Here is the real truth about what goes on in motels--told
frankly at last by the operator of a luxurious auto court.
by Paul Powell as told to Eugene Hanson
Man To Man
Vol. 4, No. 3, 1952
"How do you handle the sex problem in
Sooner or later, everyone asks me that question
when they find out that I'm an auto court operator.
Every motel man has a supply of stock answers. ("We
just don't tolerate that sort of thing in our place") for the standard
questions about illicit love in his bedrooms, and ordinarily I repeat those
same pious replies myself.
But I've finally become so fed up with mealy mouthing
those tiresome lies that I am going to tell the truth, here and now, about
sex in the motels.
One by one, I'm going to answer frankly the questions
which I've been evading all these years--because really the antics of our
motel Casanovas are too fascinating to be kept secret any longer.
"Can you tell which men want to use your rooms for immoral purposes?"
Whenever I hear that one, I have the feeling that
my questioner is a man who has never taken a girl to a motel and he's wondering
how good are his own chances of getting away with such a venture if he
were to try It sometime.
The standard answer to that question goes some thing
like this: "Actually, there is much less of immorality in auto courts than
people think, and in those rare cases when a guilty character does try
to take advantage of us, we can guess his motives everytime."
This answer is less than half true, of course.
The truth is that love-in-a-motel is getting to be
a well-established American institution and one which is gaining in popularity.
And as for our spotting the unmarried lovers, we
really have no idea as to how many we miss, but there are plenty whose
motives we can recognize, and recognize instantly, without the aid of a
"How do you know which are the illegal lovers?"
Usually, I don't go into any details when I answer
I have the feeling the questioner wants to forearm
himself against giving away his secret if he takes a girl to a motel some
If he asked my advice frankly, I might tell him
what he wants to know, but when he's beating around the bush I just tell
him, "The guilty man has a guilty look about him."
In reality, it's nothing so vague as a "guilty look"
which gives the lover boy away, but indications so obvious that often it's
difficult for me to keep from laughing right in the customer's face.
Easiest of all to spot is the young man who has just
persuaded a girl to say "yes" for the first time.
I know all about it the instant he comes through
the door into the office, even if he doesn't have lipstick stains around
his mouth, as he often does.
He'll have such a look of agitation that I sometimes
feel I should direct him to a sanitarium, and he'll stutter and gulp incoherently
as he asks whether I have a vacancy.
He'll have a look of apprehension as if he half-expects
me to call a cop.
"A room for you and your wife?" I sometimes ask,
and this always seems to intensify his agony. In some cases, I'm afraid
to ask this question, for fear the kid will drop dead in my office.
Then when I reassure the young man by telling him
in a friendly tone that we do have a nice room with a double bed for five
dollars, he's likely to become very talkative all at once.
White and wheezing, he tries to play the role of
the nonchalant traveling salesman. I ask him no questions, but he tells
me his lies anyway.
He has made up a story and he doesn't want to waste
it. He babbles on unnecessarily about how he happens to be there, where
he is from and why he made the trip.
Sometimes he has a fantastic sob story about someone
in trouble whom he came to see, and some times he rambles along speaking
totally unintelligible nonsense.
His hand will shake uncontrollably when he picks
up the pen to sign the register, and his signature will be like the shaky
scrawl of an arthritic invalid a hundred years old.
My impulse is to tell these beginners to take it
The more experienced Casanova, the one who has taken
girls to motels previously and considers himself a smooth operator, will
reveal his hand, too, in various subtle ways.
He may sign a phony name to the register with a
fine flourish, but then give himself away when he writes an address slowly
or haltingly, rather than with the practice speed of one who is putting
down his true address.
He's likely, also, to ask for a room well-removed
from the street, "away from the traffic noise." He's afraid, you see, that
someone passing the motel might see his car and recognize it, if he parks
near the street.
He'll urge me not to bother about it when I offer
to show him to his room, assuring me that he can find it himself. This
is because he doesn't want me to see the girl.
And he'll be in a hurry--almost frantically so--despite
his efforts to appear calm, either because of his own ardor or because
of his worry that the girl may change her mind if given too much time waiting
alone in the car.
Sometimes the girl does change her mind, too. I
can always tell that's happened because the man returns to the office in
a half hour or so, obviously raging with anger and frustration, and asks
for a refund because "my wife doesn't like the room" or "we are allergic
to gas heat" or some more flimsy excuse.
There was one old-timer who gave himself away in
quite a special fashion.
He had been dropping in every week or so for several
months, always signing the same phony name to the register, until he got
to feeling so much at home in our place that one night he absent mindedly
signed his real name. The situation was slightly embarrassing for both
Then, there are men of a certain type who are quite
brazen about the whole thing, make no secret of their motives.
