We arrived at the hotel just before midnight, after circling the deserted block twice to find the entrance. The young guy at the desk had an air of no cares and smirked to as he gave me the key cards and explained that parking was three blocks away, as if the whole thing was ironic. It had been a long trip over the mountains for all of us, but my son had somehow sensed my irritation and ushered us out of there politely.
It was one of those restored motels that might have once rented rooms by the hour. The rooms were narrow, crammed with retro decor, checkered tiles in the tiny bathroom and white bedspreads. The drive had taken seven hours instead of four. We had been greeted with dust storms and a strange sun on the other side of the mountains, while we inched along miles and miles of detour in the middle of nowhere. We ate the sandwiches we’d packed for dinner at a rest stop, which was the only time we’d stopped off the road. And when we finally hit that last stretch of sixty or seventy miles, the sky was so clear, so dark and full of stars, it made me dizzy, almost nauseous.
The next morning I woke before everyone else, as I always do. Anxious and terrified for the day we would be leaving our son at school. I peaked through the golden drapes and it was much more bright outside than I had expected. I opened the door and the landing smelled like every other motel – musty bedspread, cement walkway, ice machine and iron railings. Then the light caught me – the clouds were on fire with the sunrise. I tried to take a picture with my phone, but the top of the motel jutted at disruptive angles. I slipped on my sandals and left the room, watching the clouds glow and shift and I was missing a good shot of it behind all the tops of those buildings.
I walked out to the street and the angles cleared slightly, but then other buildings stepped into the shot. I noticed a parking garage a few blocks down where I might be able to get up to the top level. I couldn’t explain it, but I needed some of that sky.
The streets were wide and deserted. The lights kept pausing and changing, even without the cars. It seemed so unusual for a Friday morning. Wide city streets, lined with massive, historic buildings and absolutely no one around. I thought I heard the freeway a few blocks over, but I couldn’t actually see it.