Searching for a warm shower, two Canadians find themselves in hot water

Better start packing!” Brenda grumbled as she brusquely entered our second-floor Florida motel room, the one with a non-working phone and few if any motel amenities, and — I’ll mention it now — no running hot water.

“We’re being evicted.”

“What?” I replied disbelievingly. “Are you kidding me?”

“No, we have to get out,” said Brenda. “She said she’s calling the police.”

The “she” is this case was the unsmiling young motel clerk who, a half-hour earlier, kept repeating, “It’s not my problem” when Brenda and I had gone in to point out the lack of hot water in the bathroom, and to press the case for a move to another room, one preferably with hot water in the shower.

Earlier that afternoon we had paid for three nights at a somewhat dilapidated Fort Lauderdale motel, located near the airport where we were hoping to catch our return flight to Buffalo.

We certainly hadn’t planned on spending more time in the south Florida city, but our Caribbean cruise was cut short, with the ship returning to port earlier than planned following an outbreak of gastrointestinal illness. We were spared, but hundreds of other cruise passengers weren’t so lucky.

And so a mad scramble ensued among many of the 3,000-plus cruise passengers for Fort Lauderdale hotel rooms even as our ship was still out at sea. We were certain we couldn’t change our flight plans, so it became a game of motel-room-bingo for us.

I quickly discovered through an online search that our previous hotel was booked solid for the three extra days we were to be in Fort Lauderdale, so I was determined to grab anything available. And there it was — a motel that was available. And close by the airport, too. Swell!

Well, not quite so swell. Having disembarked from our diarrhea-stricken vessel in 88-degree Fahrenheit heat, we grabbed a shuttlebus to the motel, our new-found beacon of hope and air-conditioned comfort for the next three nights. Once there, we noticed that its roof shingles were being ripped off by a dozen or so workers, and that the entire grounds appeared to be littered by roofing and other construction material.

“Oh-oh,” I thought to myself, hoping that Brenda wouldn’t notice the air of disquiet that was sweeping over me. She had, after all, expressed a concern that the motel I had selected might not be all that it had appeared to be on the motel’s webpage.

I looked at Brenda. She look at me. My gut tensed.

Entering the motel “office” conjured up another premonition. The lobby, if one could call it that, was dark and dank, with a small opening in the wall into another room, a kind of bunker, in which sat the motel clerk—a young woman wearing dreadlocks and a look of indifference—and a man, likely the manager, busily shuffling papers and oblivious to us. Both were seated at desks.

A certain odour hung heavy, although realistically it could have been my own scent of fear.

“Uh, we’re checking in,” I whispered to the girl. “I think you have our reservation.”

Offering up my credit card and settling the account, it was out and up, luggage and all, climbing the bare stairway to the second floor (no elevator) and on to our room. Brenda and I were now panting as the two of us, plus the motel clerk, toted our four bags along a series of seemingly endless corridors.

On one hand, there appeared to be no one else staying in the 100-room motel except us. On the other, along the way we passed an elderly couple in one of the corridors. They seemed detached, and appeared to be living there.

“Hi,” I said good-naturedly as we passed them, bags in hand and starting to perspire profusely.

Nada. We were met with blank stares.

Oh-oh,” I thought to myself. Bates Motel, Psycho. The Overlook, in The Shining. Mental note: Keep an eye out for Jack Nicholson wielding an axe.

Our room at the end of a long hallway seemed okay at first glance. The air conditioner was on. That was good. But there was little furniture in the room. And nowhere to place the luggage. Or hangers for clothes. The bathroom seemed okay if somewhat bare. And the phone didn’t work at all. We had yet to test for hot water.

The phone problem was solved by a chambermaid, who replaced it with one “borrowed” from another room. Given that she had to get down on the floor to plug it into a hidden jack, I slipped her a five-dollar bill for her trouble. She pocketed it without a word and was gone in a flash.

“Well,” I finally said to Brenda, “I guess it’ll do for the time being, right?”

Brenda looked blankly at me. I didn’t press the point.

