Column: Plenty of fun at the Alta
April 5, 2023
I could probably fill a Stephen King-length book with the stupid things I’ve done, and I’m sure I will generate enough foolishness to generate a sequel.
The only saving grace is that there was usually a lesson learned, and it often makes for a super interesting story.
I was lucky growing up and went on some fantastic vacations. I have fond memories of trips to San Diego and Los Angeles. I’m sure planning was much more complicated in those days, and I’m 99 percent certain we got a little help from a travel agent.
And that was a good thing because we stayed at some great hotels and resorts. I can still remember staying at Humphrey’s Half Moon Inn in San Diego and my mom singing “I’m in Heaven” so loud from the shower that we could hear it about 50 feet away, but I’m also pretty sure they could hear her in Tijuana.
Daydreaming of growing up, I had a wish list of many places I wanted to visit, but that list shrunk in a hurry when I realized how expensive it was to travel. Just the thought of eating two or three meals out a day made me want to go no further than the grocery store.
The first house I had on my own that did not involve college was another chaotic learning experience. It was also my girlfriend’s first time living on her own, so there were fireworks of nonsense going around the clock.
She also had parents who took her on great vacations, and she always talked about going on a road trip. I explained that the money could be used to pay rent or for groceries, but she insisted, so I settled on a short trip to Salt Lake City.
I had no problem going to Utah’s capital city. My grandparents used to take me there what seemed like five or six times a year, and I often think of time spent at the Little America Hotel.
This was a little bit before smartphones, but you could still make reservations online. The problem was I didn’t have internet service, and not that would have mattered, seeing I was so poor I didn’t have a computer either.
I figured we could go to Little America and get a room for a few nights once we got to Salt Lake. It turned out Little America is not as much fun when you are paying for it, and I walked out of there in shock at the price and without a room.
After getting onto State Street, we just drove around looking for something like a Motel 6 but could not find anything like that. Instead, we stopped at a place called the Alta Motor Lodge Motel.
I’m not sure why I turned into the parking lot. That was mistake one.
I walked into what can only be described as a very sketchy lobby with a cast of characters that looked like they had either just robbed a bank or were going to do it tomorrow. Despite the robbers, I was very impressed with the rate. This was 20-something years ago, but I can remember it was around $30 or $40, which was great when I was trying to spend as little of the little money I had as possible.
The price was mistake two. I should have known a palace this cheap was that way for a reason. Just looking around the lobby, this was the type of place rented by the hour, which is not a good sign. I was also shocked at how many calls a motel that only appeared to have 20 rooms was getting. Something was being sold out of that lobby, and I’m sure it rhymes with hugs. I still hear the clerk saying “Alta Motel” with a deep accent. The phone must have ringed 30 times while I was in there.
After parking the car by our room, we got out, and as we were walking, everyone who wasn’t standing outside their room up to no good exited their units. We were being watched, and we were prey. At this point, I should have gotten in the car because I was confident the door would get bashed at some point, and we would get robbed, or worse.
These were the type of people I had only seen on “Cops.” They were scary.
I don’t even remember having to give them an idea, and yet I kept taking further steps into a nightmare.
Things did not get better once we entered the room. There was an awful carpet that probably hadn’t been shampooed since the 1960s. The room smelled like stale cigarettes and broken dreams. I was pretty sure I would age at triple the rate if I stayed in there for more than an hour.
It was getting late, so I figured we could sit and watch television. The room did not have one, and the last tenants probably took the TV with them when they checked out.
We decided to sit around and talk, which proved fruitless because the place did πfeel dirty. Once it was time to bed, I lifted the blanket to see stained sheets, and my girlfriend shrieked. In the next couple of hours, we heard screams and sirens but decided to try and tough it out.
Next came the knocking. Not once, not twice, but three times. Each time they asked for someone different.
My girlfriend was about ready to throw in the towel. After she almost stepped on a syringe, we had not spotted it on the floor; it was time to go.
We ran as fast as possible to the car and sped out of there as quickly as possible. I still get nervous when I drive by that place.
I learned my lesson about a no-tell motel that night.
So, when I travel now, it might not be somewhere as lovely as Humphrey’s or Little America, but it certainly isn’t the Alta Motor Lodge either.