We had a campsite reserved, but with 100 degree days in the forecast, we made a last minute change. Two miles from our national park site was a private campground with air-conditioned camper cabins. As luck would have it, someone had cancelled and I snapped up the room, proudly announcing the good fortune to my family and feeling like I had provided well.
It was too late for a refund from the national park but we were willing to sacrifice the $35 we had invested in the interest of cold air comfort.
We arrived optimistic.
The first crack in my armor of joy came when the proprietor called out to a nearby child, “Go ask your Uncle Icky if the cabin is clean.”
Now, in our family we have an Eric. Our young kids couldn’t say Eric so he became Ick and it stuck. I figured the same dynamic was in play and my sunny disposition rushed back in. Air conditioning was near!
At my core, I am cheap. I prefer to describe it as “frugal, with unique priorities.” In 1990 Karen and I had the funds to travel well in Europe for a few weeks, or live like bums and stay for months. We chose the latter. I lost a couple dozen pounds and we saw a lot of landmarks from the outside. We were beside the Eiffel Tower, but we couldn’t go up. We were at the Roman Forum but we couldn’t go in.
Sometimes this frugality trait negatively impacts our lodging experience.
So we have stayed at places like the hunting lodge in Nebraska we now fondly recall as “Pee-Sheet Cabin,” down a road so spooky I slept holding my knife. There was the place in Colorado we called “The Cricket Motel” for the extra tenants in the shower, and one place in Wisconsin with an indoor pool so cloudy with crud it’s hard to believe we let our young daughter swim in it, though we refused to join her.
She’s fine, by the way.
But it’s more than the money. A Marriot may deliver a good night’s sleep, but it will never deliver a good story. Life on the road is all about finding something new, and if I wanted the same old, same old, I would just stay home.
And for all the glory of unique hidden gems unearthed…sometimes you pay the price.
Uncle Icky had, indeed, cleaned our cabin. We received our key and drove the gravel path but the optimism drained from my body. I tried to be strong…for the family…but they saw right through it.
I’ve made my career as a photographer so I should have captured the look on their faces as we opened the door. My family’s standards for lodging are low, but this place had been beaten with the sparse stick. We were thunderstruck.
More of a garden shed than a cabin, the structure was just slightly longer than me. The interior was raw particleboard and the 2×4 bunks sloped toward the center of the room in a way that suggested even if we all started in our own beds, there was every chance we would end up in a monkey pile on the floor by morning.
When a man called Icky cleans your room, I guess the odds are stacked against you. But in fairness, the place was clean. The plastic encasing the mattresses seemed pretty fresh and even though the edges of the dinner-plate sized hole in the linoleum was lifting from the subfloor, it had been swept well.
We considered our options, and made the only rational choice. We pocketed the key and drove 40 miles down the road to pay for our night’s third accommodation. We returned the key in the morning and thanked the proprietor.
I may be cheap, but I am always willing to change plans. For the price of our three accommodations, we could have paid for a Marriot, but I’ll prefer to keep my story, thank you.