More than Murder!: How to Stop Hating Everything and Love Your Mystery Spot
At some point, a group of friends and I had been to every bar, restaurants, coffeeshop, what-have-you in the Greater Grand Rapids area. Grand Rapids is not a big city. It’s not piled on top of itself like New York, or sprawled out like LA. It’s a pleasant mid-sized city 40 minutes from the lakeshore.
People who live here are very defensive. I was for a time too, because it was very annoying having people constantly harping on you to move and proclaiming you a failure because you hadn’t while you’re trying to pay off your car so that if worse comes to worse, you, like a turtle, will own your mobile home. But it’s that kind of defensive you have when you find out the boy you loved fucked someone else. The kind where you find something obvious and negative about her (or him) and hammer that into the ground until you feel better about what is actually your gnawing insecurity. Why, oh, why, could anyone choose anything else?
An affinity for motels, roadside attractions, horror movies, and the bizarre led me to start leaving Grand Rapids on excursions. I had exhausted every weird thing Grand Rapids had to offer. Our travel patterns crept from West Michigan to Detroit.
Detroit is great. Detroit occasionally looks like a dystopia, but it is within that dystopia that you find interesting people doing creative things. And not just affluent white people opening fair trade coffeeshops, but all sorts of people making art, music, films, and culture.
But if you say on Facebook, “I’m going to Detroit,” the first response will be: “DETROIT?! WHY?!” Maybe some sort of warning to lock your doors and consistently fear for your life until you get to Royal Oak, and then again until you reach Lansing. I have never been murdered in Detroit. Nor have I been robbed, assaulted, or had my car broken into.
Eventually, we started leaving Michigan, and not just to go to Chicago. Further South. To the Gathering of the Juggalos. To St. Louis, Nashville, Memphis, Jackson, Birmingham, New Orleans. Wasteland Weekend, the AVNs.
I went to East St. Louis once. I did not get murdered there.
I went to Gary, IN. I did not get murdered there. I was in Gary a few days ago. Mary and I stopped there for gas on the way to NeoCon. I told her I had passed a small, creepy sex shop there once. We stopped as a gas station called Super Duper Mart. We had to pee in a gross little closet with no toilet paper and no running water, then return the key, even though it turns out the bathroom didn’t even lock. There was a cop hanging around outside with a badge around his neck, looking at everyone suspiciously.
We found the sex shop — CT’s Adult World — on a long road that curves around the airport. Mike, the man behind the counter, seemed surprised to see us. Three girls in various stages of undress were arguing about what kind of pizza to order for lunch. A man came in behind us and ordered a three-song lap dance from one of the girls. She took him into another room and the small space was suddenly overwhelmed with early-aught R&B.
The owner told us the place had been around for a long time, and it was a good spot for couples to meet up. We told him we liked to travel and hit up weird stores, but especially motels, and we’d done it all over the place.
He tells us about a motel in Lansing, Ill. that is known for prostitution. Then he tells us that if we’re going to Gary, we’d better have a 9mm on us and we should never stay at the Mosley Motel.
I stayed at the Mosley Motel in December, and I didn’t get murdered there. Gary is the perfect example of what happens when a city is bought and sold by industry. Corporations are not people. People who work at corporations are people, and when those corporations pull out of a town they built and leave everyone there jobless, what happens is Gary.
My favorite city in America is New Orleans. I’ve been there twice — once in June, and once around New Year’s. New Orleans is beautiful and old and weird. Everyone wants to say the same thing about New Orleans: it’s hot and humid, and it’s dangerous. And Katrina. Before or after, everyone has an opinion.
I was mugged in New Orleans. I was not mugged in the Quarter or in broad daylight, but at 3 a.m. after deciding to walk the Canal streetcar line all the way back to our motel on Airline. Anyone would have told you this was a bad idea. The muggers were nervous and bad at their jobs. They quoted rap songs: “Don’t make this robbery a murder. Don’t make me pop a cap in your ass.” They’d never stolen an iPhone before, so they wanted us to take out the batteries without realizing it was impossible. They were uncomfortable pointing the gun at us and the one with it preferred to hide it in his coat. Ultimately, we told them we were not interested in being mugged. They apologized and shook our hands and we parted ways.
In Indianpolis, a trucker told me that had we been mugged by different people, we’d be dead. Because in New Orleans, they’ll kill you. Actually, he said they would rape and kill us. Both of us. We’d have to watch the other getting raped, then bleed to death from our slit throats. They say in English classes that a good storyteller shows, not tells.
I go to Las Vegas sometimes. Everyone hates Las Vegas. It’s too cheesy. Too many tourists. It’s a fake city. It’s dangerous at night, and it smells bad.
I am preparing to move to Los Angeles. Too much traffic. Too sprawly. Too hot. Too expensive.
Sometimes, I go to town that is small. Barstow or Baker. Danville or Whitecloud. Abita or Vaiden. In Barstow, I met a construction worker and his partner, a girl whose job it was to make sure no turtles were harmed during any construction procedures. In Baker, there’s the world’s largest thermometer. It doesn’t work. There’s also a 24-hour Greek restaurant and an abandoned Hawaiian-themed motel. This is next to a place that sells jerky, but the shop is alien-themed. In Abita, there’s a brewery and a mystery house where a guy sodders fake alligator heads onto other dolls. In Vaiden, there’s a strip club called Deer Camp Shack in the middle of nowhere that sells either BBQ or BBQ’ed Strippers. The sign is unclear.
Branson has the world’s largest ball of twine, which I think is obviously the prime example of roadside oddities. Muffler men. Shoe trees. Car graveyards. Museums devoted to popcorn, bones, medical devices, torture devices, pests, serial killers, antique vibrators, sex, chemical warfare, true crime, route 66, neon signs, outer space. The gravesites of famous people, the birthplaces of industry. Mystery Spots and Gravity Hills. Motels shaped like wig wams, trains, shacks. Motels in a grain silos, on an old boat. Dinosaurs. Robots. Homages to heroes and villains. Sonic spots. Musical Fountains.
Once, John Waters said to me in an interview that a mediocre motels is worse than a bad motel. And “the worse thing you can do is stay home.” This is true.
Now, you might get murdered. People get murdered every day. And you might have a bad time. You might get bed bugs, your car might get impounded, you might get food poisoning, you might get arrested. It’s fine if those things scare you, but these things mean something. Gary MEANS something. Detroit MEANS something. New Orleans MEANS something. It means we need to be better with industry, it means we need to be responsible with the working class, it means we need to build better infrastructure, and we need to have plans for fast action in the face of crisis. What can we learn about sustainability from a man who builds a house out of bottles in his backyard? Fuck, I don’t know, but probably more than we can learn from calling some town a “redneck shithole” and brushing it off. What does it mean when someone decides to erect the largest fork? Why does someone open a museum devoted exclusively to one thing and then operate it, every day, for years? Once, we met a man in a bar in Goodsprings, NV who had dedicated his life to impersonating Elvis, running a pirate radio station in an old school bus, and talking to dead people (namely, Michael Jackson).
These are the things that are interesting to me — to us. And I really don’t care that we don’t make any money, despite the people who live vicariously through us, and I don’t really care that I have to move to get closer to an unexplored region because I don’t have the time or money to stay in this peninsula and continue to feel fulfilled.
Murder Motels is a silly idea based on one amazing night in a shitty motel when people, both with the flu, said they’d put up with any grossness just to ride out their fever in a hot tub with a bottle of whiskey. I don’t really care how dangerous, dirty, unpleasant, ill-mannered, kitschy, hot, or cold you found a place. It will never deter me, and will probably just be encouraging. And if I get murdered, I will be dead and unable to hear you say, “I told you so.”