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 Do Not Disturb

michael THE WORLD IS FLAT.
I KNOW. I'VE BEEN THERE.


BY MICHAEL MATTHEWS

July 14, 2005 -- The world is flat. I can prove it.

Over the July 4th weekend, she who must be obeyed (henceforth referred to as simply SWMBO) and I drove from Dallas to Tucson. Now there is a slight incline just past Fort Worth, then it's flat for about a thousand miles. Except for the odd, nodding oil well and some pretty scrawny cattle, there's nothing. It's just flat. Steinbeck loved it, which explains a lot.

We stopped for the night in Sweetwater, Texas. If you don't know Sweetwater, you need not bother. It's truly awful. It has a major intersection on Interstate 30, six truck stops and four places to stay: a Comfort Inn, a Holiday Inn, a Ramada Inn and a Motel 6. We took the Holiday Inn. Mistake.

But before I get to that, you probably should know that Sweetwater is the headquarters of the world's only annual rattlesnake roundup. All the boys and girls get together to see who can kill the most rattlesnakes, who can catch the largest one (23 feet is the current record) and generally get drunk. Another hobby in Sweetwater is straightening a garden hoe, driving down the road sitting on the back flap of a pickup and cutting the heads off rattlesnakes. (The rattlers lie by the side of the road waiting for the tar to cool off before slithering across, so they make easy targets for the passing pickups.) There's also a Christian radio station. (I, too, congratulate Mr. and Mrs. Billy Key on their 45th wedding anniversary and I hope that Johnny has found his lost puppy.)

Now to the Holiday Inn Sweetwater. We chose it because a good friend of mine runs the whole InterContinental Hotel Corporation, which franchises the Holiday Inn brand. I don't think Richard has been to the Holiday Inn Sweetwater.

It looks nice enough from the road in the half-dark. The girl at reception was half-pretty in a Sweetwater kind of way. She even explained the working of the showers and how to turn them on to each guest on arrival. She had the portable hardware behind the desk to demonstrate. (Maybe most visitors to Sweetwater don't know how a shower works?)

After the shower demonstration, we found our room. It had a new kind of carpet I'd never experienced before. Unlike wool, it feels sticky to the feet. I'm sure Home Depot must stock it.

The temperature in Sweetwater was about 100 degrees outside, but the room was near freezing. I got the air conditioning turned off by a healthy kick. Admiring the dents in its side, I quickly realized that I wasn't the first to use this method to adjust the temperature.

The bathroom was fine. I'd used my AARP card to obtain a discount off the $69 nightly rate for the room and perhaps that explained the help bars around the toilet and shower. (Turns out that we had been assigned a handicapped-accessible room.) The bathroom amenities were adequate: one tiny bar of soap, one wash cloth and two almost-threadbare towels. But the bathroom floor was clean and didn't have that new type of carpet.

The mattress was firm, at least on one side of the bed. The two pillows were soft. The only blanket was made of the finest polyester. The hotel claimed all rooms offered multi-channel television. But this being July 4th weekend, I guess most channels where closed down for the holidays.

Let's not broach the subject of food in the all-day, 24-hour-a-day coffee shop. You really don't want to know.

Well, what can I say? The Holiday Inn Sweetwater gave SWMBO and I a lot to talk about as we whizzed through Midland/Odessa, our President and first lady's hometown. We lunched at an IHOP, a first and last for me. We rejoiced at the hill outside of El Paso, took the incline up and rejoined the freeway.

What did I learn? I can ride in a car with my wife for the better part of 18 hours and not fight. Rattlesnakes are harmless unless you tread on one. Coffee is 50 percent cheaper in Sweetwater than in Dallas, but gasoline is the same price even though it is coming out of the ground at the pump next door. And my buddy Richard from InterContinental should send somebody to Sweetwater to check out the Holiday Inn and take the sign down.

Oh, I also learned that I will never do it again. Like I said, the world is flat--and it sure looked that way as I flew back to Dallas from Tucson on Southwest Airlines.

This column originally appeared at joesentme.com.

Copyright 1993-2005 by Michael Matthews. All rights reserved.