When Business Insider ran a profile about me a couple months ago, many people were surprised to find out that I spent the first 16 years of my life in my parents’ budget motel. However, my experience is not unique. Most of my friends growing up were children of motel owners. According to Wikipedia, “As many as 60% of mid-sized motels and hotels all over the U.S. are owned by people of Indian origin. Of this nearly one-third have the surname Patel.”
So I am not as rare as most people might think. However, little is ever written or discussed about motel life. Perhaps it’s because those of us who did grow up in motels just want to be like everyone else. We don’t want to discuss how different our upbringings were compared to those of suburban America.
Although our family motel was located in the “ghetto” of Las Vegas, I want to be perfectly clear: I did not grow up underprivileged. I had amazing parents who valued education and provided everything necessary in order to help me succeed. But the juxtaposition of this family-centric home against the drug and alcohol-ridden environment surrounding us is what makes for an even more intriguing story.
My parents’ rundown Las Vegas motel was frequented by drug addicts, prostitutes, police, and roaches.
Somehow, the cramped two-bedroom, one-bathroom living space attached to the front office seemed plenty to the eleven extended family members who lived there. I remember walking along the cracked pavement of my “neighborhood” in flip-flops as a six-year-old, trying to avoid shattered glass from broken beer bottles and wondering what was under the stars of bare-chested women on escort cards that were strewn all over the sidewalk. It didn’t take me long to figure out why shady men would sometimes want to rent rooms “hourly.”
However, I wouldn’t trade my childhood for any other. And I doubt most other “Motel Patels” would either. Growing up in an urban environment helped us develop an empathy and understanding for people who have nothing. Some of the most kind, hardworking, and wise people we have ever met were tenants at the motel who lived paycheck to paycheck, had drug/alcohol problems, and had no family to turn to. There’s book smart and there’s street smart. And I’m grateful they taught us the latter.