Situated on a street notorious for prostitution, crime, and drugs, is my parents’ small motel. The area is known to many as the “meth capital of the world”. Cops hardly want to enter. And most of society is simply glad it’s contained to six square miles. As you can imagine, working in an area like this has many challenges beginning with security and ending with a hardened outer appearance. To look weak in the neighborhood is to invite trouble.
When my parents first took over the business 10 years ago, I thought they were crazy. Running a motel was a 24-hour job and it was a notoriously rough neighborhood, but they were entrepreneurs who saw an opportunity and wanted to capitalize on it. I think my dad also saw it as a challenge, which he’ll deny enjoying but deep down he knows he likes.
The first two years were spent fixing it up. Everything from the asphalt to the roof needed mending and my parents set to work right away. They hired day laborers but also worked alongside them doing much of the heavy lifting. The third and fourth years were clean up. I remember coming home from college one summer and sitting outside with my parents as a cop rolled through on his regular patrol. He stopped to say hi to my parents and then turned to my older sister and me and said, “You should be really proud of your parents. Two years ago, we would not have driven through here.”
His words were anything but soothing. If even the cops are weary of entering what does that say about the neighborhood?
By year eight, my parents had settled in. They have learned to sleep with one eye open, neighborhood faces had become familiar, and when ABC News aired a live broadcast of a prostitution raid in 2012, our motel was one of the few left unscathed. How then, I wondered, did they do it?
If you ask them they will tell you it is luck. But I would say it is because of a mutual respect. When I work there on occasional weekends and during the summers, I notice my normal, friendly personality shift rather quickly into a hardened, unsympathetic business demeanor. Nine out of ten people who walk in the door have a sob story and maybe one of the nine isn’t lying about their situation. I can’t tell the difference so I treat everyone the same across the board. My parents, though, they still try to give everyone a chance and they feel guilty when they misjudge.
Every year, during the holidays, my parents set up benches in the parking lot and they cook a full meal with all the fixings for anyone in the neighborhood who’s hungry. To be completely honest, I thought this was a tactic to build goodwill among people who could easily wreak havoc on a motel LA-riot-style. But that wasn’t it at all. They are hyper aware of the fact that their income comes from the so-called “undesirable” residents of the area. “We can never think that we are better than them,” my dad says.
My dad’s English isn’t that great, but I believe what he means is: work hard, build something, and humble yourself as it grows, because you are only as important as those that you profit off of. I can only imagine how much better we would function as a society if our relationships with those above or below us on the social spectrum were founded on the grounds of mutual respect.