The Bel-Air

Working in a hotel gives one a discerning eye for high quality, superior customer service and luxurious accommodations.  I have yet to master these qualities, but think I have worked long enough to appreciate the difference between my four star property located in a trendy shopping district and the Bel-Air Motel I drove past the other day on South Congress, a dump by any definition of the word.

I was stopped by a light on the way to the children’s museum when I saw it.   It was a magnificent example of decrepitude.   White paint peeled from the facade of the reception area and revealed a hidden layer of filth the color of aged rust.  A hand written sign requested patrons to “ring bell for servace”.  It looked like a converted multistory parking garage that had been filled with used wastewater pipes and installed with a series of wooden planks with hinges that would not pass for doors in a youth hostel.  The cracked and broken venetian blinds blocked the only source of light that could have penetrated the ever-present dark cloud that shrouded the motel.

As I waited at the stoplight, jaw agape with horrified amusement, I saw the motel’s lone patron exit and enter his pickup truck.  Both guest and pickup matched the motel’s decor – white, leprotic and infested with parasites – which only contributed to the continuing dilapidation of the building in my mind’s eye.  No doubt he left the room in its natural squalor.  Sheets unwashed since October of 1993, mattress stained with a variety of human fluids and a bathtub ripe with cockroach eggs.

I shuddered at the thought of the many unclean human feet that exited even more filthy than when they had entered, when I became aware of an even greater curiosity.  By this time, I had left the stoplight and was driving through a nearby neighborhood.  I expected it to be an extension of the Bel-Air Motel, but was surprised to only find well-kept gardens and houses with intact windows.  There were restaurants that looked as if they could actually pass a health inspection.  There was even an over-sized nursery for all of the Bel-Air Motel’s gardening needs, if it had any.  All told, the motel was out of place, like a fetid turd in an otherwise trim and green lawn.

South Congress has long been a home to artsy types and hippies.  From head shops to arts and craft market days,  there are many local events to be seen in this area of the city.  So I tried to imagine the Bel-Air Motel as a springboard for the starving artist to leap off from and into the deep pool of the Austin art scene.  I tried to envision sunken and sullen faces filtering into the motel, creating great works of art like wood shavings representing man’s inhumanity to man, and sliding back out into the streets to seek recognition and means to get by.  But I could not get the vision of what the interior of the building must have looked like, especially since Bel-Air Motel was, acording to its own sign, perpetually vacant.

On the way back from the museum, I couldn’t help but drive past the Bel-Air Motel once more.  The two hours of shifting light had changed it no different and so I drove on thinking, “There, but for the grace of my own self-respect, go I.”


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