Friday, August 6, 2010

Red Bird INN

One time, a job took me to the Upper Peninsula in Michigan. It was during the dead of winter. The rental car company only had a Sebring convertible for me, a horrible car for winter driving in the UP, working my way along the west coast. By nightfall, my second day, I had hit tens of McDonald’s locations, making my way into the U.P. Night had fallen that second evening, and even though it was not too dark because of the all the snow on the ground I had to stop working. The company I worked for issued us Tom Tom Gps units. These were old, large, boxy units that had to be first generation. As such, they sucked. Faulty GPS directions got me in a lot of trouble during my time working as a zoning specialist. This was one of those times.

Around 9 o’clock I finished working and I searched the GPS for a hotel. There was a Holiday Inn Express just over an hour away or a motel called Red Bird Inn just a few minutes away. I was tired and wanting a shower, so I chose the Red Bird Inn. Following the GPS’s instructions, I traveled along a desolate country road, which in the UP is not uncommon. Flanking the road were forests deep with pine trees. The snow was too white, the woods too dark, and the road was far too quiet. I hadn’t seen a car in miles.

My senses were already on high alert, because I was driving this terrible sports car in deep snow. The road probably hadn’t been plowed for days. I was certain if I went off the road I would be irrevocably stuck in the snow. Also, to make matters worse, there was no cell coverage, so I would be completely fucked.

Senses on overdrive, and nerves tight, I jumped when in the midst of all the quiet my GPS chimes “You have reached your destination.” I slow the car even more, though I was already under the speed limit, and I look for the Inn. I see nothing. Trees and snow. Deserted roadway. No Red Bird Inn. I continue to drive, thinking that perhaps the inn is a little further down the road. The GPS had often missed a location by as much as half a mile. I drove a mile past the spot the inn was supposed to have been, and then I decided to turn around. Carefully I made a U-turn and backtracked. Again my GPS says “You have reached your destination.” Quietly I cursed the GPS, and I drove another mile the way I had come from, searching for a drive way, parking lot, or something. Nothing. Again, I make a u-turn. I crawl down the road, creeping slowly, searching for that damn Inn, and finally I spot something. Tire tracks leading off the road. I follow the tracks with my eyes, and I can tell that the woods have been cleared to allow a path. That can’t be the drive, I say to myself. It was getting close to ten and I didn’t want to travel another hour to find that Holiday Inn, so I decided to go for it.

I ease the Sebring off the road, following the tracks and make my way into the woods. After a short drive of maybe thirty seconds, I loose sight of the road in my rear view. I remember looking in the mirror and then when I looked out the windshield being startled. There not fifty feet in front of me was the Red Bird Inn. It was small, an obvious mom and pop place. There was a small office, with a neon open sign, and then a detached one story building that had the rooms. The buildings were both a deep red. I saw no other vehicles. I parked outside the office and sat in the car for a moment, visions of Norman Bates running through my head. A boy’s best friend is his mother…

Steeling myself I got out of the car and crossed my fingers that the inn was in fact open. The office door was unlocked. I entered a small, wood paneled, dingy room. It was claustrophobic. Behind the counter, which ran the length of the room, was a doorway but no door, simply darkness as far back as the eye could see. There was a bell on the counter and I knew, before even ringing that bell, that whoever or whatever that would come through the dark doorway was not going to be good. I rang the bell and held my breath. Seconds passed. I rang again. I heard a sound in the darkness. This was it. Quite suddenly a figure emerged from the ink dark, and what form should he take but a one-eyed Indian man. This man, with a gaping hole where his second eye should have been, appeared as shocked to see me as I was him. The proprietor smiles, as I stutteringly ask if I can have a room. He doesn’t make any small talk with me, but quotes me a price, $30.00, and hands me a room key. I pay, thank him, and leave.

I find my room, a tiny, dirty, foul smelling hole, but for thirty dollars it wasn’t bad. I sit on the bed and think about what just happened. I know that in all likelihood the man was an honest, decent, non murdering-cannibal, individual. I know that he probably had a fake eye somewhere and just forgot to put it in. I know that I’m probably safer here then some Ramada in Atlanta. I get ready for bed and to do it all again tomorrow.

- Staff of Alone at Night

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