Surviving Morena Boulevard (or how Stephen King saved my life)

As I’ve mentioned previously, Dena and I arrived in San Diego during  Comic-Con. Due to the the huge influx of visitors to the city, It was nearly impossible to find lodging at a reasonable price. After a week of staying at a    Motel 6 (and grossly overpaying), we finally found an extended stay motel that had a vacancy. We moved into the Seaside Inn on July 17, and immediately wished we hadn’t.

What’s wrong with the Seaside Inn you ask? Well for starters, it is nowhere near the sea. The motel is located on Morena Boulevard, which is a run down area filled with sketchy businesses and large gatherings of roving homeless people. Mission Bay is perhaps a few blocks away, but the closest thing to a “seaside” is several miles away. In order to get to the nearest restaurant, convenience store, etc., it was necessary to cross a bridge which spanned a weedy, garbage strewn culvert. I can neither confirm nor deny the presence of a troll.

In addition to the poor location, the motel itself left something to be desired. The parking lot was tiny. So tiny, in fact, that there weren’t even enough spaces for all of the guests. For most of our stay, we were forced to park on the street a block away. The only way to get a space in the lot was to sit by the window and wait for someone to leave, then sprint to the car and attempt to beat everyone else to the spot. If we actually drove anywhere, we could forget it. It was another night of parking on the street for us.

The floor was a mess. There was no carpet, just cheap linoleum. I don’t know what type of wax or finish was used on the floor, but whatever it was, it rubbed off on our feet. If we took our shoes off, we could either leave our socks on and have them ruined, or go barefoot and have our feet turn black. In addition to the black stuff, the linoleum was also sticky. To get an idea of what it was like, buy a big jug of honey and spread it all over your kitchen. Then take off your shoes and attempt to cross the room. Yeah, it was that bad.

Then there was the shower, which claimed to be “handicapped accesible.” I attributed this claim to the fact that anyone who used the shower more than once or twice would become handicapped. It had a narrow stall, which would have made sense had the shower head been at one end. Instead it was mounted right in the middle. This arrangement made it nearly impossible to stand under a steady stream without spraying water all over the floor.

And the shower was disgusting! The ancient fiberglass, apparently white once, was stained a sickly yellow. Black crud from the filthy floor covered the bottom. So unpleasant was the stall that Dena took to showering in the dark in order to be spared the sight it. Not good.

Have I mentioned the heat? Though San Diego has a famously mild climate, the summer just past was one of the hottest on record nationwide, and Southern California wasn’t spared from the heat wave. Our room had a window unit, but it wasn’t any newer than the rest of the place. In fact it was so old that the indicators were rubbed off of the control knob, making it impossible to know if the machine was turned to the proper setting. Coupled with a general lack of ventilation, this caused the room to be at best stuffy, and at worst unbearable.

The bed in the room was small. It was billed as a “full,” which seemed to mean that it was full of bricks. The bedsprings were so tight it was like sleeping on a rockpile with a threadbare sheet for cushion, though not as soft. After one night of sleeping on this “bed,” we went to Target and bought an air mattress. Each night we would flip a coin to see who would sleep where. The loser got the bed.

The room had no kitchenette, only a small microwave and a “mini-fridge.” Those of you who’ve spent time living in a college dormitory will understand the tribulations of dealing with a mini-fridge. It held approximately three items, so long as one of the three was a ketchup packet from McDonald’s. After a trip to the market, we would come “home” and frantically try to cram all of our purchases into the fridge. There would always be something that didn’t fit, which forced us to consume the item immediately.

Speaking of food, our diet while living at Morena Boulevard was less than satisfying. We couldn’t cook anything that wouldn’t fit into the microwave. On top of that we were attempting to save money in order to have the means to get the hell out of the Seaside Inn. So we got by on a diet of the following: canned tuna, ramen noodles, canned ravioli, ham sandwiches, baby carrots, vienna sausages, and peanuts. Food pyramid? More like a flat line.

We only meant to stay at the Seaside Inn for one week. Unfortunately, we were unable to find anything else, and were forced to pay for a second. Why did we have to commit to a whole week you ask? Because the manager was less than accomodating. To be fair, most extended stay hotels rent by the week, but given our situation I expected a little cooperation. None was forthcoming.

