke.
I see them in the parking lot. They look like they're having a good time, but half-miserable, too. They drive an old tan-gold Cadillac that has Doritos wrappers and fast-food soda cups lying around the back seats. The girls always sit in the back and the guys in front. The girls walk out of here around 5 or 6pm with too much makeup on. Thick black eyeliner coating their eyes, hair not washed but sprayed over a couple of times, bright matte lipstick in fuchsias and pinks—they're like what happens when you spend too much time in a discount clothing store and everything starts to look good.
They go down to the main road, and from there, I'm not sure where they head, because it's a small town that runs along one main highway, and it seems most of their potential clients would be right here in this building.
Then there are just the flat-out druggies. One night, I saw the younger white guy jumping around the parking lot smoking something that smelled like too many chemicals. He was dancing, wearing an oversized hoodie. When I got back upstairs, he was trying to stick one of Extended Stay's thin gray plastic key cards in my door.
"Wrong door," I said.
"Oh? Uh-oh." He ducked off and ran down the hall.
And then, of course, there's me.
Melissa Chadburn is a labor union activist on temporary assignment in Santa Rosa and residing at Extended Stay America. Her credits include 'Political Affairs,' 'People's Weekly World,' 'Splinter Generation,' 'The Examiner,' several appearances on NPR's WBAI, as well as CNN. She recently acquired an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University.
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