Motel after motel after motel. Used-auto-parts shop after used-auto-parts shop after used-auto-parts shop. It’s 10 pm on a Saturday, and we’re driving on Kingston Road in Scarborough, Ontario, looking for the two-star Howard Johnson Inn where we’ve reserved a room.
We find it, and next door we see a sign for Pakhtoon Motors, a used–auto parts seller, and next to it, the Lido Motel. The parked cars in the three lots lend the landscape a certain uniformity. Looking closely, we notice that some of the cars in Pakhtoon’s lot are missing windows and sit on flat tires.
At the motel’s front desk, we wait for the one staff to arrive. I flip through the pages of the guest book. After reading a few, unease settles in. Two days prior, a man had written that his hub caps had been stolen and that he had noticed other cars’ missing hub caps. Were Kingston Road’s used–auto parts shops and motor garages leaches on the strip’s motels and out-of-province cars?
Another guest had noted that he woke to find vomit outside his room. He notified the staff four times, and, still, the puddle remained untouched. He was disappointed and would never again visit a HoJo, as the hotel chain likes to call itself.
What about our stay? Well, the motel room walls and carpet were dirty; the door to our room was missing a bottom corner; the queen-size bed was ill-fitted with double-size sheets; hairs that weren’t ours hung onto the sheets. The lesson? Good travel planning goes beyond Google Maps and a motel’s website.
The next morning, we leave early and drive by another dozen motels, used–auto parts shops, and motor garages. We notice toys in a motel parking lot. After a good night’s sleep in a Holiday Inn, we meet friends for lunch. One of them asks us about our hotel. We tell him about the HoJo; he listens to my list of complaints and then tells me that homeless families live in some of the Kingston Road motels. We had thought so.
When Toronto’s Family Residence—a former Kingston Road motel converted into temporary housing for homeless families—is full, the City rents rooms in nearby motels. Churches have long supported the families in the motels with visits, meals, and, when the families eventually move out, furniture and a helping hand on moving day.
Fans of modernist architecture, Americana, and all things kitsch might feel a (grounded or imagined) nostalgia upon the sight of the motel’s L-shape, neon signage, perfectly lined and identical doors, and balconied second-storey. But those motels are not just pretty things to look at; they are places where people live. And when local families live in motels, the motels become linked to the area’s social environment, especially through the public schools that the kids temporarily attend. And like other transient groups, families living in motels have been the target of people’s fear and exclusionary practices.
In a few weeks we’ll experience the Super 8 in Markle, Indiana. To be continued!