It was the last day. I was leaving Wisconsin again, once more headed west to seek further adventure. This time the roads would take me to Washington instead of California, a place to where, as it turns out, I’m far, far more suited. Apart from the wretchedness and automotive paranoia that comes with mountain driving, it was an easy trip. I saw neon palm trees in Montana, of all places, a Tom Petty-themed van going through Seattle, and took part in an outburst of ass photography in Butte, Montana. Yet the strangest thing to happen during the four days between there and here happened on that last day in Wisconsin, when my grand exodus ceased to be theoretical, and got, well, kind of weird.
My cohort and I left town in the afternoon, having said our goodbyes to everyone who mattered and some who didn’t. (One of the last things to happen to me in La Crosse involved a car’s passenger leaning out and shouting “Nice hair, faggot!” at me while it passed. I’ll treasure that hometown moment forever.) We drove through threats of thunderstorms that never followed through, passing through Minnesota and part of South Dakota before deciding to stop for the night.
We turned off at the 300 mile point, stopping in a town that time forgot called White Lake, South Dakota. I pulled into the first motel to cross my path, an all-purpose oasis which called itself A to Z. Red flags should have went up when I saw the motel’s gravel parking lot, its run down gas station, and a pair of shirtless good ol’ boys carrying on outside of their rooms. At this point, however, I didn’t care where we stayed, so long as it was cheap. Oh yeah, we got cheap.
The office was a cubicle lodged between the soda machines and the first stretch of rooms, manned by a gimpy old guy who appeared welded to the place. According to my cohort – who is a lady – the guy gave us the stink eye when we asked for a single bed, surely convinced that we were poised to commit all manner of sin against god and man in his establishment. He took my money, all the same, and gave us the key.
That key unlocked a wood-paneled wonderland of bad wiring and cramped space. The television perched on a ledge above a mirrored desk and green leather rocking chair, all of which looked like they could fall apart at a moment’s notice. In the bathroom, a cartoon towel disclosed to us the pleasure it received from being white, and it asked us not to use the real towels to wipe down our cars. There were bolted-down hand soap dispensers and a paper bag for tampons. Jesus poetry greeted us from the bed. Classy.
But let this not lead you to believe that this idiosyncrasy was solely the domain of the A to Z Motel. As we’d soon find out, the whole town of White Lake was a bit odd. My cohort, having run out of cigarettes, planned to go to the motel’s gas station and restock. She found out that it had closed at six p.m. On a Thursday. In fact, the whole town was closed up at 9:30 at night, with the exception of a sports bar down the street. Of course. We crept in, briefly discussed the universally flammable properties of cigarettes with the locals, and made off with generic, patriotic smokes.
Meanwhile, the sky started to flicker.
We settled into our humble lodgings and watched astronauts on Comedy Central. Eventually I decided to wash the final days of Wisconsin off me and hit the shower. Firing up both the water and the soap dispenser attached to the shower wall, I started scrubbing.
Then the lights turned off, and the window became a strobe light. We had entered a horror movie.
After wiping myself off with a white, white towel and pulling my clothes back on, I crept outside and beheld a maelstrom. The entire neighborhood was blacked out, but lightning flashed every second, showing us the falling flood. It was both magnificent and terrifying.
Being that my flashlights were in my car, I decided to dash the ten feet between the motel awning and my vehicle. When I came back, I looked like I had fallen into the ocean. We spent the rest of the night in dim illumination, and I fell asleep clutching my flashlight, not quite unconvinced that a horde of scarlet-robed cultists wasn’t going to burst in and sacrifice us to Cthulu. But everything passed, unscathed.
When we woke up in the morning, the lights were on and the ground was merely damp. Still, we got the hell out of White Lake in a hurry, and we stayed in bland, cookie-cutter, white-washed hotel rooms the rest of the way here. It seemed safer.
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