It isn't unusual for one of them to tell me frankly
that he'll be using the room for only an hour or so--and how about letting
him have it for half price.
"You can rent it out again after I leave and make
that extra dough," is his pitch.
These characters I turn away by telling them I have
no vacancy, or that my only vacancy is a large, kitchen apartment which
rents for seven bucks a night, and no short-term deals considered.
Speaking of bargain hunters there was one guy who
came in and asked for a room "with.'' I assumed he wanted a room with a
bath and assigned him to one with a tub and shower.
After about twenty minutes, he came back to the
office to inquire, "Where is she? I've been waiting a half hour."
It turned out he was expecting a room "with" a girl
supplied for his five bucks.
This incident made me wonder just how bad our reputations
are becoming in the motel business.
Personally, I don't know of any motel which supplies
the kind of service "with" which my optimistic guest was seeking, but I
understand that some of them (particularly those situated near entertainment
centers) cash in on the rapid-turnover opportunities, renting the same
room out several times in the course of a night.
They collect a refundable deposit on the key, and
thus they know the room is vacant again each time a customer comes to the
office to check out and reclaim his key deposit.
I have never done this, but prefer to operate by
methods which do not condone immorality, but simply ignore it.
Some motel owners take the attitude that the worst
thing which could happen in one of their rooms would be for it to remain
vacant all night, but I don't go along with them all the way. I turn down
the chiselers who brazenly flaunt their motives.
Also, I'd check pretty closely on a juvenile to
make sure he was really married, if I ever had one for a customer, but
so far I never have.
The under-age kids seem to be satisfied to do their
romancing in automobiles or perhaps at home when the old folks are out--at
any rate they don't ever try to crash my motel.
Newlyweds are easy to spot, incidentally, because
both the boy and girl come into the office, and almost invariably it's
the girl who signs the register.
I've already answered, at least in part the common
"What do you do about it when you become suspicious?"
My standard, and quite untruthful, answer to this
one is that I send the suspected individual on his way with the information
that I have no vacancy for him.
But the truth is, as you probably realize by now,
that I handle the "suspicious customer" just exactly as I do anyone else.
I take his money, give him the room key, wish him
goodnight, and then forget all about him.
What else would I do?
Even if I felt like doing so, which I don't I wouldn't
be very smart to question any man who comes into my office, even if he
has the frowziest of dames with him.
I might find myself in the position of insulting
someone's wife and get a punch in the nose.
Anyway, these "suspicious" people make ideal customers.
They don't get noisy or in any way disturb the other
guests--since they don't wish to call attention to themselves.
They never complain about the service or about the
leaky faucet in the bathroom or about anything else whatever.
They aren't fussy about the location (although some
prefer to be well off the street) or the decorations of the bedrooms they
They check out in the middle of the night, which
makes it easy on our cleaning maids, by giving them plenty of time next
morning to work on the room while they are waiting for the legitimate customers
who check out just before the deadline.
And their money is just as good as anybody's. They
never stick us with bum checks which could lead to later questions.
There is one more question which is asked commonly,
but which I'm really not able to answer:
"What are the girls like and how do they act?"
I can give you one clue as to what some of the girls
are like, in that we sometimes get a frantic phone call from a man requesting
us to look around in the room he has used to see whether we can find his
wallet which has disappeared.
We've never yet found one of those wallets.
And usually the sucker shows by his conversation
that he doesn't even realize he's been rolled by the girl whom he thinks
Beyond that, I can't tell you much about the girls.
This is not because of any considerations of chivalry, but because I rarely
see the girl. She usually stays in the car while the man comes into the
office to handle the negotiations.
It might be interesting to spy on the love-nest
couples, but there are very good reasons, legal reasons, why I really prefer
not to see the girl.
You see, I don't want to be drawn into any divorce
case as a witness regarding any infidelity which may take place in my motel.
Suspicious husbands and wives on several occasions
have offered to pay me well to let them go through my records, looking
for evidence, but I've always refused. I feel the publicity which might
result would be very bad for my business.
I tell these unhappy spouses that my records are
open only to the police and of course I do cooperate with the police when
they are keeping a lookout for a wanted criminal.
But never yet have the police indicated even the
slightest interest in any possible illicit sex activities in my motel.
Because of my desire to cooperate fully with the
police, I do keep a more accurate check on my guests than the imaginative
names and addresses which they sometimes give me.
I personally make note, without being obvious about
it, of the auto license number of every customer, and make a correction
on the register, if the customer has given a false number.
Beyond that, I'm like the three monkeys who see
no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil.