IT’S PERFECTLY NORMAL!
A Guide to the No-Tell Motel
By Sandy Olson
We were tired, It was getting dark, and we were somewhere in the state of Tamaulipas, with no towns in sight. There was a sign on the other side of the highway that read “Auto Motel” – neon-lit—but it looked tacky and foreign for Mexico. Neon? Nothing looked good to us anyway at that point.
We found an OXXO and asked about a hotel. The girl at the cash register directed us back the way we came. We had no choice so made a U turn and pulled into the driveway.
A man ran out from nowhere and waved us into a garage space and pulled down the metal cortina. He collected payment from us and we were set for the night. This whole thing looked a little spooky-where was the registration desk? Who was this guy? Why was he in such a hurry? But we unloaded the car and pulled down the cortina.
We were a little worried by now, especially after looking at the flimsy door lock, so we pushed a table in front of the door, then noticed that the table had an ashtray with two condoms. This was a clue. We began to understand where we were. Also, there was a mirrored wall behind the king size bed. A faint odor of some kind of industrial cleaner led us to hope that the room was as sanitized as it looked.
We settled in and relaxed and even had a dip in the Jacuzzi and all in all it was a good night, even though the TV shows were limited to a lot of pink skin programs. We hoped that mirrored wall behind the king size wasn’t really a window, but at my age I wasn’t too concerned about maidenly modesty. “Knock yourself out,” I said to any lurking peeping tom.
We discovered after a few more experiences later on that Mexican no tell motels are modern, inexpensive and quiet, except for maybe a few groans from the next room. You will not find a family cooking beans in the courtyard or a bunch of gringos partying on a balcony.
For the innocent but adventurous traveler, here are some ways to tell if you are looking at one of them: there is normally a high wall shielding the interior from passing traffic. The words “auto” or “motel” can be clues to where you are.
They are usually away from a town center, probably as a concession to the adulterous pairs who want secrecy. It’s unlikely there’s a registration desk. As you pull in, someone will pop out from who knows where and take your money. You might have to make it clear that you want to spend the whole night.
There aren’t likely to be restaurants nearby if you need something to eat…eventually. The management will offer a solution. In the room there might be a turntable built into the wall, and a dog eared menu. You can write out an order if you are feeling adventurous, spin it, and–we hope—a palatable enough meal will show up eventually.
A word about the Jacuzzi: those of us who need a little help are not likely to find it here. You are on your own getting in and out without hand rails. Take a shower instead. And if you enjoy reading, bring your own light. The bathroom may be well lit but romance and lust depend on low level lighting so guests can ignore the realities of life for an hour or two.
Some of my friends have reported problems when trying to stay at one of these places. I suspect it’s due to an expectation that guests are going to be “normal,” that is to say, heterosexual couples.
My friend Judy got a quick rejection when she wanted to stay with her dog. I’m not sure about the reason for that. The manager took a look at my friends Donna and Nancy and told them that if they arrived at 4 pm they’d have to leave at 4 am.
My most recent experience was stopping at a hotel south of Mazatlan. It was 3:00 in the afternoon and I was alone, and tired. I pulled in and as usual someone appeared as if by magic, a woman this time. She had one of those tired, “I’ve seen everything” looks.
I told her I needed a room. She said, “Sola?” I was alone. What was I up to? I sensed her hesitation so I played the pity card: “No tengo compañero,” I said, trying to look wistful. She caved then and gave me a room and even turned on the water heater so I could enjoy the Jacuzzi all by myself.
But she drew the line when I asked to borrow a reading lamp. Also, I had stupidly dug around and brought in my laptop without thinking that Internet service wouldn’t be happening. So it was a long afternoon, trying to read in the semi dark. I decided to forgo the dining experience and scrounged a stale bolillo and a bag of licorice from my duffle. It wasn’t a bad day as those things go.
If I were writing a Best Western recommendation—not that they’d ever want one—I’d give the typical no-tell motel maybe two stars for the quiet modern room at a reasonable rate, and the security of the cortina for the car, and an extra star so you can brag to your friends up north about the experience. Leave the dog and the grandchildren at home and check it out.