“Chad, listen, I booked us a room in Preston, Idaho! You can’t say no, it’s been on my bucket list for like ten years!”
Sheri sounded far too excited. She was flying out for a week in Idaho and Utah to visit family a few days later, and I planned to pick he up from the airport before driving her up north. But apparently she’d made us plans already.
I was skeptical. “Preston, Idaho? Why Preston? What’s in Preston?”
“That’s where they filmed Napoleon Dynamite! I love that movie!”
And so, we found ourselves in Preston, a small, picturesque town, surrounded by rolling hills and farmland. Sheri had pulled up a list of sites that she wanted to see, backdrops from the movie itself. With my children in the backseat of the car, we’d driven through the Preston streets searching for Dynamite. Sheri gave quotes from the film as we walked through the town, using Napolean’s biting sarcastic nerd whisper.
“Give me some chapstick! My lips hurt real bad!”
“You gonna eat your tots?”
“Tina, come and eat, you fat lard!”
Honestly, there was just nothing to see. The home that served as the exterior shot for Napolean’s home had a small hand-painted sign that said visitors were allowed to take photos, but there weren’t any other signs or notices. The tetherball pole stood in a schoolyard, without a ball attached. The burger joint had all kinds of fried, terrible foods, but no pictures of Napoleon inside. But Sheri was elated.
That night, Sheri navigated us to our reserved hotel room, at a little place out of town next to a local hot springs. My sons clamored out of the car, ages 8 and 6 now, clutching their packs full of toys, and entered the lobby with us. The hotel was in a state of disrepair, with tarps hanging over entire walls, holes in the carpet, and spiderwebs in corners. A 14 year old boy manned the front desk and checked us in to one of the eight rooms on site, just across from the lobby, room number two.
Number two. How appropriate, I thought.
We entered the room to find two full size beds next to each other, a television on a desk, and a large jacuzzi tub with a shower curtain next to the beds. Next to the beds. Not behind a wall, not in a separate room, but next to the beds. I wondered if this was some sort of honeymoon suite for small town folk who wanted to bathe together but not sleep together. Sheri and I made eye contact and burst out laughing. Sure enough, there was a toilet and a sink in the bathroom, with a door that closed, but the shower and jacuzzi were right there in the main room.
With our stomachs still full of tater tots, we all changed into our swimming suits and checked into the hot springs. There was one other couple there, a barrel-chested man with a large stomach who’d collapsed against the side of one of the waist-deep springs, and his buxom wife who sat on the side, feet dipped in the water, playing on her phone. There were five separate hot springs pools, but the one with the water slides was closed off and another pool was drained empty. (We soon found the teenage lifeguard, a blonde high school sophomore, basically sleeping on a bench, and she informed us that the slides were “broken”.) So we spent our time in the main springs, with the kids pretending to be Pokemon, until we were sufficiently soaked and ready to wind down for bed.
Upon our return to the hotel room, the boys were wrapped in towels and shivering. Sheri averted her eyes while J, the 8 year old, climbed into the tub, closed the curtain, and tried turning on the water. With my help, after several minutes of experimenting, we managed to get the shower turned on, but the water was freezing. I played with the knobs until the water was merely cold, but we still couldn’t find any warm or hot water. I pulled my towel back on and walked across the hall to the lobby, and found a new 14 year old working the desk, not an adult in sight.
I explained there was no hot water in the room, and he shrugged. “Yeah, that’s a problem here. I know it’s a hot springs, but there isn’t usually any hot water. Sometimes if you let the water run for 30 minutes or so it will turn hot.”
I stomped back to the room, muttering a few words about hot water being a basic amenity to be expected in a hotel room. We had cold showers.
Later that night, the kids snuggled up in their beds, and A, the 6 year old, woke me up with a shout, a nightmare he was having about someone stealing his toys. Outside, an angry cow mooed into the night sky, and I felt its pain. In the morning, I packed our bags and the toe of my foot passed underneath the bed as I moved. I pulled my foot back and found a large piece of sticky green popcorn adhered to my sock.
“Oh, that’s it,” I muttered, that small detail finally being enough to take my patience away. “We are out of here.”
We loaded our bags, returned to the car, and as the cow mooed at us again, took a family photo. We drove out of town, and I felt that our experience there had been much like the movie Napolean Dynamite itself. Amusing, but ultimately forgettable.