Shady Palms Motel
by David Todd McCarty | Tuesday, July 12, 2016
You see the sign before you see the motel most times. It’s a big neon one of the type of place that still advertises air conditioning and television as if these are recent inventions and worthy of bragging about. The Shady Palms Motel is not the worst place I’ve ever stayed, but I can see it from here.
The carpet has cigarette burns and the hangers don’t come loose; the televisions are bolted to the wall, the Spanish guys blast their music till all hours some nights. People fight and scream. Drunks vomit. Truth be told, the place could use a decent scrubbing and a coat of paint, but it’s cheap and quiet in the offseason, plus the owner lets me live rent free so long as I handle the handyman work. I’m not quite sure who’s getting the better deal, but I suspect it’s not me.
This town used to be quite something back in the day. The boardwalk was the place to see and be seen, with rich folks walking the boards in their finest duds. It was a quaint seaside resort for the rich. I’ve seen pictures over at the Convention Center. A real fancy place it was.
But then in 1955 they completed the Garden State Parkway, and well, after that, it became possible for anyone with a car and a few dollars in their pocket to enjoy the ocean. The war was over and business was good. Even working families could afford to spend a few weeks at one of the many motels that sprouted up with their “doo-wop decor” and concrete swimming pools. Working class folks bought summer cottages and even the poor folks could buy a bus ticket and come spend a day at the beach. Some people say they used to bring their lunches in old shoe boxes, like for a picnic, and they’d sit under the boardwalk and eat their lunches. That’s how they got to be called shoobies. What’s a shoobie? Shoobies are what locals call, well, everyone who ain’t a local.
Well, the amusements and the carny stuff really took hold in the 1960’s and 70’s and that’s when, in my opinion, it all went to shit. First it was the hippies, then it was the surfers, and then it was the drugs. After that the place really took a dive. Instead of decent people walking the boards, there were lots of fights and mayhem, and a rougher sort moved in. Bikers, blacks, Mexicans, and the white people left over who couldn’t afford to leave.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are some real nice homes and neighborhoods here and there, but this here is the worst of the beach towns now. It’s really the last of the barrier islands that still has poor folks on it. All the other beach towns moved them out long ago. Well except Atlantic City. They got it even worse.
I see the billboards advertising this place, with happy, white families splashing in the water. That’s not the town I know.
Last year I found a dead girl lying in her bed, with a needle still stuck in her arm. Heroin overdose they said. Been seeing it a lot down here these days, the cop said. Told me it’s an epidemic, but I don’t see too much being done about it. Just another dead kid, far as I could see.
Thing is, this girl was real pretty. I’d seen her hanging at the pool with some of the Spanish guys. Young, tall, blonde; had a few tattoos, but they all do now days. She had smiled at me that day as she walked by and I thought back to a time where I would have tried to talk to her. See if she wanted to walk on the boardwalk, maybe catch a movie.
Well, that Sunday morning when she didn’t check out like she was supposed to, I let myself into her room and there she was looking at me. Naked except for her bikini bottoms, eyes wide open. I covered her with a sheet and called the cops, but not before I got a good look at the tattoo above her right breast. It was a small script that read: “Hope is a waking dream.”
Sometimes, when I’m really in my cups I see that girl, looking at me from her dream. Those dead eyes, her perky tits, and that blonde hair. Doesn’t offer me much hope.
So, why do I stay here? Well, I like to drink and drinking isn’t exactly conducive to work, at least not the way I like to drink or the work I used to do. The owner knows about my drinking, but she don’t care much. Long as I keep the toilets flowing and the roof from leaking, she doesn’t much care what I do. She rarely visits. So I stay and I drink and mostly I stay drunk.
A few weeks back, there was a scuffle out front of the motel and some biker stabbed this junkie in the belly over a drug deal gone bad and well—that kid just bled out right there on the sidewalk.
Fortunately, I wake up early and was able to clean most of it up before the guests saw too much of it. It’s one thing to have cops parked in front of your motel with their lights flashing at three in the morning, but it’s quite another to walk past a sidewalk covered in blood on your way to get your blueberry pancakes.
I sprayed that sidewalk down with a hose and watched that blood run down the drain and thought again about how I came to be here.
You could say it’s not exactly what I set out to do, but it’s where I ended up.
Guess a lot of folks could say that.