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January 24, 2009

$10 discount at Budget Inn? And preview your sketchy hotel room, please?

January 24. Day 208.

On Saturday, Mr. A, La Divina and I headed up to L.A. for a weekend of... whatever.

We started in Santa Monica with a coffee to recharge after the drive, then drinks and darts at a Bri'ish pub. Then, we headed over to Hollywood to check out the clubbing scene.

It was around 11 p.m. by the time we drove over, and it was high time we found a hotel.

I called around a few places, opting for one thing alone. CHEAP.

Prices for a room with two queen or full beds ranged from $80 to $199 at the half dozen places I called. Then I came across Budget Inn: $70.

"Is that your AAA rate?" (That memberships usually cuts it by 10%.)

"Lowest rate," the voice on the other end spat.

"Could you do $60?"

"NO! BARGAIN!" he hollered.

"Ok, no bargain. Thank you very much."

I hung up.

We had decided to take it, as long as the rooms were clean. Ten minutes later, we pulled up to the Budget Inn and La Divina and I ran in to the reception while Mr. A waited in the car. I wanted to inspect the room before paying, just in case. (That's where my Virgo pickiness comes in handy.)

I rang the security buzzer outside, and inside, behind a thick plastic sheet -- bullet proof, was it? -- a withered old Indian man with huge eyes and bushy brows tottered out and let us in.

"Hello, I called a few minutes ago about the room for $70."

"70 plus tax," he frowned.

"Ok. I'd like to see it before I take it."

"You don't need! You see. You like. You take."

"Great. Then I'll see it and take it," I smiled.

He huffed and went back to dig up a key.

"105. Down the hall, on the right."

"Thank you. Would you like a deposit for the key?"

He motioned for me to disappear.

The room was nice, under the circumstances. The sheets were clean and impeccably pressed. The towels smelled fresh. The furniture was polished, and not a spot of dust. The shower had an ambiguous fungal green hue (green, or simply fungal?), and the window opened onto a brick wall, which reminded me of a creepy short story I once read. But everything relevant was in tip top shape.

I returned and paid.

As he took my credit card, his wife made an appearance, and I wondered now what two people in their 70s or 80s, from a distant country, were doing running this seedy hotel. Lost their retirement, or forsaken by their children, or started a new venture in a new land too late to save up? Why weren't they curled up in bed together at this hour? Were they exhausted, disgusted, or just resigned?

"I need all three IDs!" the innkeeper commanded. "Check out 11!"

"Ok. Thank you."

Around the motel, all these bizarre types were hanging out, and it was impossible to tell if they were there for the night, or passing through indefinitely. A man with short hair and a flannel shirt who spit off the edge a stairwell. A crazy guy with long hair who was running around with his suitcase and muttering things. A trio -- two girls and a guy -- who laughed a lot and came back really drunk around 3.

From the hallway, I occasionally spotted the innkeeper in the lobby, glancing out, making sure everything was ok, checking that the noise subsided quickly and no one did anything illegal. Between it all, he may have gotten a little sleep.

Gained: Nothing financial. When I checked out the next morning, though, he shot me a smile.

(PS If you're ever looking for a last minute place in LA, the address is 6830 West Sunset Blvd. It's clean, it's cheap, and boy, it has character.)
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