I’m sitting on a bed in a disgusting motel room — the most disgusting motel room I’ve ever been in in my life, and I’ve been in my fair share of cheap motels. I’m crying. I feel a little better when I realize that I can’t remember the last time I’ve cried, but then I look back at the stains on the carpet, the destroyed furniture, the knife slash in the curtain, the cigarette burns in the sheets. The windows rattle when someone nearby slams a door and I realize I could easily push them in (they’re just a piece of plexiglas in an aluminum frame). Dirty fingerprints spot the walls and doors. Sketchy-seeming things are happening outside — loud voices and noises. It doesn’t feel like this is as bad as its going to get.
Five minutes ago, Paul emerged from the hotel office. I ask how it went. He said, “Well, the guy offered me a free hot dog, so that was cool. He said the church had just dropped them off a few minutes ago. I didn’t have one, though, I told him I had just eaten. He also had cell phone chargers for sale and some bootleg DVDs. He had whole boxes of ’em.”
An hour ago, we were sitting at Floyd’s Cajun Seafood and Texas Steakhouse in Beaumont, TX. Paul had been wanting crawfish, and we kept missing our opportunity in Louisiana. This seemed like a good omen. Fifteen minutes before, we had been standing in the lobby of the Red Roof Inn & Suites. Paul had found it on Priceline, $45/night. It was new and looked great. Our reservation hadn’t come through yet. We went next door to wait with a snack and a beer.
An hour later, our reservation still hadn’t come through. Paul checks his phone, and I notice that the reservation is for the Red CARPET Inn and Suites. I mention this and the receptionist at the Red Roof says, emphatically, “Nuh-UH! That’s on 11th Street, that’s a bad area. I tell you what you’re gonna do. You’re gonna cancel that reservation and check in here.” We say thanks, we’ll check on that, but we know we can’t cancel the reservation and get a refund. We decide to check out the Red Carpet Inn, just to see what it’s like.
Two hours earlier, we were at the end of Texas Route 87 on the Gulf coast. Route 87 was wiped off the map by a series of hurricanes and was abandoned in the 90s. It used to go through to Galveston (with a short ferry ride) but now it ends at Sea Rim State Park. Sea Rim State Park was also wiped off the map, most recently by Hurricanes Rita in 2005 and Ike in 2008. When I looked at the official website, the park sounded amazing. It sounded like another Jalama Beach or St. Joseph Peninsula — camping on a picturesque, remote beach at the end of a dead-end road. Sure, it said that camping was primitive, but usually that means just a pit toilet, big deal.
The drive to Sea Rim was pretty wild. We cut through the marshes and swamps of southern Louisiana — miles and miles of low-lying salt marshes with limited human habitation. There was a short ferry over a river that cost a dollar to ride. We saw alligators as road kill — first just a baby, then a full-sized alligator. Houses and trailers are perched precariously on stilts. The closer you get to Texas, the more oil and gas plants you begin to see. If natural areas are marked on maps with shades of green, industrial areas should be shaded as well. Some places you want to go out of you way to see, some to avoid.
I knew that we were hemming ourselves in by heading to Sea Rim and that we wouldn’t have an easy plan B, something we usually try to avoid. There were no other campground or large towns nearby. If Sea Rim was full or didn’t work out, we’d have to head towards Houston or Beaumont, about an hour away.
Well, Sea Rim didn’t work out. I should have looked at Wikipedia for the true picture, notably: “currently there are no facilities of any kind in the park. Guests of the park are encouraged to be prepared.” Beach camping is permitted, but the beach has eroded away to a thin strip of sand. I wasn’t comfortable sleeping in a tent on a ten foot wide strip of land between the Gulf and the alligator infested salt marshes. The only toilet was an old porta-john about a mile hike through the alligator swamp.
We decided to head towards Claiborne West Park, the nearest public park, an hour away. We got there at 7:05. The park closed at 7, locked its gate. In Texas, the parks close early. They lock the gates and that’s it. Some places have late arrival camping, some don’t. This one didn’t. Then we checked Priceline and make that fateful Red Roof Inn (I mean, Red Carpet Inn) reservation.
Sitting in the Red Carpet Inn, I tell Paul that I can’t stay here. I’m going to sleep in the van. Sure, it’s a bargain at $45/night, but something more expensive is going to happen to us…we’re going to get bedbugs, or murdered, or some part of our van is going to get stolen (our dirty, slightly dented and four-year old Sienna is by far the nicest car in the parking lot and I’m paranoid about people stealing parts from it, after I heard that that actually happens). Paul agrees, and we do something unprecedented…we get a different hotel room. We can’t be mad at each other, because we both messed up today; we both failed to do our full due diligence. The EconoLodge in Beaumont feels like the ultimate in luxury at just $10 more/night than the Red Carpet Inn. But we both have troubling dreams of the Red Carpet Inn.
And that’s how one of our most expensive days of the trip (so far) went. Two failed attempts at camping, two motel rooms, and about 300 miles of driving. At least there were crawfish. And no murders.