Where People Go To Be Disgusting

Small Town, North Dakota—Through a cascading chain of bad luck, poor decisions, and fate, I’ve landed in a small American town, where now, along with my girl, I manage a low-budget motel along North Dakota’s I-94 corridor. The motel, built in the 1960s, sits smack-dab in the middle of the state’s Bakken Oil Patch, where the world’s major oil companies are racing to pump an estimated 500 billion barrels of petro from deep within the planet, oil that just six years ago was untouchable because the technology didn’t exist to retrieve it.

The majority of the motel’s 62 rooms are occupied long-term by the guys who are building the infrastructure needed to move the oil and natural gas from the substrata to peoples’ homes and cars. They’re gone before I wake in the morning, arriving back in the evening, dirty and sweaty, carrying 12-packs of Miller Lite.

The motel’s other guests are a mix of meth addicts, alcoholics, homeless couples, and people arriving from afar with dreams of landing one of the countless high-paying jobs available to those willing to work. Occasionally some cheapskate with money will pass through, only to ask for a refund within minutes of checking in. But most of our short-term guests, as I did, arrive almost penniless and hungry.

If there is one commonality among all guests it’s that these low-budget motels are where people feel free to be disgusting and wallow around in their own filth.

Yesterday I called the police on a woman who, along with her boyfriend, had spent the last five days in their room, drinking. Each morning at 11 a.m., I had to ask them whether they were staying another night or checking out. They always said they’d stay, but getting them to pay for their room was a hassle-and-a-half. Every hour I’d tell them they needed to pay or check out until one of them would meander into the office later in the evening with that night’s rate. I learned from a cell phone she left behind she’d been whoring in one of the man camps when the workers returned.

She was wasted when the police came to remove her. Her boyfriend left with his elderly mother hours earlier, informing us he was “done with her.” Once she’d been removed, I entered the room and was greeted by dozens of flies buzzing around what had become a foul abyss of human depravity. Cigarettes had been extinguished on the tables. Hot sauce was spilled on the floor. A box of rotten peaches sat on a counter. The sink was clogged with Ramen noodles. Shit lined the toilet. A crock pot in the bathtub was filled with what looked more like sewage than food. The mattress was piss-stained and there was blood on a pillow. Vodka bottles and Clamato cans were scattered about the floor.

Funny that I always made sure when checking out of these motels that my room was clean, fearing charges would be added to my card if I left a mess. Truth is, the cleaners at these motels cover up the messes more than they clean them. The trick is knowing what the next guest will and will not notice.

Today, Room 138 will be cleared of its week-long build up of funk and nastiness. Surely the stink will co-mingle with the Spring Dew air freshener, creating an odor of its own, half tolerable—for a night or until a new funk takes over. By 2 p.m. the room will be ready for the next guest to hunker down for a night of his or her own particular brand of disgusting.


  1. Mary says:

    Nathan this is gross. Paul and I recently traveled through ND on the way to Seattle and we purposely overnighted in the eastern side of ND in order to avoid the frakking area. I looked at available lodging before we left home and when I saw the rates in that area I realized I probably wouldn’t be able to afford a room even if I could find one. Reading your blog I know I made the right decision even though my reasons were financial. I’m sure we would have passed on the opportunity to share quarters with the other “guests” and would have been driving long into the night. Good luck and please keep writing. 

  2. Jaimi says:

    You have such a fascinating way of peeling back the moldy carpet of America and making us want to look closer.

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