In Mexico there is a significant difference between a “Hotel” and a “Motel.”
Without putting too fine a point on it, this distinction can be summarized as follows: the “H” in Hotel stands for Hospitality. The “M” in Motel stands for Paid Sex.
If only I had known this 18 years ago when, along with my wife and mother-in-law, I steered my truck through the entrance of what turned out to be a drive-in whorehouse. How did this happen? How did something as simple as a one-night sleepover in Guadalajara go so wrong?
My wife and I were on our way home to Puerto Vallarta at the end of the first buying trip for our shop. To save money, Consuelo (Lucy’s mom) had flown into Guadalajara, instead of Vallarta. By the time we’d picked her up at the airport, it was too late to undertake the five-hour drive home, so we went in search of a place to spend the night.
The camper of our pickup was crammed full of the merchandise we’d been collecting all summer, and we were a little leery of parking it anywhere but a highly secure location. After lunch in nearby Tlaquepaque, we’d asked around for a hotel with secure parking. A friendly man in a cowboy hat informed us that el Motel Melanie had the most secure parking in the area. And so, following his directions, off we went.
The Motel Melanie had a gated entrance, manned by a security guard. Once he let us in, we drove halfway around a small circle until we were stopped by a woman dressed like a waitress. I told her we needed a room for three people.
“Señor,” she informed me politely, “this is a hotel de paso, not a hotel familiar.”
“What’s the difference?” I asked.
The woman glanced uneasily at my elderly mother-in-law (a devout Catholic) who was sitting beside me finishing up her fifth rosary of the day. “Señor,” the woman said, “in a hotel familiar, you pay by the day. In a hotel de paso, you pay for 12 hours at a time.”
Blinded by my urgent need for secure parking, I missed her meaning entirely. “That’s okay,” I said. “We’ll just pay for two 12-hour periods.”
“Are you sure?” she said.
“As long as the room is clean, we’ll be fine.”
“The rooms are very clean, señor. We change the sheets various times a day.” She gave me a severe look and pointed her chin at my mother-in-law. Clueless, I shrugged my shoulders.
The parking turned out to be unbelievably secure. You actually got to park your vehicle in its own garage, behind a steel accordion curtain! Once parked, you climbed up a short flight of stairs to your room. So enamored was I with the parking, that I’d made up my mind and paid in advance before actually seeing the room, which was probably a mistake.
The room had the weakest lights I’d ever seen. I turned them all on, and the room was still dark. The bed was heart-shaped and covered in bright red bed imitation velveteen. And attached to the ceiling above the bed was a king-sized mirror.
Consuelo excused herself to use the restroom.
Lucy and I looked at the bed, the mirror and then at each other.
“Whoops,” I said.
“That woman,” Lucy recalled, “told us the TV only gets four stations.”
“Right,” I said, reaching for the remote, “we better check.”
Station number one appeared to be a “public affairs” channel and was showing a topless panel discussion. Station number two featured sports and currently displayed a nude mud wrestling match. Stations three and four appeared to be broadcasting non-stop XXX-rated smut.
“There’s something odd in the bathroom,” my mother-in-law said, rejoining us.
“What’s that, Mom?” I asked, hurriedly turning off the TV.
“There’s a metal bar in the middle of the bathroom, hanging from the ceiling. I wonder what it could be for.”
I poked my head into the bathroom. The bar was suspended at the ideal height for hanging someone by their wrists —n ot high enough to dislocate a shoulder, and not so low, you’d have to slouch. “Well, Mom,” I said, “to me it looks like one of those all-purpose hanging bars. You find them in the best hotels.”
“Oh,” she said. “Can we turn on the television?”
“TV’s on the fritz, Mom.”
“Well, then, maybe I’ll just take a nap.”
“Honey,” my wife said, “could I speak to you a minute?”
After surreptitiously unplugging the TV, I followed Lucy into the bathroom.
“We can’t stay here,” she whispered urgently. “If my mom catches on, she’ll have a stroke!”
“You’re right,” I said. “But this place is perfect for the truck. Houdini couldn’t break in here.”
“My mother,” Lucy whispered forcefully, “is not going to spend the night in a whorehouse!”
“Okay, honey, I’ve got an idea. I’ll stay here with the truck, and you get a taxi and take your mom to someplace more respectable.”
“Are you joking?”
“We must protect the merchandise at all costs,” I said.
“If I were you,” she said grimly, “I’d be more concerned with protecting my testicles.”
Then we heard the sound of the television, and a moment later Consuelo saying, “It was just unplugged.”
Diving for the outlet, I reached out, upending a lamp, got my hand on the plug, and yanked.
“I can’t believe,” I proclaimed piously, “the kind of filth they show at a respectable hotel nowadays!”
From then on everything went fine and somehow, after dinner, we all managed to get to sleep without incident. Until 4 a.m., when a knock sounded on the door, followed by a voice yelling, “Time’s up!”
“No, no, no!” I shouted from my makeshift bed on the floor, “I paid for two entire 12-hour shifts. Don’t do this to me! I’m in here with my mother-in-law, for God’s sake!”
“Your mother-in-law?” the voice yelled. Shame on you!”
— Gil Gevins
Gil Gevins is the author of the hilarious best-seller, Puerto Vallarta on 49 Brain Cells a Day, and three other books.