“Don’t trust nobody apart from our staff, ain’t nothin’ round here but lying thieves,” warned the hotel receptionist through a full set of silver teeth.
In Ireland, students apply for J1 Visas; which basically enable them to work in America for the summer and then spend a period at the end travelling the States. We had chosen Myrtle Beach in South Carolina, a tourist spot christened the “Dirty Myrtle” by seemingly every other state in the US. We had high hopes before arrival however, as our other option had been a city in which you had a 45% chance of being involved in a knife related crime if you went out after 8 PM. Plus, our employer had sorted out discounted accommodation for us, so we didn’t have to worry about searching for that ourselves. Although our introduction to what became the best summer of our lives was turbulent, it made a great story!
Our trip from the airport had been a pitiful affair, with the taxi driver first questioning/low-key mocking our choice in location for our J1 and then warning us to avoid passing the “rape woods” after dark, because the side of the road that had a pathway on it had no street lights and vice versa. We didn’t pry much into how it had come to be called that. He also informed us of the fact that we had arrived in the middle of “Black Bike Week” and recommended we stayed indoors for its duration before dropping us off at our hotel and taking a $10 dollar tip for a five minute journey.
I use the word hotel quite generously of course. It was more like one of those motels from movies where drug deals and prostitution reign, with a seemingly permanent damp smell permeating each and every surface. And rather unfortunately, it was to be our home for the best part of three months.
After our rather scarring encounter with the receptionist, we made our way through the hotel towards the elevators. For anyone who has ever watched a horror movie featuring a hotel, the resemblance here was uncanny – dimly lit corridors, dark carpets stained with marks I preferred not to question, flickering lights and pale walls that were peeling onto the floor. Although the bullet holes in the elevator were probably the icing on the cake.
It was about 6 o’clock in the evening when we arrived at our room. There was a gag-inducing aftertaste of week-old Chinese food in the air that we never managed to get rid of. Not ideal to say the least. The television was running, and the local news was on. Someone had been shot dead outside a hotel on the beach that the rest of the Irish summer students were staying in. There had been a shootout between two biker gangs and someone had been caught in the crossfire (who we later learned was an In-Law of one of our Co Workers). We stared in utter terror at each other; literally speechless and I genuinely felt that my life was in danger.
“We can’t stay here,” was all I could muster after about ten minutes of silence.