Seems like I’ve spent more nights in motel rooms since January than I have all of the past couple of years. There have been kayaking trips, conferences, and the rare vacation get-away. Some of the rooms have been spectacular, such as my recent stay at Charleston Place Hotel, or our trip to Washington, D. C. Some have been routine, such as the Quality Inn in St. George, SC, that seems to be where we seem to have stayed lots recently.
Of these, the most unusual has been the Whitten Inn in Santee, South Carolina. I think I hinted recently that I would write about the experience once I’d had enough therapy. A slow, restful weekend seems to have been enough therapy, so, here goes…
It had been a long day of paddling. We had battled heat and crazy motor boats both on Lake Moultrie and on the Tailrace Canal. One of our fellow paddlers had said she felt like she had been riding a moped on I-85. Some of our group had planned to camp out, then paddle Sparkleberry Swamp the next day. I was in no mood to camp, so I decided to find a relatively cheap place in Santee so I could get some rest before the next day’s trip. The requirements were simple. I just needed a good clean room, and preferred a place that had a restaurant on the premises. I would be happy with a sandwich and not having to drive somewhere once I got settled.
I saw the sign for Whitten Inn, a bit off the main drag, and decided that would do. Upon entry I saw that a wedding reception was going on. The couple were quite elegant, and it looked like a happy place all around. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find a room, but it turns out they did have places available. The staff at the inn were friendly, and were making every effort to make sure I was comfortable. As far as the inn itself was concerned, the place was great, and the room was sufficient. It was when I tried to get dinner that things got weird.
I got my stuff squared away and headed to the lobby to see what I could find. The main restaurant was taken over by the wedding guests for their reception, so I headed to the lounge. I asked if they served food, and here was the exchange…
Me: “Do have a menu for the lounge?”
Barmaid: “We got a catfish fry going on! It’s out back, and it’s real good!”
Me: “But what if I’m not in the mood for catfish?”
Barmaid: “Well, I’ve got some PopTarts and a microwave!”
I kindly excused myself and ultimately wound up at a little Mexican place up the street. At least I didn’t wind up like some of my fellow paddlers. They pulled into a place advertising steaks and seafood, which turned out to be a Gentleman’s (term loosely applied) Club. I had seen the same sign, and had almost gone there myself. There was nothing to indicate it was anything other than a restaurant.
..but back at the motel…
As I drove back I made note of the motel’s sign and their motto: “Sleep with Whitten, purr like a kitten.” I was beginning to wonder who Whitten was, and if this going to turn out like the steak and seafood place. As if to punctuate the motto, a half-dozen scrawny cats rambled over the place. They ran anytime anyone approached.
I thought that I would skip the PopTarts, but at least I could order a martini to wind down the day. I headed back to the little lounge and found the place fairly quiet, with a few other patrons that had come in, obviously after having sated themselves with catfish. The place seemed friendly enough, and signs above the bar stated that this was “Payten Place”, and had the following quote:
Always paddle your own canoe.
Sounded like reasonable advise, so I took a bar stool.
In addition to the barmaid I’d met earlier, two other women were bustling about the place. All three wore blouses with plunging necklines that left nothing to the imagination from neck to navel, and this was not a good thing. I kept wanting to wrap them up in a table cloth or something. One perched a couple of bar stools over from me, and looked like she was having trouble staying perched on it. The other whisked back and forth from the catfish fry outside to the area behind the bar.
I ordered my martini, and immediately realized I’d made a tactical error. The obvious drink of choice here was a Bud Lite, elided into a single word with the long “i” of “Lite” pronounced as flatly as possible and with no trace of a diphthong. The barmaid had made it dirty (which I had not requested), and what arrived was a concoction more olive juice than gin. She apologized, saying that she didn’t normally make gin martinis. This, of course, made me wonder what she did make, other than opening bottles of Bud Laaahhhhte.
It was at this point that the karaoke started up in full swing. Some young girl, barely 18, by what I could tell, started crooning away on some country song. All the rest of the patrons, who apparently knew each other, started cheering her on. I should have put my dirty martini down and walked away right then and there, but it had turned into train wreck from which I couldn’t turn my eyes.
The young girl’s innocence was betrayed by the copious tattoos, and her choice of musical selections. At one point she started singing Alanis Morrisette’s “You Ought to Know”, complete with every expletive and vulgar sentiment in the song. An older couple got up and started shagging, which matched neither the rhythm, flow, or theme of the song. Oddly enough, the wide-screen TV was showing the Best of the Gaither Vocal Band on a DVD loop while all of this was going on.
A large contingent of “good ol’ boy” golfers arrive, and started demanding the barmaid’s attention. She couldn’t get Bud Lites to them fast enough, and they were getting rowdy. Neither of the other two cleavage matrons bothered to lift a finger to help. What had been an interesting observation of another culture quickly turned into an uncomfortable situation. I paid the tab for my unfinished drink, tipping generously out of pity for what the barmaid was having to endure from the rowdy crowd, then made my way back to my room.
I might have been better off if I’d just taken the original offer of a PopTart and gone back to my room and crashed. However, I would have missed this bit of entertainment. I was only in the lounge for about 45 minutes, but it was enough. I did manage to get a good night’s sleep, and was rested enough for the next day’s paddling.
So, if you find yourself in Santee, and need a place to stay, Whitten Inn has good cheap rooms, and their hotel staff are friendly and helpful, but make sure you skip the PopTarts.