Welcome to day 10 of 31 Days of Heterotopias: Motels and Hotels, a month of posts about how motels, hotels, and inns function as heterotopias and liminal spaces in society. (More about heterotopias and liminal spaces.) Each post will look at these ideas from its own vantage point, which may not obviously connect with the others, and which may mention motels and hotels only peripherally or may focus on them without referencing heterotopia or liminality. I won’t attempt to tie the posts together. They’ll all be listed here, as they are posted.
“Any considered motel nomenclature would begin by marking the impermanence that tends to define these roadside accommodations. There are so many examples to cite of this possible taxonomy that you might lose an entire evening in front of a screen searching words like “rainbow,” “breeze,” “wind,” “wave,” “surf,” “sleep,” and “shore.”
“But what of the preponderance of sand? There’s so much dust caught up in the history of the motel. The chief trait of sand is its very insignificance. Like a one-storey L-shaped structure set against the enormity of the American landscape, it’s not something that tends to occupy one’s attention. It lacks both financial and intrinsic value.
“It bears our footprints as we walk through it before a gentle breeze erases our trace in much the same way that the former presence of a traveller is extinguished by the motel cleaning staff at 11 a.m. following a night’s stay. …
“Homogeneous and basic, but also ubiquitous, the motel will eventually be consumed by itself, as the life of convenience and mobility it promised accelerates like a sand storm to envelope our entire way of life. As it is gradually buried, we’re moving too fast to even notice.” (from “On the Preponderance of Sand Name Hotels,” at Motel Register on Tubmlr)
The insignificance of sand is debatable of course. Sand, as beach, seems intrinsically valuable to me (and others: see end of “The World is Running Out of Sand” by David Owen in the 29 May 2017 New Yorker for discussion of sand loss and sand replenishment, relating to Hurricane Sandy), but sand used by the construction industry has historically been of economically low value, e.g., averaging $4.81 per ton in 2000; however, the rise of “frac sand” — sand used in the fracking process: “Oil and gas drillers inject large quantities of hard, round sand into fracked rock formations in order to hold the cracks open, like shoving a foot in the door” — has increased the price of sand. In 2014, it reached between $60-70 per ton; as of this spring it was back to about $40 per ton (per WSJ), ten times its price almost 20 years ago but still so cheap, relatively, that “transporting sand and stone for ordinary construction becomes uneconomical after about sixty miles.”
Still. One could imagine the same being said of each of us not long after our deaths, that we were impermanent and insignificant. Come to think of it, if there is someone to say it it might be said of the human species a few hundred or thousand years from now, that homo sapiens were ubiquitous, impermanent, and in the end, insignificant in the scheme of time. A thought to ponder next time you’re in The Sands, the Sleep Inn, the Autumn Breeze motel, the Summer Breeze motel, or my usual staying-over spot in Rockland, Maine, the Trade Winds Inn. (I wonder what the wind is worth. To a sailing ship, everything.)
We were there for a day or two and then we were gone.