The rest of the motel sits in shadows, its insides lit only by soft green floodlights and the glow of the pool. The Entrada readies itself for the rhythms of its day: the early-morning stillness, the afternoon's check-in chat and bustle, the evening's soundtrack of jukebox and bar talk.
In less than an hour, patrons trickle in and squeak into the vinyl-backed chairs that fringe the bar. They light cigarettes and sip their beers, swap "good morning"s and "how are ya"s. The lounge is the motel's temple, a place where regulars can have a quiet drink, meditate, and be alone. With each other. It takes only a few drinks for their silence to lift. When the booze kicks in, the conversation swirls about the dim room. Like smoke, it's all over the place.
If my husband calls, tell 'im I'm not here.
Green peppers are always cheaper than red or yellow.
I still love her. I just can't live with her.
The whole camp was on fire. We lost seven men.
You know who I like? Goldie Hawn.
Nixon didn't wear makeup during that debate. He looked like shit.
This cobweb won't pull apart.
This morning's bartender sits at the base of the bar fiddling with a fake spider web. She's not having any luck. She sets the stringy clump aside and turns to one of the three men who have materialized. "This is the longest hand job I've ever given," she tells him. They both crack up, and he orders another beer. She gets up and chucks open the cash register.
The joint is dripping with the kind of spooky Halloween props you'd find inside an elementary school classroom or on the front porch of an Old Florida house. More cobwebs stretch across wood-paneled walls, along with orange balloons, ghosts, and a crepe fringe of smiling bats. A glow-in-the-dark skeleton jangles from the ceiling. But the décor is not the prime attraction.
"Breakfast for two bucks," gushes Jim Burke. "Free dinner with two drinks. You can't beat it. You could eat for free all week long if you really wanted to."
The 64-year-old Burke sits in his regular place beside the cigarette machine while someone from the coffee shop brings him a steaming plate of eggs and potatoes. A Styrofoam cup of coffee sits before him. Everything about his appearance is just so: His fine white hair is combed back from his forehead, his polo shirt and khaki Bermuda shorts are crisp. He's animated, alert; even his eyebrows seem energized, poking out from his brow like minuscule gray antennae.
His convalescence is progressing well. A few weeks ago, while walking around Young Circle, a panel truck backed into him and fractured his hip. Last week his face was drawn and his light brown eyes sagged at the corners. When he shifted his lanky frame in his seat, he winced. At first he needed a rubber-tipped walker to get around. He's graduated to a four-pronged cane, and he uses it to hoist himself from his chair.
Burke lives at the Entrada, and despite his injury, he can still manage the stretch between his room and the lounge. He found his way to the motel after a blowout with a roommate prompted him to pack his belongings and call a cab.
"I said, "Take me somewhere.' So he took me here," says Burke, a New York City transplant and retired financier with Eastern Airlines. While he eats, Burke gabs with a couple of other regulars about his love of mincemeat and his hatred of peas. He talks about how he wishes he'd taken better care of his gums, how he plans on getting his teeth fixed for his daughter's wedding. "God, I hate dentists," he confesses between bites of his breakfast.
Burke likes living at the motel. He likes that the front-desk clerk knows him by name, that the coffee shop serves him his breakfast at the bar, where he can talk and pass the time. He is grateful that the maintenance man drops by with an extension cord for his toaster and that he can trust the maids. "You can leave a hundred dollars on the nightstand, and they won't touch it," he declares.