The manager, whom I will call Meredith, lived on site. Despite this fact, she was rarely available to address our concerns. In an effort to obtain such necessities as clean towels and toilet paper, I would bang on the office window until my arm was about to fall off to no avail. Toward the end of our stay, Meredith was in the process of moving her family to Denton, Texas. I hope she enjoys the 120 degree temperatures down there.

Our situation was made even worse by the fact that most of our possessions were still in a shipping container at a U-Haul storage facility, where gaining access to our things proved slightly more difficult than winning a Nobel Peace Prize. Being seperated from our belongings added a great sense of displacement to our other troubles. Due to our cramped living quarters, when we finally got into the container we were forced to select only the most necessary items: clothes, toiletries, kitchen utensils. But the most important things I took back to our room were books.

I love to read. Reading has helped me through many a difficult and boring time in my life. Since we began our trip I’d been limited to the two or three books which I could carry in my travel bag. I’d long since finished these and was desperate for more material. Now, at last, I had what I needed.

For many years my favorite author has been Stephen King. I know that there are people out there who malign popular fiction and only read “literary” novels and non-fiction. While I enjoy those as well, nothing has the power to take my mind off of my troubles like the work of Mr. King. We were in a tough spot, searching for a better place to live while attempting to tolerate our current situation.

So I read. Diving into the Stephen King universe, I consumed one book after another. Even though I’d read them all before, they still did the trick. I read “The Dead Zone” and “The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger.” I absorbed “Insomnia” and “Pet Semetary.” I poured over “Everything’s Eventual,” and “Just After Sunset,” and “Full Dark, No Stars.” I lived in fictional worlds which, despite the horror contained in many of them, were still preferable to the real one. I read, and as it always has, reading got me by.

Near the end of our second week at the Seaside Inn, we finally found an apartment. Rarely has anything given me more pleasure than going to the office and giving Meredith our key. After a brief squabble over the return of our “pet deposit,” we left Morena Boulevard for the last time. Such sweet relief!

Our situation is much better now. We have a second floor apartment which is big enough for Dena and myself and our cats, Pip and Squeaky. It isn’t perfect, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction. We’ve been reunited with all of our belongings, and take great comfort in our ability to prepare good meals again. Though I now have all of my books at my disposal, not to mention some excellent public libraries, I still find myself immersed in the parallel worlds of Stephen King. I am currently reading “Black House,” and rediscovering it after a number of years is great fun. Good times.

Some of my fellow King fans may wonder which book is my favorite. Or those of you who haven’t discovered the work of this iconic author may look for a good place to begin. With these questions in mind I’ve compiled a list of my ten favorite Stephen King novels. For the purposes of this list, I have excluded short story collections and novellas. Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. The Shining – One of his scariest. I still have nightmares about the woman in room 217.
  2. The Dead Zone – Reading this book again fifteen years after discovering it for the first time, I was struck by the strong narrative and the great moral question: Is murder ever justified?
  3. It – A virtual encyclopedia of horror, this novel of children battling unspeakable evil still haunts me. Especially the house on Neibolt Street.
  4. The Wastelands and
  5. Wizard and Glass – Since it would be cheating to list the entire Dark Tower series as a favorite novel (it is made up of eight novels and one novella) I’ve chosen my two favorites from this epic. I love Wastelands for the ruined city of Lud and the cliffhanger ending, and Wizard for its description of events that shaped the man who Roland of Gilead eventually became.
  6. Needful Things – Another cosmic tale of good vs. evil. This is the story in which King destroyed his famous fictional town of Castle Rock.
  7. Under the Dome – One of the most recent King novels. I’ve lived in towns very similar to the doomed Chester’s Mill.
  8. The Green Mile – A tale of wrongful imprisonment, and the way bigotry can so easily hide a truth that should be obvious.
  9. Pet Semetary – In my opinion the scariest and darkest novel of King’s career. Unlike many people, I don’t mind unhappy endings, and this one is about as bleak as you can get.
  10.  The Stand – Outside of the Dark Tower series, the complete and uncut version of this novel is perhaps King’s greatest achievement. The ultimate battle of good vs. evil, The Stand introduces us to the legendary Randall Flagg, who would show up again and again in the author’s later works.

 

So there you have it: my personal favorites. Feel free to post your own list in the comments section below. I’m sure many of you will disagree with my choices, but that’s part of the fun isn’t it?

As always, thanks for reading. See you next time!

 

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