A grimy home away from home

Jul 21, 2017 By Robert H. Peck, Staff Writer

Every lease my landlord offers has a one-week gap in the middle, during which I'm not allowed to live in my own apartment. My housing in Iowa is usually occupied by undergrads at the university here, and as far as I can tell this is a precautionary measure by the renting company, giving itself a week to inspect and clean all their properties before new students move in in the fall.

For someone like me, though, who lives in the place for years in a row, this can be a problem. I was in Wyoming last year during the gap week, but this summer I'm in Iowa City. I had to find a new place to live for a week.

I considered staying with friends. One was going to be out of town for the first part of the week and needed someone to watch her cats. Another was moving to a new place but still had her lease in the old one for a few extra days at the end of the week. I could cobble something together, babysit animals, cart my stuff from apartment to apartment until my own odd lease gap was done.

But I am lazy in this way, and antisocial in some respects, and I didn't want to do all of that. I decided the simplest bet was to rent a cheap motel room, some flop off the freeway, and make myself at home there as best I could.

I arrived in my room on a Wednesday afternoon. It was 90 degrees outside and the AC hadn't been turned on in the motel yet. I flipped a switch, and the cooler grumbled to life. There was a microwave (stained inside) and a little refrigerator (stained inside) and a bathtub caked with a bit of grime that seemed to have transcended cleaning and become part of the tub's coloration instead.

I was home.

My drive to and from work work increased from five minutes to 20. At night, work crews parked rows of heavy machinery in the lot out back, blasting bass as they arrived at 1 a.m.

Nine miles away, my own apartment sat, quiet and cool and completely empty save for a cleaning crew that must have been there for about 30 minutes one time during the week.

In the motel, I stewed.

I'd love to complain. I expected to complain. I planned to write this column about it for days leading up to my short-term move. It was inconvenient and unpleasant and not necessary. I wanted to be bitter.

But sometime during an evening drive out through the corn-laden Iowa countryside, as the sun set and fireflies emerged, I started to like the routine. Driving out to the city limits, where my room was, felt like an escape. I settled into the bathtub happily at night. The crappy breakfast eggs became part of my routine. I planned out walking and running routes along the rural roads and adjusted my schedule to accommodate a larger commute. The Rockies were winning. My motel room started to feel like a real residence.

And that is how I tricked myself into undergoing not one, but two unwelcome evictions from my home in the space of a week. By the time the lease gap ended and I packed up to move back into the city, I was reluctant to leave the fleabag overheated freeway hellhole I'd so expected to hate. I waved goodbye to the place as it receded, for the last time, in my rearview mirror.

In the future, on stressful nights when I'm at a loose end, I can imagine myself making the drive out again. Or taking a long walk down a county road again, watching the night come in.

Trying to recreate the feeling of leading a new life for a few days--even if it's a grimy one.

Editor's note: Riverton native Robert H. Peck is a graduate student in the Iowa Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa.