The Sleepy-Bear in Klamath Falls

Brass bells on a chain jangle as I push open the motel office door and step onto faded blue carpeting. A brass statue of Ganesha stands on the counter; orange and yellow marigolds float in a bowl at his feet. Ganesha holds a sitar. He wears a pointed crown, and his fat feet stand on an inverted lotus blossom. Orange light from the setting sun streams through the window at the far end of the room, which smells like incense and curry powder. A laminated sign lies flat on the worn, cracked, fake wood counter: “Welcom!!! Pleas ring bell.” A dome shaped call bell sits next to the sign and I punch the knob jutting from the top of it. The dilapidated chairs lined up along the wall look like they were salvaged one by one from the streets in front of peoples’ houses on garbage day.

A middle-aged East Indian man in a white short-sleeved shirt steps through a doorway on the other side of the counter. The aroma of curry, onions, and grease follows him in a potent wave. He closes the door.

“Welcome, welcome!” His eyes, so black they might be all pupil, are full of joy and his smile is like the one he would give to a sister he hasn’t seen in years. I can’t help but smile back.

“Thank you,” I say. “Do you have any single rooms?”

“Yes, of course!” He pulls paperwork out of a drawer and hands it to me to fill out. “Where are you from?” he asks. “What brings you to Klamath Falls?”

“I drove down from Portland.” I look up from the form that wants to know my name and address, car make and license plate number, and how I intend to pay. “I’m on my way to Crater Lake, but when I got to the turnoff I realized it was getting late, so I decided to come here for the night and get a good start in the morning.”

“Wonderful!” He rubs his hands together as I finish filling out the paperwork. I dig in my backpack for my wallet, take out a credit card, and hand it to him with the form.

He gives me a room key. “Thanks,” I say, and pick up my pack.

“No, wait! There are so many things to do in Klamath Falls! Here, let me give you a map so you can enjoy yourself while you stay with us.” From another drawer, he extracts a tourist map all in bright colors. He grabs a yellow marker and circles the attractions. “Across the street is a park–see, right here. There are beautiful hiking trails and benches if you want to sit and contemplate the lake. Here is the theatre, a museum, restaurants–all kinds of food–I’m sure you will find something wonderful to do.” He holds out the map and our hands brush as I take it from him. His skin is the color of milk chocolate. “And…” He leans over the counter and gives me a mysterious smile. “I have saved the best for last.”

He stands back and spreads his arms. “Every morning, we celebrate!” His smile turns ecstatic. “You must come. There will be all sorts of delicious food as we celebrate the new day. Please come to our celebration!”

“Thank you so much! I’d be delighted!” How wonderful to celebrate each new day.


My room is clean but shabby. The dark green bedspread has some snags and loose threads. The cream wallpaper with a brown fleur de lis pattern is torn here and there. The ancient television hunches on its stand like a giant toad, and a bare wire connects it to the power outlet instead of a normal cord and plug. There’s a little coffee pot on the desk with a packet of coffee and containers of creamer and sugar. Next to the desk is a refrigerator. The ice cube trays in the freezer are full, a good thing to discover since the ice machine I passed on the way to my room had an “Out of Order” sign on it. I go back to my red Geo Prism, lift the icebox out of the trunk, and lug it into my room.

I close the drapes and sit on the edge of the bed. I tug my hiking boots off. I look at the map with its colorful little cartoons of boats in the lake and people fishing. I might as well take a walk and see if any of the restaurants look good. But first, I want a shower.

The bathtub has been scrubbed, but the deep rust stains make it look dirty. I hesitate. Oh, don’t be such a wuss, I tell myself. I move the big round faucet dial to medium hot and give it a pull.  The pipes groan. Water spits and sputters from the shower head before it settles into a warm stream. I step in.  This place is ready to fall apart!


I head up Main Street on foot. The sidewalk is dark between the round streetlights. It feels creepy.  I pass a big clock on a fluted pole; it looks just like the pocket watch my dad had when I was growing up. It’s five after eight. I walk faster. This is just like Main Street in every small town out in the middle of nowhere. What am I doing here? I pull my jacket tight around me. The night streets in Portland feel safer.

I turn around and head back to the Sleepy Bear. I’ve got cheese and apples in my ice box. I have crackers and nuts. I’ll make do.


I sit on the bed, pillows propped behind me, with an apple and sliced cheddar cheese on a paper plate next to me. I pick up the remote and start flipping through the channels to see what tomorrow’s weather will be when I go to Crater Lake. There’s a lot of static, then a loud pop. Sparks flash from the wire in back of the TV and the screen goes black. I get up and click the power switch off–the remote doesn’t work anymore. A faint ozone smell fills the room. I don’t care about the TV. I’ve brought a new book by Charles de Lint, Forests of the Heart. It only takes a couple of pages before I’m back in Newford with Bettina and her milagros, and I read until I fall asleep.

Morning is sunny. The view over Crater Lake should be spectacular; I’ll get some good photos. I make a pot of coffee and pull on a wool fisherman’s sweater and jeans while it’s brewing. I drink the coffee while I pack the icebox and stuff my toiletries and yesterday’s clothes into my pack.

There are only two other cars in the parking lot. I load the icebox into the trunk and toss my backpack into the passenger’s seat before I head to the office to turn in my key. I pass a swimming pool that I hadn’t seen in the dark last night. The water is dark green and thick with algae. There must be hundreds of pounds of green slime.

I go into the office. At one end, the chairs that had been lined up along the wall cluster around an empty table. In the middle of the room is a huge table spread with a white tablecloth and piled with food–bagels, cream cheese, bread, peanut butter, strawberry jam, apples, oranges, corn flakes, Rice Krispies, Trix, Wheaties, hot oatmeal, sweet rolls, coffee, and hot water to make tea. Someone has wheeled in a refrigerator and plugged it into the wall. Inside are milk, orange juice, and half and half for the coffee. There is far more food than I’ve ever seen at a hotel breakfast–it’s enough to make me want to celebrate.

I  go up to the counter and leave my key in the box before I fill a big mug with coffee and take a bagel over to the table. I slather it with Philly and take a big bite. The cream cheese squishes over my tongue and the bagel is fresh and chewy. Today I’ll see Crater Lake for the first time. The coffee is hot and good. It’s a happy morning.

On the counter, Ganesha gleams. Someone polishes him a lot. I slip a handful of loose change into his bowl along with the flowers. The bells on the door jangle as I leave.

Sunday Scribblings – Story


7 responses to “The Sleepy-Bear in Klamath Falls

  1. What a fantastic travelogue. I am sure we have all been to motels or bed-sits that we have regretted but despite that found something charming about the town, the people or the setting. It took me back to the many forgettable rooms I have stayed in that have been forgotten because something magical had happened in that place too to make the visit worthwhile.

  2. Having travelled alone thru small back-roads towns and stayed at similar motels, it seemed that I was there with you in this place, and it felt strangely familiar and comforting. Great descriptive writing!

  3. Thanks, Old Egg and Josie! The proprietor probably couldn’t afford to keep the place in good repair, but his enthusiasm and joy, and of course the “celebration,” made up for the shabbiness. I hope he managed to keep his business afloat!

  4. What a wonderful story – the contentment ‘you’ find there in the breakfast and the simple TV supper makes me want to book a room too! The jingle of the bells are also a wonderful ‘bookend’ they make you sit up and dive into the story and also leave you with a cheery ring! Jae

  5. Such a wonderful story and so well told. I could see the place. 🙂

  6. Thanks so much, Jae and Susannah! Jae–that motel was real; it really was me.

  7. walk toward a new horizon, well penned story.

    thanks for sharing.

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