Security comes in many shapes and forms. Padlocks, retirement investments, video and audio alarm systems, life insurance policies, firearms, martial arts—they’re all utilized with the end objective being peace of mind. And they also exist only by rote of premeditation and forethought.

Employment of any, or a combination of some of the above, often results in success because the thinking man is usually operating on home turf, be it in his home, driving his car, or generally staying within the bounds of his comfort zone. In simple terms, a surfer swimming a mile offshore is sooner or later going to end up as a shark entrée, and a skydiver who freefalls on his first jump is probably going to experience a different “rush” than that which he’d anticipated.

Then Nostradamus comes out of his lair, heads for the hills on vacation, and drops his guard. And motel security being what it is, our hero’s life insurance is about to come into effect. Once you’re out of your chosen environment—no matter what hostelry you choose for your layover—you’re not in Kansas anymore. And a predator can spot those cute red slippers from a mile away.

The clues start as soon as you enter the parking lot. Before you can find the office to check in, the warning signs appear: “Not responsible for damage to vehicle”; “Remove all valuables from vehicle”; and “Surveillance cameras in use.” This is closely followed by an offer of valet parking. That’s what I want: an 18-year-old seeing what he can steal from my vehicle while he’s practicing J-turns with the car en route to the motel’s Secret Parking Garage—if that is indeed where he’s headed.

“What’s the problem,” you ask, “don’t you trust anybody?” Not if it doesn’t walk on four paws and poop on the sidewalk, I don’t. And yes, that means nobody born under the guise of Homo Sapiens.

After partially completing a registration form (No, my home phone number, address and driver’s license number are none of your motel’s business, thank you very much.) and watching your credit card disappear around a mysterious corner for what seems like an interminable amount of time, you finally secure a room for the night. (Good Lord, no, we can’t accept cash. Terrorists and drug dealers use that stuff, don’t you know.)

Then it’s on to the room, which was guaranteed ground floor facing the parking lot when you made your reservation a month prior, but has now magically morphed into a third-floor cave facing the inner courtyard. And the quoted price has gone up because it’s Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday or Spotted Owl Month. Apparently for these special occasions, the proprietor has managed to gold-plate the faucets in return for supplying you with a lonely towel covered in old, suspicious stains and sheets adroitly embroidered with cigarette burns.

On the trek to your room, you can’t help but notice some people’s lack of security consciousness. Occupied room doors stand ajar, with purses, wallets and laptop computers lying in plain view of passersby—and also within ten feet of some miscreant’s sticky fingers. While the occupant is nowhere to be seen, the sound of running shower water could possibly be regarded as a hint.

Or at night you are treated to a delightful view of people going about their business with the lights on and curtains open. It’s bad enough that motel curtains never completely close, and that the end gap always seems to line up with the room mirror facing the bed, or alternatively, a central gap in two curtains self-develops as the night wears on, but can’t people at least have one of their party sitting facing the window while engaged in a beer-drinking contest, laptop finger exercises, or procreational activities? How about just pinning the shades together with a paper clip, or sticking the errant edge to the wall with a band-aid or cellophane tape? This isn’t paranoia, it’s just plain common sense.

This achieves two objectives: (1) The rest of the world isn’t forced to unintentionally observe the piggish behavior exhibited the minute some people leave their own abode, and (2) Stop tempting fate.

Hang a “Wet Paint” sign on a fence post, and people will cross the street to touch the fence. Then when they find wet paint on their fingertips, they exclaim “Damn, the paint’s wet.” Dangle a carrot for long enough in front of the motel mule, and sooner or later he’ll take a bite out of it—and probably some of your hand along with it. Out of sight, out of mind.

So you finally get to the room after having double-checked that the alarm in your vehicle is armed. You check out the room and bathroom with your trusty SureFire, noting the room safe provided “For your protection” (for a small fee, of course). Satisfied that the maid service hasn’t forgotten to remove any prior deceased guests (don’t laugh, it’s happened more than once), you check the Emergency Evacuation Plan.

Looking somewhat like Montgomery’s battle plan for North Africa, the only sense you can make of the hieroglyphic blueprint is that you’re not supposed to use the elevator if the building burns. No problem, Slick, the elevator was out of service when I initially tried to use it to get to the room. That’s one of the reasons I reserved a ground-floor room facing the parking lot in the first place: Building starts burning, Einstein opens room door and steps forward with alacrity toward parking lot. Problem solved.

The last checks are the deadbolt and safety chain. And since the deadbolt never seems to work properly, and the safety chain has long since expired from repeated hammerings by irate drunken spouses and/or law enforcement raids, you elect instead to use your hardware-store rubber door wedge. Worst-case scenario, if someone does break into your room, a “pull” type firecracker taped to the door and door jamb will give you some audible warning that the door has been opened. And if you need to restrain a couple of cretins until the local cavalry arrives, a set of thumbcuffs connecting one of their genitalia to the other’s large toe performs wonders for their immobility. (It is obviously suggested that you politely request them to perform the mechanics of this task.)

One rubber door wedge: $1

A set of thumbcuffs: $10

Peace of mind: priceless

There are a few primary forewarnings about staying at a specific motel. Never stop at a motel where:

  • Every car in the parking lot is painted primer grey.
  • The cashier’s office consists of a steel cage and bulletproof glass.
  • The occupants have Mongoloid facial features and are seated on the porch strumming banjos.

You have to use a piece of mind to have peace of mind.

Have a nice trip.

[This column first appeared in the November 2006 issue of S.W.A.T.]

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