We called our handler the other night in Decatur, Alabama to see how the weekend was shaping up. There was some good news and some bad news. It had taken me over two hours to reach her at the motel where she was staying since nobody seemed to be available to answer the phone on the desk. In the process of looking up the number to make sure I was dialing correctly, I happened to look at the reviews for this home away from home she had chosen. Mindful of clients’ budgets, most handlers try to cut costs by staying at the one and two star motels, but this place probably didn’t rate even that meager rating. If you travel the country showing dogs like we do, you find yourself staying in some places your mother told you to stay away from. Staying in the hell holes that still take dogs is not for the squimish or faint of heart. Adhere to some simple guidelines and you are almost guaranteed you will not have to visit the free clinic in Scotts Bluff, Nebraska or Blue Springs, Missouri.
First, decide how much physical comfort you really need. Do you require a working toilet or sink? Working to what degree? We can take slow draining sinks and toilets where you have to jiggle the handle to stop them from running, but stop short of having to pour water into the top of the tank to flush or a sink that won’t drain at all. In the shower you have to accept there will be no pressure and the water will be either too soft or too hard. But don’t worry. These types of motels usually have sandpaper like towels so that slimy feeling from too soft water is quickly resolved. Brown or rusty water is not a positive and since we sometimes are bathing a white dog in the room this just won’t do.
Second, try to arrive at your motel before the staff goes home for the day. That way when you need the faucet, tub, or toilet fixed or more towels, you stand a chance of getting some help. Usually this is not the case since you have travelled all day and don’t have your stops all maped out. You arrive sometime after eight at night and must face a desk clerk who may or may not feel your pain. Now a word about motel carpet. Personally, I never remove my socks in a motel room. We often have carpet that crunches underfoot. Also, I prefer to never sit on the motel comforter at most of our stops. The blanket is bad enough, but the comforter usually comes with an assortment of stains and burns. My mom always throws the bed covers back really fast to see if anything runs for cover. Not a bad idea. Of course we believe those urban legends about poison bait under the beds so usually I gingerly get down on the floor and peek under the beds. I’ve never seen anything untoward so far, but I’m always prepared.
It’s a great idea to stay at chain motels. Places that have some corporate oversight. This does not always quarantee a quality stay, but certainly staying at the Maverick Inn or the Lucky 13 Motel can’t inspire confidence. Since we don’t spend time training our dogs to come when called, we don’t like rooms with outside entrances. Long corridors secured by locked doors on both ends make catching a loose dog so much more possible. We can tell you where every Days Inn, Quality Inn, Motel 6 and Super 8 are in most dog show towns from Long Beach to Philadelphia. The AKC made a deal last year with Motel 6 where you get some kind of discount if you stay there with dogs on show weekends. Sounds great. But Motel 6s have outside entrances, often no tubs for bathing dogs, and no toilet lids. Since I am no longer a teenager and don’t have any dire illnesses, I have no need for the marijuana often available just outside your room at some of these establishments. However, after some show weekends my pain is so great I am tempted! Also, always take your cell phone with you as you walk your dogs in the dead of night. It will come in handy to call the local police when you spot a stolen van in the parking lot of your motel. I am in a Missouri state police report of this incident, taken as we sped along the interstate through Kentucky the next morning.
The third rule of travel is to make sure you understand the peculiarities of the motel front desk. Usually manned by somebody who has recently immigrated to this country it is a good idea to smile a lot, speak slowly and be sure to repeat yourself frequently. Don’t use words like, “I will stay from Thursday through Sunday.” This will guarantee that your items will be in the lobby when you return from the show tired and angry at your latest loss. Say instead, “I will check in on Thursday and check out Monday morning.” This has happened to us quite a few times. Including the last time we attended the AKC Eukanuba show. We couldn’t buy a room closer to the venue for any price so we opted to stay about 20 minutes away at a lower end motel, but still a chain. We neglected to make it clear we were not checking out on Sunday so when we returned after a long day at the show, thinking even this room with a problematic sink, toilet and cigarette burned carpet would be welcomed, our card keys wouldn’t work in the lock. This is common at some motels when you stay longer than three days. But this time we were in for more than the usual aggravation. As we entered the lobby we had to squeeze past some deadbeat’s stuff. We were poking each other and snickering trying to think which of our neighbors was finally being evicted, when I recognized a certain pile of dirty underware. It was well after midnight when we got back into our room for one more night.
The fourth rule really isn’t about motels at all. It’s about food. Adventurous eating may be great on the Food Network Channel, but I prefer to recover from food poisoning in the comfort of my own home, not a bathroom with molding caulk around the tub and parchment textured toilet paper. Like wise, port-a-potties are not pleasant places to while away a dog show morning waiting for your ring time. Sure, it’s great to show you aren’t afraid to eat the local cuisine, but eel sashimi in Roswell, New Mexico is probably not a great idea. Just like motels, we prefer the under-seasoned food of the well known chain restaurants. Texas Roadhouse, The Outback Steakhouse actually are cost saving as you get a decent meal for yourself and bait for your dog. Eating in places like these provide a type of predictable, gastronomic comfort that my stomach, for one, appreciates.
Who wouldn’t love the travel that comes with showing dogs. A chance to see many of the small towns, big cities and endless roads across our country. You might learn to love the bland food and the matresses with the permanent dip in the middle. I suspect we aren’t the only ones who have collected lists of motels and restaurants across the country shoved into old catalogs going back several decades. We are continuously surprised when we find one out of business. Thinking about our adventures on the road, I want to click my heals and say: there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.