Tenx9 veteran storyteller Amanda Haggard told of her honeymoon on the Pacific Coastal Highway that did not go as she planned. 

Just a tidbit of advice about traveling: The fancier the name of the hotel or motel while on your travels, the shadier it will probably be when you arrive.

For example, anything with “Royal” or “Queen” in the name probably won’t exactly live up to that verbiage. And don’t you ever trust a place that claims to have the “World’s Best” of anything, especially when when it comes to honeymoon suites.

A second bit of advice: Never trust a guy who tells you that your night out won’t require a place to sleep when you’re done. You will always need a place to sleep.

A third bit for your travels: Never try out a new fast food joint before going on a wooden rollercoaster at a theme park. I feel like you don’t really need a “for example” on that one yet.

So my husband and I got married six years ago, amid a budget crisis in California—and in the rest of the country—and we had planned to camp along Pacific Coast Highway for our honeymoon.

We learned quickly after three parks on our plan were closed because of budget cuts that our camping journey up the coast was slowly turning into few nights in shady hotels along the coast. When you budget for camping, and work in retail, any change in plans is likely to bust the bank.

I can assure you of that.

But we rolled with our misfortune, and decided at least for that night, to head back toward Los Angeles.

My husband called a friend he had traveled on the road with for work, who promised to show us a good time that wouldn’t require us having a room to stay in that night.

So Jeremy, a short, smiley Dominican man, packed us into his small BMW and took off through downtown at speeds that might make Doc Brown jealous.

Dipping and diving down the back streets of Los Angeles at about 70 miles per hour, Jeremy sparked up what he called a “suicide KUSH” joint that he scooped up at a pot dispensary before picking us up.

“Happy marriage!” he said, passing the joint around the car while narrowly avoiding parked cars in then back streets of LA. We were nearly dead, but together.

The next day, tired and still somewhat reeling from the terror of the car ride the night before, my husband and I packed up and headed North again on the PCH.

And after maybe the strangest encounter with a Denny’s waitress who was dead set on the fact that we were regulars at her restaurant, we were determined to at least see the view of the coast from the car and side of the road, even if we couldn’t camp where we had intended.

After a day of roadside stops and dipping our toes in the ocean, we set out in search of a hotel we could afford.

Only we hadn’t planned well, and we were in Malibu. So we pulled into “The Malibu Riviera.” Sounds fancy, right?

There were plenty of other shady and interesting hotels on our trip I could tell you about, but “The Malibu Riviera,” my friends, is the one you’d want to get to know.

This was the first, and mind you last, time I make the decision to stay at a place where there’s a sticky note on the lobby door that reads, “Call (310) 457-9503 for a room.”

Nearly an hour after placing the call, an angry face leathered by the California sunshine and surrounded by bleached blonde hair popped out of a ’76 Ford LTD.

Behind her: a throng of panting Pomeranians. Seven in total, all with names like Sky, Rain, Ocean, and Karma, the dogs swam around our feet as leather face unlocked the office door and sat down behind maybe the biggest check-in desk I’ve ever seen.

The dogs settled at her feet, and $130 later, we were unpacking into what was once a glorious 1950s resort hotel. Everything was gold rimmed and filled in with wood paneling, and we imagined that in years before, this place was seriously the place to be. Only now, it really and seriously was not. If the trip to the hot tub full of seaweed did not convince us of hotel’s “Riviera” status, neither did the 1 a.m. near-fist fight between the hotel owner and a resident at the hotel. But we slept in our sleeping bags on top of the dirty mattress, together.

Just to see how the place had faired since our fated stay, I looked up some Trip Advisor reviews a couple years later, and I couldn’t help but share this little gem left in the reviews:

“Expensive, dirty, and full of ants. The owner looked like a worn-out Janis Joplin. Cocaine, or other such substance, was on the side board. Cobwebs adorned the room like flowers at a wedding. Bugs were everywhere, but mainly in the shower. The lights in room didn’t all work and the other guests bad parking meant we couldn’t get into our car all night. On the plus side, we survived.”

Another review was only four words: “too scared to sleep.”

Sigh, dreamy.

The next morning we packed up and drove down to Anaheim, mostly because a nicer room on a last-minute-rooms deal website lured us away.

Here, we found a fast-food joint with the same name of my husband. Paul’s. After downing a namesake burger and fries in lightning speed, we headed on in to Knott’s Berry Farms.

For those of you who are unfamiliar—this is the cheaper, white-trash Charlie Brown version of Disney. We rounded the corner and got into the first line we saw for a ride.

Nearing the top of the ride’s line, we realized we had gotten in line for the biggest wooden roller coaster in the theme park. Twenty minutes and some rickety shakes up and down the coaster later, our lunch was no longer sitting neatly at the bottom of our stomachs.

With barely any money for our two days left in California, we sat on a bench on the outside of a wild-west shoot-em up show, getting glimpses of the show we were missing. But we were together.

Six years later, we can laugh at what felt pretty dire at the time.

And although to some of you in this room, six years might not sound like much, I have learned at least a few things in my short marriage.

Most notably that our marriage itself is much more like our seemingly ill-fated honeymoon:

Sometimes it’s wooden rollercoaster after a gut-bomb burger followed by a wild-west gun show through wooden slats.

Sometimes it’s driving down the back streets at 70 miles an hour, while the driver smokes a spliff and narrowly avoids certain death.

It’s curling up in a sleeping bag on top of a dirty mattress. And we just might have ants in the shower.

But throughout our travels, wherever and whatever they may be, we’re still together.

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