In the summer of 1993, Don and I took our new Chevy extended cab pickup across the country from southern Missouri to the Oregon Coast to visit my parents, near where I grew up. We were excited about our first big trip since we'd been married, five years earlier. We packed a few clothes, threw our tennis gear in the back seat and headed out.
By the time we reached the Oregon border, we had seen a lot of beautiful country, but we were road-weary and glad that we had almost reached our destination. Little did we know.
We stopped at a state information center and stretched our legs. Inside, behind the desk, was a short, middle-aged woman who exuded confidence, and who struck us as a public servant who was full of information and couldn't wait to dispense it. "Boy," we thought, "is she in the right job!" We were particularly interested in her opinion about our next leg of the trip. On the map, the two main routes to Bend, Oregon, looked about the same. Our new friend recommended the northern route, and in glowing terms, described the beauty of its varied terrain. It would take scarcely more time than the southern route, she told us, but it would be well worth it for the spectacular scenery. She suggested that we should stay in John Day, Oregon that night, where there were plenty of motels. She assured us that there was no need to call ahead, and we believed her. Big mistake.
We drove on, along flat fertile farmland, where more insects than we knew existed plastered our windshield, and then through vast stands of pine trees in the mountainous National Forest land. The smell of pine seeped through the truck windows and wakened in me memories of home. We were getting close! As beautiful as the surrounding forest was, the late afternoon sun, shining in and out of the tall tree trunks, had a harsh effect on our eyes, like multiple flash bulbs popping in our faces. Don was driving, and he got a bad headache. Our friend at the information center hadn't mentioned road construction, but we drove into it, and for long miles, alternated between moving along at a slow crawl, and waiting in a long string of other vehicles at a total stop. We were relieved when the workmen pulled up their flags and called it a night. The construction delays put us in John Day much later than we had anticipated, and when we got there, we discovered where all those workmen were staying. Every motel room was filled, and those occupants were, at that very hour, filling every seat, or waiting in line for a seat, in every restaurant in John Day, Oregon.
By then it was full dark, a chilly wind was blowing, and we were in completely unfamiliar territory after a very long day on the road. We decided to press on to the next town for food and accommodations.
We drove on, imagining the beautiful scenery around us, our growling stomachs keeping us awake. It was seventy one long miles before we saw another sign of life. Finally, from out of nowhere, like a beacon in the dark, a dimly lit sign appeared. As we got closer, we could make out the dingy letters: SKYHOOK MOTEL. We knew that our day's journey was complete, and we could almost feel ourselves soaking in the tub after a hot meal. There was only one car parked there, presumably the owner's, and that should have been a clue; this most likely wasn't going to be the Hilton.
We stepped into the shelter of the office and rang the bell. An older gentleman stepped in from an adjoining room and we asked if he had rooms available. "Well," he replied, "I'd better take a look here." He turned his back to us and perused a board of room keys. Not one of them was missing. "Here, number 6 is available", he told us, as if we'd just won the lottery. As soon as he had our money, he told us, "I'll show you where you can shower." He started toward a small building in the back that looked like it might have once been a lawnmower shed. "I'll have to turn on the hot water." Without a word between us, Don and I decided we weren't that dirty. "You know, sir," Don responded, "we're tired, and we probably won't stay up that late. Don't worry about it."
Having taken care of our lodging, uppermost on our minds was food. Our host informed us that there were no restaurants in town, but there was a grocery store. We followed his directions to the store, and all the lights were out. Back at the motel, the owner seemed surprised that we might expect the store to be open that evening. "Well, they close at 5:00 and go home and eat." What were we thinking? We had one apple between us, and that would have to suffice.
Hungry and exhausted, we stepped into our room. It was small and sparsely furnished with a dingy grey carpet. A rust stained sink and a toilet were not far from a concave bed. I took my tennis bag from my shoulder and plopped it on the floor. When a tennis ball rolled out, I picked it up and set it on the edge of the bed, where it immediately rolled to the center like a cue ball to the corner pocket.
Suddenly, all the tensions of the day dissolved into waves of laughter and we couldn't stop. We laughed 'til our sides ached and tears streamed down our face. We'd start to get control of ourselves, and Don would say, in his best motel owner voice, "Well, let me just take a look here", and we'd start in all over again.
It's a wonder we slept at all that night, not because of the bed, but because we could scarcely stop laughing.
I was amazed to learn, from a Google search, that the Skyhook motel is still in business. No surprise, it's been remodeled, and it sounds quite nice. I also learned that photographers visit the area to capture the colors of the painted desert.
Now there's a map of Oregon on our dining room table and a new entry on our bucket list.