Time moves very slowly when one senses he or she is trapped in a situation beyond their control, beyond anything they can do, and living in strange surroundings. Other than the elderly couple we had seen earlier in a hallway, no one else seemed to be living in the motel. Apart from the workmen banging occasionally on the roof, it was eerily quiet.

Bored with our room, we ventured outside. The motel had a swimming pool, did it not? Let’s go and check it out, I enthusiastically suggested to Brenda, hoping to cheer her up.

The pool was indeed there, in an inner courtyard, but no one was swimming in it. And neither would we, despite the outdoor heat and humidity. One reason was that the pool had become a repository for roofing shingles, pieces of scrap lumber and the like.

Deck chairs were scattered haphazardly about. There was a pool house, but the workmen had been using it on their breaks, and the table and floor were littered with cigarette butts.

Oh, well. There was always the shower in our room, after all. Except, as we quickly found out, no hot water. We even let the water run for 15 minutes. Still cold.

What followed was the trip back to the motel office and a fruitless discussion with the clerk, who was becoming more and more annoyed at our seeming lack of appreciation for our room. We were getting nowhere and the motel manager had disappeared. Brenda and I returned to the room and wondered if we should cancel our booking and request a refund.

Brenda decided that was going to be our plan and, leaving me alone in the room to ponder our fate, returned downstairs to the motel office for another “talk” with the resolutely unmovable motel clerk.

Minutes passed. I looked outside the door for Brenda to return. More minutes. A half hour. What was happening down there, I wondered. When Brenda finally did return, it was with the motel clerk’s ultimatum.

“Better start packing.” The cops were on their way.

As I paused to let this sink in, there was a knock at the door.

“Oh-oh, guess who?” I muttered.

Brenda opened the door. “Hi, c’mon in,” she said, giving her best touristy smile. “We’re just two tired Canadians trying to get home. We won’t cause you any trouble.”

Outside stood two members of Fort Lauderdale’s finest, a male police officer and his female counterpart, both looking very young and very serious.

“Hi, I guess you know the motel wants you out,” one of them said apologetically.

“We’re just packing our things, officers,” I tried to reassure them.

“This has never really happened to us before.”

The officer politely explained that he and his partner had been sent to “assist” us in leaving the motel. He told us we had been refunded our money (which, as it turned out, was not totally accurate) and gave me a sheet of paper to sign.

By this point, somewhat flustered by having to hurriedly pack our things and by what was happening to us but glad to hear our money was being refunded, I was happy to sign anything, read or unread.

“You don’t want to be here,” one of the officers explained without qualifying just why. “This isn’t the place for you.”

I took it that my choice of motel — and the neighbourhood itself — wasn’t exactly the type of establishment where a couple of elderly Canadian tourists should be hanging out for the night.

Brenda mentioned that since we had nowhere else to go, she was willing to walk down to another nearby motel and check it out for an available room, but the male police officer said bluntly, “You don’t want to be there either.” Oh-oh.

I then revealed to the police that while Brenda had been down at the motel office trying to arrange a cancellation of our booking, I managed to finally work our phone and find a room for two of our three days at a more established hotel.

But with no means of getting there, the two police officers stepped up and offered Brenda and myself rides to the hotel in their patrol cars.

So into their cars went our luggage and the two of us, Brenda and me each sitting in the back “perp” seats, surrounded by plexiglass and bars. Well, this was certainly unexpected.

For a brief moment, I wondered what our friends or families would have thought about our septugenarian “bust” by the Fort Lauderdale police department as the two police cars raced down Florida State Road 84 to our new hotel.

I pondered the moment. That morning, I had gotten off a cruise ship three days early and thought it was an unseemly end to a highly anticipated vacation. Then, a few hours later, I’m in the back of a police car being taken for a ride by the local constabulary. Hmm, not bad at all.

“You can add this to your bucket list of things you’ve already done,” the female officer said, smiling at Brenda as both officers delivered us in front of the lobby of our new hotel.

Hotel guests waiting outside for airport shuttles gawked as we — two elderly “perpetrators” —disembarked, neither wearing cuffs. Surprise!

“Not every tourist,” said the cop with a laugh, “gets this special treatment.”


Bill Eluchok is a retired London Free Press editor and reporter now living in Welland.