Title: from “Motel View”

Author: Forbes Williams

In: Sport 1: Spring 1988

Publication details: Fergus Barrowman, October 1988, Wellington

Part of: Sport

Keywords: Literature

Conditions of use



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Sport 1: Spring 1988

from Motel View

from Motel View

. . . Slowing down from the highway as you cross the town's only bridge you might note the abundance of neon as you first enter Main Street, but all too soon you'll be through all that and back out onto the dark highway. There are three sets of traffic lights in Motel View, but they are traffic lights without purpose — Main Street is the only street in Motel View — and they are always green. Don't bother slowing down.

You'll continue out along the coast for about another five miles until the road rises sharply and to the left: Hunter's Garage corner. It's actually the second of three nasty bends, but it seems to be the one that does the damage, so watch it. In the winter it can be icy and very treacherous.

Once you're past Hunter's Garage you'll be travelling inland, leaving the bay behind you. You'll wind up the hillsides for about another five miles, till you reach the top of View Rise. At the View Rise lookout, you'll probably get out of your car and look back down into the brown silted bay, the steep treeless hills that rise out of its side, and the small but distinct mudflats extending back from the tidal reaches. If it's night, though, all you'll really see will be the flashing coloured dots of Motel View. If you've got a good camera (like John) you may well want to try and take a photograph of all that darkness with the little spots of colour. Put your camera just a bit out of focus and the light blots on the photograph like drops of bright paint. It's like Christmas.

Once over View Rise you'll wind down out of the hills. There's a larger town on the inland plain, and it's only a couple of miles down from the Rise that it first blinks into view, the reassuring sight of a town worth stopping in. As your mind shifts to hamburgers and milkshakes, the wide round bay, the hills, that odd little amusement park place with the wrong name on the map — will be forgotten.

Unless you decide to stay. In which case you'll drive gently once down Main Street till you come to the last motel — The View Inn

page 4— realising with a mixture of surprise and annoyance that there a no takeaway bars, no dairies, no pubs, and no vacancy at any of tl motels. If you're like us (John is driving), you'll probably do a slow careful U-turn, crawl back along Main Street, 'just to check,' turn back round again at the bridge, speed up through all the traffic lights, and head on to the next town, which is a thin circle round a fattish d, on our map; symbol, I suppose, of hope. You'll speed out along the coast, and the rest you already know.

Unless you have a flat tyre. Then you'll have to stop. This need not take more than ten irritated minutes of your time, but perhaps you'll light a cigarette (as I do) and wander up the road a bit first, intrigued by this strange, quiet town. If you do, you'll almost immediately get a strong feeling of emptiness, even desolation, as Motel View is in reality a bizarre ghost town. There'll be no car no people, no bicycles, toys, trees, or pets. No life but for a few small shrubs set sparsely upon flat, broad mown lawns advancing to 10 brick fences, no noise but for the soft bay. Set back on their lawns the low single storey buildings of motel units, long buildings full of dark windows — like a school really, or a mental institution — and no sign of activity inside them. Just those faithfully flashing light giant electric words against the sky, each sign its own distinct sty of lettering. It is as if the town is no more than an advertisement.

Once you've walked the length of Main Street, you'll probably begin to notice how cold you are — no breeze, just a still, sharp chill.

Christ it's cold, you'll probably say (as I do) rubbing each arm with the opposite hand. Let's just fix the wheel.

You'll walk quickly back to the car, head down over your crossed arms, trying to remember where your jersey is.

My jersey's in my bag. We'll have to open the boot.

We'll have to open the boot anyway. My mind drifts across the vagaries of changing wheels.

True, I say at last. We will.

If you're travelling with John (as I am) you'll just have to put up with the cold, because even with your jersey on the chill gets in, and he'll want to set up the camera to take long exposure views of the neon signs. Not having a tripod, he'll use the car roof as a solid base, so you won't be able to change the tyre while he mucks about. I'm not bitter, of course, but we are always stopping in the middle of nowhere so John can take photographs of broken fences, abandoned barns, and dead cattle.

page 5

I'll go in this place here and see if they've got any food, I say, lighting another cigarette. John struggles with a knob on his camera.

Do you want any food? John's forehead is wrinkled in intense concentration. When he concentrates he grunts, and it takes him nearly a minute of periodic grunting to answer.


I said, do you want any food? Will I buy you some?

Do they sell any?

I don't know! Christ!

Okay, okay, don't get shitty. Something breaks off in his hand. Get me some fruit.

Have you broken your camera? I can hardly disguise my hope.

I don't know. I can't see properly.

Well sit in the car with the door open. It's too dark for a photograph anyway. Aren't you cold?

Red deco letters flash on and off above the car. View Towers. And in a smaller, squarer blue: No Vacancy, flashing less frequently and staying on longer. John won't tell me if he's cold or not, so I shrug and begin walking up the drive. It is gravel, and crunches under my feet.

View Towers is, like all the other motels, set well back on its lawn. It has the same tidy shrubs squatting like gnomes, and the grass smells freshly mown. Everyone I know has a fondness for that smell, as if some primeval instinct deep within our evolutionary past was actually preparing us for the arrival of lawnmowers. The motel itself is also like the others, a low dark building full of windows. As I near it I cut across the lawn, quiet as a cat, to spy in one of the windows. It certainly does not look like a full motel. The windows are tinted, and the motel set far enough back from the road that the flashing signs only reflect back at me. All I can see are a few indistinct shadows, nothing certain. I look into several more windows. It is the same in each one.

