I left Mason City, Iowa with a full belly, gas tank, and twelve hours of driving ahead of me. I made a reservation at a pet-friendly Best Western in Billings, Montana, so I had no choice but to clock the hours across South Dakota. I gave little consideration to the location of my hotel aside from the time calculations that indicated that Billings was in the general vicinity of my driving goal for the day. This turned out to be unwise.
After wrestling Henry back in the crate, he settled into peering at me warily from his crate in the passenger’s seat. We roared through what remained of Iowa and the southern section of Minnesota. Most of our time was spent slogging across South Dakota, a state that is a little less than 400 miles across. Luckily, the state is also beautiful.
We roared into Wyoming. I regret hitting that state at sunset, because what I did see of it looked gorgeous.
By the time I hit Montana, like the couple hours before close in a crappy bar, it was too dark for me to assess it’s attractive attributes. The dark drive to Billings was accompanied by Henry’s complaints. It only dawned on me then that he only got upset in the car after dark. I don’t know what offends the persnickety little man about night driving, but he is decidedly not a fan.
As I navigated to the hotel I learned that Billings is a larger city than the little town I had imagined. I also learned that Billings has a downtown that is less than appealing, and that my motel was located there. And this is when I was plunged into an immersive Agent Dale Cooper experience.
The odor that greeted me upon entering the motel office made me wince. It was though all the intensity of a Yankee Candle warehouse focused itself on this very small room. The receptionist was irrationally excited to see me at any time of day, but especially so at midnight. The check-in process seemed to take an eternity, but I am sure that is just my perception due to the sinus raping that was happening to my face. I fled the office with my key card feeling unsettled.
I pulled my car close to my room to unpack. While doing so a middle-aged man leisurely rode his BMX bike past me as though he had no particular place to be. At midnight. With his knees up in his armpits while pedaling because the frame was so small. He gave me a neighborly enough greeting, but this did nothing to remedy my unsettled feeling. It was at this moment that I noticed what seemed to be another motel guest lounging in a lawn chair intently watching me unload. I made eye contract several times thinking he would recover himself and attend to something else. Not so. The unsettling continued as I hurried to finish unloading.
The parking lot of the hotel was full. I had to park my car, loaded to the gills with stuff across the street in the less than desirable downtown of Billings. In and of itself this would be ok, but while walking away from my PLEASE-BURGLE-ME vehicle I noticed a couple screaming at each other at the end of the ally. Upon closer inspection the couple looked like crack heads (thanks OTR circa 2004 for helping me spot that) having a throw down, with a person … spectating? I don’t know what other word to use for this third, as he contributed in no way but his body language suggested he was in rapt attention.
At this point, my attention is drawn to the other end of the ally to see a trio of men. Two men are carrying a man between them. It seemed the man in the center had consumed a too much booze. The peculiar thing about them was that the incapacitated man was in a tux while his assistants were in shorts and T’s. They also waved at me as though I knew them. At this point the unsettled feeling is developing into alarm.
On the way back to my room, I run into another crack head couple arguing. They had the decency to pause their fight to greet me, a nicety that didn’t make me feel any better. At midnight. Once safely in my room, I felt compelled to search for a? What? A camera? A dead body? I don’t know. I didn’t find any of those things, but I did find what appeared to be blood stains on the carpet. My thought while falling asleep? If I don’t get kidnapped into a sex slave ring or worse tonight, I will call it success including if my car has been looted.