Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 01.26.10
Stanstead, Quebec


My first flophouse

"Write about the hotel," they said. "Write about the hooker in the hall."

First of all, she wasn't in the hall. She was in the vestibule. It's not like she was wandering the hotel turning tricks. If anything, she was very discreet.

Secondly, there's no way to know for sure whether she was a hooker. I didn't actually witness any soliciting. She could just have been a very trampy young girl.

"She was young?" Deb said when I described her. "You should have given her $100 and told her to go home."

Yes, give her $100. Just as the cops drive by...

Really, the only reason I even thought she might be a hooker was because a user comment on a hotel-rating website happened to mention a hooker. And the only reason I was reading the user comments in the first place was to check the rumour about the bedbugs.

To tell you the truth, the hotel wasn't that bad. Yes, I used the word "flophouse" to describe it but in an endearing sense. In fact, staring at those cracks in the ceiling and flicking that light switch that didn't seem to turn anything on anywhere, I found myself reassessing my definition of "hotel." And "clean sheets."

Over the years, thanks to a family connection, Deb and I have stayed in some fairly decent hotels. I'd even say "swanky" if I was the type of person who said "swanky." Then again, any place where the bedding isn't covered with animal hair is luxury to us.

And yet, even though those hotel stays were generally inexpensive, especially when we sneaked the extra kids up the service elevator, a part of me always thought that this hotel business is a bit of a racket. After all, most hotel patrons don't spend a whole lot of time in their rooms. You can bounce on your bed for only so long before it gets old. You can extend the novelty of the moment by playing with the various nozzle settings in the shower but eventually you're going to go out and do whatever required you to book the hotel in the first place.

When you come right down to it, a hotel is just a place to sleep. And when you're asleep, you really don't care whether your furniture is early Victorian or late Goodwill.

So when we needed to stay overnight in Montreal recently, Deb decided to look beyond the Delta, the Hilton, the Sheraton, and other places with level floors. Through the Internet, she found lodgings we'll call Casa del Neon Sign. It was a two-star hotel: one star for the accommodations and a second star presumably for a heck of a good try. Deb called and booked all six of us into a suite. Seventy bucks. For a suite! Sweet!

"I think that place has bedbugs," a co-worker said when I told her about the bargain. "It's a real problem in Montreal. You should be careful."

That's what sent me to the hotel-rating website where I read comments ranging from "Filthy!" to "Charming!" That's also where I read about the hooker. But nothing about bedbugs so we were still on, because, unlike bedbugs, you don't bring hookers home with you. Not as a rule, anyway.

We arrived at the converted walk-up and parked around back as instructed (free parking!). The owner approached me as I exited the van. "Are you Debbie?" she asked. I've been called worse. She then showed us to our third-floor lodgings.

It certainly was cheap and, no, we weren't planning on spending a lot of time there. Nonetheless, it was unlike any hotel we'd stayed in: the creaky stairs, the funky smell, the mismatched furniture, the mystery stains on the bed covers, the tiny television, the grime along the bathroom baseboards, the lumpy beds.

In other words, it was just like home, except without the animal hair. And with one possible hooker.