I spent most of my childhood and teens in a couple of towns around Wollongong, a major city south of Sydney.
One night back in 2007 or 2008, I was chatting on Facebook with a friend who still lived near Wollongong when I mentioned the Piccadilly Motor Inn on the western edge of the city centre.
For reasons long forgotten, I had been thinking about visiting Wollongong overnight at the time and I had found the Piccadilly Motor Inn in the online Yellow Pages. What made the Inn especially appealing was that I always travel to Wollongong by train and the Inn is right next door to Wollongong station (see picture above).
When I mentioned the Inn to my friend, however, she didn’t recommend it at all. Instead, she described a very grim place indeed mostly inhabited by unfortunates who lived there thanks to emergency public-housing.
Ultimately, I ended up not staying overnight in Wollongong, and I thought no more about the Piccadilly Motor Inn.
* * * *
Earlier this year, another friend from the same high school who also lives near Wollongong suggested that we meet up again for lunch one weekend.
After we agreed on the weekend, I thought about how to make it more exciting. Soon, I decided to stay one or two nights because not only did it take the fatigue and hassle out of going to Wollongong and back all within one day, but it would be fun – ever since two major interstate-working experiences during the past two years, I enjoy staying in hotels (and one day, I may even do it full-time).
So once again I returned to the online Yellow Pages, and a few options presented themselves – including the Piccadilly Motor Inn.
I remembered what my first friend had said a few years before, and went looking at other hotels first – but later, not only did I find that the Inn now has its own website, but its rates were very appealing: only $77 a night.
I thought again about how my first friend had described it…but then I considered that perhaps the Inn had been refurbished since then, and a business that has a website must have its shit together, and there was even a specific email address for bookings.
So I decided to take a bold step out of my comfort zone, and I emailed an inquiry – which was immediately returned as a delivery failure.
So I decided to take an even bolder step out of my comfort zone and rang the Inn – and the person who answered was friendly and welcoming.
The Piccadilly Motor Inn was looking promising, after all.
* * * *
Finally the big weekend was almost here, and last Friday afternoon I took the train down to Wollongong.
I arrived at around 5:30pm, and as I walked up the hill from the station to nearby Crown Street I looked over to the other side of the tracks at the Piccadilly Motor Inn.
I saw that the Inn appeared to be at the back and perhaps also on top of the Piccadilly Centre, a multi-level shopping complex I remembered from my youth. I assumed that meant I could go inside the Centre and get a lift or escalator up to the Inn.
Unfortunately, after I crossed the bridge above the tracks to get to the Centre, it still looked like how I remembered it from previous visits and even as far back as my teens – a dour-looking place that looked dreary and half-empty.
Worst than that, there were no lifts or escalators that went up to where the Inn was.
I went back outside and walked further along to find a non-descript door to a flight of steps that led upwards to the Inn – but as a sign on the door mentioned, only key-holders could use it and reception was up on the rooftop level via the carpark at back.
I went around to the western side of the Centre and the entrance to the carpark – but the only thing there I saw that went up was a ramp for cars. I didn’t see any sign of a lift or even stairs.
I did see another entrance back into the Centre, though, and I thought that perhaps there were lifts or stairs inside there.
A moment later, though, I found that there was neither.
How the hell would I get to the Inn?
I walked back through the Centre to its Crown Street entrance, looked around again in case I’d missed lifts or escalators the first time, saw that I hadn’t, and for the second time walked around to the western side of the Centre.
Just past the entrance to the carpark, I saw that right next door there was a shiny new-looking parking station. I thought that it should definitely have lifts, so I went thattaway.
About five minutes later up on the rooftop level of the parking station, I saw that although it was right next door to the Centre’s rooftop level, both structures were completely separated by a high concrete wall.
Again, how the hell would I get to the Inn?
I went back down to Earth, walked up the hill beside the east side of the Centre, and for a third time went around to the western side and the entrance to the carpark.
I looked at the car ramp, which climbed parallel to the street. Surely that wasn’t the only way up for pedestrians? What if I was walking up and a car came flying up or down…?
I sighed, truly appreciated what James Howard Kunstler often says in his podcasts about how modern civilisation is built more for cars than people, and trudged over to the bottom of the ramp…
…where I discovered that it did have a narrow painted lane for walkers (although it’s not clearly visible from the street), so finally upwards I went.
Up on the empty roof, I followed the walking lane as it snaked past a small building that turned out to be a nightclub that appeared to have been closed a long time. Beyond the nightclub, a broken sign pointing north announced RECEPTION.
I turned a corner to where the sign pointed, and finally I saw the Inn!
But it looked rundown, indeed – and something that wasn’t very encouraging were several very-brown mattresses leaning against a wall that I walked past.
And up ahead to my right, sitting amidst some weeds near the eastern wall of the carpark were several hardened-looking individuals who were drinking or smoking or both (but I didn’t look too closely).
I turned another corner and finally saw the doors to RECEPTION. A little boy and a little girl were playing in front of it, standing several metres apart and possibly tossing a ball back and forth (again, I didn’t look too closely).
I went right up to the glass doors, which the little boy was standing close in front of, and went to open one.
It was locked.
I looked inside, but because of afternoon glare I couldn’t see clearly what was inside. There only appeared to be a hallway.
Both doors had signs that announced keyholders only past this point, but nothing else about what to do and where else to go if you wanted to check in.
I tried the other door.
It was also locked.
I saw a buzzer, and pressed it.
The doors didn’t unlock, and no one came.
I looked down at the little boy.
He looked up at me blankly. He was disabled.
I looked back inside.
How the hell was I meant to get in?
The little girl came over and said something to the boy. He remained silent.
I asked her about getting inside, and she said that I needed a key.
I told her that I didn’t have one yet because I needed to check in first, so she suggested that I press the buzzer so someone could come and open the door.
I pressed the buzzer again, but still no one came.
I asked her if there was another way in, and she described the door on Crown Street at the front of the Centre – but again, she said that I needed a key.
I was dumbfounded.
And then I got angry – not at the little girl, but at the Inn that wouldn’t even let me in.
I thanked the little girl for her help, to which she replied “You’re welcome”, and I left.
Those hardened-looking individuals I’d asked earlier were still there, and I could have walked over and asked them…but I chickened out and didn’t.
At the same time, though, I was fed up with the crappy-looking Inn and the crappy-looking Centre and this crappy part of Wollongong, and I just wanted to get out.
But then what?
If this had been before mid-2007, I would have been so furious but also lacking in so much self-confidence that I would have gone back down to the station, waited for the next train back to Sydney, spent the train-ride home cursing myself and the Inn, and then either return by train the next day to still meet my friend or Facebook him that night and cancel my visit.
But now I was a different person, and as headed back to the ramp I decided to take a running jump out of my comfort zone (but not off of the rooftop carpark) and do something that, before mid-2007, I thought I would never ever have the guts and initiative to do – walk around, look for other hotels, and ask if they had vacancies and what were their rates.
I headed back across the bridge above the railway tracks.
It was just after 5:45pm, and uncomfortably humid with dark angry thunderclouds coming in from the west behind me.
I continued east along Crown Street towards the Wollongong CBD.
To be continued…
Until then, stay well and take care 🙂