People think of life on the road as glamorous and exciting. I used to think the same thing. In fact, when my family started traveling and singing together, I was still at the age when “hotel” is synonymous with “exotic vacation.” On our first overnight concert trip, I was so excited that I didn't even mind when Momma said the Ladonna Hotel was budget-friendly, a code word I already recognized. We were off for an adventure.
As we drove into the grass-veined parking lot, my dad pointed out the huge marquee by the door.
JESUS SAVES FROM DRUGS AND ALCOHOL
“Christian owned and operated!”
His enthusiasm dimmed by the time he got back from checking in and was already red-eyed from the heavy cigarette smoke inside.
“Just for one night,” my mom said.
In retrospect, it wasn't that bad. I mean, the ceiling texture was only falling in a few places, and none of them were over the heads of the beds. The beds didn't quite sink down to the floor. The towels only had a couple holes each. On the bright side, the bullet holes in the windows were much smaller, and we got such a great view of them with those broken mini-blinds.
“Just for one night,” my mom said, more resolutely this time, as she poured bottled water over my toothbrush.
Next morning at the church, the pastor commented that we looked sleepy.
“Drive down this morning?”
My dad managed a smile. “No, we came in last night.”
“Oh, did you try out the new Best Western? I hear it's nice.”
My dad shook his head.
“The Super 8's pretty good, too.”
“No, we stayed at the LaDonna Hotel.”
It was the first time I ever thought a grown man might faint.
“You're joking.” When we shook our heads, he seemed to brace himself. “Are you all okay? Anybody get hurt?”
The pastor explained that the LaDonna was the favorite hangout for local drug dealers and prostitutes. The welcoming marquee was court-mandated in an effort to discourage the regular clientele.
The next weekend, determined to prove her skills as road manger, my mom booked a room at a Holiday Inn Select. It was the nicest place I'd ever been – pool, mini golf course, and a Pizza Hut inside the building. We were up on the fourth floor, and my sister and I had the whole length of the hallway to sprint to the elevators on our way to the pool.
My mom fussed a bit because she'd requested a ground-floor room (in case of fire), but committed an unheard-of splurge by leaving our sandwiches in the cooler and ordering pizza. After we swam, I even unpacked my suitcase for the sheer novelty of having my clothes in a hotel dresser. We snuggled into soft beds and watched cable TV until we drifted off. It was the perfect on-the-road experience. Until 3 a.m.
There was a calm, female voice I didn't recognize. It sounded like she was at the foot of my bed.
“Attention, attention. A fire has been located in the building. Please evacuate immediately.”
By the time the message had been repeated, my mom was pulling our covers off and telling us to take our suitcases with us. I obediently stumbled to my empty suitcase, shoved my stuffed animal inside and awaited further instruction.
At 3 a.m., it's difficult to even find the door, much less get out of it. We joined the parade of pajama-clad patrons in the hike to the parking lot- the little old ladies in silk nighties and curlers down to the hyper kids in footsies - all waiting in bleary-eyed misery for the fire trucks.
Almost an hour later, we received the news.
“Some prankster pulled the master alarm switch. You can all return to your rooms.”
None of us realized until we stood in front of our door that, in our hurry to get out of the room, we'd left both room keys inside. By the time we'd waited in line with the hundred other people who made the same mistake and gotten into our room, it was almost time to get up. I pulled the covers over my head and decided that life on the road just wasn't all it was cracked up to be.
Not long after this, my dad felt a leading to invest in an RV.
Author's Note: Yes, this is a true story.
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