A sudden schoolboy panic possesses me, and I run back to the drive. I realise once more how cold I am and walk briskly round the back, following the drive, to the motel office.

The office is weatherboard, seems to hang off its new brick motel as an afterthought, even though it is almost certainly the older building. A bare bulb lights the outside of it, sitting over a single step. Hundreds of insects dart round the bulb, as if an insect world war has at last ended.

page 6

Hey, you guys, one imagines insects saying to their families. Hey, you guys! The war's over! Let's go down to the light!

A pale yellow wooden door with a frosted glass window leans unhinged in the doorway. One vertical board has been kicked in at its base, and the glass is cracked in several places. Someone has painted in rough handwriting on the door:

     View Towers — Moteliers
            — Colour Television
            — Bed and Breakfast
            — 4 Star Service
            — Credit Cards Accepted
            — No Vacancy

Standing on the step, I take the door with both hands and lift it with care out of the doorway. I carry it before me into the small office and lean it against the wall. The insects follow me in. Their small wings whisper.

The decor is strictly linoleum. The floor, the top and sides of the high counter, all are linoleum-covered, and the room has wallpaper that looks like linoleum. There is a sign on the wall behind the counter that repeats the painted words on the door.

There is nobody in the office, but there is another doorway behind the counter that opens into a smallish living room. There is a small colour TV going, with some kind of sport program blaring out and in front of it — with his back to me — is a short man with short curly hair and a sunburnt neck. He is shadow boxing, swinging from side to side, and growling out an intermittent commentary on some game which seems to be a mixture of the one on TV and his own boxing match.

Go get him! he shouts, pummelling the aerial with a brutal left haymaker. There! That'll show you, little runt! Get him! Go get him! He struggles to the floor, perhaps retrieving the aerial, though it could be that he has it in a headlock.

I stop for a second, unsure what to do. He seems too violently engrossed for me to consider stopping him. There is a buzzer on the counter with 'Press On Arrival' scrawled beside it, and after a moment's hesitation, I decide to risk it. I press it. There is no noise. I press again, this time holding it down for nearly a minute.

Finally another man appears in the living room. lIe is fatter than the boxer, but shorter. He stops for a few seconds to look at the TV, then turns to me, stepping into the office. He is rolling up one sleeve, page 7and he looks at me with narrow eyes.

Wha'd'ya want? he says. We're full. Can't you read English?

Maim the bastard! shouts the other man, back on his feet and waving us arms.

We've got a flat. Is there some food we could buy?

He begins on the other sleeve. There's no garage in Motel View. Nearest garage is Hunter's, few miles down the road.

Have you got any food? You know, a restaurant or something.

Grind his head! Grind his fucking head!

This is a motel sonny. Only meal here is breakfast.

Well can we stay?

Jesus Christ! What the hell are you? Kill him!

We're full. I told you we're full. Can't you hear either?

But there's no one here. I looked in your rooms. The place is empty.

He leans forward, pudgy hands gripping the counter.

Kill him! Kill him! Fucking kill him!

Can't you see we're busy? He has begun on the first sleeve again. Already the second one is unpeeling. It occurs to me that he spends lis entire life rolling up his sleeves.

Have you honestly got no food?

His face reddens. He is the perfect caricature of a bulldog.

You better get out of here, sonny, or there ain't gonna be too much of you left.


I back out of the office, my hands up.

Okay, I say, okay. I'm going.

Out in the drive I can feel my heart pounding. Some motel. I realise hat we'd better get the tyre changed and out of here.

At the car John has given up on his photograph. The ground round the boot is strewn with bags.

You just wouldn't believe the people in there! I say as soon as I get close. No food, that's for sure.

I can't find the jack.

God, I thought the guy was going to do me in! Bloody crazy. There was this other guy fighting the air, and just bloody screaming at the television. I reckon we should get the hell out as fast as we can.

I can't find the jack. It's not in the boot.

Yes it is. Eager to upstage I push past him, start rummaging around n the dark boot. It's in here somewhere.

Could it be in the back seat?

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I fumble around. I'm sure it's in here. Haven't we got a torch?

The batteries are flat. I don't think the jack's here.

Of course it's here. Where the hell else would it be? Listen, you should have seen these guys. They were off the edge.

Can you find it?

Not yet, but it's in here. I'm sure it is.

Another five minutes weakens my confidence. The jack isn't in the boot. It isn't in the back seat. Finally I accept reality. We can't change the tyre.

John looks at me seriously. His face is alternately red, blue and purple.

What about the guys in there?

Look, honestly, they were going to beat me up.

Well what about somewhere else?

We look up the street. Vista View. No Vacancy. Lake View. No Vacancy. Everyone is the same. No Vacancy.

But they're all empty. I just don't understand it.

Well, I don't see that we have much choice. And I tell you, it's too cold to sleep in the car.

I start to shiver. The chill is like a hand down my back.

But we have no choice. Like it or not, we're staying in Motel View.

page 9