While I was out late this afternoon, I snapped a few photos. This old motel was seedy when I moved here in 1976. I don’t think much has improved about it since. I cannot imagine the roach population in that damp, crumbling place. I see this motel every day as I drive down the main street that runs through the entire town. I think the arrow lights stopped working many years ago. Everybody knows where the motel is anyway. No need for the lights, I guess.
I assume people pay by the week or by the month. Maybe, by the day if they find themselves stranded unexpectedly in Victoria. Occasionally, a homeless person scrapes together enough money to stay overnight to wash himself and his clothes. To sleep soundly once in awhile. To feel a little like a real person. I bet.
This motel is one of the few rundown old haunts where I don’t recall having had a client. I was a social worker for the Department of Human Services for a few years after we moved to Victoria. I had to find the mothers of the children who were eligible for our medical screening program. That took me into most of the dark hovels in downtown. If any of them lived here, they didn’t confess it.
Although I was parked in an empty lot across the little side street, I could hear the television going and see the flickering lights from it. The fan was going too. I’m sure it was damp and hot in the room. Perhaps, the tenant was attempting to dry out the mold. People lose a great deal from poverty, but the sense of smell is not one of them. I noticed that one room with an open window had an air conditioning unit in the other window. It was running full blast. It interests me that proprietors of these kinds of buildings simply nail plywood over any window when they no longer want the window to be where it is. Then, they simply paint over the plywood as if it were part of the original construction. Something about that practice bothers me. I think it’s an indication of a particular lack of respect for structures and the people who live and work in them.
This woman came out of the motel and walked down the street beside the motel into a residential area. She lurched along due to some disability. She had graying hair and looked to be about thirty-five or forty years old. Perhaps, she’s younger. Perhaps, she works there. Although I was out of my car with a camera as she walked by, she didn’t look in my direction. She’s accustomed to street noise, I thought. She minds her own business. Whatever I was doing with a camera was not her business.
What I am doing with this camera is meddling in other people’s business, I thought to myself as I got back in my car. Why aren’t you over on the other side of town photographing nice, new hotels and their patrons? Is there something about paying by the week that separates people? Something about poverty and hard luck that appeals to us? Broken buildings and broken people. Does our fascination with the details of their lives lie in our innate smugness. We don’t know this place. We don’t know this woman. Neither of them is our business.
I stopped at the Subway for a chicken sandwich for my dinner. It didn’t sit well on my stomach. I couldn’t shake off the feeling of unease, almost shame, that I felt. People are all the same. I know that. Pain and sorrow and brokenness and every foible of mankind is shared equally across cultural, religious, socioeconomic, and caste lines. People who have more resources are able to bring their lives in off the street where their problems are not as visible. Money covers up most problems like a thick scab. The kind that covers a deep, festering sore, I thought.
NOTE: Terri over at Daily Sweet Peas reminded me today of Jacob Jacob August Riis ‘ photographic chronicle of immigrant life in 1890 in NYC in the classic, How The Other Half Lives. Not a great deal has changed about the circumstances of poverty in this country. What has changed is the cycle of poverty. A permanent underclass has developed over the years. Poverty is no longer a temporary condition. It is an established way of life for millions of Americans.